Quick Late Thoughts on the New Owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Classes are done, grades are in, and the school semester is finally over! Which means I can get back to doing my labor of love-this blog. Now, with my volunteer hiatus over to focus on school, I’ve missed some pretty big racing news.

For example, Roger Penske buying the whole show, he got the entire chimichanga, the is eating his cake. His purchase of not only Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the series of IndyCar is nothing short of impressive. While the news of this purchase came as a massive shock to the racing world, I can not think of a better person this speedway, and series could have gone too.

First of all, he has the financial understanding needed to make Indianapolis Motor Speedway blossom into a worldwide spectacle again. He has grand plans to bring in more and doing more to elevate the speedway and IndyCar. He referenced the possibility of a 24-hour race on the road coarse that would be amazing for a series like IMSA or the WEC. Formula One is on his mind, as well as luring a much needed third manufacture for the IndyCar series.

With Penske’s purchase of both the speedway and the series, is wanting to see a true double-header between IndyCar and NASCAR. It could unite racing in America overall and something that seems to be long overdue.

But one thing that I believe everyone has overlooked with this purchase, at least to me, is more about the legacy he can leave behind for American open-wheel racing than it is about his ego. History dictates that it would be about asserting his dominance and becoming “The Captain” everyone knows from his involvement in the open-wheel civil war to the way he conducts his racing operations. But honestly, when I watched his interviews and heard the inflections in his voice, it’s of joy.

Most importantly, he understands the magnitude of what Indianapolis is. The track, series, and American open-wheel racing are in the right hands. 

Scott Masom

photo credit: AJ Mast, AP

Pocono, Pocono, Wherefore Art Thou Pocono?

Pocono, for the second race in as many years, is clouded by controversy.

The subject of this controversy is another lap one incident. Felix Rosenqvist found his NTT IndyCar flying through the air and sliding atop the SAFER barrier after being collected into the wreck going 200+ mph. To everyone’s relief, Rosenqvist did not get into the catch fence. He walked away relatively unscathed, as did the rest of the drivers involved, including championship contender, Alexander Rossi.

This first lap incident was shocking to many, especially after what happened to Robert Wickens the year prior at the same point of the race track.

Alexander Rossi was very adamant about who was to blame for the lap one incident:

“I can’t even begin to understand how, after last year, how Takuma thinks that any sort of driving like that is acceptable,” said Rossi. “I mean, to turn across two cars at that speed in that corner of a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting and might have cost us a championship. It’s upsetting, this team works too hard to have something like that happen.”

James Hinchcliffe, remembering the impact of last year’s lap one incident had this to say:

“It sucks. I’m glad everyone’s OK but I don’t know how many times we have to do this before people figure out that you can attack all you want, but it doesn’t give you a chance to win if you’re in the fence. It’s just crazy, man. It’s just such a waste of time and money to come out here for a 500-mile race and half the top 10 end up in the fence at Turn 2.”

At the time, Takuma Sato took the blame for the incident but claimed: “I kept the steering wheel straight but unfortunately it looked like we tangled together,” said Sato.

On Sato’s official twitter account the following day, he shared a video from the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team’s onboard camera. It revealed that he indeed did not turn the wheel deliberately to the left and into Rossi like many belief.

My initial response when it happened was that Sato was solely to blame for the incident. But after reviewing footage and reading multiple sources, my take on the incident is that this was a racing accident. It just happened to be at 220 mph at a race track where track position was absolutely crucial.

There is no better time to gain a position than at starts and restarts.

I think what is forgotten, but it is necessary to talk about is that dirty air can push and pull race cars. It was no secret that Sato was trying to capitalize on the draft of Scott Dixon. Dixon jumps up half a lane to get away from towing his championship rival of Rossi and jumps into Sato’s line. When reviewing the onboard camera of Sato’s car, his wheel never turns to the left. Yet, his car does drift to the left and into Rossi.

It reminds me of driving down the highway, and a being behind 18-wheelers. The tug and pull your car can feel as you switch lanes. Or when a 18-wheeler is heading the opposite direction of you at full speed, the wind pushes you over to the other side of the road. Now, imagine that scenario but traveling 200+ mph while dealing with a bumpy race track.

Robert Wickens was quick to add his opinion on Twitter after the accident. He posted: “How many times do we have to go through the same situation before we can all accept that an IndyCar should not race at Pocono. It’s just a toxic relationship and maybe it’s time to consider a divorce. I’m very relieved (to my knowledge) that everyone is okay from that scary crash.”

This incident questions not just racing at Pocono, but superspeedways and high-speed ovals in general. I’ve mulled over this topic since Wickens’s accident. I wondered if the Indianapolis 500 should be the only oval on the schedule. Should ovals be taken off as a whole or should they only run on ovals that restrict their speed naturally like an Iowa or a Richmond due to their size?

I say yes, ovals do need to be a part of the NTT IndyCar schedule because that is what makes IndyCar unique above all other open-wheel disciplines. It isn’t enough to be good at only road courses, but a driver needs to be great at all disciplines IndyCar offers to become a champion.

I believe there is no doubt that we need to make superspeedway racing safer. The cars are more advanced and more reliable than ever. The drivers are perhaps the most adept they have ever been in IndyCar history.

So what else needs to change? To me, it always goes back to the speed that these cars are traveling. We’ve seen numerous adaptations in motorsports to restrict speed like restrictor plates, drag-inducing systems like larger spoilers, or simply lowering the horsepower of the cars.

There is no reason why we can’t do this to IndyCars. And I’ll use this time as a friendly reminder that speed does not equal great racing.

If IndyCar does not derive a solution to making oval racing safer, does this hurt their perspective crops of future drivers? We’ve seen the young talent of Max Chilton opt-out of driving ovals the rest of the year. One has to ask, what are the chances of more younger drivers opting out as well.

Not to mention, IndyCar owners seem to be going international with their driver findings with Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist as prime examples. Many of whom have never driven ovals before. Do these incidents deter established international drivers from thinking about a career in IndyCar? It would be a shame to have a few full-time drivers because of this.

At some point, IndyCar needs to refill the driver pool. Names of Dixon, Power, and Bourdais are not getting any younger, and we need to explore if this really is becoming a problem in gaining and developing IndyCar talent.

This was the final year of a three-year contract between Pocono and IndyCar. For some, the race should continue. For others, Pocono may have outlived its usefulness for the series. For me, let’s come back to the historic track when we can slow these cars down.

Scott Masom

photo credit: motorsport.com

New Kids on the Block: Arrow McLaren SP

We finally have it after all the months of speculation. The continuous “no comments” from both Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports and McLaren about an incurring deal with the European motorsports outfit, and the wishy-washiness of McLaren CEO Zak Brown about a full-time IndyCar entry for the 2020 season, we have an official answer.

McLaren will be on the grid; full-time.

McLaren failed to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500 as an independent team. It was apparent that if they wanted to go IndyCar racing, that a partnership with an existing team would be the preferred way to do it. I wrote my blog posting of “#fastest33” about the future of McLaren in IndyCar. I stated that it would not be surprising to see an announcement between McLaren and SMP on a joint venture in the future as Arrow sponsored both outfits. Well, fast forward two and a half months, and it seems as though this partnership has come to fruition.

An integral part of this partnership is the commitment SPM is making in switching engine manufactures from the Japanese powerhouses of Honda to the American bowties of Chevrolet. It appears that the messy recent history between Honda and McLaren will continue to spill over into IndyCar. Which brings to question what their driver line-up will look like in 2020?

Announced for 2020, Arrow McLaren SP would field only two cars; currently James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson pilot those two cars. For fans of Robert Wickens rest easy, as his seat is assured with the team when/if he decides to come back to IndyCar.

Ericsson signed a one-year contract before the 2019 season started and is looking to secure his place on the grid for next year. Does this new partnership secure his future within the series? I believe it hurts Ericsson more than anything. Especially with Alonso, the two-time Formula One Champion not having any concrete plans for his racing future. Remember that he is still associated with McLaren and is still searching for his Triple Crown.

As for Hinchcliffe-a Honda Ambassador-stated earlier today after the official announcement from the team, through his various social media outlets, that he is excited for what 2020 will bring to him and Arrow McLaren SP. His contract with Schmidt-Peterson expires at the end of next season.

But will Honda let Hinchcliffe go so quickly to the manufacture of Chevrolet, even if it is only for a season to finish his contract? Will Arrow, who has been a sponsor of Hinchcliffe since 2015, let him walk away from their brand? Does Honda try to find Hinchcliffe a seat at another Honda team like Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing? They have been rumored in the last several days to be in the works for adding a third car to their stable. Will Chip Ganassi have a chance at snatching one of these drivers if they become available?

Don’t forget about the implication that this deal has for Mayer Shank Racing. With Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports switch in engine manufacture, MSR’s partnership with them effectively comes to an end. MSR is partnered with Honda’s luxury brand Acura in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

One thing is for sure, IndyCar’s silly season is in full swing and McLaren has thrown their monkey wrench.

Scott Masom

photo credit: Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Robert Wickens Will Race Again

Equipped with customized hand controls, Robert Wickens found himself behind the wheel of a car again; just not the car he would have liked. Before the engines roared to life for the Honda Indy Toronto Grand Prix, Wickens drove an Acura RSX around the 11-turn street course to cheers and standing ovations from his countrymen.

Since the horrific wreck at Pocono that found Wickens developing paraplegia, he has made it clear that the end goal of his recovery process is to get back into an IndyCar and be competitive.

Also, he would like to dance with his wife at their wedding on his own two feet. Arguably, the more important of the two.

When Wickens returns behind the wheel of a race car full-time, he will join drivers like Alex Zanardi, Evan Evans, and most recently, Billy Monger. All drivers who have all come back to the sport and found themselves as winners.

Alex Zanardi, a two-time CART champion before his accident and amputation of both legs, went on to race in the WTCC (World Touring Car Championship). He collected four wins during his five-season with the series from 2005-2009. Most recently, Zanardi competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona driving the BMW M8 GTE, where problems with his customized steering wheel hindered his team during a pit stop. He came away with a 9th place finish in class.

Evan Evans, the first person that came to my mind when thinking about disabled drivers, is the winningest truck class driver in SODA (Short-Course Off-Road Drivers Association) history. He also won the Class 13 Championship in that series. During Evans’s CORR (Championship Off-Road Racing) career, he collected 22 wins and finished runner-up in the Pro-2 championship four different times during his career. Evans has paraplegia.

Billy Monger, currently racing in the Euroformula Open Championship, became a double amputee after his accident during a race weekend at Donington Park. He has not only recovered from his accident but had become a winner again in his young open-wheel career using customized hand controls.

There is no doubt that Wickens believes that he can come back and be successful. The question for me is in what discipline will he find this success?

Again, Wickens has a desire to come back to the NTT IndyCar Series but can he? The question is not meant to be mean but realistic. With the absence of power steering within the NTT IndyCar Series, will he be able to race on the various configurations that they run on?

It would not surprise me to find Wickens driving in IMSA. Possibly for Meyer Shank Racing in the GTD classification because of their affiliation to Acura and business affiliation to Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. I initially had this thought when it was announced that Acura had built a custom RSX for him to drive in Toronto. This situation could be a win-win for all parties involved.

For Acura, they would have a driver to help develop, test, and implement multiple options for impaired individuals who drive their road cars everyday. For Wickens, there would be a manufacture that would support him in his racing endeavors. For Arrow, an electronics company and the current title sponsor for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports could and should be interested in providing the necessary electronic components to advance this endeavor for Wickens and Acura.

Not only is a comeback to racing possible, but it is more than doable. Wickens has the support of his family, friends, and a loyal fan base. But don’t count out the support he has from his car owner of Sam Schmidt, who has quadriplegia himself. I’m sure he would love nothing more than to give the gift of racing back to someone who lost it like himself.

Scott Masom

photo credit: Robert Wickens Official Twitter Page

 

“Fake News” and the Future of Alonso?

Through various motorsport publications, it was announced that McLaren and their driver, Fernando Alonso, were to part ways. This news was coming after McLaren’s debacle in failing to qualify for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It was reported that both parties agreed to mutually separate and left each other on good terms. McLaren issued this statement about the topic to multiple publications:

“Fernando, like all McLaren drivers past and present, will always be part of the McLaren family and we have a strong relationship with him. We have no plans to run him in any further F1 test sessions this year as our focus remains on both Carlos (Sainz) and Lando (Norris). He is free to pursue other opportunities in motorsport, and we would support him in doing so.”

Or, so we thought Alonso was leaving.

Later that same day McLaren CEO, Zak Brown stated that this story was “fake news” and that both McLaren and Alonso still have a “strong and contractual relationship.” The Spaniard took to his twitter account and echoed the statements by Zak Brown by posting this on his timeline:

I’ve been waited for more information to come out and weirdly enough; this is basically where the trail of crumbs end when it comes to this story. This separation might still be coming in the near future. Perhaps someone within Alonso’s representative group leaked this information out early to stir interest and create some positive buzz around the two-time Formula One champion. Especially after his controversial win at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Toyota Gazoo Racing.

For McLaren, issuing that statement might have come from observing Alonso’s newfound commitment and success toward Toyota and were trying to save a bit of their reputation. After all, Alonso’s very public ridicule of McLaren and their then Formula One engine provider, Honda, during his second stint with the team were nothing short of flattering.

With Alonso not being committed to a racing series full-time, the world is now his oyster. Alonso is free to come and go as he pleases. He can race anything, anywhere, at any time. Alonso’s seat at Toyota Gazoo Racing is being taken over by two-time WEC champion Brandon Hartley so that Alonso could pursue new challenges with the manufacture.

According to many, the Dakar Rally will be the next joint venture between the two sides.

With Alonso showing an energetic commitment to the Japanese manufacturer of Toyota and his newfound racing freedom, Alonso’s racing future is nothing but speculation. Could he join Super Formula where Toyota is one of the two engine manufactures of that series? Could he rejoin Toyota in 2020 for the new Hypercar Class that the WEC will be introducing?

Or,

Does “leaving” McLaren open the door to a possible seat in IndyCar and throw a monkey wrench into the 2020 IndyCar silly season?

Dear God, I hope it’ll be this one, and I’ll attempt to explain why.

Alexander Rossi, currently driving for Andretti Autosport, is the biggest fish on the IndyCar driver market when his contract expires at the end of this season. The rumors are endless when it comes to predicting Rossi’s future.

Does he go to Penske and align himself with their powerful chevy engines? How about Chip Ganassi Racing, where there is a track record of crowning champions. Couple that with a Honda alliance, which is the only engine Rossi has known during his IndyCar career, and you can see the temptation. Can Rossi and Andretti Autosport even come to agreeable terms? Will Andretti Autosport switch to a Chevy power unit next season? If so, will that sway Honda in trying to retain the talent of Rossi under their racing banner?

Now imagine if Alonso decides he wants to join the IndyCar grid. He could potentially reshape the field in a significant way. I believe his ego wouldn’t settle for anything less than a seat within one of the top three teams of Andretti, Penske, or Chip Ganassi. Would one of them take a chance on the 37-year-old as opposed to Rossi, who is 27 years of age and just hitting the prime of his career? Coincidently, all three teams that were mentioned above are understood to be in contention for the Rossi sweepstakes as well.

Would there be room for both of them on any of those teams? More importantly, would there even be enough money to go around? I would assume the answer would be no.

McLaren has announced that they are simmering down their IndyCar program to just another one-off attempt in 2020. Alonso will need a reliable seat to secure his maiden Indianapolis 500 win. With that win, he would become the second person to claim the Triple Crown of motorsports. Grant Hill is the only driver to achieve this feat.

I believe Alonso needs to participate in at least a partial season to build confidence and understanding in the car. Not to mention, running a partial season would be essential to building team chemistry that can help when the lights are shining the brightest. Something McLaren lacked significantly this year, and it showed.

Alonso has stated that he has no plans to running a full-time IndyCar schedule next season as it would be “too much of a commitment in terms of races.” For clarification, IndyCar runs four races less than what is on the Formula One calendar.

But what if one of these teams comes calling? What will become of Alonso’s future? Does Alonso being “free” alter the plan for Rossi and his future endeavors in any way?

Could we see Alonso imitate Juan Pablo Montoya and not only commit to IndyCar in the later years of his career but win the Indianapolis 500?

Only time will tell.

Scott Masom

photo credit: Getty Images

 

 

 

Can Society Continue to Withstand 600 Mile Races?

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, I scrolled across an article from autoweek.com written by Greg Engle where Denny Hamlin stated that NASCAR doesn’t need a 600-mile race. Denny added on to his statements by saying, “I don’t think that anything is totally necessary.” “If the race was 300 miles, you’re going to have the same, I believe, core group watch the race and possibly even more that are interested because it’s not five hours long.”

Denny Hamlin seemed to be in the tiny minority on this thought. NASCAR Series Champions Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch have been in unison about wanting to protect the history and tradition of the Coca-Cola 600. To that, Denny Hamlin says “Tradition, ‘shmadition.’” “It’s whatever. All sports adapt and change. I hate it when people say, ‘Well, that’s the way it always was.’ Things are different. I’d be just as happy with a Coke 300 trophy as a Coke 600, to be honest with you.”

I agree with Denny Hamlin to a point; sports do ebb and flow. They change and adapt with the times, and there isn’t a better example of that in sports than the three-point line in basketball. While The Cola-Cola 600 might not be the same test of man vs. machine it had the reputation of being throughout the race’s history, I rebuttal Danny Hamlin by saying why not have a 600-mile race? NASCAR is a pinnacle of motor racing, and I believe there needs to be something that tests not only the equipment but the drivers and their crews as well.

However, this subject of lessening the miles/time of a race does entice a couple of interesting questions from me. Those are what will be the next adaptation to auto racing and who will be their target audience going forward?

NASCAR has been on the leading edge of adaptation with the chase/playoff system, the stage racing, and the lucky dogs. Have they been bad adaptations to the sport of auto racing? Some might say yes and that these changes have tarnished racing forever, but to me, they have only added to the excitement. (The word “added” being key there) We have yet to see other racing series adapt to a similar style and I believe that is because of two reasons:

#1. No one likes a copycat.

But more seriously,

#2. Other series have not been as committed to trying to attract a specific audience other than hardcore race fans. (i.e., casual fans or younger generations)

Changing an entire sport that can conform to the social norms of our point and click, instant gratification, and ever-growing impatient lifestyles are what sporting leagues around the world are currently trying to do. Instead, these leagues are finding that this balance between being cutting edge and keeping to the traditions and history of the game is not as clear cut as it may have initially seemed.

In baseball, their league executives believe shorting the number of innings played during the game is the solution. The NBA is looking into shorting their total time played in their games from 48 minutes to 40. These are just examples of some of the changes to try and satisfy the societal need for instant gratification. To try and cooperate with short attention spans that go along with the glamorization of the casual fan.

Often, this glamorization will leave those who are loyal to the sport with no place to voice their opinion. Leagues and series continue to turn a blind eye toward them in favor of the short-term gain casual fans can often provide. Again, look no farther than NASCAR for being a prime example. They have admitted to doing this to what used to be a strong, unified, and loyal fan base.

I believe several other factors contributed to the loss of fans for NASCAR. For example, the passing of Dale Earnhardt, the loss of the “good ol’ boys” mentality, the emphasis put on mile and a half-tracks, the 2009 stock market crash, and the weird and somewhat awkward introduction to the beginning of the “Car of Tomorrow” era but more on this in a possible future posting.

Can racing conform to these growing social norms? Do we have to concede to having shorter races to stay relevant? Is it possible that The Indianapolis 500 becomes The Indianapolis 250 one day? Or the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans be changed to the 2.4 Hours of Le Mans? The Coca-Cola 300 has an excellent ring to it according to Denny Hamlin.

Doesn’t all of that sound absurd?

Well, that’s because it is but auto racing has been at the forefront of using social media platforms, like YouTube, to illustrate the balance between satisfying the hardcore fans and the casual. Many series like NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA and Formula E upload not only races in their entirety but various lengths of recaps and highlights. This kind of adaptation allows fans to watch when they want, where they want, and however they want. Not to mention, social media has allowed fans to access drivers and teams for instant practice, qualifying or racing updates. This type of availability has become perfect for today’s point and click, instant gratification, and ever-growing impatient lifestyle without having to change the sport for the hardcore fans.

Significant events like those on Memorial Day will always attract casual fans but just as easy as they can come, they go. No amount of changing a sport will retain casual fans throughout the season. The only way to convert the casual fan into an avid fan and then into a hardcore fan is by having that fan make a personal connection to the sport. I say this as a warning to other leagues by asking if the addition by subtraction is the addition they need?

Racing is in a stable place within the sports world. There is no need to make it unstable with something like The Coca-Cola 300.

Scott Masom

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Triple Crown For You!

WOW.

McLaren, a Goliath within the racing world, has failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 by 0.019mph! McLaren and their driver, two-time Formula One Champion, Fernando Alonso were bumped out of the #fastest33 by David himself: Juncos Racing. One of the smallest teams racing on the IndyCar grid. Oh yeah, I can’t fail to mention that Juncos lost two significant sponsors earlier in the week.

Is anyone looking for a place to spend their advertising dollars? I may know of a car that will be getting plenty of on-air screen time.

What does this failure mean for McLaren and their future endeavors in the NTT IndyCar series? Does Fernando Alonso cut his ties with McLaren for his next attempt in The Indy 500? Does Zak Brown’s seat as McLaren Racing Chief Executive Officer get a little hotter? How does this failure affect any alliances they may have in the future? I have so many questions, and there is so much speculation swirling through Gasoline Ally. And at the moment, the comforts of my couch.

The first question I have for McLaren is, are there any second thoughts to joining in 2020 as they have planned? They have been very open to the fact that they would like to purchase or form an alliance with an existing team. Rumor has it that Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are McLaren’s prime target for either possibility. Both co-owners of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have adamantly stated that the team is not for sale. McLaren has also declined to provide a comment on the matter. In a lighthearted response, Ric Peterson of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports said that “he has finally got their heads above water” as they have signed a five year deal with Arrow earlier this year. Coincidentally, Arrow partnered with McLaren Racing to not only be on their car for the 500 but their Formula One car as well. It wouldn’t be too far out of reach to see an alliance between SPM and McLaren if and when McLaren join full-time next season.

Or in any capacity for that matter.

McLaren opted not to have an alliance with Andretti Autosports and the Honda power unit used during their last 500 attempt. Instead, they decided to enter this year as an independent entry with a Chevrolet engine powering their Dallara IR-12 chassis. According to many reports, this team showed the inexperience and lack of preparation that is needed for The Indy 500. Perhaps an alliance would have done them some good this year. Perhaps their success in 2017 was more Andretti than McLaren themselves.

Is that a hot take?

My second question is will Fernando Alonso cut his ties with McLaren for his next attempt to achieve the Triple Crown of Motorsports? Perhaps he looks toward an experienced team like Penske, Andretti, or Ganassi that can put him in proven equipment to accomplish this feat. Alonso is 37 and seems far from retiring, but how much longer does Alonso want to pursue this as a one-off event? I still have the belief that he will announce his commitment to the NTT IndyCar Series full-time. It does have to come with serious thought as to what McLaren can offer him in his immediate future.

Zak Brown, is your seat getting a little warmer? Not more than 24 hours since the disappointment of not making IndyCar’s most prestigious event, Bob Fernley, team principal of McLaren’s IndyCar operation was relieved of his duties. Again, their lack of preparation and inexperience were echoed by “The Golden Boy” Alonso himself. He has stated that their pace was slow, not only on the race track but in the garage as well. He compared themselves to the team of Juncos Racing and their ability and competency in putting their car back together overnight. Whereas Alonso wrecked on Wednesday afternoon and McLaren didn’t have the car ready until Friday morning. This inability to fix the car quickly resulted in McLaren losing a day of valuable and precious track time for the one-off team.

Failure in this sport doesn’t always boil down to just one person. When it does, it is typically the driver. When you are a one-off team, and your name is McLaren, there needs to be a scapegoat, and unfortunately for Bob Fernley, they found one.

The scapegoat sure as hell wasn’t going to be Alonso. At least, not this time around, or perhaps, ever.

For Zak Brown, I believe the fire isn’t as hot as some expect. We’ve got to remember, IndyCar is the noncommittal side project that has as much (or more) to do with Alonso than it does McLaren. While missing “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is not a good look for McLaren, their cars are fourth in F1 constructor standings, and that is their main priority. Zak Brown is on record during the Long Beach Grand Prix weekend stating that joining the IndyCar Series is “more of a when not if.”

So when will it be McLaren? Does this setback delay any thoughts? More importantly, did this failure delay any possible future financial commitments? I’m sure these questions will only be answered with time.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a cruel mistress. She rewards those that work hard, put in the time, effort, and respect the incredible wonder that she is. Not everyone gets in because not everyone deserves to get in. McLaren will not buy Alonso a seat to enter the race. Good, because they didn’t earn their way into the race in the first place.

Scott Masom

They Say Modern Problems Require Modern Solutions

To Formula One, the FIA, and Liberty Media,

It is time to get serious about finding solutions as to why there is no overtaking. The past five race weekends have been utterly disheartening. You’re selling me this idea that these are the best racing drivers in the world that are capable of driving wheel-to-wheel.

Instead, I’m watching a procession that follows this particular order: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, HAAS, McLaren, Toro Rosso, Renault, Alfa Romero, Racing Point, and unfortunately, Williams.

Do we even need to watch the races anymore?

We all know that Mercedes have their act together while Ferrari will shoot themselves in the foot. The mid-field will not fight for a win but claim the sad title of “best of the rest,” and Williams will be two laps down.

Pretty accurate race recap for any Grand Prix this year, I know.

Fans want to preserve the tradition of manufacturers building their cars because that has been woven into Formula One DNA since their inception in the 1950s. I concede to that notion, even though I believe spec regulations would make Formula One teams closer and more competitive. The sanctioning body continues to try and reduce winglets, add or subtract downforce, and even add DRS to promote racing and it has done quite the opposite, especially this season.

So I, obviously in a place to change the rules and regulations within a F1 weekend, will give you the solution(s) that F1 needs to employ to make their racing great again.

Only have two different tire compounds.
Increase the degradation of the tire compounds.
Allow these cars to be refueled.
Make the cars smaller in width and length.
Incorporate some kind of Push to Pass option.

Yes, two and only two compounds. It always boggled my mind as to why Formula One continues to give the teams three different compounds to choose from throughout the race weekend. The strategies typically call for only one pitstop the majority of the time. Even then, teams can take a soft tire compound and manage them to last 40 plus laps, which leads to my next point.

Tire degradation needs to be more profound. Seeing drivers maintain a consistent race pace while being 25 laps into a stint is impressive in terms of technological achievement but for racing, not so much. Having varying degradation between the two tire compounds would add an element of necessary tire management that could be the difference in being within the points or not.

Are you telling me that the pinnacle of motorsports cannot figure out a way to refuel their cars? Yes, I know the potential harm. But we see IndyCar, NASCAR, WEC, IMSA and many more refuel their cars safely with relatively little to no accidents throughout their entire season. This idea would be seen as significant incorporation, as drivers could race flat out or like the tires, try to conserve fuel to stretch out a stint a few laps longer.

I believe the lack of racing could also be contributed to the dimensions of the current cars themselves. The cars have become wider and longer to compensate for the larger fuel tanks, as they have expanded from 105kg to 110kg to allow the drivers to race with “full power” without having to save fuel. Counterproductive if you can refuel, am I right? When you think about it in terms of trying to pass one another, extra inches in either direction at 180 mph might as well be a football field. Shrink the cars, and you instantly create more racing room.

Lastly, does DRS work? For passing yes, for racing, no. I want my drivers to defend from a pass, as well as attempt a pass. DRS is too restrictive. For instance, with Push to Pass, if a driver knows they quicker in sector two compared to the driver in front, why not be able to gain a little boost and push harder in that sector to try and make up some time? Why not push harder on fresher tires to do the same? Or, call me crazy, the attack zone from Formula E makes its way into the pinnacle of motorsports. Either way, give the drivers more control.

What is lacking within Formula One is the strategy, and these components provide not only that but actual racing. Can you imagine if McLaren or Renault sneak their way onto the podium or possibly a win by having a great strategy? If Formula One looked across the pond to IndyCar and took a couple of pages from them, they could see lower-tiered teams like Harding-Steinbrenner Racing winning their first race in Austin, Texas. How about Mayer Shank Racing coming away from the Indy Grand Prix with their first podium because of great a strategic call.

Don’t be like Ferrari and underestimate how important a great strategy can be.

Scott Masom

 

 

 

 

#fastest33

I am ashamed, appalled, disgusted, embarrassed, disappointed, outraged, and downright irritated at the thought of guaranteeing entries into the prestigious Indianapolis 500. I don’t like guaranteeing spots in any form of motorsport.

Team owners Rodger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and just recently, Michael Andretti have made their opinions very clear. Teams that have committed to the IndyCar series on a full-time basis should be rewarded for their commitment.

How do you ask? By having a guaranteed spot on the 33 car grid.

Chip Ganassi is quoted saying “a commitment is a commitment, you know?” Rodger Penske sparked this thought last year after James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify his Arrow Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports Honda on Bump Day.

Yeah, we had an actual Bump Day!

We are talking about the three giants of IndyCar, teaming together, attempting to create an oligarchy within the confines of Gasoline Ally. As much as the idea of a guaranteed grid spot angers me, I do understand where they are coming from. The money that is personally invested into their teams, the endless promises made to sponsors, the potential of embarrassment and humiliation that comes from not making “The 500”.

Something Penske knows about personally.

Michael Andretti notes that this kind of system would be for the betterment of the sport. That, if there were guaranteed grid spots, it would bring more full-time teams with more sponsorship. I argue that what IndyCar has been doing in recent years has brought that to the series. The addition of Harding-Steinbrenner Racing and expansion of Carlin, as well as, the addition to NTT Data as the title sponsor is the validation of a racing series that is expanding into brighter horizons.

I’m not blind to the impact money makes in racing, but I fail to see why we need to alter tradition because of it. Since I was a boy, the allure of the Indianapolis 500 was that these men and women drove the fastest 33 cars on the planet for one magical Sunday of the year. Those men and women earned their rightful spot on the grid. That these teams, full-time or not, worked tirelessly to achieve a goal like no other in motorsports. That qualifying for this race meant just as much, if not more than competing in the race itself. This race isn’t something you get invited to. It isn’t something that happens but is earned. It teaches lessons to those that succeed and to those that leave the track in defeat.

To the teams and drivers that have the privilege of attempting the Indianapolis 500, you have the month of May to prepare. Make it count!

#fastest33

Scott Masom

 

 

The Field of Play

Every sport has a defined field of play.

Whether it is the foul line in baseball, the goal line on a soccer pitch, or even the sideline of a football field, those lines are absolute. The purpose of those lines are defined in their rule books and not up for interpretation. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for racing and it’s beginning to bother me.

Racing doesn’t have set standards because each series has their own interpretation of  what is legally “out of bounds”. No bigger example of this than the IndyCar race at COTA. Series officials decided to lift the track limits at turn 19, while also easing track limitations around the track. IndyCar’s reasoning wasn’t for drivers to gain speed though the turn but for safety, as the wear on the alternate compound Firestones were a concern.

In a Motorsports.com article about the new track limits written by David Malsher, Max Papis explains that the “intent of IndyCar has been to not have to enforce track limits when it’s not needed.” He and Arie Luyendyk assist series race director Kyle Norvak in race control.

I understand IndyCar’s want to not enforce track limits because these kinds of penalties can become subjective depending on the opinions of the officials but what determines if proper action is needed or not? When someone gets ran off the track? It is difficult to determine intent and when there isn’t any track limits, how do you know where the track ends? The wall?

There were two instances that stood out to me during the IndyCar Classic that highlighted the necessary need for track limitations. The pass Rossi completed against Herta along the backstretch on lap 22 and the wreck between Hinchcliffe and Rosenqvist that occurred on lap 44.

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Coming out of the hairpin of turn 11, Herta (black) positioned himself to the left side on the backstretch to defend the inside line going into the left-hander of turn 12. His choice of positioning is perfect according to the “Racing 101” textbook. Herta leaves half a car width between himself and the white line that would have marked the track limits. Leaving no room for Rossi (blue) to advance along the left side, one would assume that Rossi would be forced to take the outside line to if he wants to attempt a pass into turn 12.

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IMG_3307.jpegWithout track limits, the white line becomes obsolete as Rossi bullies his way inside of Herta and completed the pass for second place. I have to ask, what else does Herta need to do to defend his position from Rossi? Drive all the way to the narrow piece of grass by the wall? My answer, he shouldn’t have to. The line should be a tool for a defending driver because the field of play should be set to the line. Much like a defensive back can use the sideline as a tool to help defensively, a driver should be able to use it in the same context as well.

Turn 19 brought out the only caution of the race and that again, was due to the lack of track limitations. Look at this gaggle of cars below. All of the cars are running different lines, gaining an advantage by not having to stay within the white lines.

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The contact between Hinchcliffe (gold and black) and Rosenqvist (blue) happened due to several factors:

1) Hinchcliffe saw an opening on the inside of Rosenqvist and drives over the curb, upsetting the car, causing him to sweep the car wider than he intended.

2) Rosenqvist, trying to carry speed through the corner, goes wide. When trying to reset his car for the final corner, he is trying to cut back onto the racing surface before coming in contact with the grass that is quickly approaching ahead of him.

IMG_3308.jpeg3) Both drivers make contact as Hinchcliffe is trying to gather his car and Rosenqvist making his efforts to get back onto the racing surface.

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Would the provided boundaries in the pictures above been able to deter the caution? I believe so. The curb wouldn’t have been hopped to upset Hinchcliffe’s car and the grass wouldn’t have limited Rosenqvist’s path. The proper track lines would have provided an understanding to the limits of the racing surface for both drivers.

No action was taken by race control for this incident. This was the correct call in my opinion, as it was a direct result of race controls decision to let the drivers run wide through turn 19.

Not to mention the hip-checks in turns 1 and 12 that pushed drivers wide into the run-off area. I’m all for a little argy bargy but when it is done with no regard to the racing space of the other driver, then we might need to reconsider what we find good and fair.

Is there a way to have a uniform regulation on what is and isn’t out of bounds throughout motorsports? No, but I think there could be something close if tracks would be more rigid to the various series that visit their tracks about wanting to keep the integrity of the racing surface they provide. Whether turn 19 at COTA was made specifically for Formula One or not, that corner is unique to that track and the field of play is clearly marked.

Let’s start abiding by those white lines around the track, shall we?

Scott Masom

 

Article: https://us.motorsport.com/indycar/news/new-track-limit-rule-cota/4357246/

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dStwHNH0Vs4&t=233s