Thursday, August 31, 2023

Track Walk: Portland 2023

The 16th and penultimate round of the NTT IndyCar Series season brings Indy to Portland. Through the first 15 races there have been seven different winners. After opening the season with five different winners in the first five races, there have been only been two new winners in the last ten races. Three drivers have combined to win eight of the last ten races. Since returning to the IndyCar schedule, there have been four different winners in the last four Portland races. Stretching back to the days of Champ Car, seven different drivers representing seven different countries have won the last seven Portland races.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday September 3 with green flag scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe will be in the booth. Kevin Lee and Dillon Welch will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 6:00 p.m. ET (75 minutes)
Second Practice: Noon ET (60 minutes)
Qualifying: 3:30 p.m. ET 
Final Practice: 8:15 p.m. ET (30 minutes)
Race: 3:30 p.m. ET (110 laps)

* - All sessions will be available live on Peacock

And Then There Were Two
After the events of Gateway, only two drivers could claim the Astor Cup for the 2023 IndyCar championship, and no matter what, the championship will return to Chip Ganassi Racing. 

It will be Álex Palou versus Scott Dixon over the next two rounds to decide the title, but it could be settled this weekend. Palou has a second consecutive chance to clinch the championship. At Gateway, the Catalan lost 27 points to Dixon, but Palou still has a 74-point lead entering this race and he has a hand on the trophy as his championship is already greater than one race victory. 

It Palou exits Portland with a championship lead of 54 points or more, he will not even have to show up to Laguna Seca. The championship will be his. 

Palou will clinch the championship if he scores at least 34 points this weekend, which means...

Finishing third or better... 
Or finishing fourth with at least two bonus points...
Or finishing fifth with the maximum four bonus points...

For Scott Dixon, based on the assumption Palou does start this weekend's race, he will need to score at least 26 points to remain alive for the championship, meaning Dixon cannot finish worse than seventh with no bonus points. He could finish eighth or ninth with a handful of bonus points to remain alive. 

However, Dixon's goal to keep the championship alive into Laguna Seca should be decreasing the deficit to at least 48 points, because not only will Palou likely start at Portland, but he will also likely start the Laguna Seca race as well. 

In that case, Dixon cannot finish worse than fifth this weekend in hopes of winning the championship. 

Not much has separated these two drivers this season. Palou is tied for the most victories in IndyCar with four. Dixon is one of four drivers with multiple victories. Palou does have double the number of podium finishes, but Palou and Dixon are first and second in top five finishes with 11 and nine respectively. They are first and second in top ten finishes with 15 and 14 respectively. 

After leading 13 laps in the first 13 races, Dixon has led 157 laps in the last two events. Palou's 259 las led this season is second most in IndyCar, but he has led only 13 laps in the last six races. He led in seven of the first nine races, and led at least ten laps in at least six of those events. 

Head-to-head, Palou has finished ahead of Dixon in 11 of 15 races, and Palou has not finished worse than eighth this season. Dixon does have 12 consecutive top ten finishes. After not being the top Ganassi finisher in any of the first 13 races, Dixon has won the last two races. Dixon has been the second best Ganassi finisher in 11 races this season. The exceptions are Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500. 

Palou has been the top Ganassi starter in eight of 15 races while Dixon has only done it three times. Palou has started ahead of Dixon in 11 races this season.

Who Has the Best Chance for a First Victory of the Season at Portland?
Two races, 205 laps remain in the 2023 season, but time is running out for a victory, and there are plenty of notable drivers who have yet to stand on the top step of the podium.

Last week was Patricio O'Ward's fourth runner-up finish of the season, but victory has eluded the Mexican driver. O'Ward is the top driver in the championship without a victory, sitting in fourth. He is the most recent driver to finish in the top five of the championship without a victory. He led 18 laps at Gateway, but those were his first laps led since he led one during a pit cycle at Detroit. He has only led five races this season, three of which have been ovals. Besides the one lap led at Detroit, the only road/street course he has led was St. Petersburg, where he led 23 circuits. 

Will Power has won a race in 16 consecutive seasons, currently the second longest streak in IndyCar history. Power does have four podium finishes, including two runner-up results. He has led 180 laps this season, but 119 of those were in the first Iowa race, then he led 30 more laps in the second race. Power has led 31 laps in the other 13 races. The only other time he has led more than five laps in a race was 14 laps in Detroit. Power won at Portland in 2019 and he finished second in last year's race. 

Alexander Rossi's six top five finishes are his most since the 2019 season, but Rossi is on the verge of having his third winless season in the last four. Rossi has led only 12 laps this season, four of which came last week at Gateway. While he has finished in the top five of the last two races, he did not finish better than tenth in the previous six races.

Not only is Colton Herta winless, but he is on the verge of career lows in multiple categories. Herta has one podium finish. Last season he had only two. He has three top five finishes, currently matching his fewest which were in his rookie season. Herta has led only 77 laps. He has never led fewer than 100 laps in a season. 

Romain Grosjean is not only running out of time for a first victory this season but for his first career victory to come in 2023. After finishing second in two of the first four races and leading 90 laps, his best finish in the last 11 races is sixth, and he has led only four laps.

This hasn't been the greatest season for Graham Rahal, but he should have some hope for Portland. In the most recent road course race, Rahal started on pole position, led a race-high 36 laps only to finish second to Scott Dixon. On natural-terrain road courses this season, Rahal's average finish is 7.8333 compared to a street course average of 13.4 on street courses and an oval average of 22.8. Two years ago, Rahal led 36 laps at Portland before a poorly timed caution shuffled him back to tenth. Last year, he finished fifth and led two laps.

Rookie of the Year Battle
With the ovals behind us, we can focus on the rookie of the year battle because all four full-timers will contest the final two events. Mathematically, any of the four could be rookie of the year, but it is really a two driver battle. 

Marcus Armstrong survived not running the ovals and heads into Portland as the top rookie with 179 points, and Armstrong is 20th in the championship despite missing five races. His points per start average of 17.9 has him on pace 268.5 points, just off Felix Rosenqvist, who is 13th in the championship on 270 points. 

It isn't over yet, as Agustín Canapino is only 20 points behind Armstrong, but the problem is Armstrong has finished ahead of Canapino in eight of the ten races they have shared the track together. In the two races Canapino got the better of Armstrong he was five spots ahead of him at Road America and three spots ahead in the August IMS road course race. 

Armstrong has yet to go three consecutive races without a top ten result, and he has finished 13th and 24th in his last two outings. The New Zealander has four top ten finishes while Canapino's best finish this season is 12th. Canapino has finished outside the top fifteen in the last five races. 

Based on math, Sting Ray Robb and Benjamin Pedersen could still be the 2023 IndyCar rookie of the year. Robb is only 57 points behind Armstrong, but Robb's best finish this season was 16th in the St. Petersburg season opener. He has finished outside the top twenty in 12 of 15 races. Pedersen is 72 points behind Armstrong. Pedersen has finished outside the top twenty in eight consecutive races and in 13 of 15 races this season. 

Though only four rookies could win rookie of the year this year, there will be two additional rookies on the grid this weekend.

Tom Blomqvist will be back in the #60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda, as Blomqvist will close the season as the driver of the #60 Honda. Simon Pagenaud continues his recovery after his accident at Mid-Ohio. Blomqvist made his IndyCar debut at Toronto, where he failed to complete a lap in the race. 

Along with Blomqvist's return is a debutant. Estonian Jüri Vips will drive the #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda in the final two races of the season. Vips spent the previous two seasons competing in Formula Two. He won twice at the Baku weekend in 2021 on his way to finishing sixth in the championship. Last year, his only victory was the Monza sprint race, the highlight of finishing 11th in the championships. 

The Estonian is familiar with a few drivers on the IndyCar grid. Vips and Armstrong were teammates in the 2017 ADAC Formula 4 Championship where Vips won the total by 4.5 points over Armstrong. Last season, Vips and Armstrong were teammates in Formula Two where Vips scored 21 points more than Armstrong.

Vips was a Red Bull junior driver, and he participated in practice at the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix. In June 2022, Vips was suspended and released from the Red Bull junior program after using a racial slur on a livestream.

Manufacturers' Championship
Along with the overall championship and rookie of the year, the manufacturers have a championship of their own that will be decided over the final two races. 

Honda currently leads with 1,299 points. It is 43 points ahead of Chevrolet. Honda has won ten races this season, double Chevrolet's total. Honda's most victories since the return of engine competition is 11, which came in 2018. Honda has won three consecutive races and seven in the last nine. Four of Chevrolet's five victories have been on ovals. The only road or street course race Chevrolet has won this season was Barber Motorsports Park with Scott McLaughlin in April.

Three Honda teams have won a race this season with five different drivers while Team Penske is the only Chevrolet team to have won this season, and it has won with only two drivers. 

It has been even in terms of podium finishes. Honda leads with 23 to Chevrolet's 22. Honda has swept the podium in two races, having done it at Long Beach and Toronto. Chevrolet's only podium sweep was the first race of the Iowa doubleheader. When it comes to top five finishes, Honda has a 38 to 37 edge. Each has five drivers in the top ten of the championship, but Honda holds an eight to seven edge in top 15 drivers in the championship, and Honda has 11 of the top 20.

In the four races since Portland has returned to the schedule, Honda and Chevrolet have equally split the events. Honda won in 2018 with Takuma Sato and in 2021 with Álex Palou. Both of Chevrolet's victories have been with Team Penske. Will Power won in 2019 and Scott McLaughlin won last year. 

Honda has also won 11 pole positions, nearly double Chevrolet's six.

While Honda has the advantage in victories, podium finishes, top five finishes and pole positions, Chevrolet has led more laps. The Bowtie Brigade has led a combined 1,176 laps while Honda drivers have led only 879 laps. However, Honda drivers have led 635 of the 845 laps run on road/street courses this season, 75.1479%. Chevrolet led the lion's share of the oval laps, 966 out of 1,210 laps, or 79.834%.

The Japanese manufacturer might have finished first and third at Gateway, but neither driver contributed to Honda's manufacturer score, as Scott Dixon and David Malukas were each onto their fifth engine of the season. Once an entry goes beyond the four-engine limit, it can no longer earn manufacturer points. 

Seven Honda entries ineligible for manufacturer points while only three Chevrolets are ineligible. Along with Dixon and Malukas, the Álex Palou, Marcus Armstrong, Kyle Kirkwood, Hélio Castroneves and Jüri Vips cannot score manufacturer points in the final two races. 

On the Chevrolet side, Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin and Agustín Canapino are the only ineligible drivers. 

Chevrolet won the manufacturers' championship last year while winning 11 of 17 races. Honda won the manufacturers' championship in four years prior to Chevrolet's triumph in 2022. Since 2012, Chevrolet has won seven of 11 manufacturers' championship.  

Road to Indy
For two of the three Road to Indy series, Portland marks the final weekend of the season, and two champions will be decided. 

For Indy Lights, this is the antepenultimate race before the Laguna Seca doubleheader closes out that championship. Eight drivers are still mathematically eligible for the Indy Lights championship.  

Christian Rasmussen picked up his fourth victory of the season at Gateway and Rasmussen has 416 points, 51 points more than Hunter McElrea in second. Rasmussen has won three of the last four races. McElrea has seven consecutive top five finishes, including three consecutive podium finishes. 

Jacob Abel sits third in the championship, 79 points off Rasmussen, as Abel has four consecutive top five finishes. Nolan Siegel has slipped to fourth in the championship as Siegel has one top five finish in the last five races. He had finished first or second in four of the first six races of this season. 

Louis Foster rounds out the top five in the championship, 107 points off Rasmussen. Foster was second at Gateway and he has not had consecutive top five results so far in 2023. Reece Gold is 134 points behind the Dane. Gold has one podium finish since his victory in Detroit. 

James Roe, Jr. and Danial Frost are the final drivers alive for the title. Roe, Jr. is 142 points back while Frost is 153 points off the championship lead. 

The Indy Lights race will take place at 1:20 p.m. ET on Sunday September 3. The race is scheduled for 35 laps or 55 minutes. 

Along with Indy Lights, USF Pro 2000 and U.S. F2000 will each run a triple-header this weekend to close out their respective 2023 seasons. In USF Pro 2000, only three drivers have a shot at the championship.

Myles Rowe has 333 points and holds a 58-point lead over Kiko Porto and an 88-point lead over Salvador de Alba with 99 points left on the table. Rowe will clinch the championship if he has a 66-point lead after the first race of the weekend. 

Rowe leads all of USF Pro 2000 with five victories while Porto scored his first victory of the season last weekend at Circuit of the Americas. De Alba's only victory was at Indianapolis Raceway Park in May, meaning Rowe holds the tiebreaker over both drivers. Rowe has finished ahead of each Porto and de Alba in nine of 15 races this season. 

Lirim Zendeli is up to fourth in the championship on 225 points after four consecutive top five finishes and seven consecutive top ten finishes. Zendeli is a point ahead of Michael d'Orlando, who has won three times, but he has finished outside the top ten in eight of 15 races. Francesco Pizzi is down to sixth on 218 points. Joel Granfors was not entered in Austin and Granfors is eighth on 206 points, seven ahead of Jace Denmark.

Jonathan Browne and Jack William Miller round out the top ten on 188 points and 183 points respectively. 

All three USF Pro 2000 races will be 30 laps or 50 minutes in length, the first of which is Friday September 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET. The second race will be at 6:10 p.m. ET on Saturday September 2. The final race of the 2023 USF Pro 2000 will be Sunday September 3 at 6:15 p.m. ET.

In U.S. F2000, four drivers are alive for the championship, but Simon Sikes has a commanding lead. Sikes has 368 points, 69 points ahead of Lochie Hughes, meaning if Sikes does not lose three points to Hughes in the first Portland race, Sikes will clinch the championship. 

Sikes has won five races and finished on the podium ten times in 15 races while Hughes has four victories and eight podium finishes, but Hughes has only one podium finish in the last four races, which included three consecutive results of 15th or worse. 

Nikita Johnson and Mac Clark both have an outside chance at the championship. Johnson is only 79 points behind Sikes while Clark is 94 points back. Clark will be eliminated should Sikes start one of the three races this weekend. Johnson won the second race of the season at St. Petersburg, and he has seven podium finishes with 11 top five results. Clark has won twice with five podium finishes and eight top ten finishes.

Johnson and Clark both made their USF Pro 2000 debuts last week. Johnson was third and first in the two races while Clark was second from pole position in the first race and third in the second race.

Evagoras Papasavvas is only nine points behind Clark in fifth. Papasavvas won at Mid-Ohio in July and he has five podium finishes with seven top ten finishes. 

U.S. F2000 will run three 25-lap or 45-minute races this weekend. The first will be Friday September 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET. The second is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. ET on Saturday September 2 with the season finale scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday September 3. 

Fast Facts
This will be the 18th IndyCar race to take place on September 3 and the first since Alexander Rossi won at Watkins Glen in 2017. That was IndyCar's most recent Watkins Glen race. 

The only driver with multiple victories on September 3 is Tony Bettenhausen, who won on September 3 in 1949 and 1951 at DuQuoin. 

Sting Ray Robb turns 21 years old on race day. 

Robb could become the tenth driver to win an IndyCar race on his birthday. The most recent birthday winner was Dan Wheldon at Iowa on June 22, 2008. 

Lundgaard would become the youngest birthday winner. Sam Hornish, Jr. and Scott Dixon both won on their 27th birthdays. Hornish won at Kansas on July 2, 2006. Dixon won at Mid-Ohio on July 22, 2007.

Only one of the last 16 Portland races has had an American winner (A.J. Allmendinger 2006). 

Ten of the first 12 Portland races had American winners. Emerson Fittipaldi won the other two Portland races (1989 and 1993).

A.J. Allmendinger is one of four drivers to have scored their first IndyCar victory at Portland. The other three are Al Unser, Jr., Alex Zanardi and Mark Blundell.

Newman/Haas Racing leads all teams with eight Portland victories. Team Penske is second with six Portland victories. 

The only other teams with multiple Portland victories are Chip Ganassi Racing with three and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with two. 

No driver has ever won in IndyCar and Indy Lights at Portland. Five drivers entered in this year's race have won at Portland in Indy Lights (Patricio O'Ward, Rinus VeeKay, David Malukas, Kyle Kirkwood and Benjamin Pedersen).

The average starting position for a Portland winner is 3.8571 with a median of second. 

Eight Portland races have been won from pole position and seven races have been won from the second starting position. Twenty-three of 28 Portland races have been won from a top five starting position. 

Only twice has Portland been won from outside the top ten (Mark Blundell in 1997 (11th) and Takuma Sato in 2018 (20th)).

The average number of lead changes in a Portland race is 6.0714 with a median of six. 

The last seven Portland races have had at least seven lead changes. 

There have been at least two lead changes in every Portland race.

The average number of cautions in a Portland race is 2.142 with a median of one. The average number of caution laps in a Portland race is 8.1428 with a median of six. 

There have been six caution-free Portland races, most recently in 2007. 

Five of them first nine Portland races were caution-free 

Nine Portland races have had exactly one caution, including last year's race. 

Will Power gets his first victory of the season, and Álex Palou clinches his second championship with a top seven finish. Power leads less than 75 laps. Scott Dixon is the best finishing Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Josef Newgarden does not finish 25th. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will have more top ten finishers than Andretti Autosport and McLaren. Marcus Armstrong will be the top finishing rookie by at least six positions. Tom Blomqvist makes it to lap two, but finishes behind Hélio Castroneves. At least one driver without a top ten finish in at least the last six races finishes in the top ten. There will not be a caution in the first corner of the race. Sleeper: Graham Rahal.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Best of the Month: August 2023

The end of summer is upon us, and with it comes the end of a few motorsports seasons. Some are just getting into the second half of their seasons. There is plenty of racing left, but this time a month from now, it will start to be thinning out, and we will be at the end for a few other series. However, we will start one series that is already over.

SRX Review 3.0
We did this after the first two seasons of the Superstar Racing Experience, and keeping up with past behavior, let's look over the series once again. 

Year three felt like a watershed year of sorts for SRX. The series changed its day of racing. It changed its track strategy. It invited more active drivers. It also put its foot down and kicked a driver out of the series. 

Not much really changed in the nightly program, but the pacing felt better. I cannot explain it beyond it didn't feel like a massive lull in the order of events. There is always going to be a break between the heats and the main event, a down period where people could tune out, but it didn't feel like we had a long pause between the heats on top of the midway break. 

The races were the same level we have seen in the previous seasons. Some good. Some ok. Some forgetable. The dirt races aren't particularly that good, but I think the series had its best one yet in this year's finale at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri. 

What this series still has not figured out is balancing the championship with the guest drivers. 

There is a championship, but every year it is an afterthought until the final two races. It doesn't help that the guest drivers won two-thirds of the races. The championship is devalued when the full-time drives rarely win the races.

Everyone keeps calling SRX an exhibition, but it isn't. These races mean something, points are awarded, but considering this is a six-race season, it should probably consider something other than an aggregate to decide the championship. 

I think there is hybrid solution. 

There will always be those star names who can only commit to one or two races, but SRX does need a full-time field of drivers. It needs at least six or seven or eight drivers it can count on being there every week. 

SRX should take its six-race schedule and set the final race aside as the "Grand Final." Though I have my objections, dirt tracks are going to stay on the SRX schedule, but both should occur in the first five races with a paved track hosting the "Grand Final." Three other paved tracks fill the first five races. 

Each winner in the first five races qualify for the "Grand Final." The final seven spots in the "Grand Final" are based on points, but only the best three of the first five events count for each driver. 

1. Winning a main race would now matter.

2. It leaves the door open for a driver who only runs once or half the races an incentive to compete for something more. 

3. It allows a full-time driver lineup to compete not be completely boxed out from the championship, but those drivers would not necessarily be guaranteed a spot in the final. 

4. The points matter. You cannot just finish ninth and think that is good enough. 

In turn, the points system must change. The points for the main race can stay the same, but heat races should be bonus points. I think too many drivers ride around in the heat races, especially the first one.

For heat races, it should be five points for a win, three points for second and one point for third, no points for anyone outside the top three while the driver that passes the most cars gets three points and the driver that leads the most laps also gets three points. Drivers in the back have incentive to go forward and there is incentive to try and lead as many laps as possible. 

However, the invert for race two should be based on the starting order of race one, that way each driver gets a fair shot at the passing points and one driver isn't stuck starting third in each race and has no shot of getting those three bonus points. 

The "Grand Final" should be different from the other SRX events. The first five SRX events can be the two heats and a main format. The "Grand Final" should be a 125-lap race. No heats. No inversion. No points. After the first 60 laps, a caution comes out and the bottom three drivers are eliminated. Then there is a 50-lap segment and after that segment the bottom three are eliminated again. This sets up a 15-lap, six driver sprint to determine the winner-take-all championship. 

An SRX season is only six races, and this season Kyle Busch won two of them, Busch's only two starts. If a driver could commit to one or two regular season races and knows to keep a third date open in case they win, it could be a big shift for the series.

Plus, it would allow for a better race. We could have seen Kyle Busch take on Denny Hamlin along with Ryan Newman, Marco Andretti and Tony Stewart. Clint Bowyer likely would have qualified with his three top five finishes. It could encourage a driver to commit to a second or third race and go for the championship knowing a few good finishes could get them into the "Grand Final" even if they do not win. We would see the best in the series compete and clear out the weaker drivers.  

With this being only a six-race series and most of the drivers competing only running a race or two, SRX can do something different and have a different way to decide a champion. There is no reason to be tied a six-race aggregate and have the champion be one of seven full-time drivers, especially when most of the winners are guests. Embrace that but also make the most of it and turn it into the identity. 

We know SRX will be back. It has already announced its dates for 2024, three in July and three in August like 2023. Thunder Road International SpeedBowl in Vermont is the only known track. We will learn more as summer turns into autumn and winter. I doubt much will change with the championship format, but it is worth trying.

September Preview
The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin this weekend with the Southern 500 from Darlington Raceway. Sixteen drivers are competing for that championship. Where do we stand?

William Byron and Martin Truex, Jr. begin tied on 2,036 points, each 11 points clear of Denny Hamlin. Byron led the regular season with five victories while Truex won three times. After winning three of the final five regular season races, Chris Buescher leaped up to the fourth spot on 2,021 points and he is two points ahead of Kyle Busch. Kyle Larson is sixth on 2,017 points. 

Christopher Bell has one top five finish in the last 18 races, but he is still seventh on 2,014 points, three points ahead of Ross Chastain, who has one top ten finish in the last nine races. Brad Keselowski is tenth with 2,010 points, one point ahead of Tyler Reddick. Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney are tied on 2,008 points. 

Starting the playoffs below the cutline for round one are Michael McDowell on 2,007 points, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on 2,005 points, Kevin Harvick on 2,004 points and Bubba Wallace with 2,000 points. 

Round one will be the Southern 500 from Darlington, Kansas and Bristol. Texas, Talladega and the Charlotte roval comprise round two. The semifinal round has Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville with Phoenix hosting the finale for the fourth consecutive season. 

Other events of note in September:
IndyCar's final two races, Portland and Laguna Seca.
After Monza, Formula One visits Singapore and Japan. 
After Barcelona and Misano, MotoGP makes its first trip to India.
IMSA makes its Indianapolis return. 
World Superbike goes on a tour from Magny-Cours to Aragón to Portimão.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Proper Scheduling

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Scott Dixon did it again. Jett Lawrence completed the perfect AMA Motocross season, winning all 22 races. A record was matched after a few showers in the Netherlands. Americans had flashes, both good and bad. One race did not complete enough laps to be official. Some notable names will not be contending for a championship. Mazda MX-5 Cup tested at Martinsville. A son will be returning to his father. There were some scheduling conflicts this weekend, and that has been on my mind for some time.

Proper Scheduling
Earlier nonsense prevented this from being addressed at the start of the month, but North America's three biggest series have a communication problem. 

That is not surprising, but it is a little less acceptable in the 21st century. We have cell phones, people! You can have a video conference from anywhere in the world. You don't even have to leave your house! Time is a precious commodity and that could be the cause any misconnection, but there are enough shared partners that they should at least set aside some time for one another. 

August 6 was a rather busy day if you enjoy IMSA and IndyCar and NASCAR. The IMSA race from Road America began at 11:00 a.m. ET, which was 10:00 a.m. local in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. A little over 90 minutes later, IndyCar was taking the green flag from the streets of Nashville. At 2:30 p.m. ET, about 45 minutes after IMSA finished, and just over a half hour after the IndyCar race was finished the NASCAR Cup race began. 

It was a full day of racing, but let's not think this is an ideal situation. Nobody is fighting for a 10:00 a.m. local start. IMSA may have been the lead-in broadcast for the NASCAR race, but at what trade-off to the in-person crowd?

We know when the series are not competing against one another they all do better. Shouldn't that competition be limited? 

It would be nice if each series got its own television window, but when they are all competing in the Eastern or Central Time Zones, there is going to be some stepping on toes. It isn't going to work out where one can start at 1:00 p.m., another at 3:00 p.m. with an evening capper. Each gets a good television window and is at a good time for people attending the events, but it isn't a practical regular schedule. It works for a few weekends, specifically holiday ones, but those are few. 

There are so few IMSA weekends and IndyCar weekends compared to NASCAR that the number of times all three are competing on the same weekend let alone the same day is scarce. Unless it is a holiday, the events of August 6 should be avoided. 

IMSA has many open weekends in the summer. It could have moved some pieces around in its schedule and run Road America the week prior when there was only a NASCAR Cup race and then shifted Lime Rock, which went head-to-head with the IndyCar race from Iowa, to the weekend of August 6 and get to run on Saturday without any significant conflict. Lime Rock could have led into the race for NASCAR's second division that afternoon. 

We saw it this weekend as well. IMSA began the Virginia International Raceway round at 2:00 p.m. ET while IndyCar started at 3:30 p.m. ET, and the NASCAR Truck Series race from Milwaukee, the only complete standalone race for the series, began at 4:00 p.m. ET. 

All three have the same television partner during this time of the year. There is a way to create a schedule that works for all three without this many direct conflicts. IMSA has already released its 2024 schedule, but there is still time to work with one another, and there is already one question. 

The Mosport round will be July 14. Though it is only LMP2 plus the two GTD classes, Mosport is scheduled for the same weekend the IndyCar Toronto race took place in 2023. That suggests either something is changing for 2024 or motorsports fans in the Province of Ontario will have a difficult decision to make. The two series should not forcing the paying audience, much of which has interest in both, to choose a side and only attend one. This could be the worst avoidable conflict between the two series. 

One week either way for Mosport and it at least allows people to attend both. IMSA also has an entire month off from August 25 to September 22 where a race could be positioned. 

Conflicts are going to happen from time to time, but many should be avoided. 

IndyCar and NASCAR have more clashes. Again, some are unavoidable, but a good number could be. Toronto and Loudon were going to be at the same time this year, until the NASCAR Cup race from New Hampshire was rained out. The second Iowa race was the same time as the Cup race from Pocono. Detroit and Gateway were going to be at the same time before rain delayed the Gateway Cup race. The same was going to happen with Barber Motorsports Park and Dover in April before another rain delay this year. 

If it wasn't for Mother Nature, this would have been a more frustrating year for viewers. Maybe she is telling us something? 

There are understandable circumstances, but when everyone talks about working together, there doesn't appear to be much of that. It isn't going to work out where one series will always be in the Pacific Time Zone, and it makes scheduling easy, but even that isn't a given. Long Beach and Martinsville clashed this year! 

A precious period of time exists on Sunday afternoons, and everyone is fighting for it, even if time zones means it could be avoided. Maybe that is one of those few occasions when we just have to accept the conflict, but the other half-dozen, especially when IMSA, IndyCar and NASCAR will all be starting around the same time, don't make any sense leaves at least one party shortchanged. 

It does come down to television slots, and networks do compete against one another and is not going to look out for each other. As for the series on the same family of networks, would it have made more sense for VIR to be this Saturday afternoon and lead into the NASCAR Cup race? It takes a Sunday away from VIR, which isn't great for selling a weekend and Sunday is a better day to draw a crowd than Saturday. Could IMSA have run last weekend when there was just a Cup race from Watkins Glen and no IndyCar? 

Or couldn't the GT-only round have waited another week and be run on Labor Day weekend, beginning at noon, leading into the IndyCar race from Portland, which already leads into the Southern 500 from Darlington and created a full day of racing? 

But what do I know?

It is easy to make a schedule on paper. There is much more that goes into it, but there are too many conflicts to believe this is the best all parties can do.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jett Lawrence and Scott Dixon, but did you know...

Max Verstappen won the Dutch Grand Prix, his record-tying ninth consecutive victory.

Chris Buescher won the NASCAR Cup race from Daytona, his third victory of the season. Justin Allgaier won the Grand National Series race, his second victory of the season. Grant Enfinger won the Truck race from Milwaukee, his third victory of the season.

The #3 Corvette of Antonio García and Jordan Taylor won the IMSA race from Virginia International Raceway, its second victory of the season. The #1 Paul Miller Racing BMW of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow won in GTD, its second consecutive victory and fifth of the season.

The #22 United Autosports Oreca-Gibson of Philip Hanson, Oliver Jarvis and Marino Sato won the 4 Hours of Aragón. The #17 Cool Racing Ligier-Nissan of Adrien Chila, Alex García and Marcos Siebert won in LMP3. The #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Scott Huffaker, Takeshi Kimura and Davide Rigon won in GTE. 

The #16 ARTA Honda of Nirei Fukuzumi and Hiroki Otsu won the Super GT from Suzuka. The #18 Team UpGarage Honda of Takashi Kobayashi and Syun Koide won in GT300.

Christian Rasmussen won the Indy Lights race from Gateway, his fourth victory of the season. Kiko Porto and Nikita Johnson split the USF Pro 2000 races from Austin. 

Isack Hadjar (sprint) and Clément Novalak (feature) split the Formula Two races from Zandvoort. The sprint race did not award points as only two points were completed due to weather. 

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar's penultimate round in Portland.
Formula One has its final European round with the European Grand Prix.
NASCAR opens its playoffs with the Southern 500 from Darlington.
MotoGP is at Barcelona. 
Hockenheim hosts the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

First Impressions: Gateway 2023

1. Scott Dixon did it again! Two weeks after a stunning victory on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the encore was even more incredible. Dixon won this Gateway race on a three-stop strategy, from 16th starting position by over 22 seconds! Somehow, this wasn't close. In a race that could be perfectly broken up into 65-laps segments, Dixon nailed it. In doing so, the championship remains alive for another week. 

When the caution came out for Takuma Sato's accident, it was on edge of everyone making it to finish with one more stop after that caution. A 65-lap stint was possible, but it required a certain level of comfort, especially as tires wore on. Dixon caught that caution at the right time, but Patricio O'Ward could have mirrored that strategy. Josef Newgarden could have mirrored that strategy. Both bailed within 40 laps. Dixon kept chugging along. 

Marcus Ericsson was on pace to make it on one more stop when he took fuel under caution on lap 131 with Álex Palou, Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi and more. They all made two more pit stops after that. 

This was a strategy only Dixon could handle, and he smashed the field. 

Dixon has now won seven times when starting outside the top ten in his career. Nobody else has won more than four times when starting outside the top twenty. For a brief moment, it looked like Dixon was going to lap the field and it would not have been because of some blistering speed. It would have been down to precision. A consistent pace that any seasoned professional should have no problem with, and yet it was only Dixon that could manage it. 

This simply could be the best driver we have ever seen. He is unquestionably among the best to regularly race in IndyCar. With 55 victories, the 60-mark has become achievable. A.J. Foyt's record of 67? That still feels a little out of reach, but let's see where we stand after next season. With Scott Dixon, nothing is impossible.

2. We should focus on the championship here because this felt like Josef Newgarden's day to put himself back behind Álex Palou and be the one to apply the pressure at Portland and Laguna Seca. It was looking that way in the first 125 laps. Newgarden had led 98 circuits of the 1.25-mile circuit, and if the Sato caution does not happen, Newgarden was going to probably lead many more. 

The Sato caution flipped the race, putting Dixon effectively in control, but also making it difficult for everyone to make it on one stop. Newgarden was in a pickle, but still in a good position for the championship. He was set to gain points on Álex Palou, though a victory was going to be harder with Dixon ahead and the possibility of having to make two more pit stops. 

Newgarden blinked at Patricio O'Ward stopping earlier, racing the #5 Chevrolet instead of the distance left in the race, and it backfired with O'Ward leapfrogging ahead of Newgarden after that pit stop, and Newgarden would still have to make another stop. 

Dixon was gone at that point, out of reach, but again, Newgarden would still gain something on Palou. Then Newgarden got caught in the marbles shortly after his final pit stop and slapped the wall exiting turn two. 

Undefeated oval season, gone. Championship, gone. Twenty-fifth in the results again. 

I would have thought Newgarden could have managed Dixon's strategy, but the team was caught in another battle. The smartest choice would have been just to run with Dixon. Dixon was the rabbit setting the pace. That should have been the motivation for Newgarden. There was almost too much fear about the time lost running a three-stop strategy pace, but the drivers running a four-stop strategy were not going any quicker on track. 

This wasn't a case of the four-stoppers running about a second faster each lap. They were all in the same ballpark. That sealed this race for Dixon, but nobody beyond the #9 crew realized four stops was not any faster, and the distraction of the four-stoppers cost Newgarden today. 

It was really a day of a bunch of dumb strategies. It felt like everyone else was looking for a different answer rather than accepting the obvious solution. 

3. Even if Newgarden didn't hit the wall, Álex Palou ended up finishing seventh today. Though never a contender, this was lightyears from a bad day for Palou. 

Give Newgarden third-place, an additional 30 points to the six he scored today, five for 25th and one for leading a lap, and knock Palou down to eighth, taking two points for the Catalan driver, and Newgarden is still 93 points back with two races remaining. Newgarden would still have a shot, but he would need to cut another 45 points out of that deficit at Portland to have a slim prayer of the title at Laguna Seca. Effectively, Portland would have been a must-win for Newgarden even if he settled for third today. 

Palou knows how much control he has and when he doesn't need to push the envelope, he will end up finishing seventh or eighth without breaking a sweat. It is a demoralizing position to be in if you are Newgarden, but that is Palou's perk when he hasn't put a wheel wrong all season and never looked out of sorts while Newgarden had a few races where he was nowhere to be seen.

4. For a moment, this was setting up to be a repeat of Texas with Newgarden taking on Patricio O'Ward and those two running away from the field. It felt like Newgarden had the edge in this one, but O'Ward was the only one hanging with Newgarden for the first half of the race. That is four runner-up finishes for O'Ward this season. It has strangely been an underwhelming season, especially with how the first five races went, but it is still a strong season for this group. A victory would make it look significantly better.

5. For the second consecutive year, David Malukas went on a late charge to the podium. Malukas couldn't quite get O'Ward for second, but he was trying. It was another great Gateway race for Malukas, in a year where he hasn't been that great. It isn't the worst sophomore season on record, but it is far from the greatest. I am weary of Malukas. I feel too many inflate the two or three great races we have seen from him and ignore the six races he has not finished this season. He bet on himself earlier this summer when he said he was leaving Dale Coyne Racing after this season. I think he is going to get in a better seat but not necessarily see better results.

6. Alexander Rossi had a solid run to fourth. All three Arrow McLaren cars were in the top eight all race and all three McLarens finished in the top eight. Rossi wasn't as good as O'Ward. Rossi was better than most. Fourth is a good result for this team. Again, it is close but not that close from Rossi. We are far from the driver who had a hand on the Astor Cup in 2018. 

7. Scott McLaughlin won pole position but a nine-spot grid penalty meant he had to start tenth. I wish we could have seen what this race would have looked like with two Team Penske cars on the front row. I am not sure McLaughlin could have beat Newgarden, but I think Team Penske could have repeated the Iowa performance where taking the top two positions boxed out the rest of the field. Still another sensational oval result for McLaughlin, eight top five finishes and 11 top ten finishes in 14 career oval starts, and all three of his non-top ten results were in the Indianapolis 500! Figure that one out?

8. Colton Herta had a good day and finished sixth. Herta overcame tire wear issues. Andretti Autosport does seem to burn through tires quicker than most on ovals, and Herta was really holding on from the first stint of the race. He was going to be no match for Newgarden and O'Ward. A podium would have been difficult. 

9. Felix Rosenqvist ended up eighth. Nothing special happened today. The one thing McLaren has done well is it can put all three cars in the same zip code. The problem is, since the month of May, that zip code hasn't been in proximity of race victories. Rosenqvist is going to get the short end of the stick for running otherwise great results for most of the other teams in IndyCar. 

10. Will Power and Marcus Ericsson came together in practice and then followed it up with Power finishing ninth and Ericsson finishing tenth. Power tried to match the Dixon strategy, but when Power stopped on lap 190, it was clear he wasn't going to make it. That extra pit stop only knocked him down to ninth, which feels about right for his day. 

Ericsson was fortunate to have an unsecured left rear tire on his second pit stop come loose almost immediately after he exited his pit box, and the team could roll him back and get it re-attached without losing a lap. However, Ericsson topped off on lap 131, should have been in a better position than Dixon to make it on one more stop, and Ericsson could not make that strategy work. Either the team and driver did not believe in itself or a three-stop strategy was going to be that difficult to pull off. Tenth is a little worse than how Ericsson looked. 

11. Nobody else did anything notable today, and with how many different strategies there were, outside of Newgarden brushing the wall, I don't think anyone can feel all that bad about their finishing position.

12. Rinus VeeKay was 11th, a good day, but I don't think he wasn't mentioned once. 

Romain Grosjean was on the same strategy as Dixon, but Grosjean got trapped a lap down and couldn't make up anymore positions than finishing 12th. 

Santino Ferrucci gambled from the very first caution for Benjamin Pedersen's spin on the opening lap, and it got Ferrucci 13th. This result was more strategy than speed. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay made it two Ed Carpenter Racing cars in the top 15, something we have not said much this year, only twice to be precise. Hunter-Reay didn't do anything spectacular to finish 14th. It is at least better than most days this season for the past champion 

Kyle Kirkwood stopped on lap 189 and did not come close to make it to the finish, forced to make an extra stop. I think this balanced out. Kirkwood maybe should have finished tenth or 11th. Fifteenth doesn't feel that off from where he was.

13. Conor Daly had a good qualifying run, but Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing didn't quite have it in the race. Daly also tried to go off strategy, and it knocked him down to 16th. Daly was directly ahead of Christian Lundgaard and Daly was the better runner of the two all race, and Graham Rahal finished 20th, so all three RLLR cars finished in the top 20 today on an oval. Not the most rewarding result, but it is some form of progress. The team should be thrilled for Portland coming up.

14. Linus Lundqvist made a few brilliant moves early, but went backward as he battled tire wear. Lundqvist was 18th and five spots ahead of Hélio Castroneves, who I don't think was mentioned once during this race. That is the story of Meyer Shank Racing's season.

15. There are a bunch of stragglers left. 

Devlin DeFrancesco was 19th. How anyone believes that the opening five corners in the previous IMS road course race means more for DeFrancesco's future than the 32 races without a top ten finish driving for Andretti Autosport is baffling. This is who is he! He isn't some hidden talent. 

Sting Ray Robb didn't do anything stupid and finished 21st. 

Agustín Canapino had a shot to take a chunk out of Marcus Armstrong's advantage in the rookie of the year battle and all Canapino could do was take back eight points. Credit to Canapino because in his first year on oval he was the best of the rookies, most of which ran oval in Indy Lights and the Road to Indy.

Ed Carpenter ran over Benjamin Pedersen at the start. I am not sure we need Ed Carpenter running all the ovals anymore. He can show up once a year in May. We're good. As for Pedersen, that was rough, but was this race really going to be any better for him?

16. Takuma Sato was trying to knock down the wall exiting turn two from lap one and he finally did on lap 120. 

Sato's 2023 season with Chip Ganassi Racing: 28th at Texas after an accident, seventh in the Indianapolis 500, ninth in the first Iowa race, 25th after brushing the wall in the second Iowa race, 26th after hitting the wall at Gateway. 

Was this really better than how Marcus Armstrong could have done? Outside of Indianapolis, I don't think so. This does raise the question of if we have seen the last of Takuma Sato in IndyCar. I imagine he would get a few more shots at Indianapolis if he would like it. Honda would have no problem making that happen. 

17. Callum Ilott brushed the wall and ended his race while in a good position. I don't think it would have been a top ten, but the top fifteen felt likely, which is still a good result for Juncos Hollinger Racing. 

18. IndyCar used an alternate tire compound in this race. Based on how tire wear was already, I think this was always going to be a four-stop race for most drivers, but the alternative tire seemed to force teams to pit lane earlier on that alternate tire stint. The Sato caution really neutralized seeing how the race would have played out with the alternate compound. It felt like everyone was going to use it on the second or third stint. I don't think we have enough information on it to say it wasn't worth. I think it should be attempted again. 

I do think the regulations should adjust to running an alternate tire on an oval. For a road and street course, a driver just has to do two laps to meet the requirements of using a compound. That was still the case in this race, but two laps in an oval race is not the same proportionally as two laps on a road or street course.

The average number of laps in an IndyCar oval race is 242. The average number of laps in an IndyCar road/street course race is 87.5 laps. In comparison, you only have to run each compound for about 2.28% of a road/street course race while it was only 0.769% of this Gateway race. 

You see how that is problem. To match on proportion, the minimum number of oval laps running on each compound should be about five or six laps, but even I don't think that is enough. 

The minimum for this race should be 20 laps, because a team shouldn't be able to skirt the regulation, put on the alternate compound under caution, get to run five or six laps under caution for an extended clean up and then take off the tires and wipe their hands of it.

The minimum number of laps should be greater than a blink of an eye. It should be 20 or 30 green flag laps. Teams shouldn't be given loopholes to exploit. If IndyCar wants to run multiple compounds on ovals then it should make sure we get to see it play into the race and not have teams try to pass on a technicality. 

19. The Sato caution did bring up the wavearound issue again in IndyCar, and I mentioned it after Texas in April as well. IndyCar shouldn't allow the wavearound cars to pit under that yellow. NASCAR gets it right. You either take the wavearound and get a lap back or you make a pit stop, not both. 

It almost worked out where the waved around drivers were gifted making it on one final stop after the Sato caution because they stopped five laps after the leaders. This happens at least once almost every season in IndyCar. It shouldn't. 

There were eight cars on the lead lap when the Sato caution came out. Those cars should not be at a disadvantage for running better in the race. The driver a lap down in 13th who hasn't spent a lap in the top five should not be handed a better strategy. 

Force the teams into one decision. Stay out and get the lap back but be on older tires and have to stop in 25-40 laps anyway or pit and remain a lap down and see if there is another way to make up ground. 

I don't think it has happened yet but there have been a few situations where a driver has come close to winning only because he got the wavearound and made a pit stop within the fuel window while the leaders made their stop five or six laps earlier. 

IndyCar can stop that now. It shouldn't have gotten this far to begin with. 

20. This was a staggering race with how the strategies played out, but it is still Gateway. It is hard to pass. Not impossible, just hard. There aren't going to be nine passes a lap here. A second lane isn't going to really develop, but an additional half lane might. With tire wear, it becomes tougher because of the marbles. 

But it isn't as simple as bringing the hardest tire in the world because while that gets rid of the marbles it then means everyone is running the same speed and it will be single-file for the entire race. The only time positions will change will be during a pit cycle.  

Whether it is run at day or night this is what an Gateway race is going to be. It doesn't really matter. This is what most short oval races will be for IndyCar. Phoenix was like this. Milwaukee wasn't that much different. Loudon would look similar. Richmond could look different because of the banking and that place seems to chew up tires now. 

Iowa is the exception, not the rule. Remember that anytime more oval races, especially short oval races, come up.

21. Two races and 14 days remain in the 2023 IndyCar Series season. Onto Portland.

Morning Warm-Up: Gateway 2023

Thunderstorms significantly disrupted IndyCar's schedule from Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday, but conditions did clear for IndyCar to hold a practice session and a high line practice session in the evening and into night. Despite the rain, it has not cancelled qualifying. IndyCar has altered the Sunday schedule to include a qualifying session at 11:00 a.m. ET with the race remaining scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET. Five cars will be taking nine-spot grid penalties for this race due to using a fifth engine this season.

IndyCar's best oval driver was its fastest oval driver in the lone practice session, as Josef Newgarden topped the charts with a lap at 24.9944 seconds, an average speed of 180.040 mph. Newgarden is currently third in the championship, 105 points behind championship leader Álex Palou. Newgarden has won the last three Gateway races. Newgarden could become the first driver to win four consecutive races at one track since Al Unser, Jr. at Long Beach from 1988 to 1991. Newgarden’s most recent pole position was Belle Isle last year, 24 races ago. 

Scott McLaughlin had a spin on the access road exiting pit lane during practice. The spin did not damage McLaughlin’s car but it did see Will Power hit the barrier and collect Marcus Ericsson. Both Power and Ericsson were medically cleared after the accident. Prior to the spin, McLaughlin was second quickest, only 0.0958 seconds slower than Newgarden. McLaughlin has eight consecutive top ten finishes, the longest streak of his IndyCar career. McLaughlin's previous longest streak was five consecutive top ten results. McLaughlin is one of five drivers taking a nine-spot grid penalty. 

Takuma Sato was third in practice, 0.1163 seconds behind Newgarden, but Sato is the second of five drivers set to take a nine-spot grid penalty. Sato has six consecutive top ten finishes at Gateway. Sato's average finish at this track is 7.285, statistically his best track in IndyCar. His lone finish outside the top ten was 19th in 2019 when Sato was collected in an accident on a restart on the sixth lap of the race. 

Prior to his accident, Will Power had the fourth fastest practice lap. Power was 0.1870 seconds behind his Team Penske teammate as the Penske drivers took three of the top four spots. Power swerved up the racetrack in turn two to avoid Scott McLaughlin's car, brushing the wall and then spinning into the path of Marcus Ericsson, with the two cars colliding. The latest Power's first victory in a season has come was the 15th race of the 2013 season when he won at Sonoma. Gateway is the 15th race of the 2023 season.

Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top five in practice, 0.2123 seconds slower than Newgarden. Rosenqvist has finished outside the top twenty in the last two races. Only once has Rosenqvist had finished outside the top twenty in three consecutive starts. That was in 2021 from the Indianapolis through Mid-Ohio. He missed the second Belle Isle race and Road America during that span after an accident in the first Belle Isle race.

Alexander Rossi followed his Arrow McLaren teammate Rosenqvist on the practice sheet in sixth. Rossi was only 0.293 seconds slower than the Swede. Rossi has not finished in the top five at an oval other than Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he was second at Texas in 2019, 21 oval races ago. 

Colton Herta was just over a quarter second off Newgarden's best time, and Herta was placed in seventh. Herta has led 121 laps at Gateway. The only place where he has led more laps is Laguna Seca. The Californian has started in the top ten in three of four oval races this season. He has three top ten finishes, but his best result is seventh.

Conor Daly makes his first appearance for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this weekend at Gateway, and Daly was fastest of the RLLR three cars in his first practice session for RLLR in eighth, 0.28 seconds off Newgarden. Daly had four top ten finishes and an average finish of 7.25 in his first four Gateway starts. Daly has finished 11th and 23rd in the last two Gateway races. 

Marcus Ericsson was ninth in practice before his car needed repairs after the contact with Will Power. Ericsson was only eight-thousandths slower than Daly. Ericsson has never had a top five finish after the 11th race of the season. In three of the last four seasons, Ericsson has finished in the top five of the 11th race. In the 17 combined races that have occurred after the 11th race in those season, he has 12 top ten finishes, but his best finish is sixth. 

Callum Ilott rounded out the top ten in practice. The Briton has yet to start better than 15th this season. His last top ten start was when Illot started second in last season’s Laguna Seca finale. His best career start on an oval was 17th at Texas earlier this season. He has finished better than his starting position in every oval race this season and in 11 of 14 total races. 

Patricio O'Ward was the slowest McLaren entry, but was still 11th overall, 0.3791 seconds off the top. O'Ward has seven consecutive top ten finishes, the longest streak of his IndyCar career. Prior to this streak, O'Ward had finished the previous two races outside the top twenty. During this seven-race run, O'Ward has finished third in three races and eighth in three races with a tenth mixed in.

In 12th was David Malukas, a hair over four-tenths off first. Malukas has retired from six races this season, tie for the most among drivers that have started all 14 races. Malukas is tied with his Dale Coyne Racing teammate Sting Ray Robb. The only oval Malukas has failed to finish this season is Indianapolis. 

Romain Grosjean has finished 14th and 13th in his first two Gateway starts, and Grosjean was 13th in practice. The Frenchman has started in the top ten in four of the last five races, but he has only one top ten finish during that span. He was sixth at Nashville. 

Championship leader Álex Palou was 14th in practice, 0.4250 seconds behind Newgarden. Palou is still looking for his first career oval victory. Palou has finished in the top five in three of four oval races this season. Last season, his best oval finish was sixth. With an average finish of 14th in four Gateway starts, this is Palou's worst track based on average finish. (Update - 9:30 a.m. ET, Palou will take a nine-spot grid penalty for an unapproved engine change).

Sting Ray Robb cracked the top fifteen in practice. Robb's best starting position this season was 21st at Long Beach. His average finish on an oval this season is 27.25. Robb's average finish in ten road/street course races this season is 21.2.

Down in 16th was Scott Dixon, but Dixon will be the third of five drivers taking a nine-spot grid penalty for this race. With his victory two weeks ago on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Dixon extended his record to six victories when starting outside the top ten. No other driver in IndyCar history has won more than four races when starting outside the top ten. Dixon has won consecutive races on five occasions in his IndyCar career. Three of those occasions were streaks of three consecutive victories. 

Linus Lundqvist will make his IndyCar oval debut this weekend, and Lundqvist was 17th in practice. In four Indy Lights starts, Lundqvist had a runner-up finish, which came at Gateway, two fourth-place finishes and a ninth.

The final driver within a half-second of Newgarden's practice time was Devlin DeFrancesco in 18th. After finishing on the lead lap in six of seven races from Long Beach to Mid-Ohio, DeFrancesco has zero lead lap finishes in the last five races.

Nineteenth and the slowest Andretti Autosport car is not the greatest start to a weekend, but it gets worse for Kyle Kirkwood, as Kirkwood is the fourth driver with a nine-spot grid penalty. He has yet to have three consecutive top ten finishes. Kirkwood has finished first and ninth in the last two races. His only other time with consecutive top ten finishes was a sixth at Detroit and a ninth at Road America back in June. 

Christian Lundgaard was 20th in practice. Lundgaard has finished in the top ten in the last five road/street course races. Lundgaard has one top ten finish in nine oval starts. Only twice has Lundgaard finished outside the top 20 in 32 IndyCar starts. 

Hélio Castroneves ended up as the slowest of the two Meyer Shank Racing cars in practice, but Castroneves was only 0.0975 seconds slower than Lundqvist. Castroneves had top ten finishes in each of his first six Gateway starts prior to his 15th place finish last year. 

Agustín Canapino followed Castroneves in 22nd, and Canapino is the fifth and final driver serving a nine-spot grid penalty. The Argentine is 28 points behind Marcus Armstrong for top rookie in the championship with Armstrong not contesting the Gateway round. Canapino's average finish through the first four oval races is 20th, which pays ten points. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay was the fastest Ed Carpenter Racing entry in practice, but only 23rd out of a 28-car field. Hunter-Reay had three top ten finishes in his four most recent Gateway starts. His most recent top five finish on an oval was fifth in the 2019 Texas race. 

Rinus VeeKay immediately followed his ECR teammate Hunter-Reay in 24th. VeeKay has started outside the top ten in eight consecutive races and he has started outside the top fifteen in seven races this season. The Dutchman has finished between 11th and 15th in seven of 14 races this season. 

The two A.J. Foyt Racing entries were next to each other on the speed chart with Santino Ferrucci as the fastest of the two, but 0.8837 seconds off Newgarden in 25th. Ferrucci was fourth in his Gateway debut in 2019, and he finished tenth in the second race of the 2020 Gateway doubleheader. 

Benjamin Pedersen was over a tenth slower than Ferrucci in 26th, and 1.1405 seconds from Newgarden's time. Pedersen's average finish on ovals this season is 22.5. Pedersen's average finish in ten road/street course races this season is 24th. He has finished outside the top twenty in the last three oval races.

Ed Carpenter ended up 1.3339 seconds slower than the fastest practice lap. Carpenter's most recent podium finish was his runner-up at Gateway in 2019. He has two top ten finishes in his 19 starts since that race. 

Graham Rahal struggled with balance in his car during practice and Rahal was the slowest car, 1.4129 seconds off the top spot. Rahal's average finish on ovals this season is 23.5. That has dropped from 13.8 in 2022 Rahal's best finish in seven Gateway starts is tenth. 

NBC's coverage of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 begins at 3:30 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:36 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 260 laps.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Track Walk: Gateway 2023

The 15th and antepenultimate round of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season is the final oval race of the season, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 taking place at Gateway Motorsports Park. Only one driver has won multiple races in IndyCar's history at Gateway. Five past Gateway winners are entered in this year's race. Only two teams have won multiple Gateway races. Team Penske leads the way with seven victoires. Chip Ganassi Racing has won three times, and two of those were in the first four Gateway races held from 1997 to 2000. Only one other active team has won at this 1.25-mile oval.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday August 27 with green flag scheduled for 3:36 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Kevin Lee, Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe will be in the booth. Dillon Welch and Georgia Henneberry will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 11:00 a.m. ET (60 minutes)
Qualifying: 2:00 p.m. ET 
High Line Practice: 5:00 p.m. ET (30 minutes)
Final Practice: 5:45 p.m. ET (60 minutes)
Race: 3:36 p.m. ET (260 laps)

* - All sessions will be available live on Peacock

The Championship Picture
After a significant turn of events on the opening lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course earlier this month, the Astor Cup will be on location at Gateway Motorsports Park and be ready for presentation, as the 2023 IndyCar Series championship could be claimed this Sunday afternoon. 

Álex Palou was seventh on the IMS road course, but despite finishing outside the top five for only the third time this season, Palou extended his championship lead to 101 points over Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon. Josef Newgarden dropped to third in the championship, 105 points behind Palou, after Newgarden suffered his worst finish since the May 2022 race on the IMS road course. 

With this turn of events, all Palou has to do to clinch the championship is leave Gateway with a championship lead of 109 points over second. Palou owns the tiebreaker over Dixon, as even if Dixon wins out to finish the season, the two drivers would be tied on four victories and each would have one runner-up finish, but Palou would claim the tiebreaker with three third-place results to Dixon's one. 

Palou also holds the tiebreaker over Newgarden at the moment, but Newgarden could surpass Palou on victories. The Catalan and the American each have one runner-up finish, but Newgarden has zero third-place results. 

Palou can clinch the championship with a victory and Dixon finishing second but not scoring the maximum four bonus points, one for pole position, one for leading a lap and two for leading the most laps. 

For Dixon and Newgarden, it almost feels like the odds are 50-50 they will be able to remain below the 109-point threshold to keep the championship alive beyond Gateway. For Scott McLaughlin in fourth, a 144-point deficit to Palou means he will have some work to do to claw back at least 35 points. Frankly, anything less than a victory will not be enough for McLaughlin. There is a little more wiggle room than that for the New Zealander. If Palou scored only the minimum five points for this race, McLaughlin could get away with finishing fifth and still mathematically remain alive. However, if Palou finishes in the top ten this weekend, regardless of how McLaughlin does, McLaughlin will be eliminated from the championship. 

It is worse for Patricio O'Ward. O'Ward is 151 points behind Palou. Even with a maximum 54-point victory, if Palou finishes 18th or better, O'Ward will be eliminated from the championship.

Marcus Ericsson is in the identical position that Christian Lundgaard was in at Indianapolis two weeks ago. With three races remaining, only 162 points remain on the table. Ericsson is 162 points behind Palou. The only way for Ericsson to have a shot at winning the championship is to win all three races with maximum points and have Palou not start any of them. 

However, Palou will likely start one of the final three, and even if Ericsson won the final three events with maximum points, he would lose the championship on tiebreaker, as Palou and Ericsson would each have four victories and one runner-up finish, but Palou's three third-place results beat Ericsson's one third-place result. 

After the IMS road course race two weeks ago, Will Power had his championship defense ended, and Christian Lundgaard was eliminated the moment his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Graham Rahal won pole position.

Oval Points
While the overall championship still has a glimmer of a hope of going to the finale, the unofficial oval championship has already been claimed despite there being one oval race still to run.

It should be no surprise that Josef Newgarden clinched top oval driver honors with his four victories in four oval races this season. Newgarden has scored 210 points, 69 points more than the next best driver in oval points, which happens to be Álex Palou. 

Despite Newgarden's oval success of late, this is the first time Newgarden has been the top oval driver since 2016 when he drove for Ed Carpenter Racing. He is the first Team Penske driver to claim top oval driver since Simon Pagenaud in 2019. In the previous two seasons, Patricio O'Ward had scored the most points on ovals. Since discipline championships were first recognized in 2010, the oval champion has only won the overall championship twice, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Scott Dixon in 2020. 

It is a battle for best of the rest on ovals. Palou is second on 141 points, 18 points ahead of two of his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon. Ericsson holds the tiebreaker as Ericson was second to Newgarden in the Indianapolis 500 while Dixon's best oval finish was fifth at Texas. 

Scott McLaughlin rounds out the top five in oval points with 115, two more than Patricio O'Ward. Will Power is the final driver with a mathematical shot of second in oval points. Power has 97 points, 44 points off of Palou. 

Leading off the third tier of oval drivers is Colton Herta, the top Andretti Autosport driver in these standings. Herta has 87 points, seven more than Alexander Rossi. David Malukas rounds out the top ten in oval points with 79, three more than Rinus VeeKay while Felix Rosenqvist is three points behind VeeKay. 

Callum Ilott has 72 points, one point behind Rosenqvist. Santino Ferrucci has 67 points, 45 of which came from the Indianapolis 500, while two-time oval champion Hélio Castroneves rounds out the top fifteen on 66 points. Mathematically speaking, everyone down to Castroneves has a chance to finish in the top five in oval points this season.

Takuma Sato is a point behind Castroneves in 16th. Romain Grosjean has scored 59 points on ovals this season, three more than Conor Daly and four more than Kyle Kirkwood. 

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's oval struggles are best illustrated in Christian Lundgaard being RLLR's top driver in oval points with 48 points, one more than Jack Harvey. Agustín Canapino has scored 42 points, the leading rookie in oval points, while Devlin DeFrancesco has 41 points and Ed Carpenter has 40 points. Benjamin Pedersen rounds out the top 25 in oval points on 36 points. 

The other drivers to score points on ovals this season are Ryan Hunter-Reay (33 points), Graham Rahal (29), Sting Ray Robb (21), Simon Pagenaud (18), Tony Kanaan (18), Marco Andretti (13) R.C. Enerson (5) and Katherine Legge (5). 

Going For the Sweep
As mentioned above, Josef Newgarden has won all four oval races this season, and Newgarden has the chance to sweep all five oval races on the 2023 IndyCar calendar. Newgarden is the first driver to win four oval races in a single season since Scott Dixon in 2009. Newgarden could become the first driver to win five oval races in a season since Dixon did it in 2008 if Newgarden closes out the deal at Gateway, a place where he has won three consecutive races.

As for sweeping oval races, the only time it has been done was with Sébastien Bourdais in the 2006 Champ Car season. However, Milwaukee was the only oval race on that 2006 Champ Car schedule, not quite an apt comparison to 2023 and Newgarden's accomplishments. 

It isn't just victories where Newgarden has excelled. Newgarden has led 469 of the 950 laps run on ovals this season. That is 49.368% of the oval laps run. He has won all four of these races despite not starting on the front row in any of those races. Newgarden has started on row two for two of these four victories, but he won the second Iowa race from seventh, and he won the Indianapolis 500 from 17th starting position. 

Newgarden's average running position this season in four oval starts is 3.006316. Of the 950 oval laps, Newgarden has been in the top five for 809 laps. That is 85.157% of the oval laps run. He has spent 907 of 950 laps in the top ten, 95.473% of the laps run. Newgarden has been in the top ten for 273 consecutive oval laps. He was last outside the top ten in an oval race on lap 177 of the Indianapolis 500 when he was 12th. 

While Newgarden will be looking for five-for-five, there will be 27 other drivers this weekend looking to spoil the party, beginning with the championship leader Álex Palou. Palou has two podium finishes, three top five finishes and finished in the top ten of all four oval races this season. Palou has led 59 oval laps this season. The Catalan is still looking for his first career oval victory. 

Scott Dixon has finished in the top ten in all four oval races this season, but since finishing fifth at Texas, he has finished sixth in the last three oval events. He has only led four oval laps this season. Dixon's most recent oval victory was the first race of the 2021 Texas doubleheader. 

Newgarden's biggest challenger is likely his teammate Scott McLaughlin. In 13 career oval starts, McLaughlin has three runner-up finishes, five podium finishes, seven top five finishes and ten top ten finishes. All three of his non-top ten results have come in the Indianapolis 500. McLaughlin was fourth and third in his first two Gateway starts. He led 12 laps in last year's Gateway race.

Patricio O'Ward has four top five finishes in four Gateway races. O'Ward's average finish of 2.75 is the best among all drivers with a minimum of three starts at the 1.25-mile oval. This season he has two podium finishes and three top ten finishes on ovals with his accident at the Indianapolis 500 being the lone blemish this season. The Mexican driver has led 130 laps in the first four oval races.

Marcus Ericsson has finished in the top ten in all four of his oval starts. Ericsson led 30 laps before finishing second in the Indianapolis 500. The Swede's last two top five finishes have come on ovals. His fourth in the first Iowa race is his only top five finish in the last eight races.

Will Power led the most laps in last year's Gateway race before he finished sixth. Power has never started worse than fourth at Gateway. Along with his 2018 victory, he has been on the podium in two of the last three Gateway races. Power was in the top five of both Iowa races, but he finished outside the top fifteen at Texas and Indianapolis.

Honda has not won in any of the last seven oval races. Marcus Ericsson's Indianapolis 500 victory last year is Honda's most recent oval victory. Andretti Autosport has not won an oval race since Pocono 2018. The team has not won on a short oval since Iowa 2015. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's best oval finish this season was 13th in the second Iowa race. Meyer Shank Racing's only top ten finish was tenth in the Texas race. Dale Coyne Racing has two top ten finishes this season with its best result being fourth at Texas.

PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge
There are three races remaining this season, but this is the final chance for the $1 million PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge prize to be claimed. The only driver that could claim it is championship lead Álex Palou.

Each IndyCar winner earns a $10,000 donation to charity of the team and driver's choosing. However, the first driver to win a race on a road course, street course and an oval will earn $1,000,000 for charity. 

Palou won on the IMS road course, Road America and Mid-Ohio, and his street course victory was at Detroit. Those four victories means $40,000 has been donated to the American Legion. Palou is the only driver to have won on multiple track disciplines this season. 

History tells us not completing the challenge would be the surprise. 

In seven of the previous eight seasons, a driver has won a race on all three track disciplines. Last season, it took Josef Newgarden eight races to win on all three disciplines. That was the earliest a driver had won on all three disciplines since 2015. In the other six seasons it happened, it took on average 13.8333 races for a driver to win on the third and final discipline. 

Only twice in the previous seven occasions has a driver who won on all three disciplines won the championship. Scott Dixon did it in 2015 when his only three victories were at Long Beach, Texas and Sonoma. Newgarden has won on all three disciplines three times total, but his first time was during his 2017 championship season. The American won at Barber Motorsports Park, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Gateway.

Driver Changes
The end of the season is near but that has not stopped teams from making driver changes this close to the finish.

Just after the IMS road course race, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced Jack Harvey was relieved of his duties with the organization, and Conor Daly will drive the #30 Honda at Gateway. Harvey was 22nd in the championship after the first 14 races. His best finish was 13th at Long Beach. Daly ran the first seven races this season with Ed Carpenter Racing before driving three rounds in the #60 Honda for Meyer Shank Racing for the injured Simon Pagenaud. 

Not a change from the most recent round, but still someone different, Linus Lundqvist will continue in the #60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda at Gateway, the first oval start for Lundqvist. After hitting the barrier at Nashville and finishing 25th on debut, the Swede rebounded to finish 12th on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course two weeks ago. Lundqvist was second in last year's Gateway Indy Lights race behind Matthew Brabham. 

One previously scheduled driver change was at Chip Ganassi Racing. With this being the final oval race of the season, this will also be Takuma Sato's final start of the 2023 season. Sato has two top ten finishes and two finishes outside the top twenty between the four oval races. Sato's 65 points earned combined with Marcus Armstrong's 179 points from the road and street course races has the #11 Honda ranked 14th in the entrants' championship, only two points behind the #6 McLaren Chevrolet and within nine points of the #28 Andretti Autosport Honda. The #11 Honda is ahead of RLLR's #15 Honda, both Ed Carpenter Racing entries as well as both entries from Dale Coyne Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing, Meyer Shank Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing. 

Ed Carpenter returns for his final round as a driver this season in the additional #33 Chevrolet. Carpenter's best finish was 13th at Texas, but he has finished 20th or worse in his last three starts. Carpenter has not finished in the top ten in his last ten starts. He had a top five finish in four consecutive seasons prior to this current two-year slump. 

Road to Indy
Two Road to Indy series are competing this weekend, but they are competing at two different circuits. 

At Gateway, Indy Lights has its final oval race of the season and only four races remain in that season. 

Sixteen drivers are mathematically alive for the Indy Lights champion with 216 points remaining on the table. 

Christian Rasmussen maintains the championship lead with 362 points, 33 points ahead of Hunter McElera, who won the most recent race from the IMS road course. After three finishes outside the top ten in the last four races, Nolan Siegel has dropped to third, 55 points behind Rasmussen. Three consecutive top five finishes has Jacob Abel 57 points back in fourth. 

Louis Foster is 93 points back in fifth while Reece Gold is 102 points back. James Roe, Jr. picked up his career best finish of second at the IMS road course, and Roe, Jr. is a point behind Gold in the championship. Danial Frost sits on 233 points in eighth, 12 points ahead of Kyffin Simpson with Ernie Francis, Jr. rounding out the top ten on 200 points. Simpson will not be at Gateway due to European Le Mans Series commitments at Aragón. 

Rasmus Lindh is in 11th on 194 points, 11 points clear of Jamie Chadwick. Christian Bogle is a point behind Chadwick with Jagger Jones on 179 points. Enaam Ahmed and Matteo Nannini are both still mathematically alive for the championship, but neither is entered this weekend. 

Last year, Matthew Brabham won at Gateway ahead of Linus Lundqvist and Benjamin Pedersen. This year, Brabham will drive the #75 Juncos Hollinger Racing entry at Gateway. It will be Brabham's third start this season. 

Frost was fourth in this race a year ago, the best finisher of the returning entries ahead of McElrea. Rasmussen was 12th after an accident.

Indy Lights will race at 3:35 p.m. ET on Saturday August 26. The race is scheduled for 75 laps.

While IndyCar and Indy Lights will race at Gateway, USF Pro 2000 will race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas this weekend. This is the penultimate weekend of the USF Pro 2000 season, a doubleheader, before the Portland triple-header finale the following weekend. 

Eleven drivers are mathematically alive for the championship, but Myles Rowe can claim the championship if he leaves Austin with a championship lead of 66 points or greater. Rowe has 299 points and he is 81 points ahead of Kiko Porto. 

Rowe has won five times this season while Porto has yet to win this season. Salvador de Alba's only victory this season was at Indianapolis Raceway Park, and de Alba is 84 pants behind Rowe. Michael d'Orlando is the only other driver with multiple victories this season, he has won three times, but d'Orlando has funding concerns over whether he will be able to finish this season. He is entered this weekend, and D'Orlando is 93 points behind Rowe, tied with Joel Granfors, but Granfors has only one victory. 

Francesco Pizzi is 98 points behind Rowe with Liri Zendeli 110 points back. Jace Denmark is 116 points behind his Pabst Racing teammate Rowe. Jonathan Browne is 130 points back in ninth while Jack William Miller is 141 points off the top. Reece Ushijima is still mathematically alive, but Ushijima is not entered this weekend. 

There are a few drivers making their USF Pro 2000 debuts this weekend. Nikita Johnson will drive for VRD Racing and Mac Clark will drive for DEForce Racing. Johnson and Clark are ranked third and fourth respectively in the U.S. F2000 championship this season.

USF Pro 2000 will race at 6:20 p.m. ET on Saturday August 26 and at 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday August 27. Both races are scheduled for 15 laps. 

Fast Facts
This will be the ninth IndyCar race on August 27 and the first since Graham Rahal won at Texas in 2016, which was the infamous race that was started in June but the final 177 laps were run on August 27. 

The last time a race was scheduled for August 27 was the 2006 Sonoma race, which was Marco Andretti's first career victory. Champ Car started a race at Montreal that day, but only six laps were completed before rain delayed the finish. That Montreal race was completed the following day, which Sébastien Bourdais won.

This August 27 is also the 45th anniversary of Mario Andretti's final Formula One victory, which came at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

The average starting position for a Gateway winner is 4.0714 with a median of third. 

Nine consecutive Gateway races have been won from a top five starting position. 

The average starting position for an oval winner this season is 7.75. 

The pole-sitter has only one two of 14 Gateway races. 

The pole-sitter has not won in 16 consecutive IndyCar oval races. The last oval race won from pole position was the second Iowa race in 2020, which Josef Newgarden won.

Chevrolet has won seven consecutive oval races. This is tied for the longest oval winning streak since Chevrolet won seven consecutive oval races from Milwaukee 2012 to Iowa 2013. Those were Chevrolet's first seven oval victories after it returned to IndyCar competition.

Since the introduction of the universal aero kit ahead of the 2018 season Chevrolet has won 19 of 29 oval races. 

Chevrolet has won five of seven Gateway races since 2017. Team Penske is responsible for every Chevrolet victory at Gateway, beginning with Gil de Ferran's victory in the 2002 Gateway race.

Gateway has never hosted a first career victory. 

Only two of the 17 first-time winners in the DW12-era had their first career victory come on an oval  (Alexander Rossi and Patricio O'Ward).

The average number of lead changes in a Gateway race is 9.1428 with a median of ten.

Eight of 14 Gateway races have had at least ten lead changes. 

The average number of cautions in a Gateway race is 4.214 with a median of four. The average number of caution laps is 38.0714 with median of 32 laps. 

Four of the last seven Gateway races have had exactly two caution periods. The other three races have had five, five and six cautions respectively. 

Josef Newgarden completes the sweep but he wins from the second row and leads at least 135 laps. Scott Dixon remains mathematically alive for the championship and Álex Palou does finish in the top ten. Scott McLaughlin will lead at least 75 laps. Colton Herta gets his best Gateway finish since 2020. At least one top five starter finishes outside the top fifteen. No Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car finishes on the lead lap. Linus Lundqvist will be the top finishing rookie and top finishing Meyer Shank Racing driver. David Malukas has a spell running in the top five but he does not finish in the top five. There will not be a mid-race rain delay that forces this race to be completed after sunset. No cars will be disqualified. Sleeper: Kyle Kirkwood. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

2023 MotoGP Midseason Review

It is odd that MotoGP has a 20-race calendar and in late August we have just reached the halfway points. After having the first ten races in a 147-day period, the final ten events will take place over 84 days. This includes one new race and a pair of triple-headers stretching from the Pacific region to the Middle East before ending in Europe. 

Much has happened in the first half of the season that has seen a new weekend format and a shake up in the main players each weekend. What can we glean from the first half before moving on to the second act of 2023?

Is this Francesco Bagnaia's championship to lose?
Yeah, pretty much. Up 62 points with ten races remaining, it is far from being a runaway, but Bagnaia has been in control this season. He has won half the races contested so far and has finished second two other times. He has finished outside the points in the other three races, two of which were retirements, but nobody has been close to matching the Italian's consistency.

There were signs of the reckless ways early in the season when Bagnaia coughed up a substantial number of points in Argentina, Austin and France, but for the last five races he has not put a wheel wrong and hasn't looked close to going over the edge. 

Adding to the difficulty of overtaking the Italian is Bagnaia's sprint race success. He has won four sprint races and stood on the podium for eight of them. No one is close to matching his points pace and even if he only has good sprint results for the rest of the season it will likely be enough insurance to keep the field at bay.

Bagnaia has been riding brilliantly, not overstepping the line, almost realizing the Ducati Desmosedici GP23 is significantly greater than the rest of the field and does not require being pushed beyond its limits.

Does anyone have a prayer?
Any optimist would try and muster up a yes. Mathematically, it is possible for someone else to win the championship. Crazier things have happened. It doesn't feel like this title is going to anyone but Bagnaia. 

Jorge Martín is second in the world championship, but outside of three consecutive podium finishes that ended with his victory in Germany, he hasn't been close to Bagnaia. Martín has only six sprint race podium finishes and only two sprint victories as well. 

For a period, it looked like Marco Bezzecchi was going to be Bagnaia's main challenger, but his retirement while riding second to Bagnaia at Silverstone was a significant blow to Bezzecchi's fight. Add to it Bezzecchi's lacking sprint success with only one victory and four podium finishes while finishing outside the sprint points twice and outside the top three in the other four sprint races. 

Then there is Brad Binder in fourth, who has yet to win this season but even with his consistency Binder is 91 points behind Bagnaia before you hit Johann Zarco, a man who has never won a MotoGP race, 126 points off the top. 

The best hope is Martín or Bezzecchi go on a tear in the second half, and sprint races could work in their favor. One double retirement weekend from Bagnaia combined with a sweep for either rider and they are back in it. It isn't over, but it is going to require a few fortunate weekends to turn heads. 

That is the most realistic challenge and even that seems like a stretch.

Who has been a pleasant surprise?
Binder keeps up his consistent ways. The crazy thing is his best race was the Argentina sprint race where he rode from 15th to the victory only for Argentina to be his worst grand prix result in 17th, aside from his retirement in Germany. 

With Jack Miller joining the KTM fold in 2023, it would have bee understandable if Binder fell to second in the Austrian make's pecking order, but Binder has finished ahead of Miller in eight of ten races. Every race Binder has been in the points he has been ahead of Miller. You cannot ask for more than that. 

Last season, Binder scored points in all but one race and it earned him sixth in the championship, the best rider without a victory. He has already matched his 2022 podium finish total in the first ten races. Binder has been in the right position to win races but hasn't broken through yet. If he keeps up this pace, one of the final ten will go his way. 

Where are the Japanese manufacturers?
At the German Grand Prix, for the first time since the 1969 Yugoslavian Grand Prix, none of the top ten finishers were a Japanese motorcycle. In fact, there wasn't a Japanese make in the top 11 of the German Grand Prix. 

Then no Japanese bike finished in the top 13 at the British Grand Prix.

It is bad as both Yamaha and Honda have fallen from fray and are nowhere to be seen. Álex Rins' victory at Austin in April becomes more staggering with each passing race. Rins' victory is Honda's only top five finish this season. Fabio Quartararo's third in Austin is Yamaha's only podium finish as well. 

Quartararo is the top Yamaha rider in the championship, 11th on 73 points, eight points ahead of teammate Franco Morbidelli in 12th. Rins has missed the last five races due to a broken right leg and he is still the top Honda rider in the championship, 14th on 47 points, 13 points clear of his LCR Honda teammate Takaaki Nakagami, the next best Honda rider through ten races.

The pain of watching Marc Márquez
For a split second, when Márquez took pole position for the season opener at Portimão and finished third in the opening sprint race, it felt like Márquez was on for something magnificent and the magic was back. Then he plowed into Miguel Oliveira early in the grand prix, injured his arm and missed three races. He proceeded to fall at both Le Mans and Mugello before fracturing his thumb in Germany and forcing him to miss that race and the Dutch TT. 

He had another accident at Silverstone before his finished 12th in Austria, his first grand prix finished this season. 

Márquez has these sparks where it feels like he still has it, but the Honda backslide has finally caught him as well. After years of being the one man to draw success out of that bike, Márquez is no longer the all powerful. He is struggling like the rest of his Honda cohorts. 

The crashes and dropped points could be pointed as a world-class rider doing all he can to drag a bike up the grid. One cannot help but imagine what Márquez would achieve if he was on even a Gresini Ducati. 

Plenty of rumors are floating about a potential departure from Honda. Márquez's contract runs through 2024, but it feels like if he wants one more shot at the world championship, it will have to come elsewhere. Can he afford one more year trudging around on the Honda? The partnership is one of legend, but it could be time for each to go their separate ways for the better. 

Sprint Races
Back in the middle of April, I wrote about how I liked sprint races in MotoGP after initially not liking the proposed introduction of them for the full season. 

I still like them, but as mentioned above, they do change the complexion of the championship thanks to the points that are offered. 

Remove the sprint points and the championship would like the following (Difference from actual championship positions):

1. Francesco Bagnaia - 165 (-)
2. Marco Bezzecchi - 133 (+1)
3. Jorge Martín - 119 (-1)
4. Brad Binder - 103 (-)
5. Johann Zarco - 100 (-)
6. Luca Marini - 93 (-)
7. Aleix Espargaró - 88 (-)
8. Álex Márquez - 65 (+1)
9. Fabio Quartararo - 65 (+2)
10.Jack Miller - 63 (-2)
11. Maverick Viñales - 62 (-1)
12. Franco Morbidelli - 58 (-)
13. Augusto Fernández - 49 (-)
14. Álex Rins - 38 (-)
15. Fabio Di Giannantonio - 37 (+1)
16. Takaaki Nakagami - 33 (+1)
17. Miguel Oliveira - 30 (-2)
18. Enea Bastianini - 21 (-)
19. Raúl Fernández - 14 (+1)
20. Dani Pedrosa - 9 (+1)
21. Lorenzo Salvadori - 9 (+1)
22. Jonas Folger - 9 (+1)
23. Michele Pirro - 5 (+2)
24 Joan Mir - 5 (+2)
25. Danilo Petrucci - 5 (+2)
26. Stefan Bradl - 5 (+2)
27. Pol Espargaró - 4 (-3)
28. Marc Márquez - 4 (-9)

It would at least feel a little more like a championship. Bezzecchi would still be rather close. It would look a lot like what we saw last year with Bagnaia taking on Quartararo. 

Martín would be closer than he is now despite being down in third. It would still feel like this was far from over. One slip from Bagnaia and it could tighten up considerably. 

This illustrates how sprint points become insurance for bad Sundays, and how sprint points only increase the gaps between those at the top. Just like stage points in NASCAR and sprint points in Formula One, it doesn't make anything close, it only spreads out the field even more. 

Unlike Formula One, MotoGP's sprint races are at least a tad intriguing and are not necessarily carbon copies of what will be seen during the grand prix. Are they helping bring in more viewers and increasing the exposure and popularity of MotoGP? That remains to be seen, but we had a great crowd at Jerez and Le Mans. Silverstone looked better than last year. 

There are still concerns about the physical toll it will put on riders. Those concerns have been expressed from day one. Let's get through the season and then regroup on sprints. 

Who can draw positives from the first ten races?
Somewhat under-appreciated, Álex Márquez has come out strong in his first season on a Ducati. Last season, Márquez's best finish was eighth. This year, he has finished better than eighth in six of the first ten races, including a podium from pole position in Argentina and a sprint victory in Silverstone. He has retired from four grand prix this season, but Márquez is the leading Gresini rider after a period when people just wrote him off.

On the other end of the spectrum, I think Franco Morbidelli's season has been good when put in context. Morbidelli has second 65 points and outside of a fourth in Argentina, he has only finished better than tenth on one occasion, but he is only eight points behind his Yamaha factory teammate Fabio Quartararo. Considering Quartararo has been first and second in the championship the last two seasons while Morbidelli was 17th and 19th, Morbidelli being eight points behind Quartararo is a rather remarkable rebound. It shows Morbidelli isn't being thoroughly thrashed.

Look at it as through ten races Morbidelli has scored 89.04% of Quartararo's point total. If you had said Morbidelli would have over 89% of Quartararo's point total through the first ten races at the start of the season, that would have been considered impressive. Let's give Morbidelli his due.

The rider needing a reverse of fortune the most is...
Enea Bastianini. One shoulder injury has derailed Bastianini's season and after an impressive campaign on a year-old bike last season, his first year with the factory team has been a nightmare of sorts. 

Five races missed and his best finish is eighth in the five races he started. Bastianini hasn't been close to Bagnaia in his five starts this season. Can it get better? Yes. Will it get better? It comes down to Bastianini's fitness and comfort on the bike. This can easily be written off as a lost season with attention turned to 2024, but Bastianini could use a handful of good results to boost his confidence before this season ends.

Is there any silly season drama?
As a matter of fact, yes there is, and it is with one of the top manufacturers. 

KTM has effectively five riders for four bikes. Moto2 championship Pedro Acosta has been waitlisted at the moment for a 2024 MotoGP ride as KTM has all four of its bikes tied up for next season. The factory team is set with Binder and Miller. GasGas Tech3 has Augusto Fernández and Pol Espargaró on the books, but Fernández appears to be the most likely to lose his spot to make room for Acosta if an alternative option cannot be found. MotoGP is not allowing KTM to expand as it is holding two spots should another factory effort want to join the series. 

With all this at play, Acosta is left ready for the move but without a dancing partner. This will continue throughout the second half of the season. 

Elsewhere, Álex Rins is moving from LCR Honda to the factory Yamaha. 

Johann Zarco is leaving Pramac Ducati for a vacant spot at LCR Honda. 

Both Mooney VR46 spots are not sewn up for 2024. Marc Márquez is potentially interested in a move. Franco Morbidelli could be in the running for a Ducati ride. Plenty of balls are still hanging in the air.

What to expect from the second half?
The final half of this season looks much different from the second half of last season. Qatar and Indonesia moved from the first two rounds of the calendar to the back half of this season. Qatar is actually the penultimate round. The inaugural Indian Grand Prix will take place in month's time. Barcelona leads off the second half after being a June round for much of its existence. 

Ducati will continue to succeed. It won four of the returning nine rounds last season, and it had at least one bike on the podium in all nine of them. Surprisingly, it had multiple podium finishers in only two of those races. 

KTM won two of those races last year. More specifically, Miguel Oliveira won both of those races for KTM last year, and to get even more specific, Oliveira won in wet conditions at Indonesia and then won in Thailand. Suzuki won at Australia and Valencia last year, so those two races will have new winners. Fabio Quartararo won at Barcelona last June. 

Bagnaia will continue his form. He is going to win at least two or three more races and continue to bank sprint points. There will be races where he settles for a third or fourth if he cannot challenge for the lead. The championship will easily be his, but due to the abundance of points thanks to sprint races, he likely only clinches a round early, which is good for keeping people tuned in, but it will feel inevitable. 

There will be plenty of competition from other Ducati riders. Marco Bezzecchi levels out and pulls ahead of Jorge Martín. KTM will break through and get at least one victory as Binder makes a push for a top three championship position. Last year, Aprilia faded in the second half. I don't think Aprilia repeats that slide but it will not see a significant bump upward in results. 

As for Yamaha and Honda, they will at least have one or two good races, something that lifts the spirits. Anything more than that is hard to fathom. 

India is a fun question mark. The long straightaways of the Buddh International Circuit should favor Ducati. The circuit has not been used much in the nearly ten years since the final Formula One race there. However, it could race like Austin, which saw Honda win ahead of Ducati, Yamaha and two Aprilias.

There will be at least one surprise winner, either someone who hasn't been a great this year or someone just outside the main picture who has never won in the top class or has not won in quite some time.