Saturday, December 20, 2014

Season Review: Mikhail Aleshin

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:

Mikhail Aleshin
#7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

16th in points scoring 372 points.

Best finish: 2nd (Houston Race #2)
Worst finish: 25th (Grand Prix of Indianapolis)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 14.0
Avg. Finish: 14.2
Change in position: -3

Grade: B

I am still finding it so hard to believe that Mikhail Aleshin had the season that he that he had. It was fantastic! The biggest surprise was how good Mikhail was good on ovals. He took Rookie Orientation for the Indianapolis 500 in stride, with a giant smile on his face. He amazed all of us at Texas and Pocono, finishing brilliantly. He was also really good on road courses. He was so quick at Grand Prix of Indianapolis, before getting a penalty in qualifying, forcing him to start last. We know what happened next. Aleshin plowed into a stalled Sebastian Saavedra. A rough time for Aleshin.

Speaking of rought times, Aleshin had a lot of frightening moments. A big crash at Barber forced the race to end under yellow. As discussed, Aleshin had a big shunt at GPI with Saavedra. He wrecked at Iowa, and was pretty slow to get out of the car but was okay. In Toronto, Aleshin's car got wedged under Juan Pablo Montoya in pretty frightening fashion. We all feared that he had a head or neck injury, when in reality, the heat from the exhaust from Montoya's car is what put Mikhail in danger, as he said in his interview. And then, the nastiest of them all by far was the crash at Fontana during practice that could have been so much worse. He spun the car in the low lane, hit the wall in the top lane, and was then hit by Charlie Kimball, forcing him into the catch fence. It was one of the scariest crashes I've ever seen. Thankfully, Aleshin is "okay."

The worst part about Mikhail's season is that it might have been the only time that we will have seen Mikhail full-time in Indycar. Sanctions by the United States against Russian companies (ie his primary sponsors, SMP Bank) have forced Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to look for other ways to field Mikhail or find a new driver. With Sam Schmidt testing a host of new drivers, it looks like the show will go on without Mikhail. A shame because he was a joy to watch both on and off the track.

Mikhail Aleshin - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America

2014 grades so far:

Stay tuned for P15 Justin Wilson!

-Matthew Hickey

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Season Review: Jack Hawksworth

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:

Jack Hawksworth
#98 BHA/BBM with Curb Agajanian

17th in points scoring 366 points

Best finish: 3rd (Houston Race #2)
Worst finish: 21st (St. Petersburg)

Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Avg. Start: 15.6
Avg. Finish: 13.6
Change in position: 37

Grade: C+

Jack Hawksworth was wondering if his career was over. Then Bryan Herta rang him up for a test, and Hawksworth excelled. The 2012 Pro Mazda champion and 2013 Indy Lights ace moved up to Indycar. His luck sucked right away, but despite the bad luck, it was clear that, at least on road course, The Hawk was blazing quick. He then got a bit of luck at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, leading a large sum of laps, only to end up short on strategy. Still, it was clear through the first four races that Hawksworth could be a boss in Indycar.

I am impressed with a couple of things from Hawk's season. The only DNF he had all season was at the first race of the season, where he got collected in someone else's mess. He looked strong on the street courses, especially St. Petersburg, Houston, and Toronto. He did notch one top-ten on an oval at Milwaukee, which is often considered the trickiest oval on the circuit. Overall, I was very impressed with Hawk this season.

Hawksworth will not be returning to Bryan Herta Autosport in 2015. Hawk is joining AJ Foyt Enterprises alongside Takuma Sato. This is great news, as many people, including myself, wondered if Hawk would get another year in the sport. Hopefully he can assemble another good season.

Jack Hawksworth - Honda Indy Toronto: Day 1
Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America

2014 grades up to his date:
Mike Conway - B+
Jack Hawksworth - C+
Carlos Huertas - D
Graham Rahal - D
Takuma Sato - D

Stay tuned for P16 Mikhail Aleshin!

-Matthew Hickey

Friday, November 14, 2014

Silly Season Update: November 14th

As with any Indycar offseason, there is a lot of driver and team changes to keep track of. Here are all team and driver updates for the 2015 Verizon Indycar Season as of November 14th:

Bryan Clauson*
2015 Team: Jonathan Byrd's Racing
2014 Team: N/A

Bryan Clauson reemerges to the Indycar scene for the first time since 2012. Not only has Clauson not driven an Indycar in some time, but the team he is driving for, Jonathan Byrd's Racing, hasn't been to Indianapolis since 2005. The team will partner with KV Racing for the Month of May.

Bryan Clauson - Indianapolis 500 - Day 1
Clauson at Indy in 2012 (Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)

Buddy Lazier*
2015 Team: Lazier Partners Racing
2014 Team: Lazier Partners Racing 

It is clear that Buddy Lazier and his team Lazier Partners Racing has the intentions to run in the 2015 Indianapolis 500. Lazier has run in the last two Indianapolis 500s, so barring anything unexpected, we will see them back in 2015.

Carlos Munoz
2015 Team: Andretti Autosport
2014 Team: Andretti Autosport 

Carlos Munoz will look to build on a top-ten championship effort in his rookie season with another strong performance under Andretti Autosport.

Charlie Kimball
2015 Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
2014 Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Charlie Kimball is expected to be back with Chip Ganassi Racing for his fifth season.

Ed Carpenter
2015 Team: Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing
2014 Team: Ed Carpenter Racing 

The polesitter for the last two Indianapolis 500s will race in 2015 under a new banner. Ed Carpenter has joined forces with Sarah Fisher to create Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing. Like last season, Ed will take over oval duties. This year, that means Indianapolis, Texas, Fontana, Milwaukee, Iowa, and Pocono.

Graham Rahal
2015 Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
2014 Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Graham Rahal once again headlines the team at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racnig. The team has made many internal changes in order to improve results following a disastrous 2014 season.

Graham Rahal - Raceway on Belle Isle: Day 1
National Guard is no more at RLL (Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images North America)

Helio Castroneves
2015 Team: Team Penske
2014 Team: Team Penske

Helio Castroneves will once again return to Team Penske for the 2015 Indycar season. This came despite the fact that there was some rumors that Roger Penske was going to drop one of his drivers to make way for Simon Pagenaud. This rumor was rebuked by many and was eventually killed when Penske announced that Pagenaud would be driving a new fourth team car. Will Helio finally get a championship after falling short once again?

Jack Hawksworth
2015 Team: AJ Foyt Enterprises
2014 Team: Bryan Herta Autosport

The Flying Brit Jack Hawksworth is switching teams for 2015. Jack had an up-and-down rookie campaign with Bryan Herta Autosport, with some great performances and some not so good performances. Now he jumps to AJ Foyt Enterprises, where he and Takuma Sato will both have the ability to work with a teammate, which is something neither of them had last year. Can Hawk and Foyt prove to be a good combination?

James Hinchcliffe
2015 Team: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
2014 Team: Andretti Autosport

James Hinchcliffe was one of the best drivers to move this offseason. After three relatively successful years at Andretti Autosport, Hinch is reuniting with his former Indy Lights owner Sam Schmidt at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, replacing Simon Pagenaud. This could be a solid move for Hinch, who will get to focus less on finding sponsors and more on racing.

James Hinchcliffe - GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma: Day 2
Hinchcliffe is no longer at Andretti Autosport (Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images North America)

Jay Howard*
2015 Team: Bryan Herta Autosport
2014 Team: N/A 

Jay Howard, who hasn't found a way back into since the 2011 season, is going to drive for the Bryan Herta Autosport for the 2015 Indianapolis 500 and maybe a few other races. This came as a surprise to me because recently, Jay has been one of those drivers who always talked about getting back into the show but it never happened. Now he actually has a ride, so now it's time to put up or shut up.

Josef Newgarden
2015 Team: Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing
2014 Team: Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

Breaking news: Josef Newgarden has a teammate! This is something that is completely foreign to him. In his three years in Indycar, he's only had teammates at two of his three Indianapolis 500s. Now, he will have Ed Carpenter on ovals and TBA on road courses to help him after Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing merged with Ed Carpenter Racing to form Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing. Time for Josef to shine.

Juan Pablo Montoya
2015 Team: Team Penske
2014 Team: Team Penske

Juan Pablo Montoya, who looked like he was having a genuine amount of fun in 2014, happily returns to the Verizon Indycar Series in 2015 with Team Penske. Hopefully he can build on the great season he had last year.

Marco Andretti
2015 Team: Andretti Autosport
2014 Team: Andretti Autosport

Marco Andretti returns to Andretti Autosport for another season.

Mikhail Aleshin
2015 Team: Schmidt Peterson Racing
2014 Team: Schmidt Peterson Racing 

Assuming Mikhail Aleshin is healthy and mentally fit to drive and assuming SMP Bank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports can agree on a sponsorship deal, then the electrifying Russian Aleshin will return to Indycar in 2015 and for many years to come.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
2015 Team: Andretti Autosport
2014 Team: Andretti Autosport 

2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay has signed a multi-year extension with Andretti Autosport and DHL, keeping him in title contention for years to come.

Ryan Hunter-Reay - Indianapolis 500 Trophy Presentation
The championship didn't end the way he wanted, but RHR still won the Indianapolis 500,
making it a great season (Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)

Scott Dixon
2015 Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
2014 Team: Chip Ganassi Racing 

Scott Dixon is all but confirmed to be back with Chip Ganassi Racing for another season.

Sebastien Bourdais
2015 Team: KV Racing
2014 Team: KV Racing

Sebastien Bourdais moved to KV Racing after the 2013 season, and themoved  proved to be a good one. Despite not being competitive on ovals (excluding Indianapolis), Bourdais got back to winning form on road courses that we witnessed in the Champ Car days. He won his first race since 2007 at Toronto, While I don't think Bourdais is a championship contender, he is certainly a contender to win races.

Simon Pagenaud
2015 Team: Schmidt Peterson Racing
2014 Team: Team Penske

The biggest blue chip free agent in the field was Simon Pagenaud. Pagenaud, who has won several races and consistently battled for championships with Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, is moving to powerhouse Team Penske to drive their fourth car, where he will have no reason to finish outside the top-five in the championship.

Simon Pagenaud - GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma: Day 3
Pagenaud jumps from the 77 to the 22 (Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images North America)

Takuma Sato
2015 Team: AJ Foyt Enterprises
2014 Team: AJ Foyt Enterprises

Takuma Sato, who has had some rough times at AJ Foyt Enterprises, returns for another season with Foyt. Unlike past years, Sato will have a teammate this season in Jack Hawksworth.

Tony Kanaan
2015 Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
2014 Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Tony Kanaan is expected to be back for the 2015 season with Chip Ganassi Racing. Kanaan looks to build on a consistent season with Ganassi, winning the season finale at Fontana.

Will Power
2015 Team: Team Penske
2014 Team: Team Penske

The 2014 Verizon Indycar Champion Will Power will be back with Team Penske in 2015, switching from car #12 to car #1.

Will Power - MAVTV 500 - Day 2
Power celebrating his championship win (Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)

Number of confirmed full-time cars: 18

Number of confirmed Indianapolis 500 cars: 21
*Indianapolis 500 entries only

Team Notes

Andretti Autosport still has a vacant seat that has been left open by James Hinchcliffe. All signs point to either Justin Wilson or GP2 ace Daniel Abt to take over the seat. Also, Zach Veach is actively looking to join the team for a part-time schedule.

Bryan Herta Autosport still has the #98 car to fill. Bryan Herta has been actively looking for sponsors to fund his full-time program. I fully expect this car to be on the grid in St. Petersburg. Not sure who the driver will be though.

Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing needs to figure out what they are going to do with the #20 car. Ed Carpenter will be driving on the ovals, but will he do what he did in 2014 and split the car with a driver, or will he field a car full-time and a third car for himself to drive on ovals? That looks to be the best option on paper. If he does go this route, then JR Hildebrand would be a prime candidate. If not, then JR Hildebrand or Mike Conway would be the candidates for the road course car.

Chip Ganassi still has the fourth car to fill. They have the fourth seat to fill. All signs point to Sage Karam to take over the car given that he finds sponsorship. Ganassi basically told Ryan Briscoe, who drove a pretty average season for Ganassi in 2014, thanks but no thanks.

Dale Coyne Racing will, as usual, take his sweet time to decide his 2015 plans. If he isn't careful, he could lose his great driver Justin Wilson. Justin and Carlos Huertas drove the full-time cars in 2014. It also seems like a near-lock that Pippa Mann joins the team in the third car for the Indianapolis 500 for a third consecutive year.

Davey Hamilton plans to either expand on with a current team or start his own team to field a car in the 2015 season. Hamilton had previously been a partner on Sam Schmidt's team.

Fan Force United announced several months ago that they plan to run a season in 2015 with Stefan Wilson behind the wheel. With no news from them recently, it's tough to determine if it will happen.

KV Racing already has Sebastien Bourdais under contract, but a second car has not yet been locked up. Sebastian Saavedra drove a joint KV-AFS Racing entry last year. With lackluster results, it remains to be seen if Saavedra will return or if a driver, who will likely need funding, comes to the team.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is fielding Graham Rahal for the 2015 season, but it remains to be seen if a second car will run either the full-time or part-time schedule. Expect a second entry for at least the Indianapolis 500, or maybe more.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, with James Hinchcliffe under their wing for 2015 and an expected return from Mikhail Aleshin, has tested drivers Gabby Chaves, Rodolfo Gonzalez, and Rocky Moran Jr. Maybe some part time action coming for one of them.

Driver Notes

Here are the drivers I can see in Indycar in 2015 that have not been signed yet:

  • Daniel Abt
  • Townsend Bell
  • Jack Brabham
  • Ryan Briscoe
  • Gabby Chaves
  • Mike Conway
  • Conor Daly
  • James Davison
  • Luca Filippi
  • Rodolfo Gonzalez
  • JR Hildebrand
  • Carlos Huertas
  • Sage Karam
  • Katherine Legge
  • Pippa Mann
  • Franck Montangy
  • Rocky Moran Jr.
  • Martin Plowman
  • Sebastian Saavedra
  • Oriol Servia
  • Alex Tagliani
  • Zach Veach
  • Jacques Villeneuve
  • Justin Wilson

Do you have any predictions as to which drivers go where before Brazil? Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mapping Out Potential Venues

The 2015 Indycar schedule was released just a short time ago. While it was great to finally know where we would race for the upcoming season, my mind immediately turned to what things would look like for 2015. If you all remember, I did something similar to this during the 2013 season, except I only analyzed Indycar tracks. I have now taken in the bigger picture, seeing where Indycar should go next season given the markets out there. Here is what I came up with:

(Key: Green - Hosts both Indycar and NASCAR, Red - Hosts Indycar, Blue - Hosts NASCAR, Brown - Hosts F1)

Tracks hosting Indycar in 2015:
1) Sonoma Raceway
2) Streets of Long Beach
3) Auto Club Speedway
7) Texas Motor Speedway
9) Iowa Speedway
10) NOLA Motorsports Park
11) The Milwaukee Mile
13) Barber Motorsports Park
15) Indianapolis Motor Speedway
17) Belle Isle
19) Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
22) Exhibition Place
25) Pocono Raceway
32) Streets of St. Ptersburg

Track hosting Formula 1 in 2015:
6) Circuit of the Americas
34) Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Tracks hosting NASCAR in 2015:
1) Sonoma Raceway
3) Auto Club Speedway
4) Las Vegas Motor Speedway
5) Phoenix International Raceway
7) Texas Motor Speedway
8) Kansas Speedway
12) Chicagoland Speedway
14) Talladega Superspeedway
15) Indianapolis Motor Speedway
16) Michigan International Speedway
18) Kentucky Speedway
20) Bristol Motor Speedway
21) Atlanta Motor Speedway
23) New Hampshire Motor Speedway
24) Watkins Glen International
25) Pocono Speedway
26) Dover International Speedway
27) Richmond International Raceway
28) Martinsville Speedway
29) Charlotte Motor Speedway
30) Darlington Raceway
31) Daytona International Speedway
33) Homestead-Miami Speedway

Using the above map, I have mapped the approximate reach for each track with the circles (indicated by their corresponding color). I judge this based off the magnitude of the race (Indianapolis, Charlotte, Daytona, etc. will have bigger reach than Fontana, Kansas, Kentucky, etc.), neighboring races which will draw different crowds and take away from other tracks, and the general population of the area. This is anything beyond official, but this is what I perceive that the track gets the majority of their fans from:

So, what does all this mumbo jumbo mean? It means that Indycar, if they use their heads and put their efforts together, can tap markets that are currently just sitting idle. Not only are their untapped markets, but there are vacant tracks or city streets that could host Indycar. Here is an extended list of venues Indycar could target:

(Key: Green - Hosts both Indycar and NASCAR, Red - Hosts Indycar, Blue - Hosts NASCAR, Brown - Hosts F1, Yellow - potential Indycar races)

Potential Indycar Races for 2016:
1) Edmonton City Centre Airport
2) Portland International Raceway
3) Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
4) Streets of Salt Lake City
5) Phoenix International Raceway
6) Streets of Denver
7) Pikes Peak International Raceway
8) Brainerd International Raceway
9) Streets of Omaha
10) Circuit of the Americas
11) Reliant Park
12) Road America
13) Gateway Motorsports Park
14) Kentucky Speedway
15) Nashville Superspeedway
16) Canadian Motor Speedway
17) New Hampshire Motor Speedway
18) Streets of Boston
19) Streets of Providence (dot too small to fit in Rhode Island, so it's listed in Connecticut)
20) Port Imperial Street Circuit
21) Streets of Baltimore
22) Homestead-Miami Speedway
23) Streets of Quebec City

With the 23 tracks added to the tracks in the first map, here's what the altered reach projections would look like:

So, let's try to make sense of all of this. First off, there ain't no one way in a million years that Indycar is adding 23 races; this is just my list of tracks that Indycar should go after given the circumstances of the other races in North America. I could see two to four tracks added to the 2016 season.

The blue chip tracks with little to no market competition from the list that would serve Indycar great with relatively untapped markets are Portland, one of the races in Colorado (either Streets of Denver or Pikes Peak), Edmonton, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, and one of the New England races; Port Imperial, which is slated to host F1 in 2016, would be an excellent venue. Of those New England races, however, both Providence and Boston have been in serious talks with Indycar to host races.

Other races that would be great, yet are located in challenged markets include Road America (conflicts with Milwaukee), Laguna Seca (conflicts with Sonoma), Canadian Motor Speedway (conflicts with Toronto), Homestead (conflicts with St. Petersburg), and Quebec City (conflicts with Montreal).

One track that keeps bringing up a heated debate is Circuit of the Americas. Eddie Gossage, CEO of Texas Motor Speedway, keeps saying that if Indycar goes to COTA, then he won't let Indycar race at TMS anymore. Why? COTA is 200 miles away and would draw most of its crowds from Austin, not Dallas-Ft. Worth. Gossage also had no issue hosting NASCAR on the same exact weekend as F1 was in COTA last weekend. If he thinks that COTA would ruin his Indycar race, then he should just go ahead and kill the race, because I'd rather see Indycar at COTA then Texas anyways.

There are some races that don't make too much sense. First off is Cleveland. Cleveland, a city that has been hit hard by the economy, is surrounded by a multitude of great races. If this race came back, it would be very tough to draw a crowd. Another track that would be tough is a street race in Ft. Lauderdale. Florida already has three races, so a race there would have to be effectively promoted in order to succeed. Finally, I only see one race in Michigan working. Between Belle Isle and Michigan, many people would pick Michigan. From a racing standpoint, I'd pick Michigan. From an economic standpoint, I would pick Belle Isle.

So, out of the 23 tracks I listed as potential races to add, here's my top seven:
7) Gateway Motorsports Park
6) Port Imperial Street Circuit
5) Canadian Motor Speedway
4) Circuit of the Americas
3) Streets of Baltimore
2) Laguna Seca
1) Road America

Using all that I gathered here, what races would you pick?! Any races not on my map that you would add?! Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey

Saturday, November 1, 2014

2015 Fantasy Indycar Field

The time is now. Here are the 33 competitors who will take part in the 2015 Fantasy Indycar season! I have embedded an Indycar related tweet from their Twitter profile! Please check them out and follow all of them! Here's the field:

Paige Hill is in the field! I am unable to embed any tweets of hers because her profile is private, but you can follow her here!

Welcome the five rookies to the Fantasy Indycar fraternity! (Johanna Husband, Mitch Robinson, Paige Hill, Sandy Lamparello, and Sarah Hall!)

Make sure you all follow the 33 Fantasy Indycar participants! We will have more Fantasy Indycar news coming in the coming weeks about a possible rule change in FI. Stay tuned! Thanks to the field of 33 for making the commitment to FI for 2015!

Special shoutout to participants Alan Stewart, Andy Nagel, Chris Blackburn, David Redner, DJ Jordan, Eric Hall, Gina Navarra, James Alban, James Sedlmayr, Jason McVeigh, Jerry Cruz, Jessica Baker, Kyle Lewis, Lynn Weinberg, Mathew Gruenholz, and Rick Snodie for participating in every year of Fantasy Indycar since its inception in 2012! Your commitment and help in getting Fatnasy Indycar on its feet is greatly appreciated!

Thanks to everyone! The 2015 Fantasy Indycar season isn't too far away! Make sure to stay connected using #FantasyIndycar.

-Matthew Hickey