IndyCar: Stats to digest through Barber, and first four races of 2015


Through four races of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, there have been plenty of stats that have emerged and really proven only one thing: no one team is dominant.

The concerning, early-race narrative has been that Team Penske’s pace has been too much to match. And while yes, the team is a perfect four-for-four in pole positions and front row sweeps (seven poles and five front row sweeps in a row dating to 2014), the Penske prowess hasn’t carried over to race day entirely.

Several other Chevrolet teams – Chip Ganassi Racing, KVSH Racing and CFH Racing – have really stepped up from a performance standpoint and are right on pace. It’s meant that Honda’s best – notably Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Andretti Autosport – have been seventh or eighth, there or thereabouts, on pace before moving forward in the race.

But in looking a bit deeper at the stats, the parity is still prevalent through the first quarter of the season, and in some respects, it’s improved through four races this year compared to 2014.

Here are the stats of note:

  • Closer points standings. Last year, 47 points separated the top four in points through four races (149-102). This year, 45 cover first through 10th (136-91), from Juan Pablo Montoya to Sebastien Bourdais. Just 17 cover first to fourth, Montoya to Josef Newgarden.
  • More podium finishers. Each of the last two years there have been a wealth of different podium finishers (19 in 2014, 20 in 2013). We’re already off to a good start this year with nine from the first four races, trending one ahead of last year when there were eight in the first four races.
  • Same four-for-four winners streak, with four new winners. There were 11 winners last year in 18 races, and 10 winners in 19 races in 2013. Last year opened with four winners from four different teams in four races (Will Power, Penske, Mike Conway, Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt Peterson), and so has this year, with four different drivers (Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske, James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson, Scott Dixon, Ganassi, Josef Newgarden, CFH).
  • No front row winners yet. Your winning starting positions thus far in 2015? In order, fourth, 16th, third and fifth.
  • Barber’s best day, statistically. There were eight race leaders and 10 lead changes Sunday at Barber, which broke the old records of six (2014) and nine (2012), respectively.
  • Fewer yellows. The first two races this year: 57 laps: 11 cautions, 48 laps, 8 DNF. The last two races in 170 laps: 3 cautions, 13 laps, 0 DNF. At Barber, and a hat tip to my colleague Steve Wittich for this stat, 35 percent of the field led the race and all but two possible laps were completed.
  • Dixon’s perfect podium but winless streak at Barber lives. One of the most obscure and amazing stats in IndyCar: Scott Dixon is a perfect six-for-six at Barber in terms of podium finishes, without a win. His third on Sunday followed four straight seconds from 2010 to 2013, and a third last year.
  • Top-10 finish numbers. No single driver has four top-10s in four races. Four drivers who have completed all four races, Charlie Kimball, Stefano Coletti, Gabby Chaves and Francesco Dracone, have gone the four races without a single top-10 finish.
  • Andretti’s strange stats start. Sunday all three Andretti Autosport drivers posted top-10s at Barber. But the team has not yet led a lap in four races, with any of its four drivers.
  • Chevrolet still pacing the laps led. Through 327 laps completed this year, Chevrolet has led 285 laps, and Honda 42.
  • Penske’s quartet has led more than half the total laps. Helio Castroneves is the only driver to have led a lap in all four races (1, 1, 31 and 18), with his total of 51 laps led shy of teammates Will Power (75) and Juan Pablo Montoya (59). Simon Pagenaud has led 5 to give the team a total of 190 laps led in 327 total laps (58.1 percent of all laps).
  • Penske, Chevrolet Firestone Fast Six prowess continues. Of 18 possible Firestone Fast Six appearances: Team Penske 10, all other teams 8 (was split 3-3 at Barber). By engine/aero kit, the breakdown is Chevrolet 16, Honda 2.
  • Still four with four top-10 starts in four races. Castroneves, Pagenaud, Bourdais and Tony Kanaan are the four drivers with four top-10 starts in as many races to open the year.
  • Consistent Chaves should be No. 17. He’s in the No. 98 for Bryan Herta Autosport, but leading rookie driver this year, Gabby Chaves, could argue No. 17 has been his most regular number. His starts this year have been 22nd, 17th, 17th and 17th, with finishes of 17th, 15th, 17th and 16th. He’s 18th in points, only one point behind 17th placed-Jack Hawksworth
  • Simona’s points haul still endures. In two races, Simona de Silvestro has 44 points and ranks 20th. In four races, Stefano Coletti has 41 and ranks 21st.

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment

DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

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Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and two red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500