Power Has Been Incredible – When He’s Been on Track

Will Power is third place in the championship right now. In a typical year this wouldn’t be surprising, but considering that he has failed to finish three of the nine races so far this season, this is an amazing feat.

With 321 points, he sits just 13 points shy of second place Rossi and 46 back from the championship leader Dixon. So how’s he doing it?

First, let’s address the DNFs. In the three races Power didn’t complete, he finished 22nd, 21st, and 18th. Those results gave him a combined 32 points or 10 percent of his total points through nine races. This means he has averaged 48 points in the other six races! Even once you account for Indianapolis’ double points, that’s still an average of over 40 points per race – this is equivalent to a second place finish.

Power has been on an absolute tear in the races he has finished this year. Despite completing only 85.8% of the laps run, the least of any driver in the top ten, he is third in the championship. In the races he completes, he is averaging a finish of 3.8. In those same races, he has never finished outside of the top ten and has four podiums.

One way to gauge how efficient a driver is on track is by looking at their points/100 laps. The best drivers who have consistently strong results will usually have a high value for this stat. A driver who DNFs a lot but is very good when he’s on track will also have a high points/100 laps. That is the benefit of looking at efficiency in this way–it equalizes drivers who have completed many laps with those who have not. 

Power has the highest value for this stat out of the entire field:

Power’s points/100 laps value of 31.2 is a full point ahead of Dixon’s, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this means Power has been better than Dixon overall: Power would very much rather be in Dixon’s shoes right now with the championship lead. What it does mean however is that we would expect Power to have a stronger second half of the season (in terms of points scored) than the first half. He has been driving superbly when he’s had the chance to, and that shows in his per 100 lap efficiency.

Power has not had a knack for racking up DNFs throughout his career. In the last ten seasons, the most DNFs Power has had in a season is four in 2017. The odds are he won’t have as many DNFs in the remaining seven races as he had in the first nine, meaning he’ll have more time to be on track and generate high points-returning finishes.

Look for Power to make a second-half season push towards the top spot on the championship table with the way he has been driving.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Owens/IndyCar

by Drew

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