IndyCar championship possibilities

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MONTEREY, California – There is a simple way to the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship for three of the four-remaining contenders who are still mathematically alive:

Win Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and hope the other contenders falter. Even then, that may not be enough.

In Scott Dixon’s case, he has to hope for an earthquake, a terrible flood and locust to besiege his rivals because at 85 points out, there is little chance for him to score his sixth career NTT IndyCar Series championship.

Team Penske driver and 2017 IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden has a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and a 42-point lead over Team Penske teammate and 103rd Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud. But, Sunday’s race at WeatherTech Racing in Laguna Seca pays double points, which means a victory is worth twice as much and a miscue is twice the penalty.

A win in 15 of the 17 races is worth 50 points. Second place is worth 40, third is worth 35 and so on. But in the double-points format used in the Indianapolis 500 and in the season finale, a win doubles to 100, second to 80, third to 70, fourth to 64, fifth to 60 and so on down the list.

Drivers also can accumulate bonus points in the race (which are not doubled), with one point being awarded for the pole position, one point for leading a lap and two points for leading the most laps.

Beyond that is where it gets complicated.

According to INDYCAR, there are more than 255,000 finishing orders for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and nearly 75 percent of those eliminate the three drivers — Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon – pursuing current leader Josef Newgarden in the championship standings.

Thanks to INDYCAR Vice President, Communications Mike Zizzo and his staff including Kate Davis, Curt Cavin and Arni Sribhen, they have taken all of the guesswork out of the ins and the outs of the championship scenarios.

As much as this intrepid reporter would like to take credit for this, balancing a checkbook becomes a confusing mathematical task.

With all due respect, here is what INDYCAR has calculated:

Championship Scenarios – Short Version

Newgarden not only controls his own destiny, but he’s the key to the chances of the other three contenders as well.

Quite simply, Newgarden clinches the championship if he finishes fourth or better regardless of how the others fare. He can get away with a fifth-place finish provided his two closest challengers don’t score additional bonus points for pole, leading a lap or leading the most laps.

For Rossi or Pagenaud to win the championship, Newgarden must finish sixth or worse if they win the race.

The good news for either is that they have won on a permanent road course this season (Rossi at Road America, Pagenaud at Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and Newgarden’s average finish on road courses this season is 7.2.

Rossi and Pagenaud could get away with Newgarden finishing fifth if they score two (Rossi) or three (Pagenaud) more bonus points than Newgarden while winning. Either of them winning the championship by finishing second or third is feasible (see below).

Dixon’s path is much more complicated. He must win and have Newgarden finish 23rd or worse and have Rossi and Pagenaud finish sixth or worse. In addition, Dixon can’t lose any bonus points to any of them. Dixon will have a tiebreaker over both Rossi (more wins) and Pagenaud (same wins, more seconds) with the win, but not Newgarden (fewer wins), which may be needed in this scenario.

Rossi and Pagenaud have average permanent road course finishes of 7.5 and 8.5, respectively, so an average day for either likely helps Dixon.

The longshot in this scenario is Newgarden finishing 23rd or worse. He hasn’t finished worse than 19th this season and his last finish outside the top 20 was Texas in 2016.

Championship Scenarios – The Long Version

This still hinges on where Newgarden finishes and how the bonus points are distributed.

Remember, only one driver gets the pole point and the two points for leading the most laps, but multiple drivers can get the lap led point. The one-point difference between Pagenaud and Rossi is irrelevant when it comes to how many points, they’ll need to overcome Newgarden, so they’re effectively tied.

However, Pagenaud will need an extra bonus point in some situations to make up the extra point deficit to Newgarden.

If Newgarden finishes…

… 4th place or better: Locks up the championship, putting him 105 (Rossi) and 106 (Pagenaud) points up, which is too much for either of them to overcome.

… 5th place: Without any bonus points, this puts Newgarden up 101 over Rossi and 102 over Pagenaud. Newgarden has the tiebreaker over both (more wins than Rossi and more seconds over Pagenaud), which means they must win and score +2 (Rossi) and +3 (Pagenaud) bonus points over the weekend to steal it.

… 6th place: Without bonus points, it’s as simple as win the race, win the championship for Rossi/Pagenaud since Newgarden will only be 97/98 points ahead finishing here and 100 for the win will overcome him. However, that is close enough for Newgarden to secure the championship if he is +3 (Rossi) or +2 (Pagenaud) with bonus points. Again, Newgarden has the tiebreaker on both of them.

… 7th-9th place: Bonus points don’t matter. If either Rossi or Pagenaud win, they win the championship.

… 10th place: This is where Rossi/Pagenaud don’t have to win the race to win the championship. Tenth for Newgarden puts him ahead 81/82 points, respectively, so If Rossi/Pagenaud finish second and are +2/+3 on bonus points, Newgarden loses the championship.

… 11th place: Newgarden will be 79/80 points ahead, respectively, with tiebreakers. Rossi can break even on the bonus points and win with a second. Pagenaud will need to be +1 on the bonus points with at least a second-place finish.

… 12th-14th place: Bonus points don’t matter; second place will do it for Rossi or Pagenaud.

… 15th place: With +2/+3 bonus points, third place will win the championship for Rossi or Pagenaud.

… 16th place: Newgarden will be up 69/70 points, so Rossi wins with a third-place finish and a break-even on bonus points. Pagenaud wins with a third and +1 on bonus points.

… 17th-22nd place: Various similar scenarios where either Rossi or Pagenaud have a chance of winning the championship by one of them finishing fourth (Newgarden finishes 17th/18th), fifth (19th/20th), or even sixth (21st/22nd) depending on bonus points. Newgarden finishing one or two positions up or down in this range will be significant in this situation.

… 23rd/24th place: In an extreme scenario, Rossi could sweep the bonus points (+4 to Newgarden) and finish seventh, ahead of Pagenaud and without Dixon winning the race to capture the championship.

Sound simple?

There will be a “Pop Quiz” in the morning.

Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”