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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dissecting the New Two-Title Format

With the announcement of a new two championship format in the IZOD IndyCar Series, awarding prizes to the best oval driver as well as the best road/street course driver, I have taken the liberty to go through all open wheel racing in America since the creation of CART in 1979. I've run the numbers to determine who would have won these championships in the past, and some of the results are pretty interesting.

The data includes all CART seasons from 1979 to 2003, the Champ Car World Series from 2004 to 2007, and the IZOD IndyCar Series from 1996 to today. From 1996 to 2004 in IndyCar, no road course races were held. In 2007 in Champ Car, no oval races were held. In these cases, the overall series champion is listed as the winner in the series' specific discipline.

In a majority of seasons since CART's advent in 1979, one of the two titlists would go on to win the overall title as well. The exceptions in CART were 1985, 1988, 1990, 1996, and 2000, with a teammate of the title winner taking at least one title in each year except for 1998. The only exception in the IRL came in 2006, and that year, oval champion Dan Wheldon actually tied Sam Hornish Jr. for the overall title in points, but lost the tiebreaker on two fewer wins.

In only a few cases has a driver gone on to claim both titles. In CART, Rick Mears did it in 1981 and 1982, while Al Unser Jr. did it in 1994. Sebastien Bourdais did so in Champ Car in 2005 and 2006, but those seasons featured oval schedules of two and one, respectively. So far no driver has won both titles in the IRL.

Mears asserted himself as the most versatile driver in CART's early years by winning oval titles in 1979, 1981, and 1982, alongside road course championships from 1980 to 1982, inclusive. He also won the oval championship in 1989, the year of his last Indianapolis 500 victory, giving him a grand total of seven titles, the highest total of any driver. Bourdais is tied for second with six, the same amount as Al Unser Jr. has, though it is important to note again the insubstantial nature of Champ Car's oval offerings.

Michael Andretti won five titles in six years for Newman/Haas Racing, scoring the 1987 and 1988 oval crowns, as well as the 1990 through 1992 road course crowns. He won four more championships as an owner, including the 2004, 2005, and 2007 oval titles in the IRL, and the IRL's 2005 road course crown. In each of those seasons, Andretti's oval-winning driver would take the overall IRL title.

The closest foil for Andretti as a driver would be Scott Dixon, who has five championships over the past seven years. Dixon won all of his five titles in the IRL, securing the 2003, 2008, and 2009 oval crowns and the 2006 and 2007 road course honors. Not only does Dixon consistently pace the field at one discipline almost every year, but he also moves from domination of one discipline to the other, much as Andretti did in the prime of his career. They even won at a similar clip: Andretti 24 times in six seasons for an average of four a year, Dixon 21 times in seven for an average of three. The main difference is that Dixon was first a road course star and became an oval ace, while Andretti stepped up his game at right turns after mastering lefts only.

An early indicator of Dixon's prowess came in the 2002 CART season, the last for that sanctioning body (or its later Champ Car incarnation) with more than two ovals on the schedule. Under CART's points system, which only afforded the top 12 drivers any points, it was difficult at best to score points in every race under a given discipline. Only three drivers managed to score points in all five oval events that year: oval champion Bruno Junqueira, runner-up Dario Franchitti, and Dixon. It is this kind of consistency that has driven Dixon to multiple IRL titles.

For the most part, three teams have dominated the schedules since 1979. Team Penske holds the lead for the most overall crowns with 19, including nine oval championships (though none since 1997) and 10 road course crowns, usually coming towards the turn of each decade. Newman/Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing are tied for second with 13 total championships apiece. Newman/Haas has three on ovals (tying two cars in 2005) and 10 on road courses. Ganassi's balance is much more even, with seven oval crowns and six on road courses. Ganassi has more titles since 2000, however, by a tally of nine to eight.Al

1 comment:

  1. Could you make the same statistics but using the Olympic medal system instead of regular points?