After almost a year away the Triple League Racing Podcast is back and better than ever! We now have intro music and are now on Itunes! Make sure to subscribe, rate, and review! Our intro music is “The Grind” by Justin Mahar which can be found here. We discuss the John Barnes lawsuit against Indycar, Long Beach, Eliminations in the Chase, Cosworth, Dale Junior, an Indianapolis based supercar, and much more!
Welcome to the third and final part of the Formula E special feature. The last two parts can be read here and here. At this point we know what Formula E is. We have at least a baseline idea of what the plan for the 2014-2015 season of Formula E. Ten races will be run on a variety of unnamed street circuits in ten major cities. Formula E is an intriguing concept, but will it end up creating a fun and exciting racing series?
The marketing and promotion of Formula E focuses heavily on the environment, innovation, and safety. To a point that makes sense; the electric engines are what differentiates Formula E from F1, GP2, and Indycar. On the other hand racing is suppose to be exciting, it is suppose to be fast and a bit crazy. Automotive safety is important, but when the first things you see on the Formula E website are an advertisement for FIA Rules for Road Safety, and Michelin 4 Golden Rules that’s not particularly fast, exciting, or crazy. To be honest it’s a bit dull. I am politically on the left, but I have to admit I am not a huge electric car fan so some of the hardcore environmentalism/electric car propaganda used in promoting the series rings rather hollow. At least for me. I would really like to see something on the website which focuses more on speed, adventure, and on track action. Formula E does need to talk about how it is an electric racing series, but it also needs to be talk speed, excitement, and about being a fun racing series.
Formula E simply needs to be faster. I’ve already mentioned it before, but I cannot emphasize how pathetically slow a 140mph limit on an open wheel racing car is. And just like I wrote earlier Formula E needs to overcome the range issues associated with electric vehicles or it will have a hard time establishing itself as anything credible. Car changes in the middle of every race? Come one, get serious. It is early in the development cycle of Formula E so it will be interesting to see if the series improves these issues as time goes by.
One of the most controversial aspects of Formula E hasn’t been touched by me yet so I might as well start now. Formula E is considering allowing an online fan vote to determine whether or not cars have Push to Pass. Most objections to this plan focus on the issue of the purity of competition. My objection has to do with the fact that the cars are underpowered, especially in race trim. They need every ounce of power possible. Push to Pass should not be based upon a fan vote because the drivers will need all the power they can get to pass each other.
I also am not a huge fan of the track mix, or rather, lack of tracks. If you follow me on twitter or have read my blog you know that I have some unkind thoughts towards street courses. I would say however as Formula E is something new I am willing to give its street courses a chance. I don’t feel as negatively towards it as I would if Indycar, F1, or Tudor Sports Cars ran an all street course schedule. Still it would be really nice to see F/E car’s on a real race track. They are being tested at Donington Park; would it be too much to see them at Monza, Silverstone, Road America, or even a place like Brands Hatch or Zandervort??? Again, I hope this is an area which is changed as Formula E goes forward.
I think the street courses will be interesting however. Formula E’s website implies that these street courses will be in ten major cities. One has to wonder how true this is. Look at existing street courses in the world. Some are run in the heart of major metropolitans while many take place on the outskirts of the city they represent. I find it unlikely that Formula E will get prime spots in Beijing, Berlin, London, Miami, or Los Angles, but I could be wrong. I certainly hope I am wrong because if Formula E actually gets what it seems to want it would be an unprecedented backdrop for a modern racing series. I just hope we do not see the “London Grand Prix” run in a parking lot somewhere near London. September 13th is the first race at Beijing; where will they really race though? I also wonder how big the tracks will be. Will they be around Indycar size? Or will they as long as an F1 track? Or will they be much shorter than anything most people have thought of?
The drivers and teams are the most interesting aspect of Formula E to me. There are a lot of Indycar people who appear to be planning on racing and running the teams. I think they will be competitive. If you like Indycar I really believe you have to watch Formula E. There’s just too many of our drivers and teams there to ignore it. The setup of Formula E appears to me to heavily favor Indycar drivers as it will be on street courses with very little track time. I think a driver like Sebastien Bourdais or Oriol Servia will be very hard to beat. It seems unlikely Conor Daly will have a full time Indycar ride, but he will get a shot to show how good he is in Formula E.
Formula E has a lot of buzz. Leonardo DiCaprio is involved in one of the teams! They even have a plan for their second season! There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but the hard truth is that a lot of different racing series have had a lot of buzz and still failed to be successful. A1GP had plenty of buzz and was set up as an off-season racing series. Andretti Autosport also participated in it. A1GP died an ignominious death. The American Le Mans series had buzz, it had automotive manufacturers, it had environmentalism! Grand Am won the American sports car civil war. As much potential as Formula E has, as much of a media darling as it may become the fact remains that it is facing an uphill battle.
Another oddity about Formula E is that although it runs during the off season compared to other racing series it starts a bit early and ends a bit late. In other words how are some of the Indycar drivers going to run both series? This brings up an interesting question of what Formula E wants to be? Does it want to be A1GP reborn, or does it want to be a standalone series. If it want’s to be a series where Indycar/DTM/F1 drivers come in and compete against one another the schedule has to fit into the off season. If it wants to be a standalone series then it must demonstrate that it is viable enough for drivers to stake their careers on it.
I have already hinted what I want to see out of Formula E. I want to see an emphasis on the on-track racing. I want to hear more talk about passing. I want the next press release to talk about how Formula E plans on creating the best street racing we have ever seen! I want a greater focus on the drivers. We may get to see Champcar champion Sebastien Bourdais face off against a third generation Andretti and the ex-Stig. Talk about that! I want to see a greater emphasis on the drivers and the racing, and less emphasis on safety, the “events,” and the environment. Ultimately, Formula E needs to have an interesting on track product to become a real and viable racing series. Sadly this is the area where Formula E is currently lagging behind.
I really want Formula E to succeed. I will admit that one reason for this is that I hope Formula E corners the International Street Racing Market and keeps Indycar where it belongs. In America. Beyond that I enjoy open wheel racing and having another major televised series is a good thing. A chance to watch Indycar drivers in more races is a positive. Formula E has a great deal of potential, and it still has time to work out some of the kinks between now and September. That said there are a ton of potential pitfalls; anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves. I hope Formula E navigates these challenges and rises to become a major racing series alongside Indycar, F1, MotoGP, and WEC, and WSBK, but it will be an incredible challenge. Formula E has buzz now, but how long will it last? What Formula E does while it has everyones attention will go a long way in determining whether it really is the next big thing in racing, or just another A1GP. Finally, please focus a little more on the racing and creating an exciting on track product!!!!
As a little postscript, I do plan on having more article series after this one. I have not decided on what the next series will be however I do have some ideas. I am planning on reviving the Triple League Racing Podcast with James, and we will hopefully be on Itunes! The re-launch should happen latter this week. You also should check out Indycar Minnesota as I will be participating in Matt’s Around the Horn feature. Finally if you are interested in electric vehicles I do plan on reviewing Charge in the near future.
In the past I have made no secret about the way I feel about Formula One. I’m not a fan. This year sees new, uglier cars with V6 engines. That would at first make it look like I would continue to ignore F1. However there are reports that the new cars have a significantly lower amount of downforce and that the cars slide around more. The new cars are unreliable and that is potentially worrying; I don’t want to watch a ten car race. However the new regulations could create an interesting situation like in 2009. I have also been playing a lot of Codemasters F1 2013 game. To sum it up; I will pay some attention to Formula One this year. At the same time if the racing is as bad as F1 racing has recently been and if someone wins 13 races, I’ll probably stop paying attention. For a brief moment however I am interested in Formula One, even if I’m probably not going to watch the Melborne race live.
The Daytona 500 finished with a Green-White-Checkers finish. For those who are unfamiliar with NASCAR the Green-White-Checkers happens when a late race caution comes out that would normally mean that the race would end under caution. Instead the race is extended long enough for a two lap restart to determine the winner. This rule was created by NASCAR, but the rule is not wholly unprecedented. Many short track and local racing series have a rule where either caution laps do not count toward the total laps run, or where that rule is the case in the last twenty laps. This rule is still very controversial. Some see it as a complete perversion of racing and one of NASCAR’s most contrived rules. Others argue that the rule encourages wrecks. Still more people accuse this rule of destroying the sanctity of races and their race lengths. Despite these critics, Green-White-Checkers might be the greatest innovation NASCAR has ever made.
When races end under caution it is a major letdown to fans both at the track and watching on TV. Before the Green-White-Checkers rule came out NASCAR had a large number of races which ended under a yellow flag. That’s why in the earlier part of the last decade NASCAR made the change. The worst case situation is when there is a competitive battle for the lead and then the caution comes out, ending the possibility of a late race pass for the lead. One might think that this would be an uncommon situation, but it happens a lot. Watch a few NASCAR Cup, Nationwide or Truck races and count the number of Green-White-Checkers. Or watch Indycar and look at how many races end under caution. I really hate when that happens, and I really appreciate that the Green-White-Checkers rule prevents that.
The main criticism of the rule is that it hurts the purity of racing. I honestly do not see how Green-White-Checkers hurts that. In most cases I am against using the argument “stick and ball does it” when discussing racing, but in this case all I have to say is that other sports have overtime! Honestly one of the best things about basketball is when it goes into overtime! Besides that in the main issue people have with Green-White-Checkers comes from the fact that it “changes the race distance.” Those people argue that if a race like Indianapolis or Daytona are 500 miles then that is all they should be, and that Green-White-Checkers turns them into the Indy 505 or the Daytona 510. Even if that is true, my response has to be so what? Why does it matter whether it’s the Daytona 500 or the Daytona 505 or the Daytona 520? Beyond that though, I do not think that the race distance is quite as sacred as some people seem to think it is. After all there are pace laps before a race and cool down laps after the race. While neither officially count toward the race distance they do mean that cars spend more than 500 miles on track. Pace laps are not scored but people have crashed or had mechanical failures during those laps which end their day. Rain can cause races to be called early; typically sometime after halfway. That changes the supposedly sacred race distance too, and in a way which hurts fans.
Whether you like it or not NASCAR has Green-White-Checkers and probably will not change it. What needs to happen is for more series to adopt the rule. The series which needs Green-White-Checkers most is Indycar. Outside of NASCAR no other racing series has so many late race cautions. In most other racing series there are not enough late race cautions to make GWC an issue. How many Indycar races and Indu 500′s have ended under a yellow flag? It feels like almost half, although I am pretty sure that would be an exaggeration. Still a lot of Indycar races end under caution compared to most other racing series. There are a few different theories on why this is. Whatever the reason why the fact remains that a very large amount of Indycar races finish under yellow, and that is a problem. The solution is easy and would really help make Indycar more enjoyable.
NASCAR get’s a lot of criticism for their rules and regulations. Much of this is deserved. Many of NASCAR’s decisions are problematic and potentially contrived. Green-White-Checkers is not one of those. Instead it is an innovation which NASCAR has introduced into the racing world. This idea needs to spread, especially to Indycar. How many more Indy 500′s have to end under yellow until changes are made?
The Indy 500 has 33 cars. It always has and hopefully always will. At least that is what everyone believes. While most of the current fear has been about getting 33 cars at the Indy 500 there is now talk about the possibility of a 34th car at the Indy 500. There is some discussion about creating the “Garage 34″ where an extra car is allowed into the Indianapolis 500 with experimental technology. This is based off of an idea which we’ve seen in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and their Garage 56. Garage 56 is an extra slot in the 24 Hours of Le Mans given to a non-classified (IE: doesn’t score points or win the race) car with some unusual technology on it. Some are hailing this as a great innovation which could make the Indy 500 relevant. Others see it as a weak attempt to try and inject some excitement into the Indianapolis 500. The thing is, the Indianapolis 500 is already a big event. It’s already exciting. Will some sort of experimental car actually increase interest in the Indy 500? And perhaps more importantly how would a 34th car work? What would happen when it was as slow as Milka Duno? Or what would happen when it laps the field. Either way the idea of a “Garage 34″ is wrong for the Indy 500 and wrong for Indycar.
Perhaps the most obvious problem with Garage 34 is the number 34. After all, the Indianapolis 500 has 33 cars. It is tradition at the Speedway. While I am not a traditionalist I also don’t see much need to change it. The Indy 500 is 11 rows of three cars. I just cannot see a reason to change it to 11 rows of three plus one other car. My larger issue with Garage 34 is that I do not like having a car on track which is not allowed to win the race. Imagine if the Garage 34 car ends up being the first car to cross the finish line? If a car isn’t allowed to win a race it should not be allowed to enter that race.
Beyond that point there is the issue of what the extra car would accomplish. I understand the hope is that a technologically relevant car would attract extra interest in the race. This concept has a number of significant problems. If relevant racing was what American fans wanted then why did the American Le Mans Series die? Truthfully I do not believe that this would really change how much interest or buzz the Indy 500 has. Even if the extra car was a major point of interest there are still a host of problems. As mentioned above what happens if the Garage 34 car crosses the finish line first. It’s almost certainly not going to be a scored car. Which means it won’t be the winner. So if it crosses the line first and it brings in new fans, we will get to explain that to a bunch of confused fans. I bet that will be a great way to introduce people to Indycar racing. A more likely scenario would be that the series will purposely pick a car which will not be faster than the normal Indycars. This means that if people tune in to see the car all they will see is a relevant piece of technology getting lapped repeatedly. That will be a lot of fun to explain to new fans as well.
Overall the Indy 500 has been a great race since the introduction of the current Indycar. The racing has been excellent. In many ways it has been the best oval in the series. The Indy 500 is Indycar’s only race which gets national attention. The attendance and ratings are excellent. Some years they are slightly up and some years they are slightly down, but overall the race is incredibly healthy. One of my main issues with Mark Miles is his focus on trying to improve and grow a race which is already huge. What he should be doing is focusing on the rest of the season. Perhaps Miles could find us a few more American races? The Indy 500 does not need an extra car to be interesting.
It seems unlikely Garage 34 will happen. For one thing it is likely too late to get one ready for this season. The focus should be on getting 33 cars for Indy. Preferably getting 35-38 so we have some real bumping, like we did in 2011. For another Garage 34 opens a host of problems when it comes to performance balancing and safety. If the car is something completely new then there are a ton of potential issues. If it is just a different engine in a normal Indycar then what is the point. Garage 34 is an idea; ideas are good. But this idea is not good and needs to go away. There really are no upsides to Garage 34 for Indycar or the Indy 500. Whether it is fast or slow, just an engine or a radical new car, Indycar will lose. The best thing for Indycar to do is to bury this idea and never think of it again. Perhaps one day there will be more diversity in Indycar. That could be a great thing. Garage 34 is not the way to get there. Grow the rest of the series, grow the TV ratings, and maybe Indycar will get back to what it once was!
Dale Earnhardt died over thirteen years ago in the 2001 Daytona 500, but during the 2014 Daytona 500 his legacy and influence was alive and well. Austin Dillon put the Richard Childress #3 on pole while Dale Jr. took his second Daytona 500. With the 3 back on track the race was run in the shadow of Earnhardt. Rain dampened the track and stalled the race. In the end however it could not wash away a dramatic and exciting race. NASCAR’s new season is off and running!
Despite starting on pole, Austin Dillon was not a major force on track Sunday. After a little bit of racing the rain came down. The race was delayed for so long that the entire 2013 race was played on replay. This is standard practice during rain delays but for whatever reason it caused a lot of confusion. The confusion got worse when the replay ended with Johnson’s victory. Some were being funny and some truly believed that Johnson had gone two in a row; which is rightly a horrific thought. Although some of the freak out was pretty funny, it does speak to the amount and prevalence of Johnson fatigue for the average fan. If you do not think NASCAR is being hurt by Johnson, go look at the tweets from yesterday.
But Johnson was not the winner, and the race was not over. The racing had been great during the Sprint Unlimited. The racing had been sub-par during the Budweiser sponsored qualifying races. The racing in the Daytona 500 was excellent, especially under the lights. There was plenty of passing for the lead and the usual Daytona excitement. Interestingly the leader on track sometimes was able to hold off the pack.
Austin Dillon was involved in a number of late race incidents which helped cause enough cautions to take fuel mileage racing out of the picture. Dale Junior led the most laps and appeared in control during most of the final portion of the race. Greg Biffle put up a strong challenge as did Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. Jeff Gordon tried to make a run at Junior as well. None of them succeeded. As the cars entered the frontstretch a wreck caused the caution to come out and Junior to be declared the winner; he was far enough ahead of Hamlin and Gordon that they could not have caught him with a couple hundred more feet of racing.
To be totally honest I would have rather seen Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, or Brad Keselowski win the race than Junior. I’m a huge Gordon fan and as he enters to twilight of his career I want to see some big wins. Keselowski is the future and a 500 would be huge for him. Hamlin is a current star and is a guy who really worked his way into NASCAR through hard work and determination. Still I cannot deny Junior’s win was both good for NASCAR, and an exciting moment for race fans everywhere.
Dale Earnhardt Junior used to be considered a restrictor plate racing expert. In recent years however the plate tracks have not been as kind to him as in the past. Junior has been in contention to win the Daytona 500 a number of times recently and even finished 2nd two different times. This win was long awaited and a great way to cap off an exciting night of racing. The raw emotion out of Junior, his crew, and the fans is exactly what modern racing needs more of!
I would sum up this year’s Daytona 500 with one word. Fun. No, not the band. I mean the race was fun. There was plenty of passing and unpredictability in the race and fuel strategy was mercifully a non-factor. No one was injured in the wrecks, and compared to the Sprint Unlimited the amount of crashes and DNF’s were much more controlled. Overall the race was a lot of fun to watch, at least for me. I don’t think you could have asked for a lot more out of the Daytona 500.
Fox’s broadcast was not particularly good. The new box feature instead of the typical timing line on the top of the screen was bad. Hopefully Fox will change things because the new box does not contain enough information while the old ticker used to tell us various things like gaps, speed, lead lap, ect. Darrell Waltrip and the rest of the Fox crew were pretty much Fox News turned racing group. They are sorely lacking in objectivity and intelligence. Some people enjoy their folksy attitude and love for the sport, but personally I find them annoying and grating. I also think that while their folksy attitude plays well with a lot of current fans, it is a turn off for new fans and non-traditional NASCAR fans. On an unrelated note the Air Titan is actually a really successful NASCAR idea. Although people mock NASCAR’s lack of technology, this particular track drying technology is very innovative. Props to NASCAR.
Dale Earnhardt’s legacy hung over this years Daytona 500 like a mist on a cool spring day. This was aided and abetted by the Fox broadcast crew who were unable to go five minutes without mentioning Dale. Dale deserves his legacy, but this years Daytona 500 should not be remembered for Dale Senior and the 3 car. It was the continuation of Dale Junior’s comeback as he tries to earn his first championship. It might have been Jeff Gordon’s last 500, and it is hopefully just one of many 500′s for Larson, Patrick, Stenhouse, Hamlin, Keselowski and Dillon. NASCAR’s new championship format is rightly seen as a major problem, but at least for one night NASCAR managed to make us forget all of the off track issues. On Sunday night, we were all NASCAR fans, or at least should have been.
This week Triple League Racing will break down Formula E’s drivers, tracks, and event format. If you missed last weeks column go read it now.
Formula E’s event format is compact, to put it nicely. The plan is to have the entire race weekend condensed into one day. This decision was made to help the cities which will host the ten street courses that make up the Formula E schedule. There are some in the wider racing world who support the idea of one day race weekends due to the potential for lower costs and greater efficiency. One day events also are more action packed for fans. Indycar fans might be able to spot one issue with this idea. As we’ve seen a number of times in Indycar street courses can have problems. The design may not work in real life, and there can be issues such as bumps and light rail tracks which cause unforeseen problems. When it happened at Sao Paolo or Baltimore Indycar was able to fix it (not always well) because they had time between the first practice (typically Friday) and the race (Sunday). Indycar had issues with this; what’s going to happen if a Formula E track has a problem which isn’t discovered until the first practice?
Formula E will have an hour long practice session. Each driver will be able to change cars during this session. This one hour session is the only practice session at these courses so crashes or red flags could be disastrous for many. For the practice session cars will be at full power, as they will also be during qualifying. Qualifying won’t use the knockout format of Indycar or F1. Nor will it allow cars onto the track whenever they want. Instead each driver gets two hot laps to post a qualifying time. There will be multiple cars on the track but they will be sent out with a gap between them. The drivers will be released based on fastest practice time.
Races will last roughly an hour which is about how long a MotoGP or WSBK race lasts. Unlike those series, Formula E will have pit stops. Two of them. Each pit stop will see the drivers change cars. Presumably cars will be charged between the first and second pit stop. During the race cars will run in “power saving mode” with less horsepower. More power will be available via a push to pass system. As I said last week that seems like a mistake with cars which are as under-powered as the Formula E cars. The fact that the cars have to be changed twice and raced in power saving mode does not help change the perception of electric cars either.
In fact there are a lot of problematic parts to the format proposed by Formula E. Teams will get four cars for two drivers. This seems fine until you realize that both cars are needed for the race. What will happen if you crash in practice or qualifying? All the races are street races, and the amount of track time will be incredibly limited. What will happen if you crash one car in practice or qualifying and it cannot be fixed? From a racing standpoint two pit stops in under an hour seems a bit excessive. It might make the race less predictable, but it could also spread the field out. On top of that there could be issues with the drivers having to handle two different cars during the same race, and the teams may find that very challenging to set up for. Of course with only an hour practice at each track there may not be a lot of setting up to do.
We know what cities Formula E will race in. The season will start out in Beijing and then move to Malaysia. Afterwords it will travel to South America and race in Rio De Janeiro, followed by Uruguay, then Buenos Aires. Of those Uruguay is the most surprising. Interestingly the series will basically work its way down the Atlantic coast of South America. After this the series will fly north and race twice in the United States. First Formula E will run around Los Angles. Then it will travel across the country to Miami. Formula E will then wrap up its season with three races in Europe; Monte Carlo, Berlin, and London. This ambitious schedule will start on September 13th, 2014, and end on June 27th, 2015.
Formula E will race exclusively on street circuits in these cities. I am not a huge street racing fan, but those ten cities are certainly diverse and interesting. What is not clear is where in the cities they will race or what the tracks will look like. The website describes them as taking place in “city-centre’s” which may imply they will be along prime destinations within those cities. That would be very cool. However I cannot help but wonder if the reality will be much different. Where in LA will they race? Will it be through the center of the city? Will it be along the streets of Long Beach? Or will it be in a parking lot of a major hotel or mall? In almost every instance the question is going to be whether Formula E gets prime destinations in the cities they race in, or are they pushed around to the outskirts and parking lots? I assume Monte Carlo will be held on the Monaco GP circuit but I could be wrong. Also how long will the courses be? I assume we will see something Indycar like in length ( 2 miles or less) rather than longer layouts like the F1 street courses at Valencia, Sochi, or Singapore. With just how low on power these cars are I wonder if what we will actually see is something even shorter than Indycar. May Formula E end up racing on short circuits like karting and Global Rallycross use? Whatever they end up using it will be interesting to see what the end result is, and more importantly how the racing is.
It appears the Formula E drivers club is filled. There are 24 drivers on the list for 20 spots. 4 drivers will end up as reserve drivers. I do not know for sure which ones will be which. Audi ATD has announced Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt (who is related to the team owner). They are the only team which has officially announced their driver. However we can be pretty confident in a couple other drivers and their teams. Marco Andretti will clearly be at Andretti Autosport. Sebastian Bourdais basically confirmed that his plan is to race with Dragon Racing, as he did in Indycar. I assume the Indian driver will race with the team from India, the Japanese drivers will join Super Aguri (especially Sato) and that the Chinese driver will be at China Racing. I could obviously be wrong on these, but they make a lot of sense. Outside of that nothing is confirmed or too obvious to me, but someone more familar with some of the teams might be able to connect some dots. I cannot tell which other Indycar driver is likely for Andretti Autosport and if Dragon will use two Indycar drivers.
Indycar is well represented in the drivers list. Nine out of the twenty-four drivers have recent Indycar experience. Indycar drivers include Andretti and Bourdais, along side Katherine Legge, Oriol Servia, J.R Hildebrand, Takuma Sato, and Conor Daly. The other two drivers with Indycar experince are Frank Montagny and Robert Doornobs. I certainly hope the first seven Indycar drivers are part of the primary group of drivers. For me the two non Indycar drivers who are most interesting are Bruno Senna and Ben Collins. Collins was the Stig on Top Gear for a long time while Senna is related to the famous Aryton Senna. I thought he was a talent in F1 and he was one of the few F1 drivers (non Superstar) I wanted to see come over to Indycar. A number of the other drivers are ex-F1 drivers/test drivers. They are not especially notable for talent or success (at least to me), but perhaps Formula E can be their redemption. Although Formula E will run a lot of races during the off season it will also overlap with Indycar (maybe), WEC, and Formula One’s 2014 and 2015 seasons. Again we do not know how that will work. Will drivers with primary rides in other series not race here? Will they skip their main series? How will being in Formula E affect them in getting a ride in 2015?
It is hard to know at this point which teams and drivers will have an advantage in Formula E. It will be a spec series so what is going to determine who is competitive and who fills the field? Or will we see true parity? From the drivers side it appears that the ability to quickly learn new tracks will be incredibly important. It seems to me out of the currently announced Drivers Club Sebastian Bourdais has the edge. He has an incredible amount of talent and a lot more wins than most of the other drivers in the field. That all works out great if Dragon has a team capable of backing his talents up. Perhaps more importantly he is used to street courses, and should be able to get up to speed very quickly. Really, the street course focus should favor any Indycar driver in the field. That’s why I think the seven Indycar drivers are likely (if ride buying doesn’t occur) to get a seat because they have raced in something which presumably has some similarities to Formula E. Oriol Servia is another driver to watch out for. Marco, Conor, J.R, Katherine, and Sato all should have a chance to do well. Doornbos raced in Champcar which should help him with the street courses. Bruno Senna is a fairly talented driver and I could see him doing very well. Ben Collins is the second oldest driver in the field (Servia is the oldest) but diverse experience (including being the Stig) may help him adapt to the various tracks and cars. Which drivers run the full season and which are left on the reserve list could have a major impact on the interest level in the series.
Formule E’s format and schedule are potentially fraught with peril. Indycar has shown us the risks of street racing, and they at least have a full weekend to work with. Formula E has a day. The format seems like a serious issue to me, but we will not know for sure until the series starts racing. Indycar fans do not seem to have much choice about watching this series. There will be two American races, three American drivers, the ex-Stig, and a number of other Indycar drivers. Not only that the Indycar drivers should be very competitive. If you are a fan of Indycar you have to watch this, at least at first. Luckily you will be able to; Fox Sports 1 will broadcast all ten races in the USA! The question is what will you end up watching? Will it look like Indycar, Karting, Rally cross, MotoGP, or something else? Will the racing be great or will the various rules and formats ruin it? We’ll have to tune in and find out this fall!
Next week I’ll end this series on Formula E with a very editorial article focusing on Formula E.
Simona De Silvestro is no longer an Indycar driver. Instead she’s become a Formula One test driver with the intention of becoming an actual Formula One driver in the future. Racer.com has the full story about how Simona’s joined Sauber without actually getting to race here. This announcement confirmed our worst fears about the possibility Simona wouldn’t return in 2014. I am not going to sugar coat it, the Simona De Silvestro announcement has been a huge disappointment to me. Simona was one of my favorite Indycar drivers and a great up and coming start. To see her leave without even the guarantee of racing this year hurts. Simona’s decision also hurts Indycar. It deprives the series of one of it’s stars and a potential future champion. Simona’s decision also most likely (barring miracle) means that Indycar will not have a full-time female driver.
Let’s get the most controversial part out of the way and answer the question “does it matter if a driver is a woman?” I am going to make the controversial and somewhat political (you have been warned) statement that it does matter that there are women drivers in racing. Being a female racer shouldn’t get a driver special privileges, but I do think it matters and I do think that the fact that female drivers get some extra attention is deserved. Even though it may strike some as “unfair” that women racers get extra attention and fan support it is also unfair that random rich kids from Columbia (Saadavera) and the U.K (Jakes) get rides. There are a ton of “unfair” things in racing so I find it hard to get too upset about this one. Besides that there are plenty of barriers to women becoming race car drivers both societal and structural. Don’t believe me? Listen to some of Richard Petty’s quotes. You don’t think that people like that keep a lot of potential female drivers out of racing? You don’t think that societal norms and pressure keep various young girls and their parents from taking part in racing? You are fooling yourself if you think none of that matters. Let’s look at it another way. In the United States of America women make up slightly more than half of the population. What percentage of Indycar drivers were women? Four out of the thirty-eight drivers who raced at least one race in Indycar were women which comes out to about 10.5%, the highest in a major racing series. If you look at the 21 full time drivers Simona was the only female driver which comes out to about 5%. Unless you are Rand Paul it is pretty clear that there is a big discrepancy. Equality arguments should really be left to someone more qualified than myself, and if you’re interested in trying to understand more I would look into places like the Huffington Post and Slate.com
Female racers may have a marketing advantage but the history of racing, past and present, has shown that outside of Danica they have struggled mightily to get and keep major sponsor and full time rides. As such there has never been a female champion in really any major racing series; and most people would say outside of Danica’s one win, no winners either (note I’m not talking about drag racing here). My point with all of this is to say that while it would be nice to live in a world where a woman winning a major auto race or championship was not noteworthy, at this point in time it is noteworthy. It does matter that a young girl can watch Simona or Danica or Pippa race and win in an area of competition generally dominated by men. It does matter that people like Richard Petty are proved wrong on this issue. It matters just like it matters that a nation founded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but allowed slavery for nearly a century and segregation for a century after that elected an African American President.
Beyond those points having female drivers is good for Indycar. Since Sarah Fisher won her pole having female drivers has been Indycar’s calling card. To me having female drivers is a very big part of Indycar’s identity. In my personal opinion Pippa Mann, Ana Beatriz, and Katherine Legge are as qualified as anyone to race in Indycar but none of them seem likely to get a full season ride. More importantly none seem likely to get a good full season ride. I am not saying that Mark Miles should drop five million bucks into getting one of them a ride but I do think it is an issue which affects Indycar and its potential for growth. Obviously I do not think it will kill Indycar if there’s no female racers this season or next. But it is another potentially interesting and positive thing for Indycar which is going the way of Paul Tracy, aero kits, bumping in Indy 500 qualifying, ovals, Danica, Hildebrand, and Watkins Glen.
Irregardless of whether or not Simona De Silvestro leaving Indycar affects the series it certainly has a major impact on me and my personal enjoyment of the series. For me rooting for certain drivers (and not for others) is an integral part of racing. For me personally the loss of Simona De Silvestro is the loss of one of my favorite drivers, and someone who I personally consider to be a great rising star. It is no secret that I do not enjoy some of Indycar’s road and street courses, but the fact that Simona De Silvestro ran well at those tracks gave me at least one reason to look forward to them. And now she’s gone. I will not put any positive spin on it; I’m pretty disappointed.
I understand Formula One is Simona’s dream, but I find it really hard to become excited about her deal. At the moment the deal includes zero racing in the 2014 season. It doesn’t even include the guarantee of a Sauber seat in 2015, just the intent. The problem is she isn’t the third driver at Sauber; De Silvestro is the 5th driver. For her to get a Sauber ride next season she has to get her super licence and then one of the current Sauber drivers must leave. Not only that but then Sauber has to put her in the car over any other free agents, ride buyers, and of course the 3rd and 4th drivers at Sauber. I cannot help but be slightly skeptical about this arrangement. As far as I know Simona doesn’t have any clear financial backers who will help make this happen so unless Swiss nationalism is stronger than I realize it seems like a huge risk. Even if she does get a ride at Sauber so what? Not to be rude but Kamui Kobayashi was a very talented driver (I was a fan) who raced with Sauber and look how far his career has gone. What’s going to make Simona any different? In Formula One without a great car a driver has no chance at being successful. Unless BMW decides to return and rejoin Sauber it seems unlikely Sauber will become such a team. Perhaps she will attract the attention of one of the main teams but that will be incredibly difficult. The talented Bruno Senna was unable to do that. I wish Simona the best. I hope I am wrong and I hope somehow, someday Simona De Silvestro becomes the first woman World Champion. But I am not going not to lie, I think the odds are low. Not because she isn’t talented enough but because it will be incredibly hard for her to get the team and the support (RE: not ending up a Webber/Barrichello) to do so.
Simona De Silvestro is now on her way to Formula One. Where this road will lead and what, if any, racing she will do this year (Formula E?) are still unknown. We can only hope for the best. But it’s hard not to see this as another blow to the Indycar series. More importantly her decision means that I’ve got one less driver to root for this season. I really do hope that one day in the future I’ll get to watch and blog about Simona De Silvestro, the Formula One race winner. That would make me have to watch Formula One.
Richard Petty created another Danica Patrick related controversy by stating that Danica will only win if all of the other drivers fail to show up. That’s obviously a little harsh. There are plate tracks, road courses, fuel mileage finishes, rain outs, and of course the possibility that Danica could simply be the fastest driver in one race. While Petty was harsh there is no denying that Danica has been terribly uncompetitive in NASCAR. She finished 27th in points, which meant she finished behind Mark Martin, who missed eight races. 27th is Front Row Motorsports territory. In fact she finished behind David Gilliland and although she was a place ahead of David Ragan had less top 10′s than him! When you drive a full season for Stewart Haas racing that is ridiculous. Do these results me Danica cannot ever succeed in NASCAR? I would say no, but the results do say that Danica needs to do something significant to change both the perception of her and become a compeitive driver rather than just a marketing tool. What Danica needs to do is something I’ve wrote about before. She needs to run more races in the lower series, especially ARCA and the Camping World Trucks. In doing so she needs to start winning races and change her mindset. If that happens then Danica can finally take the next step and become a successful driver. Otherwise she’ll remain a controversial and challenged driver whose talent and success are questioned.
Danica Patrick’s career before NASCAR is an interesting to look at. The most negative aspect (and most widely talked about) is her lack of wins. Throughout her entire racing career in cars (not Karts) Danica has one win. Her Indycar win in 2008. She had no other wins in the various lower series she raced in. While this gets a lot of negative attention I do think her Indycar career deserves greater scrutiny. When given greater scrutiny I actually think it suggests she has the potential to be a successful driver. From the 2005 season through the 2009 season Danica improved her points position each year. Her best two seasons came AFTER Unification when car count increased. 2009 was not a good year for Indycar fans, but for Danica it was her best season ever. 5th in points with no wins may not sound like a great year but 2009 was the year where basically only Penske and Ganassi won (Justin Wilson won once with Coyne) and in this season Danica finished best among the rest of the field. Not only that but this was with a dysfunctional and collapsing Andretti Autosport (at the time Andretti Green). In fact in 2008 she was the 2nd highest finishing non Penske/Ganassi driver behind Tony Kanaan who was 3rd in points. Even though she only won a single race the results from 2005 through 2009 are fairly impressive. She always improved her points position despite increasing competition and the decreasing competitiveness of her team.
Unfortunately for Danica (and her fans) to this point in time 2009 has been her best season. For the 2010 and 2011 season Danica ran the full Indycar season with a partial NASCAR Nationwide season. The results in both were generally poor. She dropped to 10th in points in 2010 in Indycar. She had two 2nd place finishes but also a lot of sub-par finishes. 2011 was simply horrific; Dancia only had a single top 5 (5th at Milwaukee). Her initial Nationwide series partial season was poor. With Junior Motorsports (pseudo Hendrick) her best finish in 13 races was 19th at Homestead (final race of the year). The 2011 Nationwide season was better; she had 3 top tens including a 4th at Las Vegas. Currently that is her best finish in any NASCAR points paying race. Danica’s complete drop-off in Indycar has been attributed to a number of reasons. These include the fact that she had secretly already decided to move to NASCAR, that Andretti Autosport was simply horrible, or that NASCAR was distracting her. Barring a tell-all autobiography or a Game Change esque behind the scenes book we will never know what caused it. All that can be said is that by the end of her Indycar career in 2011 Danica’s results had fallen off a cliff.
2012 saw Danica concentrate on NASCAR. She ran the full Nationwide season and a partial Sprint Cup season in anticipation for a full time Sprint Cup run in 2013. Her 2011 Nationwide results were promising, and there was hope that the 2012 season would see Danica become a successful stock car driver. This hope proved to be fleeting. Her 2012 Nationwide season saw her finish in the top ten four times, but she had no top five finishes. In her first Sprint Cup season she ran 10 races with her best finish of 17th in her final race of the year at Phoenix. These were not promising results before her first Cup season in 2013 with Stewart/Haas Racing. Going into the 2013 season there were many questions and concerns about Danica’s readiness for the Sprint Cup series. Overall 2013 proved these fears to be 100% correct. Daytona started off well; Danica won the pole and finished 8th. That was her only top ten all year. She spent the rest of the season struggling for results without much success.
Danica’s results from 2010- now are the main source of criticisms such as Petty’s. The results speak for themself; Danica has overall not appeared to be a particularly competitive driver in the last few years. Other drivers with weaker teams and little experience themselves have done better. However to dismiss Danica completely is to overlook her very competitive 2008 and 2009 Indycar season. Danica clearly has talent, and equally clearly she is struggling mightily with NASCAR.
In my editorial opinion Danica should not have left Indycar. She had spent her whole career in open wheel and could be very competitive. Danica probably needed a more competitive team although it is worth noting that 2012 and 2013 saw Andretti Autosport return to form. Imagine if Danica was still with them! More importantly Danica has never loved driving a car that’s loose, or oversteering. Stock cars generally are fastest when they are kept loose, right on the edge of spinning out. Her driving style seemed to favor Indycar. Moving into NASCAR was always going to be a very challenging task. Yes she may make more money in NASCAR, but Danica was still making a significant amount of money in Indycar. Besides, an Indy 500 or Indycar Championship winning driver would have gotten a plenty of attention and endorsements.
Danica obviously did not do that so the focus must be on where she should go from here. To me there are two critical areas where she can improve. The most obvious is that she needs to run more races. I have maintained for a long time that Danica would benefit from running Camping World Truck and ARCA races. She also should run more Nationwide races. This would be a tiring and exhausting schedule, but drivers such as Kyle Busch have proven it is possible. The reason to do this schedule are twofold. Firstly to get her more experience. Gaining experience is critical because many of the drivers she is racing against have over a decade of NASCAR experience. Secondly these races would help her gain wins. Wins which would lessen the criticism and increase her confidence. It might even help change her mindset.
Many people disliked Danica in the past when she could at times come of as unpleasant, rude, and a bit petulant. In the 2009/2010 time period Danica drastically changed her behavior and image into a much more laid back and nicer personality. Yet sometimes I think the “new” Danica is worse than the “old”. The “old” Danica may have been less nice, but the “old” Danica was a driver who improved every year and appeared to be on the cusp of becoming a consistently strong competitor. It seems to me Danica’s mentality and attitude may need a slight change for her to become more successful.
Danica focuses a lot on learning and trying to improve. On one hand this makes total sense for a newer driver to NASCAR. However at least to me it seems she may be focusing too much on learning and not enough on winning. While obviously she needs to learn it seems that most other drivers focus more on winning. Other drivers who are relatively inexperienced or young may also talk about learning, but there is also a focus on winning. The most extreme example is 19 year old Marc Marquez who won the MotoGP championship in his rookie year. The reality is a driver should (in my opinion) focus first and foremost on winning. Even when it is unlikely or challenging a driver should be trying to win every race they can. Danica needs to put her emphasis on winning races and being the fastest at every chance possible rather than being as focused on learning and improvement. Because that is how a driver truly becomes competitive. I believe the mentality behind the driver can have a great deal of impact on how they preform. If Danica adapts a winning mindset like many other racers have I think it could help her immensely.
What is talent when it comes to being a racer? I have a very controversial idea. I think that roughly speaking most professional drivers are broadly similar in talent and potential. I believe that they are heads and shoulder above most of us in terms of talent and ability but between themselves are fairly close. There are some like Tony Stewart or Marc Marquez who are more talented than most, and there may be some like Kevin Conway or Milka Duno who are much worse. Taking those drivers out as exceptions I would argue most racers, Danica included, are similar in talent level. They are separated not by talent but by a combination of mindset, experience, luck, equipment, team, chemistry with said team, and affinity for the various tracks they race at. As such there is no reason why Danica cannot become a successful and winning driver if she can gain experience and change her mindset. If not she will continue to be dismissed as simply a marketing gimmick.
A new form of open wheel racing is about to start. For the first time since Champcar and A1GP died, fans of open wheel racing will have a third major series to watch. I am talking of course about Formula E. Electric powered open wheel cars are going to take to the streets of ten major cities from the fall of 2014 through the spring of 2015. Or at least that is the plan. If you’ve been paying attention at all to the racing world this off season you have probably heard about Formula E. I will admit that I initially wrote this off as something which wasn’t worth my time. However I recently have started to do some research and come around. I want to make one thing clear; I do not consider electric racing the “wave of the future.” Nor do I think Indycar/NASCAR/Formula One should try and copy the environmental racing format of Formula E. However if you take Formula E for what it is, electric open wheel street racing, it might be a very interesting racing series. Or it could end up as a total disaster. We’ll know more for sure when the first race starts this September. This is the first part of a planned three part series on Formula E. Today will be a brief overview of Formula E as well as an in-depth look at the cars and teams. The next entry into the series (which will not be the next post on this blog) will discuss the tracks, event formats, and drivers. The final planned entry will be largely editorial and discuss the potential pitfalls and successes which could make Formula E a great racing series, or a great farce.
Formula E will consist initially of ten races held on a variety of street courses from the fall of 2014 through the spring of 2015. The series plans on all of it’s events being one day only; practice, qualifying, and the race will be done on the same day. The list of cities which will host a race is ambitious, but it remains to be seen where they actually will race. Will Formula E cars be screaming through downtown LA or Long Beach? Or will the Formula E cars end up in the parking lot of a major mall? Ten two car teams will compete for both a team and driver title. Indycar fans should note that alongside Andretti Autosport and Dragon Racing a number of current and former Indycar drivers plan on participating. Formula E is an FIA run series like Formula One or the World Touring Car Series. The cars are still in testing with the first event planned for September of this year. The website is very nice and contains plenty of information about the championship, cars, and format. It was a major source in writing this article and I highly recommend reading it for yourself if you are interested in Formula E.
The cars are the most intriguing part of the series. The cars look good. In fact one of the major reasons that I became more interested in the series was because the cars look similar to some of the Swift concepts from the (rigged) 2012 Indycar car design competition. One of the biggest issues most people have with electric cars is the lack of range and the time it takes to recharge them. Unfortunately this is an issue which will plague Formula E. The entire event (practice, qualifying, race) takes place in the course of a single day, but there will be a two hour break after qualifying to recharge the cars. The cars will have to make two pitstops during the hour long race, and each time they do the drivers will change cars. So at least initially “range anxiety” is alive and well in Formula E.
Formula E cars will have 200kw’s of power which means about 270 horsepower. The cars will be limited to a top speed of 140 mph, which seems awfully slow for an allegedly major league racing series. More disturbingly during the races cars will be limited to 133kw, which means they’ll only produce 180 horsepower! The cars will have push to pass during the race at least. Some may try and absolve Formula E’s lack of power by discussing the power to weight ratio of the cars. Sadly involving power to weight only makes things worse. A Formula E car will weigh at least 800 kilograms. According to Indycar.com and the use of google’s converter (from pounds to kilograms) an Indycar in road course format weighs about 714 kg. An Indycar makes between 550-750 hp and weighs less than a Formula E car! I think it’s a fair question to ask whether or not these cars will move. They are “limited” to 140 mph but perhaps the reality is that the cars couldn’t go much faster if they wanted to!
The cars seem too slow for a major league racing series. I can only hope that they race well when put on the track. Some have argued that slower cars make for better racing; Formula E will give us a chance to test that theory. To Formula E’s credit they claim the cars will be able to accelerate from zero to sixty (actually 62mph) in three seconds which somewhat reassuring. There is the possibility that the regulations will be changed as testing continues. The first season will consist of spec Sparc-Renault’s with a Dallara chassis but from the second season on the series plans on running an “open championship” format where teams can build their own cars. This will either make the series significantly more interesting or mean that one team will win every race. Perhaps this will help solve the power and weight issues with the cars. Maybe someone will even develop a car which can go an hour without pitting!
The cars are not silent, but they do not sound particularly good either. Perhaps the sound will be changed as time goes on. It is a tough decision as a number of modern cars use artificial sounds to enhance the engine notes (watch Top Gear) which can improve the car. At the same time it can be a bit fake. Formula E cars probably should not sound like a NASCAR V8. I do not have an answer, but I can say that the current sound is probably not the best solution.
All ten teams have been announced. Most notably for American fans Andretti Autosport will compete in Formula E (as well as a bunch of other series), and Dragon Racing has left Indycar to focus solely on Formula E. Drayson Racing, formerly of the ALMS, will also compete in Formula E. China Racing, who were rumored to have an Indycar program (but never actually appeared for the Indy 500), will be a Formula E team. Super Aguri of Formula One fame has been revived and made the cut for Formula E. They have not announced who will drive for them but it is worth noting Takuma Sato is in the “drivers club.” Considering how much success Sato had with Super Aguri in Formula One his return to the team seems likely. Unsurprisingly Richard Branson’s Virgin Racing will join Formula E. Oddly enough Audi will have a presence in Formula E with their DTM team Audi Sport ABT competing under that name. India will be represented by Mahindra Racing. Venturi Racing is notable because the actor Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the owners of the team. French driver Alain Prost is the co-owner of e.dams which is a French team.
Which teams will be championship contenders and which ones will be backmarkers? Or will there be true parity? We’ll know more when the drivers are officially announced. Obviously drivers like Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia, and Bruno Senna are likely to be much more competitive than some of the other potential drivers. As an American and an Indycar fan I hope that Andretti Autosport will be the top team. This does appear likely; Andretti Autosports is an established competitive team which likely will be using skilled open wheel drivers. On the other hand they are not located in Europe and may have too many racing programs to devote the time necessary to dominate Formula E.
For the second season a number of teams have announced their intent to construct their own car. China Racing, Drayson, and Venturi all plan on developing their own car for the second season. Other teams may throw their names in as well. Currently Dragon and Andretti have not announced an intent to build their own cars. Of the three companies who plan on unleashing their own cars Drayson appears to have the edge since they’ve built their own electric race cars for a few years.
Formula E is an ambitious undertaking. It’s really not that long until the first race sometime in September. Will the series be ready in time? I tend to think so because it’s got so many major partners involved, from Andretti to Mclaren to Renault to Williams. However it is something to keep an eye on just in case things start to turn into USF1 or the proposed Green open wheel series that was suppose to replace Champcar. Overall Formula E appears to be an interesting idea fraught with potential pitfalls. The cars look good but seem underpowered. Ultimately we won’t be able to judge the quality of racing until we see multiple cars on track together. That is what truly matters; can Formula E create a third, exciting major open wheel racing series?
One last thing, check out Indycar Minnesota where I participated in Matt’s Around the Horn roundtable feature about Indycar. This should be published tonight, if you are reading this make sure to check it out!