Friday, April 29, 2011

Sao Paulo Preview

First off, congrats to 2004 Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice for joining Panther Racing for the Indy 500! The more 500 winners in the field, the better! What a year it's going to be!

And so we come to the last race on the schedule before the Indy 500, the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 Presented By Nestle. Last year’s race was a wild, exciting charge, featuring a course full of rough bumps, solid passing areas, and some leader changes up front. This year, the track has been repaved to be a bit more uneven, but if we get close to the race we had last year, we’re in for a treat. Will Power would very much like to repeat as winner here, obviously, but with the way this season’s gone so far, very few results would surprise me. Let’s look at a few of the big storylines and aspects of IndyCar’s Jaunt To Brazil:

Homecoming: Helio Castroneves, Ana Beatriz, Vitor Meira, Tony Kanaan, and Rafa Matos are Indy’s current Brazilian crop of drivers. This should be a fun weekend for all of them, and ideally, they’ll perform well for their nation’s IndyCar fans this week. Meira placed third here last year, and now that he’s a new dad as well (congrats!), a win here would be extremely special indeed.

Start Status: As everyone remembers, last year’s race ended up with Mario Moraes’ car on top of Marco Andretti’s within the first 30 seconds of the race. Turn 1 has been expanded this year; we’ll see if this year’s start is a carnivale of cautions. Hopefully, we’ll also see a start this week that looks like a proper double-file and not a lurching, strung-out conga line.

TV Coverage: Poor Kevin Lee. He’s the Man on the Ground for Versus, and he’s going to have a lot of real estate to cover. Everyone else will be sitting comfortably back in the studio in the U.S.A., commenting on the action from their feed. This can at times make for a disjointed telecast, so if you’re hoping this is the week Versus irons out a few of those niggling production bumps, manage your expectations.

Who’s Legit?: Drivers such as Tony Kanaan, Alex Tagliani, Oriol Servia, Simona de Silvestro, Vitor Meira, and rookie James Hinchcliffe have been mixing it up with the traditional front-runners. The results this week could shed a little light on who really belongs consistently towards the front of the field. Given their performances thus far, I wouldn’t count out any of these guys.

Last year's Sao Paulo podium.
Andretti Autosport: What a mixed season for Andretti Autosport thus far. Plenty of incidents through the first three races, but Mike Conway gets his first series victory at Long Beach. Ryan Hunter-Reay (2nd) and Mike Conway (8th) were both very good at this track last year; RHR will try to make the sting of that mechanical failure at Long Beach go away just a little with a great result here. This race should be a good barometer of whether AA is back on track, or if the season struggles aren’t quite through.

Sebas Struggles: Sebastien Bourdais has had a horrific start to his partial season. Brazil will be his last chance to register a good result with Dale Coyne for awhile, because he won’t be competing at Indy or the other ovals on the schedule. It would be nice if he could grab a Top 10 to begin his hiatus on a bit of a positive note.

Viso Watch: You know the drill by now. Let’s see if he breaks the streak of incidents and has a clean weekend. For the record, he did finish here last year in (12th place).

Sato’s Progression: Taku managed to finish last week’s race a few laps down after an incident. Sato’s looked a lot better this week, so hopefully he can give his believers out there some more ammo with another great performance. I’m sure Dallara is hoping for the exact opposite result. Another incident this week, and those “same old Sato” cries will grow louder, fairly or no.

May Day!: After this race, expect everyone to shift hardcore into Indy 500 mode almost immediately. Performances thus far (even though we’re talking about twisty vs. oval) will be mercilessly dissected, and we know that we’ll probably see a few full-time drivers not make the field at Indy. In the battle for TEAM money, getting a good result wherever you can has the potential to really make the difference. That’s well ahead of where we are, but be warned: it’s coming.

Pole: Will Power

Win: Helio Castroneves. His funk can’t last all season, and I like him to break out here in a big way.

Check back with us on Monday for a recap of the weekend's action! And if you're following us on Twitter, we'll do another little contest this weekend!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

500 Thoughts: The Festival And Rick Mears

As I mentioned last week, I’ll be doing a series of articles talking about the Indy 500, its personal meaning to me, and some recollections I have of the same. Today’s story is all about the 1988 500 Festival Parade and my favorite driver Rick Mears.

It was 1988, and my dad worked at a now-defunct furniture business in downtown Indianapolis. I was all of 8 years old, and was convinced that Rick Mears was the fastest driver on the face of the earth. Every year, I would bet my grandpa $1 that Rick Mears would win the Borg-Warner trophy. I got Mears, he got the other 32 drivers. I considered it a fair bet, if perhaps a bit lopsided towards my side.

Rather than take seats along the parade route, that year my dad had a special treat. We took the ancient service elevator to the top floor of his work, and ascended a short staircase to the roof. We had a perfect view of the main parade route, and I marveled at it all. I knew Rick Mears was going to be in that parade, waving to the crowd. In my mind he had already won the 500 against Fittipaldi and Unser a dozen times, shooting past them in the turns with ease. I thought (and still think!) that yellow #5 Pennzoil PC-18 was one of the most awesome cars I had ever seen. And now I was going to see my hero in this parade.

After what seemed an eternity, the parade started. I endured what seemed to be dozens of marching bands; I was indifferent to most of the floats. I seem to remember Robocop waving from a car, but little else from that wait stands out.

Suddenly, I saw the glint down the line, and there came Rick, riding in the back of a gleaming convertible, in the front row as befitted his status as Pole Winner that year. I started yelling as he got closer, waving frantically. I was too high up; he couldn’t hear me. I tried against, shouting as loud as I could and gesturing from my building perch. Still nothing.

Now his convertible was passing directly below our building. There he was! And he couldn’t hear me! I gave it one last shot, found about 40 decibels I didn’t know I had, and shouted Rick’s name one last time….

Rick looked up, caught my eye, and waved right at me.

Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen from all the shouting, but you could have knocked me over with a feather.

In the years that followed, I would fall away from Indy for a while, but I never forgot Rick Mears’ waving to that screaming kid on top of a building. It’s memories like that bring you back to Indy, whatever detours you might take along the way.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Six Quick Questions With Nick Andries

Today's Six Quick Questions feature is with one of the American drivers charging hard up the Mazda Road to Indy. Nick Andries is in his second year of Star Mazda racing, most recently coming back from a 9th-place start to finish 2nd at Barber's Round 2 of the Star Mazda Championship. Below Nick answers some questions about his background, his toughest competitors in Star Mazda, and a peek of what the drivers do between races:

Nick, thanks for your time, and congratulations on your podium at Barber. Can you give us a little of your racing background, as well as your eventual goals in motorsport?

NA: Thank You, Barber was a awesome race! I started racing locally in St. Petersburg, FL, when I was 5 years old. Eventually I started racing around the state of Florida and around the US. I had lots of fun racing karts and at that level it was just me and my Dad working on my karts as a "privateer" type of team. I won a few Florida state championships and finished 5th in on the national level twice. When I was about 16 I did my first Skip Barber school and a year later I did my second school to make me eligible to race. Another year later I did my first Skip Barber race. A few months later I won a scholarship from the Skip Barber scholarship shootout to race in the Skip Barber Regional series. I won 12 of 14 races to win the championship and Rookie of the Year. Last year I raced a full season of Skip Barber National and also joined the Star Mazda Championship partially though the season. This year, I am 100% focused on Star Mazda and winning the 2011 Championship. My goal is to become a IZOD IndyCar driver using the Mazda Road to Indy.

Next Stop: Night Before The 500!
The Mazda Road to Indy should see an opportunity for the Star Mazda champion to move up the ladder to Indy Lights. In your experience, is that something really pushing/motivating your fellow drivers right now?

NA: Yes, of course! The Mazda Road to Indy is giving drivers the best opportunities to advance their careers toward IndyCar. I think that is why more and more foreign drivers are coming to the states to compete. Not only does Star Mazda have a great prize package that includes a scholarship to Indy Lights but Mazda Road to Indy starts in Skip Barber and continues all the way to IndyCar! If the Mazda Road to Indy does not motivate a driver to compete for the championship, I don't know what will.

Which track on the schedule are you most looking forward to, and why?

NA: My hometown race at St. Petersburg, but since St.Petersburg Grand Prix already passed I will have to say the "Night Before the 500" race at Lucas Oil Raceway. I did a Star Mazda test there last year, but could not do the race, so I'm looking forward to that race. Also, I think just the atmosphere around Indy at that time of year is awesome and the stands will be packed as we race under the lights so I can't wait until that race!

Who are your toughest competitors on the track, and who in Star Mazda right now challenges you the most?

NA: I definitely have to say one of my biggest competitors is my teammate Connor De Phillippi. Connor has already won at this level and is always quick, but it is something I feel is a good thing because at the same time we are teammates and we help each other push ourselves to the fastest two guys in the series. It's hard to tell after two races but also Tristan Vautier is a veteran in this car and is extremely fast, JV Horto is quick as well, as is Martin Scuncio.

There's a pretty good lull in the schedule between Barber and the next Star Mazda event, the Night Before The 500 at Lucas Oil Raceway. What do you do in the interim?

NA: Yeah, we have about a month and a half off but it doesn't go to waste. I'm using this time to make sure my school work is in order and put in solid hours at the gym because the ovals are really demanding from a physical standpoint. I will also do some iRacing especially since I have never been to Milwaukee, with iRacing I can at least figure out where I'm going before I get to the track.

You're currently in college for Mechanical Engineering, right? Do you see yourself taking a more behind-the-scenes role one day in racing, or does the driving side of the sport call louder to you?

NA: Yes, I am working toward a mechanical engineering degree. I want to take the driving side of the sport as far as I can; without a doubt that's what I want to do. One reason I am studying mechanical engineering is because if driving the cars doesn't work out I like the possibility of working behind the scenes. I have always had a interest in the dynamics of how the car works.

You can follow Nick through his website or over at the Star Mazda Championship site.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Friday 15: Between Long Beach and Brazil

It’s a quiet Easter weekend for us fans, but the teams are getting ready for next week’s race in Sao Paulo Brazil. Here at IndyCar Advocate, it’s time for to check out the Friday 15, where we run down and comment on the Top 15 in points for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Again, position change from the previous week’s place is shown red parentheses.

1) Dario Franchitti, 122 points (+1)
When’s the last time at least one Ganassi car didn’t qualify in the Firestone Fast 6? That’s what happened at Long Beach. Dario’s car didn’t seem to have enough to win, but consistent podiums will go far towards his championship repeat efforts.

2) Will Power, -7 (-1)
Taken out by one’s own teammate? Why, it’s practically Shakespearean! I really thought Power would have at least two road/street victories by this point in the season, but that’s the sort of year it’s been. Sao Paulo is another great opportunity for him to leapfrog Dario for the top spot.

3) Tony Kanaan, -35 (Unchanged)
While not quite as awe-inspiring as his performance in the first two races, TK’s a win or a single slip by the gentlemen in first and second place from being right at the top of the points standings.

4) Oriol Servia, -42 (+2)
Awesome accent? Check. Consistent, excellent driving? Check. A maneuver to avoid the Power/Helio spin that was, in a word, magnificent? Yep. Oriol Servia and the rest of the crew at a resurgent Newman/Haas are great for the competitive level of this series.

5) Mike Conway, -48 (+19)
Because of Conway’s quiet, placid demeanor, I think we sort of lose sight of what an awesome accomplishment this is. Conway’s rehab to come back from the wreck last year at Indy was not an easy or a sure thing. Yet in his third race back, he takes the checkered flag. If he drives again like he did in this one, I’m not sure that’s his only victory this year. And yes, he gained the most spots in point this week, improving to here from 24th place.

6) Alex Tagliani, -49 (+3)
Sam Schmidt got himself a hell of a deal, didn’t he? I’m not sure if Tag is going to win a race this year, but he’s going to put some fear into the bigger teams all the way through. He should flirt with the Top 5 or so on the twisties more often than not.

7) Scott Dixon, -56 (-3)
Scotty’s getting pretty irate with Helio Castroneves after race incidents that cost him position and points. Actually, Dixon’s been pretty emotive this year, as opposed to the old perception of him being indistinguishable from one of his cardboard cutouts. I like it.

8) Ryan Briscoe, -56 (+17)
Briscoe’s one of our big movers this week, jumping from 25th to 8th by merit of his 2nd-place run last weekend. “Big mover” seems pretty suitable, given that Penske Truck Rental sponsorship.

9) Simona de Silvestro, -56 (-4)
Not a great weekend for the Swiss Miss. Her average finish through her first three races of 2010 was 17.7. Her average finish so far in 2011 is 11.0. If she wants to keep that going at Brazil, it’d be nice to see her qualify a bit better this weekend than she has been.

10) Vitor Meira, -58 (Unchanged)
The Foyt team has been pretty consistent this year, but a lot of Vitor’s races make you think “if only”. It always seems like there’s an incident or the chips don’t fall in his favor. He finished 3rd at Brazil last year; we’ll have to see what he’s got for that circuit this year.

Meira: Not Slow, But Steady

11) Danica Patrick, -65 (+5)
A very clean 7th-place finish for Danica last weekend. It was also perhaps the least she’d been discussed on-air during an IndyCar telecast that I can remember.

12) Raphael Matos, -65 (Unchanged)
Rafa finished just out of the Top 10 at St. Pete. A good result at Sao Paulo would be a big boost to the AFS team coming into Indy, where Rafa’s going to have some demons to exorcise.

13) Takuma Sato, -66 (-5)
After a reasonably clean start to his season, Taku had an incident with Graham Rahal this past weekend leaving him 4 laps down. Have we seen the real Sato yet? If so, is it St. Pete Sato or Long Beach Sato? He might be the one driver in Brazil where there is no result that would shock me.

14) Helio Castroneves, -66 (-3)
It seems inconceivable, but if Helio doesn’t figure out his braking issues and show something soon, he could finish the year out of or barely in the Top 10. That said, this is still a Penske entry, Indy is still ahead of us, and there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

15) Marco Andretti, -68 (-8)
Before the season started, I predicted Andretti Autosport would grab 2-3 wins this year. Marco’s still fully capable of grabbing one of them, but these early-season wrecks have to be frustrating. Mario Moraes’ car ended up on top of him in the first 30 seconds of last year’s season opener at Sao Paulo, so he’s got to be hoping for a little more race longevity this time around.

Falling out of the Top 15 after Long Beach? That’d be Justin Wilson (15th to 18th), JR Hildebrand (13th to 16th), and Charlie Kimball (14th to 19th). The big mover was James Hinchcliffe, moving up to 17th from 27th. If Brazil’s even close to Long Beach in terms of Hinch’s performance, he should crack the Top 15 right after.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts On The Indy 500

We still have one more race to go before the Month of May and the glory that is the Indianapolis 500 arrives, but I am ready. If you’re anything like me, I suspect you’ve been ready for this year’s 500 since the end of the last Indy 500.

The 500 can be overwhelming; there are so many traditions, so much history, so many fan sub-groups that believe this thing or that is essential to the 500 experience. For me, it’s always an emotional event as well, this year doubly so. This is the Centennial—an once-in-a-lifetime event within an once-in-a-lifetime event, if that makes sense. There’s this feeling that whatever passes this year will never pass again. Some of the drivers we see this year will never get close to Indy again. Others will win there in their own time. But for every 500, the field is unique. Every May has its own feel, one that never goes away or can quite be forgotten, even though the long years might blend together. There’s a sense of fraternity there, a common experience, whether we sat in the Paddock, in J Stand, in the infield, or simply listened to it from half a world away.

Some people think it’s silly to be so emotionally tied to a place, let alone a race track. But Indy matters—we know it does—and it comes to represent something different to everyone. For some of us, it’s the warm remembrances of childhood. For others, it’s the memorial to lost heroes, whether they departed behind the wheel at Indy or on a forsaken battlefield in a strange land. For still others, it is a sense of the weight of history and legacy…the roar of crowds long gone, pioneers of speed who traversed these same spaces. For many, it is all this, and more.

When you get older, at some point, you realize you can’t go home again. For good or for ill, we’ll never be 10 years old again, proudly visiting the Speedway with our dad, or listening as a family on the radio, waiting to see if the driver we drew would end up taking the checkered flag. But even as it changes, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a constant, in a world that all too often tears down sentiment.

Leading up to the 500, you’ll be seeing me talk more and more about my personal recollections of Indy, thoughts, and feelings I have towards this race. I hope we all take the time this year to put aside—just for a moment—all the worries and wears of the sport and life itself, and appreciate what we have been given to celebrate at Indy this May.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pippa Mann: Can She Do It?

I just wanted to share a few thoughts regarding the news we received today that Pippa Mann will be part of the entry list for those trying to make this year’s Indy 500 field.

Pippa's Conquest Begins!
We’re looking at probable 39-41 entries for this year’s race; a lot of good drivers and good programs will, by misfortune or other circumstance, find themselves on the sideline of this year’s race after Bump Day. As a rookie, Mann will be doubly challenged, but let’s look at her circumstances: can she make it in this field?

The Team: Conquest isn’t considered a top-tier team in IndyCar right now, but with two rookies last year (Romancini and Baguette), they put both solidly in the field. Without a doubt, this team can deliver a car capable of qualifying well for Indy. Don't sell this team short.

The Driver: Pippa absolutely caught fire in the last half of the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights season, winning at Kentucky and giving it a good run elsewhere. All reports from her preseason test with Conquest were overwhelmingly positive. She won the pole at Indy last year for the Firestone Freedom 100, before being taken out on a thoughtless first-lap incident. She’s focused, and she’ll be ready.

We’re talking about the Indy 500. It’s frustrated and denied some of the best drivers in the world. This year’s field will be strong, sure, but it’s my opinion Pippa has as good a chance as anyone to get in the field. Knowing how much my daughter looks up to her and will be pulling for her, I’ll be cheering her on to do just that.

(Image Courtesy of IndyCar Media)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Long Beach Recap: Conway Does It

Wow.

Um...

Wow.

OK, so I'm not the most eloquent today, but what we witnessed yesterday was a tremendous, emotional win for Mike Conway and Andretti Autosport. By know we've all processed that almost a year ago, this guy had a horrific, horrific accident at Indy, and he's come all the way back to win at Long Beach. But what some are forgetting is his signing with Andretti was met with some puzzlement/surprise by many, and disappointment by a few. Yesterday, Mike Conway put paid to any critics, with a performance that counts among the most masterful we've seen. Simply put, he dominated on the last restart; passing those in front of him as if he could not be stopped. And, as it turns out, he couldn't.

Welcome back, Mike!
Let's take a look at how many of the other stories of the weekend played out.

Indy Lights: Daly Takes It: Conor Daly didn't even get to participate in the first round of Indy Lights practice, since he was jetting in from a test in Spain for GP3. However, he qualified well and ran upfront, taking the lead after front-runner Josef Newgarden went wide in a turn and ended up buried in the tires. Earlier in the race, Irishman Peter Dempsey also crashed while leading. It was a solid race for Indy Lights, who we won't see again until Indy.

Early Snoozer Catches Fire: The double-wide start to this race was ragged, and mostly single file in nature. Not much passing early on for first 25+ laps, but once the first pit stop came along and tire strategies started to change things up, the passing really started. Don't forget; Mike Conway was as far down as 21st/22nd after a disastrous first pit stop and coming back in for a splash of fuel.

There was plenty of mid-pack passing especially, and this was as lively a street course as you'll see in the latter third of the race in particular.

Parity: Five different teams were represented in the race's Top 5. 2 Andretti cars, 2 Penskes, 2 Newman/Haas cars, a Ganassi, a SSM, a Foyt, and a KV Racing car made up your Top 10. Qualifying was close, the race was close. You cannot overstate how close these drivers are to one another right now.

Newman/Haas Resurgent: Following a development we've been watching all year, James Hinchcliffe finished 4th (in his second IndyCar race), and Oriol Servia finished 6th. Servia also probably had the move of the race (outside of Conway's pass), avoiding Helio and Power's spin late in the race by looping his car around and gunning it right back in line.

Whoops: Ana Beatriz spun before the race even started. It was a rough weekend for Bia, but she managed to finish 2 laps down in 19th. Hopefully, Bia will recover further from her wrist injury and be ready to rock n' roll for her home race in Brazil.

Paging The FCC: After taking out Sebastien Bourdais in a pit lane mishap, Marco Andretti dropped the f-bomb--"I have no f***ing idea" over the very much live radio transmission.  Marco then started to walk away from his wreched car, but as it turns out the car wasn't done yet, so he got back in. It was a pretty entertaining series of events.  It was especially a shame for Bourdais, who was progressing rapidly through the field at the time of the incident.

Graham Not Making Friends: Graham Rahal clipped Vitor Meira and a Newman/Haas crewman in the pits during the race. He was in an incident with Takuma Sato on track that knocked Sato down to a 21st-place finish. He complained about JR Hildebrand slowing him down during qualifications. So far, it is safe to say this is not the season Graham Rahal wanted.

Viso: Another race, another crash for EJ Viso. When does it end? Not anytime soon, apparently. I can only imagine the frustration on that team right now. In a case of people in glass house throwing stones, Mario Moraes attempted to trash his former teammate on Twitter, before being reminded several times of his own ill-starred tenure with KV Racing. His offending tweet was soon removed.

Rookie of the Year Update: With one less race than the other competitors and an aforementioned 4th place finish, James Hinchcliffe jumped up to five points behind JR Hildebrand in the Rookie of the Year chase. If he keeps it up and the other rookies don't pick up the pace, they might be in trouble.

Next Up: The series has a two-week turnaround before May 1st's race in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And then it will be time for the Month of May, and the lead up to the Indy 500. Not that we're excited or anything...

Image courtesy of IndyCar Media

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Awesome 500 Art: In The Beginning

Painter David Uhl was selected again as Program Cover artist for this year's Indy 500 program. His piece, entitled "In The Beginning", is absolutely superb. Here's a peek of it here:



You have to love the Marmon Wasp roaring through Turn 1. I'd be remiss if I did not mention prints of this piece are available in various options. Contact Greg Rhodes at Uhl Studios or check out their Facebook page for more.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Long Beach Grand Prix Preview

The IZOD IndyCar series rolls into Long Beach this week, with Will Power and Dario Franchitti still at the top of the points as the championship battle progresses. There are many cars and teams that truly need a good result this week; we're about to see who rises to the occasion, and who sees their misery continue.

It's been a quick turnaround week for team and series personnel, going from the Deep South to the West Coast. Ryan Hunter-Reay won here last year, and doing so again would go far in erasing the disappointments of his first two races. But I suspect many other drivers will have something to say about that.

Here are some other storylines you'll want to follow for this weekend's race:

Return of the Chrome Horn: Paul Tracy will be starting his stint in IndyCar this year, debuting with the resurrected Dragon Racing in the #8 car. PT knows this course well (being a 4-time Long Beach winner and all), and it’ll be exciting to see how he and the team fare.

Bia’s Back(up)?: Although it’s still a “TBA” on the official entry list, early expectations were Ana Beatriz would return for Long Beach. However, Simon Pagenaud is traveling with the team for “support”. Long Beach will be a rougher track than Barber was for Bia, and the Sao Paulo race is very important for her sponsors. If she’s a no-go or re-injures that wrist, Dreyer and Reinbold have to feel good about their backup option.

Qualification Update: Qualification groups will now be assigned differently, with the even-numbered places from Friday practice in one group and the odd-numbered places in the other. While this does seem like it will produce more of an even distribution of fast and slow cars, we’ll have to see how it works in application.

Viso, Round 3: I hate to mention EJ Viso each week, but after 5 separate incidents over two race weekends, the spotlight is definitely on the #59 car. If he has another weekend like Barber or St. Pete and causes another incident, expect calls for him to be parked (how unrealistic) to jump dramatically. Actually, let’s just hope for a clean KV weekend across the board—Kanaan to keep it up, Sato to continue his drastic improvement, and for Viso to find his way.

Can RHR Repeat?
Fast Start, Slow Start: Drivers like Tony Kanaan, Simona de Silvestro, and Oriol Servia are having great starts to their season. Drivers such as Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway have seen little but disappointment so far this year. Can these drivers sustain their success, or halt their difficulties? Once is an occurrence, twice is a rhythm, and three times is a pattern.

Briscoe On The Brink: Ryan Briscoe sits 25th in points, behind all other drivers who have run both races so far. Despite being only the third race, another DNF here could doom what faint series championship hopes he still has.

Ratings Rollercoaster: After a 1.2 TV rating at St. Pete, IndyCar struggled against the Master, with the Versus broadcast garnering only a .3. While no one is happy with that, it will be interesting to see how IndyCar fares in a weekend featuring track action at Talladega. One .3 isn’t a signal for doom and gloom, but there needs to be improvement overall on Versus as well as ABC this year.

Indy Lights Update: Star Mazda has a break until May, so it’s a Lights-only sort of weekend. Conor Daly is traveling halfway around the world from his F3 obligations to race at Long Beach this weekend. After a promising debut and 2nd-place finish at St. Pete, an incident with James Winslow doomed his hopes for Barber. Daly, Newgarden, and last week’s winner Victor Garcia should all be fun to watch, while drivers such as Stefan Wilson, Anders Krohn, Mikael Grenier, and Peter Dempsey try to make their mark as well. In other news, we’ll see if that Brooks Associates entry makes it this week or not.

Don’t Touch That Dial: With the Indy 500 entry list released, and several intriguing driver “TBA”, expect some rides to be filled in the gap between Long Beach and Sao Paulo. Buddy Lazier, Buddy Rice, Martin Plowman, Pippa Mann, Alex Lloyd, Wade Cunningham, and several others have all been mentioned as possibilities.

Incredibly Interesting Fact: Last year's Long Beach race had a single caution (between Mario Romancini and Graham Rahal). If we manage that again this year, I will eat an entire koala bear in honor of Will Power.

Pole Position: Will Power. I am nothing if not boring/reliable in my predictions on the subject. He won 9 of the last 10 Poles; I think a little confidence is warranted.

Winner: Tony Kanaan. Because it’s going to happen at some point this year, and I’ll be brave this week in an attempt to look wise and quietly “in the know”. Also, along with Will Power, TK’s also the only driver to finish in the Top 5 here for the past two years. But honestly, this is one of those races I don't have a strong guy feeling on one way or the other.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The, Er, Wednesday Edition of the Friday 15

Since Friday will be taken up with our Long Beach Grand Prix Preview, today we’re going to be looking at our Friday Fifteen in IZOD IndyCar Series points again today, with their change from the previous week’s place in red parentheses.

Of course, being early in the season, we’ve had plenty of shakeups already. The Top 15 doesn’t have a Ryan Briscoe and it doesn’t have a Danica Patrick, a situation which those drivers will attempt to rectify in short order (hopefully, Danica’s crew changes her tires at some point before the race this weekend). Can some of these upstarts keep it clean and keep towards the top of the standings? We’ll see how it stands after Long Beach. For now, enjoy the commentary and marginally snarky rundown:

1) Will Power, 94 points (+1 position)
Possibly riding the karma from his awesome Verizon commercial (complete with backflips and kangaroo), Power is sitting on top again.

2) Dario Franchitti, -7 (-1)
There’s really this palpable sense of determination around Dario this year. Willpower vs. Will Power. Or something. (Keep reading, folks. It gets better). Scotland vs. Australia doesn’t seem like a natural rivalry, but if Power and Franchitti keep battling back and forth, it could get there very quickly.

3) Tony Kanaan, -31 (-)
If this is what he’s like when the car isn’t set up comfortably yet, imagine what a terror he’ll be when it is. At this point, I think he’s just qualifying poorly, then passing as many cars on the first lap as he can to show off.

4) Scott Dixon -40 (+12)
A 2nd-place finish at Barber has Dixon back towards his accustomed position in the standings. He’s another good race away from being squarely back in the championship battle.

5) Simona de Silvestro, -40 (-1)
The Swiss Miss kept it together and managed another Top 10. She likely would have finished higher if not for an incident involving herself, James Hinchcliffe, and the Notorious E.J.V.

6) Oriol Servia, -42 (+3)
Another great Top 10 by the Spaniard, who not only has more points than Helio, but is going to give him a serious run for Best Accent in IndyCar. Newman/Haas is looking great early on.

7) Marco Andretti, -50 (+13)
I’ll make the joke for the 800th time: Marco should skip the first race of every season. He’s our big mover this week, up 13 spots.

8) Takuma Sato, -50 (-3)
A mixed bag of a race for Sato; he made some nice moves early, but ran out of room on an attempt to pass Helio. A late fuel stop dropped him further, but he’s still looking much, much better out there.

9) Alex Tagliani, -51 (-3)
A bit of a letdown this past week for Tag after a good start, but you get the feeling that at some point he’s going to jump out of nowhere to lead the field. Hanging around or just above this spot all year is a realistic possibility for Sam Schmidt’s team.

10) Vitor Meira, -52 (-2)
Meira might be having the best “quietly good” season of anyone on the grid. Hard to envision any program linked to AJ Foyt as quiet, but here were are.

11) Helio Castroneves, -56 (+11)
Helio jumped 11 spots this week. Unlike his jump at the start of St. Pete, no one ended up on their lid as a consequence. Progress!

12) Raphael Matos, -56 (-5)
AFS Racing ran into trouble relatively early at Alabama after a great opening race. This team’s a good story; let’s hope more chapters are like the first, because Chapter 2 was sort of a downer.

13) JR Hildebrand, -58 (-2)
Hildebrand is leading the Rookie of the Year battle despite his struggles because, like the George Washington of old, he’s keeping his army (ok, National Guard car) in the field. He’s finishing races, which isn’t something the other rookies need to do to stay competitive.

14) Charlie Kimball, -62 (+10)
Kimball managed the first Top 10 of the season by a rookie. That drive was more along the lines of what the team wants to see—clean, skilled, and incident-free.

15) Justin Wilson, -62 (-2)
OK, so the crash took him out of the race. Dude was wearing a brace due to a fractured wrist. If I had any manner of wrist injury, I would be treating it as the End of the Bloody World, not slinging a car around a tight race track. The car was probably marginally slower this week due to having to cart his giant stones about.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Barber Recap: Power, Passing, and Viso

Who said there was no passing at Barber? Whoever it was had to be pleasantly surprised, because the weekend's Indy Grand Prix of Alabama had plenty of action, both on and away from the restarts (which went much, much smoother this weekend, by the way). It sounds like attendance was great; TV coverage on Versus had to go up against a nail-biting Masters, so we'll see what that brings, but hopefully there's an increase there as well.

Will Power evened the score against Dario at one win apiece, dominating this entire race start to finish. Ryan Briscoe had more bad luck. Danica was as high as 3rd place before getting passed repeatedly as her old tires wore away to tiny little nubs of slippery rubber. James Jakes' car caught fire in the pits, and no one seemed to notice.

Super-Sub Pagenaud!
Honestly, despite all predictions, this was a varied and interesting race. We had some contact, some tremendous passes from drivers like Bourdais, Ryan-Hunter-Reay, and Tony Kanaan, and we also had EJ Viso wreak have once again--but much, much more on that last item below.

Let's hit some of the big stories of the weekend:

Mazda Road to Indy Update: Tristan Vautier dominated in Star Mazda Championship competition over the weekend, with American Nick Andries nabbing a podium with 2nd, after a strong drive all the way up from 9th place. Colombian Tatiana Calderon finished a strong third to grab her first podium in the series. Contact with one another damaged the hopes of the USA's Conor de Phillipi and Ireland's Patrick McKenna. Other notables included American open wheel rookie Nick Mancuso, who finished a sold 6th. There is some intense competition in this series this year!

In Firestone Indy Lights, Andretti's Stefan Wilson gave it everything he had, but couldn't get past Team Moore's Victor Garcia, who led from start to finish. Americans Conor Daly (11th) and Josef Newgarden (6th) both had trouble that ruined their hopes for a podium spot. Perhaps the gutsiest drive of the race belonged to Jorge Goncalvez, who drove with a broken leg, moving up 10 spots to finish 4th. It was great to see the Lights race on Versus; I thought the Lights broadcast team had a very good initial outing.

Versus Coverage: Great, diverse interviews with Justin Wilson, Ryan Briscoe, and a heartfelt segment on Taku Sato and the tragedy in Japan marked the IndyCar Versus coverage. Features on Simona de Silvestro, Will Power, and multiple other drivers really gave this broadcast a well-rounded feel. They did an excellent job changing it up and interviewing multiple drvers in the field. Not everyone will agree, especially with the technical issues here and there, but I thought the Versus coverage crew was good from Indy Lights through the end of the IndyCar race. Also, kudos for showing the National Anthem and opening ceremonies--it's a proper and fitting touch. The only big suggestion I would have would be that the "Through The Field" segment could have been much smoother.

Cinderella Stories Continue: Oriol Servia finished a strong 5th for Newman/Haas. Tony Kanaan gained 18 positions to finish 6th after starting 24th(!). Simona de Silvestro recovered nicely from an incident to finish 9th. Right now, the Top 5 spots of for series points are Power, Franchitti, Kanaan, Dixon, and de Silvestro. It probably won't last like that, but it's all good fun for now.

Hinch's Debut: The "Draw The Track Blindfolded" challenge with James Hinchcliffe was hilarious. Hinch could not possibly have drawn the map any more poorly if he was a preschooler drawing on the back of a diner menu. Hinch's humor and personality shone through the entire segment, and you have to think he is a tremendous asset for this series. He's only going to increase in popularity as more people get to know him. An early spin moved him towards the back of the field, but he was up as high as P12 before Viso took him out. Which brings us to...

Veto Viso: EJ Viso right now does not look right as if he belongs in an IndyCar. I personally like EJ Viso, but he is not performing at a level commensurate with the Fastest or Best Drivers In The World. IndyCar needs to take a long look at where his head his right now, because with how he's driving now, he's as much a detriment to the series as Milka Duno was. He needs to get it together or be parked. You cannot have an incident in nearly every on-track session so far this year and claim you belong in this series. I'm about the last IndyCar fan to go on a rant, but this is getting embarrassing. I know this can't be fun for EJ, but it's no fun for us, either. There's too much good stuff this year to have this as an unwelcome distraction.

Viso's a nice guy, but he needs to improve ASAP.
TK Continues To Rock Our Socks: Tony Kanaan moved from 24th to 14th before the first yellow of the race. He finished 6th, and was pushing Oriol Servia hard for 5th. He's third in the points standings right now, and I don't think he's finished putting on a show.

Andretti's Luck: Ryan Hunter-Reay was penalized for avoidable contact with Ryan Briscoe and finished 14th. Danica Patrick didn't take tires on her last stop and faded to 17th place as everyone and their brother passed her. Mike Conway had contact with Danica and went into the wall hard (22nd). However, Marco Andretti continues to seem to like this track, finishing 4th. They'll hope for Conway and Hunter-Reay in particular to put it all together starting next week.

Not-So-fun Fact: Penske Racing driver Ryan Briscoe is currently placed 25th in points standings, dead-last among all drivers with two starts. It's early to start talking about his chances for a series title slipping away, but unless things turn around in a hurry, that will be where we are.

Rookie Report: Perhaps the most impressive rookie wasn't even a series regular. Simon Pagenaud ran an extremely impressive race to place 8th. Of the full-season rookies, Charlie Kimball had a quiet but steady day, finishing 10th. JR Hildebrand had a rough day, but kept it out there, finishing 13th. James Hinchcliffe (24th), James Jakes (25th), and Sebstian Saavedra (26th) did not finish. Right now, JR Hildebrand is first among rookies at 13th in the points standings (36 points), with Kimball just trailing in 14th (32 points). Honestly, a podium or near-podium by any of the rookies next week could still turn this thing on its head.

Best Story: It's going to get overlooked, but you have to be really thrilled with how Simon Pagenaud finished in his first IndyCar race. He kept it clean, took opportunities when they were presented, and finished strong. I'm not sure if Ana Beatriz will be back in time for Long Beach, but if she isn't, Dreyer and Reinbold should know they've got a great option behind the wheel.

Worst Story: Normally, it'd be the horrific tire strategy at the end that caused Danica to lose so many positions, but you've got to give it to EJ Viso.

Next Stop: The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, this weekend!

(Images courtesy of IndyCar Media)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Grand Prix of Alabama Preview

Ah, Barber Motorsports Park. Who doesn't love the beautiful lines of the course, the verdant backdrop, the expectant, teeming crowds, and...


...those guys. Yipes.

By all accounts, Barber's doing quite well on attendance for their IndyCar race. This weekend's Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race might not be a full "sellout", but it's probably going to be close. Two weeks after Dario Franchitti schooled the field in the opener at St. Pete, we get to see the drivers compete on another one of the twisties. Helio Castroneves won here last year after Marco Andretti's team lost the race on a fuel strategy error. There's new faces in the field this week, the possibility of some soggy weather early on, and the second attempt at this whole double-file restart thing. Here are some of the other big storylines you'll want to watch for:

New Faces: Hey, look! James Hinchcliffe finally is making his IndyCar debut in the #06 Sprott Newman/Haas entry. Hinch tested exceedingly well here earlier this year; there are big expectations for the rookie Canadian driver to continue to wow the crowd. He should be fun to watch in his big car debut.

New Faces, Part 2: With Ana Beatriz sidelined with a wrist injury, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing needed to fill the #24 seat for Barber. Who'd they get? Oh, only 2010 ALMS champion Simon Pagenaud. Although everyone hopes Bia recovers soon, it's still going to see Pagenaud in his first IndyCar race. If he does sign onto a team for the Indy 500 (as rumors suggest), this might be an exciting preview of what in part to expect.

Traffic School: "OK, Mr. Castroneves, use your turn signals, put the car into drive, and slowly merge into traffic". While Helio might not be going through Driver's Ed anytime soon, we'll be paying close attention to how the double-file starts and restarts go this weekend. The double-file starts are nothing new, but it sure didn't look that way at St. Pete. The restarts seemed to gradually improve over the course of the race; hopefully that continues this week. This is a tight course; expect some early carnage, but hopefully not as much as the opener.

Heating Up Or Cooling Down?: Simona de Silvestro, Tony Kanaan, Alex Tagliani, Takuma Sato, Vitor Meira, and Rafa Matos can all claim great starts to the season. Whether they can keep it up at Barber is another question entirely. If any of those drivers can manage a Top 5 or Top 10 again, that's a pretty great start to the season.

Andretti Rebound?: Andretti Autosport had a terrible first week, with every single car of theirs being involved in some form of contact. Mike Conway qualified 2nd here last year, and as mentioned above, Marco Andretti probably should have won. Ryan Hunter-Reay should also do ok, but wasn't particularly impressive here last year (12th). Danica Patrick finished 19th at Barber in 2010, but she'll probably be relieved to get through this one with her original nose cone intact.

Delay d' Bourdais: It was unfortunate that Sebastien Bourdais wrecked his car and wasn't able to compete at St. Pete; a lot of fans are very anxious to see what he can do in a race. Don't expect Dale Coyne Racing to be gangbusters in qualifying, but it'll be fun to watch Sebas and his unique style try to move up during the race itself.

Get The Spotter's Guide Ready: A number of teams will be flashing different liveries this weekend, so don't feel bad if you don't recognize your favorite entry off the bat. Among the notable variations: Helio Castroneves in blue, white, and red AAA colors, Ryan Briscoe in the yellow Penske Truck Rental ride, Mike Conway in the gray and black Window World Cares car, Dario Franchitti in the blue and red Clorox ride, and Justin Wilson in the blue and green Charter car.

Wilson's Pain: Speaking of Justin Wilson, he'll be competing this weekend with a carbon fiber brace on that injured wrist. Barber's a technical, demanding track that should really test that injury, but if any driver can rise above it, it's Wilson. Watch to see how he copes with that wrist through the weekend.

Viso Revoked: EJ Viso started 2011 much like he ended 2010; looking like he was about to take his Dallara and become the first Venezuelan to successfully launch into space. It wasn't a good week at all for Viso, who had an incident in each session leading up to the race. Viso can be fast, but you have to think he has to start cutting back on the miscues soon. His teammate Taku Sato put together a great race last week; let's see if it's catching.

Rookie of the Year Watch: None of the rookies really stood out in the first round of the season; all of them, in fact, had issues at one point or another over the race weekend. We'll see if James Hinchcliffe gets a jump on them, or if Charlie Kimball or JR Hildebrand step up this week. Sebastian Saavedra recovered ok from a rough crash in qualifying, but it goes without saying he can't keep doing that. James Jakes did better than many expected last time out; we'll see if he can put another decent finish together for Dale Coyne.

Mazda Road to Indy: Nope, we didn't forget about the other young guns competing at Barber. In Star Mazda, American Connor De Phillip will try to make it two in a row against tough competitors Tristan Vautier, Patrick McKenna, and Martin Scuncio. In Firestone Indy Lights, the 1-2 USA punch of Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly will go head-to-head with Peter Dempsey and David Ostella, while Andretti's James Winslow and Stefan Wilson look to rebound from a rough opener. The Lights race will be telecast on versus as well as the usual IMS radio feed, so tune in and support the future.

Random Fact: Panther Racing qualified 23rd here last year, behind only Bertrand Baguette (making his first-ever IndyCar start), and Milka Duno (of course). However, they climbed up to finish 11th by the end of the race itself.

Pole Position: Will Power.

Winner: I'm saying Helio, but won't be shocked with an upset. Keep an eye on those Andretti cars.

Enjoy your race weekend, and stop back by Monday for the race recap!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bagman Returns

Just a reminder: Start your race weekend off right tomorrow with IndyCar Advocate’s Grand Prix of Alabama Preview!

I have made no secret of the fact I’m a fan of Bertrand Baguette. I think he showed poise and progress in what was (for much of the year), a marginal ride. He came into a seat with most folks having zero expectations of him, and continually improved throughout the year.

The Return of Triple B!
With the news that Bertrand Baguette is joining Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing for the Indy 500, I’m pleased, because I think the RLLR seat is going to be a solid one, and Baguette should do well there. A broken mirror plagued what otherwise would have been a very solid run in last year’s race, but this was a guy many people projected as getting bumped. Instead, he qualified on Pole Day, faster than drivers such as Vitor Meira and Tony Kanaan, and within a tenth of a second of Danica Patrick, Tomas Scheckter, and Simona de Silvestro.

RLLR’s announcement seemed to have taken many people by surprise; both Buddy Rice and Robert Doornbos and had been discussed as potential candidates for the seat, but it appears that the deal Baguette had been working on for some time finally came to fruition. If he does well at Indy, I have a feeling it won’t be the last time we see the Breadman in an IndyCar. He was a dominant winner in Formula Renault 3.5, he went toe-to-toe with Michael Schumacher in the offseason at the Race of Champions, and I believe he can be successful in IndyCar if or when he gets a regular ride again.

Graham Rahal was able to pilot the Rahal-Letterman entry to qualifying 7th last year. I’m not saying Bertrand Baguette will do the same this year, but it would be a mistake to sell him short.

(Image courtesy of IndyCar Media)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yep, Hinchcliffe Could Still Take ROY

The online reception to James Hinchcliffe's announced deal with Newman-Haas yesterday was greeted almost (almost!) uniformly with emotions ranging from happiness to elation. I know I don't just speak for myself when I say this is a guy plenty of us felt needed to be in the field, both from a promotion and a competition standpoint. He impressed in Indy Lights, he impressed anyone who saw him in the Barber open test, and when he missed out on the opener at St. Pete, it just didn't feel right.

Well, now Hinch is here, teammates with Oriol Servia on a Newman/Haas team looking to regain their rightful, honored place among the top teams of American open wheel racing. He's starting late, and won't be at overseas races in Japan and Sao Paulo, but could he still win Rookie of the Year by finishing with the most points?

In a word, yes. It won't be easy; 3 races represents probably at least 30-36 points he'll have to make up elsewhere. But if he has enough positive results and finishes in the top half of the field, it could happen.

Hinch finally gets his chance.
Let's look at last year's ROY fight. Alex Lloyd beat Simona de Silvestro in points 266-242, with both contestants competing in all 17 races (Lloyd, of course, received a monstrous 32 points for 4th-place at Indy). Takuma Sato also participated in each race, but with his horrid results, ended up with 214 points. Bertrand Baguette, the closest analogue to Hinch's situation we have, missed two races and still finished only a single point behind Sato and 53 behind Lloyd. Baguette was part of Conquest Racing, which struggled mightily at times despite Bert's maturing talent over the course of the season. Hinchcliffe has the bonus of a team which he's tested with repeatedly, and that has a proud, enduring legacy in the sport.

In addition, right now, only Ana Beatriz can claim as talented a full-time teammate (Justin Wilson) as Hinch has in Servia. The two seem to work well together, and if that continues, that's a huge point in Hinch's favor. James Jakes has Sebastien Bourdais on the twisties, but currently no one on the ovals. JR Hildebrand and Sebastian Saavedra are currently going at it alone. Charlie Kimball has Graham Rahal, sort of, but it's a new Ganassi team and is still shaking out.

So, what does Hinch need to do? My feeling is the ROY awards isn't necessarily going to go to the rookie who gives us the biggest "WOW" factor of the season; it's going to be to the driver who can keep it in one piece for the most races. Avoid those 12 and 10-point weeks. Nab a couple of extra spots by taking advantage of Newman/Haas' speed at Indy and qualify well there.

Alex Lloyd won Rookie of the Year with only 3 Top 10 finishes and 7 results of 20th or lower. If James Hinchcliffe can show the speed he showed in testing this year, he can still be the IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year. He's got the team, he's got time in the ride, he's got a veteran teammate, and he's got the confidence of plenty of people around the series. And while JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, and the other rookies won't make it easy, I think Hinch could pull it off. You finally have your chance, Hinch--go make the most of it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Early Look At the Centennial 500 Field

Not all the entries are in for this year's Indy 500, and we're already looking at an incredibly deep field. Sure, we knew before this should be a pretty good year, but this could be the best year from a competition standpoint that we've seen in...well, that's call it a good long while.

Consider this: you've got 4 champions confirmed as returning (Castroneves, Franchitti, Wheldon, Dixon). You have Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Will Power, who are definite threats to win. You have the Andretti team (Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway) , all of whom have shown at least something at Indy, plus veteran John Andretti, who you know will find a way to make the field. Dreyer and Reinbold will have Justin Wilson, Davey Hamilton, and Paul Tracy. KV Racing looks to be resurgent with Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter (the latter in partnership with Redline SH Racing) on board, plus the streaky duo of Takuma Sato and EJ Viso.

Sam Schmidt Motorsports could be one of the top teams this May. Not only do they have Alex Tagliani (lightning-fast here in 2010), but oval ace Townsend Bell is also going to run for them. Jay Howard (in association with Rahal-Letter-Lanigan Racing) is still looking to make his first Indy 500. Also an intriguing part of the mix is Foyt Racing, who signed Bruno Junqueira as their second car alongside Vitor Meira.

Junky should have more time to prepare this year.
Among the smaller teams, there's fan-favorite Simona de Silvestro with HVM Racing, Ed Carpenter with Sarah Fisher Racing, and AFS Racing's Rafa Matos. All three drivers are easily capable of making this field. Oriol Servia's situation at Newman/Haas is settled, and he should be quick.

Can you imagine being a rookie in this year's 500? Ana Beatriz and Sebastian Saavedra have competed here before, but James Jakes, James Hinchcliffe, JR Hildebrand, and possibly Martin Plowman or Pippa Mann are going to have their work cut out for them--then again, it's looking like every driver out there will, too. Still, you have to think at least one or two rookies will fail to make the field. I would have thought that last year, too, though, and look what happened.

The projected car count is already over 33. Still circling as potential drivers include former 500 winner Buddy Rice, Bertrand Baguette, Simon Pagenaud, and perhaps even Robert Doornbos. Wade Cunningham isn't currently scheduled to run Indy, but still might find a place. Alex Lloyd should be in high demand after his showing last year (if he doesn't end up in Coyne's other car for Indy). We know Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan will likely run a car of their own, Panther Racing will have someone in their second car, and Conquest should have their second car going by then. Foyt may also still have one additional entry. There are definitely going to be some folks sent home unhappy next month.

There are very few "weak" names or "field fillers" throughout that list. As the later entries to the 500 continue to file in, we'll probably see a couple of more surprises among the field. But there's no question in my mind that this is going to be a tough field--perfect for a very special Indy 500.

(Image courtesy of IndyCar Media)

Monday, April 4, 2011

History of the 500: Billy Carlson

We're continuing our History of the 500 series with a look at another early American racer. Billy Carlson was a San Diego native who was 26 years of age when he made his debut at the 1914 Indy 500. Starting 5th, Carlson finished 9th that year, a place in front of Eddie Rickenbacker. He would start 25th the following year, but managed to again complete all 200 laps in a 9th-place finish. His first 500 took just over 7 hours to complete, whereas his second endeavor clocked in at a "blistering" 6 hours 19 minutes!

Carlson's background was as interesting as his on-track results. His father was a Swedish immigrant and the youngest man ever elected mayor of San Diego. Coming from moderate affluence, Carlson was a popular road racer on the Pacific coast.

Carlson drove several cars over the years, but was perhaps best known for driving the kerosene-powered, Ray Harroun-designed Maxwell, which netted him his aforementioned finishes at Indy and the nickname "Coal Oil Billy". However, he never won a race in the factory-backed car, with his sole victory being in a Benz in his hometown in 1913. He did pick up three 2nd-place finishes in the Maxwell at San Diego, Tuscon, and Venice, however.

The Maxwell team switched from kerosene to gas-powered engines in 1915, and his famous teammate Barney Oldfield immediately reaped the benefits of the change, winning two races almost immediately. On the other hand, Carlson ran a string of very competitive races, but did not find his way into victory lane.

Sadly, as has been a recurring theme in this series, Carlson lost his life in an on-track incident at Tacoma Speedway. Both he and his riding mechanic were killed when his car blew a tire on a steep curve (NY Times Obituary). It would be the last race for the Maxwell factory team. Ironically, just a few months before, Carlson had been referenced as "Sure Finish" Carlson in the newspapers, due to his streak of finishing long road races.

Billy Carlson will forever hold one unbreakable record at Indianapolis: in 1914, he ran the entire 500-mile race on only 30 gallons of kerosene fuel. Given the cost of 6 cents per gallon of kerosene, his total fuel cost of a mere $1.80 for the entire race remains the cheapest in Indy 500 history.

Carlson (25) in his Maxwell at Tacoma Speedway in 1914.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Friday Fifteen: IndyCar Points Leaders

I thought we'd do something a little different this Friday, to see how folks liked it. A lot of sports have Power Rankings; we'll be taking a look at the Top 15 in points for IndyCar--how their season's going, random bits of commentary, if they're going up, down, or flat. Oh, and let's call it the Friday Fifteen. If you like it, we'll do it on the off-weeks of the season when we don't have a race preview going on. If not, that's ok, too. Ready? Let's try it.

Don't sweat it, Vitor: you made it.
So who's not in the first Friday Fifteen?  Thanks to multiple on-track incidents, only names such as Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, and Helio Castroneves. That won't last, but these merry upstarts taking their place can enjoy their lofty perch while it does:

1) Dario Franchitti (52 points)
The defending champ served notice he won't be conceding anything any the twisties to Power. He was the more aggressive driver this week, and it paid off big. Not even a trashed car in practice could slow Franchitti, who's still class of the field.

2) Will Power (-11)
Power ran away from the rest of the field with the exception of Franchitti. He'll look to return the favor next week, but he was the sole Penske car in contention last Sunday. How weird is that?

3) Tony Kanaan (-17)
Less than a week on the job with his new team, and Kanaan finishes with a podium. Not all weeks will be like this, but early on, it definitely looks like KV has upgraded their game by adding TK.

4) Simona de Silvestro (-20)
There's little that hasn't been said about de Silvestro's great finish. I will say my six year-old daughter was going nuts watching her battle Kanaan over the closing laps. That's a great sign for the future of the sport.

5) Takuma Sato (-22)
Sato needed a good finish here as much as any driver after his horrific 2010 season. St. Pete might not blot out all memories, but it's a reminder that if he can finish races, he's got the speed. Now repeat...

6) Alex Tagliani (-24)
With FAZZT being purchased by Sam Schmidt Motorsports, this was sort of an early gauge as to where this team might be. They may not be FAZZT anymore, but they're still plenty fast (see what I did there?).

7) Raphael Matos (-26)
AFS Racing wasn't even an IndyCar team a month ago. Rafa Matos looked to be on the outside looking in without a ride. Together, they had an amazing, inspiring weekend.

8) Vitor Meira (-28)
Foyt's team had one of the quietest, best weekends of anyone at St. Pete. Best wishes to Super Tex, who's said to be recovering nicely from a medical procedure. As if anything short of Thor's hammer and Ragnarok itself could stop him.

9) Oriol Servia (-30)
Newman/Haas announced their full-season Telemundo sponsorship AND had Servia finish in the Top 10. That's not a bad weekend.

10) Justin Wilson (-32)
Wilson got jostled around quite a bit, but managed to squeeze into the Top 10. He'll be wearing a carbon fiber brance for that wrist injury come next race, but should manage to drive.

11) JR Hildebrand (-33)
Hildebrand didn't come as hot out of the gate this weekend as many had hoped, but he turned generally a poor practice and qualifying experience into just missing the Top 10. He'll take it and look to improve next time out.

12) Danica Patrick (-34)
On a horrible day for Andretti Autosport, hers was the only AA car to finish, despite damage to her car's front on two different occasions. Lost a spot to Hildebrand for "avoidable contact". Well, you know what they say in that other series she particpates in, rubbin's racin'.

13) Sebastian Saavedra (-35)
Seriously, I kept thinking Saavedra had crashed out during the race. A rough weekend for Sebastian and Conquest Racing (destroying a car in qualifying), but a respectable race finish nonetheless.

14) Ana Beatriz (-36)
Bia was a part of a field that saw more punting than a Cleveland Browns home game (HiOOOOOOO!). She managed to finish, but an injured wrist throws her next race into question.

15) James Jakes (-37)
After the weekend Dale Coyne Racing had, for Jakes just to survive his first race was worth celebrating. But the Great Unknown drove well enough once he got in the race itself. It's a lofty perch you've found, Jakesy.

(Image courtesy of IndyCar Media)