Friday, September 14, 2018

A Season for All Fans

Two thousand and eighteen.

A year in which I imagine, in the long history of the sport of Indycar racing, will be seen as a bright point in a long history of ups and downs. Perhaps seen as one of the finest in terms of the sanctioning body meeting the challenges presented by attempting to satisfy such divergent factions as fans, teams, manufacturers, drivers, venues, sponsors, and media - all with whom the desire to see something "special" exists. "Special", however, in Indycar is often defined as many different ways as the number of people you ask. It's never more evidenced than by the oft-tossed opinions that splatter the walls of Twitter.

Of course it takes a team to make any endeavour successful, but the one person that many attribute a majority of the wider success of the 2018 season is Indycar's President of Competition and Operations, Jay Frye. 
Jeff Gluck's recent interview with Mr. Frye is a must-read/listen for Indycar fans who care to know more about this man, whose efforts are widely regarded by those diverse factions of the Indycar environment.


A Season That Satisfies:
As to the entirety of the 2018 season, I cannot recall in my 40-plus years of following the sport, a season where this level of equipment parity has also allowed such a variety of strategies, outcomes, and winners in both drivers and teams. Here is a brief overview of some statistics of this highly competitive season, through 16 of 17 rounds:

Number of different winning drivers = 8

  Bourdais (1), Newgarden (3), Rossi (3), Power (3), Dixon (3), 
  Hunter-Reay (1), Hinchcliffe (1), Sato (1).

Number of different winning teams = 6
  Coyne (1), Penske (6), Andretti (4), Ganassi (3), Schmidt-Peterson (1), 

  Rahal Letterman Lanigan (1).

Number of different pole-sitters = 7
  Bourdais (1), Newgarden (4), Rossi (3), Power (4), Carpenter (1),
  Wickens (1), Andretti (1).

Number of different podium-placing drivers = 14
  All listed winners above plus Wickens (4), Pagenaud (3), Jones (2), Pigot (1), 

  Rahal (1), Carpenter (1).

Number of different podium-placing teams = 7

 All listed winning teams above plus Ed Carpenter Racing (2).

Manufacturer wins and points
  Honda 10 (from 5 different teams), Chevrolet 6 (only with Penske).


A Summer To Remember:
To me, all of the above statistics support my general feeling of satisfaction from the competition of this season's races. 

I think my overall enjoyment of the season was amplified because I attended more races than I ever have prior. I hadn't planned on anything more than the Indy Grand Prix (weather permitting), Indy 500 (come hell or high water), and maybe one other race (fingers crossed) as with several of recent years past.

For whatever reason, my summer schedule freed at all the right times to allow not only a return to Gateway, but also unplanned runs to Iowa and Mid-Ohio, all of which were great racing weekends to my good fortune. I was treated to a nice variety of courses and now I don't want to imagine not going back to those venues in addition to adding Road America for which I haven't yet attended.  



An Incident To Forget:
Despite satiating my hunger for great Indycar action over an entire season, I cannot go without saying that once again, enjoyment has been sobered with the incident of Robert Wickens at Pocono. Perhaps there can be no perfect season but as a fan, I was feeling better than I have in decades about this sport I cherish. Sadly, Robert Wickens' crash and resulting injuries is a reminder that no matter the level of thrill and enjoyment, I cannot and will not forget that these brave drivers ante their very being in trade for the seemingly disproportionate reward of racing thrills, money, glory, and for our entertainment. 

I simply can't get beyond feeling partially responsible when supporting this sport which can all too quickly create the most painful of voids where none should be. As I age, it gets harder to deal with each time. Of course we can take a slight measure of hope for Robert's outcome not being worse that it is. We also continue to wish for his total recovery, and for wisdom and advancement in the ongoing battle for protection of all involved. 


The Championship Round:
(c) 2015 Indycar Twitter
Heading into the final round of 2018, I think the odds are with latter-day legend, Scott Dixon, not only as the leader but with a fair bit of margin to maintain over his nearest rival and hot-shoe, Alexander Rossi.  It's quite literally all in Dixon's hands this weekend as a Top 3 finish (plus 3 bonus points) will see him Champion regardless of what any other drivers do. 

Four drivers are in play for the Championship and here's a brief rundown of some of the most basic Championship scenarios, with a maximum total of 104 points available to the winner.

Current Standings: Dixon = 598, Rossi = 569, Power 511, Newgarden 511. 

1. Dixon finishes 2nd or better + 0 bonus points = Dixon Champ.
2. Dixon 3rd or better + 3 bonus points = Dixon Champ.
3. Rossi win + 2 or more bonus points + Dixon 3rd or worse = Rossi Champ.
4. Rossi win + 1 bonus point + Dixon 3rd + Dixon 1 bonus point or less = Rossi Champ.
5. Newgarden or Power win + 4 bonus points + Dixon 22nd or worse + Rossi 9th or worse = Newgarden or Power Champ.
6. Rossi outpoints Dixon by 30 or more in any combination of place and bonus points + not being outpointed by either Newgarden or Power by 59 points = Rossi Champ.

The Finishing Position points available for Sonoma are as follows (double a standard race):

1st  100,
2nd   90,

3rd   70, 
4th   64,
5th   60, 
6th   56, 
7th   52,
8th   48, 
9th   44
10th 40
11th 38
12th 36
13th 34
14th 32
15th 30
16th 28
17th 26
18th 24
19th 22
20th 20
21st 18
22nd 16
23rd 14
24th 12
25th or worse 10

The Bonus Points available for the finale are as follows:
Pole = 1, Lead any lap = 1, Lead most laps = 2.


Epilogue:
Regardless of whether we crown Newgarden or Power, Rossi or Dixon, I will leave this season satisfied as a Indycar fan and especially as an attendee. My experience with Indycar this summer has been unparalleled thanks to the ongoing work Indycar does to provide a highly competitive and versatile form of auto-racing, to the venues that worked to provide a great event experience for fans, and to the fates which allowed me to see more live races in a season than ever before.

May we have a safe and entertaining conclusion to this, a season for all fans. 





Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pocono - The Other 500

(c) 2017 LAT Photographic - Abbott

While other tracks have cheekily claimed 500 or 550 or 600 in their event titles, Pocono remains the only other true, old-school, 500-miler on the schedule. With the news that Pocono is considering signing for Indycar events beyond 2018, fans of this unique and legendary palace of speed will certainly be relieved if and when it happens.

What is it about '500' that adds a certain cachet in automobile racing? As a number, it was rather basically developed over a hundred years ago to provide an "all-day" event in Indianapolis each May. Ever since, the 500-mile distance still remains a race that tests team and machine and driver more than most any other race, and most typically at storied venues like Pocono. 
Of course the 24-hour sports car races are much longer, but also utilize multiple drivers and crew members during their events. Those races, however, have also become more like a 24-hour sprints, rather than paced endurance races.

Maybe it's the speeds attained and maintained during these races that add to their lore and attraction. In 2014 at Pocono, the top-10 drivers (all finishing on the lead lap) averaged over 202 miles per hour for the entire race distance. This currently stands as the fastest race by average speed for a 500-mile race in the history of Indycar.


It truly takes something special to win a 500-miler. Pocono also boasts a who's who of Indycar legends as its winners. Among them you will find the legendary likes of Donohue, Leonard, Foyt, Rutherford, Sneva, Unser, Mears, Andretti, Rahal, Dixon, Montoya, and Power. 

In past, venues like Ontario Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, and California/Fontana Speedway all hosted 500 mile events for Indycar. Aside from Indianapolis, the only 500-mile race distance venue remaining on the schedule is legendary Pocono.

Pocono stands alone in many ways.

Currently, it can list the following titles among all Indycar ovals; the farthest east, the fastest, most unusually shaped, "tricky", 
widest straightaway, longest straightaway, remote, camper-welcoming, and "green" (100% solar-powered, 75% event waste stream diverting). All of those features combine for a modern Indycar fan's delight, deserving Indycar's support whenever possible.

(c) unknown - aerial

While some bemoan the lack of support races found in it's current format, it's noteworthy to remember that this is the only other 500-mile event on your Indycar calendar. If you enjoy outright speed, history, legend, majesty, scenery, camping, or any combination thereof, you will find it difficult to match the allure of Pocono on the Indycar schedule.

Let's hope Indycar and Pocono can secure this storied and worthy venue and the 500-mile race distance for years to come. 





Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Greatest 33 Update - 2018 Post-race Edition

With just hours left of May on the calendar, and in keeping with all good traditions of May, we humbly submit, in the waning moments of May 2018, the ongoing review of my "Greatest 33" following the completion of another sun-scorched and interesting Indy 500. Making this post every year also seems to serve as a bit of a salve for the sting of realizing one of the greatest weekends on my annual calendar is now over.

To briefly review, IMS took great pains to create a special interactive website for the 2011 100th Anniversary race, for which fans could log in and vote for their "Greatest 33" to race at Indy from the 100 or so nominees provided. The site survived for a few years, but has since been taken down.

I had participated in the original, but in wanting to maintain relative fairness, I devised a set of objective criteria I could use to at least help make and rank my selections. I have, as you may have correctly guessed, saved and updated a spreadsheet every year following the Indy 500. Prior posts of mine on this subject can be found by searching this blog's tags for "Greatest 33". On the mobile site which lacks the tags feature, you will need to go to previous posts in May find them. Today's post reflects the changes to the standings from last Sunday's race and include the points gained from qualifying.

Will Power's win obviously gives him the most-improved location on my rankings, but he suffers from what many single-time winners who haven't cracked my Greatest 33 do - notably fewer races, poles, laps led, and top-5 finishes than other single-time winners. In fact there are not many single-time winners on my 33, so only the best of the best for "one-timers". Mario is the best with one win currently and the best active one-timer is Scott Dixon.

With yet another Top 5 finish for Dixon, he did manage to begin to move up the scoring pylon from 18th to 16th. Dixon's raw score in my formula actually has him ranked at 13th, however, I've also reserved the right to a few intangible calculations in the ranking so I have a hard time pushing him beyond Vuky, Ward, and Rose, all two-time winners with many laps led and similar Top 5 finish counts to Dixon. Scott's longevity and steady performance keeps him in a close grouping of scores with the legends mentioned, but a second win for Dixon will certainly see him vault up the rankings. As it stands, the Top 5 rows remain unchanged.   


Speaking of active drivers, and since none of the three who currently reside in my Greatest 33 (Helio, Dixon, and Kanaan) won, their places are relatively cemented as previous. Tony Kanaan leading laps again moves his raw score higher than Arie Luyendyk, but remains just behind Arie in my ranking due to Luyendyk being a two-time winner in addition to currently holding the qualifying records set in 1996.

Helio would've become a true Titan of Indy if he had won his fourth last Sunday.  Rough projections would see his score rise somewhere into the low 1900s, moving from 6th the 4th on my Greatest 33. 

Next shown is the graphic representation of Rows 6-11 of my latest "Greatest 33". 
Row 11, if any long-time readers will recall, is a nod the "Last-Row Party" thrown by the Indianapolis Press Club and is reserved for the three best and most notable drivers who never won it.

Will Power now joins active driver Ryan Hunter-Reay and several others just outside my Top 33. That group includes Buddy Lazier, Bobby Rahal, Sam Hanks, Jimmy Bryan, Eddie Cheever Jr., and Danny Sullivan. Other notable and currently active drivers are: Marco Andretti - 56th - 471pts., Ed Carpenter - 64th - 429, Takuma Sato - 65th - 428, and Alexander Rossi - 70th - 398.

Shown below is the spreadsheet ranking as it stands updated following the 102nd Indy 500. 






In all, not much movement in my top 33 rankings as a result of the 102nd Indianapolis 500, but a win by any active winner will certainly see them move into the rarefied air that is "The Greatest 33".