Sunday, August 30, 2015

Justin Wilson

Justin Wilson Leaves the Pits on Carb Day, 2014
 The great thing about the Indycar series is that it's not just racing. It's not just technology and competition and strategy, it's stories. Every driver has his or her own story that gives depth, makes him interesting, and provides a reason to cheer. Justin Wilson had one of the best stories. One of the very top talents in the series, he was a guy usually stuck in mid- or back-of-the-pack equipment, someone who'd overcome dyslexia, had driven in Formula 1, had an innovative way to fund his success, and was by all accounts a nice guy. Some drivers have a 'larger-than-life' personality to go with their larger-than-life talent. Justin Wilson had a down-to-earth personality to go along with his.

Justin Wilson was one of the best things about being an Indycar fan. His loss leaves a void that won't be easily filled. We're going to miss him.

Justin Wilson Talks to the Fans, Carb Night Burger Bash 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

How Juan Pablo Montoya Won St. Petersburg

The 2015 season opener is in the books, and Juan Pablo Montoya has reminded us all that he's a rare talent. After Will Power dominated the first two thirds of the race, he came out in front after the final round of pit stops and took the win. Power made a mighty effort to catch and pass the Colombian, but wound up with nothing but 2nd place and a broken eyestalk wing. The ABC broadcast didn't really give any details about how Montoya pitted trailing Power, but was over 3 seconds ahead of the 1 car after his stop. Oh, they replayed both pit stops, where Power's team hiccuped and cost their driver 0.3 seconds, but didn't offer any clues as to where the 3 second lead came from. I had a theory, but needed the data to back it up.

Enter Sometime last year, they added a "Section Results" link on their Stats page for each race. It's exactly what it sounds like. The track is broken down into several sections, and every driver's time for every section of the race is tabulated. Of interest to me were the special pit stop related sections. Labeled "PI to PO" (Pit In to Pit Out), "PO to SF" (Pit Out to Start/Finish), and "SF to PI" (Start/Finish to Pit In), they fill in a lot of details that turn out to be very important to the race. I zeroed in on the "PO to SF" stat. This indicates the driver's time from Pit Out, with fresh (i.e. cold) tires, back to the Start/Finish line. For my purposes, this number is more useful than a raw lap time because it eliminates the time spent on Pit Road, when the cars would be stopped or at reduced speed and pit stall location would affect which lap the driver was actually on during his or her stop.

I theorized that Montoya had a killer out lap that helped him make up some serious time on Power. (Montoya's speed on cold tires was one of the trademarks of his 1999-2000 tour in the CART series.) Both guys are seriously fast and likely knew that this single lap would be a deciding factor in the race. Will Power needed a very fast out-lap, and he got one. His PO to SF time was 58.4933 seconds, the fifth fastest Green Flag/Cold Tire out-lap turned all day. Impressive as that may be, Montoya's was even better, at 57.6254 seconds. That 0.8679 second difference, combined with a 1-second shorter trip down pit road and another 1-second faster lap the following time around, gave Montoya the advantage he needed to keep Power behind him and win the race.

What really struck me about these numbers wasn't that Montoya was faster than everyone else, it was how much faster he was than everyone else. Here are the top ten Green Flag/Cold Tire out-laps of the day:

1. Montoya  57.6254
2. Rahal 57.9905
3. Pagenaud 58.3941
4. Filippi 58.4633
5. Power 58.4933
6. Bourdais 58.5243
7. Coletti 58.5609
8. Andretti 58.5751
9. Castroneves 58.5764
10. Kimball 58.6023

Notice Montoya's next-closest rival is Rahal, at 0.3651 seconds back (apparently he harnessed his anger at Indycar officials into something good). It's another 4 tenths back to number 3. The rest of the top 10 are clustered at 0.8-1 second behind fast time. In short, Montoya was notably faster than the next-best guy on cold tires, and much, much faster than some of the best drivers in the sport. The Juan Pablo Montoya of old is back, and it's good to see him! I'm looking forward to the rest of the season!

I realize that there are a lot of factors in lap times-were some drivers hampered by debris, slow traffic, damaged wings, damaged engines, a need to save fuel, etc, but this is probably the best analysis that can be done with the tools available. It will certainly be interesting to see who does well on cold tires over the course of an entire season.

Big thanks to Indycar for posting these stats. I spent more time thinking about the race, and was able to use the data to further explore and engage with it. Keep sharing all the information and data you can! It can only make fans more enthusiastic!

The other big topic from Sunday's race was the amount of debris shed by the cars that unfortunately caused some caution flags, and most regrettably, a spectator injury. Yes, I mocked this concern last week. It appears that there will need to be some changes in terms of component mounting and competitor behavior. I don't doubt that Indycar will address these issues sooner rather than later. The consequences of doing otherwise could be dire.

I have a few more blog post ideas, and practice will open for another race (at a brand-new track!) in one week. 2015 is on! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

IndyCar Answers its Fans

The following is a transcript of an imaginary press conference, where IndyCar answers a bunch of questions it shouldn't have to:

(Please note that I don't actually speak for IndyCar, IMS, Verizon, or anybody else. I just wanted to write something you'd enjoy reading.)

IndyCar: Welcome to 2015! This season marks the fulfillment of a promise we made to fans and manufacturers in 2010-the arrival of brand-specific aero kits! The series now has variety in differentiated cars!

IndyCar Fan #1: God, those are hideous!

IC: But they are modern, factory-supported designs developed with CFD and tuned on-track! Teams even have almost unlimited options to mix and match aero kit elements!

ICF1: But the track will be littered with broken winglets!

IC: Well, um, we don't know that since, you know, we haven't actually run a race with the aero kits yet... We would assume that the manufacturers will avoid that situation, since it's one no party wants. 

ICF1: So you haven't tested them yet? How can you run a series like this? The season will be a disaster!

IC: Well, if it does become an issue, you can rest assured that it will be IndyCar who cleans up the debris, and IndyCar will legislate a solution.

IndyCar Fan #2: Brian Barnhart is a @#$%&!!!! How can you have him back as a chief steward? 

IndyCar: We understand that some fans are not happy with the decisions made by Mr. Barnhart in the past, but we assure you that he is the best man for the job.

ICF2: But he's made so many bad calls in the past!

IC: Again, we understand many fans' concerns, but we'd like to point out that the Race Control procedure (and, indeed, the entire regime) is different from when Mr. Barnhart last held this position. We are confident he will do a good job.

ICF2: (Unprintable comment questioning Mr. Barnhart's family heritage)

IC: ...Well, that was kind of harsh. Tell me, do you follow racing, or race stewards?

IndyCar Fan #3: What are you doing to promote the heroes of the series, the drivers? We don't hear nearly enough about them!

IC: We're glad you asked. Check this out.

ICF3: Could you have shot an uglier commerical? And all the footage is from 2014! There are drivers who aren't even in the series this year!

IC: ...Uh, um, er, the 2015 season hasn't started, so... we don't really have footage from this year... We thought that shooting the drivers in serious poses would help illustrate the commercial's theme...

IndyCar: In addition to the TV spot linked above, we've inked a partnership with USAToday to include regular features on IndyCar!

IndyCar Fan #4: Yeah, that's going to reach a lot of people-how many people read USAToday?

IC: About 4 million...

ICF4: But are they the right people?

IndyCar: We are testing a new system that will display current running position on the side of each car so fans can more easily follow the action and strategy of the race!

IndyCar Fan #5: But you'll never be able to read it at the speeds IndyCars travel at! And you should make the colors different. This looks awful. 

IC: Um, ok, we admit it, we didn't invent this. Similar systems are used by other series, who don't seem to have any problems. Oh, and we're STILL TESTING it!

IndyCar: Ok, we'll take one more question and wrap up what's become a train wreck of a Q&A.

IndyCar Fan #6: Why can the Verizon IndyCar app only be had on a Verizon phone? That's really unfair. I want the app on my [Not Verizon] phone!

IC: There seems to be some confusion among the general public about what a "sponsorship" actually is. You see, Verizon is interested in selling cell phone plans. The point is for the customer interested in IndyCar to seek out and purchase a Verizon cell phone plan so that they can download the app. If the app could be used on another brand's phone, that would defeat the purpose.

Full Disclosure:
Yes, I criticized Brian Barnhart back in 2011. A lot. I'm still optimistic about 2015. My cell phone plan is NOT Verizon. I think the commercial is awesome. And I LOVE the new aero kits. I can't wait to see them at Indianapolis and Milwaukee.

In short, I'm really really excited for 2015. Sure, not everything is perfect, but I think it's going to be a great season!