Fantasy IndyCar Review for the Indy 500

Single Seater’s Fantasy picks for the Indy 500 scored a respectable 490 points on Sunday. The team was hurt by spins from front-runners Castroneves, Patrick, and Bourdais. They were one of the eight drivers caught up in wrecks during the race. Despite these wrecks, our picks had the podium finishers in the lineup as well as Pagenaud and Munzo who both made the optimal lineup for max points below.

The optimal lineup for the 2018 Indy 500, for $495, was as follows:

  • Carpenter – 92 points
  • Pagenaud – 65
  • Power – 108
  • Leist – 34
  • Hunter-Reay – 61
  • Wickens – 45
  • Dixon – 71
  • Rossi – 65 
  • Hildebrand – 38
  • Munoz – 53
This is the best ten-car lineup you could have selected for the race. This set of drivers scored 632 points on Sunday, meaning Single Seater’s picks scored 77.5% of the maximum points they could have. Not a bad outing for the first run of our model. 

I don’t plan on changing anything with our model just yet, and I’m excited to see how it does in both of the Detroit races. As of right now, I’m planning on doing one set of picks for both Duel in Detroit races, but that may change as the weekend comes closer and I think about it more.

Let me know how your Indy 500 picks did in the comments!

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Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

by Drew

I Think I Can Go Another Lap: Tire Wear at the Indy 500

All of the top finishers at this year’s Indy 500 stopped five times for fuel and tires throughout the 200 lap race. Most drivers came in around Lap 30-34 for their initial stop since the first caution didn’t come out until Lap 48 when Sato ran into the back of a slow moving Davison. Since this first stint was run completely under green, I wanted to use it to evaluate the tires at the race.

I chose to use the top three finishers of the race–Power, Carpenter, and Dixon–for my analysis for two reasons. First, since getting the data into the format I needed took a bit of leg-work, it’s simpler to limit the number of drivers I use. And second, since they performed the best on Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to see how the tires worked for them especially.

Both Power and Dixon ran 32 lap stints while Carpenter ran one lap less before pitting for the first time. Here is a graph of all three of their lap times for every lap of their first stint, not including the in-lap.

From a first look at the graph, it appears tire wear wasn’t too bad for most of the stint. There were fluctuations from lap to lap as is to be expected as drivers deal with passing other cars or get into the draft, but overall it is a fairly straight line for the first 25 laps of the stint. After that there appears to be a significant dropoff over the course of the next few laps before drivers came in to pit.

Taking a deeper dive into the data yields the same conclusion. Below is a table of the average dropoff in average lap speed compared to the average speed of Lap 2. The second lap was chosen because it was the first full speed lap for the field.

By Lap 20, the tires were on average 2 mph slower than they were on Lap 2. I would personally consider this fairly good tire wear for the 2.5 mile oval, particularly because many people were unsure how this new aero kit would react around Indy both in terms of downforce and tire wear. While there were complaints from the drivers about downforce levels and passing, the field generally seemed pretty content with the tire wear.

After Lap 23 or so tire wear really started to kick in and by Lap 25 the tires were losing nearly 3 mph off of their peak performance. Two laps before Dixon and Power came in and one lap before Carpenter came in the tires were losing 5 mph. Dixon, historically good with tire and fuel use, had the smallest dropoff of this sample of drivers. This could also have been a product of track position too, though. The leaders were catching the tail end of the field at this time and had to deal with overtaking lap cars, so it’s likely some of the disparity in their lap speeds is due to this and not simply just tire management. That is why I chose to look at a group of drivers and not just one.

What we learn from looking at this data is that overall the tires wore pretty well at Indy. They had a minimal dropoff for the first 22 laps of the stint and then a few tenths of a mile an hour per lap after that. The two laps before the end of the stint saw a much larger dropoff than other laps and it signaled to the driver it was time to come in.

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Photo courtesy of Richard Dowdy/IndyCar

by Drew

Fantasy IndyCar Picks: 2018 Indy 500

For the Indianapolis 500, Fantasy IndyCar managers have $500 to spend on ten drivers. Who are the best choices for the big race, and who should you leave out of this week’s lineup? Let’s take a look.

First some track history. In the last five years the winner has started as low as nineteenth and as high as fourth. With The 500 being such a long race, no starting position is really out of contention for a race win or good result. Obviously it helps to be towards the front though: drivers who started on pole in the last fifteen years have the highest average finishing position–10.625–of any place on the grid.

To help in the process of picking a fantasy team, and because we love numbers here at The Single Seater, I created a model that gives a driver’s expected points for race weekend. It is based on three factors: a driver’s starting position, previous performances at the track (if applicable), and their current season form (once again, if applicable). A driver’s expected points is the number of points we would “expect” to see this driver earn on average if the race was run many many times. It is our best guess as to the number of points they will score this weekend, although it won’t be the exact number. (More information on expected value can be found here!)

Here is the field of 33 and their expected points for Indy:

In Brief

The driver with the highest expected points for the race weekend is Castroneves at 43.8. He is followed by Patrick who has an expected points value of 40.4 despite her over five year hiatus from IndyCar racing. This is because of her solid qualifying position and her previous experience at Indianapolis. In seven races at the track, she has finished in the top-ten six times. Other high ranking drivers are Dixon who starts Indy in tenth and pole-sitter Carpenter who has had limited success in past races on the 2.5 mile oval.

Solid Picks

Castroneves – with the highest expected points of the field, Castroneves is a good pick for Sunday. He had the highest speed in Saturday’s qualifying session and simply got the setup wrong on Sunday. Expect a good race setup from Team Penske for him this weekend. 
Dixon – he has four top-ten finishes this season and has had success in the past at Indy with a win and five other top-five finishes. This season he has had an incredible AFP of 5.8 so far. He comes at a cost of $60 along with the other two drivers in this category. 
Carpenter – the pole-sitter for this year’s race has an expected points value of 38.2. Carpenter hasn’t had much to be happy about at Indy (one top-five in fourteen races), but he is driving the only car to break 230 mph in qualifying and has looked fast through the practice sessions. He also ran well at Phoenix earlier this year, finishing P7. 

Might Be Worth It

Patrick – she has a great expected points value at 40.4, making her a top contender for the race. The only reason she is in this category instead of the above is her long break between IndyCar races. However, with an AFP at Indy of 8.7, she might just be a perfect pick for Sunday at a low price of $35. Definitely an undervalued driver for this race and a strong pick for almost any team. 

Wickens – the IndyCar rookie starts midfield but could be a great pick this week. Although he has no previous experience at Indy, he did perform well at the short-oval of Phoenix this year, picking up a second place finish. He has also been almost unstoppable when he’s been “on” this season, picking up three top-five finishes in five races. And let’s not forget that he was laps away from a win in the opening race of the year before he got crashed out by Rossi. That would have (and should have) been a fourth top-five finish.

Andretti – he is the ninth highest rated driver for this race with an expected points value of 36 and I feel good about his chances this weekend. He has had a fast car all week, especially in the tow, and will start on the fourth row. Indy has also been nice to him in the past as Andretti has placed in the top-ten 66% of the time and the top-five 42%.

Not This Weekend

Daly – although a full-time driver a year ago, Daly hasn’t been able to put things together at Indy this year. He starts last on the grid and it doesn’t look like he has the speed to move up too much on Sunday. He goes for $25.
Kaiser – with no past experience at Indy and a slow start to his rookie season, it’s best to leave Kaiser out of your lineup this week even though he comes at a low price ($25) for his starting position of seventeenth. I want to see more out of Kaiser before giving him the go ahead for any fantasy team.

Rahal – Indy hasn’t been kind to Rahal in recent years. The American driver has just two top-tens in ten races and has failed to finish the 500-miler four times. With a starting position of 30th this Sunday and an expected points value of 23.4, things aren’t looking to be any different this year. Far too risky of a pick for his $55 value. 

The Single Seater’s Picks

So now that we have our expected points for every driver for this race, who should we pick? What combination of drivers can we afford?
Using my expected points model, I had a program run through all possible driver combinations for my fantasy team in an attempt to maximize my total expected points using ten drivers while staying under the $500 limit. Using this model, here is the optimal Fantasy IndyCar lineup for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500:

This is the team I will be going with for the Indy 500! Let me know which team you decide to go with for the big race. If you have any Fantasy IndyCar questions, you can leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter. Best of luck in your leagues this week!

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Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

by Drew

How Many Cautions Will We See at the Indy 500 This Year?

Since 1996, there have been an average of 8.1 cautions per race at the Indianapolis 500. As far back as my data goes to 1979, there has never been an Indy 500 without a caution and I would bet there hasn’t been as long as the race has been around.

It comes with the speed, length, and number of cars on the track. With 33 drivers racing at over 220 mph for 500 miles, cautions are bound to happen. But how many?

Using data since 1996, I created what is known as a Poisson Distribution for the expected number of cautions for an Indy 500 race. This distribution gives the probability of a set number of cautions occurring during the race. Here’s what it tells us:

There is a 14% chance we will see eight cautions at this year’s race, the most of any single number of cautions. Seven cautions is the second most likely outcome followed by nine.

The distribution also shows there’s a 42% chance more than eight caution flags will wave and a 19.2% chance there will be more than ten.

For all of the green flag enthusiasts out there, I have bad news for you. With a percentage chance of just 0.031%, it’s very unlikely there will be an all green race this Sunday.

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Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

by Drew

Quick Notes From Indy 500 Qualifying

Ed Carpenter put his car on pole yesterday after running a blistering 230.088 mph lap one. He was the only driver to break 230 and you could hear it in the crowd’s reaction as his speed was put up on the screens around the track. The roar that erupted from an insanely fast lap is what May is all about.

The track was quick for other drivers yesterday too. Seven of the nine drivers in the Fast Nine improved on their speeds from yesterday and on average they improved 0.39 mph. That is a big difference off of Saturday and it shows how the track just got quicker as the day went on along with some improvements to the cars themselves. Castroneves, the driver I thought had the best chance to win pole position, slipped down to eighth position on the grid.

After his run Castroneves said his car was the Penske car chosen to run with the least downforce, and it hurt him in qualifying as he was unable to drive it through the corners. All Penske drivers ran a slightly different setup in qualifying so as to not put all of their eggs in one basket, and as Castroneves described it, he drew the short end of the stick. Expect him to be fast next week as they iron out a race setup.

The confidence intervals I wrote about yesterday didn’t capture the speeds we saw all that well. This is because I didn’t account for the changing track conditions on Sunday and how the racetrack was quicker the second day. I should have added an adjustment after the 10-33 qualifying session for the 0.1-0.3 mph increase we were seeing for most drivers. If this had been done, eight of the nine drivers in the top qualifying session would have had their true speeds captured in the confidence interval as opposed to just two of nine. Carpenter’s especially large confidence interval which I discussed in the article linked above did point to his big potential upside, and it showed on Sunday as he had the fastest car.

On average, the confidence intervals were off by .24 mph. I’ll be sure to keep in mind this adjustment for track speed in the future so the intervals are more accurate! Single Seater is always looking to improve and this will be just one way we will do so.

Practice will resume today for the Indy 500 at 12:30. Happy race week!

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Photo courtesy of Mike Harding/IndyCar

by Drew