The Greatest 33 Non-Winners: Final Grid- A Reader Request Post

Editor’s Note: This is the first reader request; originally published May 9, 2017

What a fun project this turned out to be! It was fascinating seeing how much those who submitted grids both agreed and disagreed. Some drivers got just one mention, while others appeared on every ballot.  There was near unanimous placement for some drivers, and some drivers were near the front on some grids and near the back on others. The driver nearly everyone agreed should be on the pole is Michael Andretti (pictured above, from 1992).

I  noticed the rankings were along age lines. Older fans close to my age seemed to have near identical grids,  and younger fans as a group submitted similar lineups.  Many drivers from long ago in general fared better on the lists from the older group. I was surprised how well the current drivers stacked up against the racers of the past. Another interesting detail is that all 50 driver finalists had at least one mention. I didn’t expect that.

To rank the drivers, I assigned points to the drivers corresponding to their spot on each person’s grid. A driver on pole got 1 point, the last driver got 33. If a driver was listed on pole on five grids, his total was 5. The lowest total won the pole. If a driver did not appear on someone’s grid, he/she was given 34 points. To my shock, there were only two ties. I resolved placement by averaged each driver’s highest and lowest rank of all the grades, with the lowest average getting the higher spot. One of the ties was for 32nd and 33rd. It was just like qualifying for the 1963 500.

The front row- Michael Andretti, Rex Mays, and Ted Horn, is strong. These drivers were in the top 10 on everyone’s grid. Andretti led 431 laps, the most by any non-winning driver. he started on the front row three times and had 5 top 5 finishes.  Rex Mays, in the middle of the front row is the only other driver to lead more than 200 laps and not win. Mays was on the pole four times. Ted Horn, on the outside of the front row, finished in the top five 9 times in 10 starts.

So here they are, the Greatest 33 Non-Winners of the Indianapolis 500:

Row 1

Michael Andretti

Rex Mays

Ted Horn

Row 2

Harry Hartz

Marco Andretti

Lloyd Ruby

Row 3

Gary Bettenhausen

Ralph Hepburn

Roberto Guerrero

Row 4

Scott Goodyear

Carlos Munoz

Robby Gordon

Row 5

Eddie Sachs

Tony Stewart

Jack McGrath

Row 6

Wally Dallenbach

Tomas Sheckter

Will Power

Row 7

Danica Patrick

Tony Bettenhausen

Joe Leonard

Row 8

Jimmy Snyder

Ed Carpenter

Danny Ongais

Row 9

Pancho Carter

Mel Kenyon

Kevin Cogan

Row 10

Vitor Meira

Russ Snowberger

Paul Russo

Row 11

Tom Alley

Johnny Thomson

George Snider

it’s kind of fitting that Snider is last on the grid. his trademark was jumping into a car on Bump Day and getting into the field starting near the back. Thanks to everyone who submitted a grid. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and reasoning as to how yo put your grids together.

I will be back tomorrow with some 500 news and a report on my visit to the A. J. Foyt exhibit at the Speedway Museum. The cars were great to see, but the memorabilia was even more amazing to me. Thursday I will have my Indianapolis Grand Prix preview with my normally inaccurate winner’s prediction.

 

 

 

 

 

Rolex24 Recap- Few Yellows, Lots of Laps; Fernandomania, Part Dos

The race began with lots of questions- how would the new Penske Acuras do? Would Ganassi”s Ford GTs continue its domination of the event? Could Fernando Alonso finish on the podium?Will Wayne Taylor Racing be as strong as last year without Ricky?

The answers started coming in qualifying. Renger van der Zande put the Wayne Taylor Racing car on the pole on the last lap, nipping Helio Castroneves in the Penske Acura. The starting lineup set the tone for the Acura vs. Cadillac battle the next day. It was clear that the United Autosport car that Alonso drove was going to have a tough time moving to the podium.  The Fords started 1-2 on the grid in GTLM and it was just a question of which one would win assuming both cars held together until the end.

This was the first Weather Tech Championship race without the PC class. Their absence may have been the reason there were fewer yellows this year. Last year, PC cars seemed to account for at least six of the full course cautions. This year, there were just three full course yellows. The caution periods were well spread out. While it was nice to have just a few yellows, it made the race a runaway in all three classes.

Early on the Prototype class was setting up to be a battle to the end between Team Penske and the Action Express Cadillacs. The teams swapped leads on pit stops for several hours. On track the Action Express cars looked a bit stronger. I could sense both teams were preparing their pit strategies for the last two hours well in advance. Just past the halfway point, the Number 6 Penske Acura, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron, and Simon Pagenaud, went to the garage for a gearbox change. After that, the Number 7 drove to the paddock to repair damage from contact. Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, and Graham Rahal, who been the better of the team cars, effectively had their race ended at that point. Both cars came back to earn top 10 finishes.

The Penske troubles allowed the Action Express team to lap the field in virtually coasting to a 1-2 finish from there. It was Cadillac’s second straight win at Daytona.

The GTLM race was all Ford all the time. The question was would Ganassi allow them to fight each other for the win. A real battle never happened. The 67 car of Scot Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook came home first, followed by the 66 of Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais, and Dirk Muller. The victory was the 200th win for the Ganassi organization. Ironically, Briscoe also won the 300th race for the Penske team.

In GTD, The Lamborghini Huracan  driven by Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, and Franck Perera won the Rolex watches. The number 86 Acura NSX, owned by Michael Shank and driven by Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente, Trent Hindman, and A J Allmendinger,  finished second.

Current Indycar drivers had mixed results. Scott Dixon won his class and Sebastien Bourdais finished second. Wayne Taylor Racing, where Ryan Hunter-Reay drove, had to retire the car after seven blown right rear tires destroyed the car’s floor. Spencer Pigot drove the Team Joest entry which dropped with mechanical issues. As mentioned earlier, the Penske drivers soldiered home near the back of the top ten.

Notes

I had a great time Friday night as IMS President Doug Boles came to our campsite to chat . He even persuaded Chip Wile, President of Daytona International Speedway, to join us for a bit. Boles mentioned several things I’m not sure are ready for publication, but he seemed optimistic that there might be bumping at Indy this year. Of course, nothing is true until it is in Indycar.

Fernandomania was every bit as strong at Daytona as it was at Indy last May. Crowds followed him everywhere. People reported sightings. I was in the paddock Sunday morning when his car pulled into the garage. Throngs appeared out of nowhere and followed the wounded racer into its stall. They were running after the car. From all accounts, Fernando was gracious and accommodating.  McLaren announced today that Alonso would be participating in several rounds of the World Endurance Championship when there is no Formula 1 conflict. Now if he could just fit another Indianapolis 500 in there somehow.

With just three classes in IMSA, I think the color designation for GTLM should change. Currently both Prototypes and GTLM have red number squares. This could be confusing for new fans. The red was fine when there were two prototype classes, but a change might be appropriate now. Each class should have its own color.

A video board in the horseshoe would nice.

This was the largest crowd of the three years I have been attending this race. With the larger crowd and. it seemed, more vendors, parking seemed to be at a premium. I heard from some long time fans who were unhappy about limited access to places they used to be able to get to.

The Dan Gurney tribute at the beginning of the race was amazing. Gurney’s winning car from the inaugural 1962 Daytona Continental appeared at the front of the field just before the start and led the parade lap. It was a most fitting tribute to one of the greatest drivers of all time. I’m hoping for a similar salute before the 500.

 

IMG_0917 (7)

A photo gallery will be posted in a few minutes. There are two many to put in this post. Enjoy them.  Thanks to Vincent Anderson for the camera tips.

 

 

Is Randomness a Bad Thing?

Jay Frye, Indycar President of Competition, said last week via a David Malsher story on Motorsport.com that the series was reviewing race procedures ahead of the 2018 season. He said Indycar was trying to eliminate some of the randomness in races caused by closing the pits when a caution occurs. The reasoning is to ensure that the fastest cars are rewarded by keeping the position they’ve earned.

There were several races in the last few years when the quickest car was caught out by a yellow happening just as they were going to pit. The race usually went to a surprise winner from a smaller team. Usually the winning team pitted early and cycled to the lead during the yellow when everyone else pitted.

Sebastien Bourdais at St. Pete, James Hinchcliffe at Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud at Phoenix (yes, an oval), and Josef Newgarden at Toronto all benefited from the pit closing rule and a timely caution.

My opinion?   If a team plays the strategy according to the rules and it works, great. Perhaps the teams that got hurt could anticipate the eventuality of the yellow and pit earlier. I’ve heard some team owners complain about throwing yellows just when we needed to pit.  Their need to pit does not supersede the need for a yellow.

If the race should be won by the fastest car all the time, why have the race? Does the team with the most regular season wins always win the Super Bowl or the World Series? Random things happen in all sports. It’s part of the drama. Let the teams play the game and see who wins. I agree preparation and speed goes a long way toward winning, but there has to be some strategy and breaks during the race.

I think what needs to be employed more on road courses is local yellows instead of the full course cautions for every incident, no matter how small. This will keep the pits open for a longer time during the race. It will have the same effect as keeping the pits open during a full course yellow.

Another procedure Indycar is reviewing is qualifying order on ovals other than Indianapolis. Currently the order is determined by a blind draw. It seemed as though a certain driver was always going last, which is a great advantage with the rubber laid down on the track and potential track cooling as the session progresses. I prefer the order be set by the inverse order of final practice times.  The fans will be able to know the order quicker, and we should see a different order at each track.

This is my last column before migrating to winter headquarters. I’ll be back in about a month. Changes will be coming to this space, including a possible new name.

Goodbye, Glen; Hello Portland; Hola, Mexico?

Indycar’s schedule release produced the expected dropping of Watkins Glen and introduction of Portland as its replacement.Mexico City is still a possibility for August 5.  TV networks and times were not announced today.

The schedule is below:

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule

March 9-11               St. Petersburg, FL
April 6-7                    Phoenix Raceway, AZ
April 13-15                Long Beach, CA
April 20-22                Barber Motorsports Park, AL
May 11-12                 GP of Indianapolis, IN
May 15-27                 Indianapolis 500, IN
June 1-3                     Dual in Detroit, MI (2 races, Sat. & Sun)
June 8-9                     Texas Motor Speedway, TX
June 22-24                 Road America, WI
July 7-8                       Iowa Speedway, IA
July 13-15                  Toronto, ON, Canada
July 27-29                  Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course, OH
Aug. 18-19                 Pocono Raceway, PA
Aug. 24-25                 Gateway Motorsports Park, IL
Aug. 31-Sept. 2         Portland International Raceway, OR
Sept. 14-16                Sonoma Raceway, C

Before I discuss Watkins Glen, here are some thoughts about the schedule. The last three races are all west of the Mississippi. Having Portland and Sonoma as the last two races eliminates travel time for the teams and allows a great promotion period for Sonoma. This season the last four races had teams going back and forth from the east to the west, way back east again then all the way to California. This is the easiest schedule travel wise in a while.

The Indy 500 qualifying weekend is not listed on the schedule as it has been the last two years. Perhaps it will be added when the TV schedule is published.

Portland was a staple of CART and Champ Car but was a casualty in the merger. Indycars raced there from 1984.  until 2007. There were some fun races there, including the closest three car finish on a road course in 1997 when Mark Blundell beat Gil De Ferran by 0.027 seconds and third place Raul Boesel by 0.055 seconds. They were three wide at the line. In 1986, Michael Andretti ran out of fuel coming to the checkered flag and was passed by dad Mario, who won by 0.07 seconds. The race was on Father’s Day then. Michael said that was Mario’s present. The last winner at Portland was Sebastien Bourdais.

Watkins Glen rescued Indycar in 2016 when the Boston Grand Prix folded. I have enjoyed going to the race there. It’s a great track and a beautiful area. A race later in September when the leaves are turning would be amazing.  It was obvious Labor Day wasn’t working attendance wise, but the the track’s schedule and Indycar’s stubborn insistence on not competing with football doomed the attempt to find a mutually agreeable date.

To keep tracks like Watkins Glen a part of the schedule, Indycar needs to extend the schedule into October. The television numbers will not be that much different. If they were getting over a million viewers a race and had a 30% drop when football begins, I could understand their concern. The current ratings will not change that much.

Mark Miles did not say that there is an absolute deadline for a decision on Mexico City. A Mexican driver in the series would definitely help that race if it happens. I haven’t heard anything about Esteban Guttierez having a ride for this, year. Someone might get him a one off for that weekend.

Silly Season News

Sage Karam will drive in the 500 for Dreyer and Reinbold in 2018. DRR also indicated their intention to enter more races next year. Entering Karam at Pocono might boost attendance a bit there.

If you haven’t seen the visor cam from Spencer Pigot driving the 2018 configuration at Road America yet, make sure you do. This car acts very different than the cars in manufacturer trim. Drivers actually drive the cars. You can find the video at the Indycar twitter site and possibly on Indycar.com.

 

 

Blue Cars, Red Flags, New Stars- Indycar Season Review

Intriguing. Weird. A look into the future.The 2017 Indycar season had all of that. The first half of the season was chaotic and amazing.  It looked like there would be a wide open fight for the championship. Yet the Penske armada was lurking, picking up poles and leading laps, but not winning a lot until later on. Then Josef Newgarden jumped into first place at Mid-Ohio and hung on to the end. His path became more difficult with his miscue leaving the pits at Watkins Glen, but winning the pole and finishing as runner-up in Sonoma clinched the crown for him.

The year began with seven different winners in the first seven races. Overall 10 drivers won races.  Penske drivers won 10 of the 17 races. Josef Newgarden won four times to lead the series. Graham Rahal was the only non-Penske driver to win more than once with his two wins at Detroit. Surprisingly, Scott Dixon won only once. Despite that he entered the final weekend at Sonoma only three points out of the lead.

Honda’s early engine failures changed the results of races through May. Honda teams used up their engine allotments early and saw their manufacturer lead evaporate since they couldn’t score points in the later races. Reliability improved the second half of the season, but Chevy/Penske was dominating by that time.

I don’t remember as many races in one year stopped by red flags for accidents. Phoenix, The 500, Detroit race 2, and Texas  had stoppages for cleanup. The flag at Detroit I thought was a bit questionable. Iowa was red flagged for rain although I thought it could have been stopped sooner.

What color should our car be this week? I know. Blue and white! In several races this season one third of the field was in blue/white liveries, many in the same pattern. This made it difficult to distinguish cars as they approached at the track and was challenging on television to tell them apart.

I thought this was a really fun year, and next year should be even better with the new look aerokits. The new bodywork looks sleek and fast. Josef Newgarden leads a growing field of rising stars including Alexander Rossi, Ed Jones, and Spencer Pigot. The newcomers will have strong competition from the established core of Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud. I cannot wait for St. Pete.

Highlights:

Best wins: Sebastien Bourdais at St. Pete, Newgarden at Gateway, Rossi at Watkins Glen, Takuma Sato at Indianapolis.

Most improved driver: Alexander Rossi

Best races: Pocono, Road America, Indianapolis 500, Watkins Glen

Worst races: Texas, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Phoenix.

Best pass: Newgarden over Pagenaud at Gateway.  AyrtonSenna would have been proud of that pass.

Worst decision: Fernando Alonso as sole winner of 500 rookie of the Year. Ed Jones deserved a share of the award.

Notes:

Honda and Chevy will be testing the new aerokits soon. The last test for Indycar was Tuesday at Sebring. Team testing begins in January.

Carlin seems to be on the verge of having an Indycar team next year.

The 2018 schedule should be out soon, likely with a TBA date. The earthquake in Mexico may push that event back a year. Other than that, the circuit should be similar to the last two years. This consistency is a great thing for all concerned.

2017 drivers without 2018 commitments as of today: Conor Daly, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, J. R. Hildebrand. Jones is likely to be back at Coyne and Hinchcliffe is  likely to be back at Schmidt.

I will be going to the SCCA Runoffs this weekend. This is essentially their national championship event. Past winners include Paul Newman and Willie T. Ribbs. I’ll report about it next week.

Thank you for reading this season.

Endings and Beginnings- Thoughts on Sonoma

The last race of the season creates a conundrum. There is a race to watch and people want to see a race winner. But there is a season title on the line which creates another layer of watching.  Point scenarios are discussed for a week. Very little attention is on the race itself.

Sonoma itself has unique issues a site for the finale. It’s a beautiful venue in a beautiful setting. Track management does a great job presenting the event as the finale. Yet the race is usually not the type of race a series needs for the one that decides its champion. Passing is at a premium. The cars get strung out. Pit strategy is the way to get by someone. An oval in prime time would make for a better ending to the season and add more drama to the title fight.

The 2017 edition of Sonoma was better than most races thanks to Simon Pagenaud’s four stop strategy. It was clear this was the plan from the start when his first pit stop came two laps before the pit window opened. He continued to build his gap after the other drivers pitted each time by staying on reds until his last stop. Pagenaud’s gap was big enough by the time he made his last stop to beat Josef Newgarden out of the pits. Newgarden tried to pass a couple times, but decided, or actually Tim Cindric did, that second place meant the title.

Newgarden is one of the youngest drivers to win the series championship. He took the lead at Mid Ohio and never looked back. The only hiccup the last two months was his problem leaving the pits at Watkins Glen.  The rest of his final stretch showed first or second place finishes. Newgarden is destined to add a couple more titles to his resume.

While we’re possibly seeing the beginning of a new Indycar star, we may have seen the last of another one full time. Indications are even stronger now that Helio Castroneves will not be a full time driver next year in Indycar. He will run the 500 and possibly the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but he will be driving for Penske in the IMSA sports car series. I’ve never been a fan of Castroneves, but the last two years he has done the best driving of his career . The paddock will seem empty without him.

The race was the final outing for the manufacturer aerokits. New bodywork for next season should make for better racing since most of the downforce will be on the underside. I will not miss the rear bumpers. I thought they made Indycars look too much like sportscars.

Scott Dixon fought hard for fourth in the race and finished third in the points. The bar Newgarden is shooting for as a career? Dixion has finished in the top 3 in points 11 of the 12 years he’s been in the series.  I hope everyone appreciates that we are watching a legend drive.

Thoughts

I thought the crowd was the biggest I’ve seen at Sonoma in the four years I’ve been there. It was definitely the best Saturday crowd I’ve seen.

Zachary Calaman de Melo did a good job during the weekend. His main job was to get laps and he accomplished that.

I watched Friday’s second practice from the turn 2 and 3 area. It is a great spot to see most of the track. Cars tended to have a bit a back end slide through 3.

Word came yesterday that Ganassi will be a two car team next year. This should not come as a surprise as signs have been there for awhile. I have a couple friends on the 8 and 83 crews. I hope they can land another spot soon.  Brendon Hartley is expected to drive the 10 car.  Nothing against Hartley, a great driver in sports cars, but I’d rather see the opening go to someone who has gone through the Road to Indy.

Will Carlin be full time in Indycar in 2018 with Max Chilton and possibly Charlie Kimball?

Conor Daly ended the season with a couple of top tens and led some laps at Sonoma. Is it enough to save his job? Many of his early season issues were team related.

Silly Season is looking to be very short. Most of the regular seats are filled. We are waiting to see what some possible new teams are planning. I think it’s possible there may be several teams who make select appearances during the year rather than go full time.  The car count may look stable at every race, but some teams will be different.

Thanks to all of you for reading my posts this year. I’ll be back next week with a season review and then I will be posting stories of races past throughout the off season.

 

Sonoma Preview: Cementing a Legend or First Step to a New One??

This is always the race preview I don’t enjoy writing because it’s the last one of the season. It seems this race always comes too soon. I’m positive it was only two weeks ago that I was standing on pit road at St. Petersburg with my friend Shay Hazen of Live Full Throttle when the engines came to life for the season’s first practice. Now we are at Sonoma for the finale.

Sonoma has never been a great race. The track is narrow and passing is minimal. This year’s event has some intrigue, however, due to the tight points battle. While the track puts on a great event,  this is not the best place to determine a season champion. An oval is better suited for ending the year, especially if Indycar insists on the unnecessary double points ending.

Indycar will tell you that six drivers have a chance at the Astor Cup. two of those drivers are only eligible because of the double points gimmick.  The two ahead of them are a longshot, as I’ll explain. This is really a two driver shootout between Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon. Newgarden leads Dixon by just 3 points. Dixon is going for his fifth title, while Newgarden looks to continue his quick rise to the top rank of Indycar drivers.

Let’s play along with Indycar for a moment and look at the six drivers and their chances. Alexander Rossi is 84 points behind Newgarden. His title chances depend on his repeating what he did at Watkins Glen, taking the maximum points and Newgarden finishing 21st. Only one of those events is likely. Will Power, 68 points in arrears, needs the grand slam and for Newgarden to finish 13th. Power has had issues at Sonoma. In 2014 he spun while leading in the hairpin, and in 2015 he collided with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, likely costing Montoya the title.

Defending champion Simon Pagenaud trails Newgarden by 34 points. If   Pagenaud runs the table for 104 points, Newgarden must finish fourth or worse. If Newgarden comes home third, they tie and Newgarden wins with 4 victories to 2 for Pagenaud. Helio Castroneves, like the others, needs to collect the most available points. If he does that,  a second place finish by Newgarden, even if he leads a lap, Castroneves wins the title.

For Newgarden and Dixon, the job is much easier. Whoever finishes ahead of the other is the series champion.  This is one of Dixon’s best tracks. He and Power have won the race three times, with Dixon winning most recently in 2015. The Chevy package will likely have an advantage this weekend, but Dixon just needs to finish ahead of one of them and as far up in the order as he can.

Usually this race comes down to who wins the pole. That single point can be crucial. Saturday’s qualifying will actually eliminate a couple of the drivers with a chance. As we saw in Watkins Glen, however, nothing is certain in Indycar racing. Pit errors may play a role in determining the outcome.

Then there are the spoilers. Rossi played that role at Watkins Glen, taking 11 points that Dixon could have had. Graham Rahal has had a great run the last half of the season, accumulating top 5s and top 10s. Will the extra RLL car for Zachary Claman de Melo be a factor in a point stealing sense? A 22 car field means last place pays16 points, while 21st, the size of most grids this year, is worth 18.

Who will it be? I’m still going with Scott Dixon to be the 2107 champion. He knows how to win championships coming from behind.  Simon Pagenaud will win his second consecutive GoPro Grand Prix, but not from the pole.

Notes

Zach Veach apparently has a 3 year deal with Andretti Autosport. An announcement  should be made this weekend.

Tristan Gommendy and Calmels will drive the 77 car for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports at next year’s 500. Gommendy rove for KV in CART in 2007.

It looks like Tony Kanaan will drive for A J Foyt next year in the 14. No word on who will be in the 4. I hope it’s still Conor Daly, but I’m not optimistic.

Late news has Brendon Hartley joining Chip Ganassi racing to replace Tony Kanaan. Look for a 2 car effort from Ganassi next year.

My season review and Sonoma post race will be out on September 29. I’m staying in California for a few days after the race. I will try to post Sunday night but it will be brief.