Friday, April 12, 2024

What Did We Learn From Testing?

What was supposed to be two days of testing ahead of next month’s 108th Indianapolis 500 turned out to be less than six hours of track time despite all efforts IndyCar made to maximize whatever clear weather could be found at the corner of 16th and Georgetown. Undoubtedly, nobody is leaving Speedway, Indiana satisfied with the amount of track time over these two days, but this is all they will get until the middle of May. 

With the cars packed away and teams turning their attention to Long Beach, this is a chance to pick apart what little we saw from the rain-shortened test.

What did we learn?
Honestly, nothing!

We confirmed Katherine Legge will be in the #51 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, and she is bringing a notable sponsor.

Conor Daly has a sponsor that could end up being at the center of lawsuit within the next decade. 

Christian Rasmussen will use #33. 

David Malukas is still hurt. 

Théo Pourchaire was still in Indianapolis.

Everyone is frustrated that there are about 18 pink cars. There was not much we could learn from such little track time, and almost half of it was dedicated to Rookie Orientation and refresher programs. 

If you look at the time sheet, there were no surprises from the limited track time. Josef Newgarden was fastest, the fourth consecutive year Newgarden was fastest at the April test. Scott Dixon and Álex Palou were both in the top five. Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood each were in the top ten, as was Scott McLaughlin. The big names are all there. 

Who does the rain hurt the most?
When you are one of two Indianapolis 500-only teams, you were probably hoping to complete more than 29 combined laps over your two cars, but 29 laps is all Dreyer & Reinbold Racing got between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Conor Daly. Hunter-Reay's seven laps were the fewest any driver completed and Arrow McLaren’s Callum Ilott was the only other driver to compete under ten laps. 

Considering D&R regularly is respectable when it comes to speed, there is not too much concern with D&R. Juncos Hollinger Racing only completed 44 laps and A.J. Foyt Racing only completed 50 laps. The Dale Coyne Racing drivers of Legge and Nolan Siegel were 29th and 31st respectively. 

I would say this hurt Coyne's drivers the most because both Legge and Siegel could have used the time. They both ran more laps than most, Siegel completed 63 laps and Legge ran 59, but they likely don't have many more answers than when they started Tuesday. Two full days would have done wonders for that group.

Will Kyle Larson win the Indianapolis 500?
Two years ago, after the April test, I wrote overreactions to the test days. Here is one for 2024. 

Larson was second in the test, his fastest lap at 226.384 mph. Larson is going to win this race by nine laps. Larson is going to lead 202 of 200 laps this year. Larson's victory will unite the world and he will be carried out of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and on the backs of the people he will be brought to Charlotte Motor Speedway where the Coca-Cola 600 will be postponed for four days to allow the millions of people between the two tracks to come out on their own and offer up adoration as Larson passes. 

Alright, now with that out of the way, no one should be surprised Larson, arguably the best driver in the world, became comfortable in an IndyCar almost immediately. Has there been any race car that has befuddled Larson in his career? He slides behind the wheel and gets it quickly. Larson was suspended for practically an entire NASCAR Cup season, and he won in his fourth race back on his way to his first Cup championship that season. 

A lot of things will happen between now and the checkered flag for the 108th Indianapolis 500. Scott Dixon lost the Indianapolis 500 speeding entering the pit lane for this final pit stop. Engine fails. Unsafe releases happen. Drivers can stall the car. This is not set in stone. No one anticipated a one-lap sprint immediately after a red flag deciding last year's race. 

For anyone to think this race is clearly Larson's to lose is kidding themselves, but Larson is set up to succeed. He is driving for McLaren and has two stout teammates in the same stable. This has been far from a half-assed effort. Whether it ends in victory or not will require the same million things falling just right as with anyone else entered in this race. 

Is there anyone who should at least be happy?
I hinted at it in the testing primer, I think Felix Rosenqvist and Meyer Shank Racing should feel good even on the abbreviated day. After starting on the front row and finishing seventh at St. Petersburg and winning a heat race and finishing third overall at Thermal Club, Rosenqvist was tenth in the test with 49 laps completed. 

It isn't an exact indication where this team is because no one ran a full program and got close to going as far as they felt comfortable for an April test, but Rosenqvist ended up in the top ten should boost MSR's confidence. It is another case of the team being in a competition position a season after the team never was in that spot. 

Add in Herta and Kirkwood being in the top ten, and the Andretti Global/MSR alliance had three in the top ten. That was more than Team Penske, more than Chip Ganassi Racing and more than McLaren. I think this is a good place to start for the Andretti/MSR alliance and something to build from in a month's time. 

Do we have any answers about Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing?
Not really.

If you go based on the combined results from Wednesday, the RLLR cars were 19th (Graham Rahal), 21st (Christian Lundgaard), 23rd (Takuma Sato) and 30th (Pietro Fittipaldi), and Fittipaldi did little more than complete the refresher program. Fittipaldi completed 63 laps while the other three RLLR drivers completed a combined 63 laps.

Last year, RLLR's cars were 23rd, 26th, 28th and 33rd at the April test, and that was a full day where the three full-time RLLR cars all ran over 100 laps. 

It could be worse. That is probably the best way to look at it, but we really don't have enough to be certain. If anything, it is kind of the same scenario we saw last year with RLLR. All the cars are together. There is consistency. The problem was the consistency had three of its cars in the last chance qualifying session last year, and the fourth car was starting 30th. 

It also could have been better. I am sure one of the RLLR cars could have put up a good number and had everyone in the team confident it made a jump forward.

The questions will remain.

Can Ed Carpenter Racing get some love?

Ed Carpenter was seventh while Christian Rasmussen was tenth despite having to complete ROP. Rinus VeeKay was 12th. The speed the last few years at ECR has been with VeeKay in qualifying. The Dutchman has never started worse than fourth in four Indianapolis 500 appearances. Carpenter has started fourth or better in seven of the last 11 years. 

The qualifying speed will likely be there. It is the race where we need to see it. Carpenter is remembered for his runner-up finish in 2018, but his average finish in the Indianapolis 500 since running for his own team starting in 2012 is 17.25, and he has finished in the back half of the field of 33 in three of the last four years. For comparison, in Carpenter's eight "500s" not with his own team his average finish was 13.875 and he finished in the back half of the field of 33 only once. 

ECR has had 30 starters in the Indianapolis 500 since establishing in 2012 and including the 2015 season as CFH Racing. The team has three top five finishes and 13 top ten finishes. It has had at least one top ten finisher in each of the last three years and in five of the last six. 

All signs point to at least one ECR car being toward the front. Can it have a car in the lead group coming to the checkered flag? 

Is there anything else we should know?
I think that covers it. Last year, 3,108 total laps were completed in the one April test day. This year, only 1,327 laps were complete. We basically got half a test. With half a test comes half the answers. It only makes the dwindling days until IndyCar's biggest race that more tense. We will find out more in a month. Let the waiting begin!

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

108th Indianapolis 500 Testing Primer

We are still in the middle of IndyCar's extended spring break, and the solar eclipse is behind us, but IndyCar is starting to get busy. April begins with a pivotal two-day test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ahead of next month's Indianapolis 500. 

Over 12 hours of track time has been set aside for the teams in preparation for IndyCar's biggest race. These two days will take care of Rookie Orientation and refresher requirements for returning drivers while everyone hopes to use these two days to set themselves up for a successful May.

There are many questions ahead of this testing session. We hope to address those, both procedural and quizzical questions, before any cars roll out of Gasoline Alley.  

The test session begins at 11:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday May 10 with a two-hour session for veterans. This would be for the 27 drivers who have raced an oval race since last year's Indianapolis 500. At 1:00 p.m., the two-hour Rookie Orientation/refresher session will begin. At 3:00 p.m. ET, a three-hour all-skate session will take place.

Thursday May 11 will have a six-hour all-skate session scheduled to take place from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

There are contingency plans in place for bad weather, as rain looks ominous for Thursday. There is a chance Wednesday running could go later in the day, and Friday is available as a possible rain date if IndyCar deems it necessary.

Forecast calls for an 88% chance of rain on Wednesday with showers throughout the day. Rain remains in the forecast for through Thursday. On Friday, rain may continue into the morning but pass come the afternoon. Winds could be between 20-30 mph on Friday. 

Peacock will have coverage of the test.

Update: Wednesday’s on-track session will begin at 9:00 a.m. with the two-hour veterans’ session. The ROP/refresher portion will be at 11:00 a.m. and last for two hours. The all-skate will begin at 1:00 p.m. and run through 6:30 p.m. 

Thursday’s schedule remains unchanged. 

Who must run Rookie Orientation and the refresher program?
At the moment, there will be three drivers completing Rookie Orientation and two drivers completing the fresher program. 

Kyffin Simpson, Christian Rasmussen and Nolan Siegel will be completing ROP. None of these three drivers participated in the test held at the Speedway last October when other rookies completed the required orientation. 

Marco Andretti and Pietro Fittipaldi are the two drivers required to complete the refresher. Andretti's only IndyCar race was last year's Indianapolis 500. Fittipaldi's only Indianapolis 500 appearance was three years ago in 2021.

Rookie Orientation remains three phases. The first phase requires ten laps between 205-210 mph. Phase two is 15 laps between 210-215 mph. The final phase is 15 laps at 215 mph or faster. For the refresher program, a driver must complete the final two phases or Rookie Orientation, 15 laps between 210-215 mph and 15 laps at 215 ph or faster. 

What should we expect for Kyle Larson?
The long-anticipated Indianapolis 500 appearance of Larson is happening this year, and the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion will get back in the car after having tested and completed Rookie Orientation last October. Larson also had another test at Phoenix International Raceway this past February where he spent about three hours on track. 

These will be Larson's first official timed sessions in an IndyCar. The American drew praise from Arrow McLaren sporting director Tony Kanaan after the test in October, where Larson completed 72 laps. At the Phoenix test, Larson had a notable moment where got sideways but was able to correct the car. He ran about 200 miles at Phoenix. 

Larson is driving for an Arrow McLaren team that has its wits about it at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This isn't the same McLaren that missed track time due to the car being painted the wrong shade of orange and ended up failing to qualify for the race. This isn't the same organization that missed the race and had a few years in the last chance qualifying session when known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. McLaren has produced race-winning caliber cars the last two years and that should likely remain the same this year. 

It is still a new experience for Larson and he will continue to learn over this session and every session, including the race, should he qualify. 

This is also a NASCAR Cup Series champion that has won the top dirt races in the United States from the Knoxville Nationals to the Chili Bowl and took no time getting up to a competitive speed in a dirt late model. He has a 24 Hours of Daytona overall victory as well. 

There is a fine line between being the fastest man on track and being in danger of being bumped. Larson will not do anything risky during this test. The team will amp up as the two days go along, but he will not be attempting mock qualifying runs with the car fully trimmed out. The goal will be to get Larson comfortable. If he is comfortable, the speed will show and he should be in a respectable position after these two days are over.

Has Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing found speed?
It was a May of horrors for RLLR last year. Three of its four cars were in the last chance qualifying session to fill the final row, all four cars were in the bottom five, and Graham Rahal, the team's most senior driver, ended up bumped from the race. 

After the nightmare of 2023, RLLR cannot afford to be close to the same position in 2024. With a lack of high-speed ovals on the IndyCar calendar, we have not great measuring stick for where RLLR stands from Indianapolis last year. In 2023, we knew at Texas the team was struggling for speed and its was unsurprising when the team found itself in the cellar when the teams showed up to 16th & Georgetown. 

We don't know where RLLR stands, and perhaps RLLR doesn't know either. 

It has made a few changes. Fittipaldi is in for Jack Harvey. Takuma Sato returns to the organization in a fourth entry. RLLR doubled it engineering department during the offseason, a pricey investment with David Cripps leading the oval R&D. Cripps was a key engineer at Panther Racing during its span when Panther had four consecutive runner-up finishes in the Indianapolis 500.

The goal should be the middle to start for RLLR. If it has multiple cars in the bottom ten times after these two days, it could signal another long May ahead.

Is Team Penske better than it was last year?
Josef Newgarden might have won the Indianapolis 500 last year, but let's not act like it was a brilliant month of May for the Team Penske organization. 

For the fourth consecutive year, none of the Penske entries started on one of the first three rows. Prior to this stretch, the last time Penske did not have a car start in the first three rows was 2002, the team's second year back at Indianapolis after The Split. Prior to this four-year stretch, the only other year in which Team Penske participated in the Indianapolis 500 and did not have a starter in the first three rows was 1995 when both cars failed to make the race. This four-year stretch without a front row starter is the longest Team Penske has gone without a car on the front row since its first Indianapolis appearance in 1969.

Despite Penske's shortcomings last year, Newgarden ended up at the front late and led five laps on his way to winning the race. The victory makes up for Scott McLaughlin finishing 14th and Will Power finishing five laps down in 23rd after brushing the barrier with the only lap Power having led been during a pit cycle.

Team Penske has failed to have multiple top ten finishers in the Indianapolis 500 in the last four years. It was shutout of a top ten spot in 2022. Though the defending race winners, Penske has an abundant room for growth from 2023 to 2024 in this race. It cuts both ways though. Based on the last few years, we should not be surprised if Penske isn't not leading the way and setting the pace, but it is Team Penske. No one can be surprised if it has all three of its entries right at the front either.

Does inexperience hurt Chip Ganassi Racing?
Last year, Chip Ganassi Racing had three past Indianapolis 500 winners and a past runner-up finisher in the "500" in its lineup. This year, Chip Ganassi racing has three Indianapolis 500 debutants, one past Indianapolis 500 winner and a past runner-up finisher in the "500" in its lineup. 

Not many teams see a wholesale change like that from one year to the next but it is what is awaiting the Ganassi organization this May. Marcus Ericsson and Takuma Sato are out. Marcus Armstrong, Linus Lundqvist and Kyffin Simpson are in. 

Last year, all four Ganassi cars finished in the top ten, including Ericsson finishing second, falling 0.0974 seconds shy of becoming the first back-to-back winner since 2002, and Álex Palou overcame contact in the pit lane mid-race with Rinus VeeKay to finish fourth. 

Palou and Scott Dixon are as good as any duo you could want driving for your team at Indianapolis, but there is no reason to be certain any of the Ganassi rookies will be able to match what the team did last year. None of these rookies have raced on a large oval before. The largest oval Lundqvist and Simpson have raced on is the 1.25-mile oval at Gateway Motorsports Park in Indy Lights. Armstrong has never raced on an oval before. 

This team will be reliant on its top two drivers. There will not be Marcus Ericsson waiting in the wings to step up should Scott Dixon speed entering the pit lane on his final stop this year, but that aside, does Ganassi take a dip across the board because of the inexperience imbalance? Palou was on pole position last year with all four cars starting in the top ten. If the wrong car is struggling, will it drag the entire team down?

Can Andretti Global find itself back at the front?
From 2014 to 2017, the team formerly known as Andretti Autosport won the Indianapolis 500 three times. From 2018 to 2023, the team formerly known as Andretti Autosport had four combined top five finishes in the Indianapolis 500. Last year was the third time in the last four years Andretti Global did not have a top five finisher on Memorial Day weekend. Three years ago, the team didn't even place a car in the top fifteen. 

Maybe a rebranded team name will help, but the Andretti Global group is taking more steps than changing some wording. With only three full-time cars, it is only entering four cars for Indianapolis. Along with full-timers Colton Herta, Kyle Kirkwood and the driver who has finished first and second the last two years in the "500," Marcus Ericsson, Andretti Global brings back Marco Andretti as a one-off entry. 

Last year wasn't that bad for Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood was running in a top five position when he was collateral damage after Felix Rosenqvist spun. Colton Herta had a promising race going until friendly fire in the pit lane when then-teammate Romain Grosjean collided as Herta was exiting his pit box. Despite this set back, Herta still finished ninth. Even Devlin DeFrancesco had a respectable day for the team, finishing 13th. 

Andretti Global still has work to do. It has not had a top five finish on an oval since Alexander Rossi was fifth in the 2022 Indianapolis 500. It hasn't had a top three finish on an oval since Rossi was second at Texas in 2019. The team's most recent oval victory was Rossi at Pocono in 2018. The last time an Andretti driver not named Alexander Rossi finished in the top five on an oval was Colton Herta in the first Gateway race in 2020. The last time an Andretti driver not named Rossi won an oval race was Takuma Sato's 2017 Indianapolis 500 victory.

From 2014 to 2017, Andretti cars led a combined 278 of 800 laps at Indianapolis. Since 2018, the team has led only 81 of 1,200 laps run. 

Was last year a fluke for A.J. Foyt Racing?
Along with Team Penske's Josef Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing's Marcus Ericsson, the third driver in the fight to the checkered flag in the closing laps last year was A.J. Foyt Racing's Santino Ferrucci, in what was a standout year for the Connecticut-native. 

Ferrucci led 11 laps and his average running position was 5.72 after qualifying fourth. It wasn't just Ferrucci. Foyt had Benjamin Pedersen qualify 11th as both cars made it to the Fast 12. This was before the technical alliance with Team Penske as well.

It was only one race though. For all the good we saw at Indianapolis, Foyt did not replicate that pace and performance any other time in 2023. The team had no other top ten finishes during the season. 

Dropping from two cars making the Fast 12 to both cars being toward the bottom of the timesheet is difficult to imagine, but there is still a chance Foyt takes a step back. That doesn't mean it cannot be competitive though. 

In five years, Ferrucci has five top ten finishes. Only two other drivers have started an Indianapolis 500 career with five consecutive top ten finishes (Harry Hartz and Hélio Castroneves). Ferrucci has also done it with smaller teams, Dale Coyne Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and now Foyt. Ferrucci could still be a contender for the Fast 12 and at least put his car in the top half of the field.

Sting Ray Robb, on the other hand, must convince us. Robb has never started in the top twenty of a race in his IndyCar career. His best starting position on an oval last year was 23rd at Texas. If Benjamin Pedersen can qualify 11th, one must think Robb could at least repeat that performance, but I don't think anyone should be counting on Robb putting the second Foyt car in the top 12 until we see him on track. 

Will Meyer Shank Racing and Felix Rosenqvist keep up its strong start?
There has only been one championship race so far, and it is unclear how much should be drawn from the Thermal Club exhibition race, but it is a good sign that Rosenqvist and MSR were competitive in both weekends. 

Rosenqvist might have struggled on tires at St. Petersburg, but he still finished seventh after qualifying on the front row and being toward the top of every practice session. At Thermal Club, Rosenqvist won his heat race and spent the entire final race running in third position. There wasn't a drop-off at Thermal Club and that should at least be an encouragement for this group.

What also should be encouraging is Rosenqvist has run particularly well at Indianapolis the last two years. If it wasn't for a bobble in turn one last year, he could have had consecutive top five finishes. Meyer Shank Racing has not been competitive at Indianapolis since it won in 2021 with Hélio Castroneves. It is not certain MSR and Rosenqvist can keep it up at Indianapolis, but it has the partnership with Andretti Global, and Castroneves is back as a one-off driver. 

Things should be better than last year, but we could leave this two-day test believing MSR is the sleeper.

Who fills the remaining seats?
At time of posting, there are two open seats on the entry list for the test, the #6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet and the #51 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. 

Arrow McLaren has Callum Ilott on standby. Ilott has run the first two events in the #6 Chevrolet, as David Malukas remains out with a wrist injury. Ilott has driven the past two years in the Indianapolis 500, and he would be included in the veterans' session to kick off Wednesday. 

There is not a clear favorite to end up in the #51 Honda for DCR, but Katherine Legge is the name most associated with that seat. Legge returned to the Indianapolis 500 last year for the first time in ten years and she drove for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. If Legge is the #51 Honda's driver, she will need to participate in the refresher program Wednesday afternoon.

Why haven't you mentioned Ed Carpenter Racing yet?
Geez... I don't know. The team has Rinus VeeKay, who has never started worse than fourth in four Indianapolis 500 appearances. Ed Carpenter is there, attempting to win the Indianapolis 500 for the 21st time. Christian Rasmussen will be in a third entry, which number we don't know yet. Ed Carpenter Racing will be fine. The cars will be somewhere between third and 25th once the test is complete.

Who could be in the most trouble?
It has been forgotten how much trouble Juncos Hollinger Racing was in last year. Agustín Canapino did well avoiding ever being in the bumping conversation, but Callum Ilott was in the thick of it until the team decided to switch to the backup car at the end of practice week. That switch paid off as Ilott ran his fastest all May once in the backup car and he went from almost a certain last chance qualifying participant to locked in come Saturday evening. 

Even with the improvement from Ilott, JHR still had its cars qualify 27th and 28th. There is minuscule margin for error in that position. Ilott was in that spot because the team could not figure out what was wrong with its Indianapolis-prepared chassis. The car that was dedicated for this track to be running at its highest potential was in significant danger of the missing the race. The car they thrashed together and going into qualifying blind with was immediately quicker with nothing special being done. 

That should not fill anyone with confidence. That should be kept in mind this year even with Romain Grosjean in the #77 Chevrolet. Grosjean has not had great outings at Indianapolis. He has done respectable in qualifying, but has yet to go the distance in the race. If the car is scary again, I don't know if JHR can pull off another magic trick. 

JHR aside, the team in the most trouble is likely the team that isn't here. 

Abel Motorsports has reportedly been on the verge of confirming its Indianapolis 500 program, only it hasn't yet, and it will not be competing in this week's test. Last year, Abel was not at the test and it was able to have R.C. Enerson regularly inside the top 30 during practice and did enough to have Enerson lock himself in with the 29th fastest time in Saturday qualifying. 

I don't know if Abel Motorsports can pull that off a second time. Every other team is here. It is unlikely RLLR is going to go one-for-four with its cars making the top 30 for a second consecutive year. There is an extra Ganassi car and an extra McLaren. Even worse is, though it appeared Abel and the Enerson family was set to continue for a second year at Indianapolis, we still have no clear picture on what the Abel program will look like. It appears the Enerson is struggling to find sponsorship to complete the funding. 

There is a chance Abel could field another driver if Enerson cannot secure the funding needed, but that only puts the team further in a corner. Whomever Abel signs would likely need to go through Rookie Orientation or the refresher program, and the team would already be two days behind on the field with a new car that has never been on the racetrack before. 

We already have 34 cars set to attempt this year's Indianapolis 500. It will not be as easy as last year where Abel must beat one car to make the field. It will require beating two. This team cannot afford to lose the time it has already lost.

We should keep an eye on Tom Blomqvist as this will be his first oval race ever, and he is still adjusting to a single-seater car after spending most of the last decade in sports cars or touring cars. Indianapolis will be an eye-opener for him. 

Dale Coyne Racing is another question mark. It will have Nolan Siegel in the #18 Honda, and for how good Siegel has been in Indy Lights, he has never been in an IndyCar on an oval let alone Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he is 19 years old. Siegel likely will not even have a veteran driver to lean on. If it is Katherine Legge in the #51 Honda, the team will be pinning its Indianapolis hopes on a teenager and a driver that has one IndyCar start in the last decade. 

DCR was in the last chance qualifying session last year with Sting Ray Robb. If the team cannot find pace, it might never find it this year and the team could be in massive trouble if there are 35 entries as there is a chance both cars could miss the race.

Does this test really tell us anything for May?
Well, last year Josef Newgarden topped the April test and then he won the Indianapolis 500, so whichever driver is the fastest from these test days will be your Indianapolis 500 winner. There really isn't a point in running the race. If it was only that simple. Newgarden has been the fastest car at the end of the April test the last three years, and he is only one-for-three in "500" race victories over that time. 

Of last year's Fast 12 participants, only four were in the top 12 from the April test. Of the top ten finishers in last year's race, only five were in the top ten of the April test. However, in 2022, seven of the top ten from the April test made the Fast 12, and ten of the top 16 made the Fast 12. But only four of the fastest ten from the 2022 April test finished in the top ten of the 2022 race.

Marcus Ericsson and Santino Ferrucci were 18th and 25th fastest respectively in the test last year and they finished second and third. Stefan Wilson was sixth fastest in the test and he qualified 25th. In 2022, the top three finishers were eighth (Ericsson), 21st (Patricio O'Ward) and third (Tony Kanaan) in the April test. Scott Dixon, who led 95 laps from pole position, was fourth in the April test. 

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was toward the bottom last year in the April test, but the speeds did not suggest it would have three of its four cars in the last chance qualifying session. Graham Rahal was the fastest in 23rd. Katherine Legge was the slowest of the RLLR cars at the test in 33rd and she ended up being the one RLLR car to lock in the race from Saturday qualifying. 

Benjamin Pedersen was the slowest in last April’s test and he wound up making the Fast 12. 

This test will not provide us with definitive answers for May, but we will have an a clear idea about a few teams and be leaning one way with no hard evidence as why we feel that way for the rest of them. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Musings From the Weekend: Let's Talk Television... Again!

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking. 

Sonoma had a weekend, and it got people arguing on Twitter. Notable people too! Not just some rum-dums. Williams still doesn't have a spare, and both drivers had an accident this weekend. Max Verstappen and Red Bull bounced back from Australian misfortune to dominate the Japanese Grand Prix. Team Penske reached 6,000 races started in the organization's history. Hendrick Motorsports celebrated its 40th anniversary. The bottom two-thirds of the Road to Indy raced in Louisiana. Maybe IndyCar should have tagged along? No... no... too soon? Would people have liked a return to NOLA Motorsports Park nine years after the nightmare that was IndyCar's lone visit? How desperate are people for an IndyCar race? None of these questions will be answer, but we will be exploring IndyCar's soon-to-be determined broadcasting future. 

Let's Talk Television... Again!
I was going to use this space to do some more deep diving into the month-by-month IndyCar race winners over the history of the series that was posted last week, but there was an actual report that came out Friday that warrants discussion. 

Two months after we first explored IndyCar's future television deal, it appears we are on the doorstep of that deal being finalized, and it appears to be closer than we first thought. 

The Indianapolis Star's Nathan Brown reported last week the next IndyCar television contract was down to Fox or NBC, and in the last few weeks, NBC has been rising after it appeared the series was firmly set on moving to Fox. Brown did say it was still leaning in Fox's favor, but remaining with NBC was much closer than it was earlier during the preseason. 

When it comes to the finances, Brown reported NBC was looking to pay a slight increase from its current deal, willing to spend $25 million a year while Fox was in the $30-35 million ballpark. However, the big difference is NBC is pushing a network television heavy package with some cable races and the streaming component of Peacock while Fox would have fewer races on network television while most of the races taking place on cable between Fox Sports 1 and possibly even Fox Sports 2. 

While the belief is IndyCar will make a decision sometime before the end of May, Brown said there is a chance we could know as soon as Long Beach weekend, as Fox is based out of Southern California. 

With it pared down to two options, real figures being thrown about and a rough idea of how coverage will be broken down, it is a good time to weigh where we stand and what will happen next. 

There is a chance IndyCar feels it has gone as far as it can with NBC, and while viewership is up marginally, it is time to look elsewhere to try and make that next leap up. That is understandable, and Fox is reportedly offering more money anyway. However, considering IndyCar's philosophy over the last six years, it would be a sharp change to go back to cable-heavy coverage. 

The availability of network television windows put IndyCar in front of more people and naturally boosted ratings without having to do anything seismic. Consider that from 2009 to 2018, IndyCar above 500,000 viewers for cable races only twice over the span. In the last three seasons, when the number of network races have been nine, 14 and 13, the average overall viewership has been over 1.24 million per race. Last year's 1.32 average was IndyCar's best since 2011. 

It is more than network vs. cable though, and it is more than just races. However you may feel about streaming and the abundance of platforms, we aren't going to see a cable television renaissance either. If you have cut the cord, there is an option where you can pay and get every IndyCar race, every IndyCar practice session, every IndyCar qualifying session, and you get the Indy Lights race as well. Not to forget mentioning those practice sessions, qualifying sessions and Indy Lights races are all commercial-free. 

That is Peacock. Fox does not have that over-the-top streaming platform at this time, and that should raise questions of where all that auxiliary coverage will go. Fox plans to be a part of an overarching sports streaming platform with ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery, but that does not exist yet and could face legal pushback. Where you can watch practice and qualifying is as important as the races, and in the year 2025 when this contract will begin you cannot have practice sessions and qualifying sessions not be available to watch somewhere.

Let's also not forget that you will be able to watch two days of Indianapolis 500 testing this week on Peacock, and come May you will get all-day coverage of both qualifying days on Peacock. IndyCar fans love their six-hour mid-week test days. Don't take that away from them!

It is unclear how much Fox values IndyCar practice, but comparing it to NASCAR, it is going to be difficult for IndyCar to break through and bump the FS1 studio shows off the air on Friday. Like any sports network, there are multiple properties and everyone must get along. The Los Angeles Dodgers-Chicago Cubs game this past Saturday bumped NASCAR practice and qualifying to FS2. If IndyCar is going to be on FS2, it mind as well stay on Peacock. That goes for races as well. If you think Peacock is difficult, wait until you search for FS2.

If there is anything we have learned over the last few months, it is the ceiling is much higher on Peacock. The NFL Wild Card round game between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs drew 23 million viewers on Peacock in January, firmly in the ballpark for a typical NFL game on terrestrial television. If Peacock and streaming platforms aren't holding back the NFL, it shouldn't hold back IndyCar either. There might need to be some work to be done to get more viewers on Peacock, but IndyCar is probably more likely going to match average race viewership on Peacock than Fox Sports 2, where the highest rated program ever on the channel is 582,000 viewers. The average viewership for FS2 in 2023 was 20,000 viewers

IndyCar must recognize the world in 2024, and see the value in being accessible through a streaming platform while also having races on network and occasionally on cable. Taking the money and tying itself to cable is not a great long-term strategy, especially when it could only be about $5-10 million more in the series' wallet. It would be a limitation to the series if the only way you could view it is requiring people to subscribe for a cable package, something fewer people are subscribing to and those numbers are continuing to go down. It is one thing if Fox was offering more than double the other offer, but that isn't the case. It isn't a transformational amount of money for IndyCar to decide to make a transformational step backward in media distribution. 

We are entering an unknown period for motorsports broadcasting in the United States. NASCAR is going to have five races exclusively on Amazon Prime. All of NASCAR's practice and qualifying sessions outside of the Daytona 500, the Busch Clash and All-Star Race will only be available via Amazon Prime or Warner Bros. Discovery's B/R Sports Add-On on the Max platform. 

Fox and NBC will remain as NASCAR partners, but only 12 championship Cup races will be on Fox next year, down from 16, in addition to the Clash and All-Star Race. NBC will have only 14 Cup races, down from 20. Any opportunity for IndyCar having synergy with NASCAR coverage on Fox or NBC will decrease next year regardless which is IndyCar's partner. There would only be about four IndyCar races taking place during the Fox portion of the NASCAR season next year, and the Indianapolis 500 would not be one of those. Fox isn't going to have an Indianapolis 500 into Coca-Cola 600 full day of racing. The Charlotte race will be on Amazon Prime. 

Even with NBC, it will not be picking up NASCAR until August next year instead of in June like it has. By the time NASCAR starts on NBC, IndyCar will only have about four weekends left in its season. While there are more cable races this year for IndyCar, those have been strategically placed to be either lead-in programming to a Cup race on USA or following a Cup race on USA. There will be fewer opportunities to do such things next year. If there is any saving grace, IMSA will also be on NBC next year, and there are already two weekends that IMSA and IndyCar share a venue, and there will be at least other weekend where an IMSA race leads into an IndyCar race. That isn't a bad thing. 

This next television contract isn't just about 2025. It is going to be for the next three or five seasons, and things change quick. That deal will set off the dominoes for the future. IndyCar cannot afford to limit its exposure. It is important it has a contract that has the races be available whether you have digital rabbit ears or are exclusively streaming. This is a crucial time where it all comes down to where 87-year-old Roger Penske decides what is best for the future.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Max Verstappen, but did you know...

William Byron won the NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville, his third victory of the season. Aric Almirola won the Grand National Series race. Christian Eckes won the Truck race, his second victory of the season.

Hunter Yeany (race one) and Nikita Johnson (races two and three) split the USF Pro 2000 races from NOLA Motorsports Park. Max Gracia, Sam Corry and Nico Christodoulou split the U.S. F2000 races. 

The #998 ROWE Racing BMW of Augusto Farfus, Dan Harper and Max Hesse won the 3 Hours of Paul Ricard. 

The #120 Wright Motorsports Porsche of Adam Adelson and Elliott Skeer swept the GT World Challenge America races from Sonoma. The #68 Smooge Racing Toyota of John Geesbreght and Tyler Gonzalez and the #51 AutoTechnic Racing BMW of Colin Garrett and Zac Anderson split the GT4 America. Jason Daskalos and Johnny O'Connell split the GT America.

Coming Up This Weekend
Austin hosts MotoGP.
Texas is busy with NASCAR north up the road in Fort Worth.
Super GT opens at Okayama.
European Le Mans Series opens at Barcelona. 
Supercross is back in Foxborough. 
Formula E makes its first visit to Misano for a doubleheader.

Friday, April 5, 2024

IndyCar Month-By-Month Winners

Since we are in a bit of a lull during the IndyCar season, it was best to use this time to complete some projects. This one was started about five years ago but was put on the backburner shearly because how time consuming it would be. After a few times updating it, over the last few weeks it was finally completed and it fully has an answer.

Who has the most IndyCar race victories per month? 

A completely excessive exercise, but something we cannot readily find an answer for in the history book. It is more done out of pure fascination than anything else. A season generally runs from spring through summer and maybe into autumn. There could even be that sneaky race run in winter just prior to the vernal equinox. Out of 12 months, about six regularly have races, but spring is different than summer, and summer is different than autumn. Different race conditions can produce different results. 

The main level of interest was seeing if certain drivers do better during certain points of the year. Are there drivers that always start hot and then burn out when summer begins? Are there drivers that take a few months to get up to speed and then go on a tear during the hottest time of the year? Or are the best the best and consistently win no matter the time of the year?

That is what is hopefully answered after this exercise? 

Where do we begin? 

We are going over each month and recognizing the top winner for each month before delving into some of the other top performers and then anything else interesting to note from this research. 

Most Victories: Eddie Cheever - 2
You might not be surprised to learn it only takes two victories to have the most January victories in IndyCar history. Well, there have only been seven January races ever, five of which occurred from 1996 to 2000 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida. 

Eddie Cheever won the second of those races in 1997, a rain-shortened race where Cheever inherited the lead after Tony Stewart spun out of first position due to an oil leak from his own car, and Cheever won the fourth of those races in 1999. Cheever's victory in 1997 was his first career IndyCar victory in his 87th career start.

Other Top Drivers: There are five other drivers to have won in January. George Hill, Earl Cooper, Buzz Calkins, Tony Stewart and Robbie Buhl.

Hill and Cooper each won in San Diego on January 1, 1913 and January 9, 1915 respectively, but on two entirely different courses. 

Interesting Notes: For Hill and Calkins, it was the only career victory for each driver and both drivers won on their debuts. For Buhl, it was his final of two career victories, but it came in the very first race for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and it remains Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's only IndyCar victory to this day.

It should come as no surprise that with seven total races, January is the least raced in month in IndyCar history.

Most Victories: Ralph DePalma & Jimmy Murphy - 3
There are a healthy number more February races than January, but the all-time leaders are two drivers who last won in February over a century ago. 

DePalma was the first to three. He won in Santa Monica on February 26, 1914. Seven years and one day later, he won twice on the Los Angeles Motor Speedway, a 1.25-mile board oval located in Beverly Hills. 

On the day DePalma won those two races in Beverly Hills, Jimmy Murphy also won that day on the same circuit, a little over a year after Murphy won in Beverly Hills for the first time. Murphy's third February victory came on February 25, 1923 at Beverly Hills. 

Other Top Drivers: Only two other drivers have won multiple times in February.

Eddie O'Donnell won twice in a five-day period between February 3 and February 7, 1915. O'Donnell won in Glendale California on Tropico Road, a 1.9-mile street course and then won at Ascot Speedway, a one-mile dirt oval. 

Al Unser swept the Rafaela, Argentina doubleheader held on February 27, 1971. Lloyd Ruby finished second in both of those races in two events that were absent of A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, but did feature Cale Yarborough. Bobby Unser burned a piston after three laps in the first race and was unable to participate in the second event. 

Interesting Notes: There have been 22 February races in IndyCar history, but only three have taken place in the 21st century, one of which was on Leap Day 2004 (Sam Hornish, Jr. won at Homestead), but 17 of those races took place between 1911 and 1926.

Most Victories: A.J. Foyt - 6
Things pick up as we get into March, and it was inevitable the all-time leader in IndyCar victories would be the all-time leader in victories for at least one month, but here is the catch for A.J. Foyt...

Five of his six March victories were at Ontario Speedway, two of those were 100-heat races ahead of the California 500, and one of those was a 200-mile race. His other victory, his first March victory at that was the inaugural race at Phoenix International Raceway. It was the 1964 season opener and it was the first of Foyt's seven consecutive victories to open that season, a season where Foyt's ten victories remains a single-season record.

Other Top Drivers: Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Sam Hornish, Jr. each won four times in March. Tommy Milton, Gordon Johncock, Michael Andretti, Dan Wheldon, Will Power and Josef Newgarden have each won three times.

Interesting Notes: Mario Andretti never won a race in the month of March. However, of Andretti's record 407 starts, only 19 came in the month of March. He had three runner-up finishes, six top five finishes, ten top ten finishes and his career average finish in March was 11.157.

Most Victories: Mario Andretti - 8
For his lack of victories in March, Andretti made up for it in April. Eight victories is the most with Andretti having won at Trenton twice, Hanford once, Long Beach thrice and Phoenix twice, including his 52nd and final victory on April 4, 1993.

Other Top Drivers: Al Unser, Jr. is second all-time in April victories. When you win six times at Long Beach, it will put you at the top. Along with Unser, Jr.'s six Long Beach triumphs, his seventh April victory was April 22, 2000 at Las Vegas, his third career start in the Indy Racing League, and it was his first victory in over four years. 

A.J. Foyt, Will Power and Josef Newgarden have each won six times in April. Jimmy Murphy, Paul Tracy, Dan Wheldon and Hélio Castroneves each won five times during the month of April.

Interesting Notes: Of the 13 drivers that won at least 30 IndyCar races, which one do you think won the fewest races within the first four months of the year?

The answer is Dario Franchitti with only two victories. Franchitti won on March 27, 2011 at St. Petersburg and he won on April 19, 2009 at Long Beach. Franchitti is the only driver with at least 30 career victories to have fewer than five victories from the first four months of the year.

Most Victories: Sébastien Bourdais & Will Power - 6
I must admit it was glorious to see that the all-time leaders in May victories weren't one of the names you associate the most with the month of May. 

God Bless The Split!

Bourdais won six times in his career during the month of May, including his first career victory on Monday May 5, 2003 at Brands Hatch. Bourdais won six days later at the Lausitzring. He won twice at Monterrey, Mexico's Parque Fundidora and he won in Houston in 2006. Add in a May 31, 2015 victory at Belle Isle and that is how Bourdais is at six.

Power has benefitted from the introduction of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Before that, Power won on Monday May 1, 2011 in São Paulo. This was a race that was delayed a day due to rain. Without the rain, Power would likely have one fewer May victory! Power then won on May 31, 2014 at Belle Isle. Power won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis three times and his sixth and most recent May victory was his 2018 Indianapolis 500 victory. 

Other Top Drivers: Rick Mears and Scott Dixon each won five times in the month of May. 

We know four of Mears' victories. What was the fifth? May 1, 1982 at Atlanta. 

Dixon, however, has won on five different circuits in the month of May! His first career victory was on May 6, 2001 at Nazareth. Dixon has won twice on May 1, and he won on that date 11 years apart, first in 2010 at Kansas then at Texas in 2021. He won the 2008 Indianapolis 500, and he won on May 31, 2009 at Milwaukee. 

There are eight drivers with four May victories. 

There are the usual suspects: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Hélio Castroneves. Those three all won the Indianapolis 500 four times. 

Ray Harroun and Tommy Milton each won four times in May. Three of Harroun's victories were before the Indianapolis 500 existed.

Johnny Rutherford has three Indianapolis 500 victories plus a May 2, 1976 victory in Trenton. 

Along with two Indianapolis 500 victories, Juan Pablo Montoya won twice in May 1999 in two different countries (Nazareth and Rio de Janeiro). 

Simon Pagenaud has three Grand Prix of Indianapolis victories plus the 2019 Indianapolis 500.

Interesting Notes: Though he never won the Indianapolis 500, Michael Andretti did win three times in the month of May, just at Milwaukee, Gateway and Motegi. His Gateway victory did come on Memorial Day weekend in 1999, but it was the day prior to the 1999 Indianapolis 500. 

Bourdais and Andretti are the only drivers with at least three May victories to have never won the Indianapolis 500.

Most Victories: Scott Dixon - 12
This is where the numbers start to get big. Dixon has won a dozen times in June. Seven of those victories have occurred between Texas and Belle Isle. Dixon won twice at Richmond, once at Pikes Peak International Raceway, once at Watkins Glen and once at Road America. 

In five of Dixon's six championship seasons, he won at least one race in the month of June. The exception was 2013.

Other Top Drivers: A.J. Foyt won ten times in June, five times at Milwaukee, three times at Pocono and twice at Langhorne.

Bobby Unser and Michael Andretti each won nine times in June. Mario Andretti won eight times. Al Unser, Jr., Paul Tracy and Hélio Castroneves each won seven times and Ryan Hunter-Reay won six times.

Interesting Notes: Of the 13 drivers with at least 30 career victories, all 13 have at least three June victories, 11 of which have at least five victories. 

The two with fewer than five June victories are Sébastien Bourdais on four and Al Unser on three.

Most Victories: Scott Dixon - 15
Dixon goes bigger in July. Not only does he have 15 victories, but this is one of two months where the difference between the all-time leader for a month and second is greater than two victories. We will get to the other one in a second. 

As for Dixon, his 15 July victories have come on eight different circuits. He has won three times in a single July twice in his career (2007 and 2013), and he has won multiple times in July four times total (add in 2008 and 2020).

Over a third of his July victories have come in Canada (six total, four times in Toronto and twice in Edmonton). A fifth of his July victories have come at Nashville Superspeedway, a track that last hosted a race almost 16 years ago! Dixon has been the all-time leader for July since his July 15, 2018 victory at Toronto.

Other Top Drivers: Mario Andretti is second with ten July victories, which includes his first career victory on July 25, 1965 at Indianapolis Raceway Park's 1.875-mile road course. 

There are four drivers tied with nine July victories: A.J. Foyt, Michael Andretti, Sébastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden. Newgarden has won at least one July race in each of the last five seasons. 

Interesting Notes: What do Robert Doornbos, Buddy Lazier, Bryan Herta and Alex Barron each have in common? 

They all have more July victories than Rick Mears. All four of those drivers each won twice in July. Mears' only July victory was July 23, 1978 at Atlanta, his second career victory in his 17th career start. It was only the fourth July start of Mears' career. Heck, even Scott Sharp won twice in July.

Most Victories: Scott Dixon - 12
It is easy to say the season of summer is the season of Scott Dixon. Between June, July and August, Dixon has won a combined 39 of his 56 career victories. That is 69.642% of his career total.

Most of Dixon's career has come during a time of a condensed season. The season does not go much later than mid-September. More times than not the season is over before the first day of autumn. 

Dixon has made 211 starts between June, July and August, meaning he has made 175 starts outside of those three months.

With 39 victories from 211 starts, that is a winning percentage of 18.483%. That means with 17 victories from 175 starts, Dixon's winning percentage in the other nine months of the year is 9.714%! 

As for the specifics of Dixon's August victories, four came at Mid-Ohio, three were at Sonoma, two were at Gateway with one victory at Kentucky, the Nashville street course and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course respectively.

Other Top Drivers: Like July, Mario Andretti is second with ten victories. Unlike July, Andretti is tied for second with Ralph DePalma! Ten of DePalma's 24 career victories came during the month of August. DePalma only made 18 career starts during the month of August. He won in 55.555% of his August starts.

Will Power has nine career victories in August, Al Unser, Jr. has eight, and Dario Franchitti and Rick Mears are level with seven.

Interesting Notes: Bruno Junqueira won eight times in his IndyCar career. Four of those came in August. How many drivers have at least eight career victories but at least half of those coming in one month?

The answer would be just Bruno Junqueira.

Most Victories: A.J. Foyt - 18
This is where it gets eye-popping. Over a quarter of Foyt's victories came in the month of September, 26.865% to be accurate. 

Twelve of Foyt's September victories came between the Indiana State Fairgrounds and DuQuoin. He also won four times at Trenton in September. His other two September victories were at Sacramento and Michigan.

Foyt made 78 starts in the month of September. He won 23.076% of them.

Other Top Drivers: Foyt has seven more victories than the next closest driver in the month of September. That would be Mario Andretti, who for the third consecutive month has at least a share of second most. 

Tony Bettenhausen is third with nine September victories. Bettenhausen had 40.909% of his victories come during the month of September. Al Unser and Michael Andretti round out the top five with eight and seven victories respectively. Rodger Ward is alone in sixth with six September victories. 

Interesting Notes: Did you know September is the month with the most IndyCar races? It is true! I was as surprised as you when I found that out. 

September has had 287 races. Here is the rankings from most to least:

September - 287
July - 272
August - 263
June - 259
May - 174
April - 146
October - 144
March - 91
November - 70
February - 22
December - 8
January - 7

I would have guessed either July or August when I was first going over the results. Even with the seasons ending earlier than usual, I would guess September will hold onto the all-time lead for quite some time. There are going to be at least two September races this year. July will chip away if it keeps having at least one or two races more a season, but with 15 races to overcome, it could be close to a decade before July takes the top spot. 

Most Victories: A.J. Foyt & Bobby Rahal - 6
Again, Foyt is on top, but this time he has company. 

Foyt won four times at Sacramento and he won a Phoenix race in October 1971. Where did Foyt's sixth and final October victory come? Silverstone! October 1, 1978! One of three road course victories in Foyt's career. 

As for Rahal, he won four times at Laguna Seca, a Phoenix race in October 1984, and his final career victory was October 4, 1992 at Nazareth. 

Talk about symmetry between these two.

Other Top Drivers: While Foyt and Rahal are tied on six, Al Unser and Rick Mears are tied on five October victories. Tony Bettenhausen and Dario Franchitti each won four times in September. 

Interesting Notes: It wasn't until last year at Long Beach that April surpassed October in number of IndyCar races.

Consider that since reunification, only nine times has IndyCar raced in the month of October. Three of those were in 2020 when the pandemic delayed the start of the season by three months and IndyCar raced into October just to have a sufficient calendar. 

Prior to reunification, October had held 135 races while April had held 108. It took about 16 years for April to make up that 27-race gap.

Most Victories: Jimmy Bryan & A.J. Foyt - 4
We have another tie for an all-time lead. This time it is between Bryan, famous for his 1958 Indianapolis 500 victory, and Foyt, who made his Indianapolis 500 debut in the 1958 race. 

All four Bryan's November victories came before he won the Indianapolis 500.

November 7, 1954 at the Arizona State Fairgrounds
November 14, 1954 at Las Vegas Park
November 6, 1955 at the Arizona State Fairgrounds
November 11, 1957 at the Arizona State Fairgrounds

Foyt's November victories are spread about.

November 20, 1960 at the Arizona State Fairgrounds
November 25, 1965 at Phoenix International Raceway
November 3, 1968 at Hanford Motor Speedway
November 9, 1975 at Phoenix International Raceway

Other Top Drivers: Johnnie Parsons, Tom Sneva and Sébastien Bourdais each won three times in November. 

Parsons won twice in November 1951, once at the Arizona State Fairgrounds and then at Bay Meadows. Parsons would win again at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in November 1952. 

Sneva won at Phoenix in November 1980 and 1982 and then he won the final race on the Caesars Palace parking lot circuit on November 11, 1984. 

All three of Bourdais' victories came in Mexico City.

Interesting Notes: IndyCar has not raced in November since reunification. Bourdais' Mexico City victory on November 11, 2007 is the most recent November race.

Most Victories: Jimmy Murphy - 2
Like January, not many races have occurred in December either, only one more to be exact. 

Like January, only one driver has won multiple times in December.

Jimmy Murphy, famous for his 1922 Indianapolis 500 victory, won on December 21, 1921 on the 1.25-mile board oval known as San Francisco Speedway. On December 3, 1922, Murphy capped off a stellar season with a victory in a 250-mile race in Beverly Hills.

Those were actually the first two December races in IndyCar history.

Other Top Drivers: The other December winners are Bennett Hill, Kelly Petillo, Johnnie Parsons, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti and Keith Kauffman.

Interesting Notes: December is the only month yet to have an IndyCar race in the 21st century. The most recent December race was December 4, 1982, which Kauffman won at Nazareth, which was apart of the USAC Gold Crown Championship while USAC and CART were in the midst of its split and USAC was attempting to have a championship with the Indianapolis 500 surrounded by a few 100-mile dirt track events. 

Just to round up, here are the all-time leaders for each month with their victory totals:

January: Eddie Cheever (2)
February: Ralph DePalma & Jimmy Murphy (3)
March: A.J. Foyt (6)
April: Mario Andretti (8)
May: Sébastien Bourdais & Will Power (6)
June: Scott Dixon (12)
July: Scott Dixon (15)
August: Scott Dixon (12)
September: A.J. Foyt (18)
October: A.J. Foyt & Bobby Rahal (6)
November: Jimmy Bryan & A.J. Foyt (4)
December: Jimmy Murphy (2)

Dixon has the most months with the outright leads with three, but Foyt leads two months outright and a share in another two. Murphy is the only other driver with at least a share of multiple months. If you win a lot, you are bound to top a few months and the top two drivers in IndyCar victories have their fingerprints on over half the calendar year. 

We can dive deeper into some of these numbers and compare drivers later, but you at least know what the top looks like as we are still over two weeks away from the first April race of 2024.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Musings From the Weekend: Owning Your Ground

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

The FIA disqualified the #2 Cadillac over three weeks after the Qatar 1812km. AF Corse was fined for stashing some engineers amongst its marketing team. Sebastian Vettel tested a Porsche. Adrian Newey has an offer from Aston Martin. Supercross had a potentially title-turning tilt in St. Louis. Liberty Media has purchased MotoGP, but that conversation must wait until another day. It rained at Richmond, but that did not stop NASCAR from competing on grooved tires, and Denny Hamlin beat your favorite driver. NASCAR wasn't also making news in Richmond. It was making news in Long Beach, but status quo will remain for the foreseeable future, and that has me thinking.

Owning Your Ground
The never-ending existential crisis of 2024 for IndyCar continued this week when reports came out NASCAR was investigating purchasing promotional ownership of the Grand Prix of Long Beach. With Kevin Kalkhoven's passing in 2022, half of Long Beach's ownership belonged to the Kalkhoven family's estate, and the family was looking to sell.

With NASCAR no longer racing at Fontana since the track has been sold and redeveloped, and the Clash exhibition event held the past three years at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum having an uncertain future in terms of location, NASCAR might need another venue to continue running in Southern California. Long Beach would solve nine-tenths of the battle. 

An existing race with a half-century of history, Long Beach would be plug-and-play for NASCAR. The race already has the existing infrastructure to put on a race. They know where to place the grandstands, park the haulers and where ingress and egress points would be for spectators coming to the event. The only change would be a different series competing, not the most difficult change in the world. 

NASCAR already has the following in Southern California and Long Beach has a crowd of its own. Long Beach will always have a group that will show up no matter what. There is also an audience that has no interest in attending because it is not NASCAR. Add NASCAR, and those people will be sitting along Shoreline Drive next to Long Beach lifers that is there to enjoy the atmosphere no matter what is racing. It is really a scenario that would have no loss. Long Beach would not suffer if NASCAR became the headline event. IndyCar would. 

After a tense few days, crisis was averted in IndyCar circles as Gerry Forsythe, former team owner and the man responsible for owning the other half of the Long Beach race, purchased the remaining 50% from the Kalkhoven family, giving Forsythe full control of the famed street race. Forsythe made it clear what his intentions were in the announcement of his takeover saying it was an "IndyCar event, and it will be into the future."

Things have settled down, but in what has been a contentious period for IndyCar, this scare will not be forgotten for some time, and it will lead to conversations continuing that have already been taking place. One of IndyCar's few stalwart events was on the verge of potentially falling off the calendar. No matter how you try to square it, it would have been a significant blow to the series at a time where it has been entirely absorbing punches and not throwing many back. 

Pandemic aside, Long Beach is the second longest tenured race on the IndyCar schedule. Other than 2020, it has hosted America's top open-wheel series since 1984. Other than the Indianapolis 500, no other event has been on the calendar continuously since the 20th century. 

Remember, Toronto didn't take place in 2008 during reunification. Every other historical place has come and gone. Road America was gone for nearly a decade. Portland was gone for a decade. Laguna Seca was gone for a decade and a half, and Gateway was gone for nearly the same period of time. Mid-Ohio and Milwaukee each had their periods of absent. Detroit is on its third stint on the calendar, but has found new life since returning in 2012 at Belle Isle and has since moved back downtown. The latest addition of what is old is new will be Nashville Superspeedway, returning to host the finale, its first IndyCar race since 2008 after the downtown Nashville street race fell through due to logistical concerns. 

There are plenty of new continuous events. St. Petersburg has been around for 20 years. Barber only missed the 2020 season since its first race in 2010. Iowa had one missed year. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis has been a good start to the month of May since 2014. While new is good, Long Beach has been the only event outside Indianapolis that IndyCar could count on for 40 years. It is the only other event that draws a staggering crowd when in comparison with the rest of the calendar outside of the Indianapolis 500. 

Outrage was plentiful when it appeared IndyCar was in trouble with Long Beach, wondering how it could come to this and how the series could allow this to possibly happen. There is one problem with that. IndyCar doesn't own Long Beach. IndyCar doesn't own all of its events. Most of the schedule are independently promoted races that can choose any series to throw its support behind. When Formula One was reportedly interested in a Long Beach return not long ago, the Long Beach organizers could have decided to welcome Formula One back and left IndyCar behind. These are IndyCar races... for now. If the promoter thinks another series would be better for business, it can move on. 

This is how it has been in IndyCar for its entirety. I would say under Penske ownership this is the most the calendar has been series-owned and operated events ever in IndyCar history. Consider that the series owns the Indianapolis 500, plus the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, then there is Detroit, which was a Penske event before it purchased the series. Then you have Iowa, which has been series-operated since being revived in 2022, and starting in 2024, Milwaukee will be a series-run event. That is five of 15 race weekends, a third of the schedule. 

Green Savoree Promotions has been taking care of a number of IndyCar races for over a decade. It currently is responsible for St. Petersburg, Mid-Ohio, Toronto and Portland. Then there are the entirely independent weekends of Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park, Road America, Laguna Seca, Gateway and Nashville. 

Entire control of the series' event is not in IndyCar's plans, nor is that likely what Green Savoree and some of the other tracks would like, but it is worth considering if this is the best thing for IndyCar protection its own future. In its present form, IndyCar doesn't have the bandwidth to promote 15 race weekends, but it might be the safest way to make sure events like Long Beach stick around. 

IndyCar could have purchased the 50% share of Long Beach the Kalkhoven family put on the table. It sounds like the series was in conversation before Forsythe purchased it. Now it will have to wait or offer Forsythe of a pile of money he cannot refuse. 

We might be coming around back to Long Beach's future in the not-so-distant future. Gerry Forsythe is 82 years old. IndyCar's two most famous races are controlled by an 82-year-old and an 87-year-old. What does that say about future stability? We are likely going to be having these same conversations again at some point in the next decade, possibly even in the next five years. 

It feels like everything IndyCar must do at the moment is a seismic change from what it is doing currently. Charter system. Television contracts. Engine and chassis regulations. Throw in scheduling. Let's face it, IndyCar isn't strong enough to change everything all at once. Consolidating control of every race into the series' hand and taking it away from independent organizers is much easier said than done. 

As much as we want IndyCar to hold all the chips to guarantee these races remain on the schedule, it isn't likely, but it is something the series must consider, at least with Long Beach. American open-wheel racing has spent 40 decades at Long Beach. This marriage has gone on too long for a divorce. The series must know this and bringing Long Beach under the IndyCar's control might be the only way to ensure the two remain together long into the future.

The best way to ensure its space on the American motorsports landscape, IndyCar must start claiming its own ground, otherwise it will be squeezed out of pretty much everywhere but Speedway, Indiana.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Denny Hamlin, but did you know...

Eli Tomac swept the Triple Crown races from St. Louis to take the round victory, the 52nd of his Supercross career and it was his 100th podium finish. Levi Kitchen swept the 250cc Triple Crown races to win the round as well.

Chandler Smith won the NASCAR Grand National Series race, his second of the season.

Maximilian Günther won the Tokyo ePrix. 

Kalle Rovanperä won the Safari Rally Kenya.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One makes a spring trip to Suzuka.
NASCAR remains in Virginia, but heads south to Martinsville.
The GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup opens with a 500-kilometer race at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The GT World Challenge America opens with a round at Sonoma.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Best of the Month: March 2024

We have reached the point in the year when most series are up and running. March marks the point where offseason is behind us and we are looking forward to every race as the championship pursuits are beginning. We are only in the early stages of 2024, but we have already witnessed some remarkable performances.

At the Quarter Pole
Three months down, and while there are many more races ahead of us, we have seen plenty of exceptional things in the few events that have taken place. Before spring heats into summer and we will forget more races than we will remember, let's take a moment to highlight the best so far in 2024.

Racers Worth Your Consideration...
Matt Campbell
It comes down to two things for Matt Campbell. Sensational drive to win the 24 Hours of Daytona. Sensational drive to win the Bathurst 12 Hour. Campbell has been a talent for quite some time. The start of 2024 has taken him to a higher level and with a full FIA World Endurance Championship season remaining, including a 24 Hours of Le Mans, this is well on its way to a historic season for the Australian.

Josef Newgarden
Speaking of 24 Hours of Daytona winners, Newgarden was one of Campbell's co-drivers in the two-around-the-clock endurance race and in his second Daytona start, his first in the premier class, Newgarden came out on top. How did he follow it up? With a dominant victory in the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg. He won four IndyCar races last season, including the Indianapolis 500, and 2023 felt like a disappointment. If Newgarden keeps up the form from St. Petersburg, he could have his best season yet, and he is already a two-time champion.

Connor Zilisch
Everybody's favorite new driver... well, new if you haven't been paying attention to Mazda MX5-Cup in recent years. Zilisch was announced as a Trackhouse development driver for NASCAR, and along with his NASCAR plans, he also made his IMSA debut in the LMP2 class with Era Motorsport. They won at Daytona and Sebring. Zilisch started on pole position for his NASCAR Truck Series debut at Austin before finishing fourth. He will make his debut in NASCAR's second division later this year. Zilisch is still only 17 years old, but already doing extraordinary things.

William Byron
The only driver with multiple race victories so far this season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Byron followed up a 2023 Cup season where he won six races with a Daytona 500 victory, Hendrick Motorsports' first in a decade, and Byron just won at Austin. He has the most Cup victories since the start of 2022. He was knocking on the door of a championship last year. Byron is proving it wasn't a fluke.

Jett Lawrence
Nobody is really surprised Lawrence entered the 450cc division in Supercross and was immediately a pace-setter, but it is still brilliant to watch. He won on debut at Anaheim and leads the series in victories and points. He went perfect last year in the Motocross championship and took the inaugural SuperMotocross championship to boot. Lawrence is on the path to repeating in 2024.

Races Worth Your Consideration...
12 Hours of Sebring
Last year's 12 Hours of Sebring was enthralling and was going to be difficult to top. This year's race went a step further. All four classes were within a second between the top two cars entering the final fifteen minutes. There were a stunning passes across the board, and some rather clean racing despite how tight it was. For the overall victory, Louis Delétraz muscled ahead of Sébastien Bourdais to give Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti and Acura a long-awaiting win. Jack Hawksworth capped off a staggering drive to beat Risi Competizione. It was somehow better than the year before. 

São Paulo ePrix
Formula E's second visit to Brazil's most populous city had a race that went to the wire with a handful of cars in contention. On the final lap Mitch Evans and Sam Bird had cleared themselves as the top two. Evans held the point entering the final series of corners, but Bird made a move to the outside and took the lead into the penultimate turn. Bird held on for his first victory in over two years. Meanwhile, Oliver Rowland went from fifth to third in the final corner in a three-wide battle with Pascal Wehrlein and Jake Dennis.

Food City 500
High tire degradation turned the NASCAR Cup Series race from Bristol into a game of whit. Drivers learned the hard way early on as some went from the lead to the back despite showing speed early in a run. Everyone soon learned pushing would be your downfall, and it became a game a chicken. Nobody wanted to stop for tires, but nobody could go much longer than 50 laps. The race was decided with a late cycle of green flag pit stops, and Denny Hamlin came out on top in a race that saw 54 lead changes, the most ever in a non-superspeedway Cup race. 

Passes Worth Your Consideration...
Sebring had about a dozen passses there were pass of the year candidates, but we are focusing on just two. With a little under two hours remaining Hunter McElrea was in second in LMP2 behind Nico Pino while negotiating lapped traffic. Both drivers were approaching Jack Hawksworth's Lexus entering turn 17. Pino was hung on the outside while McElrea dove inside both Pino and Hawksworth, using the Lexus as a pick and completing the pass. It could have gone horribly wrong. McElrea showed incredible skill and bravery.

Hawksworth gets to be the main protagonist in this pass. Entering the final 20 minutes, Hawksworth had driven up to second in GTD Pro and was chasing Daniel Serra for the lead. Heading into turn one, Hawksworth went deeper into the corner than the Ferrari and forced Serra wide on exit. No contact happened between the two cars. Hawksworth had the position and made the move stick, leading to the class victory.

It was go big or go home time when Bird entered the final sector of the São Paulo ePrix. Bird and Mitch Evans had been the two best drivers all race, but Bird was looking to end a two-plus year winless drought. Bird closed onto the back of Evans' Jaguar as they approached the last great passing opportunity in turn ten. Bird went early, looking to the outside in the fast kink of turn nine, and forcing himself to accept the outside for turn ten. Bird was able to make the move stick into the penultimate corner and take the lead. Evans had one last look into the final corner but Bird had done enough to steal the victory.

Comebacks Worth Your Consideration
Eli Tomac's Second at Arlington
At the end of the second lap, Tomac was in 16th, nearly 13 seconds off the lead, after suffering a fall battling for sixth. Over the remaining 25 laps, Tomac climbed his way up the order. It took him two more laps to enter the top ten. By lap 18, he entered the top five. After a strong battle with Hunter Lawrence, Tomac was up to fourth before another spirited battle with Aaron Plessinger put Tomac into third on lap 23. Meanwhile, Jett Lawrence's issues in the closing laps allowed Tomac to sweep into second at the checkered flag, three seconds behind race winner Cooper Webb.

Carlos Sainz, Jr.'s Australian Grand Prix victory
Sainz, Jr. won the Australian Grand Prix just over two weeks after an appendectomy kept him out of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The Spaniard had done less training in the buildup to Melbourne due to his recovery. In his first race back, not only did Sainz, Jr. qualify second, but he led all but the first lap on his way to victory. Yes, Max Verstappen retired due to a brake issue, but Sainz, Jr. withstood the physical punishment of an entire grand prix and came out on top despite not being in tip-top condition.

April Preview
Two championships start in April that are worth keeping an eye on: European Le Mans Series and Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters.

ELMS begins its six-race season on April 14 in Barcelona. A few familiar names to know...

Sebring winner Louis Delétraz will be in the #14 Orlen Team AO by TF Oreca-Gibson with Robert Kubica and Jonny Edgar. 

Cadillac Racing's Alex Lynn will be in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca-Gibson with Olli Caldwell and Matthias Kaiser.

United Autosports will have three cars with Oliver Jarvis leading the #21 Oreca (with Andy Meyrick and Daniel Schneider), Ben Hanley leading the #22 Oreca (with Marino Sato and Filip Ugran) and Paul di Resta in the #23 Oreca (alongside Bijoy Garg and Fabio Scherer). 

Along with his Formula Two responsibilities, Ritomo Miyata will run the #37 Cool Racing Oreca with Lorenzo Fluxá and Malthe Jakobsen. Last year's runner-up in the Formula Two championship, Frederik Vesti, will share Cool Racing's other entry, the #47 Oreca with Alex García and Ferdinand Habsburg.

In the GT class, Nicklas Nielsen leads the all-Danish #50 Formula Racing Ferrari with Conrad Laursen and Johnny Laursen. Daniel Serra will lead the #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari with Takeshi Kimura and Esteban Masson. Iron Dames will run the #85 Porsche for Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting while Proton Competition will have the #60 Porsche for Julien Andlauer, Matteo Cressoni and Claudio Schiavoni. Iron Lynx will run the #63 Lamborghini for Andrea Caldarelli, Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Axcil Jefferies. 

After Barcelona, ELMS will be at Circuit Paul Ricard on May 5, Imola on July 7, Spa-Francorchamps on August 25, Mugello on September 29 and Portimão closes the season on October 19.

DTM will have seven manufacturers and 20 cars entered this season. This is the fourth season of GT3 regulations for the German-based championship. The opening round of eight will be over April 27-28 at Oschersleben. 

Thomas Preining is back to defend his championship with Porsche while Lamborghini's Mirko Bortolotti and Audi's Ricardo Feller will look to top the Austrian. Kelvin van der Linde returns to DTM with Audi. Bortolotti will have Nicki Thiim as his teammate. Ayhancan Güven will be Preining's Porsche teammate.

BMW has three past DTM champions in its lineup with Marco Wittmann, René Rast and Sheldon van der Linde. 

Jack Aitken leads the two-car Ferrari lineup for Emil Frey Racing with Thierry Vermeulen in the other 296 GT3. 

Luca Engstler and Christian Engelhart will drive Lamborghinis for GRT Grasser Racing Team, and Maximilian Paul will be in a fifth Huracán GT3 Evo 2. 

Mercedes-AMG will have Luca Stolz, Arjun Maini, Lucas Auer and Maro Engel in its lineup. 

McLaren joins DTM with Clemens Schmid and Ben Dörr. 

One month after Oschersleben will be Lausitzring over May 25-26. DTM will be at Zandvoort June 8-9, a month before the Norisring July 6-7. The second half of the season begins at the Nürburgring over August 17-18 with the Sachsenring hosting DTM on September 7-8. The penultimate round will be at the Red Bull Ring over September 28-29 with Hockenheim hosting the finale over October 19-20.

Other events of note in April:
The Super GT seasons begins at Okayama. 
Supercars makes its first visit to Taupō Motorsports Park. 
Supercross has three rounds, including its first visit to Philadelphia in over 40 years. 
Formula One makes its earliest visit to Japan and returns to China for the first time in five years. 
IndyCar is back in action at Long Beach and Barber. 
Formula E makes its first trip to Misano.
MotoGP makes its one trip to the Americas, heading to Austin, with Jerez closing the month.
Imola hosts the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Musings From the Weekend: Does the Money Matter?

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

After two races, the perfect season bid is over for Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Ferrari swept through to Melbourne victory as the brakes burned on the RB20. Mercedes had a weekend to forget. Fernando Alonso received a penalty. The MotoE season started in Portugal, who knew? MotoGP has a new, young stud Where is Brodie Kostecki? NASCAR's track limit rules are ridiculous. Álex Palou won $500,000, so it was a good weekend for Spaniards, but there was one question on my mind.

Does the Money Matter?
IndyCar's big prize for the Thermal Club race winner was about half short of what was being sold, but regardless over whether it was $500,000 or $1 million, does the money matter? 

Money, of course, matters. These teams aren't competing for nothing. IndyCar isn't a charity. These people make their living in the series. We all have a price that we roll out of bed for. After all, our bills are not going to pay themselves, but is a large prize on offer for the winner of an event enough to get an expanded audience to tune in when otherwise there would be no interest? 

We care when the Powerball or Mega Millions lotteries are a big prize. Any lottery is great to win. It is particularly nice when it is a large jackpot. Tonight's Powerball draw is for $800 million. Tuesday's Mega Millions draw is for $1.1 billion. 

The money matters. 

But does it matter for IndyCar, specifically for an exhibition race at a venue with no competitive motorsports history that most racing fans didn't know existed until last year? 

There is a greater identity issue for IndyCar beyond being known for large purses. If people aren't watching now, is a $1 million prize really going to change their mind, especially when $1 million isn't as sexy as it once was. 

At the turn of the 21st century, it might draw some attention, but NASCAR has been paying $1 million for its All-Star Race winner since 2003. In 2024, that isn't as big of a pull for NASCAR's All-Star Race as it was in 2003 or 2004. The Marlboro Challenge paid $1 million if a driver won it along with the Meadowlands and Michigan races during the season. That is late-1980s/early-1990s money. A million dollars in 1991 would be around $2.278 million in 2024 money. The Thermal Club event doesn't look as wonderful in that context. 

Even if Thermal Club at least matched the worth of the Marlboro Challenge, would it have mattered?

If it was $2 million, would that mean two million people would tune in? Probably not. 

What if it was $5 million? Or $10 million? Would either of those draw significantly more viewers? 

What is the number? Is there a number? 

Consider that the Indianapolis 500 winner received $3.666 million last year. Nobody is tuning into the Indianapolis 500 for the purse, but that race has history. The payout is a nice bonus. The winner's share is not promoted beforehand. It isn't public knowledge until the banquet the following night. Even once known, it is not wildly circulated, not like it once was.

Even if all the money isn't going to the driver, and we know that is the case, it is still notable, something that was once used as a sign of prestige. In the last two decades, really since the recession over the late-2000s into the 2010s, many series have gone quiet over how much money is being handed out. IndyCar isn't alone in that boat. 

Money is still something we understand. Even if a person doesn't know what the Indianapolis 500 is, if they hear the winner got over $3.6 million they would understand it is a big deal to win. Not many people earn north of $3 million for one day of work. 

LIV Golf, the golf tour financial backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, pays out handsomely. It is the reason why many top golfers no longer competed in the PGA Tour full-time and only show up for the major events. Every LIV Golf events pays $25 million in prize money. The LIV Golf Team Championship final pays $50 million in prize money. Despite the amount of money being paid, LIV Golf hasn't taken over golf viewership.

Perhaps the source of the money matters, but it takes more than being a disruptor with a large bank account. LIV Golf events are not traditional golf tournaments with four days and a cut halfway through. None of the events have history that date back nearly a century or more. Most of the events take place at private courses that haven't hosted significant professional golf tournaments before. (Geez, does that sound familiar?)

For IndyCar to grow, it will need more than one weekend with a heavily promoted monetary prize, especially one that doesn't raise the blood pressure of many. However, it doesn't hurt to have a big pay day, and it can be a tentpole event that people can look forward to watching each year. 

The Indianapolis 500 is the only race currently fitting that criteria. If IndyCar wants more major events, it must start treating its events like major events and treat them like major events every year. That means paying a major amount of money. 

IndyCar flirts but never commits. The Triple Crown came back with a million dollar prize if anyone could sweep the 500-mile races at Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana for two years. Then it went away.

Do you even realize the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge did not return for the 2024 season? The charitable initiative tied into the IndyCar season lasted all of two seasons. Josef Newgarden claimed the $1 million prize in 2022 with a victory on each a road course, street course and oval. No one claimed the grand prize last year as no driver won on all three track disciplines, and now it is gone. 

IndyCar constantly does these bonus programs and then abandons them after a year or two. The Triple Crown, Force for Good Challenge, remember when IndyCar acknowledged the road/street course and oval champions? Everything gets a one or two-year shot, if it does shatter the world, IndyCar gives up. Crap, NASCAR's second division has been doing its "Dash For Cash" bonus program for well over a decade now and it is a regular storyline each season for the month or so it take place. Why? Because they have kept doing it for all this time. 

IndyCar cannot get anything to stick, but if it wants an idea to work, it must keep doing it. Just because it hasn't become front page news across the country doesn't mean it is a waste of time. Doing something annually allows people to get attached and look forward to that event or prize. If IndyCar is treating it seriously, the fanbase will start treating it seriously. Until the series commits, nobody (fans, drivers and teams included) else will.

We have spent a lot of time over the last year looking at all the ways IndyCar hasn't taken chances. The Triple Crown isn't coming back anytime soon. Fontana is gone, and Michigan and Pocono aren't walking through that door, but if IndyCar put the chips on the table and had two large purse races in addition to the Indianapolis 500 that were also championship races, it would be likely do a better job attracting attention than what we just saw at Thermal Club. 

I don't know how much is enough, but no series at the moment is promoting having three races paying at least $2 million to the winner. It would be something tangible IndyCar could promote. Hell, make it $2.5 million to the winner of two races and raise the Indianapolis 500 to $5 million for the winner, and there is a $10 million triple crown right there. 

It would at least be something bold for a series that hasn't made any waves since Danica Patrick made her Indianapolis 500 debut, oh, and she isn't walking through that door either. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Álex Palou, but did you know...

Jorge Martín won MotoGP's Portuguese Grand Prix. Maverick Viñales won the sprint race. Arón Canet won the Moto2 race, his first career Moto2 victory. Danny Holgado won the Moto3 race. Nicholas Spinelli and Mattia Casadei split the MotoE races.  

William Byron won the NASCAR Cup race from Austin, his second victory of the season. Kyle Larson won the Grand National Series race. Corey Heim won the Truck race.

Roman Staněk (sprint) and Isack Hadjar (feature) split the Formula Two races from Melbourne. 

Broc Feeney (races one and three), Will Brown (race two) and Nick Percat (race four) split the Supercars races from Melbourne. 

Toprak Razgatlioglu (race one and SuperPole race) and Álvaro Bautista (race two) split the World Superbike races from Barcelona. Adrián Huertas and Stefano Manzi split the World Supersport races.

Cooper Webb won the Supercross race from Seattle, his third career victory. Levi Kitchen won the 250cc race.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR has a night race at Richmond.
Formula E makes its first visit to Tokyo. 
Supercross is in St. Louis. 
Safari Rally Kenya marks round three of the World Rally Championship season. 
The British GT Championship opens its season on Easter Monday at Oulton Park.