Thursday, February 12, 2015

Season Review: Josef Newgarden

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:

Josef Newgarden
#67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

13th in points scoring 406 points

Best finish: 2nd (Iowa)
Worst finish: 30th (Indianapolis)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 10.8
Avg. Finish: 13.7
Change in position: -53

Grade: B

Josef Newgarden continues to show us that he can accomplish great things in this series. To be honest and frank, the two things that held him back from winning a race in 2014 were Ryan Hunter-Reay being a bit of a knucklehead in Long Beach and his team (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) letting him down on multiple occasions (this was highlighted by a pit blunder of epic proportions at Mid-Ohio).

Josef achieved the same average finishing position as he did in 2013, but he finished one place higher in the championship in 2014 and his average starting position saw a sharp turnaround from 17.5 in 2013 to 10.8 in 2014. If he can keep up the positive momentum in qualifying and find ways to finish around the top-five, Josef will be more than ready to make the jump into champion contention.

Josef also gets the benefit of this foreign concept to his time in Indycar: a teammate. Outside of the 2012 and 2014 Indianapolis 500s (Bryan Clauson, a rookie in 2012, and veteran Alex Tagliani in 2014), Josef has never had a teammate in Indycar. Having a teammate that can provide valuable feedback about the setups of the car and the way it handles is huge for the team as a whole. In the past, Josef was on his own. If he were a veteran of the series, this may not have been that big of a deal. But Josef was doing all of the setups on his own the first three years of his Indycar career, which is simply astonishing given what he and the team accomplished over that time. In 2015, the newly formed Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing will see Josef paired with oval ace and co-owner Ed Carpenter, and road course stud and GP2 race winner and part-time Indycar guy Luca Filippi.

One place I'd like to see Josef improve at is Indianapolis. He's always shown great pace there during time trials and qualifying, but when it came to the race, something goes wrong or he gets put into a poor position to compete. Other than that, I am proud to say that I am a big fan of Josef. It's hard to remain bias of this guy, as he's a pure delight to talk to in person and a guy that I want to see succeed. One of my life highlights was meeting him at Iowa, and then seeing him drive on to a P2 finish that same weekend. What a joy it was. Wish him nothing but the best in his 2015 season. Hopefully it's his best yet.

Josef Newgarden - Iowa Corn Indy 300: Day 1
Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt / Getty Images North America)

2014 grades so far:
Sebastian Saavedra - F


Stay tuned for P12 James Hinchcliffe!

-Matthew Hickey

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Season Review: Charlie Kimball

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:

Charlie Kimball
#83 Novo Nordisk Ganassi Racing

14th in points scoring 402 points

Best finish: 3rd (Detroit Race #2)
Worst finish: 31st (Indianapolis)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 16.3
Avg. Finish: 12.6
Change in position: 66

Grade: C

Charlie Kimball had a great 2013. I was a critic of him, as he had two very poor years to start his Indycar career (keep in mind that he's only driver for Chip Ganassi Racing), but 2013 looked like a new Charlie was rising out of the frame, finishing 9th in the championship while also notching his first career win at Mid-Ohio.

So after his best season, I expected a lot out of Charlie for the 2014 season. What did we get? 14th place in the standings. 14th. The only thing more underwhelming than his championship standing was his qualifying performances. CK was bogged down many times this season due to an inability to string together a solid qualifying effort. He did manage four top-five finishes, including a podium at Detroit Race #2. And he finished all but two races, an impressive stat.

But the problem with Kimball's season was that he either finished in the top-ten, or he came out of the race weekend salvaging little points. His non-top-ten finishing races included 20th (St. Pete), 23rd (Long Beach), 31st (Indianapolis), 18th (Houston Race #1), 17th (Pocono), 16th (Milwaukee), 21st (Sonoma), and 12th (Fontana). Crunching the numbers, Charlie's average point haul from the ten top-tens finishes was 26 points per race, which is what you get for finishing 7th. Charlie's average point haul for races he finished outside the top-ten was 17.3 points per race, which is what you get for finishing 13th. But that deserves an asterisk, because included in his non-top-ten finishes were all three triple crown races that fetch double points. At IMS, he got 25 points, largely from the qualifying bonus since he finished  31st and got a measly point. At Pocono, Charlie crossed the line in 17th but scored 26 points. At Fontana, he finished 12th and got 36 points.

So, in theory, double points saved Charlie from having a disastrous championship result. Without the double points and the Indianapolis qualifying bonus, Charlie would have averaged 10.5 points in the eight races he finished outside the top-ten in, or somewhere in between 19th and 20th place on the points scale. So, what this all means is Charlie Kimball is either feast or famine, good or bad. In order for Charlie to make a serious run at the championship, he will need to: a) limit the attrition b) finish in the top-ten c) qualify better, especially on road courses and d) get more podiums. If a couple of these goals are not met, then I'm afraid Charlie Kimball will only be remembered as the driver for the powerhouse team Chip Ganassi who fought the odds to race with diabetes and was nice to all his fans, but that's really it.

Charlie Kimball - ABC Supply Wisconsin 250: Day 2
Photo: Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images North America

2014 grades so far:
Mike Conway - B+
Mikhail Aleshin - B
Charlie Kimball - C
Jack Hawksworth - C+
Justin Wilson - C+
Carlos Huertas - D
Graham Rahal - D
Takuma Sato - D
Sebastian Saavedra - F


Stay tuned for P13 Josef Newgarden!

-Matthew Hickey

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Am I Missing Something? (Brasilia)

What on Earth is going on in Brazil?

We are now 43 days from Indycars taking the track at Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet (AINP) in Brazil's capital city, Brasilia. Now, normally I would be jacked to get the Indycar season going, but this year, I am becoming a mix of pissed-off and confused.

Every now and then, a picture will surface of the renovations taking place at AINP. I'm no expert, but the construction project seems to be very poor planned and not well executed. Most tracks that are renovated or brand new or done within three-six months prior to their next race at the very minimum (at least it seems like it is for NASCAR and F1). At this rate, Indycar will be lucky to have the the track ready a day before the first practice. Take a look for yourself:


A photo posted by IndyCar Series (@indycar) on










Am I the only one not alarmed at what is going on here? No pit lane, rubble in the middle of the track from torn down garages, turns not finished, asphalt being made on site? It's all disconcerting.

This has the potential to get ugly for Indycar. Not having the track ready in time for the first race of the season would be a black mark for Indycar. Although the race circuit was scheduled to be rennovated prior to Indycar selecting, Indycar officials still chose to go there. If things don't work out, Indycar's credibility would be taking a hit, and they can't be taking hits like this if it wants to establish itself as a premiere open wheel series in the world. One also wonders why AINP was chosen over other venues in Brazil or other venues in America and around the world. Interlagos would have been perfect.

Indycar has made note that they have a 'Plan B,' racing at  Autódromo Internacional Ayrton Senna (AIAS). Comparing AIAS to AINP is like comparing Nantucket to Nantucket with Jay Penske in town.  AINP is a virtual dump at the moment, and I hope this is just a case of me being negative. Hopefully someone in charge knows what they are doing.

Is this is a case of me being overly critical of a situation or do you all think I have an argument? Let me know what your thoughts on the situation are.

Thanks for reading!

-Matthew Hickey

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Season Review: Justin Wilson

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:

Justin Wilson
#19 Dale Coyne Racing

15th in points scoring 395 points.

Best finish: 4th (Detroit Race #1)
Worst finish: 21st (Texas)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 13.1
Avg. Finish: 12.3
Change in position: 13

Grade: C+

Justin Wilson had a very average year by his standards. On one hand, he signed on for another year with the small team at Dale Coyne Racing. On the other hand, Wilson has had plenty of success with the team in the past, especially in 2013. This season, Wilson only managed one top-five at Detroit. He seemed to play a minor role in races that normally would see him at the front.

The problem is that while Justin has had great success at Dale Coyne Racing, he needs to move on to greener pastures. KV Racing would be a perfect fit for him, making a strong team with Sebastien Bourdais. There's been talks of him moving to Andretti Autosport, though I have a tough time seeing that come to fruition. Wilson is without question one of the nicest guys in the Indycar paddock. He also has the innate ability to race everyone very aggressively, yet he keeps his nose clean and hardly ever causes trouble. This is very rare in a driver, making Wilson one of the best in the series. So logic would dictate that Wilson would and should be switching teams for 2015.

Wherever Wilson lands, can he recover after a very lethargic 2014 season? Or will he continue to be a non-factor at many of the races? One of the nicest people and most competitive in the paddock should see his name at the top of the stat sheet, let's hope he returns to his top-class form. Overall, a very average season for Wilson.


Justin Wilson - ABC Supply Wisconsin 250: Day 2
Photo: Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images North America

2014 grades so far:
Mike Conway - B+
Mikhail Aleshin - B
Jack Hawksworth - C+
Justin Wilson - C+
Carlos Huertas - D
Graham Rahal - D
Takuma Sato - D
Sebastian Saavedra - F


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for P14 Charlie Kimball.

-Matthew Hickey

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Season Review: Mikhail Aleshin

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:

Mikhail Aleshin
#7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

16th in points scoring 372 points.

Best finish: 2nd (Houston Race #2)
Worst finish: 25th (Grand Prix of Indianapolis)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 14.0
Avg. Finish: 14.2
Change in position: -3

Grade: B

I am still finding it so hard to believe that Mikhail Aleshin had the season that he that he had. It was fantastic! The biggest surprise was how good Mikhail was good on ovals. He took Rookie Orientation for the Indianapolis 500 in stride, with a giant smile on his face. He amazed all of us at Texas and Pocono, finishing brilliantly. He was also really good on road courses. He was so quick at Grand Prix of Indianapolis, before getting a penalty in qualifying, forcing him to start last. We know what happened next. Aleshin plowed into a stalled Sebastian Saavedra. A rough time for Aleshin.

Speaking of rought times, Aleshin had a lot of frightening moments. A big crash at Barber forced the race to end under yellow. As discussed, Aleshin had a big shunt at GPI with Saavedra. He wrecked at Iowa, and was pretty slow to get out of the car but was okay. In Toronto, Aleshin's car got wedged under Juan Pablo Montoya in pretty frightening fashion. We all feared that he had a head or neck injury, when in reality, the heat from the exhaust from Montoya's car is what put Mikhail in danger, as he said in his interview. And then, the nastiest of them all by far was the crash at Fontana during practice that could have been so much worse. He spun the car in the low lane, hit the wall in the top lane, and was then hit by Charlie Kimball, forcing him into the catch fence. It was one of the scariest crashes I've ever seen. Thankfully, Aleshin is "okay."

The worst part about Mikhail's season is that it might have been the only time that we will have seen Mikhail full-time in Indycar. Sanctions by the United States against Russian companies (ie his primary sponsors, SMP Bank) have forced Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to look for other ways to field Mikhail or find a new driver. With Sam Schmidt testing a host of new drivers, it looks like the show will go on without Mikhail. A shame because he was a joy to watch both on and off the track.

Mikhail Aleshin - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America

2014 grades so far:


Stay tuned for P15 Justin Wilson!

-Matthew Hickey