23 September 2010

The Hidden Points of Edmonton

First, it's been nine days since writing, which doesn't sit right with me.  I apologize - between transitioning jobs and the IZOD IndyCar Series closing the season on a bye week-race-bye week schedule, I just haven't had much to write about.

With that in mind, it's time we thoroughly examine something we have been harping upon for the better part of three weeks: the hypothetical scenario in which Helio Castroneves would be a championship contender if he had been given the win at Edmonton.

Looking at the numbers, if Castroneves had been awarded the win at Edmonton, he would still be out of the points title, trailing by 51 points entering the season's final race at Homestead-Miami.  In our mock results, Castroneves took first and 50 points, with Scott Dixon being awarded second and the 40 points (if blocking wasn't called on Castroneves why would it be on Dixon?).

With Will Power finishing third and receiving 38 points (for the pole and laps led bonuses), he held six more points than Dario Franchitti, who was fourth in our scenario, picking up 32 points.

Thus, in our mock standings entering Homestead, Power is the series points leader with 582 points; the Australian is actually the loser in the points rearrangement, as he leads Franchitti by just 10 points instead of the 12 he will carry into the series finale.  By moving from 43 points to 38 (while Franchitti went from 35 to 32), Power would be in a similar, but more precarious situation.

Castroneves would hold a 44-point advantage over Dixon for third, sitting on 531 points.

As the points stand now, Power can finish directly behind Franchitti and win the title, provided Franchitti does not capture the maximum 53 points.  In our mock championship, Franchitti could win and lead the most laps (or capture the pole and win) and win the title.

For Castroneves, it isn't Edmonton that served as the death knell for his season; instead, it was the wreck with Vitor Meira at Toronto that threw his championship aspirations out the window.  With a car capable of running up front, Castroneves jumped the gun on a pass of the slower Meira in an attempt to retake the lead - when the pass failed, Castroneves was out of the race with 12 points to show for it.

So instead of wondering where Castroneves would stand without Edmonton, perhaps its time to focus on how the points standings would be different for both Power and Franchitti if they had finished behind Castroneves in Alberta.

14 September 2010

Breaking Down the 2011 Schedule

Last week, the IZOD IndyCar Series announced their 2011 schedule, minus a season finale.  We were live in Milwaukee to cover it for SB Nation Indiana, taking the series' plane to the Milwaukee Mile.

My impressions of the venue will be included as we break down each and every one of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series races.

  1. March 27 - Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
    A natural choice to open the season.  It was always fun when the series opened with Homestead and St. Petersburg on back-to-back weekends, testing teams on both their oval and street prowess, but with the party-like atmosphere of both IZOD and Tampa-St. Pete, this should be fun.  Plus, the series might catch a spring breaker or two in the crowd.

  2. April 10 - Hondy Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
    After a week off, the "Southern Swing" continues; Birmingham will hopefully be warm enough on April 10 for the race, but the crowd at Barber was promising in 2010.  If the weather cooperates, there will be plenty of road course enthusiasts in the crowd once again.

    I'm traditionally not a fan of weeks off, and this one is no exception.  On baseball's opening day, I find it ridiculous that teams take the day after off, though I understand the reasoning.  When the IndyCar Series is running just 17 races, it seems like you immediately blunt an momentum gained on March 27 by saying, "Welcome back.  Now wait another two weeks until we're back again."

  3. April 17 - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
    Given the hype and marketing IZOD put behind the race in 2010, it stands to reason that the marketing machine will be back in business the week following Barber.  The 37th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach may not feature much passing, but the activity off the track should make viewing and attending worth the trip.

  4. May 1 - Sao Paulo Indy 300
    The first road/street course swing of the season ends in Brazil.  Last year, the track required last-minute changes, but produced some of the most thrilling racing of the season.  Give Tony Cotman and NZR Consulting a full year to develop the circuit, and it should deliver exciting racing once again.

    Plus, given Will Power's proficiency at the road/street courses, he might have a 100-point lead heading to Indianapolis.

  5. May 29 - Indianapolis 500
    It is the 100th anniversary of the world's greatest race, at the world's most popular track.  One driver will be going for his fourth 500 win, and another his third.  I really don't have to say much more.

  6. June 11 - Firestone Twin 275s
    Two weeks after the Indianapolis 500, Texas Motor Speedway was guaranteed the first date following the historic race, presumably to promote the hell out of the 500 winner and also to begin promotions for its return to an historic format.

    Open-wheel racing has not staged a dual set of races in nearly 30 years; while the format of the Twin 275s has not been set, the uniqueness of the setup alone should make the race intriguing.

  7. June 19 - Milwaukee Mile
    Having been on site for the announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series would be returning to the Wisconsin State Fair, I can vouch that the fans in attendance were certainly excited to bring IndyCar back to the Mile.

    Talking with some of the promotional team, they were excited not only about the future and buzz surrounding the IZOD IndyCar Series, but some of the promotional possibilities at the Mile.  With a multitude of bars around the facility, watering holes could be sold as corporate tents, for instance.  Camping lies just a short walk from Turn 3, allowing patrons to tailgate at least a day before the race.

    With aggressive promotions, an open market (given the absence of a race at Chicagoland), a starved fan base, and a drivers' track, Milwaukee should be a success.

  8. June 25 - Iowa Corn Indy 250
    The series moves from a 1-mile oval to a .875-mile oval in Newton, Iowa.  Fortunately, this isn't a situation where the IZOD IndyCar Series runs consecutive road/street courses.  According to Ryan Briscoe, Iowa drives more like a superspeedway, leaving it on the opposite end of the scale from Milwaukee.

    After a series of exciting races, Iowa takes the next step forward - adding a night race to the docket.  Should make for an excellent time in the Hawkeye State.

  9. July 10 - Honda Indy Toronto
    In the IZOD IndyCar Series' two editions in Toronto, the racing has been riveting; with as much, if not more contact than on an oval, Toronto has featured plenty of passing and frayed emotions.  Kicking off a string of three straight road/street circuits, Toronto should keep growing in popularity.

  10. July 24 - Honda Indy Edmonton
    In the last two years, Edmonton has run concurrent to the Brickyard 400.  From a television standpoint, who knows how much going up against one of NASCAR's signature events hurts the ratings for the IndyCar Series.

    The airport circuit is unique solely to the IZOD IndyCar Series and Edmonton airport.  Given how the 2010 race ended, you can be sure that attention will be paid to this race.

    From a scheduling standpoint, the series enters into a portion of its schedule in which it alternates racing and taking a week off; from a momentum-building standpoint, running four races in a seven-week stretch blunts the excitement built from the Indianapolis 500 through Iowa.

  11. Aug. 7 - Honda Indy 200
    The IZOD IndyCar Series takes another week off, this time to trek from Alberta to the middle of Ohio.  With Honda's strong support of the event, given their plants in the area, and the strong history of the circuit, the stop in Lexington, Ohio, is one of the series' top stops.

    Yes, the racing is often lacking at Mid-Ohio.  Whether or not that changes in 2012 with the new IZOD IndyCar Series chassis remains to be seen.  But from a spectator standpoint, Mid-Ohio brings plenty to the table.

  12. Aug. 14 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway
    The series takes a brief respite from the road/street swing to make its way back the northeast for the first time since 1998.  Drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series politicked to have more drivers' tracks added to the 2011 schedule, and with New Hampshire Motor Speedway begging for an IndyCar race, the match between the two was easy to put together (albeit a year late).

    Last year prior to the Indianapolis 500, IZOD took the drivers to New York and Boston for a promotional tour prior to the race; with the series heading back to New England, another large marketing swing through Boston is in order.

  13. Aug. 28 - Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma
    Let the criss-crossing of the country begin.  Getting haulers from Loudon, N.H., to Infineon Raceway will take close to five days as is, making a week break in between necessary.  Of all the events at Sonoma in 2010, the IZOD IndyCar Series was the only one to show growth.

    IZOD put on a huge marketing push in the San Francisco area, while major sponsors like Target bring out large numbers of employees to the track.  With that kind of support, plus the scenery around Infineon, the stop should continue to grow in popularity.

  14. Sept. 4 - Streets of Baltimore
    Back across the country for the IZOD IndyCar Series.  And for the first time since the series visited Dover (yikes), IndyCar returns to the Mid-Atlantic.  With the course running through Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the visuals should be amazing.  
    While the layout has changed, it still looks to have plenty of the long straights and sharp turns to promote passing.

    Will Power and Mario Andretti should be meeting following the race, as odds are Power will pick up his second consecutive Road/Street Course Trophy.

  15. Sept. 18 - Indy Japan 300
    Once again, Japan will play a role in the countdown to the IndyCar championship.  Being in Honda's backyard, the stop is a huge hit for the series.  The egg-shaped track also provides a unique challenge for the Indycars.

    Unfortunately, the placement of the race also serves as a major impediment to establishing interest and momentum in the championship.  With the race telecast beginning near midnight on the east coast, and with the IndyCar Series' ability to create a close race for the series title, having races air at a time in which the most eyeballs can find them is imperative.  Motegi does not come close to accomplishing this, unfortunately.

  16. Oct. 2 - Kentucky Indy 300
    Another impediment of staging the Motegi race late in the year is that it sucks three weeks from the calendar - one week for teams to pack for Japan and another for them to return from Japan.  Once again, when staging a championship (or playoff), taking weeks off does not help in the build up.

    Kentucky should once again be able to put on an excellent show, but the question is whether or not it will be enough to help create enough momentum for the IZOD IndyCar Series heading into its series finale.

  17. Oct. 16 - series championship
    This race will be either at Fontana or Las Vegas, with Las Vegas being the betting favorite.  In either case, the marketing powers of IZOD should drive interest in the race.

    Personally, I'd rather see the series go to Fontana on Oct. 9 and close in Las Vegas on Oct. 16.  Fontana allows the series a second stop in the Los Angeles area, bookending its stop in Long Beach.  It would also give the series three races in three weeks, allowing for story lines to be continued in a relatively normal time frame.
With 8 ovals and 9 road/street courses, the schedule once again features the strong balance that was the hallmark of the halcyon days of open-wheel racing.

My only quibble with the schedule is the number of weeks off throughout the year, but until the IZOD IndyCar Series finds more tracks that want to host and market the series (which it appears to be building momentum towards), it makes sense to limit it to 18 races on 17 circuits.

09 September 2010

Throwback Liveries

On Tuesday, More Front Wing's Paul Dalbey and I were trading ideas via twitter on throwback liveries.  That got me thinking: which cars from IndyCar's glory days would we most want to see recreated for a race?

In no particular order, here are a few:

  • Danny Sullivan, 1988.  The goldMiller machine was not Sullivan's most famous car (the 1985 spin n' win livery probably is), but it is highly recognizable.

    As Paul suggested, with the series returning to Milwaukee, it would be a nice bone to throw in the home of the Miller Brewery.

    The only question is whether Andretti Autosport (currently sponsored by Miller Lite) or Penske would run the car.

  • Bobby Rahal, 1986.  2011 marks the 25th anniversary of Rahal's lone Indianapolis 500 victory.

    What better way to commemorate the achievement than by
    having Graham Rahal run the familiar Budweiser/Red Roof Inn car at Indianapolis?

    If the younger Rahal winds up running for his father's team next season, how does this not happen?

     All that's left is for Graham to grow out the mustache and get some glasses.  Honestly, this idea cannot fail. 

  • Rick Mears, 1988.  Mears' third Indianapolis 500-winning car is another logical choice for Penske to run.  In 2011, Penske will receive primary sponsorship from Shell/Pennzoil for its NASCAR program.  The team will also use some of the sponsorship for its IndyCar side, though not as a primary sponsor.

    Mears was always a fan favorite; running the familiar yellow Pennzoil car would surely be a hit with fans once again.  

    Plus, for those who don't want to cheer for Penske, it's a reminder of Sam Hornish, Jr.'s strong runs in the early days of the Indy Racing League.  Alas, he went to Penske, so it all comes back to them, I suppose.

  • Bobby Unser, 1981.  Again, another anniversary car.  This one for one of the most controversial finishes in Indianapolis 500 history.  Bobby Unser's Norton machine from his third and final Indianapolis victory would be a historic choice.

    Additionally, it would give fans a quick little history lesson.

    Penske probably can't commemorate Rick Mears' fourth Indianapolis win with the Marlboro car, so this would be a substitute.

08 September 2010

The Land of Brats and Beer

After a one-year hiatus, the IZOD IndyCar Series is headed back to Milwaukee.

A driver's track, the short oval gives the series three such tracks now - New Hampshire, Iowa and Milwaukee.  Drivers have been clamoring for more "driver's tracks" that require more than holding the gas down for two hours.

The full schedule release will be done from the Milwaukee Mile on Friday, but it appears that the series will have a 8/9 oval/road & street mix.

03 September 2010

My Old Kentucky Home

Actually, I've never lived in Kentucky.  And I've told my share of Kentucky jokes.  When you grow up in Indianapolis, you do those sort of things.

But I'll give Kentucky credit for building one helluva racetrack.  Kentucky was my first non-Indianapolis race, as I soaked in the excitement of 2- and 3-wide racing and the duel between
Good and Evil Ed Carpenter and Ryan Briscoe.

And while I can't make it to Kentucky this weekend (a major disappointment), I can still preview the race with words (note, this also runs on
SB Nation Indiana):

After their 86th IZOD IndyCar Series race decided by less than a second (in 199 events), the series heads to Kentucky Speedway, site of one of the most exciting races of the 2009 season.  0.0162 of a second separated Team Penske Ryan Briscoe and underdog Ed Carpenter.  For Carpenter, the win would have been the signature (and only) victory of his career.
The 1.5-mile oval is similar to Chicagoland Speedway, where pack racing dominated most of last weekend's night race; more is expected at the track just south of Cincinnati.
2009 Winner: Ryan Briscoe.  The Australian dueled with Carpenter over the final laps, each utilizing their push-to-pass button throughout and keeping fans on their feet.  
Briscoe's season has not gone as smoothly as last year's when he came within a few laps of the series championship.  He qualified on the pole at Chicagoland and ran up front throughout until his last stop put him back in the pack.
What to Watch:  Don't take your eyes off the lead pack.  Having been in attendance at Chicagoland, I can vouch for the addictive nature of watching 10-12 open-wheel cars moving at 200-plus mph within inches of each other.  Kentucky should feature more of the same - it did last year until late pit stops separated the field.
Who to Watch: Carpenter.  The 29-year old was inches from a career-defining win at Kentucky in 2009.  One wonders if he had won the race if he would have a full-time ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season.  
When Carpenter has run, he has been competitive.  At the Indianapolis 500, he qualified in the third row and was running near the front before a (dubious) blocking penalty brought him through the pits.  At Chicagoland, his car was once again at or near the front, only to be felled by mechanical troubles.
When to Watch: Versus has the coverage of the race, beginning at 8 p.m. ET (find Versus in your area here) on Saturday night.  Indycar.com will have streaming of practices, qualifications and the Firestone IndyLights race.