31 July 2009

Thoughts on the 2010 Schedule and Beyond

The 17 race schedule for the 2010 IndyCar season has been announced. With 9 road/street courses and 8 ovals (the first time in series history ovals have been outnumbered), I'm sure it will still plenty of debate.

Honestly, that part does not bother me. Contrary to the title of this blog, I enjoy a well-designed, well-raced street or road circuit. I think it adds another dimension to racing and with a solid balance, helps to identify the best driver in the series.

That being said, I am disappointed that the IndyCar Series has not been able to build on last year's momentum to add more races to the 2010 schedule. While it was the decision of Milwaukee and Richmond not to seek contracts with the series for 2010 (and it appeared that Milwaukee tried very hard, but their change in ownership happened too late), it's unfortunate that neither could be replaced with a short oval.

Whatever course comes to Brazil, along with Barber Motorsports Park, will definitely add to the series, but I think they would have helped make the IndyCar Series even stronger as part of a 17-20 schedule.

So, looking at a few tracks around America and the current 2010 Indycar schedule, here is how I would try to schedule for the future (my additions are italicized and bold):
  • Sunday, March 13 - Brazil (location TBA)
  • Sunday, March 27 - Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Sunday, April 10 - Barber Motorsports Park
  • Sunday, April 17 - Streets of Long Beach, Calif.
  • Sunday, April 24 - New Hampshire (a possible logistical nightmare, going from Long Beach to NH; NHMS has NASCAR dates on last weekend of June and Sept. 20 - so I can appreciate Terry Angstadt's dilemma here)
  • Saturday, April 30 - Kansas Speedway
  • Sunday, May 29 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 5 - Milwaukee (traditional date after the 500)
  • Saturday, June 11 - Texas Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 19 - Iowa Speedway
  • Sunday, July 3 - Watkins Glen International
  • Sunday, July 17 - Streets of Toronto
  • Sunday, July 24 - Edmonton City Centre Airport
  • Sunday, August 7 - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Sunday, August 21 - Infineon Raceway
  • Saturday, August 27 - Chicagoland Speedway
  • Labor Day Weekend - Kentucky Speedway
  • Saturday, September 17 - Twin Ring Motegi
  • Saturday, September 24 - Las Vegas (an easy stop on the way back from Japan; paired with Truck Series event; can go at night if too hot during the day)
  • Saturday, October 1 - Homestead-Miami Speedway
Looking at it another way, the 2011 schedule could look something like this:
  • Sunday, March 13 - Brazil (location TBA)
  • Sunday, March 27 - Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Sunday, April 10 - Barber Motorsports Park
  • Sunday, April 17 - Streets of Long Beach, Calif.
  • Saturday, April 30 - Kansas Speedway
  • Sunday, May 29 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 5 - New Hampshire (would put 3 weeks between IndyCar, NASCAR dates - possibly feasible)
  • Saturday, June 11 - Texas Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 19 - Milwaukee (pushed back from traditional date/time but still in heart of oval schedule)
  • Sunday, June 26 - Iowa Speedway (new date, but just a week later)
  • Sunday, July 3 - Watkins Glen International
  • Sunday, July 17 - Streets of Toronto
  • Sunday, July 24 - Edmonton City Centre Airport
  • Sunday, August 7 - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Sunday, August 21 - Infineon Raceway
  • Saturday, August 27 - Chicagoland Speedway
  • Labor Day Weekend - Kentucky Speedway
  • Saturday, September 17 - Twin Ring Motegi
  • Saturday, September 24 - Las Vegas (an easy stop on the way back from Japan; paired with Truck Series event; can go at night if too hot during the day)
  • Saturday, October 1 - Homestead-Miami Speedway
If the IndyCar Series was able to add both New Hampshire (friendly track executive in Jerry Gappens, though who knows how much longer he'll be happy if he can't get a race up there) and Las Vegas, then it is staring at a 19-race schedule - still not long enough (I prefer a 20-22 race season), but getting closer.

It would add major markets in New England and Las Vegas and have 10 ovals and 9 street/road courses. Of the two versions presented, I like version number two - I think it actually functions pretty well. And since Milwaukee will not be on the 2010 schedule, the IndyCar Series has some leverage for scheduling its date down the road. Hopefully, they can continue to build, making some additions and spur the continued growth of the series.

2010 IndyCar Schedule Announcement

UPDATE (5:26 PM): The series will have 9 street/road courses in 2010 and 8 ovals - a change from 10 ovals and 7 street/road courses in 2009. Same number of races, but losing Richmond and Milwaukee tentatively. Gaining Brazil and Barber.

The schedule, as set out by IndyCar.com:
  • Sunday, March 14 - Brazil (location TBA)
  • Sunday, March 28 - Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Sunday, April 11 - Barber Motorsports Park
  • Sunday, April 18 - Streets of Long Beach, Calif.
  • Saturday, May 1 - Kansas Speedway
  • Sunday, May 30 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Saturday, June 12* - Texas Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 20 - Iowa Speedway
  • Sunday, July 4 - Watkins Glen International
  • Sunday, July 18 - Streets of Toronto
  • Sunday, July 25 - Edmonton City Centre Airport
  • Sunday, August 8 - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Sunday, August 22 - Infineon Raceway
  • Saturday, August 28* - Chicagoland Speedway
  • Labor Day Weekend - Kentucky Speedway
  • Saturday, September 18 - Twin Ring Motegi
  • Saturday, October 2 - Homestead-Miami Speedway
Click here to watch the release of the 2010 IndyCar schedule.

Looking over the tweets from Curt Cavin, some of the schedule looks remarkably similar:
  • Watkins Glen keeps the 4th of July date.
  • Texas is still 2 weeks after Indianapolis (leaving a spot open for Milwaukee to get its act together).
  • New Hampshire is once again denied a date (hopefully this is rectified soon).
I'll have more thoughts after the official schedule release.

De Ferran Looking at IndyCar

While the rumors have long speculated that 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil De Ferran would bring a two-car operation to the IndyCar Series in 2010, The Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin delves into the topic more, talking with De Ferran in this week's "Pit Pass."

Maybe the key quote from the article:
De Ferran and [Honda Performance Development president Robert] Clarke believe they are on the verge of signing a sponsor -- perhaps Honda's Formula Dream program or one of the Apex Brazil companies -- to begin rapidly moving forward on their dream of fielding Indy cars.
Well, let's hope it happens. Though if De Ferran takes the Formula Dream sponsorship, the car count could only increase by one if Andretti Green did not find a new sponsor for a fourth car (something I have previously advocated). And who knows what will happen with Conquest Racing going forward, after they terminated their partnership with Rubicon Sports Agency.

Another tidbit in the article: De Ferran could be targeting Scott Dixon and/or Graham Rahal. Could be some fun times during the IndyCar offseason if De Ferran gets his program up and running soon.

30 July 2009

Richmond Gone? (I say add New Hampshire)

Reading through Bruce Martin's article on Versus.com, it becomes apparent that Richmond will not be on the 2010 IndyCar schedule - that kind of thing happens when one side does not want to negotiate a new contract. From the mouth of Terry Angstadt, who talked to Martin:
“We absolutely wanted to race at Richmond. It is an important venue for one very important sponsor of ours and one of our teams. We were somewhat surprised at the lack of negotiation for that venue but that is something that we deal with.

“It puts two sides to put a deal together and we respect their decision. It is not being negotiated and they will not be on our schedule.”
It's a shame that the IndyCar Series loses one of its footholds in the South, but you could see this coming after the last two races there - the crashfest of 2008 and the parade in 2009.

So, where should the series turn to for 2010? I vote New Hampshire. With ICS adding Barber to the 2010 schedule, the series will still have a race in the South, just a different part of the Southern United States. It does not have a race in the New England area, and New Hampshire has an IndyCar friendly executive vice president in Jerry Gappens.

While Martin's article does not address New Hampshire, he does talk about the rumors surrounding the purchase of the Milwaukee Mile and whether or not Tony George is actively trying to raise money to purchase the IndyCar Series - definitely items worth checking out by clicking the link above.

29 July 2009

Whither Andretti Green?

The good news coming out of Edmonton for Andretti Green Racing is that Tony Kanaan will be ok to drive at Kentucky after a frightening car fire in the pits during the Rexall Edmonton Indy.

Is it in poor taste to call the subsequent coverage of the incident somewhat positive for the league? After all, a report on Kanaan's condition was on the front page of ESPN.com on Tuesday - I don't think it's "good" per se, when the highlights and headlines show a car fire, but then again, people are seeing IndyCar highlights on a network that has largely shunned the sport most of the season.

In other words, I'm not sure. But, after seeing Kanaan on the "Five Good Minutes" segment of Pardon the Interruption yesterday (even if it was just 2-and-a-half minutes), I'm inclined to think that this is kind of good for the series, in a morbid kind of way. It's certainly not good to set your drivers on fire, and I would not advocate it, but the series is receiving attention because Kanaan survived the experience and is more than willing to talk about it and promote the ICS, so that's good.

Right now, nothing seems to going well for Andretti Green Racing - at one point on Sunday, Versus ran a graphic showing where the Penske Racing cars stood - it was at 1st, 2nd, 4th. When the network showed the AGR stable, it read something like 10th, 11th, 14th, Out. So, for one of the league's premier teams to struggle so much, so consistently, is puzzling.

This certainly wasn't the season the team envisioned when the 2009 IndyCar Series season began. With Kanaan returning to lead the team, Danica Patrick building off of her first career win, and Marco Andretti seemingly poised to emerge as a threat to win more races, AGR had to be thinking they were in good shape to renew most of their contracts for 2010, but also to retain the sport's biggest free agent in Patrick.

However, as things look right now, Andretti Green has free-fallen from a perch near the top of the ICS mountain, regularly failing to challenge for wins, qualifying poorly, and not resembling the team that at one point set the standard for success in the IndyCar Series. That said, let's examine their season to this point and see how AGR might begin the climb back to success in the IndyCar Series.

We'll begin by looking at the team's veteran and leader, Tony Kanaan. I don't know the source of Kanaan's struggles since May (and I certainly hope it's not the fact that I openly root for him and own a Team 7-Eleven hat and koozie), but it seems like Kanaan's chassis have not been as good as they were in the beginning of the year. He openly criticized his first chassis at Indianapolis, used another one to qualify and then wrecked that car when something mysteriously broke in his car. Then, the slow Indianapolis chassis was used at Milwaukee, where it caught fire. Good times.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion, led the points chase after three races this season, posting a 5th at St. Pete, 3rd at Long Beach and a 3rd at Kansas. However, including the crash at Indianapolis (where he was running 3rd at the time), Kanaan has failed to finish five of the eight races in which he has participated, twice catching fire (though the Milwaukee status is listed as "mechanical") and dropping out three times due to contact (including once after leading 48 laps at Iowa).

His top finish sine Kansas is a 6th-place finish at Richmond, where he qualified 17th.

So what would help Kanaan return to form (aside from a change in luck)? Perhaps better qualifying, where he might not run as many risks of contact. Over his last six races, Kanaan has qualified an average of 13th, and in that time has not finished the race on three occasions (Iowa, Toronto, Edmonton). In his first five races, Kanaan qualified an average of 6th and finished three of those races. So qualifying better may help, but marginally it appears.

Curt Cavin, in his Indianapolis Star blog, speculated something similar, saying that Kanaan is hurt by not having another veteran on the team, saying:
Truthfully, I think everyone at AGR would be better off right now if they had a Herta or a Franchitti to help Kanaan with the setups. I'm just not sure Danica, Marco and/or Mutoh have enough experience for that.
AGR also addressed this at Edmonton, bringing in Oriol Servia to serve as a driver coach for Kanaan. Could it be that Servia finds his way into the AGR stable in 2010, adding another veteran to the team? I wouldn't be surprised.

Kanaan is a truly talented driver and one of the IndyCar Series' biggest personalities. His success helps the league, and while the summer of his discontent rolls on, I think he's due for a change in luck. Maybe that's all he needs.

With Kanaan addressed, let us look at the bright spot in the AGR season: Danica Patrick. Without actually competing for race wins thus far, Patrick has put together the type of consistent season a championship contender needs to win. Her consistency has resulted in top-10 finishes but not in podium finishes (except at Indianapolis, where, you will notice, they don't have a post-race podium).

In her 11 races so far, Patrick has placed in the top 10 eight times and the top 5 on five occasions. However, due to the consistency of her counterparts at Penske and Ganassi Racing in placing near the podium, Patrick has all but been mathematically eliminated from the championship chase.

In those 11 races, Patrick has led a grand total of 24 laps - all at Iowa. Outside of that date, the veteran has not led a race in 2009, another reason why she trails in the points chase.

I'm of the mind that Patrick's free agent status has not affected her or her team this season. With Michael Andretti calling her race strategy, Patrick has appeared to maximize her results this year, given that AGR seems a step behind both Penske and Ganassi when it comes to race setup.

With Patrick looking at all of her options in both IndyCar and NASCAR, I have trouble believing that she will jump to NASCAR without winning the Indianapolis 500. Because of this, I have trouble believing that she will stay with Andretti Green, too.

While AGR helped Patrick reach a career-best, third-place finish at Indianapolis this past May, the team appears to be moving backwards right now. On their best day, they may be able to compete with the red cars, but more times than not, a fifth-place finish is as good as it gets for AGR.

Which is why I see Danica Patrick moving to Ganassi Racing this offseason (so do plenty of other people, too.)

Ganassi shouldn't have a problem bringing Patrick on board - she will bring plenty of sponsorship, and I'm sure Target will love having her on the team (talk about sponsor activation, I think this might be a great fit). Patrick, on her end, will be moving up in teams, whether Ganassi becomes a three-car team in 2010. Ganassi, over the last ten years, has been a contender to win at Indianapolis, winning twice.

If Patrick can win at Indy, then moving to NASCAR in 2011 or 2012 and cashing in becomes a distinct possibility. And Ganassi just happens to own a NASCAR team (as does Roger Penske, but he already has a third driver in the stable). It almost makes too much sense to not happen.

So, we've eliminated one of AGR's drivers for 2010. We'll touch on possible replacements later.

Let's move on to Hideki Mutoh, who over the course of two weeks in June, looked like he was getting the hang of racing short ovals. Then the road and street courses came, and Mutoh has slid back to being the fourth-best driver at AGR.

The funny thing is, Mutoh has led the second-most laps of any driver at AGR in 2009. His 74 laps out front is second only to Kanaan's 80 laps led. Unfortunately for Mutoh, all of those laps came at Richmond, where the yellow flag breaks didn't go his way. In fact, in 11 starts, he has placed in the top 10 just five times and finished on the podium once (at Iowa - 3rd place).

The Japanese driver's best performance came in back-to-back weeks at Iowa and Richmond, when it was rumored that his Formula Dream sponsorship was in jeopardy of being pulled and given to former Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato.

However, the road and street courses continue to plague Mutoh - his average finish on those courses is 15th, while he is averaging a 9th-place result on ovals.

Given his seeming lack of progress in two-plus years, I question whether it is worth AGR's time to hold on to Mutoh. I know having sponsorship can supercede talent in today's racing world, but it might be time to cut bait with Mutoh at Andretti Green. Whether they can continue their partnership with Forumla Dream remains to be seen.

Ok, we've now gotten rid of two drivers from Andretti Green. Should we push it and propose eliminating a third?

Honestly, I don't see it happening. Marco Andretti, even though he is a free agent, does not have the options that Danica Patrick possesses. And as the co-owner's son, he will be given chances that will not be afforded to others on the team (see: Mutoh, Hideki). And quietly, Marco is putting together a season remarkably similar to Patrick's: In 11 starts, he has eight top-10 finishes and two top-5 results; to compare, Patrick has eight top-10s and five top-5s.

So, why is no one gushing over Marco Andretti and his consistency? Maybe it is because he set the bar high with his Rookie of the Year result in 2007, coming within a straightaway of winning at Indianapolis and capturing a win at Sonoma. Some of it has to do with his lineage - when you're the son of Michael Andretti and the grandson of Mario Andretti, people expect you to show up, qualify well, and win - consistently.

I don't know if AGR's equipment was better this season that Andretti would be near the front of more races, but he has been remarkable in his ability to finish races, bowing out of just two starts this year - a late wreck at St. Pete and the Mario Moraes-induced crash at Indianapolis. Young Marco has been running at the end of every other IndyCar race in 2009.

Looking ahead to 2010, where could Marco go? It probably depends on his sponsorship - more than any other driver at AGR, Andretti seem to bounce his primary sponsor around from week to week, indicating to me that he might not have the money to bring to another team. In the last three weeks, his primary sponsors have been Venom Energy Drink (Watkins Glen), NYSE/iShares (Toronto) and Mott's Clamato Cesar (Edmonton; what's a clamato caesar, you ask? I know I did, so I looked it up - click here for the details). I suspect he'll have his Meijer sponsorship this weekend at Kentucky.

Since many of those sponsors work with AGR as a whole and are not direct sponsors of Andretti (even Venom is owned by Dr. Pepper/Seven Up), I doubt Marco could make a move to another team work unless he finds new sponsorship. If he were to move, I would suggest that Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing take a look at him.

Think about this for a moment: if NHL Racing added Andretti and kicked Doornbos to the curb (even though his dad funds everything), they would have the most marketable young American driving tandem in years. Plus, both Marco's father and grandfather drove for the then-Newman/Haas Racing in the 1990's. The story lines and marketing potential this team could have, not to mention the rivalry they have and could build, would jump start some interest in the IndyCar Series. Plus, every weekend, fans could follow the Marco vs. his father's team story line.

Now, I have no knowledge of if this could happen, but it would certainly stir the pot and add some intrigue to the 2010 season.

The only other fit I see for Andretti is to explore the USF1 project, designed to put two American drivers into Formula 1 in 2010. Whether this actually happens or not is up for debate - without a F1 race in either Canada or the United States, I think securing sponsorship (and enough sponsorship to be competitive) will be difficult. My advice: stay away, for now. If you continue to improve, and USF1 is able to start up, you will have the chance to race F1 down the road.

So, Andretti stays (as much as I like the NHLR potential), along with Kanaan. We've sent Patrick to Ganassi Racing and Mutoh to wherever. AGR is a two-driver team as it stands. I am not going to advocate AGR returning to a four-car team - in this economy, I think their resources may be spread too thin as it is; but I think a three-car team could be successful. So, whom should they add?

If they want to add from within, they could simply promote IndyLights driver J.R. Hildebrand. The guy knows how win on the road and street courses (stats) and has posted three wins in 10 starts this season. If he and/or AGR can secure any sponsorship, he would be a solid choice.

If AGR wants to look outside, I would consider adding Oriol Servia or Takuma Sato. Though I suspect AGR would add Sato only if they absolutely needed to continue their Formula Dream sponsorship. (Another rumor - let Formula Dream sponsor Greg Beck's operations - he has had success with Roger Yasukawa and other Japanese drivers in the past - the team could use the money, too).

Seriva is currently serving as a driver coach for AGR and looked pretty good while driving for Rahal-Letterman Racing in the 2009 500. In 2008, he was one of the top newcomers to the series with KV Racing Technology. As a veteran, he could work easily with Kanaan and Andretti on race setup, providing more insight into the cars than Sato probably could. The only question with Servia would be one of sponsorship, but if Andretti-Green can get Mott's Clamato Ceasar to sponsor a car, then they can find sponsorship for Oriol Servia.

Given the choices between Hildebrand and Servia, I vote Servia. Let Hildebrand continue in IndyLights and finding sponsorship. If the economy continues to recover, AGR could return to a four-car operation in 2011, adding Hildebrand.

So there, we've tried to find a way to solve AGR's problems moving forward. Basically, I think they are spread too thin right now, hampering their results since they don't have the veteran experience they enjoyed in the Kanaan-Franchitti-Herta days. Creating a three-car team (and increasing their resources for those teams) with Kanaan-Andretti-Servia in 2010 seems to be their best option moving forward.

Let's See What Happens

Basically, the Honda engines that will race at Kentucky will be equipped with push-to-pass.

We'll see what it adds to Saturday's race (and I'll file a full report on returning from Kentucky Speedway), but Graham Rahal seems to think it will be a idea, telling Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star:
"You wouldn't think so, but 5 horsepower is a pretty big deal, even on these ovals. Every little 'hp' is going to help you.It will improve the racing because people forget that it's not only something that's used for overtaking, it's also for defending. It can be interesting. There's no doubt in my mind it's a good thing."
Rahal would know - he used a similar system when running Champ Car. Whether the push-to-pass and the added car options for teams help the racing this weekend remains to be seen, but give the IndyCar Series credit for trying to spice up the competition.

27 July 2009

Barber Confirmed

As we linked to yesterday, Barber Motorsports Park has been confirmed as part of the 2010 IndyCar Series schedule. It's a three-year deal for the Birmingham, Ala., facility. With another road course on the schedule, Will Power's value increases to rise.

Click here for the full release, via Indycar.com.

The complete 2010 schedule will be announced on Friday, July 31, during the qualifications show on Versus (6 p.m. EDT).

Get This Man a Full-Time Ride!

I was told that the Rexall Edmonton Indy had the potential to be as exciting a race as the Toronto circuit two weeks ago. Instead, in what I wouldn't call a "fun" race to watch, Will Power dominated the field to capture his first IndyCar Series victory.

When the most visually exciting part of your race is not a pass for position, but one of the series' marquee stars catching fire, you have some problems. (Though the fire in Tony Kanaan's car did receive significant attention when ESPNews showed highlights, so I guess any news is good news on the coverage end.). I'll have more on Andretti Green later this week (probably Wednesday), so let's just leave it at this for now: they are having a terrible season, and when one of your drivers catches on fire twice in the same season, you may want to begin re-evaluating things.

Now, back to the race. Here in Indianapolis, there was another race going on, with the 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion dominating until Juan Pablo Montoya forgot the pit road speed. In Edmonton, Will Power did not make a mistake the entire race, cruising to victory - had Tomas Scheckter not brought out the first yellow of the day with two laps to go, Power would have won by close to seven seconds.

Power can clearly run on street and road circuits - in five starts this year (including one oval - Indianapolis), he has five top 10 finishes and four top fives, counting his win yesterday. If Penske does not renew Power's contract for 2010 (sponsorship would probably help), then Power may be the most significant addition for a team this side of Danica Patrick.

While Penske never released the terms of Power's contract when he signed at the beginning of the season, wouldn't it behoove someone (I'm looking at you AGR), to pick up a driver everyone in the Paddock knows can win on at least half the circuits in the IndyCar Series? Especially if ICS adds a few more street/road circuits in 2010 - right now, there will be a race in Brazil and Curt Cavin reported that Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., will host an ICS race in 2010 (it's at the bottom of the story). So with the potential for more street/road circuits than ovals in 2010, I think I'd want someone who can dominate those circuits on my team, but that's just me.

On the championship front, Scott Dixon took the lead from his teammate, Dario Franchitti, as the two continue to toss the points lead back and forth like a game of hot potato. Dixon would have increased his advantage more if he had not been the victim of one of the few passes in the race, as Helio Castroneves pulled off a pass using the cars of Ed Carpenter and Alex Tagliani as picks to slide by Dixon.

That said, coming out of Edmonton, we know this: Will Power can drive a car. And sponsorship or no sponsorship, some team would be very wise to scoop him up should Penske not have room for him in 2010. Let's be honest, if you're near the front on at least half the races, someone will find sponsorship for your car.

26 July 2009

Tony George Speaketh (again)

Former Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation chairman Tony George put out another statement today, attempting to shed more light on the goings on on the IMS board. While George wasn't scathing in his blog post on VisionRacing.com, he did maintain that he has not received an explanation as to why he was let go.

And I think George hits the nail on the head with this question at the end of his post:
I have been replaced in my role as manager by two individuals who have been with the company for many years. In that time they have also been members of the executive management team and have participated in all of the strategic decisions that have been made over the last 15 years, so they are well aware of the challenges ahead. My question for the board has been not one of who is going to manage the company, but rather, who is going to lead it? There is a distinction.
For the complete story, click here.

25 July 2009

Penske, Penske, Penske

(Say that in your best Jan Brady voice.)

I went looking for a new car last week with my wife, and we settled on obtaining a Saturn Vue. Aside from it being a solid car with nice features, my thought process turned to supporting Roger Penske, who recently bought Saturn. My way of thinking was that in buying a Saturn I would be helping to support IndyCar Racing.

I'm not sure Penkse needs that kind of help; The three Penske cars qualified 1-2-3 for the Rexall Edmonton Indy, with part-timer Will Power claiming the pole.

For Power, he's been dominant this season with Penske, helping set the stage for Helio Castroneves' return early in the year. Without a full-time ride, Power has made four starts in 2009, not counting Edmonton. In those starts, Power has three top-five finishes and four top-ten results. Now, he sits on the pole for the first time this season.

With that in mind, Penske will need to strongly consider running Power full time in 2010. If Power can secure sponsorship (his yellow and blue Penske Truck Rental car is pretty sweet looking), he'll definitely have a chance. Right now, though, Penske is committed to running ALMS, leaving Power without a pit crew several weekends.

In 2010, at the worst, Power will continue to fill in a part-time basis for Penske. At best, he's running a third car for Penske. In his five appearances in 2009, Power has definitely shown himself to be worthy of a ride in the IndyCar Series.

With that in mind, you have to like Power's chances at a win tomorrow, as the Penske cars clearly looked better than the Ganassi cars during qualifications. So maybe I'll revise my predictions so they look like this:
  1. Briscoe
  2. Power (does he protect Briscoe late or go for the win?)
  3. Franchitti
  4. Castroneves
  5. Dixon
  6. Tracy
  7. Wilson
  8. Rahal
  9. Matos
  10. Kanaan (sure, AGR can barely qualify, but I can't quit Kanaan - not when Oriol Servia is helping him this weekend.)

24 July 2009

Edmonton Primer

I might get to see some racing this weekend, fantastic. Plus, my view will be the same as most Indianapolis Star journalists, who are staying in town to cover the NASCAR parade instead of traveling to scenic Edmonton. Before I get into a preview of the Rexall Edmonton Indy, I feel like I should critique myself from those predictions I made prior to my departure for vacation.

So, let's start with my continued underestimation of Andretti Green's awful season (Danica Patrick largely excepted). They don't appear to have "it" this year (and they barely had it last year) in any regard, with poor qualifying efforts and poor race results. Give this, why I would continue to think Tony Kanaan would finish on or near the podium is ridiculous on my part; despite his driving talents, he can't get a car that actually works for him, and it doesn't appear he's had a good car since around Long Beach or Kansas. I'll have more thoughts on this team next week.
Why, with two road courses, did I not expect Justin Wilson to finish on the podium at least once? Simply put - I'm dumb and overlooked him. So, congratulations to Justin and Dale Coyne Racing on picking up the win at Watkins Glen. Thank you for breaking the streak of Ganassi and Penske winners. Hopefully more of your brethren follow in your footsteps.

On the plus side, the Toronto race
reached the magical 1.0 rating. And with so many people watching, at least there was a good show. I was driving home from Maine during the race, but I can attest that it received some solid air time on the Sunday night news in Buffalo.

Now, with regard to Edmonton, it's being touted as a course similar to Watkins Glen and Toronto, i.e., a street course that allows passing. And, given the topsy-turvy nature of this IndyCar season (street racing being exciting, ovals being boring), I suppose we should expect some entertaining racing on the 14-turn circuit.

With Alex Tagliani and Paul Tracy both racing, the field continues as it was from Toronto, where both drivers put forth solid performances and came away thinking they should have finished better. The Canadians will hopefully bring a few more fans to the track, too (and if they want to boo Helio Castroneves again, it's ok, but Helio is doing his level best to prevent it). In his only race of the 2008 IndyCar season, Tracy finished fourth while driving for Vision Racing.

Last year, roughly 160,000 spectators made it to Edmonton over the race weekend. That's great for the ICS, as the TV ratings for the race will probably be low, due in some part to the race going up against the Brickyard 400 on Sunday. Which begs the question, why can't this race be moved to the weekend before the Brickyard, when both series are currently off? Wouldn't having an exclusive weekend for IndyCar racing, especially on a good circuit, be good for the ICS?

In that 2008 race, Scott Dixon took the checkered flag (shocking), while Castroneves was second (another surprise). So, it's not like Ganassi and Penske don't know this track. Expect those teams to be near the front again. On the lowest part of the podium in 2008 was Justin Wilson, and given Coyne's road/street proficiency, I would expect him to be a contender this year.

Now that I'm looking at things logically (it's amazing how a vacation helps settle the mind and allows you to think of things like "Why would I expect AGR to perform well in a race at this point?"), I think the race shapes up as such:
A red car will win (though Franchitti is in a blue car this weekend - kudos to Ganassi for mixing up the colors of his team's cars this year, by the way - let's continue that trend into 2010.). Though a yellow car could win in Will Power's sweet Penske Truck Rental car. I look for Tracy and Tagliani to shape up perform better than at Toronto. Mike Conway will probably qualify well, but again, Jan Beekhuis will tease Robbie Buhl about having to repair a car. Here's how I look the race right now:
  1. Dario Franchitti (who will pull away in the points a bit; when he passes someone in this race, since he's driving the Vaseline car, does Jenkins say, "Franchitti slides past (fill in driver's name)"?)
  2. Ryan Briscoe (who stays in the championship chase)
  3. Scott Dixon (also stays in the hunt)
  4. Will Power (he definitely could win this race - can we get him a full-time ride and sponsor for 2010, please?)
  5. Justin Wilson
  6. Paul Tracy
  7. Helio Castroneves
  8. Alex Tagliani
  9. Tony Kanaan (oh, what the hell - let's toss AGR a bone - Kanaan did lead some laps here last year)
  10. Tomas Scheckter (quietly building some momentum for 2010)
  11. Marco Andretti (sure a top 10 sounds nice, but let's be honest - more is expected)

23 July 2009

Now there's an idea.

Since the public debut of new Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Jeff Belskus did not necessarily go over as smoothly as one would hope (though criticizing the man for lip sweat seems a bit much), the clamor for a different public face to IMS has begun.

Joie Chitwood was a man who at the least, understood the track - what she was, what she is, and what she can be once again (yes, I just personified IMS, and I don't know why IMS is a female. It just is in my literary mind). And he exuded that confidence and spirit every time I saw or heard him in a public forum. My wife, who had the opportunity to listen to Chitwood in May, said the same thing about his speaking skills; and while she isn't the biggest racing fan in the world, Chitwood's vision for the future and his ability to communicate it gave her confidence that the Indianapolis 500 would continue its resurgence.

And since Chitwood is gone, the track needs - no the track (and greater Indianapolis community) deserves someone who can sell IMS and enthuse the average sporting fan with their passion for racing.

So, who can do this? I'd nominate myself, but that seems too arrogant. Though I'd bring a full passion bucket to the job, I can promise that. Let Belskus continue on the business side, I'll face the cameras - done deal.

Now, since I'm not a viable candidate (my bank account weeps upon hearing that news), who else it out there? Curt Cavin, on his twitter page and in his most recent "Ask the Expert" suggests John Andretti.

And yes, you chuckle and say to yourself "little John Andretti?" I did. But if John wanted to retire, it makes a ton of sense. He carries the "Andretti" name with him, which still resonates throughout the racing community.

He has one foot in IndyCar and one foot in NASCAR, bringing credibility to both sides; in fact, he was the first driver to attempt the "double," racing the 500 and Coca-Cola 600 way back in 1994. Furthermore, we're talking about a driver who broke down in tears of joy upon qualifying for the 2009 500 - clearly there is some passion for IMS with John Andretti.

For you Sports Car fans, Andretti has raced those, too. In fact, he's dipped his toe into most forms of racing, so Andretti would bring credibility when sitting down and talking to the leaders of any racing league.

To further his resume, Andretti attended Cardinal Ritter High School and his wife is a native of Indianapolis, too. If IMS wanted someone who would resonate in racing circles and in the Indianapolis community, along with a person who could handle being in front of cameras, doing public relations initiatives throughout the country, and express what IMS means to racing and to general sports fans in a coherent manner, John Andretti is a name to watch.

Yes, he'll probably be more expensive than me (that's my last plug for myself as IMS president - I'd come cheap), but John Andretti would do a better job than me, too, more than likely.

21 July 2009

Is Something Rotten in IMS?

I'm trying to be optimistic about Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joie Chitwood resigning from IMS, effective Aug. 6.

The optimist in me wants to believe that Chitwood truly wanted to relocate his family to his native Florida and taking a job with the International Speedway Corp. as vice president of business operations is the easiest way to do that. And maybe from within ISC, he could push them to bring more IndyCar events to their facilities.

The pessimist in me says that moving from the world's most famous racetrack to a racetrack ownership group is a lateral move at best, and possibly a step back.

The optimist in me wants to believe that Chitwood really did begin to consider his options for leaving IMS after bringing Moto GP to IMS in 2008.

The pessimist in me says that if I were the president of IMS, I'd be looking forward to the next 2-8 years at the track, completing the Centennial Era celebrations in 2011 and gearing up for the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016.

The optimist in me hopes that the removal of Tony George from his role as president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation had nothing to do with Chitwood leaving.

The pessimist in me looks at the loss of Chitwood (and his salary) as another cost-cutting measure at IMS. If the IMS board was worried about losing money with George in charge, wouldn't cutting Chitwood's salary be an easy way to save six figures (I have no idea what Chitwood makes, but I'm comfortable guessing it's low-six figures)?

And since indications are that IMS won't look to immediately fill the position, doesn't it stand to reason that the board may have looked at the books and said "If we have a president of the IMS Corp., why do we need a president of IMS? Can't the board president run IMS on a day-to-day basis?"

Truly, I think Joie Chitwood may have seen the writing on the wall when the IMS board started taking a hard look at the bottom line and moved laterally (at best) to ISC.

I've heard some say that Chitwood didn't do anything during his time at IMS to distinguish himself. I would disagree - he is largely credited for pushing Moto GP to come to 16th and Georgetown, bringing revenue to the track after Formula 1 wanted to wring every last cent (schilling?) from IMS. With Moto GP on board, IMS was able to send F1 packing and bring a fresh event to Indianapolis - and a highly profitable event.

Off the track, Chitwood was one of the proponents for Speedway redevelopment project. Now, his departure won't affect the project, but having the president of the world's most famous racing facility didn't hurt. Though with more than 2,000 jobs slated to come to Speedway, if things don't work out in Daytona Beach, Chitwood could probably find something in Speedway.

Whenever Chitwood spoke about IMS, I always came away impressed; it seemed to me like he had a passion for the Brickyard (the track, not the race) and wanted to restore the Indianapolis 500 to its former glory. And with the Centennial Era and momentum from IndyCar's reunification, I think Chitwood had the track headed in the right direction.

Now, hopefully things continue to progress (and competitive racing would solve a lot of this), but I feel bad that Chitwood won't be at IMS to see his work all the way through.

20 July 2009

What is going on at 16th and Georgetown?

Via his Twitter account, Curt Cavin is reporting that Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joie Chitwood has resigned.

I don't have any details beyond that, but Chitwood's resignation would be a big blow to IMS; he seemed to have the track and its events (aside from the Brickyard 400) back on track and growing.

Obviously, more details will follow later.

02 July 2009


I'm off to Boston and Maine for vacation over the next two weeks - maybe I can stop by New Hampshire Speedway and talk them into hosting an IndyCar race - I know I'd go.

Anyways, since I'm off to a land where Internet is scarce (and hopefully the ABC signal comes in alright), I'll have to make some predictions now and hope they're right.

At Watkins Glen, Scott Dixon will win. AGR will have a performance similar to they did at Richmond, but it won't be enough, as Dixon assumes the points lead from his teammate, Dario Franchitti.

Your top five:
  1. Dixon
  2. Briscoe
  3. Kanaan
  4. Franchitti
  5. Castroneves
Then at Toronto, it will finally happen - someone from neither Ganassi nor Penske will win a race - Tony Kanaan will take the title at Toronto. I expect AGR to put everything they have into the race as they are the promoter of it.

Your top five at Toronto:
  1. Kanaan
  2. Franchitti
  3. Dixon
  4. Briscoe
  5. Castroneves
So, that's how I see it happening. Like I said, I'll be gone over the next couple weeks, but if I can steal some Internet, I'll try and make some updates. In the very least, I'll be watching along on ABC or finding Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network affiliates on the east coast (well, in Maine and New Hampshire).