Thursday, October 30, 2014

Where Does the Schedule Rank?

In the past decade, the Indycar Series has seen a whole host of schedules; from the all-oval, traditional IRL-like schedule in 2004, to a doubleheader, road course filled schedule in 2014. With the new schedule being released, I compare it to my five favorite schedules from the last decade and how this schedule ranks compared to them (top 3 tracks are purely my opinion):

5. 2012 IZOD Indycar Series Season
Strengths: Good selection of road courses
Weaknesses: Only five ovals
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Baltimore 3) Auto Club Spedway
Grade: B-

The first season in the DW12 era had a lot of critics, but I wasn't one the biggest. My two problems with it was only 15 races long and it only had five ovals. Some of the highlights of the schedule was returning to Fontana for the first time since 2012, hosting a race in Baltimore (which I adamantly loved), and a return to Belle Isle. This was also the only DW12 season without doubleheaders (so far), which I'm not the biggest fan of. Saddest and maybe the best part of the schedule was the race at Edmonton, which once again used the 2011 layout which was fantastic. Not having two races in Canada to reward a loyal fan base is a joke, and it's something I think Indycar needs to fix. Overall, some things needed to be fixed but I liked it.

Rubens Barrichello of Brazil, drives the #8 BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Dallara Chevrolet during warm up for the IZOD IndyCar Series Edmonton Indy at Edmonton City Centre Airport on July 22, 2012 in Edmonton, Canada.
Rubens Barrichello with Edmonton in the backdrop (Photo: Chris Trotman / Getty Images North America)


4. 2010 Indycar Series Season
Strengths: Four different countries represented (Brazil, Canada, Japan, and USA), including the inaugural street race in Sao Paulo, a track I loved
Weaknesses: Streaks of road courses and ovals
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Chicagoland 3) Watkins Glen
Grade: B

What started out as a rocky season turned into a pretty cool year. A slippery straight at the new Sao Paulo race was refined into a great race that would last for several more seasons. Although Indycar no longer races there, it did get American Open Wheel back in Brazil. Barber Motorsports Park was also added for its Indycar debut, which has turned into a crown jewel for Indycar. The highlight of this season was it was the last year that Indycar ran at the thrilling Chicagoland Speedway, one of my all-time favorite tracks. Miss that track. The schedule was also famous for a 4-4-5-4 stretch of road courses, oval, road courses, ovals This came under attack by many fans, but I enjoyed it. It also made life easier for crews who didn't have constantly shift between road courses and ovals each week. Overall, a fairly nice schedule.

Ryan Briscoe of Australia in his #6 Team Penske Dallara Honda leads the field during  the Indy Car Series PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 on August 28, 2010 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Ryan Briscoe leads the field at Chicagoland in 2010 (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images North American)


3. 2005 IRL Indycar Series Season
Strengths: Integrating road courses into a traditional oval schedule
Weaknesses: No Canadian races
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Michigan 3) Watkins Glen
Grade: B

The 2005 Indycar schedule was a very innovative one. Indycar was looking to broaden their horizons, so they added St. Petersburg, Watkins Glen, and Sonoma to disrupt a traditional all oval schedule that the IRL was accustomed to. Other than putting three great road courses in the schedule, the schedule was highlighted by Indianapolis, Michigan, Chicagoland, and Auto Club Speedway. It was also the sad ending of two venues in Indycar in Pikes Peak and Phoenix. Thoroughly enjoyed the oval diversity as well as the first races with the IRL chassis on road courses.


Giorgio Pantano at Watkins Glen in 2005 (Photo: Steve Swope, Steve Swope Photography)


2. 2008 Indycar Series Season
Strengths: The successful merging of IRL's schedule and Champ Car's schedule
Weaknesses: Ended early in September (excluding October exhibition race)
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Chicago 3) Surfers Paradise
Grade: B+

The 2008 Indycar season is famous for the merging of Champ Car and IRL into one united Indycar series. The schedule, like the teams and drivers, were meshed together. Long Beach, Edmonton, Belle Isle, and Surfers Paradise. Speaking of Surfers Paradise, it was a part of the unification agreement that Indycar would travel to Australia to race an exhibition race at the famed Surfers Paradise, Ever since then, Indycar has not raced at Surfers Paradise. Loved the race and love that track. Wish they would go back there. Overall, I enjoyed the schedule in 2008.

Ryan Briscoe drives the #6 Team Penske Dallara Honda as he turns through the hairpin during the IRL Indy Car Series Nikon Indy 300 on October 26, 2008 on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Ryan Briscoe leads Scott Dixon at Surfers Paradise (Photo: Bradley Kanaris / Getty Images AsiaPic)


1. 2011 IZOD Indycar Season
Strengths: Bold schedule featuring new venues and ideas
Weaknesses: Untested markets, risky venues
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Baltimore 3) Edmonton (new layout)
Grade: A

Obviously (and for good reason), the 2011 Indycar season was overshadowed by a tragic ending to the season with the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Having said that, the schedule put together by Randy Bernard was brilliant (excluding Las Vegas for obvious reasons). New Hampshire was added which proved to be one entertaining oval. An alteration was made at Motegi, after earthquake damage forced Indycar to use the road course instead of the oval. A new layout to Edmonton turned a dull affair into a great race. A new format at Texas was tested, which would be a glimpse into the doubleheaders we are accustomed to nowadays. The best decision though was the race at Baltimore, which drew huge crowds and provided great racing. Although every race mentioned in this paragraph is no longer on the current Indycar schedule, I enjoyed the bravery and willingness to try new things and see how it would pan out.

General view of the track during the IZOD IndyCar Series Baltimore Grand Prix on September 4, 2011 on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland.
Indycar's roaring through downtown Baltimore (Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)


Now, some preliminary thoughts:


2015 Verizon Indycar Season
Strengths: Equitable mix of ovals and road/street courses
Weaknesses: Length of schedule and the finale
Top 3 tracks: 1) Indianapolis 2) Iowa 3) Long Beach
Grade: B-

I like this schedule in many ways. The series has made a lot of strides since 2012 with a short 15 race schedule. The biggest difference between 2014 and 2015 is that there will only be one doubleheader instead of three, with the doubleheader being at Detroit. Toronto, which was speculated to be in trouble of securing a date, returns to the schedule as a single race rather than a doubleheader. Fontana moves from its normal finale spot to round 12 on the schedule in June. Taking its place as the finale is Sonoma, which is a bit of a head-scratcher. Not a flashy venue, nor does it produce the greatest of racing. It is, however, in a nice area of the country and is a nice facility, so corporate sponsors could flock to see the last race of the season. The major plus to the schedule is the adding of two new venues at Brasilia, Brazil and NOLA Motorsports Park in Lousiana. In addition to this, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the thrilling venue that held its first race last season, is back again for 2015. Overall, the six natural terrain road course races, five street races, and six ovals is a great split. In a perfect world, there would be one additional race per category, but on the whole, it was a very good effort by Mark Miles and company.

Ryan Hunter-Reay drives the #28 Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda ahead of the field after a restart during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Cars roll around the Grand Prix circuit at Indianapolis in 2014 (Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images North America)


Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Thursday, October 16, 2014

10 Favorite Wheldon Moments

Throughout his great career, there were many moments that made me cherish and appreciate Dan Wheldon. On the third anniversary of his death, I look back 10 of my favorite Dan Wheldon moments:

10) Dan consoles a disgruntled Tony Kanaan at Watkins Glen in 2007
Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish Jr. got into a disagreement on the track that boiled over into the pits. Sam Hornish Sr. proceeded to shove TK, starting a brawl after Hornish Sr. was tackled by a third party member. Later on (see video below), anyone who watched the video can see one Dan Wheldon, former teammates with Kanaan at Andretti Green Racing, attempting to calm down and console TK. It was a moment that stood out to the caring and humility of Dan.

                    


9) Dan and Danica skirmish
Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick got into an "altercation" following an incident that occurred during the 2007 race at the Milwaukee Mile. Dan was on the outside of Danica going into turn one, when Dan came down on Danica, sending her into a half-spin and causing her damage. After the race, Danica took exception to Dan's on track actions, grabbing his arm and telling him something along the lines of, "Get off my lawn." This incident highlighted the relationship that Dan and Danica had for the first several years of her career.

Dan and Danica "chat" (Photo: SPEED)

8) Dan wins inaugural race in adopted hometown
Dan Wheldon captured the first road course win in the then IRL in his American hometown in St, Petersburg, Florida. Not only did Dan win, but his teammates (Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, and Bryan Herta) finished right behind him, making for a rare 1-2-3-4 finish. This victory would later grow in significance as Dan's love for the city of St. Petersburg grew.

Dan on his way to a win (Photo credit not given)


7) Dan and Robin Miller do the inaugural grid run on NBCSN
Dan was a very funny guy. Left without a ride during the 2011 season, Dan took his talents to Indycar broadcaster NBC Sports Network. The Indycar champ joined longtime Indycar journalist Robin Miller on a Martin Brundle-like grid run before the race. It was nothing short of gold. It was great to watch!

               
                                                              Video: Indy44


6) Dan walks away from 2003 Indianapolis 500
My first Indianapolis I ever attended will forever be highlighted by a frightening one car crash involving Wheldon. Through the North short shoot, Wheldon lost control, turned 90 degrees, and then flipped over onto his lid. After a very frightening crash, Wheldon walked away unscathed. A scary moment and a bullet dodged for Wheldon and other drivers on the track.

Photo: Indycar Media

5) Dan wins first Indianapolis 500
Two years after his frightening crash (see #6 on the list), Dan went on to win the race that he loved so much: The Indianapolis 500. The road was tough, as Dan started 16th. After fighting his way through the field, Dan passed Danica Patrick (who did in fact did not win the 2005 Indianapolis 500) on his way to the win. Wheldon was looked at differently after that win, as many, including myself, saw him as an elite driver.

Photo: USA Today

4) Dan wins at Iowa on his birthday
I was one of the lucky ones who got to see Dan Wheldon win, On his birthday, June 22, 2008 (30th birthday), Dan drove to what eventually amounted to his last win with Chip Ganassi Racing. Iowa Speedway was always one of his favorites, and 2008 was no different. After winning, Dan announced that he would donate all of his winnings to help the relief effort in Iowa after massive floods. What a class act.

Dan Wheldon Dan Wheldon, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda celebrates winning the IRL Indycar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 on June 22, 2008 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.
Photo: Darrell Ingham / Getty Images North America

3) "Who gives a shit"
The video has since disappeared, but there was a clip of Dan being interviewed that was played during the 2005 season, I believe at Texas, where he was asked about his thoughts on all of the Danica Patrick hype. His response? "Who gives a shit?" That made me a fan for life.


2) Dan wins at Homestead, 2006
Dan won a heavy hearted race at Homestead in 2006. The race was held despite the fatal crash that claimed the life of Paul Dana in a practice session earlier that weekend. Dan, driving in his first race with Chip Ganassi Racing, fought for several laps with Helio Castroneves. Wheldon made his move to the outside with the white flag being shown. As they game down the checkers, Dan lurched ahead of Helio, claiming the win in dramatic fashion.

Photo: Washington Post

1) Dan wins the 2011 Indianapolis 500
Easily my favorite Dan Wheldon moment was his last win, which just happened to be at the Indianapolis 500, and which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500. Dan, who wasn't upfront all race, capitalized on the misfortunes of JR Hildebrand to claim the win (that was also the only lap he led). Dan showed so many great emotions and sheer happiness after the win, and it was just amazing. It could not have happened to a nicer guy. A great win for a great driver.

Dan Wheldon Dan Wheldon of England, driver of the #98 William Rast-Curb/Big Machine Dallara Honda, celebrates at the start/finish line after winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo: Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images North America


We all lost a little bit of something three years ago. Some were close friends with Dan. Some supported him since his Indycar debut in 2002, And some were just casual fans of his. One thing we can all agree on is Dan's legacy is something that will live on for decades.

Hoping the entire Wheldon got through the day with strength and love from friends and family. We all miss Dan so much, Thank you for your courage in times of hardship.

-Matthew Hickey

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Driving List

Ever wondered the great list of Indycar drivers you have seen over the years? I got that curiosity and made a list of all of the drivers that I have seen through the years. First off, here are the thirteen races that I have attended:

  • 1999 Emerson Indy 250, Gateway International Speedway (CART)
  • 2002 Grand Prix at Road America, Road America (CART)
  • 2003, 2006, and 2012 Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • 2007-2014 Iowa Corn Indy 250/300, Iowa Speedway
And here is the list of  the 108 drivers that competed in the 13 races I have atteneded, with the amount of times I have seen them race next to their name:


Tony Kaanan 13
Helio Castroneves 12
Scott Dixon 11
Dario Franchitti 10
Marco Andretti 10
Ed Carpenter 9
Graham Rahal 8
Justin Wilson 8
Ryan Hunter-Reay 8
EJ Viso 7
Ryan Briscoe 7
Will Power 7
Alex Tagliani 6
Dan Wheldon 6
Danica Patrick 6
Oriol Seriva 6
Takuma Sato 6
Vitor Meira 6
Charlie Kimball 5
James Hinchcliffe 5
Simona de Silvestro 5
Buddy Rice 4
James Jakes 4
Josef Newgarden 4
Michael Andretti 4
Mike Conway 4
Sebastian Saavedra 4
Simon Pagenaud 4
Tomas Scheckter 4
AJ Foyt IV 3
Al Unser Jr. 3
Hideki Mutoh 3
Jacques Lazier 3
Jimmy Vasser 3
JR Hildebrand 3
Mario Moraes 3
Michel Jourdain Jr. 3
Milka Duno 3
Sam Hornish Jr. 3
Sarah Fisher 3
Scott Sharp 3
Sebastien Bourdais 3
Adrian Fernandez 2
Airton Dare 2
Alex Barron 2
Alex Lloyd 2
Ana Beatriz 2
Bruno Junqueira 2
Bryan Herta 2
Buddy Lazier 2
Christian Fittipaldi 2
Cristiano da Matta 2
Darren Manning 2
Felipe Giaffone 2
Gil de Ferran 2
Jeff Simmons 2
Juan Pablo Montoya 2
Katherine Legge 2
Kenny Brack 2
Koskue Matsuura 2
Max Papis 2
Patrick Carpentier 2
Paul Tracy 2
PJ Jones 2
Raphael Matos 2
Richie Hearn 2
Robby Gordon 2
Roger Yasukawa 2
Rubens Barrichello 2
Shigeaki Hattori 2
Shinji Nakano 2
Tora Takagi 2
Townsend Bell 2
Arie Luyendyk Jr. 1
Bertrand Baguette 1
Billy Boat 1
Bryan Clauson 1
Carlos Huertas 1
Carlos Munoz 1
Dennis Vitolo 1
Eddie Cheever 1
Enrique Bernoldi 1
Greg Moore 1
Greg Ray 1
Jack Hawksworth 1
Jaime Camara 1
Jean Alesi 1
Jeff Bucknum 1
Jimmy Kite 1
John Andretti 1
Larry Foyt 1
Mario Dominguez 1
Mario Romancini 1
Marty Roth 1
Mauricio Gugelmin 1
Mikhail Aleshin 1
PJ Chesson 1
Robbie Buhl 1
Robby McGehee 1
Robert Doornbos 1
Roberto Moreno 1
Scott Pruett 1
Stephan Gregoire 1
Tarso Marques 1
Thiago Medeiros 1
Tony Renna 1
Tristan Vautier 1
Wade Cunningham 1


Lot of great names on this list! I have been lucky enough to make it to plenty of races and to see names like Franchitti, Moore, Barrichello, Andretti, Renna, Tracy, Fittipaldi, Montoya, and Dixon.

Number one driver I've seen most on my list is Tony Kanaan. I have been to 13 races and Tony Kanaan has raced at all 13. He's one driver I definitely don't want to see retire anytime soon. He's been a privilege to watch.

The best driver I ever got to see race was Dan Wheldon. Wheldon was so aggressive yet so smart in the way he raced. He really knew how to push the car and to come home with points. At the same time, he added to the race experience off the track, taking time to talk to all of the fans. What a joy it was to watch him race.

Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan - Honda Indy 200
Wheldon leads Tony Kanaan in 2008 (Photo: Darrell Ingham / Getty Images North America)

I'm sure many of you folks, especially some of you more seasoned people, have a far better list than I. After all, I'm only 20. Which drivers highlight your list and who was your favorite driver you've ever seen race?! Let me know and thanks for reading!

-Matthew Hickey

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Season Review: Takuma Sato

In a series of blogs that will be featured throughout the offseason, I review and talk about 21 full-time drivers in addition to extended part time drivers (Carpenter and Conway) in an honest and opinionated format. I would ask you to share your opinions on my thoughts as well as your thoughts on the driver and their season. Enjoy:

Takuma Sato
#14 AJ Foyt Enterprises

18th in points scoring 350 points.

Best finish: 4th (Sonoma)
Worst finish: 23rd (Toronto Race #1)

Wins: 0
Poles: 2
Avg. Start: 12.6
Avg. Finish: 15.5
Change in position: -53

Grade: D

A scary parallel can be drawn from the 2013 season that Takuma Sato had to the 2014 season. Strikingly and rather scarring, Sato had the same average start last year as he did this year (12.6). Although his average finish barely improved (from 16.0 in 2013 to 15.5 this year), it still isn't good enough. And each season was accompanied by a terrible, terrible mid portion of the season. Last year, Sato only managed to finish one race out of the last ten. This year, Sato finished no better than 18th in nine straight races, including a string of six straight DNFs. He did manage to bring his change position up.... From -64 to -53. The only read his grade wasn't lower is because of steady qualifying, quick pace at some races, and a host of mechanical issues. He's also at a one car team, which is becoming a bit of a dinosaur as of recently.

Listen, Takuma Sato is a great driver. He may not have the best equipment, but he just needs to use his head at certain points. I don't see any reason why Sato would be back in 2015. Speculation persists that Jack Hawksworth may be making a move to the team. It's also worth noting that Indycar hopeful Conor Daly did race for Foyt back in 2013 at the Indianapolis 500. I see either one of them, or any host of drivers, replacing an embattled Sato. Whatever happens, I have enjoyed watching Sato's fearless and brave driving style.

Takuma Sato - GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma: Day 2
Photo: Todd Warshaw / Getty Images North America

Up-to-date 2014 report card:
Mike Conway - B+
Carlos Huertas - D
Graham Rahal - D
Takuma Sato - D

Stay tuned for P17 Jack Hawksworth!

-Matthew Hickey

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Season Review: Graham Rahal

In a series of blogs that will be featured throughout the offseason, I review and talk about 21 full-time drivers in addition to extended part time drivers (Carpenter and Conway) in an honest and opinionated format. I would ask you to share your opinions on my thoughts as well as your thoughts on the driver and their season. Enjoy:

Graham Rahal
#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

19th in points scoring 345 points.

Best finish: 2nd (Detroit Race #1)
Worst finish: 33rd (Indianapolis)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 14.4
Avg. Finish: 15.0
Change in position: -10

Grade: D

What is there to say about Graham Rahal's season? On one hand, I really do feel for the guy. I just think the car he has is absolutely terrible. He's kind of hitched himself to a shitty wagon at his dad's team. Somewhere between 2012, where Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing showed a lot of pace with Takuma Sato behind the wheel and the last two years they've lost some serious pace.

The team got all of this National Guard money (which they did nothing with and which won't be there in 2015) and some new engineers (specifically veteran and proven-winner Bill Pappas) and they got worse stats compared to 2013 with less full-time entries out there, from P18 to P19. If I'm a potential sponsor being woo'd by the Rahal's for money in 2015, I couldn't possibly find the merit to coughing up $10 million for a failing operation.

To be clear, I like Graham Rahal. The show he put on in Detroit Race #1 and Iowa was great. He does a lot of great things off the track and is one of the most social drivers on Twitter. But ever since joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, he's been a bit of a joke. Several bad races, including a P33 at Indianapolis, overshadows the positives they had. The team and Graham said their setups were off in 2013. Were they just off again in 2014? Graham thought that Bill Pappas was the answer after a test in Sebring.

It was clear to RLLR that change was necessary, so they fired their engineering staff, including Pappas. Now where do they go? No engineer is going to want to get poached if they see what happened over the last two years.

And at what point does Graham either move on and try his hand somewhere else? Or does Bobby make the move to go with a different driver? If the team has another rough season in 2015, I think something will have to give.

Graham Rahal - Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images North America

2014 Grades so far:
Mike Conway - B+
Carlos Huertas - D
Graham Rahal - D


Stay tuned for P18 Takuma Sato!

-Matthew Hickey