Ground(ed) Effects

Indycar and general autosport opinion

Bleary-eyed, in the ever-earlier darkness of morning, after dutifully shutting off my phone alarm clock, I gathered myself for another day in the COVID-19 era, and scanned my personal email.

Surprisingly (and one email that really shouldn’t have), I saw my annual fees to WordPress.com were automatically paid. While there have been numerous opportunities to project my opinions outwardly here, it’s more generally been an anemic year for my blog as numerous things in my three-dimensional world conspire to retain my interest instead of my Indycar and racing musings to my tens of fans. Maximize the value of my annual expense, I did not.

In actuality, that number is likely to be in the single-digits by now. Pretty dismal showing after 10 years and 350 days of blogging.

Slacking on Indycar posting isn’t a new condition for this writer, but it has been amplified with the hodge-podge season of 2020 Indycar racing in combination with viral disease or other uncertainties. I certainly don’t envy being in either position of racing sanction or facility or team owner, for whom so often we armchair critics assail. At any rate, we all press on in hope of better times and safer futures around the corner.

As for the 2020 Indycar season, it could very well go down as one of the most underrated seasons in history. It’s perhaps forgivable to consider it a mere throwaway of a season, with the lack of fans in attendance, constantly-jumbled schedule, massive uncertainties of the crown jewel Indy 500, and general lack of any sort of rhythm and general purpose. Trying to maintain a balanced view toward things, we must resist to temptation to toss aside this season as wasted. 2020 will without doubt be notable for several reasons in the annals of Indycar history, with positives to be taken along with the glaring downside, but on balance I see it as a net positive.

What follows in this and three subsequent posts will be a summary review of the 2020 Indycar season.


January

  • Penske Corporation completes the acquisition of the Hulman-George family businesses including IMS and Indycar which had been run by the Hulman-George family since Anton Hulman’s purchase of the Speedway in November 1945.
  • John Andretti passes away from long cancer battle and is honored with a ceremonial lap around IMS in his funeral procession.
  • The successful Road To Indy ladder is set to celebrate it’s 10th season.

February

  • A spate of exciting new driver, new sponsor, and new venue announcements grows the anticipation for the 2020 season and the first of the Penske era.
  • The aeroscreen becomes the focus of new testing for all teams in preparation for the new season. Increased cockpit temperatures are noted to be the primary focus for improvement prior to the season start.

March

  • All momentum for the 2020 Indycar season slows dramatically as COVID-19 expands its reach, creating uncertainty for gatherings of people. Spring sporting events are a major concern for spread of the deadly virus, cancelling or postponing famed events such as the NCAA basketball tournament and The Masters.
  • On the eve of the St. Pete race, March 13th, the Indycar series and the Road To Indy ladder series officially cancels all races through April due to virus concerns. The planned 2020 schedule begins to unravel and uncertainty in the Indycar community spreads rapidly, including the Indy 500.
  • Indycar, in an attempt to provide fans, teams, sponsors, and a TV audience with some form of Indycar presence, shows welcome ingenuity by quickly establishing a mini-series of several Virtual Simulation races via iRacing, featuring actual Indycar and other top-flight drivers including fan-favorite and recovering-from-severe-spinal-injury Robert Wickens racing online. Sage Karam wins the inaugural event, run at the virtual Watkins Glen, the venue chosen through fan voting.
  • It becomes clear that the risk and effects of dealing with the COVID-19 era won’t be ending anytime soon. More ingenuity will be required to not lose this season.

April

  • More virtual racing and real-life schedule gymnastics dominate the calendar. A revised series schedule is released featuring double-headers at Iowa and Laguna-Seca, and a brand new event – The Harvest GP at IMS.
  • Indycar and its partners impress with their quick responses and fortitude in not abandoning the season altogether.
  • Virtual racing continues at Barber, Michigan, Motegi, Circuit of the Americas, and lastly at IMS kicking off the most unusual Month of May.

Coming in the next post, a very strange and surreal Month of May.


Lake-effect Winter Satellite Image (c) Wikipedia Commons

January and February in northern Indiana is sometimes referred to as “character-building” season.

Given the proximity to the Great Lakes, and Lake Michigan in particular, this time of year seems hopelessly lost in a cold, hazy-grey arctic embrace that recalls a seven-year-old’s unwanted holiday hug from an over-perfumed, slightly-frightening aunt that hasn’t seen you since you “were thiiiis tall”. You’re going to get that embrace regardless and to feign appreciation for the once-a-year relationship is to have nearly given up hope on better circumstances altogether.

So it goes with Indycar (or any other warm-seasoned activity) appreciation and winter in northern Indiana.

A generation ago, the phrase “he’s a real character” was a slightly derisory description, if not an outright warning, to others for someone who has a penchant for shenanigans. This is not the type of “character” that gets built during this season, however there may be a corollary with the term “cabin-fever” that I’ll not probe today.

During “character-building” season, with the exterior temps chilling our bodies, we often look to warm ourselves from the inside and a heaping bowl of chili amid the depths of a January evening is a rather suitable dinner. I did just that last night. My wife assembled the chili and cornbread which is now a staple food of our winters. Lower on bean count, higher on diced tomatoes, onions, and beef (sorry vegetarian/vegan/keto friends), it is a treasured little family mix that never fails to satisfy. When I saw the spent box of Jiffy cornbread mix on the counter, I was briefly whisked away to warmer days and my first Indy 500 in 1979.

The #46 Sherman Armstong entry for the 1979 Indianapolis 500 Mile Sweepstakes was a used Wildcat-Offy slated for 5-year veteran of Atlantics and Super-Vees, Howard “Howdy” Holmes. Howdy was a fairly accomplished young driver of the American open-wheel ladder whose liveries most often carried the family business brand – Jiffy Mixes of the Chelsea Milling Company, in Chelsea, Michigan. Although I’ve yet to confirm the fact, I’m fairly certain that Mr. Holmes has also shared the magic of chili and cornbread together in his locale of Michigan which would also be subject to lake-effect winters.

(c) IMS Archives

Just like Howdy, my first Indy 500 was in 1979 and the sensations of that day are still palpable to me as I’ve written about previously in this blog. Also easy for me to recollect was my pure and naïve disbelief in my father’s assertion that this car (the #46) was sponsored by a baking mixes company.

He assured me in his factual knowledge, and I was equally inclined to not believe him for all of racing is to be filled only with the stuff of rugged relation – automotive parts, petroleum companies, cigarettes, and beer. Even Janet Guthrie had a Texaco car. Surely my father was incorrect and a baking mixes company couldn’t adorn the front of one of the fastest 33 cars in the greatest race in the world. To whom could they possibly be advertising – these ne’er-do-wells populating the interior of the racetrack?

Certainly not.

Of course at some point, I had to take my father’s serious and insistent word and I found myself looking for that car all day long. It was also part of two-car stable entered by Sherm Armstrong so the liveries were fairly easily tracked – the #44 of Tom Bigelow and the #46 of Howdy Holmes were primarily black with larger white numbers and a smaller yellow and orange trim stripe. The broad nose of Howdy’s Wildcat was easy spot at a distance and so I was able to follow him all day.

Howdy’s career at Indy is notable. His performance in 1979 – 13th starting position (only rookie to qualify), and 7th place finish only bettered by the likes of Mears, Foyt, Mosley, Ongais, Bobby Unser, and Johncock, garnered him the Rookie of the Year honors. His performance allowed him to follow up a month later at Pocono for another 500-miler, starting and finishing a very notable 7th.

For 1980, he was brought on full-time for the team and was slated to help develop their new Orbiter ‘ground-effects’ type chassis. A detailed first-person article exists of that rather fascinating story here.

Howdy Holmes, Armstrong Orbiter Chassis, (c) unknown

Success came in waves for Howdy as he moved from team to team. He left the Armstrong Mould (AMI) racing team after 1980 and did not participate in Indycar racing altogether in 1981. For 1982, Howdy joined up with the brand new Doug Shierson Racing Team as the original driver of the now-famous #30 Domino’s Pizza livery through 1983.

Howdy had a very respectable and rather consistently-performing career in Indycars including a career best finish of 2nd at Phoenix and barely a month later, started middle of the front row at Indy in 1984 for Mayer Racing, back with the Jiffy Mix livery/sponsorship in a current March-Cosworth. He moved to Forsythe Racing with the Jiffy Mix brand in a 1985 Lola-Cosworth.

Passing on the 1986 and 1987 seasons, Howdy returned for one more season with Jiffy Mixes and Morales Racing in 1988, again racing a current March-Cosworth, finishing his career with the 26th and final career Top 10, finishing 8th at Tamiami Park.

1988 – Howdy Holmes March Cosworth, (c) IMS archives

According to ChampCarStats.com, Howdy’s career in the top-flight of open-wheel racing in America is rather notable for his considerable ability to finish higher than he started and on the variety of tracks presented by CART in the mid-1980s. Of his 82 career Indycar starts, he only lost places from his starting position 1 in 4 races. The record shows that most often, those drops were less than 5 positions. He finished in the top-10 in 26 of 82 starts.

After his retirement from racing, he returned to Chelsea Milling Company, authored a book on motorsports technology, formed a motorsports marketing and advertising firm, and eventually replaced his father as President and CEO of Cheslea Milling, where he still works today.

So, if you ever find yourself in the depth of winter, heading into the supermarket eyeing up the corn muffin mixes to match up with your chili or a cupcake mix for your next Indycar watch party, don’t forget about the endearing Indycar driver Howdy Holmes, and his family’s Jiffy mix.

What is it about liveries that adds to the enjoyment of auto racing?

If you’re anything like me, when an off-season wanes and a new season approaches, I appreciate any and all visual coverage of pre-season activity. New images are the desperately-needed salve from the abrasively long off-season. While the sounds from video clips are often familiar and quite welcome, one thing changes more frequently than any other piece in our autosport appreciation – the livery.

During the recent IMSA Roar Before the 24, dutifully placed in the first week of the new calendar year, North American racing fans get their first glimpses of new sports car liveries in action. Often this time of year will include new pronouncements of sponsors and drivers and promotional plans for the upcoming season. Sports cars provide a generally larger substrate for design and history shows us how memorable and popular those can be.

When I say “Silk Cut Jaguar” or “Audi R10 TDi” or “Gulf Oil Porsche 917” or “Mazda 787”, immediately images of a famous and often race-winning livery pop into my head. It’s those things, shared with others around the globe that makes more communal and intimate the experience of autosport enjoyment. The more famous the event/circumstance, the more recalled the livery. Winning, or sometimes merely striving valiantly in incredible situations, often is the momentous situation that places an indelible visual representation of that moment and machine and humans in our brains.

In the second week of 2020, my focus shifts toward Indycar at Sebring for spring testing sessions. 2020 brings a fairly radical new look owing to the advent of aeroscreens. This welcome safety feature also becomes the moment in history that notably alters what we consider a modern Indycar. I imagine a time, even just month from now when a IR15 Dallara without the aeroscreen will seem oddly spartan and exposed.

Regardless, the new era of Indycar is upon us in several ways and as information trickles out of testing, including new entries, sponsors, and liveries, my appetite for the upcoming Indycar season only becomes more ravenous following the off-season hibernation we experience. How will the new aeroscreens add to the livery design? The blank canvas has a new shape.

(c) 2020 Ed Carpenter Racing (via Twitter)

While we often celebrate a renown livery on modern vehicles in tribute, so much that one sanction even takes to throwback livery races, I still feel the classics of tomorrow come from today. In 2019 I noted how well the liveries were done in Indycar from top to bottom of the field, and the artists of today are doing a great job on a difficult substrate, creating some legendary liveries I imagine we’ll regale in 2030.

Often, it’s the events that transpire that influence favor on our recollection of the liveries which will live far beyond their racing life. Even as recently as 2016, the modern and (expected to be) one-off NAPA livery for Alexander Rossi became so memorable from his Indy 500 win, and subsequent exposure, that it now sits among the most recognized, staple sponsors of the modern Indycar era.

As we await more official liveries and note changes to existing ones provided by the aeroscreens, what are some of the newer IMSA or Indycar liveries of 2019 and 2020 that most quickly come to the top of your mind? Like NAPA, which do you see as ‘instant classics’?

Let me know what pops into your mind’s eye first…

The Penske era of IMS and Indycar has officially begun. How RP still manages so many irons in the fire is truly notable and commendable. I can barely manage when to have lunch during any given day and this octogenarian is quite admirably slaying racing dragons at 6:45am.

I was able to find RP’s google calendar and it shouldn’t surprise anyone it looks like this:

(not in fact RP’s google calendar)

With the advent of the Roar before the 24 kicking off last week, I felt it was time to review and make some plans for enjoying the 2020 racing season. The ‘why?’ is a rhetorical question, but the ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘where?’, and ‘when?’ were still up for grabs aside from my annual pilgrimage to Indy in May.

“2020 WILL BE DIFFERENT!” I declared at the end of the 2019 racing season, having failed to plan, my race attendance and watching plan rightfully failed. Of course there were several expected life events I knew would belay my ability to plan for much of anything during the summer of 2019, outside of May. Nevertheless, we march on into 2020 and I need the various calendars of the racing sanctions I follow all in one place. Certainly this will be a rather easy task to complete…

Finding all of the major racing sanctions event calendars is not at all an easy task for the layperson. After some consultation with several racing friends about the internet, I found almost right under my aging proboscis what may be the best fit for my purposes. A good friend of the site and on twitter as well, Pat from @toomuchracing has just what you need HERE! If you also prefer to organize your calendars and keep them via Google, iCal, and the like, this should be your first stop (and may likely be your only).

I’ve subscribed to just as many (or as few) as I need, but the temptation is to basically overwhelm my senses and visual calendar with different sanctions and events despite knowing I’ll never have time to watch them all.

Pat eagerly puts in a considerable bit of time and effort to this endeavour and it shows. I gladly clicked his PayPal donation link on the upper right of his blogsite and I suggest you do as well if you take advantage of the massive amounts of time and effort he will save you.

There are a few other sites that I found, and if you are interested in being able to tell your friend in Sydney, Australia on what channel and time the Dakar Rally is being shown on SBS, or finding the time and location of the stream of qualifying for the F3 Asian Championships at the Autodrome in Dubai, THIS GOOGLE DOC may be your best bet.

Best to all on your racing season planning and I hope to see you at the track in 2020!

PS: Also, I’d like to spare a moment to extend my deepest sorrow and sympathies for the tragic fires that are consuming Australia now. We pray to the universe for a swift end to, and restoration from, the vast destruction they’re experiencing.

“Days turn to minutes and minutes to memories,

Life sweeps away the dreams we have planned.

You are young and you are the future,

so suck it up and tough it out,

and be the best you can…”

J. Mellencamp, 1985

As this Indycar fans ages, it becomes evermore disturbing just how time seems to not only pass more quickly but at an accelerating rate. Some of you may already experience this, and some soon will, but it seems no one is immune to this sensation.

Johnny Cougar, who in his evolving artistic maturity became John Mellencamp, also noted this phenomenon in several songs during and after the apogee of his career (in terms of sales). The lyric quoted above is taken from the Scarecrow album song entitled, ‘Minutes To Memories’.

I first experienced that lyric and the songs of the Scarecrow album during a time in my life that I can scarcely recall anymore – my early adulthood, aged 18, and moving away from my home, to college in Indianapolis. Painfully familiar with how my friends’ parents always took a bittersweet tone when they sang along with a similar lyric from his notable ‘Jack and Diane’ song three years prior, I was already aware that one coping mechanism is to try to remain blissfully unaware of my own impending life changes, holding onto 16 as long as I can.

Much as we all perhaps seek to maintain grasp on that frightfully short (and often easiest) portion of our life, change comes at our behest or otherwise and more often than not, different than we imagined. I’m sure Anton George would likely attest.

So too it was with the world of Indycar, ten years ago in 2010.

“TEN YEARS, MAN! Ten. Ten YEARS?! Ten years. TEN… TEN.. YEAARRRRRSSS! Ten years!” One of my favorite scenes from the movie Grosse Point Blank comes to mind immediately whenever we near an anniversary or some numerical decade involving a base-10 reflection leads to the incredulity of how quickly that time has passed by us.

On January 1 of 2010, the landscape of Indycar was a fair bit different.

  • IZOD had recently agreed to become the first title sponsor of Indycar since Northern Lights ended after 2001.
  • Tony George would resign in mid-January of 2010 from the Board of Directors of IMS, following a very long, protracted, and expensive battle with CART/ChampCar, that resulted in the absorption of that sanction and teams into the new IZOD IndyCar Series.
  • February 2nd saw the hiring of Randy Bernard as the new CEO of the Indy Racing League, the single-most prominent division of the IndyCar Series and open-wheel racing in the US.
  • Names familiar to us now populated the drivers and ownership rosters. Names like Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, Foyt, and Coyne, all owned at least one full-time entry.
  • Kanaan, Marco, RHR, Dixon, Grahamie, Sato-san, Easy Ed Carpenter, Power, and Helio all raced along the other famous names who no longer ply their trade such as; Meira, Danica, Franchitti, Bad-Ass Wilson, Wheldon, Fisher, and Briscoe inferno, and many others.
  • The schedule included 17 events with currently-familiar Indycar homes such as; St. Pete, Barber, Long Beach, Indy, Texas, Iowa, Toronto-eh, and Mid-Ohio. The venues of 2010 not on the 2020 schedule may jog some memories; Sao Paulo, Kansas, The Glen, Edmonton, Infiniyawn, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Motegi, and Homestead.
  • Honda , set to exit Indycar after 2009 was sufficiently cajoled into staying through 2011.
  • Early into an interminable 10-year and fractured TV deal, ABC/ESPN and Versus split the schedule.
  • An oval (Foyt) trophy and road/street (Andretti) trophy was awarded at the end of 2010 along with THIS newly-minted (thankfully short-lived) and spuriously-conceived ‘Flying Cocksman’ IZOD-commissioned Series Championship trophy:
The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Championship Trophy

How no one has grabbed a modern OneWheel board and dressed like this trophy, no matter how ironically, to the 500, or the final race of the Indycar Championship is beyond me.

Set in motion in 2010, however, were several things which we now find more enjoyable about Indycar to this day (many of which couldn’t arrive too soon for fans):

  • New chassis development with updates and more attractive features.
  • A severe dislike of the aforementioned split TV schedule (e-NOUGH of the splits already!) which lead to a single-network-supplier TV package in 2019 (So sorey-eh to my Canadian friends though!)
  • Dedicated work toward multiple engine manufacturers and MORE POWAH!
  • A newfound enthusiasm for the sport stemming from an executive who openly-engaged the fans (somewhat to his own peril). He and the league worked to incorporate their desires into the product (much-easier it is now for fans to be heard for the TV supplier, venues, and the league than ever before). Not all data is important, but the mere act of accepting and sifting through modern consumer-input allowed a growth into a more fan-centric product as ever before, I believe.
  • Shift away from the purely traditional schedule and dates, and more toward keeping more financially-successful events on the schedule, developing continuity from there. As much as we all loved Milwaukee or Chicagoland or Kansas or The Glen, the pure fact remains that not enough paying race fans came through the doors, regardless of marketing or myriad other excuses.

In looking back at the world of Indycar in 2010, there are many familiar things, yet the sport has changed quite a bit in what doesn’t seem 10 years.

I started this blog in late-2009 and, likewise, it doesn’t seem to be that terribly long ago, yet in many ways, at 52 years old, I feel too old to be a voice of the modern Indycar fan.

In taking most of 2019 off from blogging here, I reflected on Indycar bloggers and podcasters past and present. Is there a place for me to keep some moderate/centrist/devil’s advocate/grounded thoughts and ideas ‘out there’ for Indycar and autosport fans? Is it of any value and effort in an increasingly binary society? Is examining alternative ideas and keeping a modicum of basic critical thought toward this sport something enjoyable? Is anyone already doing this and much better than I? I’ve decided to find out.

In doing so, I also relocated to my blog to this new site, which may undergo changes as I become more familiar with formatting and the like. I do not undervalue how an aesthetically pleasing site is more enjoyable, so bear with me as things become less utilitarian and more eye-friendly. I’ve also brought forward the posts from my previous site for my reference as much as anyone else’s. Some posts seem cringeworthy today, but I suppose it’s no different than looking back in an old yearbook at pictures that captured the moment with an accuracy we may now wish it hadn’t.

I’m not young, nor the future, but I’m going to suck it up, tough it out, and be the best I can.

I welcome your feedback here in the comments, via twitter @groundedeffects, or via my email groundedeffects@gmail.com, and look forward to interacting with you here or maybe even at an Indycar track in 2020. Happy New Year!

Greetings everybody!

I hope everyone has fared well in our open-wheel, semi-hibernative state since our last INDYCAR race back in September of 2018 (some 25 weeks ago).

Where I live in Northern Indiana, the winter has been egregiously long and cold. Starting in earnest in mid-November, the wintry weather tends to make one draggy to the point of forgetting what day/week/month it is until that first glorious spring day appears, or INDYCAR starts in earnest on the Albert Whitted Airport circuit, whichever comes first. This year, it’s INDYCAR that has awakened me from the winter rather abruptly.

It’s not lost on me how ridiculous it seems that something nearly 6 months in the making can ‘sneak up’ on someone, but alas, here we are. I intend to hit the ground running however and this inaugural post of 2019 will review one important visual aspect of the sport before the green flies in St. Pete – the liveries.

Something like this cannot typically be done until the week before the first race anyway, as deals and sponsors get tied-up, and the reveals often happen just before the season starts, so I forgive myself for not posting on this sooner.

A nice pictorial summary of some of the 2019 liveries can be found at this link to the openwheel33 blog who got some great shots from the pre-season testing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. I’ll give my 1 (lowest) to 4 (highest) star rating on my opinion of the newest liveries for St. Pete from the spotter’s guide, seen below. Please feel free to disagree with me here 😀.

Car number – Driver Abbreviation – Primary Sponsor: Rating, comments.

2 – NEW – Hitachi – ✪✪✪✩: 3.5 for a very solid, classic Penske-type livery that rarely inspires but is always easily recognized and on-brand. 

4 – LEI – ABC Supply,
14 – KAN – ABC Supply – ✪✪✪: 3.0 for another very recognizable, stable, albeit dated design that actually has looked better on the new chassis than on the previous one. It still smacks of a swoopy-early-2000s design and I think it could be updated and improved with only a few tweaks.  I still struggle with who’s who between LEI and KAN at speed even with the color flipped. Maybe that’s more a sign of a feeble brain than design.

5 – HIN – Arrow,
7 – ERI – Arrow – ✪✪✪✪: 4 for a design that is not only easily-recognized, but also has the benefit of looking extra sleek (fast) by day or night, thanks to the colors as well as the drivers. To be seen whether I struggle recognizing which car is which with the subtle color variation. Both look great however and neither looks the lesser of the other.

9 – DIX – PNC Bank – ✪✪✪✩ 3.5 for a design that initially didn’t impress me (how could it following one of the greatest liveries of all-time – Target), but is growing on me.  I like the colors and again this is unlike any other livery out there which makes it easily identifiable in-person or on TV.  I get the slick color gradients employ the logo graphic, but it seems to wash out the natural appeal of the chassis silhouette.

10 – ROS – NTT Data – ✪✪✪ 3.0 for to the League Title sponsor’s livery. Regretfully, as this design forsakes flashy design for simple, recognizable appeal, it just leaves me wanting a bit more. I can’t help but wonder if incorporating the Swedish flag of pilot Rosenqvist somehow with the similar NTT Data blue wouldn’t add some welcome zip and appeal to a certain foreign TV demographic.

12 – POW – Verizon – ✪✪✪ 3.0 for yet another solid Penske team livery that at one time was more easily distinguished from the field, now suffers from sameness that could be improved with a different color styling. Tough to just change the reigning Indy 500 champion winner’s livery but with the right touches, it could also be improved.

15 – RAH – United Rentals – ✪✪✪ 3.0. This RLL car is fairly recognizable and doesn’t necessarily offend but there just seems to be a lot going on in terms of colors and designs with sponsors. As has been noted in years past, the blue and white schemes seem dated and overused. Can’t say that about how the 2019 field is appearing, but this scheme also seems to lack an overall team cohesion with it’s sister car.
30 – SAT – Seeman-Holtz – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5 for the sister to the 15. Again a lot going on visually from the sides, but I can’t not give this an extra half star rating for that nose design which makes me recall the gorgeous Player’s liveries of the late 90s.

18 – BOU – SealMaster – ✪✪✪ 3.0 for a car that is easily recognizable. I can’t decide if this looks more like some sort of high-speed emergency vehicle or and indicator that Wiz Khalifa is a new Indycar team owner. I appreciate the stones it took to be as aggressive with the color and striping as they did which is why they get a 3.0 and not a 2.5. Red lettering on black backgrounds always causes visual issues. The lettering needs a more pronounced white outline as a contrast to the black.

19 – FER – David Yurman – ✪✪✫ 2.5 for a flashy black-on-chrome design, albeit with little interest beyond that. The T-1000 Terminator would be proud. the dorsal fin contrast in black with the Honda lettering is a welcome bit of accent similar to other designs, yet more noticeable on this livery.

20 – JON – Autogeek,
21 – PGO – Autogeek – ✪✪ 2.0. Again with the dreaded red on black lettering combined with an overall scheme that appears as a refugee from the early IRL days. Sorry ECR, this ain’t cuttin’ it. After years of solid and easily recognizable liveries with Fuzzy’s, I can’t tell if the new sponsor is Autogeek or Autogreek or Autoweek. Unremarkable from most any angle, I hope they have something better in the works by the time Indy rolls around.

22 – PAG – Menards – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5 for that great 80s-90s nostalgic neon yellow look combined with the simplicity of the Penske team liveries. You’ll never not be able to remember this car and sponsor because it’s seared into your retinae. Looks like it’s moving even when standing still. 

23 – KIM – Tresiba – ✪✪✫ 2.5. To be honest, I’ve never liked the color scheme of this livery, but it does the job for standing apart and being memorable for the sponsor. Easily seen when on TV and in-person.

26 – VEA – Gainbridge – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5. I didn’t like or dislike it when I first saw it, but the more I see it, the more I like it. Easily visible are the sponsor’s name and graphical chevron branding. The blue accents work well and make this a more recognizable livery than it might be otherwise.
27 – ROS – NAPA – ✪✪✪✪ Four-Point-Oh for what I feel is the best livery in the paddock. Visually as near perfect as a livery can be on TV or in-person. Stands out and looks great at every angle. Maybe the car-parts-related sponsor is what tips this to the highest rating. The Andretti stable has a very good thing going with their team cohesion and design elements (just fore of the cockpit).
28 – RHR – DHL – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5 for a livery that looks great and instantly recognizable. Just a light bit of pizzaz away from being a 4. Maybe a third color wing accent like the Gainbridge car.
98 – AND – US Concrete – ✪✪✪✫ another 3.5 for a very good design. Sometimes a bit difficult to see on TV, it looks good in-person and the logo really pops. I may be just a bit weary of carbon-greys, other wise this could push for a higher rating.

59 – CHI – Gallagher – ✪✪✪ 3.0. More of the swoopy bits which usually make me cringe, but they’re done better on this car. Maybe it’s because the monochromatic blue scheme is attractive to my eyes and the swoops add interest where few other sponsors names/logos reside.

60 – HRV – Sirius XM – ✪✪✪✫ 3.5. As a sister car to the SPM Arrow cars, I like this livery very much and the hot purple metallic over black is a sweet look that is memorable and eye-catching. Great for sponsor exposure, however, the Sirius XM sponsor doesn’t utilize purple in their logo in anyway, so there’s a slight bit of dissonance with their use of blue. The white numbering on the purple is easier to see than on the hot pink of 2017. Nice design and great use of colors with energy and excitement.

81 – HAN – ? – No Rating. Apparently carrying over the livery from their sportscars to their Indycar, newbies DragonSpeed Racing may be using a scheme that some might associate with glory days of ABC’s Wide World of Sports when Evel Knievel used to jump rows of passenger buses wearing motorcycle leathers with a similar design. Fun! Until I see an actual picture of this livery in person or high-quality photo, I won’t rate it. There’s definitely some potential here though.

88 – HER – ? – ✪✪✫ So far not much to be seen on the livery front except that it’s apparently a change from last year. Again, a wait and see on this one. The spotter guide doesn’t offer much on their latest design so that’s what I’m looking at currently.

32 – ? – ? No rating yet for Juncos until they enter a car for a race. Apparently they’ll not be at St. Pete although judging by their previous liveries, I’ll probably like very much what the come up with.

In all, I’d have to give the overall grade for the entire field a ✪✪✪ for the variety and general good work done in designing liveries for the 2019 season of Indycar.

Feel free to add your thoughts below and thanks for reading!

Two thousand and eighteen.

A year in which I imagine, in the long history of the sport of Indycar racing, will be seen as a bright point in a long history of ups and downs. Perhaps seen as one of the finest in terms of the sanctioning body meeting the challenges presented by attempting to satisfy such divergent factions as fans, teams, manufacturers, drivers, venues, sponsors, and media – all with whom the desire to see something “special” exists. “Special”, however, in Indycar is often defined as many different ways as the number of people you ask. It’s never more evidenced than by the oft-tossed opinions that splatter the walls of Twitter.

Of course it takes a team to make any endeavour successful, but the one person that many attribute a majority of the wider success of the 2018 season is Indycar’s President of Competition and Operations, Jay Frye. Jeff Gluck’s recent interview with Mr. Frye is a must-read/listen for Indycar fans who care to know more about this man, whose efforts are widely regarded by those diverse factions of the Indycar environment.


A Season That Satisfies:
As to the entirety of the 2018 season, I cannot recall in my 40-plus years of following the sport, a season where this level of equipment parity has also allowed such a variety of strategies, outcomes, and winners in both drivers and teams. Here is a brief overview of some statistics of this highly competitive season, through 16 of 17 rounds:

Number of different winning drivers = 8

  Bourdais (1), Newgarden (3), Rossi (3), Power (3), Dixon (3), 
  Hunter-Reay (1), Hinchcliffe (1), Sato (1).

Number of different winning teams = 6
  Coyne (1), Penske (6), Andretti (4), Ganassi (3), Schmidt-Peterson (1), 

  Rahal Letterman Lanigan (1).

Number of different pole-sitters = 7
  Bourdais (1), Newgarden (4), Rossi (3), Power (4), Carpenter (1),
  Wickens (1), Andretti (1).

Number of different podium-placing drivers = 14
  All listed winners above plus Wickens (4), Pagenaud (3), Jones (2), Pigot (1), 

  Rahal (1), Carpenter (1).

Number of different podium-placing teams = 7
 All listed winning teams above plus Ed Carpenter Racing (2).

Manufacturer wins and points
  Honda 10 (from 5 different teams), Chevrolet 6 (only with Penske).


A Summer To Remember:
To me, all of the above statistics support my general feeling of satisfaction from the competition of this season’s races. 

I think my overall enjoyment of the season was amplified because I attended more races than I ever have prior. I hadn’t planned on anything more than the Indy Grand Prix (weather permitting), Indy 500 (come hell or high water), and maybe one other race (fingers crossed) as with several of recent years past.

For whatever reason, my summer schedule freed at all the right times to allow not only a return to Gateway, but also unplanned runs to Iowa and Mid-Ohio, all of which were great racing weekends to my good fortune. I was treated to a nice variety of courses and now I don’t want to imagine not going back to those venues in addition to adding Road America for which I haven’t yet attended.  


An Incident To Forget:
Despite satiating my hunger for great Indycar action over an entire season, I cannot go without saying that once again, enjoyment has been sobered with the incident of Robert Wickens at Pocono. Perhaps there can be no perfect season but as a fan, I was feeling better than I have in decades about this sport I cherish. Sadly, Robert Wickens’ crash and resulting injuries is a reminder that no matter the level of thrill and enjoyment, I cannot and will not forget that these brave drivers ante their very being in trade for the seemingly disproportionate reward of racing thrills, money, glory, and for our entertainment. 

I simply can’t get beyond feeling partially responsible when supporting this sport which can all too quickly create the most painful of voids where none should be. As I age, it gets harder to deal with each time. Of course we can take a slight measure of hope for Robert’s outcome not being worse that it is. We also continue to wish for his total recovery, and for wisdom and advancement in the ongoing battle for protection of all involved. 


The Championship Round:

(c) 2015 Indycar Twitter

Heading into the final round of 2018, I think the odds are with latter-day legend, Scott Dixon, not only as the leader but with a fair bit of margin to maintain over his nearest rival and hot-shoe, Alexander Rossi.  It’s quite literally all in Dixon’s hands this weekend as a Top 3 finish (plus 3 bonus points) will see him Champion regardless of what any other drivers do. 

Four drivers are in play for the Championship and here’s a brief rundown of some of the most basic Championship scenarios, with a maximum total of 104 points available to the winner.

Current Standings: Dixon = 598, Rossi = 569, Power 511, Newgarden 511. 
1. Dixon finishes 2nd or better + 0 bonus points = Dixon Champ.
2. Dixon 3rd or better + 3 bonus points = Dixon Champ.
3. Rossi win + 2 or more bonus points + Dixon 3rd or worse = Rossi Champ.
4. Rossi win + 1 bonus point + Dixon 3rd + Dixon 1 bonus point or less = Rossi Champ.
5. Newgarden or Power win + 4 bonus points + Dixon 22nd or worse + Rossi 9th or worse = Newgarden or Power Champ.
6. Rossi outpoints Dixon by 30 or more in any combination of place and bonus points + not being outpointed by either Newgarden or Power by 59 points = Rossi Champ.

The Finishing Position points available for Sonoma are as follows (double a standard race):
1st  100,
2nd   90,

3rd   70, 
4th   64,
5th   60, 
6th   56, 
7th   52,
8th   48, 
9th   44
10th 40
11th 38
12th 36
13th 34
14th 32
15th 30
16th 28
17th 26
18th 24
19th 22
20th 20
21st 18
22nd 16
23rd 14
24th 12
25th or worse 10

The Bonus Points available for the finale are as follows:
Pole = 1, Lead any lap = 1, Lead most laps = 2.


Epilogue:
Regardless of whether we crown Newgarden or Power, Rossi or Dixon, I will leave this season satisfied as a Indycar fan and especially as an attendee. My experience with Indycar this summer has been unparalleled thanks to the ongoing work Indycar does to provide a highly competitive and versatile form of auto-racing, to the venues that worked to provide a great event experience for fans, and to the fates which allowed me to see more live races in a season than ever before.

May we have a safe and entertaining conclusion to this, a season for all fans. 




(c) 2017 LAT Photographic – Abbott

While other tracks have cheekily claimed 500 or 550 or 600 in their event titles, Pocono remains the only other true, old-school, 500-miler on the schedule. With the news that Pocono is considering signing for Indycar events beyond 2018, fans of this unique and legendary palace of speed will certainly be relieved if and when it happens.

What is it about ‘500’ that adds a certain cachet in automobile racing? As a number, it was rather basically developed over a hundred years ago to provide an “all-day” event in Indianapolis each May. Ever since, the 500-mile distance still remains a race that tests team and machine and driver more than most any other race, and most typically at storied venues like Pocono. Of course the 24-hour sports car races are much longer, but also utilize multiple drivers and crew members during their events. Those races, however, have also become more like a 24-hour sprints, rather than paced endurance races.

Maybe it’s the speeds attained and maintained during these races that add to their lore and attraction. In 2014 at Pocono, the top-10 drivers (all finishing on the lead lap) averaged over 202 miles per hour for the entire race distance. This currently stands as the fastest race by average speed for a 500-mile race in the history of Indycar.

It truly takes something special to win a 500-miler. Pocono also boasts a who’s who of Indycar legends as its winners. Among them you will find the legendary likes of Donohue, Leonard, Foyt, Rutherford, Sneva, Unser, Mears, Andretti, Rahal, Dixon, Montoya, and Power. 

In past, venues like Ontario Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, and California/Fontana Speedway all hosted 500 mile events for Indycar. Aside from Indianapolis, the only 500-mile race distance venue remaining on the schedule is legendary Pocono.

Pocono stands alone in many ways.

Currently, it can list the following titles among all Indycar ovals; the farthest east, the fastest, most unusually shaped, “tricky”, widest straightaway, longest straightaway, remote, camper-welcoming, and “green” (100% solar-powered, 75% event waste stream diverting). All of those features combine for a modern Indycar fan’s delight, deserving Indycar’s support whenever possible.

(c) unknown – aerial

While some bemoan the lack of support races found in it’s current format, it’s noteworthy to remember that this is the only other 500-mile event on your Indycar calendar. If you enjoy outright speed, history, legend, majesty, scenery, camping, or any combination thereof, you will find it difficult to match the allure of Pocono on the Indycar schedule.

Let’s hope Indycar and Pocono can secure this storied and worthy venue and the 500-mile race distance for years to come. 

With just hours left of May on the calendar, and in keeping with all good traditions of May, we humbly submit, in the waning moments of May 2018, the ongoing review of my “Greatest 33” following the completion of another sun-scorched and interesting Indy 500. Making this post every year also seems to serve as a bit of a salve for the sting of realizing one of the greatest weekends on my annual calendar is now over.

To briefly review, IMS took great pains to create a special interactive website for the 2011 100th Anniversary race, for which fans could log in and vote for their “Greatest 33” to race at Indy from the 100 or so nominees provided. The site survived for a few years, but has since been taken down.

I had participated in the original, but in wanting to maintain relative fairness, I devised a set of objective criteria I could use to at least help make and rank my selections. I have, as you may have correctly guessed, saved and updated a spreadsheet every year following the Indy 500. Prior posts of mine on this subject can be found by searching this blog’s tags for “Greatest 33”. On the mobile site which lacks the tags feature, you will need to go to previous posts in May find them. Today’s post reflects the changes to the standings from last Sunday’s race and include the points gained from qualifying.

Will Power’s win obviously gives him the most-improved location on my rankings, but he suffers from what many single-time winners who haven’t cracked my Greatest 33 do – notably fewer races, poles, laps led, and top-5 finishes than other single-time winners. In fact there are not many single-time winners on my 33, so only the best of the best for “one-timers”. Mario is the best with one win currently and the best active one-timer is Scott Dixon.

With yet another Top 5 finish for Dixon, he did manage to begin to move up the scoring pylon from 18th to 16th. Dixon’s raw score in my formula actually has him ranked at 13th, however, I’ve also reserved the right to a few intangible calculations in the ranking so I have a hard time pushing him beyond Vuky, Ward, and Rose, all two-time winners with many laps led and similar Top 5 finish counts to Dixon. Scott’s longevity and steady performance keeps him in a close grouping of scores with the legends mentioned, but a second win for Dixon will certainly see him vault up the rankings. As it stands, the Top 5 rows remain unchanged.   


Speaking of active drivers, and since none of the three who currently reside in my Greatest 33 (Helio, Dixon, and Kanaan) won, their places are relatively cemented as previous. Tony Kanaan leading laps again moves his raw score higher than Arie Luyendyk, but remains just behind Arie in my ranking due to Luyendyk being a two-time winner in addition to currently holding the qualifying records set in 1996.

Helio would’ve become a true Titan of Indy if he had won his fourth last Sunday.  Rough projections would see his score rise somewhere into the low 1900s, moving from 6th the 4th on my Greatest 33. 
Next shown is the graphic representation of Rows 6-11 of my latest “Greatest 33”. 
Row 11, if any long-time readers will recall, is a nod the “Last-Row Party” thrown by the Indianapolis Press Club and is reserved for the three best and most notable drivers who never won it.

Will Power now joins active driver Ryan Hunter-Reay and several others just outside my Top 33. That group includes Buddy Lazier, Bobby Rahal, Sam Hanks, Jimmy Bryan, Eddie Cheever Jr., and Danny Sullivan. Other notable and currently active drivers are: Marco Andretti – 56th – 471pts., Ed Carpenter – 64th – 429, Takuma Sato – 65th – 428, and Alexander Rossi – 70th – 398.

Shown below is the spreadsheet ranking as it stands updated following the 102nd Indy 500. 





In all, not much movement in my top 33 rankings as a result of the 102nd Indianapolis 500, but a win by any active winner will certainly see them move into the rarefied air that is “The Greatest 33”.




Oft attributed (but never actually substantiated) to Mark Twain, this kitchy axiom reflects a sense that the truth via factual numbers can be perverted into something in the interest of supporting a position that might need help outside a purely factual representation.


This seems all too commonplace in the era of mass consumerism as most products and services need something akin to facts to help bolster their place in the market. Even market leaders like to “massage the stats” to maintain their advantage.

In the game of sales – for media rights, sponsorships, and financial commitments of all sorts – using relevant statistics to assist can be an Olympian exercise in numerical gymnastics. Indycar as a sport has been well aware of this for decades, and quite acutely following the split of sanctions in 1996.

Even to those who follow me regularly here or on Twitter would have a hard time recalling my stance, and that’s because I’ve never made much of a statement regarding the ‘split of ’96’. I feel that it’s all water under the bridge and focusing forward, with the knowledge of the past, is far more useful than attempting with utter futility to settle a decades-old argument.

In the early days of the ’96 split, I knew what my feelings told me, but we didn’t have the benefit of facts to back up anything we may have wanted to believe or hope. I had a very close friend, who always joined me on the annual Indy 500 trip, who was against the split and vowed to not return to Indy.  I understood this position as my reaction was largely negative to the idea as well.  So much so that I failed to maintain my reserved tickets for the race I’d held since 1988, boycotting by not renewing or attending after 1996. As fate would have it, I wouldn’t have been able to attend the final running in 1997 due to it’s rain delay to Tuesday anyway.

After missing the race for two years, something inside me called me back and I re-ordered tickets for the 1999 race. My bride of 3 years at the time suggested that I might enjoy going back, but that she had seen enough in her two races in ’95 and ’96 to not return if I had no objection. It was alright with me as I knew she really had no interest in being a racing fan. Not really having any new friends who were interested in going, I called my formerly stalwart Indycar friend to see if he wanted to join me. He was surprised I had softened my stance, as he hadn’t.

I attempted to persuade him with some statistics in hopes we could get the band back together and rekindle his love of the race. He said he would give it a chance and we attended the 1999 race, viewing it from a section more northerly in Tower Terrace. The approach of fuel-less Robby Gordon, falling out of the lead directly in front of us on lap 199, was among the most notable dramatic events of that day.

What you see below is a spreadsheet I started in 2000, which I shared with my friend in hopes of maybe showing that the Indy 500 at least was maybe turning for the better. What I had attempted to show following 1999 is that the Indy 500 is on the right trajectory and isn’t really all that different from what we saw as our ‘golden era’ of the late 1980s (HA!). With what little data I could access in the early days of the internet, this is what I sent my friend. 




Out of sheer tradition now, I maintain it to this day. It’s one of those May traditions that now happens in my build-up following qualifying and prior to leaving for Indy and now looks like this.



Despite the original ‘sales’ intent of those very rudimentary numbers from early-2000, it’s now nothing more than a fun, 32-column-wide-and-growing tradition for me now and Indy is all about tradition – even if recalling (and embracing) a not-so-golden era.





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