Friday, September 30, 2011

Kentucky Indy 300 Preview

We arrive at one of my favorite tracks on the schedule, Kentucky Speedway. The Kentucky Indy 300 should be a great, competitive race, with plenty of chances for underdogs to show their stuff. Last year Ed Carpenter won the pole and had a shot at the win before finishing P2 to a fuel-saving Helio Castroneves. There were a lot of drivers both expected and unexpected mixing it up near the front last year, and I can only expect more of the same. Here’s a quick rundown of some big stories this weekend:

A Bumpy Ride: Word from the test at Kentucky is that the track is bumpier than last year, which could affect set-up. We should see some pretty aggressive strategies mixed in with taking a safer line.

Fall Weather: Watch the temperature at Kentucky, as middle 50s and possibly low 60s are the in the forecast. It could have an impact on qualifying, and definitely will alter race setups. It’ll be some wonderfully crisp autumnal weather, but let’s see how those Firestone tires handle things.

Championship Time: The AJ Foyt Trophy will be decided Sunday (I believe earlier in the week I earlier referred to Las Vegas as counting for the oval championship, but it doesn’t). Scott Dixon is in the lead, but Dario Franchitti, Will Power, and Oriol Servia all have a shot at winning depending on how things go. Of course, this week will also be big for the overall championship. Power comes in with the lead, but many expect Franchitti to jump back ahead with another great oval performance.

Rookie of the Year Update: James Hinchcliffe is just 14 points down to JR Hildebrand (despite contesting 1 less race than JR), but he’ll have his hands full the next two races. Panther Racing is great at Kentucky, and Hildebrand’s going to have a great chance for a great finish. The battle for Sunoco Rookie of the Year has been one of the closest fights of the season, and this should be a great start to the final chapter.

Dan Wheldon In, Tag Out: To give the team a better chance to win the $5 million GoDaddy Challenge is Las Vegas, Alex Tagliani steps aside in the #77 this week in favor of Dan Wheldon. It’s a bummer for Tag, but hopefully there are some considerations in him for it for 2012. Of course, we’ll also see Tag return for Las Vegas.

A Whole Lotta Part-Timers: One of the most exciting things about Kentucky is that so many drivers have secured seats for this race. We get to see Buddy Rice, Pippa Mann, Ed Carpenter, Wade Cunningham, and Pippa Mann rejoin the series. It’s going to be one incredibly busy track, and a taste of some of what we’ll see for Las Vegas.

Simona Shaky?: Since her earlier season oval incidents, Simona de Silvestro hasn’t seemed very confident on the ovals. Of course, her car “Pork Chop” is just gutting it through the last races of the year. A top finish probably won’t happen, but it would be nice to see her have a clean oval race here and set the right tone for 2012.

Go Pippa Go: After a weekend at New Hampshire that could only be described as nightmarish, Pippa Mann returns to the ovals at Kentucky. She showed plenty of grit at Indy this year, and she’ll be looking to put Loudon behind her and secure a good, clean result in Sparta. The Pippster’s one of the drivers looking for a good result to lead to bigger things in 2012.

A New Arrival: Would be remiss if we did not mention Sarah Fisher Racing taking their newest family member to her first track this weekend (outside the womb, that is!). Welcome, Baby Zoey Marie, and may your first race be an awesome one.

Sponsor Update: Townsend Bell fills in for Justin Wilson in the #22 Valspar machine. JR Hildebrand will have part of his car a camo pink in honor of women in the military. Dario Franchitti is in a Downy Unstoppables car, and Fuzzy’s Vodka returns with Buddy Rice. Ryan Briscoe will have the Transitions Adaptive Lenses livery, while Wade Cunningham has Air Ride Pallet (ARP) on his sidepods. Mike Conway will again have @FollowAndretti on his sidepods.

Best-Looking Car: Fuzzy’s Vodka gets the nod with Buddy Rice in the #44, but I do like the Valspar #22 for Townsend Bell as well.

Pole: I think Scott Dixon keeps things interesting in the overall title hunt this weekend…

Winner: ….but I’m going for an upset win this week. I’d love to say Dan Wheldon, but let’s save it for Vegas. How about Tony Kanaan, though an Ed Carpenter win would be most fitting.

I’ll be at Kentucky Speedway for the race, so if you see me bumming around in an IndyCar Advocate shirt, be sure to say hi! I’ll be at the INDYCAR Nation tailgate that morning as well. Have a great weekend, and if you’re anywhere close to Kentucky, I hope you decide to make the trip!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Little Al's Suspension

I feel like I would be remiss if I did not at least briefly address Al Unser, Jr.’s indefinite suspension from INDYCAR. It’s a reminder that our heroes are human, and that they have their demons to battle the same as all of us. It’s sad and disappointing, but it’s also reality. These legends aren’t bronze statues, and turning a blind eye to their problems or trivializing them instead of recognizing their accomplishment in light of these struggles, does them a grave disservice.

While I agree with INDYCAR’s suspension, above all else I simply hope he finds the help he needs. Little Al isn’t just that driver who found a way to win the Indy 500 twice, or someone working Race Control. He’s a man with people who care about him, and who he affects in turn. He’ll be in my thoughts and prayers through the rest of the season and beyond.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Six Quick Questions With Jacob Wilson

This weekend at Kentucky will see Jacob Wilson make his Firestone Indy Lights debut in the #19 car with Belardi Auto Racing. The Crawfordsville, IN native has experience as a short-track racer in USAC Sprint, USAC Silver Crown, and must Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series. He can add to that being the latest driver to undergo Six Quick Questions here at IndyCar Advocate. Jacob chatted with us about his rookie test at Kentucky, the track surface, joining Belardi Auto Racing, the transition to Lights, and more! Check it out below before you see him on track this weekend (and at Las Vegas!):

Jacob, thanks so much for your time. How did the deal to run for Belardi Auto Racing at Kentucky come together?

JW: Well I wanted to make the next step forward in my career and jump into the Indy Lights series, and with all things accounted for it seemed that Belardi was a great fit. After doing some research on the series it was apparent that everyone thought very highly of the ownership, engineering and team. I was hopeful all along that I would be fortunate enough to run some races with Belardi after passing the rookie test and when this opportunity arose I jumped on board.

How did you feel your test at Kentucky went, and what are your overall impressions of the track?

JW: I feel the rookie test at Kentucky went extremely well. I wondered how I would adapt to the car and driving style but with some coaching I learned very quickly. We ran consistent lap times and never had a moment where the car felt out of shape or wrong all day. Kentucky was the biggest track I've ran to date at 1.5 miles so the speed and momentum were a couple things I needed to adapt to. Watching the races on TV, you'd guess the tracks are very smooth but this wasn't the case. Kentucky has quite a few places in the track where the asphalt "ripples" and makes things a little hairy, but the car's downforce really makes driving through them fairly simple.
Wilson testing at Kentucky

What do you feel INDYCAR can do to make itself more of an option for grassroots and short-track American drivers?

JW: The organization is doing a good job promoting their ladder system (Mazda Road to Indy) and accepting drivers from other forms of racing like USAC. Just this year there have been three sprint car drivers attempting to make the jump to the Indy Lights platform. The problem comparing the two series is there really isn't a comprehensible comparison. No downforce on a quarter-mile with 850 horsepower is nearly impossible to relate to a car planted by downforce on a 1.5 mile circuit, with roughly half the power.

What’s been your best moment as a professional driver?

JW: There have been many high moments in my career but there is one race I recall above the rest. Winning the 49th annual Joe James/Pat O'Connor Memorial at the famed Salem Speedway in my rookie year in a USAC Sprint Car was a surreal moment. After being the fastest qualifier and overcoming adversity in the race with a brake failure, the team and I pulled things together to lead the final 21 laps and win my first race at that level. It was special to me looking back at the list of drivers to have won that race including A.J. Foyt, Ed Carpenter, Parnelli Jones, and fellow Indy Lights driver Bryan Clauson as well as many other greats.

What’s a pre-race superstition or tradition you have?

JW: I've never been the superstitious type, but I usually have green on my race cars or enjoy some peanut M & M's in the pits. I usually have a pre-race prayer I go through before each race that I picked up in my karting days. If nothing else a couple jokes before climbing in the cockpit always seems to calm any jitters as well.

Lastly, what sort of goals or benchmarks have you set for yourself and your team over these two Firestone Indy Lights races?

JW: The team has been successful all year and has ran well on many occasions, and I look forward to continuing that. With the confidence I gained at the test and my desire to make the best out of every situation, I feel like things will go well over the next couple races. Joining two drivers that have ran the full schedule, I'll have a wealth of knowledge that I can learn from and apply to situations I have yet to come across. "To finish first, first you must finish" will certainly be tucked away in my mind throughout the races, and I look forward to making a run for the front of the field at Kentucky and Las Vegas.


Make sure to follow Jacob on Twitter as he begins his time in Firestone Indy Lights, as well as the folks at Belardi Auto Racing! Thanks again, Jacob!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yet Another IndyCar Vegas Update!

Earlier this month, I wrote an article on how the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships were estimated to see a very full field. At that time, it looked like the estimates of 30-31 drivers for the finale might be low. Well, we've certainly had plenty of Vegas news since then.

Forget, for a moment, the spectacle of the entire field rolling down the Vegas Strip.

Forget about the potential of both Honda and Chevy showing off their 2012 cars that weekend.

Heck, forget for just a minute (but only a minute!) about the fact the race has added a title sponsor.

What's really getting fans excited is that the number of entries just keeps going up.

Right now, we have all our regular entrants, plus:

-Paul Tracy (Dragon Racing)
-Davey Hamilton (Dreyer and Reinbold/Kingdom)
-Townsend Bell (substituting for Justin Wilson)
-Pippa Mann (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
-Tomas Scheckter (Sarah Fisher Racing)
-Ed Carpenter (Sarah Fisher Racing)
-Jay Howard (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
-Dan Wheldon (Bryan Herta)
-Wade Cunningham (SSM/AFS)
-Buddy Rice (Panther)


For those of you counting along at home, that's a field of 34 confirmed. Does it end there? Optimistic predictions talk about adding 3-4 more cars, but I don't see it--the numbers just don't make sense. However, I do think 1-2 more entries are quite possible. I think that in descending order of likeliness for addition, we could see the second Conquest car (#36), I believe Foyt Racing could still send out another car, and that even Andretti Autosport might have one left up their sleeve. Don't forget, there's also the uncertainty of the #34 for the finale, which could be Sebastian Saavedra, another rookie, or a well-known veteran.

Many of us had hoped to see a "run 'em if you got 'em scenario" at the end of this current Dallara's lifespan, and it looks like that's finally coming true. (If I could add a personal note, how cool would it be for Bruno Junqueira to get a ride from either Andretti or Foyt on this one? I think most fans would like to see him get one more shot this year after having to relinquish his spot at Indy).

The great news is, the Series seems to be leaking out Vegas news bit by bit. We're still 3 weeks away from the final race. Here's hoping the stream of good news continues, and with it, we see one or two more drivers get that shot.

We of the Bertrand Baguette Fan Club
(American Chapter) hold out hope, of course.
(Image Courtesy IndyCar Media)

Friday, September 23, 2011

An Oval Rallying Cry

There’s been plenty of gloom this week about the state of oval track opportunities in 2012 for INDYCAR. And I will confess up front: although I generally enjoy most road and street courses, I’m a big oval fan. Indy, Iowa, Kentucky—to my mind, these are great events and great tracks. However, above all, I want a healthy, financially feasible Series. If that means a deficit of a couple of ovals for the time being, I’m not going to throw a tantrum over it.

But I do want ovals to succeed wherever possible. I think the trick to gaining new fans for INDYCAR is simple: wherever possible, get their butts to the track. Experiencing a race on VERSUS or ABC just isn’t the same, as anyone who’s been to a race can tell you.

Now, it’s not always possible, I get that—some of you reading this are overseas or on one of the coasts. Things are tight, and discretionary income isn’t always readily available. But if you were already thinking of going to the Kentucky Indy 300 next weekend, bring a friend. Especially if you’re in Indy, Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville, or even Chicago—this is not some inaccessible destination. We’re talking a few hours of driving time.

Look, you can type in the code “Andretti” or “USAC” on the Kentucky Speedway tickets page and get a ticket for $35 bucks. If you’ve got someone who’s always wanted to go to a race or that you’ve always wanted to take to a race, doesn’t that seem worth it? If you talk about bang for your buck, there aren’t many sporting events that can top it. And really, there are no bad seats at Kentucky.

And it isn’t as if accommodations are that expensive, either—motels can be found for $50-$60, and campground for far less. That might crunch some budgets, but the points is, especially if you’re carpooling, you can get the entire race experience for under $100.

That ticket to the Kentucky 300 isn’t just for the IZOD IndyCar race. It’s a ticket to the free Sunday driver autograph session, a Lights race, the INDYCAR fan village, and more. It’s going to the track and knowing you’ve got a pretty good chance of running into a driver (literally, at times—Helio almost ran me over on his scooter at Kentucky last year), or even a legend associated with the series such as Rick Mears or Johnny Rutherford. There’s that moment your heart stops when the engines are fired, when the green flag waves, that jolt of everyone subconsciously half-jumping out of their seat during the first yellow. There’s the scientific fact that a beer and a brat simply taste better when you’re at a race track. Maybe it’s even introducing your son or daughter to racing for the first time.

We as fans have the power to help bring in new fans, and it can start next weekend for some of us. Send that link around—get your racing friends to try out INDYCAR—not watching it at home on their TV, but enjoying one of the most accessible and exciting in-person entertainment events possible. If you love IndyCar, you can do your part to help it. Be postive, share what you love, and enjoy every minute of it along the way. For my part, I’m going to send that link to everyone, and I’ll be there next weekend to watch some awesome, awesome racing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another Look At James Jakes

Less than a month from now, either JR Hildebrand or James Hinchcliffe will have been crowned Sunoco Rookie of the Year, and it will be a well-deserved honor regardless of which of the two emerges victorious.

But being a rookie isn't just seeing who comes out ahead on points; it's also about progressively improving and learning as the season goes on. For me, I believe James Jakes has been the most improved rookie over the course of this season.

Let's face it: when 24 year-old Englishman was first announced as the driver of the #18 Acorn Stairlifts ride for Dale Coyne Racing, most of us scratched our heads and asked "who's that?". I personally even ran a photo of him during the Barber Open Test, with the caption "This is James Jakes. We think". Most of his experience was in GP2 Asia and GP3, where he had decent, if not sparkling, results.

Waggishness and background aside, "Jakesy" didn't do much in the first part of the season. He wasn't an embarrassment, but neither was he blasting through the field. No Top 10s, as Dale Coyne's team struggled in the early going. The form seemed to be poor qualifying efforts, followed by mostly mid-pack results. Then there was the Indy 500, where Jakes did not qualify.

However, I got to interview him and chat with him a bit at Indy, and I was struck by his attitude and perseverance throughout qualifying. Frankly, Dale Coyne's team was already struggling; his more-experienced teammate Alex Lloyd barely made the field in a car that was vibrating wildly. Jakes may not have made the field, but he handled himself well, and I believe garnered a lot of respect.

This is James Jakes. We're sure this time.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

The rough times didn't stop after Indy. Although he began to qualify a bit better, the finishes just weren't there. New Hampshire saw a promising run ruined with mechanical issues. He had great speed in practice at Sonoma, but like most everyone at Sonoma, couldn't find much room to pass in the actual race.

But he kept at it. He came within 16 hundredths of a second from knocking Dario Franchitti out of the first round of Baltimore qualifying. At Motegi, he qualified P8 overall, and was a pit stop stall away from a legitimate podium finish. Again, the box score might not show it, but Jakes has been flat-out impressive in recent outings.

You can't judge a driver on a single result, but looking at Jakes overall, he just seems more comfortable, more at home in the car, than he did earlier in the year. Some rookies never do get, and that needed improvement is never seen. No, he's not in contention for Rookie of the Year, but he has shown he can hold his own against the rest of the field.

James Jakes was a stranger to ovals before, so Kentucky and Las Vegas will still be challenges. But if you watch him out there, this is not some fly-by-night hack or no-talent field filler. He's an underdog on an underdog team, a little-known driver facing a huge learning curve, and yes, he's got his struggles still ahead of him. But he's proven himself to be one other thing as well: a legitimate IndyCar driver who has a place in this series. Will we see him in 2012? In April of this year I wouldn't have thought to care. Now, I'm hoping he gets to continue on his journey in the series. We'll just have to see how far it takes him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Battistini: In At Conquest?

As was first reported over the weekend and again yesterday, Dillon Battistini is testing with Conquest Racing at Kentucky this week, with an eye towards joining the team for the race at the start of October.

Nothing is set in stone yet, with a couple of rumors still swirling around the team's vacancies for the remaining two races of the 2011 season. But for the 33 year-old Battistini, racing at Kentucky would be a long-awaiting rookie debut. The English driver won four races in his first Lights season in 2008, but has only competed sporadically since then. Before that, he was 2007 Asian F3 champion in the waning years of that series.

For Battistini, the wait could be over.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
On Conquest's side, there's not been much to cheer about this year. Sebastian Saavedra missed Indy and was on the outside looking in in terms of TEAM money when he ran out of funds before Japan. Even their replacement for Japan, J.P. de Oliveira, retired with mechanical issues after a promising start. Although many thought the team might go with a Tomas Scheckter or Bertrand Baguette entry for Kentucky to attempt to grab some TEAM points, it appears they're going a different route.

If Battistini does get the ride for Kentucky, it will be his first IndyCar race. He's tested before, but this would be his first chance to show what he could do. And it isn't a hopeless situation--there would be low expectations for the team in general, but they did qualify P6 and finish P10 at Kentucky in 2010 with Bertrand Baguette.

Further, not many people remember, but Battistini did test in an IndyCar at Kentucky in 2008. Although nothing came of it, at least this won't be coming in with absolutely zero experience.

This is the sort of item we thought we might see more and more this year--with the current Dallara on the way out, some long-waiting drivers finally get a chance to fulfill a dream and drive in the IZOD IndyCar Series. What happens to them after that, of course, is an entirely different story, and one they've yet to write.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Japan Observations

This past weekend, we saw the venerable Dallara turned a wheel for the IZOD IndyCar Series on a road course. The race itself at Motegi wasn't a nail-biter, though a late restart certainly jumbled up the field. In the end, Scott Dixon ran away with this one, riding that new dad (well, new dad again) karma to the checkered flag.

Here are a couple of thoughts on the race:

-The later the evening got, the more punch-drunk the studio announcers sounded. I was pretty wiped as well, so I can get that, but it definitely wasn't a Peabody Award outing.

-Marco Andretti is the most infuriating fantasy driver in terms of results. Seriously, I had him pegged as a "drop" this weekend, and he grabs a podium. Ridiculous.

-A less generous man would note Helio did, in fact, drive like a Brazilian--past Danica, sometime around Lap 31. However, Danica did finish in front of TK--in fact, she finished in front of all the Brazilian driver. What does this mean? Not much. Two more races of Danica making waves every time she's interviewed, I suppose.

-Remaining with Helio for a moment, his comments after his penalty back to P22 are probably going to land him in some hot water. Further, we're to the point of the season where every penalty, non-penalty, or black flag is going to spark a mini-riot online. I'm not saying that Race Control hasn't had its issues this year, but that doesn't make every single incident a hallmark of injustice. Passing on a local yellow after being warned not to would seem to be pretty cut-and-dry.

-The first time I saw S├ębastien Bourdais' incident with Ryan Hunter-Reay, I thought for sure it should have been a penalty. Seeing it again, it was just a racing incident, with Bourdais simply not having enough room from RHR for it not to happen.

-James Jakes had another blah finish, but for a while, it looked like he was about to vastly improve his TEAM standings. It's a shame about the stall in the pits, but that's how it goes. I'd like to think he can keep it up at Kentucky, but ovals might be a different story. We'll see.

-I know he's 13 points down to Will Power, but I still like Dario Franchitti's chances over these next two races. I think there's a good chance we're close to dead even going into Las Vegas.

-Speaking of Dario, I didn't really get into the entire penalty hubbub, but moving Dario to the back of the field, on top of his pit and positions already lost, seemed pretty consistent to me. If the driver doesn't lose considerable positions and pit, then we see a drive-thru. If they do lose position/pit, then no drive-thru.

-There weren't too many changes to the TEAM standings after Japan. HVM's #78 is now a point ahead of KV Racing's #59, but with two ovals finishing things out, I think Simona de Silvestro and company will be hard-pressed to deliver good results. I hope I'm wrong.

-I still like Conquest Racing's move to put J.P. de Oliveira in the car this weekend. It didn't work out, but they still showed some speed before their issues ended their day. With Dillon Battistini taking his rookie oval test for the team, we'll just have to wait and see how things come together for Kentucky. Battisitini isn't a poor driver, but a rookie on a pretty competitive oval is a tough scenario.

-Congrats to Will Power for winning the Mario Andretti Road Course Trophy. It seems pretty clear he's going to be racking up a couple more of those suckers.

-It wasn't an A+ race, but it wasn't Sonoma, either. For good or for ill, the current Dallara is done with road and street courses. I'm happy the series went to Japan, and I'm pretty sure 60k+ hardcore Japanese IndyCar fans are as well. We move on to the last two ovals, and the sunset for 2011.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Six Quick Questions With Anders Krohn

With a nickname like “The Viking”, Norwegian Firestone Indy Lights driver Anders Krohn is pretty difficult not to cheer for. Coming up through karting and Formula Ford, Anders has also climbed the Mazda Road to Indy to his current position with Belardi Auto Racing in Indy Lights. He’s been racing in the U.S. since 2008, and in his words, since then he’s “100% committed on the North American racing scene, and have no real desire to go back”.

Anders has wins in Formula Ford, F2000, and Star Mazda, and is working on one for Indy Lights. He joined IndyCar Advocate for a round of Six Quick Questions to discuss Norwegian racing, his transition to Indy Lights, that Baltimore finish, and best and worst moments from this year.

What's the racing scene like in Norway versus the USA? "Norwegian race car driver" doesn't exactly return a lot of hits on Google!

AK: To tell you the truth, racing isn't really all that big in Norway. Rallying on the other hand, is huge. Luckily karting is quite big, so people can learn the ropes. If they want to make it somewhere in racing though, they will eventually have to go abroad. People normally just go to Europe, but the U.S. worked out great for me, so I'm trying to spread the word to new Norwegian hopefuls.

How has the transition this year been in moving from the Star Mazda Series to Firestone Indy Lights?

AK: The transition has gone quite well I will say. Obviously, we don't have too many results to back up my statement, but the speed has been there on several occasions to be right up there. The Star Mazda car and the Firestone Indy Lights car are two totally different beasts. With the Mazda being a relatively light, short wheelbase, narrow car with an open differential, the driving style is vastly different from the heavier, longer, more powerful FIL car. The championship structure is also a bit different, and as always when you move up the ladder, the demands on you as a driver get bigger. This counts both from a driving, commercial and team communication aspect.

Looking back on the Firestone Indy Lights this season, what have been your favorite and least favorite moments?

AK: My favorite moment of the year was when I was fighting for the lead with Josef Newgarden during the Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We swapped the lead so many times in the opening part of the race. It was tough, clean racing, and it's always great when you're fighting with someone you know isn't gonna stick you in the wall.

My least favorite moment: After spinning out of the lead at IMS, Belardi Auto Racing and I made a bold call to come into the pits for new tires. We fell back to the end of the field, but we were so much quicker than anyone else on the track that we were easily chopping our way back up the field. With about 10 laps to go we were 5th and catching the leaders, when I was involved in an incident with my teammate Jorge Goncalvez and Bryan Clauson. I'm sure most people have seen the crash on YouTube so I wont elaborate on that, but needless to say, it was a tough break both mentally and financially.

I guess you could say that the Firestone Freedom captured the absolute highs and lows of racing, and I don't think I will ever forget any of the emotions I experienced while racing/crashing at the most sacred of all tracks in the world.

You were only a few laps away from your first Lights win in Baltimore. If it isn't too painful, what exactly happened?

AK: Here's another least favorite moment for ya (Laughing). We were enjoying such a strong race in the #9 Liberty Engineering/Belardi Auto Racing car. After all the stuff that's gone wrong this year, it looked like this would be our turning point. After reviewing data, it turns out I had already made the mistake before the race was ever restarted. I didn't keep enough heat in my front tires during the caution period, so when I hit the brakes into turn one the grip level was down and I also bottomed out. This was enough to force me off the track and that was it. It's one of those mistakes that is completely unacceptable. I feel terrible for my team, because after so many struggles we finally caught a break and then I threw it away. This is easily the biggest mistake I've made throughout my career, and it's one that will haunt me for quite some time.

What's one thing about you that most fans would never guess?

AK: Even though I am "The Viking" from Norway, I get cold when the temperature drops below 55. Living in the U.S. for some time now, it feels like my blood is getting thinner by the day! Also, I'll do the occasional Rap in Norwegian, but I only break that out during very special circumstances.

How are your plans shaping up for the rest of the year and 2012?

AK: My immediate plan is to give back to the team what I owe them: A win. For 2012 I would love to be back with Belardi Auto Racing so we can capitalize on the raw speed we've had this year.

Thanks so much for having me on IndyCarAdvocate!


The Viking Himself.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

Make sure to follow Anders on his website http://www.anderskrohn.com/, as well as on Twitter (@anderskrohn). Follow Belardi Auto Racing (on Twitter @belardiracing) or at http://www.belardiautoracing.com/.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One More Time: Motegi Japan Preview

Since Japan is ahead of the United States on time, I thought we’d jump ahead one day of when we normally do our race preview. We go into the final Motegi visit for IZOD IndyCar with a close championship battle, a close Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle, a TEAM money battle that is heating up, and the Mario Andretti Trophy on the line.

A Championship Decided: First and foremost, this weekend will decide whether or not Will Power can hold off Dario Franchitti to be road/street champ and gain the Mario Andretti Trophy. Power is 13 points ahead going into the final twisty of 2011. Of course, we’ll also be watching to see if Power can jump ahead of Franchitti in the overall championship point standings going into the last two races. You know Power wants to build whatever sort of lead he can before we hit the ovals.

Night Owls: That’s right, this race is on late (if you’re totally lost, tune into VERSUS at 11:30pm ET on Saturday night). If you find yourself up at 2am at some point during the weekend to listen in on practice or qualifying, give yourself Iron Fan status. Or possibly Insomniac IndyCar Fan status. Either way, for those of us in the Midwest or East Coast, this race will be over late in the wee hours of Sunday AM. I’ll be around to chat on Twitter with my fellow die-hards. Let’s have fun with it!

One and Done: This will be the first time the series has contested the Motegi road course. It will also be the last for the foreseeable future. Although many looked at the Motegi course as too narrow to have much passing, watching Formula Nippon gives some hope that the track should offering some overtaking here and again. It’s definitely a bit different from the normal courses we see on the schedule, which in and of itself might make for some shuffling in the field. I think this race will definitely have more action than some have suggested.

Rock Star Sato: If you don’t recall last year’s visit to Japan, Takuma Sato was a bona fide star with the Motegi fans. IndyCar’s fans in Japan are already a dedicated lot; seeing them swarm Sato was simply awesome. It’ll be great to see him get that same treatment this year.

Like Alphaville before him, Sato's Big In Japan.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
 
Rise of the One-Shots: In a nice switch, the two one-off drivers entered for this race should have a nice chance at a solid finish. Joao Paolo de Oliveira (Conquest) and Hideki Mutoh (AFS/SSM) are both familiar with the Motegi road course; in fact, de Oliveira has won here and is defending Formula Nippon champion. A Top 10 for both entries would not shock me one bit.

Rookie of the Year Update: James Hinchcliffe still trails JR Hildebrand by 3 points for Sunoco Rookie of the Year. This could be Hinch’s last chance to drop some big points on his competitor before we get to the last two ovals, where Panther should be in line for some solid runs.

Kimball’s Doldrums: Speaking of rookies, it’s been a tough stretch for Charlie Kimball since New Hampshire. If he wants to finish in the Top 22 in TEAM money, a good result here would be a nice start.

Rocket Ryan: Ryan Hunter-Reay has 7 Top 10s with a victory in his last 7 races. It would seem like he'd be in a good spot to keep that streak going this weekend, but we'll have to see how it plays out. He's been a constant good result for Andretti Autosport while their other drivers are still largely up-and-down.

The Revenge of Brazil: Given Danica's comments on Brazilian drivers yesterday, I can't imagine she'll see much courtesy from them on the track. And I can't say I blame them.

Other Weekend Notes: Giorgio Pantano gets another whirl in the #22 for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing; he’s been enjoyable to watch so far this year…Mike Conway’s livery is back to the @FollowAndretti format for Motegi—I wonder if they’ll get an influx of Japanese Twitter followers?...outside of our one-shots, I like James Jakes to finally break out a bit this weekend with a good result. He’s been close the past couple of weeks…Conquest’s #34 car will be sponsored by the Japanese wedding/funeral company Ceremony, which might be the only time a funeral company has sponsored the side of an IndyCar.

Best-Looking Car: Pantano’s Kona Deep #22 car is striking, but I sort of like purple and yellow Ceremony livery for the de Oliveira's #34.

Pole Position Prediction: No upset here; I like Will Power to win the pole...

Winner Prediciton: ...but I’m taking Takuma Sato to get the job done in front of a home crowd. Do it, Taku.

Take A Minute: Lost somewhere in the arguments over radiation and earthquakes, road and oval, Asian and American time zones, is the fact that a lot of folks in Japan are still feeling the effects of a truly epic disaster. I’m hoping the series will bring some commerce and diversion to our friends over there, but most of all, I hope it brings them some joy and happiness that they really need. If you think of it this week, take a moment to visit sites such as Takuma Sato’s With You Japan to see how you can help.

Enjoy the weekend, and get some rest, Eastern Standard Time brethren. We’ll need it on this one! Make sure to stop back by tomorrow for an all-new Six Quick Questions with a driver owning one awesome nickname!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Indy Lights Notes, Updates

First off, congrats to Sarah, Andy, and the good folks at Sarah Fisher Racing on their new arrival! Welcome, Zoey!

I figured it was a good time to go over some of the latest and greatest from the Firestone Indy Lights Series:

-I didn’t get a chance to mention this before, but it’s pretty neat to see sprint car driver (and native Hoosier) Jacob Wilson get some time in Indy Lights! If you missed it, the 21 year-old Crawfordsville, IN native will be doing an oval test with Belardi Auto Racing at Kentucky next week. It sounds He’s got a nice resume, and would likely be fun to watch in the series. Owner Brian Belardi seemed to agree, stating in their press release “I think it’s important to integrate those different types of talent into the development program we have feeding into the IZOD IndyCar series.” I couldn't agree more.

-Josef Newgarden just about has the championship wrapped up, but there’s still plenty to discuss about him. Kyle Lavigne’s excellent article on Josef over at ICN (free to register!) quoted the top American prospect as wanting not just a ride, but a quality one for next year if he moves up. Said Newgarden, "I can tell you what, I’m not interested in just becoming an IndyCar driver, that’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to just be in the IndyCar Series. I want to be a successful driver in that series. I want to win races and I want to win titles. If the right situation isn’t present, then possibly moving up is not the right move. That’s definitely the way I would look at it".

I’m excited to see where he ends up in 2012. I think he’s going to be impressive when he tests with teams, and I hope the scholarship is enough to find him a spot.

-It’s a bit early, but as Star Mazda finishes up their season at Laguna Seca, you have to start wondering who will be making the transition to Lights for 2012. Tristan Vautier and Connor de Phillippi seem likely, but you have to wonder what drivers like JV Horto or Nick Andries will do next year. Meanwhile, Sage Karam will likely return to Star Mazda in '12 to fight for that championship, so I'd expect any jump he made to Lights to be still a year off.

-It’s cool Mike Larrison is getting his shot at Vegas in the #26 for Andretti Autosport, but I still bad for Peter Demspey. He has some serious talent, and between the O2RT fiasco and a partial season at AA, I feel like he never did find his full groove, despite four podiums. I hope he’s back in 2012, because he’s got the chops to be a serious contender.

-I hate to end on a sad note, but Sam Schmidt Motorsports lost their Indy Lights Team Manager Monday evening. Chris Griffis was only 45, but had overseen SSM’s dominant reign in Indy Lights. Our most sincere condolences to his family and his team on their heartbreaking loss.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who Should Race For Conquest?

With the news that Sebastian Saavedra is out of money for his ride at Conquest, we now look to see how another round of musical chairs is about to play out. Conquest Racing is not out of the running for TEAM money, but their #34 car is 34 points behind the current P22 entry in the TEAM standings. It’s not insurmountable, but they aren’t going to make it up if they bring in Francesco Dracone or Enrico Pallazzo. They need quality drivers and quality finishes over the last three races, and they’ve made a great start with Joao Paulo de Oliveira.

If you’re going to race on the Motegi road course, bringing a two-time course winner and defending Formula Nippon champion is a great start. Motegi is going to have a few tricks to it, de Oliveira should be able to get up to speed quickly. Given the circumstances, this seems to be a pretty savvy move for Eric Bachelart’s guys.

So what about Kentucky and Las Vegas? Saavedra has stated he’d like to find the money to come back for the Las Vegas World Championships, but what if he doesn’t?

First, let’s look at Kentucky. If I’m Conquest, all things being equal, I’m looking to see if Bertrand Baguette can drive for me at Kentucky. Triple B/Breadman/The Bagman had a great race there last year, qualifying P6 and finishing P10. Knowing I’m on the edge of what it takes to get that TEAM money, if I’m Eric Bachelart, I’m seeing if I can work something out with my fellow Belgian. He’s already got his oval license, and he was stellar at Indy.

I do believe having someone with an oval license (or who can easily procure one) is going to limit this somewhat, along with the required funds to jump into the ride, are going to limit this somewhat. Tomas Scheckter’s a veteran who’s been able to pull together some funding now and again, but had mixed results with Conquest in his two races for them last year (P28 Chicagoland, P14 Kentucky). I think he at least has to be in the discussion there.

Bottom line, there are good drivers out there that could give Conquest a chance to turn these circumstances into a plus. I think Scheckter and Baguette are very likely two of the better potential options out there, but ultimately we’ll have to wait and see what Conquest Racing and Eric Bachelart decide. Will they go with someone who gives them a better chance to fight for position and points, or will we see someone non-competitive just filling out the seat?

Hopefully, Conquest Racing is willing and able to put a quality replacement driver in their car after Japan. I want them to be a part of the battle for that last TEAM Money spot, and with some luck and the right driver(s), I think they have a chance to pull it off.


(Additionally, as a quick note, although I didn’t cover it today, I wanted to mention how pleased I was at IndyCar and GoDaddy bringing back the $5 Million Challenge at Las Vegas for Dan Wheldon and one potentially lucky fan. It might be a Plan B, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good plan! I think it’s going to be a blast to watch, and hopefully Wheldon gets a great shot at contending).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Vegas IndyCar: A Full Field Getting Fuller?

We'll have plenty to discuss for Japan this week, but I wanted to take a quick look at how the Las Vegas season finale is shaping up for IndyCar. This race has long intrigued me, and not just because of the points battles that it looks like it'll be deciding. This is the last time the current Dallara chassis will be run for the IZOD IndyCar Series, and it's a bit of a "smoke 'em if you got 'em" scenario. We're getting to see all sorts of part-timers and names that aren't regulars in the series.

Outside of the full-time rides, Vegas will bring Ed Carpenter (Sarah Fisher), Wade Cunningham (Sam Schmidt), Davy Hamilton (DRR), and Pippa Mann (Rahal Letterman Lanigan). Buddy Rice is confirmed as a second Panther car. Townsend Bell returns in a second/third car for Sam Schmidt. Paul Tracy will be subbing in the #22 car for Dreyer and Reinbold.

There are, of course, some other possibilities, which really have the potential to bump us past the 30-31 car threshold we're currently expecting. AFS Racing has long been expected to name a driver for the last two races of the year, with Katherine Legge's name being thrown around, along with a couple of others (although Legge would need to obtain her oval license). Jay Howard has hinted at having a deal on Twitter. Bryan Herta Autosport and Dan Wheldon have been thrown about as a possibility, though there doesn't seem to be much substantial there yet. Scott Speed was originally penciled in for Dragon Racing, though it looks as if that deal might be dead and gone. As usual, Tomas Scheckter's name has come up as a possibility, this time if Team Redline decides to give it one more go this year.
Might Jay Howard "Pop In" At Vegas?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

Additionally, there have been rumors that AJ Foyt might field an extra car for the finale. Along with this, there's always plenty of underlying buzz and noise--it's just a matter of waiting for the picture to become more clear as the wishful thinkers are separated from the concrete deals. Of course, one has to remember that it's just not a matter of having a chassis lying about; there's the budget to race and having an engine as well. Additionally, teams will still want a warmup in case of a practice or qualifying issue. Point being, although you might see a lot of cars out there, don't expect every Dallara chassis made since '03 to make an appearance.

Even though there's no $5 million challenger, I really feel watching the World Championship event take form over the last weeks of the season is going to be a lot of fun. It's a unique opportunity with a chassis seeing its sunset. Of course, as fans, we all have drivers we want to see again this year, whether it's Simon Pagenaud, Bruno Junqueira, Martin Plowman, or Bertrand Baguette. Others have expressed interest in giving Bryan Clauson his first IICS start. Ask a dozen IndyCar fans, and you'll get a dozen or more names.

We'll probably see a couple of drivers get their first and/or last shot at driving in this series, and I'm betting on at least one surprise deal that's announced in the next month. How it all comes together, and how the one-shots and part-timers compete with the full-time drivers, will be a big part of the intrigue to come. So while you're enjoying Japan and Kentucky over the next few weeks, keep your ear to the ground for Las Vegas rumors-they're only going to get louder.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Friday 15: Pre-Japan Edition

As we get ramped up for the Japan and the IndyCar Fan Late Night Party for those of us who stay up to watch it, it’s time once again to look at the Top 15 drivers in terms of IndyCar points standings. Baltimore definitely mixed things up outside the Top 4, and I expect even more of a shake-up coming in the next few weeks.

As always, the number of positional changes since the last race are listed in red:

1) Dario Franchitti (507 points, unchanged)
I know it’s fun to get on Dario Franchitti for some of his complaints in post-race interviews, but we are seeing one of the best IndyCar drivers of our generation. Appreciate his driving while you can.

2) Will Power (-5 points, unchanged)
Power is coming on strong, and I like his chances at Motegi, but those two ovals to finish the season loom pretty large.

3) Scott Dixon (-77 points, unchanged)
Meanwhile, Scott Dixon is quietly leading the hunt for the AJ Foyt Oval Trophy. Perhaps not quite as quietly as it would have been a couple of years ago; Dixie hasn’t been afraid to express himself this year.

4) Oriol Servia (-140 points, unchanged)
The Reign of Spain is nearly upon us, with Servia grabbing another podium last week. His success this year has meant so much to fans of Newman/Haas Racing, and what it means for their revival.

The "T" might also stand for "Terrific".
(Image Courtesy IndyCar Media)
5) Tony Kanaan (-167 points, +1)
Has any driver given us more exciting races charging from the back of the field? Certainly not in recent memory.

6) Ryan Briscoe (-179 points, -1)
Briscoe didn’t feel Ryan Hunter-Reay gave him enough room in the incident leading up to the Great Pile-Up of Baltimore ’11. The subsequent penalty on RB could play big with who finishes higher between the two if RHR keeps charging.

7) Ryan Hunter-Reay (-202 points, +1)
Ryan’s easily been Michael Andretti’s most consistent driver in the second half of the season, and it’s great to feel like one of their drivers has a chance to win on any course. Let’s hope that’s a preview of 2012.

8) Marco Andretti (-215 points, -1)
After that win at Iowa, it’s been a long, frustrating season. We’ll have to keep waiting to see if he can find that form again this year.

9) Helio Castroneves (-217 points, unchanged)
Although there’s still no wins, Helio has looked a lot better recently than he did in the first half of the year. Getting moved to the back at Baltimore wasn’t his fault, but he’s still looking for the W.

10) Graham Rahal (-223 points, unchanged)
For a moment on the first lap, it looked like Graham could hang with Power. That didn’t last long. All in all, a disappointing weekend as he was lost in the jumble after a great qualifying effort. Then again, he missed that safety truck in Turn 1, so maybe we should just let well enough alone and move on.

11) Danica Patrick (-232 points, +1)
She did a nice job of persevering and fighting for position. Her last, best chance to win in this series will be the last two ovals, though.

12) Alex Tagliani (-243 points, +4)
Tag had a nice result at Baltimore, which was nice after the decline we’d seen in more recent races. Hopefully he can finish the season strong—there are some teammates on the way for the last races of the year, which should be nice.

13) Vitor Meira (-244 points, +2)
It’s like we forget about Vitor for a few races, then he pops up with a nice finish. His first series win likely won’t be this year, but how much fun would that be?

14) Takuma Sato (-245 points, -3)
I can’t wait to see Taku get the rock star treatment again from the fans at Motegi. That’s always great to see. Danica and Helio have to sit on the sidelines while Sato basks in the adoring glow.

15) JR Hildebrand (-249 points, -2)
Hildebrand was unfortunately lost in the mix a bit at Baltimore, but if he can finish decently at Motegi, he should get a big boost from the last two ovals of the year.

Dropping out this week was James Hinchcliffe (-2 spots), who is still right behind Hildebrand in the Rookie of the Year duel. I expect him to finish the year in the Top 15, but right now, those 12-13-14-15 spots are a dogfight. As we saw this week, there’s some high mobility down in the standings.

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Look At 2012 Ovals In IndyCar

(As a quick note, the YouTube video of Tony Kanaan ramping over Helio Castroneves' car has already passed 1.1 million views! Fearless at the 500 has nearly 6 million. Everyone loves a thriller, I guess!).


With the announcement that Fontana was returning to the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule in 2012, it’s natural to wonder as to exactly which ovals will be on the 2012 schedule. The road/oval balance is a tough nut to crack; it seems like oval events are feast (Indy, Iowa) or famine (Milwaukee). But Randy Bernard seems committed to a relatively even number of road and oval events, which I believe is integral to maintaining the multidisciplinary skill level of the series.

First, let’s look at this year’s oval schedule, along with next year’s status:

May: Indianapolis (confirmed)
June: Texas (confirmed)
June: Milwaukee (gone)
June: Iowa (confirmed)
August: New Hampshire (questionable, but likely)
September: Motegi (replaced with road course this year/gone next year)
October: Kentucky (confirmed)
October: Las Vegas (status unknown)

Obviously, Indianapolis is the centerpiece/crown jewel/Holy of Holies of the series. Texas and Iowa remain model events. Milwaukee, sadly, isn’t going to work out. Let’s assume we do get New Hampshire back. That’s five for next year (unless you count Texas twice), plus Fontana (6) and possibly Vegas (7). The series would need at least 1-2 additional ovals to get something approximating balance between ovals and the twisties.

So where do we find these ovals?

The biggest rumor we keep hearing is that IndyCar is seeing if Chicagoland is definitely in play for ’12. Attendance issues notwithstanding, this seems to be one of the most electric tracks for IndyCar. Obviously low attendance has hurt it, but who wouldn’t want to see the cars play at one of the series’ most competitive venues? I think it’s safe to say if we see any other new oval for ’12, it’s going to be Chicagoland.

Fans have pushed for a lot of other great oval tracks; Richmond has had some buzz, as has Pocono, and Phoenix. Unfortunately, Richmond seems a couple years off from having IndyCar back, Pocono doesn’t seem structurally ready for an IndyCar race, and Phoenix’s leadership doesn’t seem supremely interested just now.

So, it looks like we’ll see at most 8 ovals in 2012—unless you count Texas as a doubleheader, in which case its 9. So it still seems like based on what we know about the potential number of road and streets courses, the series will be a track or two short of parity. Still, it’s early, and the schedule has yet to be finalized. What’s important now is finding those strong events such as Iowa, securing them, and finding a way to duplicate the result elsewhere as much as possible. And as we saw at Milwaukee, without a solid promoter, not many events will thrive.

That’s one of the reasons I think we need to look at not just quantity, but quality. A one-and-done oval doesn’t help anyone. Of the ovals right now, obviously Indy, Iowa, and Texas are healthy events. New Hampshire and Kentucky could use a boost, and we’ve yet to see what Vegas holds. Let’s hope whatever events we end up with in 2012 are healthy, growing, and superb races.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Baltimore Observations

About midway through the Baltimore race, I sighed as my Twitter blew up. In fact, here's a recounting of the prevailing fan mood on Twitter and generally online throughout the weekend.

9:38 AM Friday: Track not finished. Delayed. INDYCAR IS FINISHED. THIS EVENT IS A JOKE ON A CATASTROPHIC SCALE. Optimism Meter: 2 (out of 10)

5:00 PM Friday: Large crowds reported. IndyCars on track after delay. Signs of hope, but THE CHICANES WILL RUIN EVERYTHING. THIS EVENT IS A JOKE.
Optimism Meter: A cautious 5.5

1:00 PM Saturday: Qualifications complete. Monster crowds still reported. THIS EVENT IS AMAZING. IT WILL CURE CANCER--UNLESS THEY FAIL TO ADDRESS THE CHICANES/TURN 5/LACK OF MANWICH IN MY CUPBOARD.
Optimism Meter: 8

2:50 PM Sunday: Cars make it through Turn 1 without a major incident. Everyone is relieved, and immensely surprised.
Optimism Meter: 8.5

3:40 PM Sunday: Traffic jam. Chaos reigns. It takes a while to get sorted out. People are moved further back than is the prevailing wisdom. MASS DEFECTIONS TO NASCAR, F1, AND POSSIBLY COMMUNIST CHINA.
Optimism Meter: -77

...And so on.

We are a mercurial bunch, aren't we, IndyCar fans? We live in an age of instant gratification and communication, which means it's very easy to immediately react to whatever's going on. As it was, I thought things worked out pretty well overall. Despite the logjam in the middle of the race, it seems like the event was well-received, had some decent passing, and a lot of different strategies at play. Let's hope the Baltimore Grand Prix irons out some of the wrinkles that a first-time event is bound to have. And hopefully, we can be a little patient in waiting for that diagnosis.

Here's a few additional observations on the Baltimore Grand Prix:

-We definitely can't get in a much closer championship points battle than we have with three races remaining. Will Power dominated the last half of this race, and was rewarded by closing within 5 points of Dario Franchitti for the series championship. A lot can happen in the next two race, but it would seem it's going to again come down to Vegas. For the Rookie of the Year battle, James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand remain only 3 points apart, with Hinch confirmed for Japan.

-Reports from Baltimore overall seemed very good, despite the early delays on track construction. Hopefully the considerable crowds return in Year 2. I do believe the chicanes will be gone next year, much to the relief of apparently the entire internet. The train tracks seemed to be a non-factor, which was nice.

-Tony Kanaan was awesome. You can pencil him in for Firestone Tire-riffic Move of the race (which is almost unfair to Oriol Servia, considering how much butt he kicked as well). He went from one of the scariest moments this season (flying over Helio's car when his brakes went out) to a podium finish. I don't know how many more wins TK has left in his future (I'd suspect a few), but few drivers have provided as much drama over the years.
You deserve that drink, fellas.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

-Martin Plowman finished just outside the Top 10 as the highest-finishing rookie. Plowey wrapped up his three races in IndyCar this year, and I personally think he did a fine job. He stayed out of trouble, made some good passes, and even collected a Firestone Tire-riffic Move award along the way. Hopefully, he's in a car when we start the 2012 season.

-I'm still not sure what all happened in the extended full course yellow of the mid-race traffic jam, but it was exacerbated by Marco Andretti's car spilling oil all over pit lane. I don't think the extension of the yellow did much for the fans' mood online, especially since the restart order was such a headache.

-Seriously, aside from the giant mess in the middle, this was almost an amazingly clean race, especially after the incidents in warm-up. Just when we think we have IndyCar figured out...

-It was great to see Simona de Silvestro back. The fans have definitely taken a liking to the Iron Maiden, and hopefully she can be just as competitive at Motegi in two weeks.

-Vitor Meira and Foyt Racing had a quiet but good weekend. There's never much hoopla around Vitor, but he goes out there and scraps every race. Cheers, sir.

-James Jakes and S├ębastien Bourdais deserved better this weekend. This team has come a long way, and mechanical failure/bad luck ruined what was shaping up to be a great race for both drivers.

-You could tell the race was simply an exhausting one. Power seemed completely wiped out in victory lane, and he wasn't the only driver showing extreme fatigue.

-Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden basically clinched the Firestone Indy Lights championship Sunday, and you have to think he's got a bright future in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Meanwhile, the USF2000 season ended with a Spencer Pigot victory (Petri Suvanto is series champ), and Tristan Vautier extended his lead with a win in the Star Mazda Series--he just needs to start the final race of the season to win the series title over Connor de Phillippi.

Enjoy your Labor Day, get some rest, and go IndyCar!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Baltimore Grand Prix Preview

And so, with only 4 races left in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series campaign, we come to the Baltimore Grand Prix. As an all-new event, it’s a little tough to discern who has a good shot on the course, outside of the Penskes and Ganassis, but the good news is the course looks great. There’s a long straight, some nice passing zones, and some areas where things will probably get a bit dicey (of course, there's the chicane on the front straight and some railroad tracks to address). Let’s hope the event is a great race and a commercial success.

There are plenty of storylines to follow this weekend, so let’s jump right in:

Baltimore Bound: The Baltimore Grand Prix has excited a lot of discussion, both pro and con, with many swearing it’ll be a one-and-done event, and others who think it has a chance to be something special. We’ll see just how Baltimore receives IndyCar and how smooth things go. Personally, I really like this configuration, and hope the finances follow the racing as excellent. Last night, work on the course was still being performed, so today should really give us our first look at what the drivers will see over the weekend. We'll see just who was right about the event after all.

Points Battles Galore: Will Power is within a single race of Dario Franchitti for overall championship points. He’s only behind by a touchdown for the road course championship. Meanwhile, James Hinchcliffe has closed JR Hildebrand’s lead for Rookie of the Year to a mere 3 points. Depending on how things go Sunday, we could have new leaders in each of those categories. Don’t forget the Briscoe/Servia/Kanaan battle for P4-P6, as well, which has turned into a great back-and-forth.

Simona In The USA: Finally, we found out yesterday that Simona de Silvestro was allowed back in the United States, and will be racing at Baltimore for HVM Racing. Apparently, Customs and Immigration finally decided a pretty Swiss race car driver was not a major threat to national security. Welcome back, Simona—may your return be a happy one.

Pantano Power!: Giorgio Pantano didn’t seem to have missed a beat from his long absence from IndyCar last week, finishing a strong P6 before a penalty knocked his official spot back to P17. If you don’t think Dreyer and Reinbold Racing will be extra motivated to kick some butt this weekend, you may want to think again.

Pantano hopes for happier times in
Baltimore.
(Image Courtesy IndyCar Media)

TScheck Returns: We thought Tomas Scheckter’s Redline Energy deal for Indy was a one-off, but SH Racing was so happy with their P8 at Indy that they decided to come back for one more race. Tomas is always a blast to watch, and with this track configuration, there’s bound to be some fireworks before it’s all said and done.

Plowey Once Again: After a very nice P12 at Sonoma (where I’m pretty sure he provided half the passing), Plowey hits his final race of the year in Baltimore. Can he improve from Sonoma, and how does it play into his chance for next year?

Newman/Haas Confidence: The N/H team seems very confident going into this race, and they’ve indeed done very well on tracks where they haven’t even tested. Their ability to hit on a good setup early could see great finishes for Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe. If you’re going to really watch a team this weekend, this might be the one.

Lights Update: Conor Daly returns once again, which should make for a challenging race for teammates Esteban Guerrieri and Josef Newgarden. But the biggest Lights news of the week has to be the return of 56 year-old Willy T. Ribbs, who will be racing alongside all the youngsters at Baltimore. It’ll be really intriguing to see how it all plays out. In other news, Oliver Webb returns in the #12 car for Jensen Motorsport.

Other Burning Questions: Will Andretti Autosport step up for their third victory of 2011? Will Danica finish above P20 as the Farewell Tour continues? Does Dale Coyne Racing continue their streak of impressive performances? Is there any way someone doesn’t get taken out early in the hairpin turn? Does Bia qualify in the Top 12 again?

Pole Position: Is there any earthly reason why I don’t go with Will Power here?

Winner: Power really needs this one to close the championship gap, but how cool would it be to see an Oriol win in Baltimore for once?

Best Looking Car: It’s a tie this week. Although Tomas Scheckter’s Redline Energy car is going to turn heads, Mike Conway’s Buffalo Wild Wings car is one I hope we see plenty more of.

Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend, enjoy the Baltimore Grand Prix, and we’ll meet back here after the race. Because I don’t say it enough, thanks for your time, your emails, and your comments!