Archive for the ‘Indycar’ Category

INDYCAR: Ramblings

August 11, 2012

The Indycar 2012 season has reached a critical stage with 3 races to go and 4 drivers separated by 28 points, the equivalent of a sixth place. The season has taken some interesting turns with Helio Castroneves winning the opening round after a winless 2011, and then Will Power looking dominant over the following 3 rounds. However, the oval courses saw the return of Will’s lacklustre performances (which surprisingly started happening in road and street courses as well) and this allowed Dario Franchitti to win his third Indy 500 (frankly the only positive thing he has done all season) and then Ryan Hunter-Reay to come out of nowhere, win 3 consecutive races and take the points lead. Scott Dixon also stepped up a gear and won at Detroit and Mid-Ohio whilst Castroneves returned to winning ways in Edmonton. So now Power leads from Hunter-Reay, Castroneves and Dixon with 3 to go. As usual, Indycar is providing good entertainment even if most races have not been spectacular.

Interestingly, the last three races are at Sonoma (road course), Baltimore (street) and Auto Club Speedway (oval). Sonoma is one of those Indycar tracks that looks great on TV and (located in the California wine region) provides good booze to the fans, but unfortunately tends to produce extremely boring races with little overtaking. In 2010 the only highlight was an entertaining first lap incident whilst last year the race was so boring that Indycar threw a caution with a few laps to go as Chinese driver Ho Pin Tung parked his car in a perfectly safe manner. Both races were won by Will Power, last year’s also being a Penske 1-2-3. Surely Power is again favourite to win this one.

Baltimore is the typical modern Indycar street course, i.e. absolutely uninteresting and almost amateurish – one of the hairpins is so tight and narrow that it generated a traffic jam last year.

Will Power was last year’s winner but both Dixon, Castroneves and Hunter-Reay have won street courses this year, so it’s a difficult call.

The final race is at the Fontana superspeedway, nowadays known as Auto Club Speedway. This event marks the return of Indycar to superspeedways and it has been recently extended to a 500-mile race. The track is notorious for two things: producing incredibly boring NASCAR races and for those 1990s Indycar races run at 380+ km/h with drivers endlessly slipstreaming each other until their engines blew up in spectacular fashion. Brazilian Gil de Ferran set the closed course speed record on this track in 2000 lapping it during qualifying at an amazing 388.537 km/h. The video below shows that the track is so wide and the car looks so slow, almost as if de Ferran is on a Sunday drive.

It will be interesting to see how the modern cars and engines will perform, especially over 500 miles, and suspect that a few drivers will conclude that it is better to start the race with a new engine and take a 10 place grid penalty. It’s very difficult to predict this race and it has the potential to be either exciting and random or extremely boring. It seems a good idea to tune in to the Japanese commentary feed (the action below is not from Fontana but from a similarly shaped superspeedway oval course – the last lap provides the best entertainment).

The four title contenders will need to play to their strenghts and minimise the damage on bad days. Scott Dixon appears to be the best package overall as Power can be very strong in road and street races only for his title hopes to vanish with a DNF in Fontana. Castroneves has had ups and downs and it is difficult to see him doing 3 consecutive strong performances. Hunter-Reay has a decent chance and it would be really good to see a new Indycar champion, especially an American one. All in all a fascinating climax is shaping up in the 2012 Indycar season.


INDYCAR: Indianapolis 500 finish – LIKE!!

May 28, 2012

This year’s Indianapolis 500 finish was a thriller. Just like last year’s, but for very different reasons.

In 2011, if JR Hildebrand hadn’t done the favour of crashing in the last corner while leading, the final stint of the race would have been remembered as a fuel saving exercise. We had Bertrand Baguette staying out hoping for a yellow (there should be a law against someone called Bertrand Baguette winning the Indy 500). And the Ganassi cars, who had looked so strong all day, were out of contention because of fuel issues.

In 2012, there were no such situations. Pure racing until the very end was exactly what Indycar needed at the moment.

Formula 1 is too influenced by tyres, and Indycar is too influenced by fuel strategy. It needs to think through how to avoid excessive influence of this one single factor.

Special thanks to Takuma Sato – Indycar would not be the same without him and his kamikaze moves. Just like Kobayashi in F1, it’s not only about bringing the second biggest economy in the world into the sport. They definitely fulfil a higher purpose. Arigato!

INDYCAR: New Lotus press release

May 24, 2012

Lotus is pleased to announce its strategy to maximise brand exposure at the upcoming Indianapolis 500.

This carefully thought strategy consists of four main pillars:

1. Ensure our partners Judd build a really crap engine

Self explanatory.

2. Piss off the teams we supply by not giving them enough crap engines

Follow up with each individual team to make sure they dump us as an engine supplier and ideally sue. Keep a team or two to ensure publicity during the actual event.

3. Hire a 47 year old that never drove an oval and doesn’t drive open wheelers since 2001 as ambassador for the brand. Get him a place at the Indy 500

Self explanatory.

4. Maximise publicity by going very slowly in qualifying and the race

Ensure appropriate headlines such as:

“Lotus’ only hope of qualifying is that there are only 33 qualifiers for 33 spots”
“Jean Alesi qualifies for Indy 500 with a speed that would enable him to last start the race in 1988”
“Indy Lights running faster than Alesi”
“Lotuses black flagged after 5 laps for being too slow, no one was pitting at the time so maximum TV exposure attained”

Lotus is still working on this last point. Stay tuned for Sunday.


F1, INDYCAR: The worst corners in motorsport

May 23, 2012

Very good article…

F1, INDYCAR: The Lotus farce

May 4, 2012

Lotus has a F1 team with its name but it doesn’t own or sponsor it… Why does this work? The hypothesis is that team owner Gerard Lopez is either interested in buying Group Lotus or selling tge F1 team to them. If both these options come off the table then it makes no sense for the F1 team to continue carrying the name when it can monetise value with other potential sponsors.

Lotus also has an engine in Indycar which was actually built by Judd and is way behind other engines in the series… So two of their teams already gave up on them. Whether any of their cars qualifies for the Indy 500 remains to be seen.

Lotus Cars is struggling and its parent company just got sold. The world domination plans are likely to be shelved and their strategy of doing motorsport on the cheap is probably going to collapse.

What a farce.

UPDATE- Another Indycar team (Dragon Racing) has dumped Lotus and sued them over contract fraud. This leaves Simona de Silvestro’s HVM Racing as the only regular entry to use the “Lotus” engine. The farce continues.

INDYCAR: The verdict after two races

April 5, 2012

After two races it’s possible to make an initial assessment of the changes that Indycar has implemented for 2012. The introduction of the new ‘spec’ car and multiple engine providers has clearly worked well for the series and the performance issues in ovals do not seem to be too serious (the cars clocked averages of 218mph on a recent ┬átest at Indianapolis which mean that the organisers’ target to reach 225mph during the actual event are not unreasonable).

On the racing side, a boring race at the St. Petersburg street course was followed by a surprisingly good one at the Barber road course. This is interesting because over the past years Indycar has failed consistently to produce good races in road courses whilst the street courses tend to be more unpredictable and enjoyable to watch. Of course, the series also runs on ovals, but only five events are scheduled for 2012 – less than one third of the calendar. Races at ovals have suffered from poor attendance for years (even if the racing is good), partly because many tracks are owned by the International Speedway Corporation, a part of NASCAR that is unsurprisingly more interested in promoting NASCAR events. So Indycar has been forced to search for alternative venues, resulting in new street courses of very dubious quality (such as the one in Sao Paulo, Brazil).

Indycar needs to tackle this problem. Clearly the series would benefit from more ovals as this is the core of American racing and Indycar itself. Finding a couple of ovals abroad could be an option, especially in markets like Brazil that are already more familiar with the series. Something needs to be done about the awful street circuits as well.

Interesting to see how the next events will turn out to be. Long Beach is a classic and should go well whilst Sao Paulo, with a combination of a poor track and unpredictable weather, makes people wonder how Indycar cannot find a better venue in such an important market…

Indycar: Turbo nostalgia, what a sound…

March 26, 2012

Great sound from James Hinchcliffe’s new 2.2L turbo Chevy engine.

Looking forward to the return of turbos to F1 in 2014.

INDYCAR: American drivers

January 30, 2012

AJ Allmendinger’s victory in the Daytona 24h last Sunday has brought the spotlight on a driver who could have been the next big thing in American open wheel racing. Allmendinger won 5 Champcar races in 2006 but decided to move to NASCAR. His best finish in the Sprint Cup was 15th in 2011 and whilst that is a solid performance, it shows that ex-Indycar drivers moving to NASCAR prefer to be small fish in a big pond rather than big fish in a smaller pond. The best example is Sam Hornish Jr who moved over after winning three Indycar championships and one Indianapolis 500, yet he only achieved one victory (in NASCAR’s second tier) during 4 seasons of racing.

Indycar urgently needs more American talent. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti are decent drivers but have only 5 victories amongst them. Graham Rahal has the potential to become a title contender but has a big challenge in 2012 to show he can be a consistent front runner and finisher. JR Hildebrand has shown some potential and it will be interesting to see what newcomer Josef Newgarden can do. However, the series would benefit incredibly from a more established American name in a leading team. In particular, Penske Racing has three “foreign” drivers with Hornish and Allmendinger under their umbrella in NASCAR. Could one of them make a return to open wheel racing? Very difficult, but not impossible.

INDYCAR: A new beginning

January 29, 2012

Indycar and its CEO Randy Bernard are under pressure to respond to safety concerns after the recent accident as Las Vegas motor speedway that resulted in Dan Wheldon’s death.

For 2012 a new car is being introduced (a decision taken well before the accident) and engine competition will be present for the first time since 2006 with Honda, Lotus and Chevrolet participating in the series.

It will be interesting to see what the impact of the new car will be – from a safety point of view, it has been designed to avoid cars taking off after interlocking wheels (a cause of several serious accidents over the years including Wheldon’s), although it’s not clear if this will be effective in high speed oval tracks. The car also seem to be more difficult to drive in ovals which may lead to more driver errors but may also reduce the amount of “pack racing” seen in recent years (and certainly in the tragic Las Vegas race) where drivers running with similar cars and engined are flat out throughout the track and end up running in packs of cars, often three abreast, with no one being able to complete a clean overtake.

From a racing point of view, we may have opposing effects as well. It could be an opportunity for new teams to fight for the title as everyone will be struggling to find the right technical specs, or it may well be that the most resourceful teams (Penske and Ganassi) will be the only ones to make this difficult new car work and their dominance will increase as a result.

Engine competition is certainly positive as it will lead to higher differentiation between cars and possibly a power race, both factors being useful to reduce the “pack racing” effect.

The other response to safety concerns has been to reduce the number of races in ovals. Only 4 races are planned, down from 6 in 2011. It is common for race organisers to overreact following a serious accident but this decision raises some concerns as oval racing is core to Indycar and the races are way more interesting that road courses. The solution is not to avoid oval racing, but to make it work better from a safety point of view. The solution may require more radical steps than the new 2012 car (more horsepower / less downforce / different aero packages available) but sooner or later those decisions will need to be taken if Indycar has any hope to thrive – or indeed survive – in the years to come.

Indycar: Barfield rules

January 7, 2012

Indycar has appointed Beaux Barfield as its new Race Director, replacing Brian Barnhart who over the past few months has been under increasing pressure over a number of controversial decisions, culminating in a re-start order under rain at the New Hampshire race which led to a multi-car crash on the start/finish line. That decision had a very high stupid-o-meter score (not the least because someone could have been hurt) and, together with loss of support from team owners, drivers and fans, meant that CEO Randy Barnard was basically left with no choice but to replace him.

Indycar has a lot to improve in terms of rules. It is shocking how blocking rules was applied in non-oval courses with drivers being basically forced to leave the door open for others to pass and penalised for not doing so. Yes, it makes sense to apply a strict definition of blocking in an oval, where you don’t want cars chopping over one another at 220 mph, but in road courses the application of the rule always seems to generate unfair outcomes. Penalties for causing collisions were also applied in a rather inconsistent and ad hoc way (not that Indycar is alone in this matter, as F1 officials take similarly poor decisions) and that’s another area that Beaux Barfield will also need to have a look at.