Friday, March 27, 2015

Fantasy Indycar Picks: St. Petersburg

It's back!! Fantasy Indycar enters its fourth season with a stacked field of 33 competitive fans of Indycar with the hopes of getting the Lionheart Trophy, which is awarded to the champion. New this year is the beginning of the Elimination Era of Fantasy Indycar. Starting this year, those who finish in the bottom three following the conclusion of the final race will not be invited back to the league in 2016. So, there's a race to the top and a race to stay out of the bottom. It should be exciting and intense! Here are the picks for the 2015 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:

Name Twitter Handle  
Alan Stewart _alanstewart Helio Kanaan Hinch Rahal Chaves
Amy Woedl OpenWheelMom Power Pagenaud Simona Kanaan Hawk
Andy Nagel Gabbahey75 Power JPM Pagenaud Helio Bourdais
Chris Blackburn  chblackburn23 Power Pagenaud Kimball Simona Huertas
Chris Mienaltowski CPMski Power Helio Dixon RHR Pagenaud
Conor Daly conordaly22 Power Pagenaud Munoz Rahal Dixon
David Leiting Jr. Dlite_47 Power Pagenaud Rahal RHR Bourdais
David Redner IndyCART JPM Hinch Dixon Kanaan Bourdais
DJ Jordan djordan3223 Pagenaud Hawk Bourdais RHR Hinch
Eric Hall Erock_in_Indy Power Helio Dixon Bourdais Pagenaud
Gina Navarra  gmnavarra Power Helio RHR Dixon Kanaan
Jake Neely indycarfan25 Power Pagenaud Helio Hinch Newg
James Alban TheKing0fSwing Power Dracone Helio Karam RHR
James Sedlmayr dfd827 Power Helio Pagenaud Hinch Hawk
Jason McVeigh jasekm Power Helio Sato Hinch Simona
Jerry Cruz Indycar_Raider Power Helio Kanaan Hinch Simona
Jessica Baker bakerjm13 Kimball Helio Newg Karam Hawk
Johanna Husband writebend Dixon Pagenaud Hinch Karam Simona
Justin Mann mannbeast Power Dixon Pagenaud Coletti Bourdais
Kieran Brughelli  kieranbrughelli Rahal Simona Karam Newg Hinch
Kyle Lewis kylelewis1 Power Hinch Simona Helio Rahal
Lynn Weinberg lynnweinberg Andretti Simona Hinch Rahal Sato
Mathew Gruenholz IndycarSTIG Power Helio Hinch Sato Simona
Matthew Hickey Indycar_MN Power Helio Dixon Hinch Kanaan
Mike Crawford 7BigMike Power Hinch Newg Pagenaud JPM
Mitch Robinson mitchrobinson_ Newg Bourdais Helio Karam Sato
Paige Hill paigehilll Bourdais Karam Munoz Helio Dixon
Rick Snodie  rickfromwi Power Pagenaud Helio Hinch Hawk
Sam Klein sklein31 Power Pagenaud Helio Simona Coletti
Sandy Lamparello npssandy Power Hinch RHR Pagenaud Dixon
Sarah Hall flywheel011 Power Filippi Bourdais Dixon Hinch
Sophie Hanson Sophie_Hansons3 Power Helio Dixon Pagenaud Kanaan
Steven Jenkins ukindyfan Pagenaud Dixon Hinch Newg Sato
Participant penalties: N/A

Top 3 most picked: 1) Will Power - 23 2) Helio Castroneves - 19 3) Simon Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe - 18

Not picked: James Jakes


Let's go!!!!

-Matthew Hickey

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Winners and Losers: 2014-2015 Offseason

It's back! This website's most popular post is back for the first time in 2015, Winners and Losers! Winners and Losers takes a look back at a race weekend, stretch of weeks, or other main events during the Indycar season in order to determine who won, lost, and who earned the prestigious honor of the Cone of Shame Award. This award goes to the person/team/thing that lost the worse out of everyone. So basically, you don't want to win it. Here are the Winners and Losers from the 2014-2015 offseason!

Winners

Simon Pagenaud
Simon Pagenaud was the biggest fish in the free agent market, and Roger Penske went out and caught him. The 30 year old Frenchman, who I think has 5-10 solid years left in him, will look to capitalize on this great opportunity for the defending Indycar champions. Not only does he have to fend off a whole host of competition, but the competition within the team, especially against rival Will Power, will make for some great entertainment.


Stefano Coletti
Who? Well, let me play the role of the average Indycar fan: "OH MY GOD LOOK IT'S ANOTHER NO NAME RIDE BUYING F1 DROPOUT." Easy folks, don't sleep on Stefano Coletti. The 25 year old driver from Monaco replaces Sebastian Saavedra at KV Racing. The only difference between him and Saavedra is that you should expect Coletti to actually be relevant. We saw a glimpse of this at the official Barber test, as following the combined results, Coletti finished P3, only trailing series veterans Will Power and Scott Dixon. Watch out for this rookie, especially on road courses.


Luca Filippi
Luca Filippi returns to Indycar, and this time, it is for an elongated stretch of races rather than 2-4 races like we've seen in the past. In the past, we've seen Filppi race for Bryan Herta Autosport for a few races and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for some doubleheaders. In the DW12 era, there are few teams that have been worse than BHA and RLL. Now Filippi goes to an established team that has won in the last couple years. Can he deliver the goods in the pivotal Ed Carpenter role as the road course ace.


Josef Newgarden
Linked with Luca Filppi is Josef Newgarden. See, Josef has this weird thing called a "teammate", and this "teammate" will help Josef setup his cars and hopefully increase his chances of winning. His "teammate" is the byproduct of his team owner Sarah Fisher merging with his new co-boss Ed Carpenter. Josef joins forces with a winning team. Can he and his "teammate" make this team into a giant slayer?



Losers

Justin Wilson
Justin Wilson, well, got screwed. Sure he might end up getting a deal together with Andretti Autosport for a select few races, but that's not good enough from a driver that belongs in the series full-time. It's really sad that a guy like Francesco Dracone can get a ride but Justin can't. We all know that racing has a flaw when it comes to money, but damn it sucks.


Mikhail Aleshin
The most troubling loss from the 2014 full-time field was Mikhail Aleshin. Mikhail, a driver who was instantly deemed a ride buyer not worthy of Indycar, absolutely shined in his rookie season. Unfortunately, Mikhail had a terrible accident in the finale at Fontana. Thankfully, he was okay. But that would be Mikhail's last time in an Indycar, as American sanctions on Russia meant that Aleshin's primary sponsor, SMP Bank, could no longer fund Aleshin in America. A damn shame that Aleshin became a casualty of a political feud because he had the potential to be great.


Conor Daly
Yes, I like Conor Daly. He and I converse with each other every now and then, so I have a bias towards him and his career. But I think we can all agree that Conor should be on the Indycar grid this year. Conor was in the running for many seats. Early on, he seemed like a great canidate to take the #14 AJ Foyt Enterprises car, but Foyt retained Takuma Sato. Next on the list was the road course ride that was coupled with Ed Carpenter's oval ride, but that was given to Luca Filppi. His last chance was Aleshin's old seat at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, but this fell through at the last moment to James Jakes. Now, once again, Daly is left without a ride. Hoopefully he gets a shot at the Indy 500 because he is one damn talented driver.


Mark Miles
The jury is no longer out on the new brainchild of Mark Miles: the schedule. If the schedule for 2016 calls for another horrendously long offseason, you can bet that Indycar fans might want a new man for the job. I get what he is trying to do, but the last two seasons have been a build up to greater things. It was supposed to happen in 2015. If it doesn't happen in 2016, then I will lose all faith in Miles and the Indycar regime. For now, Miles is in the clear. But if we see the same schedule from 2015 in 2016, then I might give up.



Cone of Shame



Brazil
Brazil made our long offseason even longer. Political issues saw the reconstruction of the track end, with funding being pulled by the Brazilian government. I'm not disagreeing with them cutting the funding, as funding for the well-being of their citizens comes first, but the fact that the budget wasn't more in order is disappointing. It's also disappointing that Indycar had an earlier date scheduled than last year, a lot of tickets sold, and a title sponsor for the race. Not only did the race cancellation hurt fans in Brazil and across the world, but Indycar's reputation took another hit. These setbacks can't keep happening if the series wants to pounce on an unraveling Formula 1 and an underwhelming NASCAR. Overall, this was the worst thing to happen in the offseason.


As always, let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Five Predictions for 2015

The 2015 Indycar Season is upon us! I dig down into my inner crystal ball and attempt to make five predictions for the upcoming season! Let me hear what your thoughts are on what I have to say:

1) Will Power will not win the championship
Will Power, whom as many of you are aware I'm not a big fan, had a great 2014 season. He finished all but one lap on the season, an impressive feat. He also beat his teammate Helio Castroneves by 62 points in the championship, which was incredible. I was really happy to see the passion that he exuded when he won the championship and some of my ill feelings have receded, but I think 2015 will be a much different story for Power on the track. History tells us that dominant champions can and usually do have a rough next season. Three examples I will use to prove my points are Nigel Mansell (champion in '93, struggled in '94), Juan Pablo Montoya (champion in '99, struggled in '00), and Scott Dixon (champion in '03, struggled in '04):

Driver
Year
Points
Pos.
Wins
Poles
Avg. St
Avg. Fin
Change
Led
Nigel Mansell
1993
191
1st
5
7
2.9
6.3
-51
603
Nigel Mansell
1994
87
8th
0
3
3.3
12.3
-144
103
Juan Montoya
1999
212
1st
7
7
5.0
8.0
-61
954
Juan Montoya
2000
126
9th
3
7
4.1
12.7
-172
820
Scott Dixon
2003
507
1st
3
5
3.2
7.1
-62
748
Scott Dixon
2004
355
10th
0
0
9.9
10.4
-9
3

As you can see, the dominant championship years that these three legends had were swiftly followed by years of complete mediocrity. Will Will Power fall into the same trap that has claimed so many past champions? I predict he will.


2) Curtains on Castroneves
Like Power, it's no secret that I'm not the biggest fan of Helio Castroneves, but I can unbiasedly state that I think retirement is in Helio's future. 2015 will be Helio's 15th season with Team Penske and 17th in Indycar. He's had a very good career, winning three Indianapolis 500 and racking up on a truck load of wins. But without a championship title, I have a very tough time putting him in the same category as the active greats like Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Tony Kanaan. Not only that, but he has very nearly twice as many career poles (38) than career wins (23), something that I find statistically unsettling. What I take away from that is he qualifies better than re races.

But enough about me trying to convince you about my feelings on Helio; I think he'll either retire or leave Team Penske after 2015 because a) his age b) his lack of championships and C) Team Penske's expansion. Helio will have a tough time competing against his powerhouse teammates: Will Power is coming off a championship title, Juan Pablo Montoya was a boss in the second half of 2015, and I see no reason why he would be slow in 2015, and newly minted teammate Simon Pagenaud will look to shine for his new boss. I just don't see Helio out-competing all four of his teammates. And I also don't see the four car dynamic continuing for many years, so which driver gets left out will be interesting to see. I'm sure another consistent year is on-deck for Helio, but I don't see him winning the championship or returning to Penske in 2016.


3) Carlos Munoz will not have a sophomore slump
One guy who really impressed me in 2014 was Carlos Munoz. He didn't have too many flashy performances, and he had some moments to forget, but from what I saw, I see Munoz as someone who could challenge for a championship in the next five-ten years. He outpaced two of his veteran teammates in Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe, and once again put on a great show at Indianapolis. The biggest problem facing Munoz is out of his control, which is money and sponsorship. If Michael Andretti can keep his seat funded and Munoz in the car, I see no reason why Munoz couldn't win a championship or two and a couple Indy 500s in the next couple decades. He's quick on ovals and road courses, consistent, and can keep his nose clean. Those are qualities you don't find for many 23 year old drivers.

Carlos Munoz - Iowa Corn Indy 300: Day 1
Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America

4) Graham Rahal will continue to struggle
Graham Rahal has been having a rough go at things every since joining his dad at Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing. After coming off two solid years at Chip Ganassi Racing, Graham left to take the place of Takuma Sato at RLL in 2013. Since that move, Graham's reputation has tanked, RLL has struggled in just about every area, management continually hires and fires big named employees, and the team has gained an uncanny sense of optimism. If you've been following Graham on Twitter during the last two seasons, you notice that he always tweets about having good chances to win, when in reality we all know his chances are usually not too good. Now, I know that pessimism doesn't get you very far, but the team needs humble themselves and realize that their shit doesn't smell like peaches. Before I get to an example of this, I'll say that anything over a 16th place finish in the championship would be a virtual win for the team and Graham, but I'm not holding my breath. Here's the example of empty optimism right before the season finale at Fontana last year (sort of like a before the weekend and after the weekend display):



5) Battles everywhere
There are so many intriguing battles that will be taking place throughout the Indycar paddock:

Honda vs Chevrolet
Let the aero kit era of Indycar begin! After years of politics and deliberation, aero kits will finally be introduced to the Indycars in 2015. Each engine manufacturer has spent considerable time developing kits to give their cars a competitive advantage over each other. Who will prove to best on the ovals, road courses, or both? Honda is led by Andretti Autosport and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, and Chevy is led by Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. I predict Chevrolet comes out on top.

ROY
We are going to be graced with another great rookie class for 2015. 2014 saw a great battle between Carlos Munoz, Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin, and Carlos Huertas. This year, we got Gabby Chaves, Stefano Coletti, Sage Karam (hopefully), and Luca Filippi (sort of). Karam is only signed on for St. Petersburg as of now, but that can and most likely will change as the season continues. Filippi takes over the Mike Conway role at Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing as the road course specialist. If Karam gets a full-time gig, I fully expect him to come out on top. If not, then I give the bid to Coletti,

Penske vs Ganassi
Will Power + Juan Pablo Montoya + Helio Castroneves + Simon Pagenaud vs. Scott Dixon + Tony Kanaan + Sage Karam (hopefully) + Charlie Kimball. Need I say more? This should be epic.

Championship
To go along with Team Penske and Chip Ganassi, I expect a great fight for the title. Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, Carlos Munoz, and Marco Andretti look to go for a championship hunt. Darkhorses like Josef Newgarden, Stefano Coletti, James Jakes, and Jack Hawksworth look to ingratiate their names into the hunt. My predicted top five in order?

1) Simon Pagenaud
2) Ryan Hunter-Reay
3) Scott Dixon
4) Juan Pablo Montoya
5) Will Power

Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay - Grand Prix of Indianapolis
I got Pagenaud over RHR (Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images North America)

Another prediction I am willing to make is that I think we are in for one hell of a 2015 season! Let me know if you have any predictions that you'd like to share!

-Matthew Hickey

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Retracing My Steps

When I started my website in October of 2011, I operated under the principle that I was going to say what I had to say and that if you didn't like what I said then that's just too damn bad.

But times have changed.

See, as sad as it sounds, I have toned down my rhetoric and become less opinionated as time has passed. It's a bit disheartening really. I mean, my loyalty to a driver can be bought with a simple follow on Twitter. I'm honestly not sure why a professional athlete would ever follow some college kid who spouts off his mouth from time-to-tome, but hey, I never complained. I'm thankful to interact and connect with drivers in the sport I love, but I should not continue to let this cloud my judgement and entrap me from speaking my mind. That will cease to continue.

Lately, I've been doing some deep analysis of myself both on my website and on Twitter. With decreased website activity (partially caused by hectic academic life and partially because of marginally opinionated articles) and a decline in Twitter interactions, I began to comprehend why this was. I realized that it may be caused by me straying away from who I am and the foundations that I built myself on that caused many of you to follow me in the first place.

So, from now on, some things are going to change: 1) No more generic posts on the website. I'll leave season reviews and analysis pieces to the pros at RACER and Motor Sports Talk. 2) I won't let my allegiance bought with a follow, it'll have to be earned. Too often in the past have I instantly become a fan of a driver not because of their track record and skills, but because they follow me. While I'll remain civil and not let things escalate to a personal level, I will not keep my comments on a driver to myself just because that driver follows me. If they can't handle an honest, civil opinion, then I honestly don't want them following me anyways. 3) Tying in with that last one, I want to get more conversations going both on my site and on Twitter from the opinions that I share. To do this, I will share more opinions on Twitter and keep the opinion pieces going on my site. Winners and Losers, which has been the most successful series of blogs on my site will remain, as it always sparks good conversations. And Fantasy Indycar will remain for years to come because there are many people, including myself, who enjoy it. Other than that, expect me to go back to the way things were.

Above all, I'd like to thank you all for following me on Twitter and my site. I'm eternally grateful to all of you who take the time to read my site, follow me on Twitter, and share your thoughts to any of the opinions that I share. But I can't put my heart into something if I can't be honest and give 100% of myself to the task at hand. I will not allow me opinions to be constrained at the hands of others, no matter who it is. I hope no drivers or followers hold it against me for being honest, but that's just the way it's going to be.

Thanks to all who follow, interact, and enjoy Indycar with me! Thanks for reading and, as always, let me know what you're thoughts on the post are.

-Matthew Hickey

Friday, March 6, 2015

Season Review: James Hinchcliffe

In a series of blogs that will be featured throughout the offseason, I review and talk about 21 full-time drivers in addition to extended part time drivers (Carpenter and Conway) in an honest and opinionated format. I would ask you to share your opinions on my thoughts as well as your thoughts on the driver and their season. Enjoy:

James Hinchcliffe
#27 Andretti Autosport

12th in points scoring 456 points

Best finish: 3rd (Mid-Ohio)
Worst finish: 28th (Indianapolis)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 8.2
Avg. Finish: 12.3
Change in position: -75

Grade: C

James Hinchcliffe had an up-and-down 2014 season. Expectations were high for Hinch as he entered his third season with Andretti Autosport, notching three wins in 2013. Unfortunately, his ambitions to make a championship run were quashed early in the season and never got going in the mid-to-late portion of the season. Where did his season go wrong?

James had three DNFs (the only DNFs he had on the season) in the first five races. Hinch was a victim of the infamous Ryan Hunter-Reay pass attempt on Josef Newgarden that ended in tears, resulting in a P21 finish. A big scare happened at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis when a piece of debris from a front wing struck James in the head, knocking him out momentarily and sending him to the hospital. Thankfully, he was okay and recovered in time to race in the Indianapolis 500. In the 500, Hinch, who qualified second, crashed with Ed Carpenter (the pole sitter), ending the race of two potential winners. Blame for the crash was never determined. Some say it was Ed, some say it was Hinch, and others say it was Townsend Bell. Whoever was at fault, Hinch's championship hopes were virtually crushed.

Hinch did okay at double point races in 2014. As mentioned, he wrecked at Indianapolis, finishing 28th. An average race at Pocono saw Hinch finishing 12th. And an impressive race at Fontana capped off an up-and-down season for Hinch, as he finished 5th.

A number of good qualifying efforts during the season went out the window. Hinch averaged a loss of four spots per race, This is not something that can be happening if you want to make a championship run (unless you qualify on the pole every race, in which case you could probably pull this off).

Despite his lackluster season, I have faith that Hinch will rebound in 2015. Hinch has since moved on from Andretti Autosport, replacing Simon Pagenaud at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, a team James raced for in 2009 in Indy Lights. This team and car have proven that they can win and fight for the championships. I went as far as to say that Hinch was on my top five best driver list in the series at the moment. A lot of people gave me crap, but Hinch has everything I look for in a driver. Gutsy on the track, awesome to the fans off of it. He is passionate about what he does and hates to lose. If he sees a win in his grasp, he goes for it.

So while I gave Hinch a "C", I know that he will come out firing in 2015 and be a contender once again. He has the makings to be a legend. Hopefully he proves me right!

James Hinchcliffe - Honda Indy Toronto: Day 1
Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America


2014 grades so far:


Stay tuned for P11 Ryan Briscoe!

-Matthew Hickey