Friday, September 28, 2012

Happy Foyt Friday

We're back with yet another Foyt Friday. Today, we've got the Foyt episode of the Indy 500: A Race For Heroes program:



Have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday Notes And Thoughts

Just a few brief IndyCar notes as I catch up during a busy end of fiscal year in the real world:

-I have no stomach for another tire war—tires are one item where I am more than happy to see little on-track competition—and Firestone has done an absolutely incredible job in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Yet when the contract for 2015 is discussed, if I’m Randy Bernard, I’m remembering a time two years ago when the rates just to keep Firestone around jumped up, and if I’ve got other bidders looking to supply my series, I’m going to think on it for a bit.

Ultimately, I’d love to see Firestone stay—but if they are sent off, I get it. Whatever the end result, tires are one area where there can’t be poor manufacturer performance. Spectators of more than one non-IndyCar race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway acutely understand why I feel this way. Still, there's time yet, and negotiations are all just part of the game.

-A new Miller/Pruett silly season article is up, and it's hard to argue with much in it just now. I'm curious to see how the situation at Dale Coyne Racing resolves itself. It seems James Jakes' return is in doubt, but I still have to think Justin Wilson will re-sign with the team. That combination of Wilson with Bill Pappas is too much to ignore. I'm still really curious to see if Coyne finds a good--or any--fit for the second seat.

-Finally, I was interviewed for Edmonton’s evening news Monday night in regards to the city losing the Edmonton Indy event. Check it out here, while I keep the hope that one day they’ll be able to interview me under much happier circumstances.

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Exit For Edmonton

This year, I was privileged to attend the Edmonton Indy race. I flew up to Alberta, enjoyed a full weekend of Star Mazda, Firestone Indy Lights, and of course, IZOD IndyCar Series action. I loved the event, I loved the hospitality, I loved the people, and made some new friends to go along with some old ones. The airport course had great visibility, some excellent on-track battles in all series, and the locals I talked to knew their racing--especially those involved with favored local son Stefan Rzadzinski.

When I heard that Edmonton Indy wouldn't be returning for 2013, I wasn't floored, but I did feel absolutely sick for my racing pals up there in the Great North. Losing your "home" race hurts, in a big way, and no amount of figures or explanation can make it feel better.

You didn't have to be an insider to know there was discontent from local folks in regards to how Octane was handling this event. I'll leave the particulars on that to better-informed individuals than me, but I will say I've seen the amount of civic pride these Edmontonians have, as well as their drive to show their city to the world. Despite their fighting spirit, it doesn't sound as if any hope remains for Edmonton to return to the schedule anytime soon.

I've heard the complaints from teams and fans, that they feel the race was too distant to make it a viable location. I also know it wasn't #1 on a ton of lists when we're ranking favorite races. But I have to weigh that against my incredible experience there, and thoughts of the folks who worked hard and invested so much time in this event.

Sometimes, the only thing you can say is that racing is a rough business, and life's not fair. I hope Edmonton works something out in the future, and their great city gets another venue to show off. I hope Stefan Rzadzinski gets a full chance to show what he can do. And I hope the sting subsides a bit for those that have lost their race. For now, I'll be left with memories of one of the best racing weekends of my life.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Just Another Foyt Friday

Another two entries in our semi-regular Friday series regarding Super Tex:

You're going to love this one. Dirt track, 1963, with as many legends as you can name mixing it up with Foyt. I guarantee this will be the best 14 minutes of your day:



After that, 1972 Daytona almost seems like a letdown:


Have a great weekend, and we'll see you Monday!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Most Improved 2012 IndyCar Driver?

When we’re looking at the IndyCar season that was, it’s always interesting to see how it compares to campaigns of years past. More specifically, I like to try and gauge who was the most improved driver from the year before. It’s not easy, especially when you throw team considerations and luck into the mix.

At first glance, it would be easy to mark Ryan Hunter-Reay as Most Improved, since he went from P7 to P1 in the points, and went from a single victory to four, but I’m not sure that shoe fits. Hunter-Reay certainly moved it up a level, but this was a guy we all knew from years past could not only compete, but win. I’d like the “Most Improved” designator who showed real, drastic improvement.

What about Charlie Kimball? Finishing P19 in his 2011 rookie season, he often looked tentative and, well, like a rookie in his races prior to this year. This year, he looked a lot more assertive, had a fantastic first podium at Toronto, and tripled his number of Top 10 finishes from the year before. Then again, he once again finished P19 in the standings—though it was against a stronger field, most would argue. Still, Kimball is definitely making measured strides in his IndyCar career.

JR Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe also generally looked better than in their rookie seasons, but it didn’t seem as if either driver made what could be called huge strides. It felt like both could finish well as rookies, and the same could be said this year. Hinch did jump up to P8 in the final standings from P12 as a rookie, and Hildebrand went from P14 to P11. If anything, I’d say Hinch showed a bit more polish this year.

Sebastian Saavedra? He certainly seemed smoother out there in his limited 2012 schedule than he did in his disastrous 2011 campaign, even if the results don’t show that. However, three races seems a bit limited a sample to tell us anything at this point.

I’ll bring up one more name, though it will likely cause a fair amount of debate in its own right. Let’s talk about E.J. Viso. Now, yes, Viso finished P20 in the standings, two spots lower than in 2011. And he faded in the second half of the season, recording only a single Top 10 after Milwaukee. Again, results and points don’t tell the whole story. This was a more patient driver than in years past, less likely to pull a banzai move at the last minute resulting in multiple wrecked cars. No, he wasn’t perfect, and had his moments, but also dropped his DNFs from wrecks from four to only a single race in 2012.

So which driver stands out as Most Improved from 2011? Honestly, I’m not sure there is a clear winner here. My instinct is to go with Kimball or possibly Viso, but I think you can make an argument for any of the names I’ve mentioned here. This might be a question without a clear-cut answer, but I’d love to hear your opinion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A First Look At 2013 IndyCar’s Silly Season

With the final checkered flag waved, trophies and oversized winner's checks handed out, and an action-packed season in the record books, we shift gears to looking at the 2013 Silly Season. It might seem early, but the deals and drama that will determine who will get a seat for next year are already in motion.

Yes, we're going to get a lot of speculation, on this site and others. This opening article, as a way of kicking things off, is justa general overview. It's Silly Season; part of it is just a fun guessing game, but there's also the pursuit of rumors, doing your homework, and keeping your eyes and ears open. Sometimes you find out big news, sometimes you're dying to share something but can't, and yes, sometimes you whiff, as hard as you try to get it right. I can tell you when we get into the heat of Silly Season, we'll mess up at least a few times. But that doesn't mean we won't try to give the best, most accurate information we can. That's just the nature of Silly Season--even "done" deals can be undone, and the best sources can fail.

It’s quite likely we could see an increase in teams “buddying up” in terms of sharing resources for the 2013 season. It will bear watching to see if one-car teams such as Ed Carpenter Racing do indeed either expand within their existing team structure, or form a partnership of some degree of the Panther/DRR deal we saw this season. It appears the majority of potential additions to the field in 2013 are more along the lines of a couple of one-car teams expanding to two-car operations.

Just as the “Wheldon seat” was the most-discussed seat available before the 2012 season, the third seat at Roger Penske’s crew is tops in discussion in the early stages of 2013 planning. While it sounds as if Briscoe has at least some shot of returning to the team, speculation has run wild, with references to suspended NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger rampant, although that ultimately seems unlikely at best. If Briscoe doesn’t return, the most likely course of action still seems to be that Penske will return to their old two-car ways.

AJ Foyt Enterprises has a difficult road ahead, with another season of a few promising results and many rough ones. To complicate matters further, driver Mike Conway is done with oval racing, which seems to suggest his future with the team is limited at best. Wade Cunningham filled in for Fontana, but any long-term involvement of his with the team remains a big question mark.

As we can say in annual fashion, nothing is written in stone for Dale Coyne Racing at the moment. James Jakes’ future with the team is questionable, and we wait to see if Justin Wilson keeps the successful relationship with engineer Bill Pappas going into next year. Wilson’s name has been hot in free agents discussions the last couple of years, but after a big win at Texas and several other highly competitive races, there’s definitely some inducement for him to stick around.

Chip Ganassi’s crew has had their last race with Graham Rahal, who appears primed to move to his father’s team. Multiple candidates have been mentioned to team up alongside Charlie Kimball’s car, with everyone from Ryan Briscoe to Memo Rojas to Takuma Sato having been mentioned. This is perhaps one of the biggest wait-and-see seats out there.

Dragon Racing has an option coming up with Sebastien Bourdais, and it remains to be seen if Jay Penske’s crew can bring the talented Frenchman back for another year. Katherine Legge’s future is also a bit hazy, with nothing definite, and the TrueCar sponsorship a bit of a cipher in terms of long-term prospects.

HVM Racing is finally, blessedly free of Lotus, but their engine affiliation for 2013 has yet to be determined. One thing is for certain: the Nuclear Clean Air Energy sponsorship has to be tired of poor results, and their contract appears to be up after next year. No one doubts Simona’s talent, but perhaps no driver as urgently needs to show results next season. There's at least a possibility this entry could be a joint one with KV next year.

KV Racing could be seeing a drop in car count for 2013, unless they partner with another team. Tony Kanaan looks to remain with the team, but Rubens Barrichello is perhaps gone to Sam Schmidt’s team, and EJ Viso is considering starting his own team. Viso could partner with a current part-time team in the effort, making him among the most likely candidates to give IndyCar a brand-new full-time team in 2013. Overall, we'll have to wait to see if the rumored HVM/KV joint effort or partnership transpires.

Sam Schmidt’s team appears primed to pair Barrichello with Sunoco Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud, but it is not yet finalized. If it does happen, it will be curious to see how the expansion goes with Schmidt’s crew, which has run additional cars (part-time) before to mixed reviews.

Michael Shank Racing is one of the most intriguing teams on this list, and perhaps one of the most difficult stories of the past year. Michael Shank’s crew didn’t have the funding for a full-season ride, but by the time they were ready to run Jay Howard for the Indy 500, there was no engine lease to be had. It seems possible Shank’s team could team with an outfit to make it happen, but their participation for 2013 remains tentative at this point.

For Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, it appears to be a homecoming for Bobby Rahal’s son, but it remains to be seen if Takuma Sato re-ups with the team as a second driver. Rahal has made no secret of their desire to expand, and although there were too many on-track incidents, Sato certainly had the speed to compete on a variety of courses.

Among the Indy Lights drivers, Tristan Vautier will look to move up after being Lights champion, but Esteban Guerrieri could also make the jump, depending on how the landscape looks. He was definitely close to doing so 2011, with serious negotiations in place with KV Racing. Additionally, Sebastian Saavedra should run at least a partial schedule once more with AFS Racing.

Certainly there’s more, and conventional wisdom will almost certainly be stood on its head a half-dozen times before all is said and done, but for now, it looks to be another very busy offseason for IndyCar, and those of us that follow along.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Thoughts And Notes From The MAVTV 500

-Well, really, where do we start after all that? I’m simply amazed that everything that happened transpired as it did. There was Ryan Hunter-Reay, fighting a subpar car on a night where there seemed to be no shortage of strong contenders jockeying up front. There was Penske Racing, doing the impossible in repairing and sending out a battered race car to turn a few more laps to try and make RHR’s job that much harder. There was Ed Carpenter, again besting Dario Franchitti on an oval at the last possible minute. In the end, those of us watching knew we had just seen an instant racing classic. 

-Let’s talk about Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport for just a moment. For a team that had been maligned as “falling off” the last few years, they supported their driver in a tremendous manner, ensured the race wasn’t lost in the pits, and made adjustments to keep him moving forward in as desperate a battle as you’ll see for position. On a night where RHR and Andretti Autosport did not have a race-winning car, they did just enough to bring home a championship-winning one.

-Hunter-Reay will be at Andretti for at least two more years, and has now proven himself as one of the top all-around threats in the Series. He lacks the dominance in any one discipline like Power, but you know he can hang around and win, whether it’s a street course or oval. To have a champion that won on both the ovals and twisties is a fine advertisement for the multi-disciplined nature of IndyCar.

-We always talk about poise under pressure, but I thought Will Power’s composure in his interviews after losing the title for the third straight year was above reproach. He was courteous, honest, and direct with his answers, all the while giving his team all the (rightly deserved) praise in the world. I suspect that a few folks who weren’t Power fans before Saturday night will be pulling for him to get it done next year. That said: Back, meet Monkey.

Victory!
(Photo by Eric Schwarzkopf, TrackSideOnline.com
Used With Permission).
-Now, then, onto Ed Carpenter. We all knew going into this year that this time probably wouldn't be competitive on the road and street course, and that prediction was fully realized. But what this team can--and did--do--is compete on the ovals. Carpenter has been strong at Indianapolis several times, and he and his team simply had a rocketship out there. It was a comprehensive, powerful effort, one that surpassed the best efforts of the Ganassi cars, who were no slouches themselves.

Carpenter’s team would be well-served to add a solid road/street driver, but this was a exemplary accomplishment for a one-car, rookie team to end a rough season. It didn’t hurt that their victory ensured they remained easily in the Top 22 for TEAM money purposes next season.

-Carpenter also had told Bob Jenkins that he would like his last IndyCar broadcast to be one calling a win for Ed. He certainly did so, and with that we mark the end of Bob Jenkins’ IndyCar announcing career. People criticized him at times for his flubs, but Jenkins was One Of Us. He loved IndyCar, loved his job, and that enthusiasm easily flowed through to his announcing. He joins the iconic broadcasters of this series--one with his own approach and style. We’ll miss that in the booth.

-Let’s not overlook Tristan Vautier, who held off teammate Esteban Guerrieri to clinch the Firestone Indy Lights title and resultant scholarship to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Yes, Lights has been weak, but Vautier is a true success story for the Mazda Road to Indy Ladder. He funded his Lights campaign by winning the Star Mazda Series and its scholarship in 2011, then followed it up with the Lights title this year. I expect we’ll see Vautier, Guerrieri, and Saavedra in at least part-time IndyCar roles next season.

-Takuma Sato...I’m not sure what to say at this point. I remain firm in my belief he will win an IndyCar race, but two crashes on the last lap of the two biggest ovals of the year doesn’t precisely give his defenders a lot of ammo for their cause. Sato should either end up remaining with Rahal or gravitating to another decent team next year, but he just needs to show he can finish. In quieter moments, I sometimes doubt that will happen.

-Alex Tagliani left the race late, but Tag and Bryan Herta Autosport deserve a huge nod for the effort and performance they showed after getting a Honda engine. Herta might be one of the smaller teams out there, but they are awfully close to taking the checkered once more. I hope the team stays intact for 2012--if so, I think they can truly compete.

-There are certainly many silly season discussions to be had in the weeks and months to come, but perhaps the most immediate moves we’ll see include Rubens Barrichello with Sam Schmidt’s team, Graham Rahal potentially moving to his dad’s team, and the question of what EJ Viso will do in regards to his future. With Mike Conway’s avoidance of ovals, AJ Foyt’s crew also has some big decision to be made. Of course, we also have to see if Ryan Briscoe is truly finished at Penske, and if that operation will contract back to its natural two cars.

-Congrats to Matthew Brabham on winning the USF2000 title over his teammate Specer Pigot. Pigot looks like he could easily move up to Star Mazda along with Matthew Brabham. The ladder talent is really exciting right now, and it seems fitting we have a Brabham again making his way to IndyCar. So far from what I've seen from Brabham The Younger, talent continues to run deep in that family.

-How about Stefan Wilson bringing the Fan Force United machine home to a nice finish in Firestone Indy Lights? He didn't look to have much rust at all. There's no doubt in my mind that Wilson could be the 2013 Lights champ with a decent full-time ride. Let's not forget we have some good prospects out there that just a need break to get it done.

-I will once again make my plea to sponsors to support Pippa Mann and get her back out on track for IndyCar. Whether it’s giving tours, announcing in the booth, or interacting with fans on Twitter and Facebook, no driver is better at fan outreach. If she isn’t full-time, I’d love to see her expand her role in the broadcast team, and get to run Indy and a few other courses, at the least. IndyCar needs ambassadors of that type.

-The current formula of the DW12, Firestone tires, and the Honda/Chevy engines have proven they can enable some tremendous racing, especially when IndyCar makes the drivers really drive the car. Dan Wheldon’s legacy and time in this car has been well-vindicated.

-Seriously, what wasn’t to love about the MAVTV 500 and season finale? There was drama, strategy, tremendous battles for the lead. If someone--anyone!--with any sort of inclination towards being a racing fan was watching this race, there was plenty to hook them.

Yeah, this sport can drive you crazy sometimes, but the on-track product is tremendous--and I would argue, the best racing going out there right now. We can take great pride in INDYCAR, going into the offseason, and hopefully that excitement will bear itself out as we drag friends and family to the track in 2013. Whether it’s Fontana, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Barber, or Milwaukee, the accessibility, excitement, and speed of this sport can never be in doubt. We shouldn’t ever waver in believing that, and that we can share what this sport is about with others. Whatever issues the Series might have, take comfort: the quality of racing is on our side.

Simply put: IndyCar rocks. And now we have an amazing reminder of that to take with us until the green flag drops once more.

-I need to give a shoutout to Tony Johns of Pop Off Valve, who is giving up the IndyCar blogging game. Tony was a great encouragement to many fledging bloggers (myself including), with features like the Paddock Pulse giving us some hits when we otherwise wouldn't have had any outside our immediate family. Best wishes, Tony, and good luck down the road.

-Well, there will be plenty more to come, I'm sure, but for now, I just want to say thank you for your reading, commentary, and company during this season. It means more than you know. I hope you'll stick with us through the offseason, as we again wait for those most famous words in motorsports. Keep those engines fired!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Courage of Mike Conway

I expected today's article to be a preview of this weekend's battle for IndyCar's A.J. Foyt Oval Trophy--a look at Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, and all the other drivers still in contention for that prize. As it turns out, yesterday yielded an entirely different oval story.

We all know of Mike Conway's horrible 2010 Indy 500 accident, and his scare in this year's 500 as well. Still, he had contested other ovals, from Texas to Iowa, this year and last.

On Thursday, September 13, 2012, Mike Conway decided that enough was enough.

He stepped out the Foyt car for Fontana, and almost as certainly stepped into a moment that will always be discussed and debated when fans look back on his racing career.

Even with reminders of injury or tragedy in nearly every venue of racing, we tend to forget just what a dangerous sport this can be, even with 21st-century safety and precautions taken. Mike Conway's voluntary exit reminds us that fact cannot always be pushed aside.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of drivers who didn't know when or how to step away. Some simply faded into the background. Others soon found that not knowing how to admit they were done could be a deadly proposition. "Just one more..." may be one of the oldest temptations mankind has faced, and one of the most seductive.

Conway was no longer comfortable contesting IndyCar's ovals, according to his official statement. Given his history on them, it is hard to blame him.

We are casual, sometimes, with our expectations of drivers. We mock or disregard those seen as also-rans, in part because racing demands a hierarchy of haves and have-nots. The Dennis Vitolos and Marty Roths of the world are scoffed at, their courage disregarded, even though it goes far beyond what any of us would even dare to attempt.

Less than a year after a terrible loss shook the IndyCar community, perhaps it is proper that we have a reminder that what we will see this weekend is not pedestrian or commonplace, that this sport is not for the faint of heart, that the danger and speed that thrills us is not some exhibition, that even the slowest qualifier possesses a measure of grit and resolve few reading this will ever know. These are exceptional men and women, given a passion and courage beyond that of so many.

Mike Conway possesses as much courage as any. He did what was right for himself, his team, and his ultimate well-being, public opinion be damned. I wonder, how many of us would be willing to face the same reality in such a direct and honest manner?

Courage does not only belong to the daredevil or the champion. It belongs to those who are truthful with themselves, and think not only of pride, but of ultimate consequence. Perhaps, in our world, it has also become the far less common strain of valor, with its value growing alongside its rarity.

I don't know what the future holds for Mike Conway, in IndyCar or out of it. I do know can hold his head high, and walk proudly as a man that not only challenged the gods of speed on the ovals, but knew when enough was enough.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

10 Stories For The MAVTV 500 & IndyCar Championship

Well, we’re here. It’s just about time to determine whether Ryan Hunter-Reay or Will Power will be our 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champ. Saturday, at 8:30pm (ET) on NBC Sports, everything will be decided at the MAVTV 500. Between now and then, check out these 10 big stories, as we prepare to celebrate a new Series champion:

1) The Title Battle, Of Course.

On one side, we have Will Power, a road and street course guru, seemingly always just a step or single race away from the championship, and falling just short. On the other, we have Ryan Hunter-Reay, an All-American driver who could bring Andretti Autosport all the way “back” by pulling off the comeback for the title. You have people who have staked their preferred outcome not only on which driver they prefer, but on like/dislike of Roger Penske, Michael Andretti, and probably a dozen other things.

So, earlier in the week, I predicted Will Power will be champion—not because I thought he’d dominate, but because the math is on his side. A 17-point lead means Ryan Hunter-Reay basically needs to have a tremendous performance; that’s not necessarily true for Power. I hope the race comes down to a titanic endurance battle, but there’s never a guarantee any championship will come down to that. But if RHR qualifies well, and looks strong in the early going, Power will have to sweating it out more than just a bit. If Ryan Hunter-Reay has another inspired race like Baltimore, he can pull this off. But I still think the odds rest with Power. If he doesn’t win this time, then that “Can’t Win The Big One” label becomes not lightly glued, but solidly engraved.

2) The Other Championship Battle

Don’t forget, Firestone Indy Lights has an even closer championship battle with rookie Frenchmen Tristan Vautier holding a slim 7-point lead over Esteban Guerrieri going into this weekend’s finale. Guerrieri would seem to be the favorite on the oval, but Vautier has proven he can hold his own, with fine oval results as well. Frankly, this might be the hardest prediction of the weekend, if for no other reason than it’s Indy Lights, which means someone is going to attempt to go from P12 to P1 in the first corner with a banzai maneuver and cause everyone watching to close their eyes in terror. It would not surprise me if half the field was taken out early. There is just no way to know, but Lights oval races are generally about 80% Entertainment, 20% Sheer White-Knuckle Terror. If you were at Carb Day this year for the Freedom 100, you are nodding your head emphatically at this point.

3) We’re #22! We’re #22!

Currently, the Ed Carpenter racing #20 car clings to a small lead over Sarah Fisher Hartman’s Racing #67 for the 22nd and final presumptive TEAM money spot for next year. A payout of 1.2 million isn’t enough to fund an entire season, but especially with smaller teams, it sure doesn’t hurt any. With Josef Newgarden needing 23 points to have Fisher leapfrog Carpenter for the final spot, it will take the sort of start-to-finish quality effort we simply have yet to see this year in a mistake and mechanical issue-plagued season. For his part, Carpenter’s hardly been gangbusters, but everyone knows he can more than hold his own on ovals. The odds would seem to be against SFHR, but they’ve stunned us before. We’ll see if they have another late-season surprise for us, and if Newgarden can finally grab that quality result that has been alternatingly so close and so far this year.

4) One More Entry

Sebastian Saavedra will be back in the #17 car for AFS Racing and Andretti Autosport this upcoming weekend. His results weren’t ideal, but he definitely seemed more comfortable in the car compared to his 2011 results. If he can secure a nice finish this weekend, it would be a nice confidence boost for whatever he and the AFS Racing team have planned together for 2013.

5) Rumors, Rumors Everywhere

Of course, with the season almost over, expect to hear no shortage of silly season rumors, and probably even a few cracks in the fa├žade of unhappy relationships in the paddock. The biggest question mark still has to be Ryan Hunter-Reay, and whether or not he’ll re-up with Andretti Autosport, or go with the tempting promise of the presumably open Penske Racing seat. It’s a difficult decision, and we can expect the hardcore among us to interpret every statement, physical gesture, meeting, and possibly meal composition as a hint as to just what his decision will be. My hunch is he’s sticking with Andretti, but I could be so very, very wrong.

6) One More Engine Fight For The Road (Well, Oval)

Chevy beat Honda pretty handily in the engine manufacturer battle, but it isn’t as if Honda didn’t get their licks in. At wins at speedways like Indy and Texas, Honda’s engine has proven fully capable of blasting down the straights and giving a fine account of itself. It’s a good reason to favor Honda drivers to do well this weekend, but it’s also a 500-mile event. That means there’s no doubt we’re going to see some engines let go, and a grenading engine could easily impact the outcome of the race and championship. Endurance has been highlighted at events such as Indy this year; we’ll see which engine gets final bragging rights on that account.

7) Hey, May I Have A Good Weekend? Please?

For every driver that’s had a great 2012 campaign (paging Mssrs. Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay, for example), there’s a driver or team that simply hasn’t had the desired results this season. Let me ask you this: which driver winning would be the biggest “end on a high note” for them? Josef Newgarden? Marco Andretti? Ed Carpenter? Perhaps (as crazy as it sounds) our 500 winner, Dario Franchitti?

If you’ve ever played any sort of sport, you know how brutal an offseason can be when it ends with a big loss or disappointment. Even if you’re great at blocking that out, it still nags at you through the long winter months. We’ll see if perhaps an unlikely winner can give themselves and/or their team a nice mental boost heading into the fall and winter seasons.

8) USF2000 Finishes Up, Too

Unlike Star Mazda, which ends its season at Road Atlanta next month, USF2000 will also finish up its season this weekend , with a pair of races at Virginia International Raceway September 14-15. Matthew Brabham has a 41-point lead over teammate Spencer Pigot, though both have been lights-out with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing this season. As one of the few drivers to challenge them this year Belardi Auto Racing’s Scott Anderson will be attempting to finish his season on a very strong note as well. Several of these drivers could very well make the jump to Star Mazda next year, and not just our series champ. Call me a traditionalist, but I have to admit, there’s just something nice about having a Brabham involved in INDYCAR, even on the ladder.

9) Livery Update

There aren’t any big changes to liveries this week, but there are still a few minor notes to mention: Tony Kanaan will have the primarily blue-and-white Mouser Electronics/GEICO sponsorship, while Helio Castroneves will have AAA and Verizon on the side of his car. Ryan Briscoe will be back in the always-popular IZOD livery, while Sebastian Saavedra will mix his Colombia sponsorship with the usual AFS Racing yellow-and-red scheme. For the ever-changing Panther/DRR entry, WIX Filters will again be on the sidepod for Oriol Servia.

10) Last Call

The end of any season marks the last time time at least a couple of drivers will race with their current team, but expect a fairly unsettled landscape just as soon as the checkered flag waves over Fontana. Ryan Briscoe is very possibly making his last start for Penske Racing, and we already mentioned Ryan Hunter-Reay’s potential situation. Rubens Barrichello is almost certainly gone from KV Racing, and EJ Viso may be changing teams (or starting one?) as well. Graham Rahal makes his curtain call for Ganassi, and James Jakes faces an uncertain future.

However this last race of the season plays out, the offseason will again be a time for meetings and partings. Every race, every season only comes around once, and this particular blend of drivers and teams will never be out on track in precisely the same configuration again. There’s something humbling in catching a moment in time in racing, knowing you’re seeing something that won’t come again. I’m not ready for the season to be over, but I feel blessed to have been able to be a part of it all as a fan.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

IndyCar Mailbag: Championship Edition!

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a mailbag, since I’m not Robin Miller and emails are not exactly overflowing around here. Still, I appreciate any sort of feedback at all, and I’ve finally received enough to make a mailbag worthwhile. All excerpts have been used with the author’s permission.

Do you see Rubens Barrichello going to Bobby Rahal’s team, or will he stay with his buddy TK? Also, do you know which Indy Lights drivers might be making the move to IndyCar next season—will any of them take Newgarden’s job? Keep up the great work—I check this feed every day.

-Charles

Deeply appreciated, Charles. Everything so far points to Rubens going to Sam Schmidt’s team as an additional driver next year. Based on what I’ve heard from folks on and around the team, Rubens leaving KV for different pastures is basically accepted as a given.

As for Lights drivers, you’re most likely to see Saavedra in some sort of part-time effort next year. Esteban Guerrieri and Tristan Vautier are also strong possibilities. Either would be helped by winning that Lights scholarship, but I think Guerrieri especially has a shot, win or lose.

Sorry, but I have to disagree with you on Will Power. There’s no way he doesn’t mess this up. Ryan [Hunter-Reay] will be champion, just as soon as Power finishes next to last or something. A choke is a choke is a choke. I think Will is cursed to choke every year…Penske can’t win with his current team.

-(Name Withheld)

That’s a lot of choke talk, my friend! I have picked Power to win the championship this year, but I assure you that’s not a knock on Ryan Hunter-Reay. Look at it this way: is RHR such a speedway ace that a victory or podium is almost certainly within his grasp? Because honestly, he’s got much more work than Power to do to clinch the title. Power needs to just be adequate; in all likelihood, RHR needs another tremendous effort. Honestly, he isn’t appreciably better on the big ovals than Power. Both have had their failures and successes. That’s why my choice is the guy with a 17-point advantage. Again, I expect RHR to give it everything he has. But there’s no guarantee that will be enough.

As for Penske, they win plenty with these guys…it’s just that pesky championship that’s remained oh-so-slightly out of reach. I appreciate the letter!

I loved your Saavedra interview, but how much good is he really going to do for that Andretti team with Hunter-Reay trying to win a championship?

-Matthew

Thanks again for the email, Matthew. Seb was super-cool to interview, and my kids dig his hair—they find it roughly analogous to Sonic the Hedgehog (not a bad comparison for a racer, I suppose). I think the big advantages for having Saavedra on the team—as he alluded to in the interview--is another set of data points for trying to figure Fontana out. In the race, I think it’s doubtful Saavedra will have much impact on the championship battle, unless he’s collected in an incident or something. His biggest contribution to RHR’s cause will likely come before the green flag ever drops for the MAVTV 500.

Hi again Zach!

It’s hard to believe the season is almost over! I think this year has been amazing, and I’ve come to really like the new car. I hope the crowd is packed for the grand finale. I don’t get why anyone would think this season has been less than successful.

I have been a fan since the early days of the split, and I can tell you, I’ve never had so much fun. I got to meet Wade Cunningham and Tony Kanaan at Indy! Milwaukee is back. I’m not some ancient race fan, but I have seen enough to know what we have now is pretty [expletive] good. Cheers to RHR winning this weekend, and hope you have a great offseason! Looking forward to seeing who will be Roger’s new driver!

-Louis, West Lafayette, IN

That was just an awesome email, and I have nothing to add.

Thanks again for all the emails. Any blogger will tell you they love hearing from readers—it makes it seem less like just an exercise of shouting into the void. If you’d like to send an e-mail, you can drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com. Onward to Fontana (well, onward to my couch, watching Fontana)!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tristan Vautier: "I Feel Ready To Make The Step"

The battle for the IZOD IndyCar Series title may be down to only 17 points going into the MAVTV 500, but there will be an even closer title fight in play at Fontana. In Firestone Indy Lights, rookie Tristan Vautier has stormed back to take a 7-point lead over Esteban Guerrieri. The winner will not only be this year's Lights champion, but will receive a scholarship valued at over a million dollars to assist with their move into the IZOD IndyCar Series. For both drivers, the stakes couldn't be higher.

I caught up with Vautier this past weekend, and got him on record in terms of his title battle, how it will impact his 2013 plans, and just where he sees his future in INDYCAR. In just a few days, Tristan Vautier will have perhaps the biggest race of his young career. For now, here he is, answering our questions:

-Welcome back, Tristan! So, as a Firestone Indy Lights rookie, here you are, a step away from the title. How are you feeling about the upcoming race?

TV: The last step is going to be the toughest and the most important! The points situation is very tight and nothing is done. I’m in a good position for sure, but I will have to do a perfect job in Fontana to get the title. I try not to focus about the points situation too much but about what I have to do to achieve a good race weekend there.

-Going into this season, as a Lights rookie, did you think you had a realistic shot at the title?

TV: I knew the competition was very strong and I was going to race against very experienced drivers. I tried to not put my focus on the results but what I had to do to learn fast and be up to speed on time. So, to be honest I didn’t think about it too much, I just focused on the job I had to do.

-Are you looking forward to another speedway oval race?

TV: Yes, I am. I’ve really enjoyed oval racing this year and it’s going to be good being back on an oval after 4 street courses.

Vautier on title: "I will have to do a perfect job".
(Courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
-Esteban Guerrieri--what makes him such a tough opponent?

TV: Esteban is very fast and has a lot of experience. This year his strength has been his consistency and the fact that he has not had a single DNF so far.

-Do you feel you'd be ready for a ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series next year?

TV: Yes, I do feel like it. Of course I’m aware that there would be a learning process for me but I think I’ve showed this year that I can learn very fast by winning my first-ever race in a Lights car, as I also did when I won my first-ever race in Star Mazda. I’ve been fast on every type of track and got poles and wins on both ovals and street courses, and I haven’t done many mistakes, racing against guys whose level of experience was much higher. So yes, I feel ready to make the step, but right now my focus is on the last race of the season and doing the job I have to do to get this title and the scholarship that goes with it.

-How much impact does potentially winning the Lights championship and scholarship have on your 2013 plans?

TV: Being first or second will for sure play a big game. As the champion, you are always the first driver teams look at, and the scholarship money can be a huge help.

-Was there a turning point or big moment you can point to in your season leading into this title fight?

TV: Our DNF in Toronto when I got hit leading the race exiting turn 1 has been a big bump on the road for us. From that point the mistake wasn’t allowed and winning was crucial. I managed to get back in the title battle after my two consecutive wins from pole in Trois-Rivieres and Baltimore, so I can say Trois-Rivieres was the turning point. But nothing is done and we have to be on top of our game next weekend.

-What's going to be your schedule or ritual the night before the big race?

TV: Nothing different from usual, just have a good dinner and go to bed early.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Saavedra Talks Fontana, 2013, And The Big Decision

With Championship Week here, all eyes are on Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay as they prepare to battle for the IndyCar title at the MAVTV 500. For his part, Hunter-Reay will also have a little bit extra assistance in his corner. Sebastian Saavedra will once more pilot the #17 AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport machine as his teammate.

This will be the third 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series start for the young Colombian driver, who took an assessing step back to a full-time role in Firestone Indy Lights in addition to his partial IndyCar schedule. Although he was busy with testing at Fontana last week in preparation for his team's big weekend, he took a few minutes to discuss his role with the team, what to expect at the MAVTV 500, his development as a driver, and even his 2013 plans.

Seb, thanks for your time. You've got to be excited. So how long has this deal to race Fontana been in place?

SS: Well, this is just a really exciting additional opportunity given to me, mainly by [AFS Racing owner] Gary Peterson working with Michael Andretti. We were in talks the whole season--we knew we wanted to do at least three races, and it seemed like everything got sorted out after Sonoma. We were excited after a great weekend there, and how we managed to do a good car and good progress for the team. So we decided that we were ready to do Fontana, and there were no second thoughts about it.

You're going to be a teammate of a guy (Hunter-Reay) going for a championship. Will your with the team be any different in terms of setup or participation than it was at say, Indianapolis this year?

SS: We've always been a very open team in that respect. All the drivers and engineers share that information, and all the team engineers are good about sitting down and sharing what needs done. In that sense, it's going to be exactly the same as Indy. We're going to spread the work four ways, which is a big benefit for the team, since it means we get to try and test perhaps twice as more as some of the other teams can. We'll be doing what we can to get that advantage in qualifying, and of course the race.

You've obviously had a solid relationship with AFS Racing and Andretti Autosport; do you see that continuing through to next year?

SS: I sure hope so! [laughs] It's been so great working with them since '09 in arriving from Europe, and they've really become like a family. That's why I don't miss Europe in any way. I really not only enjoy working with my teammates, but the chemistry of getting to build up seasons with the mechanics and all the guys. It's something I hope continues for a long, long time.

Jumping back to the upcoming weekend for a minute: what sort of race do you think we'll see at the MAVTV 500 for the season finale, now that you've had some testing time?

SS: I do believe we'll see...(pauses)...Texas 1.1. It's going to be a very intense, very interesting track. Having the last-chance for the title between Will [Power] and Hunter-Reay should make it even better. It's a place that brings back the ideas of the loose car and needing to really drive the car because of the aero wickedness, and for that I think it's going to be even more intense.


Let's talk about Firestone Indy Lights for a minute. You've had some success as well as some bad luck this year in Lights. How would you rate your season so far this year?

SS: For me, it's been an amazing season. It was a bit scary when I got the call from Gary saying he wanted to do a long-term relationship, but one of the things we had to do was do a full, successful Indy Lights season. We had to bring up the name of AFS to the top, which hasn't happened the last few years. For me, it was an honor to be given that trust and that job of bringing that team back, and I feel we were successful.

Out of the first ten races, we had seven podiums, and that's amazing. Unfortunately, we also had two mechanical failures which put us back in the championship fight, but that's something we can't control--just an unlucky situation. I love the job we've done with the car, and am pretty sure in 2013 guys will be happy with the program they're going to get.

Saavedra: "It was the best thing I've done for my career"
(Courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
Looking now at how you took a step back to Indy Lights and a part-time IndyCar schedule after 2011, do you still feel it was the right move?

SS: Completely. I have no doubts. It was a scary move, but I also think it was the best thing I've done for my career. Really, it was a smart move, something probably 90% of the drivers wouldn't do. Yes, you have your ego's touchy state, but I get to keep a very open mind, knowing my age. I'm still one of the youngest drivers in the field, and to be honest, already going to Indy three times and being a test driver with Andretti since '09 and still being 22 years old, it helped with that decision and thinking more about my evolution and progress as a driver.

So is the possible plan for AFS to sort of dip their toe further into the IZOD IndyCar Series with you?

SS: Yes, exactly. We've been doing this for a while, looking at options, and we're coming up to a very interesting project.

Which of the Indy Lights drivers this year do you see as having what it takes to be successful at the next level? 

SS: This season was one of the most talented fields in Indy Lights in a long time. Yes, there's the poor numbers of cars entered, but that doesn't mean the talented isn't there. I have a good relationship and lots of respect for Esteban [Guerrieri], who I've known since racing in Europe. He's a driver with a lot of talent and years of experience behind him. I also think Tristan [Vautier] is doing really well--at this level of motorsports, he's already showing speed, maturity, and that will to win.

One more follow up question for the fans: how are those 2013 plans progressing? Is there some good news coming?

SS: For sure! Of course, there's very little I can talk about right now, but there are some very good things to come. I'm very happy for the opportunities this season, and am very thankful to everyone involved, and also for what's to come.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Welcome To Championship Week!

Towards the end of March, before the cars ever roared to life at St. Petersburg, no IndyCar fan was quite sure what to expect this season. Would the racing be staid, with one team dominating all others, or would we see the smaller teams able to rise? Would the new package encourage passing, or see us consigned to a season of relative parades?

With a flash forward to September, we know all of these types of questions were answered in an overwhelmingly positive fashion for fans, but one question lingers: who will be our 2012 champion? It comes down to Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay, in one race to decide it all. Of course, that's hardly the only championship on the line.

That's right--by the end of this week, we'll know both who are IZOD IndyCar Series champion is, as well as who will walk away with the Firestone Indy Lights title (and resultant scholarship). Additionally, Ryan Hunter-Reay will seek to win his first A.J. Foyt Oval Trophy, with Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe, and Helio Castroneves all among those vying for the same honor.

With it being Championship Week, we plan to have a different article up each day here at IndyCar Advocate, ranging from interviews to previews and other title coverage. It should be a great week, and I hope you enjoy everything planned.

In the meantime, you can check out my article on Ryan Hunter-Reay at INDYCAR Nation, my part in MoreFrontWing's roundtable of championship predictions, and also my Point/Counterpoint with MFW's Steph Wallcraft on which driver will walk away with the title.

So make your picks: Power or Hunter-Reay in IndyCar, Vautier or Guerrieri in Lights. Settle in for a 500-mile slugfest this weekend. If you're on Twitter, remember your #MAVTV500, #TeamPower, and #TeamRHR hashtags to show your allegiance. Get excited--get those fantasy picks in for one last go-round. Get the viewing party going. With this being our last IndyCar racing weekend until the spring, let's make it a great one. The scene is certainly set for it...

Friday, September 7, 2012

Return To Foyt Friday

The last Foyt Friday was such a success, we're going to have another one today. Next week will be all about INDYCAR's Championship battle(s), but for today, let's enjoy more Super Tex.


A.J. being interviewed after his 1977 Indy 500 win:



A.J. famous Olds test (sorry for the awful music):




Pure Gold=Smokey Yunick discussing A.J. Foyt:


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Time To Get That IndyCar Viewing Party Going

If you're like me, come the weekend of the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Fontana, unless some philanthropic soul comes through with airfare and hotel, you'll be watching the MAVTV 500 as a couch  warrior, cheering the championship fight from within your living room.

True, it stinks not to be headed out to Fontana for this one, but it seems like a prime opportunity at the same time. It's a Saturday night race, on at a reasonable hour (8:30 ET), with a car that should make it a lively event indeed. Throw in an easy-to-follow championship storyline, and you have the perfect opportunity to invite those novice or casual fans over for an IndyCar Viewing Party.

True, not every has NBC Sports, which is why you could consider having a get-together for your local crew at a nearby tavern or eatery. What's important is highlighting a race that should be, by all accounts, a very good showcase event, and having fun doing it.

If you're going to have a get-together, here a few fun tips to get things off on the right foot.

-Put out a couple of checkered flags, souvenirs, or other racing memorabilia. That piece of wrecked carbon fiber you picked out of a dumpster after Pole Day a few years ago? Normally the spouse might object to your displaying it so prominently in the living room, but this just might be your big night.

-Sell the basics beforehand. No one likes being lost, whether it's watching IndyCar, ALMS, or the Olympics for that matter. Talk up the championship battle--drop a few names and teams to set up the scenario--but don't overwhelm them.

-If you have foodies in attendance, feel free to throw out some charmingly stupid names for your appetizers. "Buffalo Front Wings", "Viso Veggie Dip", and "Ryan Hunter-Raisin Bread" can't go wrong (can they?).

-Just as we've talked about with getting the family involved in racing, give them a personal stake. Grab a spotter's guide beforehand, let everyone draw out 2-3 drivers, and maybe even have a little prize for the winner. Give them something not only to watch, but to cheer for. 

-Feel free to take (friendly) bets on random things in the race. Make up a chart with everyone's pick for items like First Car Out, First Caution Lap, Lap 100 Leader, Number Of Cars Finishing On Lead Lap, etc. That's more of that investment thing.

-If games and the like aren't your thing, that's ok, too. IndyCar is pretty awesome all by itself, and will do fine in reeling in a few fans. But the extra mile certainly never hurts.

-Remember, answering questions and showing off your knowledge is cool, but talking over the entire race doesn't make any new fans. It makes for an irritated and confused audience.

-Set realistic expectations. Some folks will simply never be fans, even if they have fun. Others might be casual fans at best. Remember, true die-hard fans are rare in most sports. Just have fun with it, and don't cross the line from friendly superfan to cloying, unwelcome evangelist.

Look at it this way: after this race, we're in for a long, loooooong offseason. Don't you want to make the last race of the year count? End your season on a high note. Organizing a viewing party, getting friends together, and enjoying what has been an amazing year on-track are some of the best ways to close out this season I can think of.

Monday, September 3, 2012

One More: Grand Prix of Baltimore Notes

-You know, we've gone through so much this year--new car, different rules, periods of Will Power dominating, periods of Ryan Hunter-Reay dominating, engine fights, wild competition almost each and every race, owner drama, manufactured drama, drama drama--and again, the season will come down to a single race to decide the IZOD IndyCar Series champion. A 500-miler in two weeks for all the marbles. That's just about perfect, really.

-I was out of town this weekend, and I had some electronics/communication issues, so I was not only quiet on Twitter, but missed the opening of the race. Despite that, I really thought the Baltimore event seemed to build on the promise it had last year. Obviously, going forward, the entire front straight/chicane business needs to re-evaluated and settled once and for all, but there's no doubt this event can work for the series in a big way.

-Michael Andretti should promote more events--his driver (Hunter-Reay) won both Milwaukee and Baltimore this year--both events Andretti Sports Marketing took over.

-While we're discussing Andretti, kudos to Michael Andretti for the gutsy call to have RHR stay out in the rain instead of coming in for rain tires. It could have backfired if the weather got really nasty, but it worked perfectly. That's the sort of great strategy that road/street course fans love to see play out, and it might have been what saved RHR's realistic hopes for a true title fight at Fontana. It was one of those days for the Andretti #28 where pure racing and strategy seemed to work hand in hand for one hell of a result.

-I'm not going to pile on Power, because for 95+ percent of this race weekend he did exactly what he needed to. He won the pole, led the most laps, and looked in line for around a Top 5 finish before not getting it done on that last restart. I don't see this as much as a failing of power as the fact that guys like Pagenaud, Briscoe, Dixon, RHR, and others were fighting hard in a race featuring some big twists. A 17-point lead isn't insurmountable, but Power at least has the advantage heading into the last weekend. Still, it has to be galling to have a chance to cinch the title fall short like that.
Mikey's big call helped win the race.
(Courtesy TrackSideOnline.com
Used with permission).

-It was another rough mechanical day for Takuma Sato, who always seems to find his way to the front when inclement weather is involved. I still have faith this guy can win--sooner rather than later. Much like Charlie Kimball this past weekend, it's a case of a quick glance at the box score not telling the whole story.

-It was great to see Bruno Junqueira on track, and it was a shame his day ended on Lap 64. It sounds as if Josef Newgarden will return for Fontana, so until the next time a substitute driver or second-car program is needed, we'll wish him the best.

-A few weeks ago, I averaged the contender's prior finishes to try to project where they might be heading into the last weekend of the year. It actually had Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves coming in far closer than they actually did, but on Will Power and RHR, it wasn't too far off--the projections said Power would be leading by 7, whereas it's really 17. Still, if you look at how we arrived here, perhaps the lesson is history is great, but can only teach us so much--especially in an era of a new car and engine.

-Most Firestone Indy Lights fans had Tristan Vautier coming in second to Esteban Guerrieri over the stretch for the Lights title (and accompanying IZOD IndyCar Series scholarship), but Vautier had a huge win in Baltimore to take an 11-point lead heading into the Lights finale at Fontana. If you want to talk about a championship battle that has very real and immediate consequences for someone's racing future, the Lights title is it. That's not to say one of these drivers not winning the scholarship is a kiss of death to their prospects, but that championship certainly doesn't hurt when shopping a program next year.

-Sage Karam tried to bounce back from an incident in the first Star Mazda race of the weekend that dropped him to P15, and had a very good run to win the second race of the weekend. But with Jack Hawksworth winning the first and coming in P2 in the second, Karam now trails the English rookie by 61 points with three races remaining--an immensely tough, but not impossible, situation. It's a rough go for everyone not named Hawksworth this year, but Karam can take solace in the fact that he's fighting a very talented field out there, and has put together a great last . Again, I really hope we see several of these Star Mazda prospects get to take their shot in Lights next year. The next rung of the ladder would be much better for it.

-It looks like Matt Brabham is in a very good spot with three races left for the USF2000 title, leading both his teammate Spencer Pigot and Belardi Auto Racing's Scott Anderson pretty definitively in the standings. There's a solid chance we'll see Brabham progress as expected in Star Mazda next year, but I'm excited to see how guys like Pigot, Anderson, Roman Lagudi, and Shelby Blackstock will do in the future. I'm happy to see we're getting guys like this for the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.

-Hindsight, as we always say, is 20/20, but March, hundreds of you filled out this site's INDYCAR preseason survey. While readers were pretty astute with most predictions, almost no one had Ryan Hunter-Reay as this season's champion--in fact, I believe he received rough a half-dozen votes out of around 400 cast. On the other hand, Will Power was chosen as 43% of voters as the likely champ. We'll see who was right shortly.

-Other Notes: I was only able to hear a bit of Pippa Mann's work with IMS Radio this weekend, but as usual, she did a top-notch job. If she isn't full-time in a car next year, "driver analyst" seems like a really good title for her. Let's hope she'll be too busy to accept...Alex Tagliani and Bryan Herta Autosport have finished in the Top 10 of every race since Indianapolis with only a single exception...Great run by Rubens Barrichello this weekend to shut me up and grab his second Top 5 in a row...Ed Carpenter's streak of most consecutive races without a DNF by an active IndyCar driver stopped this past weekend at 13 races. Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves now take over the lead, also at 13...Carpenter's entry is also now only 11 points ahead of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's #67 car for the 22nd and final TEAM Money spot...It's interesting to hear reports of Roger Penske's interest in Ryan Hunter-Reay to replace Ryan Briscoe, but let's not forget, Briscoe has more lives than a cat when it comes to his tenure at Penske. Plus, it's not just  a question of filling a seat--there's the big question of sponsorship. Perhaps Briscoe will be out after this year, but let's not automatically assume Penske Racing will field three cars in 2013...No, I have no idea yet what to make of the ALMS/GRAND-AM merger, and what, if anything, it means for INDYCAR.