Saturday, March 29, 2014

Getting 2014 into Gear

Hello Internet! Guido here with another Scoring Indy update. First, a word of apology. Normally, during the season, I update every Friday. I was, however, on vacation over the last couple of Fridays. Going into vacation, I figured, "no problem, I can totally post on Fridays anyways." Once, I was on vacation, however, I thought, "I can totally post when qualifying is over on Saturday." So, that's what's happening now. Tonight, we'll look at: last year's St. Pete race, some observations from practice and qualifying, and a couple of tweaks to this year's RSWC. Let's get to it!

St. Pete 2013

Here are the St. Pete scores from last year, courtesy of Re-Scoring St. Pete, my post from last season (presented without comment):

Race FinishDriverGridLedCompletedRace Score
6de Silvestro3011051.54


Now for some comments, based on those 2013 scores and what we've seen so far this weekend.

- Sebastien Bourdais was seriously miffed post-quals after getting bounced in Q1 (albeit in an incident-filled group 1). But, here's the silver lining for the new occupant of car #11, he has the ability to go back-to-front at St. Pete. He did it last year, he could again.

- I was worried about Mike Conway (Destroyer of Worlds) after the first two practice sessions. I just wasn't sure that his new team at Ed Carpenter Racing would acclimate to his style quickly. And, to be honest, I'm still a little worried. Conway went First Death Star on Alderaan on Q1 because it was run in the wet, where he is a wizard, but as soon as the slicks went on for Q2, Conway found himself at the back of the pack. Now, starting P12 is an OK place to be, but I'm just not sure that we're going to see more of 2013 Long Beach and less of 2013 Detroit out of the #20 car tomorrow, especially with zero chance of rain (so says the Weather Channel).

- Impressive work by the youngsters in qualifying. Perhaps I should have seen it coming from Saavedra, who actually backed up from his P9 grid spot in 2013 to start inside of Row 6 this year. But, I confess myself to be completely flummoxed by the performances of Hawksworth and Munoz. I knew from Lights last year that Hawksworth could drive, and I knew from the Indy 500 last year that Munoz is from another planet, but I just didn't see it coming together this quickly. We'll see how they hold together for 110 laps of the circuit.

- Impressed by Sato grabbing the pole. I figured he might be a real contender if the whole session was wet, but this was quality stuff from him. We've seen Sato qualify well before, however, and have it not pan out come race day. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

- Finally, I wouldn't sleep on Will Power. After narrowly missing out on the Championship in 2011 and 2012, Power had a rough year in 2013. He did, however, seem to really start to pick up momentum as the season wound down, ending the year with a win on the big oval in Fontana. I maintain that he'd have won St. Pete last year, too if he hadn't gotten run over mid-race.

Race Score World Championship 2014

After putting together my "What the Numbers Say" posts, I was not thrilled with my scoring system for the Race Score World Championship. The points system that I was using is the current points system for Formula One (minus any double point shenanigans). The problem was that said point system provides a lot of incentive for winning, which is good if you're the FIA and you want to put on exciting shows and have drivers try to win races. It's less good if you're me, and you're trying to get a picture of who is doing the best over the course of a season. So, I'm making two changes to this year's Race Score World Championship.

1) Instead of giving out points 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 for positions 1-10, I'll be giving points for positions 1-8 as follows: 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1. This, I hope, provides a better way of tracking consistency. Also, this way, half the field isn't getting points in any given race. (It's still over a third for most races, but it beats no change.)

2) I'm also going to keep a running track of each driver's average Race Score throughout the season. This will give us a chance to look at how our changes (and our system itself) track driver performance throughout the season.

Stay Tuned

Well, I think that does it for previews. I'm excited to see some racing get underway tomorrow, and I'm about to throw up some terrible race predictions on Twitter. So, be sure to follow @ScoringIndy so that you can mock me.

See you back here next week!

-- Guido

Friday, March 14, 2014

What the Numbers Say... 2013 Drivers & Teams

Hello Internet! It's Guido here with another Scoring Indy update. Last week, our look back at 2013's races gave us a chance to all become better readers of Race Scores. This week, we'll take a look back at some of the best drivers from 2013, and use that as a springboard going into 2014. Enough talk, though, let's get to some numbers!

Breakdown -- 2013 RSWC Top 10

Below, you can see the Top 10 drivers from last year's Race Score World Championship (where I award F1-style points based on Race Scores). You can see each driver's best, worst, and average scores, along with how many RSWC points that driver scored. Here's the table:

High : RaceLow : RaceAverageRSWC Points
Dixon98.19 : Toronto 2-8.00 : Sao Paulo52.39198
Castroneves91.31 : Texas-8.34 : Houston 250.14164
Hunter-Reay85.57 : Barber-17.16 : Long Beach36.61134
Pagenaud77.37 : Belle Isle 22.74 : St. Pete49.92128
Andretti73.15 : Long Beach-4.66 : Houston 247.49120
Power95.62 : Houston 2-0.60 : Long Beach41.45114
Wilson86.11 : Long Beach-9.41 : Sao Paulo46.47108
Franchitti75.28 : Pocono-3.33 : Barber39.57101
Kanaan79.74 : Indy 500-14.96 : Sao Paulo35.6397
Hinchcliffe98.57 : Iowa-11.25 : Long Beach37.6196

So, what can we glean from this? Here are some quick thoughts:

- Lots of lowest scores coming from Old Formula races (Barber, Long Beach, & Sao Paulo). This is pretty easily explainable, since the Old Formula tended to kick out big negative scores.

- Look at Hunter-Reay's line for a second. He finishes third in RSWC Points, despite having the second worst average score. This is a quirk of the points system, in my opinion. Giving out 25 points for the best Race Score means that if a driver has a couple of good performances that driver grabs bunches of RSWC Points, while not actually putting together a strong season. I'm considering a tweak to the scoring system to rectify this, but I'm not sold yet. It feels weird to bail for another points system after just one year.

- Allow me to sing the praises (for a minute) of Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti. Those are two young drivers, who were third and fifth in IndyCar Series points and fourth and fifth in the RSWC. That's impressive to begin with. What I find most impressive, however, is that they have outstanding average scores (49.92 for Pagenaud and 47.49 for Andretti) and they do this with high scores mired in the 70s. These two brought it consistently last year. That didn't surprise me about Pagenaud, but it did surprise me about Marco. If they keep it up, they'll be fun to watch for years to come.

- I miss Franchitti already... That's all.

Breakdown -- 2013 Teams

So, looking at some driver numbers is cool and all, but it doesn't really help us to preview the upcoming season, and with St. Pete basically two weeks away, I want to start previewing. So, I thought the best way to do that was to look at how various teams did last year. Below, you'll find a table of how various seats performed. I'll detail each briefly after we look at average scores.

Coyne 146.47
Target CGR46.42
Other CGR41.99
Andretti 1-340.89
Andretti 431.31
Coyne 231.20

- Coyne 1: I'm not surprised to see Dale Coyne Racing at the top of the chart, actually. I split Coyne into Car One and Car Two because of the ride-share program that was last year in Dale's second car. Wilson had an amazing year. Wilson is an amazing driver. He can win in that car. But, he hasn't won in that car without Bill Pappas, now at RLL. I don't expect that this number will stay as high next year, but I also don't expect it to dip below 40.

- Target CGR: You can make the argument that Ganassi Racing has become one big happy family. That certainly seemed to be the case from Pocono onwards last year, and I think with the addition of Briscoe in the #8 for 2014 you can definitely say that it's one four-car team this year. Last year, however, I went into the season unconvinced. Anyway, It's not surprising that the Red Cars are up here, but what I'm interested to see is how well Ganassi is served by the change to a Chevy after putting up such gaudy numbers last year in a Honda.

- Penske: This is probably the reason Ganassi went for that Chevy. The Captain's team would likely edge out the Target cars for the Top-Non-Wilson Spot if it hadn't been for a gremlin-infested start to the season for Will Power and a terrible weekend in Detroit for AJ Allmendinger. I expect another big year from this squad. And, I think it might be Will Power's year.

- Other CGR: This conglomeration of Charlie Kimball and Briscoe-at-the-500 come in with a solid performance. I'll use this space to glow about Charlie Kimball. I can't think of another first-time race winner that I was happier for last year. And, one has to assume that adding Ryan Briscoe to the mix only helps.

- Andretti 1-3: This is (perhaps) an artificial distinction, but I drew the line at Marco, Hinch, and RHR. It just seemed last season like Viso wasn't really part of the team. So, there's these three. In Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe you have a couple of boom-or-bust seasons, with high highs, but also low lows. Marco, as I discussed earlier was a model of consistency in 2013. These drivers know how to race. They'll be fine as long as the shift to Honda goes smoothly.

- Schmidt: I'm lumping both of Sam Schmidt's cars together, but I'm not sure that I should. The final number of 36.71 comes from Pagenaud being "weighed down" by Vautier. Now, I put "weighed down" in quotes, because I think Vautier knows how to drive, and (especially early in the year) I really saw some flashes of brilliance out of him. If Mikhail Aleshin is up to speed relatively quickly, this team can (and I stress CAN) be a powerhouse.

- KVSH: Not entirely sure what to make of these guys. They won the Indy 500. They didn't have a lot of superb showings other than that. Simona seemed to develop really well throughout the year in one of their cars. They hired the team of Sebastien and Sebastian that had been at Dragon racing. Just keep KV in mind when I get to Dragon.

- SFHR: I thought that 2013 was, by and large, a good season for Sara Fisher Hartman Racing and driver Josef Newgarden. I thought Newgarden (despite me stubbornly referring to him as Newgarten for like half the season) really started to come along, and he could have won a race or two (Sao Paulo and Baltimore come to mind immediately). The team has lost some key engineering folks, though. So, 2014 might be more of the same: reasonable with elements of brilliance, but possibly no more.

- Andretti 4: Not much to say here. I think all four Andretti Autosport cars will be lumped together a little more clearly with Munoz in the fourth car this year.

- Coyne 2: The little ride share that could comes in at 31.20, thanks in large part to all the worlds that Mike Conway destroyed last year. I'm not sure what I expect from this car next year. It mostly depends on the driver, I guess. We, of course, won't find out who is in this car until Spring Testing next week. I reserve judgment until then.

- Dragon: I said I'd get back to Sebastien and Sebastian. I'm not sure what to make of these two. Halfway through the season, I'd have told you that they were going nowhere in particular and getting there fast. But, Bourdais really started to put up results from Sonoma onwards. Saavedra, however, has never put up results at the highest level. I'd expect these two to finish with a better average next year (based on better equipment, and Bourdais' continued return to form), but I'm not sure they do much better in their new digs than said digs' previous occupants.

- Panther: Sad season. Sadder silly season. Everything that can be said has been said somewhere else.

- Foyt: Last year, Takuma Sato explored his ceiling, by winning at Long Beach, almost winning at Sao Paulo, and leading an astronomical number of laps at Milwaukee. He also explored his floor, by running over Ryan Hunter-Reay at Pocono, running four laps at Baltimore, and dropping like a stone after winning the pole at the first Houston race. If Sato can keep away from the floor, and spend more time near the ceiling, and if Larry Foyt and company can put a respectable car underneath him, this can be a good team.

- RLL: Tough year last year for the Rahal organization. They just didn't have the pace. Some engineering additions ought to help rectify that situation. But, I'm reserving judgment on the one and a half car team of Graham Rahal and Oriol Servia until we see some officially timed laps.

- BHA: Finally we come to Bryan Hera Autosport. This has the dubious distinction of being last on our list. This is mostly due to driver Alex Tagliani's rough middle of the season slump. This season might be another one in Rebuilding Mode for the organization, as they bring on Indy Lights grad, Jack Hawksworth for 2014.

One Last Thing

Now, you'll notice that one full-season team hasn't been mentioned yet. That's Ed Carpenter Racing. This is because I want to show you something. Before we look at it, even though you can see the highlighting from here, you should know two things.

1) As a full season entrant, Ed Carpenter Racing's average score last year was in the 30-31 range.

2) Ed Carpenter will only drive ovals in 2014, and Mike Conway will drive twisties.

Carpenter (Ovals)54.03
Coyne 146.47
Target CGR46.42
Other CGR41.99
Andretti 1-340.89
Andretti 431.31
Coyne 231.20
Carpenter (Twisties)21.22

Basically, you've taken a superlative oval driver and a superlative road/street driver (neither of whom cares for the other discipline) and given them a car to share. I think it's brilliant. Now, I'm not saying everyone should adopt this model, IndyCar racing is great because of how versatile the drivers are. But, some drivers aren't versatile. Some drivers are specialists, and I'm glad to see these two specialists in it together.

Stay Tuned

This concludes our two-part look back at the 2013 numbers. Hopefully, our collective appetite is now whetted for some IndyCar action in 2014. Next week, we'll have a grab bag with some stuff I'm working on for the upcoming season and probably something about the start of Formula 1 happening in Australia.

Spring testing commences soon! St. Pete will be upon us in the blink of an eye!

Remember to follow @ScoringIndy on Twitter for blog updates, race predictions, and terrible opinions.

See you next week!

-- Guido

Friday, March 7, 2014

What the Numbers Say... 2013 Races

Hello Internet! Look, look, it's a blog post the week after a blog post. That must mean that it's March, and it's almost time for the [as yet to be named title sponsor] IndyCar Series to get underway for 2014! I am excited beyond excited for this year, and I was even before the recent "good news every day" tidal wave. So, you can imagine that I am ready for 2014 to happen. Like immediately. But, before we can do that, I've been slowly digesting all of last year's numbers over the winter. (Let's be fair, it's still winter here in Wisconsin.) And, over the next two posts, I'll be presenting them to you in preparation for next season. Think of it as a "How to Read a Race Score" guide. (Even though I'm still figuring this all out as well...)

The Numbers of Note

Ok, enough goofing off. Here's the cold, hard, numerical truth about 2013 in IndyCar. This is each race, listed with the high Race Score, the low Race Score and the Average.

St. Pete80.821.2736.78
Long Beach*86.81-17.1630.80
Sao Paulo*82.67-14.9628.90
Indy 50079.740.9935.77
Belle Isle 190.531.3337.55
Belle Isle 277.371.3336.94
Toronto 175.731.1436.68
Toronto 298.19-4.5736.68
Houston 184.741.4036.71
Houston 295.62-8.3436.99
*Scored with the Old Formula

You get all that? Good. Confused by it? Me too. Let's chat shall we? I'll be referring back to the chart, so don't worry about scrolling up and down. It's not going anywhere.

A Primer on Race Scores

The "Race Score" (or sometimes "Aggregate Race Score") is a numerical tool that I use to help me try to quantify who races well on a particular day. The score takes into account: 1) Finishing position, 2) Laps led, 3) Positions gained on track (relative to both start and qualifying), 4) Average running position on track, and 5) Laps completed. If a driver qualifies on pole, starts on pole, leads every lap, and wins; that driver would have a Race Score of 100. That number is arbitrary, but it seemed like a good place to start.

For further reading on my current Race Score Formula, and how I arrived at it. I would suggest you check out a couple of posts from last year: Behind the Curtain on the New Formula and Pay No Attention to the Formula behind the Curtain. Just click the links and you'll go right there. Or, I'm bad at links. That could be the case.

Well, now that we're all caught up, onward to the data analysis. That's why we're all here! 

What the High Scores Mean

The High Score goes to the driver with the best race. This is often the winner. It is not always the winner. What the magnitude of the high score can tell us is how dominant/impressive that driver was over the course of the race.

High Highs

A very high top score indicates a very impressive drive. If you watched last year's race at Iowa Speedway, you probably aren't surprised that the highest score of the year goes to James Hinchcliffe at that race. Hinch led 226 of 250 laps; started second; finished first; and had an average running position of 1.23. That's dominant. Similar instances of high scores indicating dominance are found in: 

- Will Power's performance in the second Houston Race
- Scott Dixon at Toronto 2
- Mike Conway, DESTROYER OF WORLDS, at the first Belle Isle Race
- And, Helio Castroneves at Texas

But, a high top score can also indicate a very impressive run that is put together by a non-winner. This is mostly done by Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais had the highest score in Baltimore last season despite finishing the race in P3. This was accomplished in a couple of ways. First, he carved up the field, coming from P22 on the grid to nab the lead less than halfway into the race. Second, he led the second most laps behind only Power, who failed to finish the race.

In short, a High High indicates something special. Of course, something special is only fun to watch if it's something like Bourdais at Baltimore (worth noting that he did a similar thing at Toronto 1, but Dixon still outscored him). If something special is Hinchcliffe at Iowa, we'd better all hope they're battling farther back in the field. Regardless, I can appreciate special. My hat's off to these 90+ performances from 2013.

Low Highs

A "low" top score (we're talking in the 70s) usually means competition for the lead. Now, this can take on a variety of forms. Let's look at last year's "Under 80" crowd for a sampling:

- Indy 500: The top score in the 500 last year was 79.74, just barely low enough to count as low. Let's look at the contributing factors. 1) Three drivers led over 30 laps, and no driver led over 40. This lowers everyone's points for laps led, and brings scores down as a result. 2) No driver had an average running position less than P4. This makes sense with all the lead-shuffling that went on at IMS last year, and also indicates that less points will be had for average running position, which drops scores again. I would point out that this is a good example of how a low top score can actually indicate a dramatic race.

- Belle Isle 2: Top score here goes to Simon Pagenaud with a 77.37. This is an instance of a dominant driver (here that is Mike Conway, DESTROYER OF WORLDS) getting shuffled back late in the race due to strategy, and Pagenaud, who benefited from being able to stay out longer before his last stop, was able to strategize his way to the top, without leading as many laps as Conway and with a worse average running position. I find race strategy fascinating. I was glued to my TV for this. I understand that's not everyone's thing.

- Toronto 1 and Sonoma: These are very similar, so we'll lump them together. In both cases the Top 3 finishers in the race all led similar amounts of laps, with very similar average running positions. This leads to a flatter distribution of points. This leads to lower top scores. And, for my money, it leads to fascinating strategy and good road racing.

- Fontana: Finally we get to the finale at Fontana. Top score here goes to race winner and (dare I say) Oval Maestro, Will Power. The mathematical reasons for this being a lower top score are similar to the reasons at Indy. How we get to the math, however, is different. Indy had 19 cars finish on the lead lap. Fontana felt more like an Indy 500 from the early 1990s with only 5 entrants completing the posted race distance. Note, this is NOT a bad thing. Fontana was a compelling race. There was attrition. There was dust. There was more dust. There were worries about championship contenders being able to finish. There was even more dust. The point is, that a low top score usually indicates drama. Sometimes that drama is the pass-fest known as the 2013 Indy 500. Sometimes that drama is the attrition-fest known as the 2013 MAVTV 500.

What the Low Scores Mean

Let's just take a moment to glance at the "Low Score" column. This isn't nearly as fascinating as the high scores but there are a couple things worth noting. First, you'll see that in the three early-season races that didn't get re-scored with the New Formula, the bottom score is ABYSMAL. The "best" worst score from those races is -14.36. Basically, if a car that qualified well got punted out of a race early or something broke on it, that driver was faced with a score of worse than negative ten. That stinks. That's a lot of feel bad. Note: not that any drivers are actually reading me and therefore feeling bad, but I have a lot of feelings, so I'd feel bad for them.

Anyway, with the New Formula, you'll see that, most of the time, the worst score is between two and zero. I can live with that. Second, now those big negatives mean something. Let's look at the two "worst" offenders.

- Helio Castroneves at Houston 2: Not a lot went right for Helio in Houston, and this is an example. Starting from pole, Helio led the first 10 laps and then things went wrong. The car decided that it had had enough for the day and quit on him. He finished P23. That's a really bad day. Race Score: -8.34

- James Hinchcliffe at Toronto 2: The Toronto weekend did not end on a high note for Hinch, in much the same vein that Houston 2 stunk for Helio. Hinch's car didn't even make it out for the formation laps. He was down laps before even turning one. Let's just say, an average running position of 23.15 doesn't bode well for your scoring day. Race Score: -4.57

Basically, in the Brave New Formula World, if you're more than two points worse than zero, you've had something go terribly bad when you weren't supposed to.

What the Averages Mean

Finally, the "Average" column. The primary thing this column tells us is that the New Formula is higher scoring than the Old Formula. Now, this is something we know. Look at the averages for the three Old Formula races. We have: 31.35, 30.80, and 28.90. This led me to postulate (using 2012 scores, which exist only in the dark recesses of my computer, and these scores from 2013) than a "Good Score" was 35.00 or better. Usually, a 35+ score would put you in the Top 10, and score you  points for the Race Score World Championship, which is my totally made up championship where I award points to drivers based on race scores.

Now, we can see from the "Average" column above (I know, I know, it's a long way to scroll now...) that under the New Formula, an average score is between 35 and 38. Now, a 35 is no longer a points-paying score. With this mathematical construction in place, we're looking at what once was (if only in my mind) the indication of "ya done alright" now signifying "better pick it up." So, the question that we now wind up with is wondering what makes a "good score?" Hopefully, we can answer this below.

What Gets You RSWC Points

Last thing today, here's a chance for us to determine, going into 2014, a benchmark for "good score." In order to do this, let's take a look at the lowest points-paying scores from every New Formula race in 2013:

St. Pete47.01
Long Beach~~~
Sao Paulo~~~
Indy 50049.81
Belle Isle 145.26
Belle Isle 249.79
Toronto 143.37
Toronto 243.26
Houston 145.66
Houston 247.33

As you can see, there is quite a range in scores, from 38.78 grabbing a single point at Mid-Ohio to needing 49.81 to score the single at the Indy 500. The average of these scores, however, is 45.00. And, the median score, within the group, is 44.97.

I think that (armed with this) we can draw the "good score" line at 45.00. This score will, most of the time, score you points, and even in a 23-ish car field, Top 10 is nothing to sneeze at. Let's take a quick look at the biggest outlier to make sure our position is solid.

- Mid-Ohio: The tenth-best score at Mid-Ohio was a very low 38.78, posted by Sebastien Bourdais, who qualified 14, stared 13, finished 12, and had an average running position of 11.58. No one would say that Bourdais set the world on fire at Mid-Ohio, so even though he sneaked into the points, I'm fine saying that his run is less than optimal. Additionally, the P9 score at Mid-Ohio was Hinchcliffe's 45.59: right there at "good score."

So, going forward, we'll call 45.00 and greater a good score, meaning drivers will have to do well above average to earn it.

Stay Tuned

I hope this look back at last year's numbers has brought some fond memories back. I also hope that with the information we've put together here today, we can all go into the 2014 IndyCar Series with a good idea of just how all these numbers work. And, with that in our pocket, we can get to another year of quantifying the race!

Remember to follow @ScoringIndy on Twitter for blog updates and race predictions. Seriously, you'll want to pay attention to those race predictions. They're sure to tell you exactly what won't happen.

Next week, we'll take a look at some driver's seasons. And, try to see who's primed for a good run in 2014, by looking back at entrant (not driver, entrant) performance in 2013.

See you then!

-- Guido