IndyCar Recap: June 2017 Pt.2 – Texas and Elkhart Lake

Texas 600 and Road America

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The 600km oval race at Texas – just one week after the Dual in Detroit – then a week off followed by the Grand Prix at Elkhart Lake’s Road America.

Continue reading “IndyCar Recap: June 2017 Pt.2 – Texas and Elkhart Lake”

IndyCar Recap: June 2017 Pt.1 – Detroit Belle Isle

The Dual in Detroit

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The Dual In Detroit: two Grands Prix in one weekend on the challenging and bumpy Belle Isle street course, just one week after the Indy 500. Find out how the points race changed during this difficult double.

With 4 races in June being too many for one post, I’ll look at the Texas oval and Elkhart Lake road course races in the next recap.

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IndyCar Recap: May 2017 – Indianapolis

The Month of May at Indianapolis

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The famed “Month of May” at Indianapolis, the centrepiece of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

These days it constitutes two races, the Grand Prix on a version of the infield road course, followed by the Indy 500 and all that it entails, including a lot of practice.

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IndyCar Recap: April 2017 – Long Beach, Barber, Phoenix

A busy month with Long Beach, Barber and Phoenix.

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There were 3 races in the month of April, starting with the iconic Long Beach Grand Prix, followed by the rolling hills of Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, then just a week later the first oval of the year with a return to Phoenix. I’m not sure who designs the schedule but Florida-California-Alabama-Arizona must give the logistics people a real headache, surely this can be swapped around next year.

9th April:  GP of Long Beach
23rd April:  GP of Alabama
30th April:  Phoenix GP

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IndyCar Recap: March 2017 – St Pete

The opening round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Introductory Note: I have decided to recap the seasons of those series I watch which make video available. Rather than do it by race I thought it would be interesting to look at it month by month to see the points change in that time. The focus is on track action and not news. It’ll make more sense in a month with more races. I hope it proves interesting.

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2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg

12th March 2017 – Race 1 of 17 – Albert Whitted Airport, St Petersburg, Florida, USA

Recommendation:  Should you watch this race?  Yes, but maybe FFwd the last quarter.

Continue reading “IndyCar Recap: March 2017 – St Pete”

2017 Indy 500 – UK TV Schedule

With all the excitement and buzz of Fernando Alonso competing in the Indianapolis 500 this year there may be a whole new audience tuning into the race for the first time.

First and foremost if you are in the United States the race will be live on ABC.

But as this is a UK blog let’s look at UK television.

How do you watch the 2017 Indianapolis 500 on British TV?

All races in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, including the Indy 500, are on BT Sport. It will be on their ‘BT Sport ESPN‘ branded channel.

Practice sessions and parts of qualifying are live streamed on YouTube. They also have a handy ‘Race Control’ page embedding the YouTube stream with live timing. This page just shows live timing during the race.

When the US coverage is on a break during green flag racing BT Sport provide their own commentators to fill in the gaps. They might nip away for a break of their own during a Safety Car. Yes, we actually see more of the race than US fans! You can communicate with these guys using Twitter hashtag #BTSmotorsport.

BT Sport will also be mirroring the US coverage of Qualifying.

Most practice sessions have taken place at the time of writing (Thursday 18th May), I will list the remainder. There are 2 days of qualifying – Sunday is more important but if it rains Sunday then Saturday’s times will stand.

Indy 500 Schedule (2017)

All times are British Summer Time, 5 hours ahead of Indianapolis. 3 days of practice have already occurred.

Thursday 18th May
Practice   5pm – 11pm   (YouTube)

Friday 19th May  Fast Friday!
Teams switch to qualifying spec:  extra boost and less downforce means speeds increase and cars become harder to control.
Practice   5pm – 11pm   (YouTube)

Saturday 20th May  Bump Day
Practice  1pm – 1.30pm  Group 1   (YouTube)
Practice  1.30pm – 2pm  Group 2   (YouTube)
Practice  2pm – 2.30pm  Full Field   (YouTube)
Qualifying  4pm – 10.50pm  (YouTube until 9pm, then BT Sport ESPN)

Qualifying is on YouTube from 4pm to 9pm and then BT Sport ESPN from 9pm to 11pm. The stream will be switched off once TV coverage begins.

The grid is not set today – unless it rains Sunday. Saturday qualifying has 3 aims:
1)  Get into the ‘Fast 9’ which is roughly equal to Q3 in Formula 1. Only these 9 cars will get the chance to go for Pole tomorrow.
2)  Get into the field. There are 33 starting spots. If there are more than 33 entrants the slowest cars would be “bumped” out and would have to try to get back in, though this year there are no more than 33 entrants.
3)  Sets the qualifying order for tomorrow’s runs which determine the grid.

All cars are allotted 1 run from 4pm (11am local), the order for which was drawn by lots. After that they are free to run later for as long as there is time. Only one car can run at a time.

When there are no cars making a qualifying run, the track will open to all cars for free practice, which will be flagged off as soon as a car lines up to qualify. Timing will switch between practice & qualifying boards accordingly.

Sunday 21st May  Pole Day
Practice  5pm – 5.45pm  (Positions 10 to 33) (YouTube)
Practice  6.15pm – 7pm  (Fast 9) (YouTube)
Qualifying  7.45pm – 9.45pm  (positions 10 to 33) (YouTube until 9pm, then BT Sport ESPN)
Qualifying  10pm – 10.45pm  (Fast 9)  (BT Sport ESPN)

YouTube will show most of the first part. BT Sport ESPN will join with 45 minutes left of the first session and will show all of the shootout for pole.

Every car makes one run only. No repeat attempts. Cars will run in reverse order of Saturday’s results, slowest car goes first. Other than that Saturday times don’t count – unless Sunday is completely rained out, then grid will be set on Saturday times.

Championship points worth almost as much as a standard race are awarded on qualifying position (every other round only awards 1pt for pole). And then double points are awarded for the Indy 500 itself.

Monday 22nd May
Practice  5.30pm – 9pm  (YouTube)
Cars back in race trim. This is the last major practice session.

Friday 26th May  Carb Day
Practice  4pm – 5pm  (YouTube)
One final hour of practice for systems checks before the big day.

Indy Lights Race 5.30pm  40 laps   (YouTube)
The Lights race is worth watching, a few years ago there were three cars side by side at the line!

Sunday 28th May  Race Day
Monaco Grand Prix chequered flag should be at 3pm so there’s plenty of time for debrief or overrun.

101st Indianapolis 500   4pm  200 laps  (BT Sport ESPN)
Some listings show 4.30pm
Actual race start:  5.15pm – but tune in before that!

NOTE THE CHANNEL CHANGE!  BT SPORT ESPN – I had originally listed BT Sport 2, this is wrong.

strongly recommend turning on before 4.30pm, or as early as you can, for one of the most spectacular pre-race buildups in all of racing and to learn as much as possible – assuming BT Sport shows it! As long as they show these live, I’m happy:

4.35pm  Driver Introductions – You definitely want to hear how the crowd likes or dislikes each driver!
5pm  National Anthem
5.12pm  Back Home Again In Indiana – OK it isn’t a very good song, and it’ll take you a few years to recognise why it is important, but you have to have this, balloons floating away in the background. It means only one thing can follow…
5.14pm  Drivers Start Your Engines  – Time to race!

Note – Race day is a military holiday in the United States hence there’s an abundance of military tributes, which is fair. It does though come across as a celebration, which European & other viewers accustomed to more solemn commemoration and reflection may find a little culturally jarring.

The Rest of the Season

Most IndyCar races are aired live on BT Sport ESPN. Sometimes races may be on BT Sport 2.

You can subscribe to the TooMuchRacing IndyCar Google/iCal Calendar to remind you which week has a race!

Also IndyCar UK does a good job of keeping abreast of the weekly start times and channels.

Long Read: Thoughts on Fernando Alonso entering the Indianapolis 500

Wow.

That’s all I could think when I saw the news. Wow.

This never happens any more! It is a big enough story when a former Formula 1 driver contests the Indianapolis 500 or IndyCar Series. It is a huge story when an active F1 driver competes in another series in the same year. It is incredible that two-time champion Fernando Alonso, widely regarded as one of the best drivers in the world, let alone on the F1 grid, a man many say is ‘owed’ three more championship titles, would choose to do this while still racing in F1.

Crossovers

F1 drivers are supposed to be ‘out of touch corporate machines’ with bland personalities. They aren’t ‘supposed’ to race in anything else, the thinking goes, there are untouchable.

This is why I love crossovers. Through the 1990s and 2000s it was rare to see. It was a big deal when Juan Montoya and Jeff Gordon did their ‘Tradin Paint’ car swap and that was a sponsor promotion. Same for Lewis Hamilton and Tony Stewart.

In the 2010s the trend changed. Kimi Raikkönen tried NASCAR and Rally during a F1 sabbatical, Robert Kubica famously injured himself in a lesser-ranked rally, Kurt Busch raced the Indy 500, Jeff Gordon the Daytona 24 Hours, Nico Hulkenberg won the 24 Hours of Le Mans as an active F1 driver. Now it is common for half the Formula E field to also compete in World Endurance. It seems the restrictions of the last 20 years are melting away.

Triple Crown

Fernando Alonso is a racer. He just wants to win. He also has an appreciation for the sport. He waved the French tricolore to start the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I thought he might take the start the following year with Porsche. I never thought he’d try Indy.

It is Juan Pablo Montoya I thought would be the next to attempt the Triple Crown, of Monaco GP, Indy 500 and Le Mans 24. He has already won Indy and Monaco, the only still-active driver to have won two legs of the three. He has won the 24 Hours of Daytona three times and the buzz ramped up when he tested a Porsche LMP1 in 2015. Surely he would be the next to attempt it? Perhaps the chase of Alonso will spur him on!

The Triple Crown is an unofficial honour, there are no prizes. It is a mark of talent to take on three specialist disciplines and win. Few even attempt it. The events have been run for decades (Indy 1911, Le Mans 1923, Monaco 1929) yet only Graham Hill has won the Triple Crown. Only seven drivers, including Hill, have even won two of the three – Montoya was the first since the 1970s to get that far.

Some definitions replace Monaco with the World Drivers’ / F1 Championship, but I don’t buy that, you can’t mix events with championships in that way, to my mind.

Boat Anchor

There is context of course. The F1 Honda engine is visibly slower than the competition. At first it seems fine but you only need to watch a long straight to see the hybrid deployment runs out 300 metres before the Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. It is like Fernando threw an anchor over the side.

The car doesn’t seem bad, in the twisty bits at Bahrain Alonso was more than able to hold his own against the Toro Rosso and the Renault yet two laps later they were ahead again.

The irony is at Monaco top end power is less relevant. No long straights here. A well-driven lower-powered car is able to hang on at this track. Ask Enrique Bernoldi and David Coulthard. If they can nurse the powertrain home, Monaco may present McLaren-Honda with their best opportunity for points so far this season.

Yet there is nothing to lose. Alonso is not throwing away a potential win. He might at best be throwing away points for 7th place. Fernando Alonso is a championship contender, he does not care about being 7th or 13th.

More likely, he is throwing away the opportunity to drive near the back for half the race before something breaks.

Going to Indy will be much more fun.

Super-Sub

From the team side, they DO care about being 7th or 13th because they badly need those points. The difference in Constructors’ Championship positions is worth millions of dollars. Thankfully they have Jenson Button, a hell of a super-sub. The sticking point – he will not drive before FP1 other than in the simulator. His first real world experience of wide-track 2017 F1 cars will be in free practice in Monaco. Yikes. Don’t be too harsh on him if he hits the wall in practice. Despite how cool the ’17 machines are, I don’t think JB wanted to race this particular car. I can’t say I blame him.

And obviously they have another entry, not that we’ve seen a lot of it. Poor Stoffel Vandoorne. Highly talented, McLaren was meant to be his big break. It could ruin his career. At the time of writing, after Bahrain but before Russia, he’d recorded one finish (2 laps down), one Did Not Finish (after 17 laps), and one Did Not Start. He is owed better.

How Does This Benefit IndyCar?

It cements IndyCar as being back on the map, or more exactly, the Indy 500.

The sport of IndyCar racing was dying a decade ago. ChampCar, itself a rescue of the old CART, folded after the 2007 season. The rival IRL, of which the Indy 500 was part, was propped up by handouts. In 2008 teams and drivers merged into the IRL, rebranded later to what we now call the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The echoes of the poisonous CART/IRL war lingered for years after. It has only been in last 3 or 4 years we’ve seen some real positivity. The poison is now gone. Everyone is looking forward. Growth, momentum, new talent, retained talent, increased viewership, events with date equity and an end to the line of badly-executed street races. The series itself really is on an upswing.

As for the Indy 500, in the early 2000s it was a faded star. Internationally it was nothing. Domestically it was struggling. That’s now changed. The merger and growth in IndyCar has prompted a resurgence in the great race. The 100th Edition last year saw full stands and a buzz like I’ve never seen, the sort of buzz the old timers always said the race used to have. It is now a landmark event, like it always was.

Landmark events draw big name drivers. And now a globally-recognised superstar! This is the biggest news on an international level, for IndyCar, since Nigel Mansell. A big NASCAR star would bring attention in the US and the US alone. A global star like Alonso may have less effect within the US, but it’ll be huge outside it. This is what the Indy 500 needs now.

Juan Pablo Montoya helped get them there. His rejoining the series helped boost the profile massively. To some extent Rubens Barrichello and Takuma Sato also played their roles, but only a little. Getting Fernando Alonso, Formula 1 World Champion and ex-Ferrari F1 driver, now that’s a big one.

IndyCar fans are divided. Some love the attention. Others say the series should worry instead about promoting the other races and promoting internal talent from the ladder series, such as Stefan Wilson, who’s seat Alonso has taken. I agree, they should do these things. But that doesn’t mean they can’t continue to push the profile of the biggest race ever forward. There’s been enough inward consolidation, now is the time to look outward.

North American fans can be fooled into thinking the 500 is as big outside the US as it is inside. This is not true. Most of the world doesn’t give two shits about the Indy 500 any more, hasn’t for a long time. This is gradually changing again. It needed a shock to push it along. It got one.

This isn’t aimed at the domestic audience. This will put this race back where it once was, as one of the pillars of world motor sport, a place where drivers from around the world aspire to race.

And in doing so it might even raise the level of the whole series.

The Right People

The Andretti Curse. Mario raced at Indy for eons and only won once. Michael raced several times, won championships, and is regarded as one of the best to have raced at the venue, but he never won it. And Marco, well his debut was fantastic but he can’t seem to get there either – even though Indy is his forté.

Andretti Autosport therefore is built around winning this damned race. They have four cars for the full season and routinely enter a 5th or 6th at Indy. This is a huge commitment but they’ve been doing it for over a decade either in current name or as Andretti-Green. And it works.

And they are a true team, evolved from the buddy club of Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan who were the teams’ quartet in the mid-2000s. A true collegiate atmosphere where all data is shared, all help one another.

Herta went on to form his own team, a giant-killing one-car entry, which has since merged with Andretti Autosport and together last year it was his car which won the Indy 500. Herta may not have the most famous name, but you never counted him out as a driver, nor owner.

In 2016 all Andretti/Herta cars were fast and ran up front. Only pit fumbles sent some of them a couple of laps down, but those ran race-leading pace afterwards. And at the end the race came down to two team cars running different strategies:  Rossi on a fuel save, Munoz going full power trying to catch him.

AA has won the 500 on four occasions, including two with the current specification of car:  2005, 2007, 2014, 2016. As a car owner, Michael Andretti smashed The Curse to pieces.

NASCAR star Kurt Busch raced for Andretti in 2014 and finished 6th. They may race the same ovals but the difference between NASCAR and IndyCar is huge. This will be a tremendous confidence boost to Alonso, to Zak Brown, and to the Andretti Autosport team. These are the right people.

Alonso’s team-mates will be de facto team leader, 2012 series champion & 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Marco Andretti, whose head has been down for a few years but is a talented driver rebooting his career this season. Former F1 driver Takuma Sato is new to the team, fiendishly fast at the 500 and nearly finished 2nd had he not crashed trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the last lap. Alexander Rossi had enough of standing at the back of F1 garages and went and won the Indy 500 last year. And rookie Jack Harvey drives the Michael Shank Racing car, after finishing 2nd in Indy Lights points for two consecutive years. This is a high calibre squad.

Chances?
Honestly Alonso does have a great chance to win. Realistically I would expect a top ten. Equally I wouldn’t be surprised to see him a lap down or in the wall. For Alonso, a top ten on debut in a new discipline would be a great result, much better than the equivalent placing in Monaco.

The Challenge

200 laps of a 2.5 mile oval at speeds of 240mph on the straights and 200+ through the four turns, with 32 other drivers.

The race can be between 2hrs30mins and 3 hours long. The sun and the crosswinds change the track. The draft (slipstream) is strong in traffic and you need to be able to read it well, an art honed by practice.

And qualifying means running negative rear wing, making the car skittish and nervy and very, very fast. Ranked by a four-lap average based on speed, if there are enough entries you might not even make the race.

Indianapolis is not a high-banked oval such as Daytona. It doesn’t offer multiple lines. The four corners really are four distinct unique corners. You can’t cruise around turning left. You have to drive this course.

Turn 1 follows a blast through the canyon between grandstands and pitlane, you can only see a concrete wall ahead of you, have to turn in before you see the exit and trust the track will be there. Requires commitment.

Turn 2 should be easy as it opens out on to the back straight, but coming off the banking the crosswinds easily send the tail into a spin. Careful, steady hands, no heroics here.

Turn 3 is the opposite of 2, a fast run into a gradually tightening turn.

Turn 4 tightens some more, the sheer speeds dictating a single line. Get off ‘the groove’, the darker rubbered-in track, and you’ll find yourself heading to the outside wall.

This place is fearsome. It must be shown respect at all times.

Don’t be too harsh on him if he hits the wall in practice.

Greatest Spectacle In Racing

That’s what they call it. For the longest while I didn’t believe them. The old cars promoted single-file racing, waiting for pitstops which were often under Safety Car conditions. Familiar? It led some to say it is a ‘road course oval’, ‘like an F1 race’. A big event, a great sight, but not a spectacle. I would always argue 55 cars on the Mulsanne Straight was the greater spectacle.

That changed in 2012 with the Dallara DW12. The drivers now race incredibly hard. There is an art to it. Not just passing for the sake of it, but judging when to go and when to hold back, using the draft, knowing when to go inside to defend. This car makes it all possible. It certainly isn’t single file any more!

The first 150 laps is about positioning and fuel strategy, working the yellows, climbing through the field, tailoring your car to the conditions or to work in traffic or not. The last 20 or 30 laps it all goes haywire, the elbows go out and you fight. Some years it is a fuel mileage race, some years it is a flat out thrash. You have to be ready for anything.

In my opinion the Indy 500 now genuinely is the greatest race on the planet. Here’s why:

2014 Race Finish

A crash near the end caused officials to throw a red flag race suspension. At the restart with 6 laps to go, Helio Castroneves (Penske) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) and team-mate Marco Andretti fight it out. This is real edge-of-your-seat racing. Worth watching on to see the traditional celebration.

2015 Race Finish

Two years ago it was a straight battle between Penske team-mates Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya, with two chasing Ganassi drivers Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon on their tails.

2016 Race Finish

And of course last year. This was a nail-biter for very different reasons. The timing of previous stops meant teams were trying to get the cars to last 4 or 5 laps longer than their fuel stint, it was never going to work, so they all started to pit. All except one man. Surely he would come in? Surely he would run out of fuel?

 

Remember, you do not go out and win the Indianapolis 500, you can only do your best to put yourself in position.

The Speedway, she chooses who wins.