Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Best of the Month: October 2023

Two months remains in the calendar year, but the motorsports season is approaching its final act. More and more hardware is being distributed and it will continue for another month. October is not the crescendo it once was but it remains a notable part of the year. 

IndyCar Silly Season
It didn't really happen until a week ago, but IndyCar silly season sparked off and caught everybody's attention with a series of moves and decisions that have yet to be made. 

In the last decade, IndyCar silly season moves quick. In recent years, 95% of the grid is settled come Thanksgiving and we are at 100% before Christmas. In the last few years, we have known about 30 Indianapolis 500 entries before the calendar has even changed to the New Year. The final week of October may have gotten the ball rolling on the final act, but we aren't sure how it will play out. 

What has brought us here to this moment? 

It started with a surprise. Pietro Fittipaldi, nearly three years removed from his most recent IndyCar appearance, was announced as the full-time driver for the #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda entry in 2024, a pairing nobody had previous heard coming prior to the unexpected announcement. 

Then something rather expected occurred. Ed Carpenter Racing confirmed it would have the 2023 Indy Lights champion Christian Rasmussen drive the #20 Chevrolet in 2024. However, Rasmussen would not have a full-time ride, as ECR announced Ed Carpenter would return to the #20 Chevrolet for the oval races, shuttering the oval-only third entry Carpenter had driven the previous two seasons for the team, meaning Rasmussen would only contest the 11 road/street course races in the #20 entry. However, ECR did confirm the Danish driver would run an additional car for the team at the Indianapolis 500. 

The final surprise was Callum Ilott's dismissal from Juncos Hollinger Racing after two seasons with the team and having an option for the 2024 season. Ilott's dismissal was a little more than a week after JHR confirmed Agustín Canapino would return for his second season with the organization. 

Where do these recent moves leave us on the final day of October in the year 2023? 

Twenty-two seats are officially accounted for. 

Andretti Autosport, or soon to be known as Andretti Global, is keeping Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood with Marcus Ericsson joining the fray.

Arrow McLaren has Patricio O'Ward and Alexander Rossi returning, and it is adding David Malukas.

Chip Ganassi Racing is retaining Scott Dixon and Álex Palou, promoting Marcus Armstrong to full-time while bringing in Linus Lundqvist and expanding to accommodate the paycheck from Kyffin Simpson. 

We have covered Ed Carpenter Racing running the Rasmussun/Carpenter partnership, but Rinus VeeKay will be back as well.

Add Canapino remaining at Juncos Hollinger Racing.

Meyer Shank Racing has Felix Rosenqvist taking over the #60 Honda entry while Tom Blomqvist's full-time move will be in the #06 Honda. 

Along with the addition of Pietro Fittipaldi, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard back for another season. 

No changes at Team Penske with Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin and Will Power staying where they are at. 

What is left undecided?

A.J. Foyt Racing has not confirmed either Santino Ferrucci or Benjamin Pedersen will be back. 

Andretti Autosport has to make a decision about the vacant fourth seat that will not be receiving around $1 million in Leader Circle funding. 

Neither Dale Coyne Racing seat has been claimed, though the team has announced plans to test Enzo Fittipaldi, younger brother of Pietro.

There is the open Juncos Hollinger Racing seat now that Callum Ilott is out.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has left open the possibility of a fourth full-time entry for Jüri Vips, who remains contracted with the team as a reserve driver though Vip was passed over for the #30 entry. Of course, with 15 Honda entries already confirmed for full-time competition, the additional RLLR seat could come down to whether or not Andretti Autosport keeps its fourth entry. 

We are likely looking at a minimum of 27 full-time entries again with an outside chance of 28, and that isn't even factoring that we have four Indianapolis 500-only entries set. Those would be Marco Andretti in an additional Andretti car, Kyle Larson's Double attempt with McLaren, Rasmussen in his ride with ECR and then Hélio Castroneves with Meyer Shank Racing. 

A few tests will be held over the coming weeks before the holiday testing break goes into effect and there are over a dozen drivers who competed in IndyCar last year without a seat at the moment for 2024 while a host of drivers from other disciplines also have interest in the series. Silly season is only heating up as the seats begin to dwindle.

November Preview
I wanted to take a moment to point out how different November is from Novembers of the past because this coming Sunday is the final race of the NASCAR season. Meanwhile, MotoGP and Formula One each have three races remaining in November. 

Not long ago, it was the opposite. NASCAR would go deep into November and MotoGP and Formula One wouldn't even race in November. They would be over by the end of October at the latest. 

Here we are in 2023 with the two global series running through most of autumn, which is actually most of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, and America’s biggest series isn’t even making it a week into November. 

MotoGP will end with a three-week global jaunt from Malaysia to Qatar to Valencia. Three weeks, three continents and a championship battle worth the excessive travel. 

Formula One has its race in Brazil but after a week off it will run an absurd event late on a Saturday night on the streets of Las Vegas before ending seven days later with another night race in Abu Dhabi.

Twenty years ago, such ends to the seasons were unthinkable, borderline crazy to an extent. Perhaps the world has gone mad, and motorsports wasn't immunity to the insanity. 

Other events of note in November:
The FIA World Endurance Championship ends in Bahrain.
The World Rally Championship has a dead-rubber in Japan. 
Supercars has a championship decider in Adelaide between Brodie Kostecki and American-bound Shane van Gisbergen.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Regularly Scheduled Programming

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

There was plenty of IndyCar silly season news we will discuss later. Charles Leclerc made an entire country mad. One two-wheel championship tightened. One two-wheel championship ended. NASCAR had an unsuspected clean race and dragged out a team implosion because nobody understands the value of proper team orders. Suzuka will have to update its safety standards. The World Rally Championship was in three countries. World Superbike will visit only two continents next year. However, that isn't the schedule on my mind.

Regularly Scheduled Programming
The one nice thing about Formula One is you always know how a race weekend is going to be... for the most part. Sprint weekends are kind of a wrinkle we are all adjusting to, but we know what most weekends will be like to the very hour. 

Hours have shifted, but for the most part, you know when everything will be taking place. In my youth, first practice on Friday would be at 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time with second practice at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. The final practice session would be at 5:00 a.m. Saturday before qualifying at 8:00 a.m. with the grand prix at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. 

When there was a grand prix weekend, you didn't have to think twice about the time. At least not when it was a European round. Things were thrown off when a race would take place in Australia or Japan, but even those had a certain feeling to them. You knew when to be up.

It is the one thing Formula One has gotten right and still gets right for all these years. It isn't going to change any time soon. Even with the sprint format, the weekend feels the same, and that could be the reason for some reluctance to any significant changes. 

The schedule is the one thing Formula One has that IndyCar could realistically replicate. 

In the wake of the Drive to Survive jealousy, IndyCar's inferior complex has been on full display for the last few years. From the lack of attention despite measurably better racing to disappointment in the roadside carnival aesthetic of its events compared to glitzy structure at every Formula One gathering including the ones at temporary venues, many around the American-based series keep picking out its flaws and demanding to mirror the global roadshow in at least presentation. 

That's not going to happen. IndyCar doesn't have the budget, nor do its events, to build elaborate podiums with LED screens and pyrotechnics up the wazoo. IndyCar is going to look like IndyCar indefinitely, however, it could set a structured schedule and keep it at every event, at least for Fridays and Saturdays. 

With all of IndyCar's practice and qualifying sessions, outside of the Indianapolis 500, broadcasted on a streaming service, IndyCar is not handcuffed to televisions windows when it comes to its preliminary action leading up to a race. 

IndyCar is the main event at all of its race weekends. It has first choice of every time window for every session. 

Instead of willy-nilly selecting a time, it is realistic for IndyCar to pick the same time at every race weekend. A road/street course weekend usually has the same structure, one Friday afternoon practice with a practice Saturday morning before qualifying Saturday afternoon. The framework is there. Now it is about setting the time consistently. 

The beauty of a streaming service being its main broadcast partner is IndyCar can set the time and the service can open the lines for the most part. Practice isn't looking to squeeze between a soccer match and a pre-game show for a college basketball game at 11:30 a.m. ET on a Saturday morning. Nor does qualifying have to move to 6:30 p.m. ET after a college football game end and have to worry about the game going long and qualifying being joined in progress. 

A streaming partner allows IndyCar to have whatever window it wants and not worry about being stepped on from either end of the session. If IndyCar wants every Friday practice at 4:00 p.m. ET, the first Saturday practice at 10:00 a.m. ET and qualifying at 3:00 p.m., it can do that, and it should. 

Uniformity allows people to get comfortable and know when things are going to happen. They don't have to chase a schedule and think practice is at 1:00 p.m. when it actually occurred at noon. A person doesn't have to plan around watching qualifying at 4:00 p.m. and only to find out it will start at 5:00 p.m. while that person has made dinner plans with a friend for 5:30 p.m. 

As baffling as it can be sometimes that proclaimed fans of a series complain on social media of not knowing when a race or session happens, it can be understandable if they cannot keep up on the exact time. Everyone has their own schedule and lives. There are enough scheduled events we struggle to remember that actual matter in our daily lives that we don't need a recreational viewing habit to a drain on our schedules as well. 

IndyCar could make every fans' life easier if it set the same times for practice and qualifying for every event. 

There will be a few exceptions and this is where it gets difficult. The continental United States has four time zones. A 10:00 a.m. Eastern start in St. Petersburg doesn't work for Long Beach. Not many residents would be thrilled with race cars hitting the streets for practice at 7:00 a.m. local. The teams don't want that either as that means they likely have to show up to prepare for practice at 4:00 a.m. and that is at the latest. 

There would either have to be an Eastern/Central Time Zone schedule and a Pacific Time Zone schedule, or IndyCar would have to pick up times that work for the entire country. A 5:00 p.m. Eastern Friday practice works across the country. Saturdays are a little more flexible. A noon Eastern practice would be 9:00 a.m. Pacific, and IndyCar already runs plenty of 9:00 a.m. sessions. Qualifying at 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. window is in the sweet spot to maximize the Saturday afternoon over the entire United States. 

Ovals weekends already are different, mostly contained to just Saturday and Sunday, two-day shows versus the three-day road and street events. There are also night races where morning practice sessions and qualifying sessions do not make any sense. With plans for Iowa and Gateway to each host at least one night race in 2024, those are two weekends where the schedule would have to be considerably different from the others. This isn't even mentioning doubleheader weekends at Iowa and Milwaukee. 

However, two or three different race weekends doesn't mean a dozen weekends shouldn't look the same. Even with Formula One, there are race weekends where qualifying is a little later in the day. Hell, Formula One has multiple night races now, significantly more night races than IndyCar and even NASCAR! Yet, Formula One manages to run 80% of its events to the same timetable. 

There can be slight variety without wild inconsistency. That is what IndyCar should strive for.  

Races are always going to be different. The television partner will help decide that and IndyCar needs network television windows. If NBC has noon open, then noon it is. If IndyCar must wait until 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday, then we are going to wait. IndyCar is fighting break one million viewers each race. It is the tail, and not the dog when it comes to scheduling its races. That is good as the series attempts to maximize its exposure.

When it comes to practices and qualifying, that is IndyCar's domain. It is a much more balanced relationship as the series and Peacock work together. However, it is much friendlier to IndyCar's demand, and IndyCar should set its schedule for the benefit of everyone. 

If everyone knows today when practice and qualifying will be for St. Petersburg, Barber, Long Beach, Detroit, Road America, Toronto, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio and Portland in November or December then wonderful! Once the schedule is in use, it will allow viewers to develop a habit of tuning it at those certain times for a session, whether it be 5:00 p.m. on Friday or 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. It has a better chance of becoming second nature and viewers would appreciate the punctuality. 

We talk about the Penske standard and the expectations of anything Roger Penske operates being at a high level. Setting a uniform practice and qualifying schedule is perfectly aligned with that mindset and most likely would only be a gigantic positive for the series. 

Better yet, this is something IndyCar can do without any additional cost to the series. A schedule will always have to be set. Whether a practice is held in the morning or the late afternoon can determine when teams arrive and if they need an extra night at a hotel. There is some cost, but if teams can budget appropriately, uniformity will likely help out the bottomline. 

For all the wishes we have for IndyCar to improve, a uniform practice/qualifying schedule is one of the simplest and is rather realistic.

Champion From the Weekend

Álvaro Bautista clinched the World Superbike championship after sweeping the weekend at Jerez.

Ritomo Miyata clinched the Super Formula championship with finishes of second and third at Suzuka.

Kalle Rovanperä clinched the World Rally Championship with his runner-up finish in the Central European Rally.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Álvaro Bautista, but did you know...

Max Verstappen won the Mexican Grand Prix, his 16th victory of the season.

Jorge Martín won MotoGP's Thailand Grand Prix, his fourth victory of the season, and Martín also won the sprint race. Fermín Aldeguer won the Moto2 race, his second victory of the season. David Alonso won the Moto3 race, his fourth victory of the season.

Nicolò Bulega swept the World Supersport races from Jerez.

Tomoki Nojiri and Kakunoshin Ohta split the Super Formula races from Suzuka.

Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Cup race from Martinsville, his third victory of the season. Justin Allgaier won the Grand National Series race, his fourth victory of the season.

Thierry Neuville won the Central European Rally, his second victory of the season.

Cam Waters and David Reynolds split the Supercars races from Surfers Paradise.

Coming Up This Weekend
The conclusion to the NASCAR season in Phoenix.
The conclusion to the FIA World Endurance Championship season with an eight-hour race in Bahrain.
The conclusion to the Super GT season at Motegi.
The Brazilian Grand Prix.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

2023 Road to Indy Review

We already reviewed the entire IndyCar grid, but that isn't the only series that has been off for the better part of the last month and a half. 

The Road to Indy series also concluded in the final days of summer and have been silent since. A fair number of drivers left a mark on the 2023 season and are going to be moving up to tougher series in 2024. A few other drivers did not make a positive impression and will be scrapping to keep a dream alive. 

This is our chance to go over the three Road to Indy series and look at each driver, comparing how they did to preseason expectation while also assessing where they are looking to 2024. We know what a number of drivers will be doing, and the Chris Griffis Memorial Test was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last weekend, giving us another glimpse of what the future could look like.

Indy Lights
Christian Rasmussen: #6 Valeo/Archer Law Firm Dallara (1st, 539 points)
What did I write before the season: Sixth in the championship was a little harsh for Rasmussen considering he probably should have won the season opener in 2022 only to run out of fuel. He got in a few accidents. He was third in the January Homestead test, but 11th in the test earlier this week. At his best, Rasmussen could push for the championship, but he has to minimize those mistakes. Anything less than the top HMD driver will not be acceptable.

How wrong was it: Rasmussen was not only the best HMD Motorsports driver, he was the best Indy Lights driver, taking the championship with four victories, seven podium finishes and ten top five finishes. 

What should he do in 2024: IndyCar. Rasmussen is ready. He was the one driver that avoided constantly making mistakes this season. He is ready for the move up, and in a full-time season.

Hunter McElrea: #27 Smart Motors Dallara (2nd, 474 points)
What did I write before the season: McElrea is one of the early championship favorites. He was in the top five of both Homestead tests in January and earlier this week. He came to grips with the car and improved as 2022 went on. He should be starting 2023 vastly more comfortable than much of the competition. McElrea should win more races. He should at least improve on fourth in the championship. This isn't title or bust, but if he is fourth again it will be a disappointment. 

How wrong was it: The season didn't start great for McElrea, but he found his form late in the year and, on a run of five podium finishes in the final six races, he ended up comfortably second in the championship. McElrea matched Rasmussen with ten top five finishes. 

What should he do in 2024: McElrea has already announced a return to Indy Lights for next year. That is a smart choice. He had consistency at a level that almost matched Rasmussen, but McElrea needs to develop his pace. 

Nolan Siegel: #39 Menlo Ventures Dallara (3rd, 415 points)
What did I write before the season: Testing sent mixed messages. Siegel was sixth in the January Homestead test, but 18th earlier this week and slower than he ran in January. This is where being one of nine HMD-associated drivers is a bad thing. He should pull out some good races but other times he might be the bottom of the barrel.

How wrong was it: For the first half of the season, Siegel was the top HMD driver and he led the championship. However, a rough middle of the season caused him to lose ground, but he held on for third in the championship.

What should he do in 2024: Siegel will be back in Indy Lights, and that is wise decision. He did better than expected, but he stumbled midseason. Another season should allow Siegel to settle himself and become a more composed driver.

Louis Foster: #26 Copart/USF Pro Championship Scholarship Dallara (4th, 410 points)
What did I write before the season: Foster drove a smart 2022 season in Indy Pro 2000. He grew into the season and became the man to beat. He could do the same this season. If he keeps up the consistency, he could make a run for the championship, but this grid is tougher than last season, and he has a teammate who will not be a push over. Foster should win a few races and be competing for the top five in the championship. 

How wrong was it: Foster won two races and ended up fourth in the championship. Foster was arguably his own worst enemy with a number of accidents that cost him great finishes as he ended up with five finishes outside the top ten.

What should he do in 2024: Another 2024 Indy Lights returnee, Foster had great flashes of pace, but tripped up too often. He is probably the next driver ready for IndyCar in this series, but he has a few things to work on and he will get that chance.

Jacob Abel: #51 Abel Construction Dallara (5th, 397 point)
What did I write before the season: Performing slightly better than expected, Abel lifted expectations for himself. However, this grid has gotten tougher than 2022. Abel does have the advantage of time with this car and he knows the circuits. If he was eighth in the championship again that would be a respectable achievement. 

How wrong was it: Abel did better than eighth in the championship, cracking the top five and he had eight top five finishes with 11 top ten finishes. 

What should he do in 2024: It has not been confirmed if Abel will return to Indy Lights for 2024, but he should. He did exceptionally well in 2023. Another year should allow him to develop and he should be in line for a victory or two if he returns. 

Danial Frost: #68 DenJet Dallara (6th, 361 points)
What did I write before the season: Last season was a plateau for Frost. He won but he didn't make any gains. With the grid getting tougher in Indy Lights, I don't see Frost exceeding seventh. It would be something if he got back to seventh. He could still be in the top ten of the championship, but he could be lost in the clutter of HMD drivers.

How wrong was it: Frost did better than seventh, ending up sixth with victory in the season opener at St. Petersburg as the highlight of his season. He did have only three total podium finishes and five top five finishes. 

What should he do in 2024: Frost's name has been floating out there for an IndyCar seat. He has three seasons in Indy Lights and he has finished fifth, seventh and sixth in the championship. I don't think he is going to be a sensation in IndyCar. Worse drivers have moved up to IndyCar. A fourth year in Indy Lights likely will not tell us anything that we do not already know about Frost.

James Roe, Jr.: #29 Topcon Dallara (7th, 335 points)
What did I write before the season: Roe never really showed any great pace last year. In testing, he was third at Homestead earlier this week, but last month he was 15th out of 18 cars. I am not sure what Roe we will see. He is in a good team, but he is arguably the team's fourth best driver. Andretti Autosport alone should bump up his results, but I expect him to be all over the board and in some fight just to make the top ten.

How wrong was it: Roe, Jr. was a surprise, ending up seventh in the championship with is best finish being second.  Roe, Jr. had four top five finishes and ten top ten finishes after having four top ten finishes with his best restful being seventh in 11 starts last year.

What should he do in 2024: Roe, Jr. will be back with Andretti Autosport in 2024. It is the right decision. He grew a lot from 2022 to 2023, but he is not ready for IndyCar yet.

Reece Gold: #75 Ticket Clinic Dallara/#10 Ticket Clinic Dallara (8th, 334 points)
What did I write before the season: Gold had fantastic testing results, second at Homestead in January and then fourth earlier this weekend. He was quite consistent over his two seasons in Indy Pro 2000. If he repeats that form, he could challenge for the top five in the championship. If he can pull out a few victories, it could be enough to win the championship.

How wrong was it: Gold did win a race, but he was not a frequent top five finisher, only having four top five results while having six finishes outside the top ten.

What should he do in 2024: Already confirmed for a 2024 seat with HMD, Gold is making the right choice staying in Indy Lights.

Ernie Francis, Jr.: #99 James Schnabel Dallara (9th, 300 points)
What did I write before the season: With the grid getting deeper, I doubt Francis, Jr. will get back into the top ten of the championship. He is still relatively new to single-seater racing. This is year two in Indy Lights. There should be some improvement and he should be more competitive, but the competition has only increased. Improvement does not mean he will see better results.

How wrong was it: Francis, Jr. was one position better and one point better in the championship than his 2022 season, but Francis, Jr. did miss a race due to a wrist injury. He had a podium finish in Detroit with nine top ten finishes in 13 starts, but outside of that third in Detroit, his best finish was sixth.

What should he do in 2024: With Myles Rowe confirmed for the #99 Force Indy seat in 2024, Francis, Jr.'s future is questionable. A third year would be a good thing and I think Francis, Jr. could take another step. It feels like he could be shuffled out. If it isn't Indy Lights, I would love to see Francis, Jr. get an IMSA GTD opportunity. NASCAR's second division would be another good landing spot for him.

Kyffin Simpson: #21 Ridgeline/American Legion Dallara (10th, 283 points)
What did I write before the season: Simpson was eighth and seventh in the January Homestead and last week's Homestead test respectively. Last year was underwhelming, and considering his best results were with TJ Speed, it makes 2022 look worse. I don't see a championship driver, at least not in 2023. I am not sure he can win a race. If 2023 is identical to 2022, no one should be surprised. 

How wrong was it: Simpson went from ninth in the Indy Lights championship on 312 points in 2022 to tenth on 283 points in 2023. He did miss a race while scoring his first two podium finishes, his first career pole position and he doubled his number of top five finishes with four this season.

What should he do in 2024: We know Simpson will be moving up to IndyCar next year in a fifth Chip Ganassi Racing seat. It is too much too soon. Simpson should spend another year in Indy Lights. I don't think a 19-year-old that was ninth and tenth in two Indy Lights seasons with a grid that never broke 20 cars is ready for IndyCar.

Christian Bogle: #7 Pelican Energy Consultants Dallara (11th, 266 points)
What did I write before the season: This will be Bogle's third season in Indy Lights. In two U.S. F2000 seasons, he never finished better than sixth. He was 11th in the Indy Lights championship in each of his first two seasons. He doesn't really match well to the rest of this grid. He will be at the back, likely worse than 11th in the championship.

How wrong was it: Bogle was 11th in the championship. He matched his career best finish with a fourth at Portland, but he had only three top ten finishes, down from eight in 2022.

What should he do in 2024: Bogle will be back for another Indy Lights season. Perhaps fourth time is the charm.

Jamie Chadwick: #28 DHL Dallara (12th, 262 points)
What did I write before the season: This will be a challenging season for Chadwick. Her Homestead testing results had her 15th in January and 13th earlier this week. She did have some good tests at Sebring. This is a tougher car to drive than what she has been in the last few years. She should improve as the season goes on, but top ten in the championship would be a brilliant season.

How wrong was it: Chadwick was 21 points outside the top ten of the championship. The average finish in her first seven races was 13th with her best result being tenth. Her average finish in the final seven races was 10.428 with four top ten finishes. 

What should he do in 2024: Chadwick has confirmed she will be continuing with Andretti Autosport in 2024. That is the right decision.

Jagger Jones: #98 TotalSim US/SimCrat/APEX Motor Club/Cape Brothers Speed Shop Dallara (13th, 241 points)
What did I write before the season: Jones is taking the big leap from U.S. F2000 to Indy Lights. The only other notable driver to do that was RC Enerson, and Enerson did quite well in Indy Lights. I don't think Jones is going to be competing at the front immediately. He should at least be a midfield driver and improve over the course of the season. This should at least be a two-year program. 

How wrong was it: Jones was second in his fourth career start in Detroit, but it was his only top five finish this season and his next best result was eighth in the penultimate race of the season in Laguna Seca. 

What should he do in 2024: We don't know what Jones' plans are for 2024, but as I said before the 2023 season began, this should at least be a two-year program..

Rasmus Lindh: #10 GarageXYZ Dallara/#76 Juncos Hollinger Racing Dallara (14th, 210 points)
What did I write before the season: At the end of 2019, Lindh looked poised to be in IndyCar in no-time. He was set with an Indy Lights ride for 2020, but then that season was cancelled due to the pandemic, and Lindh's career was re-routed. He has done well in LMP3 competition. He was in the top ten of both Homestead tests. This season is considerably more difficult than the Indy Lights season Lindh was set for in 2020. He could sneak into the top five of the championship and find a way to win a race or two. 

How wrong was it: Lindh changed teams after the opening round, leaving HMD Motorsports for JHR though he missed the Barber race. He was on the podium at Iowa and he had five top ten finishes in ten starts. His average points per start would have placed him tenth in the championship. 

What should he do in 2024: Sadly, Lindh looks like he is going to be one of these drivers who has a career lost in the junior formula series. I think he could win Indy Lights races. He just hasn't been able to find solid footing. The good news is we know he is good in sports cars. He could turn heads in an LMP2 seat and turn it into more.

Josh Pierson: #14 Open Context Dallara (15th, 173 points)
What did I write before the season: We aren't quite sure how many races Pierson will do, as he will still have WEC and other sports car racing responsibilities. Pierson did two seasons in U.S. F2000 and was fourth in the 2021 championship. This is a change from an LMP2 car. He is an Ed Carpenter Racing development driver. The results don't carry that much weight. He is only 17 years old. When he commits to a full Indy Lights season then the results will matter.

How wrong was it: Pierson ran nine of 14 races, missing the rest due to sports car commitments. He had five top ten finishes and his average points per start would have placed him 11th.

What should he do in 2024: Pierson has confirmed he will be full-time in Indy Lights next year.

Matthew Brabham: #75/#76 Juncos Hollinger Racing Dallara (16th, 159 points)
What did I write before the season: NOTHING! Because Brabham was not on the grid at the start of the season, and he was a midseason replacement at Juncos Hollinger Racing, while also running at Nashville for Cape Motorsports.

How wrong was it: We had no clue Brabham would run this year, but in his six starts, he had three top five finishes and five top ten finishes. His average points per start would have yielded 371 points over 14 races, good enough for fifth in this year's championship.

What should he do in 2024: Of all the drivers we see getting IndyCar opportunities, I wish Brabham would get that one IndyCar shot, a full season at Dale Coyne Racing or even Juncos Hollinger Racing, to show what he can do. We know he is good at Indy Lights. He should at least get a full-time taste of IndyCar. Perhaps he can turn it into something greater. Maybe he doesn't, but he is good enough for the shot.

Colin Kaminsky: #57 Slick Locks Dallara (17th, 159 points)
What did I write before the season: Kaminsky will be toward the back of the field, but not without some good efforts. He just needs time to develop. The results should not stop him from getting a second season in 2024. A second season would got a long way.

How wrong was it: Kaminsky ran the first six races plus two more. He had three top ten finishes. 

What should he do in 2024: Another year in Indy Lights would be welcomed.

Enaam Ahmed: #47 Cape Motorsports Dallara (18th, 150 points)
What did I write before the season: Ahmed was a late addition to the Indy Lights grid, but he was fastest in the January Homestead test and he was fifth at Homestead earlier this week. Ahmed's best quality is he can bring the car home and not tear up equipment, but he was missing that last bit of magic to win races and be a force. He should at least continue his good form. If he is at the front, he will have a shot at victories, but he needs to find that extra boost if he wants to be a contender for more.

How wrong was it: Ahmed showed good pace and had four top ten finishes from the first five races, including a pair of top five results. However, his season ended after the Mid-Ohio round. His average points per start would have earned him 300 points over a full 14-race season.

What should he do in 2024: Ahmed spent the last three seasons in the Road to Indy. I think he could look to sports cars and find a good seat.

Matteo Nannini: #76 Juncos Hollinger Racing Dallara (19th, 146 points)
What did I write before the season: Nannini surprisingly topped the Homestead test at the start of the week. In January, he was fourth in the Homestead test. He could be ready for a breakout season, but all the circuits will be new. He improved on his second visit to Homestead, but the only track he will visit twice is the IMS road course. A few race victories and a championship challenge is not out of the question, but there will be a few weekends where Nannini is behind the eight-ball and fighting from behind.

How wrong was it: Nannini did win a race but it was an outlier as he finished outside the top ten in his over six starts this season.

What should he do in 2024: There aren't any clear options after Nannini left midseason. I don't think he is in line for a return to the European junior series. There are plenty of sports car seats open.

Josh Green: #3 Zimperium Dallara (20th, 119 points)
What did I write before the season: There are nine HMD drivers this season. Green was good in the January Homestead test ending up ninth, but he was slowest in the Homestead test earlier this week. Green will be fighting to crack the top ten in the championship. 

How wrong was it: Green was in the top ten of the first three races but finished 14th or worse in the next three and then he stepped out of the car after the Road America round.

What should he do in 2024: Green showed good pace in the Road to Indy. A full season in Indy Lights is warranted.

The Rest of the Field
Victor Franzoni returned to Indy Lights competition for the first time since 2018, running five races for Juncos Hollinger Racing after a seat opened up. 

Yuven Sundaramoorthy made four starts with Abel Motorsports as he prepared for a 2024 program. 

Toby Sowery ran three races in place for Pierson and he was third at Barber. 

Francesco Pizzi did four races with Abel Motorsports.

Kiko Porto ran three races with Cape Motorsports. 

Who should we have seen more of?
It would have been nice to see Rasmus Lindh and Enaam Ahmed each get a full season and see if they could have won a race, especially since seven drivers won this season. 

Considering Matt Brabham's five top ten finishes and his pace as a midseason replacement, he would have made the grid more competitive. 

USF Pro 2000
Myles Rowe: #99 Penske Entertainment Tatuus (1st, 391 points)
What did I write before the season: Rowe topped the USF Pro 2000 test held at Sebring earlier this week. Rowe had a big breakthrough last season, and it was crushing he didn't win the U.S. F2000 championship, where he was arguably the best driver in 2022. Accidents cost Rowe the title, and he has a way of getting into them while in strong positions. If he cleans it up, he could easily be USF Pro 2000 champion. Rowe should be competitive and win a few races, but I think there will still be a handful of results where he throws it away and it makes his season more difficult. 

How wrong was it: There were a few races where Rowe gave up promising finishes, but he still won five races and he was on the podium nine times, half the races. He was clearly the best driver in USF Pro 2000 and deserved the championship.

What should he do in 2024: Already confirmed for Indy Lights, Rowe will drive the Force Indy seat with HMD Motorsports. He is more than ready for Indy Lights. IndyCar is truly possible and could be just 18 months away.

Kiko Porto: #12 Banco Daycoval/Petromega Tatuus (2nd, 327 points)
What did I write before the season: Porto had a tough first season in USF Pro 2000, but he should move forward in 2023. This championship has regenerated talent. A lot of good drivers left for Indy Lights, but the talent that has entered is equally as good. I don't think Porto is going to have his way, but he should still be competing for top five in the championship. A title isn't out of the question either.

How wrong was it: Porto was second in the championship, but a slow start set him back. Two victories and eight podium finishes were not enough to overcome a rough patch in spring and overcome Rowe.

What should he do in 2024: The end of last season would suggest he is ready for Indy Lights. He is, and Porto should move up.

Salvador de Alba: #91 Archandel/Red Cola/Z Motors Tatuus (3rd, 291 points)
What did I write before the season: De Alba was the overachiever of the 2022 season. I think he can win a race or two, but end up around where he was last season. It is going to be tough to crack the top five in the championship, and it just feels like the depth will keep him from being a title fighter. He should be the top Exclusive driver in the championship.

How wrong was it: De Alba was 100 points off the championship, but he was the top Exclusive Autosport driver and he was third in the championship, but he was not mingling with Rowe for the title.

What should he do in 2024: De Alba has done enough to move to Indy Lights.

Michael d'Orlando: #1 Focused Project Management Tatuus (4th, 288 points)
What did I write before the season: D'Orlando won the U.S. F2000 championship by not making mistakes. He didn't have many accidents and could bring a car home in the top five. He was in the top five of the U.S. F2000 championship in three consecutive seasons. Each of those three seasons basically look the same. Regular top five finisher, and that will get you victories and podium finishes. I almost expect to see the same in this series and at worst he will be fifth in the championship, at best he has another title and will be onto Indy Lights.

How wrong was it: D'Orlando was fourth in the championship but he was checkers or wreckers. He had eight finishes outside the top ten, but he did win four times and started on pole position six times. The accident were a shocker, and it nearly cost him his ride as funding got tight.

What should he do in 2024: This season feels like an aberration. I don't think d'Orlando will tear up this much equipment again. The accidents aside, he is ready for Indy Lights. 

Francesco Pizzi: #55 Villa Mercede/Shaka Spirit/Roscioli Hotels Tatuus (5th, 259 points)
What did I write before the season: Like [Lirim] Zendeli, Pizzi is coming from Europe, and he had a good start in Formula 4, but his Formula Regional European and Formula Three results are not anything to brag about. However, Pizzi was eighth in testing, right on Zendeli's heels. I feel less confident in Pizzi's success than Zendeli's. This season could see Pizzi be a stunning champion or he has a few brilliant results and then about nine races full of mistakes that knock him down the championship.

How wrong was it: Pizzi did a really good job with five top five finishes and 15 top ten finishes, but he was never the man to beat in any race. 

What should he do in 2024: Pizzi has done enough to move up to Indy Lights. The cameo appearances suggest what his attentions are for 2024, but he did run a USF Pro 2000 car at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test.

Lirim Zendeli: #10 Vexavit/Ajdini Spedition Tatuus (6th, 258 points)
What did I write before the season: TJ Speed is bringing over a few European drivers and Zendeli was seventh in the Sebring test. We haven't seen many drivers with Formula Two experience come to USF Pro 2000. Zendeli is a championship sleeper. Every track will be new, but he should have no issues with the car. It will not be surprising if he wins races this season. 

How wrong was it: Zendeli and Pizzi were near identical. Zendeli did not run the Indianapolis Raceway Park event, and that is the only reason why Zendeli wasn't fifth in the championship. He did win at Road America with four podium finishes and eight top five finishes.

What should he do in 2024: Like Pizzi, Zendeli is suited for a move up to Indy Lights.

Jace Denmark: #20 Metal Works Custom Fabrication Tatuus (7th, 252 points)
What did I write before the season: Denmark was a quiet championship contender in U.S. F2000 last year. I almost expect the same thing to happen in USF Pro 2000 this year. He will have some strong days, but we will not see him dominate and win four or five consecutive races. He will build his season with top five runs and podium finishes while minimizing poor days.

How wrong was it: The season started well for Denmark with three consecutive top five finishes, but he had a few rough patches. He had eight top five finishes and 13 top ten finishes. 

What should he do in 2024: Denmark should return to USF Pro 2000 where he would be the early favorite for the championship.

Jonathan Browne: #2 Human Centred Movement/CRPS Awareness Tatuus (8th, 230 points)
What did I write before the season: Testing didn't look much different from 2022. Browne could find his way into the top five more, but could still be just outside the top ten in the championship.

How wrong was it: Browne was inside the top ten in the championship, 51 points to the good of being inside the top ten in the championship, and he had five top five finishes.

What should he do in 2024: Stay in USF Pro 2000 and build on this season.

Jack William Miller: #40 Patterson Dental/Blue Marble Productions Tatuus (9th, 212 points)
What did I write before the season: With the talent that has entered this series, Miller should take a step back. Expect fewer podium finishes, fewer top five finishes and Miller sliding back in the championship. 

How wrong was it: Miller remained ninth in the championship for a second consecutive season, he had two podium finishes for the second consecutive season, but he only had three top five finishes compared to six in 2022.

What should he do in 2024: Miller is moving up to Indy Lights from the sounds of it with the family team. It is a risk, but he doesn't have much more he can do in USF Pro 2000.

Joel Granfors: #92 Corpay Cross-Border Tatuus (10th, 206 points)
What did I write before the season: This is a big jump for Granfors. The GB3 Championship is effective a suped-up Formula 4 car. These will be new circuits. He should be outside the top ten in the championship.

How wrong was it: Granfors was tenth in the championship despite missing the final five races. He won on the IMS road course and he had three podium finishes. His 206 points from 13 starts had him on pace to finish fifth in the championship.

What should he do in 2024: It would be nice to see Granfors get the funding for a full-time USF Pro 2000 season. A second season could end in a championship.

The Rest of the Field
Jordan Missig ran all 18 races, had two podium finishes, and was 11th. 

Bijoy Garg was 12th on 154 points, a point ahead of Ricardo Escotto, who won in a mixed conditions race in May at the IMS road course. 

Reece Ushijima had a good start to the season, but he did not return after Mid-Ohio despite being on pace for a top ten championship finish. 

Yuven Sundaramoorthy had 121 points in 13 starts before turning his focus to Indy Lights. Christian Weir had 119 points in 13 races. 

Nikita Johnson ran the final two rounds after the U.S. F2000 season and he won twice, finished second, third and 14th in those five starts. His 118 points put him 17th in the championship after running only five races. His average points per start would have him score about 425 points over an 18-race season.

Lindsay Brewer sacred 108 points in 18 races with her best finish being 11th.

Who should we have seen more of?
For the second consecutive year, Christian Brooks' season effectively ended after St. Petersburg. At least Brooks got to run this year and he won the first St. Petersburg race and finished sixth in the next one. He did comeback to run Toronto, where he finished eighth and fourth. It was only four races, but his average points per start would have yielded 355.5 points over 18 races.

U.S. F2000
Simon Sikes: #22 Group6Gear Tatuus (1st, 447 points)
What did I write before the season: Sikes has had three partial seasons in U.S. F2000 and he has shown promise. Sikes topped the Sebring test. He has also won multiple SCCA national championships. If he competes full-time, he could compete for the championship, but history tells us he will not run a full season. 

How wrong was it: Sikes competed for the championship and won the championship as he was able to put together a full season. Sikes won six races and stood on the podium 14 times.

What should he do in 2024: The obvious step up to USF Pro 2000, but Sikes could probably make the leap to Indy Lights and be fine.

Nikita Johnson: #17 Allen Exploration, LCC/Walker's Cay Tatuus (2nd, 344 points)
What did I write before the season: Johnson showed a few sparkling moments in his partial season in 2022. He could piece together a strong season and find himself pushing for top five in the championship. 

How wrong was it: Johnson was quietly in the background for most of this season, and his consistency earned him second in the championship. He only won once, the second race of the season at St. Petersburg, but he had eight podium finishes and he had 13 top five finishes. 

What should he do in 2024: Obviously, USF Pro 2000 as he has already dabbled in it and won races. He and Sikes could be shaping up for a titanic battle in USF Pro 2000 next year.

Lochie Hughes: #8 JHDD/CSU One Cure/Lucas Oil Products/LHP Tatuus (3rd, 335 points)
What did I write before the season: Hughes should be competitive. He should be pushing for race victories and podium finishes. If he does that, he will be in the championship conversation.

How wrong was it: Hughes did win race, four of them to be specific. He had eight podium finishes and 11 top five finishes. Hughes and Sikes were going toe-to-toe for the championship before the two had contact at Mid-Ohio. That shook up Hughes season and he struggled after Mid-Ohio, falling behind Johnson in the final championship finish.

What should he do in 2024: Hughes should move up to USF Pro 2000 with Sikes and Johnson.

Evagoras Papasavvas: #6 BodyWise/Tiger Natural Gas/Ares Elite Tatuus (4th, 323 points)
What did I write before the season: Last year was Papasavvas' first in car racing. It was a good start. Results should get better. He should at least get a few top ten finishes and perhaps a few top five results.

How wrong was it: Papasavvas had six podium finishes, including a victory at Mid-Ohio. He had nine top five finishes and 16 top ten results in 18 races.

What should he do in 2024: Papasavvas will only turn 16 years old this Christmas Day. There is no rush. Another season in U.S. F2000 is where he should be.

Mac Clark: #1 Clubine Motorsports/Valkyrie Al Tatuus (5th, 318 points)
What did I write before the season: Clark is exciting, and he could be set for a massive season. Clark was third in the Sebring test. No one would be surprised if he won the championship. He won immediately last year driving in a cameo role. He is more than ready for this step. He should be one of the best this season. 

How wrong was it: Clark had a few growing pains, but he still won twice with six podium finishes and ten top ten finishes.

What should he do in 2024: Like Johnson, Clark made a few starts in USF Pro 2000. He was second and third in the Austin races. He is ready for the next level.

Jacob Douglas: #90 JDM Properties Tatuus (6th, 249 points)
What did I write before the season: Douglas should make an improvement in year two. Championship top ten should be his goal and he should be aiming to push for the top five.

How wrong was it: Douglas pushed for top five in the championship and ended up on high note with two victories and a runner-up finish in the Portland triple-header. He had only two other podium finishes prior to the Portland weekend. He did skip the IRP round.

What should he do in 2024: At 18 years old and turning 19 in the middle of next season, he should move up to USF Pro 2000, but one more year in U.S. F2000 would not be a bad thing.

Sam Corry: #14 Red Line Oil/Fill-Rite/Stilo Helmets Tatuus (7th, 222 points)
What did I write before the season: Corry was in Mac Clark's shadow last season in USF Juniors. He is 15 years old and he should be using this season as a building block. Another year in U.S. F2000 would not be a bad thing in 2024.

How wrong was it: Corry took a slightly surprising victory on the IMS road course as he had three podium finishes and six top five finishes. There were a few learning moments as he did have eight finishes outside the top ten, five of which were outside the top fifteen.

What should he do in 2024: Stay in U.S. F2000.

Jorge Garciarce: #10 Sidral Aga/Red Cola/Skarch Tatuus (8th, 212 points)
What did I write before the season: Results improved over the course of 2022. I think he will make a step forward and at least be in the top ten of the championship.

How wrong was it: Garciarce went from five top ten finishes in 2022 to 12 top ten finishes in 2023 with three top five finishes.

What should he do in 2024: Garciarace turns 19 years old this December. In terms of age, one more year in U.S. F2000 is the limit. You cannot stay stuck in the bottom of the ladder for long. A move to USF Pro 2000 could make sense but he would likely have to spend two seasons there.

Max Garcia: #24 Pabst Racing Tatuus (9th, 207 points)
What did I write before the season: NOTHING! Because Garcia was not entered for the season opener because he was still under the 14-year age limit. He competed in every round after his 14th birthday on March 17, 2023.

How wrong was it: This was Garcia's first season in car racing, moving up from karting. He had two podium finishes, including a runner-up in Toronto. He had five top five finishes and ten top ten finishes in 16 starts. These are really good results for a 14-year-old. 

What should he do in 2024: Garcia is staying in U.S. F2000. He will only be 15 years old. It is easy to get hyped and think he could win the championship. He should excite us, and we should see some improvement.

Chase Gardner: #95 Mindshift Financial Tatuus (10th, 193 points)
What did I write before the season: Though he ran at IMS last year, Gardner still does not have that much car racing under his belt. There will be some growing pains in 2023, but he could have a few impressive drives.

How wrong was it: Gardner did have four tp five finishes and ten top ten finishes in 15 starts. 

What should he do in 2024: A full season in U.S. F2000.

The Rest of the Field
Al Morey and Elliot Cox were 11th and 12th in the championship on 172 points and 145 points respectively. Morey's best finish was seventh. Cox had two top five finishes but 11 finishes outside the top ten. 

Nico Christodoulou wa fifth and first in the Toronto round, the Canadian's debut weekend as he was also competing in the GB3 Championship in the United Kingdom. 

Who should we have seen more of?
It is tough to say, but Christodoulou made a notable first impression. There really wasn't another driver that only competed part-time that caught your attention, nor was there a driver who had a season cut short and left you wishing for more. 

Chris Griffis Memorial Test
The three-day test took place from October 20-22 with Indy Lights only running on Friday October 20 while the bottom two series ran over October 21 and 22.

Indy Lights
Louis Foster led the session with a lap at 74.8432 seconds, just under a tenth quicker than Jacob Abel. Myles Rowe's first session in an Indy Lights car had him just over a tenth off Foster in third. Siegel rounded out the top four, the final driver in the 74-second bracket at 74.9918 seconds.

Caio Collet ran for HMD Motorsports and he was fifth. Collet spent the previous three years competing in FIA Formula Three. He won the sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps this year as he had four total podium finishes before finishing ninth in the championship. 

Reece Gold was in sixth ahead of Christian Bogle. Kaylen Frederick returned to the United States and was eighth in the test driving for HMD. Frederick spent two seasons in U.S. F2000 in 2017 and 2018 before he went to Europe. Frederick was the 2020 BRDC British Formula Three champion. He spent the last three seasons in FIA Formula Three. He only scored 11 points in the 2023 season. 

Michael d'Orlando was ninth for HMD while Bryce Aron rounded out the top ten driving for Andretti Autosport. Aron was 0.53 seconds off his teammate Foster's time. Aron is confirmed for the 2024 season with Andretti. Aron was fourth in the Euroformula Open Championship this season. He spent the previous two seasons in the GB3 Championship. Jamie Chadwick was just under a tenth off Aron's time. 

Yuven Sundaramoorthy and James Roe, Jr. were 12th and 13th. Callum Hedge was 14th driving for Cape Motorsports. Hedge leads the Formula Regional Americas championship with a round to go, and he was second in the Formula Regional Oceania championship earlier this year behind Charlie Wurz and ahead of  Jacob Abel. 

Josh Pierson, Jack William Miller, Jonathan Browne and Jace Denmark were the next four drivers. Antonio Serravalle returned to Indy Lights competition to test with Juncos Hollinger Racing. Niels Koolen ran with HMD after failing to score a point in 18 Formula Regional European starts and he was 1.71 seconds off Foster. Lindsay Brewer was the slowest at the test with her best lap being 78.6942 seconds.

USF Pro 2000
Simon Sikes led the test at 81.8032 seconds, 0.0833 seconds faster than Francesco Pizzi with Lochie Hughes in third only 0.0977 seconds off. 

Braden Eves was fourth, 0.1763 slower than Sikes. Eves did not compete in 2023. He won the 2019 U.S. F2000 championship and was second in the 2021 Indy Pro 2000 championship. Christian Brooks rounded out the top five, just over two-tenths slower than Sikes. 

Ricardo Escotto was over three-tenths behind Sikes in sixth with Danny Dyszelski in seventh. Mac Clark was 0.358 seconds off in eighth. Jacob Douglas was ninth while Douglas' fellow New Zealander Liam Sceats rounded out the top ten at 82.3888 seconds. Sceats was fourth in the Formula Regional Oceania championship this year and he is second in the Formula Regional Japanese championship. 

U.S. F2000
The 2023 Lucas Oil Formula Car Champion Hudson Schwartz topped the test with a lap at 85.8372 seconds, 0.1719 seconds quicker than Max Garcia. Schwartz was also eighth in the USF Juniors championship this season. 

Joey Brienza was third in the test with a lap at 86.0439 seconds with Sam Corry in fourth at 86.1269 seconds. Max Taylor rounded out the top five with a lap at 86.1904 seconds. Brienza and Taylor were fifth and sixth respectively in USF Juniors this year. 

Jason Pribyl was sixth at the test at 86.2132 seconds, ahead of Elliot Cox and Evagoras Papasavvas. Pribyl has competed in SCCA Spec Racer Ford 3 class. Michael Costello, who is currently second in the Formula 4 United States Championship, was ninth in the test at 86.4891 seconds. The 2023 USF Juniors champion Nicholas Giaffone rounded out the top ten at 86.5831 seconds. Giaffone is the son of past IndyCar driver Felipe Giaffone.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Musings From The Weekend: IndyCar Officiating

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

Johann Zarco took a long-awaited first career MotoGP victory, as Pramac Racing teammate Jorge Martín ran out of tires after dominating the first 26 of 27 laps. Weather moved MotoGP's Australian Grand Prix up to Saturday and pushed the sprint back to Sunday afternoon, which was eventually cancelled due to rain and high winds. European Le Mans Series had a race on Friday, and then another on Saturday. Formula One teams pandered to the American audience, and Max Verstappen won his 50th grand prix along with his sixth sprint race victory. Kyle Larson got to play in the sand. Ticket prices were announced IndyCar's exhibition race at Thermal Club, and people were accepting of the cost, but ticket prices are not my concern today. 

IndyCar Officiating
Six weeks have passed since the final race of the 2023 IndyCar Series season, and in the aftermath of the season, especially the Laguna Seca finale, there was a sense of dissatisfaction with some officiating calls during this season. The final few races had notable moments that puzzled and even angered viewers and competitors. 

Officiating any sport is not easy, and motorsports is no different. However, I was wondering if something was off this year in IndyCar this year. Did anything stick out as off from previous years? 

There is raw data we can look at and then there is actual experiences. The numbers do not look off. 

Through 17 races this season, IndyCar had 55 caution periods for 308 of 2,260 laps, 13.628% of the laps run this season were under caution. That was down from 13.729% of the total laps being under caution in 2022 (310 out of 2,258), and there were five fewer caution periods in 2023. 

Compared to the last decade, last season was pretty much in line with what has been normal for IndyCar.

Since 2014, an average percentage of caution laps over the entire season is 13.5083%. This season was slightly above average, but leveling out from the outliers. The 2015 season had 19.086% of all lap run under caution while only 10.6842% of the laps run in the 2020 season were under caution. 

There were complaints this year about caution lengths, and some caution periods stand out. Breaking down caution periods into four groups, 1-4 laps, 5-8 laps, 9-12 laps and 13 laps or more, there were fewer 1-4 lap caution periods this year (29) compared to 2022 (37) but more 5-8 lap caution periods (17 in 2023 to 13 in 2022). In the 9-12 lap category, there were only four this year compared to six last year, and in 2022 there were four cautions periods that lasted 13 laps or more compared to five this year. 

Any for anyone wondering about average length of caution, again, 2023 is not out of line with any season in the last decade.

Year Average Length
2023 5.6
2022 5.1667
2021 5.0408
2020 6.34375
2019 6.1363
2018 5.2978
2017 5.9807
2016 6.5652
2015 6.3582
2014 4.893
Ten-Year Average 5.69305

Any thought that IndyCar was being less inefficient this year clearing cautions or restarting races doesn't add up. That doesn't mean there weren't cautions that went on for an excessive length in time. The six-lap caution at the start of the August Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race comes to mind. Each season there is going to be a few caution periods that feel excessively long, but we should remember excessively long when it comes to caution periods could be only two or three laps. That is all it takes. 

Mid-Ohio this year had an opening lap incident. That was only a four-lap caution and then the final 76 laps went caution-free. No one mentions that race, but the summer IMS road course event is remembered for the first six laps of caution and not the 79 consecutive green flag laps that ended the race. 

Any caution is going to take time. There is the initial lap when the incident happens, a lap to group the field together and then whatever time it takes to open the pit lane and allow pit stops to happen. In IndyCar's case, it is pretty much five to six laps, and there is a decade of data to support that. 

But it isn't as simple as caution periods and their length. There were obviously a few incidents and inconsistencies that caught our attention this year. 

The decision to hold the caution at Portland for Agustín Canapino's spin allowing the pit cycle to play out and effectively giving Felix Rosenqvist second position comes to mind. It is a decision that is not unheard of. We likely see the officials make such a decision two or three times a season. The officials did it at Road America a few months prior when Romain Grosjean spun and stalled off course.

As much as we want it to be black and white, it never will be, and I am not sure anyone wants it to be. Race control can keep its finger on the trigger and throw a caution every time there is a spin or an incident, and we will all still be unhappy with such a choice. 

There have been plenty of times a car goes off in a runoff area and spins the car around to resume the race or a car spins and gets back going but must first let traffic pass through. At Long Beach this year, Benjamin Pedersen went off and needed to be restarted. IndyCar showed a local yellow as the corner workers restarted his car. A caution would have changed that race, but IndyCar found a way to clear the danger and let the race continue. 

Cautions in those circumstances would flip a race just as much if not more than holding a caution and allowing a few cars to make their stops during that pit cycle and not have a caution cost a driver ten or 15 positions because of timing. 

There are always going to be cautions that bite some drivers, but not every caution has to be that way. 

There could be an alternative solution. Leaving the pit lane open the entire time is always mentioned as an option. It would still benefit some drivers. At Portland, leaving the pit lane open likely would have meant Rosenqvist would still benefitted and Scott Dixon would have lost out. That is just how it goes some times. It is 2023 going on 2024. Should IndyCar adopt virtual safety car already? It feels like more than enough time has passed for IndyCar to have a virtual safety car procedure in place.

There could be a different alternative where there is a countdown to the pit lane closing. For any caution, the pit lane remains open until 30 seconds or 60 seconds after the caution is displayed and allow drivers to make a pit stop.  Of course, at certain tracks, drivers could end up in no man's land. If a driver is entering turn five at Road America and the caution comes with a minute-delay before the pit lane closes, that driver is likely still not going to make it. 

Again, there is no perfect solution, only hopefully better options.

Something always needs to be addressed. We probably should have been discussing weaving at Indianapolis after the 2022 race, and after the 2023 race, something is probably going to be implemented before the 2024 race. After a season with 27 full-time cars, road and street course qualifying might need some tweaking due to track space. Restart procedures and restart zone placement could be adjusted at a number of tracks. This offseason also has the additional work in the developing hybrid system and another set of regulations that come along with that. 

There are a lot of balls hanging in the air and not everything will be handled this offseason. There are also things that could be adjusted but don't necessarily need to be adjusted. 

This is IndyCar. It doesn't make wholesale changes ever. It barely makes incremental changes. Race control isn't going to flip a switch and be completely different next season. We know what it is and, for all the rough spots, it is not incapable of running a race. Not everything is the worst thing ever, and there are no reasons for excessive bell ringing. 

Champions From the Weekend

The #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca-Gibson of James Allen, Alex Lynn and Kyffin Simpson clinched the European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship with a runner-up finish in the 4 Hours of Algarve on Sunday.

The #17 Cool Racing Ligier-Nissan of Adrien Chila, Alex García and Marcos Siebert clinched the European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship with a fourth-place finish in the 4 Hours of Portimão on Friday.

The #16 Proton Competition Porsche of Ryan Hardwick, Alessio Picariello and Zacharie Robichon clinched the European Le Mans Series GTE championship with a victory in the 4 Hours of Algarve on Sunday.

Thomas Preining clinched the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship by sweeping the Hockenheim weekend. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Johann Zarco, Max Verstappen and Thomas Preining, but did you know...

Tony Arbolino won the weather-shortened Moto2 race from Phillip Island, his third victory of the season. Deniz Öncü won the Moto3 race, his third victory of the season. 

Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Cup race from Homestead, his second victory of the season. Sam Mayer won the Grand National Series race, his fourth victory of the season. Carson Hocevar won the Truck race, his fourth victory of the season.

The #22 United Autosport Oreca-Gibson of Philip Hanson, Oliver Jarvis and Marino Sato won the 4 Hours of Portimão on Friday. The #12 WTM by Rinaldi Racing Duqueine-Nissan of Óscsr Tunjo, Torsten Kratz and Leonard Weiss won in LMP3. The #77 Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Ried, Giammarco Levorato and Julien Andlauer won in GTE.

The #22 United Autosport Oreca-Gibson of Philip Hanson, Oliver Jarvis and Marino Sato won the 4 Hours of Algarve on Sunday. The #11 Eurointernational Ligier-Nissan LMP3 of Adam Ali and Matthew Richard Bell.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One starts to head south to Mexico. 
MotoGP starts to head north to Thailand.
World Superbike closes its season in Jerez.
Super Formula closes its season with a doubleheader in Suzuka. 
NASCAR has a penultimate round in Martinsville. 
The World Rally Championship will compete in three countries during the Central European Rally. 
Supercars has its penultimate round at Surfers Paradise. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Chip Ganassi Racing's 2023 Season

The final IndyCar Wrap-Up brings us to the champions. It was only two years removed from its most recent title, but Chip Ganassi Racing not only ended up on top. It had one of its most complete seasons as an organization, and it accomplished it under conflicting circumstances. After legal turmoil over its driver lineup and what appeared to be an inevitable breakup, not only did Ganassi win a championship, it salvaged a relationship. 

Álex Palou
Palou made plenty of news leading into the 2023 season. After not being granted a release to Arrow McLaren, Palou still earned a reserve role for the McLaren Formula One team, and it looked certain he would be moving to McLaren in 2024. With a lame-duck season on paper with Ganassi, Palou shattered all expectations, on and off the track.

What objectively was his best race?
Palou won five races. The first was the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May. Then Palou won three consecutive times, Detroit, Road America and Mid-Ohio. His victory at Portland clinched him the championship with a race remaining.

What subjectively was his best race?
None of his victories! Yep! Believe it because Palou's best race was the one he probably was the best driver. The Indianapolis 500. Palou was leading and under caution when he came in for a pit stop, Palou looked set to resume the race in the top five, but Rinus VeeKay lost control exiting his pit box, collided with Palou, and damaged the Catalan's car. 

The damage was not excessive, but it cost Palou ground and with the race around halfway done, it was a mighty setback. However, Palou went forward, driving from outside the top twenty to fourth by the time the checkered flag came out.

This could have been a bad race. This could have been a race where all Palou could have scored was a 16th-place finish and we all knew it didn't match his ability on the day. But Palou was launched out of a cannon and ended up getting just outside the mix for the victory. It also was a big swing in points because it could have been many points lost and the championship could have turned against him. Instead, he corrected course and came out on the right side.

What objectively was his worst race?
Palou had two eighth-place finishes. The first was at St. Petersburg where Palou was anonymous, one of the few days where he wasn't toward the front. The other was the first Iowa race. That was actually a little better than where Palou had run most of the race. Unfortunately, Palou was off the lead lap.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Palou didn't have any bad races this season. St. Petersburg gets this spot because it was the only one where he wasn't mentioned at any point. Sometimes not being mentioned can be a good thing. The first race was Palou's worst race of the season. It was all uphill from there.

Álex Palou's 2023 Statistics
Championship Position: 1st (656 points)
Wins: 5
Podiums: 10
Top Fives: 13
Top Tens: 17
Laps Led: 379
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 10
Fast Twelves: 12
Average Start: 6.0588
Average Finish: 3.7059

Scott Dixon
While Ganassi was juggling the future of one driver, it had the capable hands of Scott Dixon guiding one of its machines through the season. The veteran faced stiff competition from within the organization, and even on his best day, Dixon was still a distant second in the intra-team battle. It appeared Dixon was set to have one of his worst seasons in a long time during the middle of the summer. Then he did the remarkable.

What objectively was his best race?
Dixon pulled out not one, not two, but three stunning victory in the final four races of the season.

It was a speechless drive to victory in the August race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Dixon qualified 15th. He was spun in turn seven on lap one. He made his first pit stop on lap five. He restarted 23rd. He ran a 27-lap stint and emerged as a top five driver. He ran another 27-lap stint, leap-frogging himself to the lead, and then he drove a methodical 27-lap stint to hold off Graham Rahal. It was staggering, but a performance only fit for Scott Dixon.

That was one thing, but then Dixon did it again two weeks later at Gateway. This time, he committed to a three-stop strategy, breaking the race into 65-lap segments, while everyone else flaked and jumped to a four-stop race. Dixon had to start 16th after taking a nine-spot penalty due to an unapproved engine change. Dixon's consistency allowed him to smash the field, winning by over 22 seconds! 

Twice is one thing, but then Dixon overcame a six-spot grid penalty, contact at the start, a penalty for that contact at the start and an untimely caution to win at Laguna Seca. Dixon ended up in the right spot when the caution came out for contact between Colton Herta and Hélio Castroneves. He inherited the lead and won with relative ease.

What subjectively was his best race?
Did you not just read what I wrote above? Nobody else could have pulled out one of those races and yet Dixon did it three times! If I had to pick one, the IMS road course victory is the most impressive. 

Dixon wasn't the only other driver to stop on lap five. Three other drivers stopped. The next best finisher was Colton Herta in 13th. David Malukas and Romain Grosjean both were outside the top fifteen. Herta and Grosjean aren't slouches. Neither came close to pulling off what Dixon accomplished.

What objectively was his worst race?
Dixon was put in the turn eight tires at Long Beach after contact with Patricio O'Ward. It felt like a 50/50 incident. Dixon wasn't happy with O'Ward afterward. The feeling was understandable.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Long Beach was Dixon's only finish outside the top ten. It isn't something Dixon did. It is really the only race that got away from him.

Scott Dixon's 2023 Statistics
Championship Position: 2nd (578 points)
Wins: 3
Podiums: 6
Top Fives: 11
Top Tens: 16
Laps Led: 205
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 7
Fast Twelves: 11
Average Start: 8.4118
Average Finish: 5.3529

Marcus Ericsson
Often overlooked, Ericsson was ready to emerge as more with Ganassi. Always a reliable driver, Ericsson again showed top-tier form and spent more time in the top ten than most. However, he had a teammate that would not falter, and while the results remained impressive, they were not leading the way for the organization. Add to it, Ericsson was in a contract year and was looking for a pay-raise. The Swede did not quite find what he was looking for when this season was over.

What objectively was his best race?
Ericsson won the season opener at St. Petersburg. It wasn't really a race where Ericsson was the driver to beat. He was running well, competing for a top five result, but the Romain Grosjean-Scott McLaughlin contact gave the Swede two spots for free. Then Patricio O'Ward had a plenum event in his engine cause O'Ward to lose power for a moment off of the final corner, and Ericsson was there to pounce and take the lead with four laps remaining, which the Swede turned into victory.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is not his victory. It is Ericsson's runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500. Just like 2022, Ericsson stayed in the picture for the first for the first 300 miles and then he made his move to the front. He looked like the strongest car down the stretch. With the cautions and the red flags, it became a disjointed finish, a bit of a mess. Ericsson looked like he was going to steal a second consecutive Indianapolis 500 triumphant. Then he beat himself as much as Josef Newgarden beat him.

What objectively was his worst race?
An opening lap incident with fellow Swede Felix Rosenqvist at Mid-Ohio left Ericsson with a 27th-place finish. Ericsson clipped Rosenqvist in turn six. Ericsson made a bad move to the inside. Not the worst move in the world, but a costly one in this circumstance. 

What subjectively was his worst race?
Mid-Ohio was bad, but Toronto was a race where Ericsson had to make a pit stop on the final lap because he was out of fuel. This cost him a top ten finish. He still finished 11th, but he lost at least four or five spots due to this unscheduled stop.

Marcus Ericsson's 2023 Statistics
Championship Position: 6th (438 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 14
Laps Led: 51
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 9
Average Start: 10.588
Average Finish: 8.6471

Marcus Armstrong
It was a different season for Chip Ganassi Racing, as it split its fourth car between two drivers. For road and street courses, Ganassi fielded Armstrong, a rookie but veteran from Formula Two that showed good potential but could not shatter the European junior formula scene. The New Zealander found comfort in IndyCar and passed the audition.

What objectively was his best race?
In his first visit to Toronto, Armstrong was seventh. It was not a day where Armstrong did much, but on what can be a tricky circuit, Armstrong did not get flustered and saw the checkered flag without any issues.

What subjectively was his best race?
This is going to sound weird, but it is his 24th at Road America, because Armstrong spent much of the first half of that race in the top five. He looked like a podium contender. Then the team made a questionable decision not to bring Armstrong to the pit lane under caution for the David Malukas incident. It put Armstrong in a weird spot. He led five laps but after his pit stop he got stuck in traffic and was spun off course, which relegated him to 24th.

What objectively was his worst race?
Along with his 24th at Road America, Armstrong was 24th at the August IMS road course race after he was spun on the opening lap off the front wing of his teammate Palou. Armstrong was trapped a lap down and never got back on the lead lap. He was essentially racing to 24th after the opening lap.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Road America. He was a top five car that race. At worst that day should have been a top ten finish. This result wasn't on him. The team took a chance, and it could have worked out, but it didn't quite pan out.

Marcus Armstrong's 2023 Statistics
Championship Position: 20th (214 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 5
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 6
Average Start: 13.333
Average Finish: 13.083

Takuma Sato
While Armstrong focused on the road and street courses, Ganassi drafted Sato to run the ovals in what was the first season without Sato as a full-time competitor since 2009. The veteran was one the team knew could earn results at the oval races, but from day one this was not a guaranteed ride for all five oval events. Though there was a little pressure, Sato saw the season through. There were good days, and there were bad days.

What objectively was his best race?
Sato was seventh in the Indianapolis 500, in a race where he was up in the top ten for a majority of the races.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Indianapolis. Sato was the fourth best of the Ganassi cars at Indianapolis, but the fourth best Ganassi car was still worthy of a top ten finish. Even if Palou did not get caught in the pit lane incident with Rinus VeeKay, Sato wasn't going to beat Palou. Ericsson and Dixon both rightfully finished ahead of Sato. Sato led two laps. Seventh was an accurate outcome for Sato performance on this day.

What objectively was his worst race?
In his first race of the season, Sato had an accident at Texas and that left him with a 28th-place finish with only 46 laps completed.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It isn't one race, but all of the crashes. Texas was bad. It didn't help that the reports came out Sato was not assured to run all the oval races at the start of that weekend and an accident while in the top third of the field was not a great first outing. It worked out as Sato did run all the oval races, but it was not a promising start, and the rest of the season wasn't much better.

Sato retired from the second Iowa race after brushing the wall, but he spent his entire Gateway race trying to knock down the turn two wall. He hit it twice before knocking himself out of the race when he hit it a third time. He did get to run all the oval races, but retiring from 60% of them due to accidents, all of which can only be laid on his shoulders, is not how Sato wanted this abbreviated season to go.

Takuma Sato's 2023 Statistics
Championship Position: 30th (53 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 3
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 11
Average Finish: 19

An Early Look Ahead
Chip Ganassi Racing is coming off its most dominant season ever. 

Nine victories is not the most for this team in a season, but Ganassi had at least three top ten finishers in every race. It had multiple top five finishers in 11 races. It took the top two in the championship for the first time since 2009. It was a season we have seen from Team Penske a few times in recent seasons but now completed with Chip Ganassi Racing.

And off of this historic stranglehold, Ganassi leans into the youth moment and only continues to make his team younger. 

Scott Dixon will still be around, but joining the soon-to-be 27-year-old Álex Palou will be the soon-to-be 25-year-old rookie Linus Lundqvist while the 23-year-old Marcus Armstrong become the full-time driver in the #11 Honda, and Indy Lights driver Kyffin Simpson will join a five-car Ganassi lineup in 2024 at the age of 19 years old. 

Ganassi has moved away from veterans. Three of its drivers have never raced an IndyCar oval race let alone completed a full schedule, but the team is making some wise decisions.

Armstrong was more than ready for full-time this season. Ganassi didn't wait a beat to snag Lundqvist after his cameo appearances with Meyer Shank Racing substituting for an injured Simon Pageanud. Ganassi's goal is to get young, and he has scooped up some pretty good talent. 

It will not remain roses for this team into 2024. Palou will eventually finish outside the top ten. Dixon will not have a fuel conservation run go his way. The three young drivers will all make mistakes. Armstrong and Lundqvist will still have some impressive days, but there will be lessons learned the hard way. Simpson isn't ready for IndyCar, but Ganassi isn't going to turn down a few million dollars. 

This will still be Palou and Dixon's team. Palou dominated but it should not overshadow what Dixon did. Even though his victories came late and came through methodical drives, Dixon had 16 top ten finishes. If it wasn't for Patricio O'Ward, it likely would have been the second 17-for-17 top ten finish season in 2023. Dixon ended the season with five consecutive top five results and he had 11 total top five finishes. In many seasons, three victories, 11 top five finishes and 16 top ten finishes is enough to win a championship. 

We are not completely clear of the contractual conflict. McLaren has sued Palou after all, but Chip Ganassi is firmly behind his driver. It should not provide much distraction, but this will yet again not be a drama-free offseason for Ganassi and its championship driver. However, if the team could win the 2023 championship after everything that happened in 2022 and the expectation this would be the end of the Palou relationship, it should find a way through this predicament. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Team Penske's 2023 Season

The penultimate IndyCar Wrap-Up finds us looking at Team Penske. It is unfathomable to consider this year a disappointment. Penske won the Indianapolis 500, it had two drivers in the top five of the championship and all three of its drives ranked in the top seven. Yet, this is Team Penske. Five victories just doesn't feel like enough, and its most senior driver went winless for the first time driving for the organization. At no point did a Penske driver lead the championship this season. 

Scott McLaughlin
After a breakout sophomore season, McLaughlin aimed for more in year three with Team Penske. This season did not mirror his 2022 season, and though there were fewer standout drives, the New Zealander found success through consistency. While paired with two of the toughest drivers in contemporary IndyCar, it was the third-year convert from touring cars that found himself on top in this highly competitive intra-squad battle.

What objectively was his best race?
McLaughlin won at Barber Motorsports Park after a grueling battle with Romain Grosjean, but in a race that saw McLaughlin on the better tire compound for the final stint in the race, and McLaughlin was running a three-stop strategy to Grosjean's two. The race came to the New Zealander late and he ran away with it.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is hard to overlook Barber because Grosjean was in control of that race and Grosjean took the lead from McLaughlin with an incredible pass on the outside of the penultimate corner. At that point, it appeared to be race over and Grosjean was set for his first career victory, but McLaughlin had the better tires and chased down Grosjean, who was also watching his fuel. McLaughlin caught a moment when Grosjean went wide one lap in turn five and once McLaughlin was ahead it was over. 

The first Iowa race also deserves a mention because on a race weekend where Josef Newgarden was close to untouchable, but McLaughlin spent almost that entire race in second position and he was there if Newgarden slipped.

What objectively was his worst race?
An unscheduled pit stop to repair wing damage knocked McLaughlin to a 16th-place finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It was the first race of the season when McLaughlin got into Grosjean and ended Grosjean's race while effectively ending McLaughlin's. These were the best two drivers and they were in lockstep for the entire penultimate stint. The race would come down to the final pit cycle. Grosjean stopped first. McLaughlin came the next lap. 

When McLaughlin emerged from the pit lane, the drivers were side-by-side, but Grosjean had the advantage going into turn four. McLaughlin lost control entering turn four and put both cars into the tire barrier. At worst, McLaughlin would have finished second if both drivers made it through that corner. Instead, McLaughlin was out of the top ten, a penalty knocked him back a little more and he finished 13th. 

McLaughlin owned up to the error, but it is not how anyone wants to start a season. 

Scott McLaughlin's 2023 Statistics
Championship Position: 3rd (488 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 4
Top Fives: 7
Top Tens: 14
Laps Led: 117
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 7
Fast Twelves: 10
Average Start: 7.2353
Average Finish: 7

Josef Newgarden
Since day one with Team Penske, Newgarden has been in the championship fight, and with two titles and three consecutive championship runner-up finishes, it was never a doubt that Newgarden would be in the fight until the very end again this season. The goal was to achieve something more in 2023. The Tennessee-native had won plenty of races in many different places. There was one race on his mind, and he accomplished his lifelong goal, though the season did not end on the highest note.

What objectively was his best race?
Newgarden won four races, all on ovals, Texas, the Indianapolis 500 and he swept the Iowa doubleheader.

What subjectively was his best race?
Which race do you think? It is the Indianapolis 500. In a year where Team Penske did not look all that competitive, Newgarden went from 17th on the starting grid to first to the checkered flag. It wasn't a case of something flipped on during the race. Newgarden patiently made up ground. 

He was in the top five at the right time and had the car setup for such a battle. Newgarden took the lead at one point with a brilliant pass on Marcus Ericsson and Patricio O'Ward. Then it looked like the race was going to escape from Newgarden when Ericsson had nosed ahead on the lap 197 restart as Benjamin Pedersen and Ed Carpenter bounced off of one another and brought out a caution. 

However, race control decided to red flag the race and restart with the green flag and white flag coming out simultaneously. With one chance to win the race, Newgarden didn't overreact to Ericsson swerving, and it may have won Newgarden the race. Instead of chasing the draft, Newgarden let Ericsson scrub off speed exiting turn two down the back straightaway. Newgarden made the run and took the lead well before turn three and he had enough to hold on for his most famous victory.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was about two and a half months later in the August IMS road course race when Newgarden qualified 19th, took a six-spot grid penalty for an engine change and then was caught in the opening lap incident when Marcus Armstrong was stopped in turn seven and Newgarden had nowhere to go but park his car on Armstrong's front end. 

Newgarden could not be restarted in time before the field came around. He was a lap down and could not get out of that hole, finishing 25th. 

One week after that, Newgarden was running in the top five at Gateway after dominating the race early, but during the pit cycle, Newgarden slid up the racetrack and brushed the barrier exiting turn two, damaging his car and leaving him 25th again, effectively ending his championship hopes.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is not one race but three of those final four races, the August IMS road course race, Gateway and then Laguna Seca to cap it off. 

In the second IMS road course race, it wasn't just getting in the accident but Newgarden did not have the pace the entire weekend and it was the worst time to not show up. Newgarden was 84 points behind Álex Palou with four races remaining before the start of that weekend. At worse, he could not afford to lose any more ground, maybe a point or two would not be the end of the world. Newgarden lost 19 points. 

Gateway was Newgarden's last hope, and it started well, but once Scott Dixon stuck to the three-stop strategy, Newgarden lost control of the race. He was still in position to gain points on Palou, but Newgarden could not afford less than a victory and ten less points for second was still going to hurt. He barely stepped over the line and it bit him.

Then he was hit at the start at Laguna Seca and had another incident leaving him 21st. The championship was already gone but it was a rotten end to an otherwise good season.

Josef Newgarden's 2023 Statistics
Championship Position: 5th (479 points)
Wins: 4
Podiums: 5
Top Fives: 8
Top Tens: 12
Laps Led: 602
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 9.3529
Average Finish: 9.4706

Will Power
The defending champion had plenty to aim for in 2023. Power was already at the top of the record book in most of the major statistically categories. He was positioned to make further ground in the annals of IndyCar history. However, off-track concerns dampened Power's start of the season. He was good, but not at the level we saw the year prior, and 2023 turned out to be one of the worst of Power's career while still being more than acceptable to the average driver.

What objectively was his best race?
Power was runner-up in the second Iowa race after starting from his 70th career pole position.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is the second Iowa race. Power led fewer laps in this race compared to the first Iowa race, but Power had a better balance on his car in the second Iowa race. There was less frustration and when there was the late restart, Power made the pass on Felix Rosenqvist to get second instead of finishing third. 

What objectively was his worst race?
Power spun early at Portland in a battle with Alexander Rossi. Power stalled in the grass and went a lap down before being restarted. Power was trapped a lap down for practically the entire race and finished 25th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is probably the Indianapolis 500. After brushing the barrier exiting turn two, Power had bent suspension which took him out of contention for anything special. He did see the checkered flag, but five laps down in 23rd. 

The first Iowa race must sting because Power was controlling that race. Newgarden was struggling in the early stages and Power looked settled. With the flip of a switch, Newgarden had it figured out and when Newgarden took the lead from Power, Power was out of sorts. He was frustrated and ended up losing spots. He only fell to fifth, but it was on to be better than that. 

Fifth is far from a disaster, but when a driver goes winless, the best opportunity that got away looks that much worse. This was that opportunity. 

Will Power's 2023 Statistics
Championship Position: 7th (425 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 4
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 11
Laps Led: 180
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 10
Average Start: 9.1765
Average Finish: 9.4118

An Early Look Ahead
Team Penske will be fine, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have areas where it must improve. It might have won five races, a great year for almost every team in IndyCar, but that is down for Team Penske, and as great as Chip Ganassi Racing was, Team Penske had its problems.

Newgarden will enter the 2024 season 637 days removed from his most recent road/street course victory. He had only one podium finish on a road/street course in 2023. His average finish on road/street courses was 11th, not terrible, but not great. Newgarden isn't experiencing some career drop off. He was still masterful on ovals, and even with his dismal road/street course runs, he had a few good performances. Long Beach comes to mind where Newgarden started well and then was on the wrong strategy and faded.

Road and street courses were a place where all the Penske cars struggled in 2023. McLaughlin won at Barber, but Power made the Fast Six only once all season. Once! Power was the king of starting seventh this season. Power did make the Fast 12 in ten races. It could just have been a fluky season and instead of Power winning three or four pole positions and considering that a down year for Power, he ended up only making the Fast Six once. 

Power was focused on his wife's health during the early stages of the season, and it likely was on his mind for the entire year. There are more important things than motorsports. His wife's health is monumentally more important than any result in an IndyCar race.  

There is the possibility of this was the start of the downward swing for Power. Not every driver has it forever. I don't think that is the case, not yet. Like Scott Dixon, I need to see at least two or three seasons before I start considering that was the case for Power. You may say Power only won once in 2022 while winning the championship, but Power had nine podium finishes in 17 races and 12 top five finishes while taking five pole positions that season. Only 2023 was the only off-year to date. 

Even McLaughlin wasn't perfect this year and he was third in the championship. He had one top five finish in the first eight races. Then he reeled off six top five finishes in the final nine races while ending the season with 11 consecutive top ten finishes. He might be the best driver in the world.

Penske had an underwhelming 2021 season winning three races. It then won nine races in 2022 while taking the championship and putting all three of its cars in the top four of the championship. Team Penske is going to be fine... but let's see where it improves in 2024.