2014 Red Bull Global Rallycross runner up Ken Block unveiled his new livery for this season. I really enjoy his Monster Energy Drink liveries. They are way cooler than the Monster livery Kyle Busch uses in Nationwide. Monster’s Ken Block style livery is my favorite livery in Grid Autosport. I really enjoyed Global Rallycross last season, and I’m looking forward to some excitement this year!
Indycar will not replace the race in Brazil. No COTA, no random brand new Brazil race. Is this disappointing? Yes. Is it shocking? Well, if you were expecting a happy ending, you really hadn’t been paying attention. Indycar almost never replaces a lost race. We may get another test to compensate for the lost race. The long off season got even longer.
This article also appears on http://www.wfopenwheel.com
A hallmark of the Mark Miles era appears to be silent off seasons for Indycar. After the season ends at Fontana Indycar goes silent and is barely heard from again until the official tests start. While Indycar’s hardcore defenders attempt to rationalize this, the fact remains that going silent for over seven months just doesn’t cut it. Indycar’s 2015 off season has been silent despite the looming prospect of aero kits. These kits are shrouded in a great deal of secrecy, and so any potential marketing opportunities involving aero kits have been lost. Indycar’s silence has been broken somewhat over the last weeks as Brian Barnhart was returned to Race Control. And yes, this is the same Barnhart who’s infamy stretched over a decade of the IRL/Indycar until Randy Bernard put him out of our misery. He’s back. But Brazil is gone. As we also found out last week the Indycar season opener in Brazil was killed off by the local government. The long off season just got a month longer!
Brian Barnhart’s return to Director of Race Control is horrifying. I am aware that Indycar uses a different system for race control now then they did in 2011. I would also point out that I am not a fan of the three steward system. Besides, if that was the case, just give Derrick Walker the ceremonial title. Granted, with Barnhart back the three steward system makes more sense than with Beaux Barfield. There is no way to put a positive spin on this decision. One of the justification’s argued by people who say Barnhart is a good hire since not many other people want the job. While I would agree that Indycar Race Control Director is not the best job in modern autoracing, I would argue that between the Road To Indy and various sports car people, not to mention retired drivers and team personnel, Indycar could have found someone else. Anyone else! Another defense of Barnhart is that series insiders like him. Which is fantastic for them. The opinions of team owners and drivers should be taken into account, but so to should the opinions of the fans! And while drivers haven’t been condemning him (probably related to them not wanting to be fined?) they are not out there cheer-leading for him either. One of my biggest complaints about Indycar during the Mark Miles era is that it often feels like a club racing series which is focused only on the insiders and not on the fans.
The main defense of Barnhart appears to be that only hardcore fans care about race control, so what does it matter? This totally misses the point. First of all, there are ONLY hardcore Indycar fans left. That’s about it at the moment. You, me, and between 100,000 and 500,000 others are just about it when it comes to Indycar and it’s fanbase. So even if only a quarter of those people are upset about Barnhart, that’s still a pretty significant portion of whatever is left of the Indycar fanbase. More importantly the argument that Barnhart doesn’t matter because only hardcore fans care ignores the fact that Barnhart’s actions will cause negative things that those casual or new fans WILL care about. The infamous spread out starts let the leader easily gap the field. Casual fans will notice that especially in comparison with NASCAR’s close together starts. Any issues with racing in the rain will be noticeable, whether or not a casual fan knows to blame Barnhart. The arbitrary way Barnhart hands out penalties and enforces the rules will have a major impact on the racing that all fans see. While re-hiring Barnhart won’t affect most fans directly, his actions almost certainly will.
I just hope Firestone brings rain tires to the ovals.
The Indycar race at Brazil was canceled. Another Indycar international races goes down the drain. This is the second time (Porto Alegro) Indycar’s attempts to go down to Brazil have failed. It appears that the cause of the race being canceled comes from the local government. However, rumors of problems with the track and the race have been flying since before the race was announced. Indycar had to of known that there might have been some issues. Indycar’s assertion’s against these rumors that the race would go on look a little bit hollow right now. Indycar apparently was given some money in advance and may be able to collect more for breach of contract. Some have thrown around $27 Million dollars as what Indycar will collect without a race. This of course ignores the fact that a racing series needs to have races, not just collect money from failed dates. While Indycar has some money up front, and may get more, it would not surprise me if they did not get as much as they hope. The reality is the contracts are complicated and much of the litigation will be done in Brazilian courts which may not be favorable to Indycar. On top of that, even if they win, too aggressive of litigation could prevent Indycar from ever being allowed back in Brazil.
Considering how Indycar’s international races have gone recently, can we get back to Indycar being an American series? I’m not upset Brazil is gone, but I am upset that the off season got longer. There are some rumors of a replacement race either at COTA (were the Pirelli World Challenge is headlining) or even in Brazil, but both of these rumors are unlikely. When was the last time Indycar replaced a race that was lost? Indycar at COTA would be cool, but don’t hold your breath. I am also a little sad to see the last non-aero kit race disappear. If aero kits end up destroying the parity Indycar has developed in the last few years then we have lost our only opportunity to see that parity in 2015.
Aero kits are happening. Which is a major turn around from the last few years. Aero kits for both Chevy and Honda are homologated and have been tested. However fans have not seen anything besides some early spy photos. Secrecy has dominated the aero kit process which seems like mistake. Aero kits could have been something to spice up the off season. Instead aero kits are a complete unknown. Nissan’s Super Bowl ad is an interesting counterpoint to how Indycar has (not) hyped their aero kits.
I initially thought aero kits were a good idea. I am becoming a lot more skeptical. I really worry that aero kits will destroy the parity in Indycar. There is a lot of potential for one kit to be significantly superior to the other. This threat is at it’s worst on the ovals where even a small difference can have a huge impact. In particular I am concerned for Indianapolis. The Indy 500 has seen great racing the last three years and it would be horrible to lose that. Compounding this issue is that it appears that the aero kits may allow for teams to alter their cars more than the spec DW-12, which will potentially allow for the return of Penske and Ganassi domination. I did not find the end of last season particularly exciting and I am concerned that 2015 will be more of the same. Penske and Ganassi winning less than exciting races with few cautions and fewer cars on the lead lap.
It is true that going back to having less parity would be more like things were in the past. But is that really the part of USAC/CART/IRL/Champcar that we want to hearken back to?
Luca De Fillipi is replacing Mike Conway in Ed Carpenter’s 20 for road and street courses. Insert me yawning here.
Indycar’s off season has been silence plus horrific developments such as Brazil and Barnhart. I am not going to lie, it’s a little tough to get excited about Indycar at this point. Aero kits could be great, or they could ruin the racing. I am still excited for the 2015 season though. I am really hopeful that Joseph Newgarden, Sage Karam?, Conor Daly?, Alex Rossi?, and Simona De Silvestro? will have rides and actually be competitive. Realistically, Newgarden will have a great shot at winning multiple times with his team merging into Ed’s team. That is, if aero kits and Penske/Ganassi domination do not make his 2015 season pointless. If Penske/Ganassi domination returns then hopefully Karam will at least keep it somewhat interesting. I’m looking forward to what 2015 will bring Indycar, but whether I will continue to be so excited as the season goes on, that’s a much bigger question.
I have no words. None at all. Brian at AutoRacing1 was able to put his thoughts into words, and they’re worth a read. I will probably write about this later on, but until then I leave you with Barnhart’s finest hour.
Hey everyone, I’m back! But that is not what matters. What matters is that Nissan won the Superbowl. Despite the fact that Le Mans is not particularly well known in the USA, Nissan decided to use their Superbowl commercial to unveil their brand new LMP1 car! The ad itself was wonderful. It captured the emotion of racing and was an excellent way to sell racing to people who aren’t paying attention. WEC and Pirelli World Challenge both got airtime. Other racing series and advertisers could learn a lot from Nissan. The LMP1 car is incredible too. The new Nissan GT-R LM Nismo will be a front engine, front wheel drive LMP1 car. The new GT-R LM Nismo will attempt to win this year’s 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. I loved the Nissan ad, and I love the new Nissan car. I’m pumped for Le Mans!
Also… was Missy Elliott wearing a firesuit????
The next elimination in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup will take place after today’s race at Talladega. Currently Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Dale Junior, and Jimmie Johnson are the four drivers currently in the elimination positions. Kevin Harvick and Joey Lagano are locked into advancing while a majority of drivers in the top 8 in points, though not officially locked in, have enough points compared to the bottom four that their continued Chase presence is likely. Kasey Kahne is 8th and he has a 19 point gap on 9th. With the runner up from last year’s Chase plus three drivers who have all won three or more races this year potentially about to be eliminated the elimination at Talladega will have plenty of excitement.
Talladega will be unpredictable. Whether drivers will try and play it safe or race all out from the start is unknown. The consequences of crashing could be devastating. However, as Dale Junior proved in the spring at Talladega holding back does not necessarily work. Whatever happens the race should be incredibly exciting.
What I expect and hope is that Jeff Gordon will advance. Same with Kyle Busch. I think either Newman or Edwards or Kahne will fail to advance and one of the big name drivers outside the top eight will get in. But only one. There’s a good chance Junior/Keselowski/Johnson manage to win, but there’s also a good chance one or more will wreck. Danica Patrick could win today, same with Kyle Larson. Both would be exciting. Terry Labonte is making his final career start; a win would be an incredible way to send off an incredible career. Labonte was actually interviewed by the media this weekend and he was just as interesting and articulate as he was ten years ago.
Qualifying was a complete disaster. The issue all season on tracks with restrictor plates has been that being farther back in the pack creates a better lap time. In group and knockout qualifying that meant that drivers and teams did not want to be the first car out. This led to cars simply sitting on pit road for a majority of plate track qualifying and then everyone rushing out at the last second. Because this was kind of boring and kind of dumb NASCAR changed the qualifying rules for this race. NASCAR divided the teams into two groups and gave them five minutes to qualifying in the first group. However teams still sat on pit road for too long, and the pack issues remained. This led to a number of drivers setting ridiculously low times and others simply not setting a time at all. Talladega has it’s start/finish line at the end of the tri-oval rather than the center of it. As such it was harder to make it around in time to start the lap before the timer ran out especially with only 5 minutes.
In the past NASCAR used a top 35 provisional system where the top 35 teams in owners points were automatically locked in. Due to fewer cars attempting to qualify and more cars starting and parking qualifying has changed back to the old system. The top 35 fastest cars are locked into the race, followed by provisional by the highest in points and then potentially a past champions provisional or a seventh provisional for points. As such in theory only the top six drivers in points and most recent champion are locked into a race. As such when a number of drivers failed to set a time there was some risk of a major driver or Chase driver missing the race. In the end the only two full time drivers to miss the race were Justin Allgier and Ricky Stenhouse Junior. Stenhouse missing the race means that Danica will likely catch him in the points if not pass him. Missing the race continues the downward trend of Stenhouse’s sophomore season which could charitably be described as not good.
Qualifying at the restrictor plate tracks must change. There are two good options. NASCAR could go back to single car qualifying at restrictor plate tracks only. Single car qualifying is pointless at a plate track anyways. It would be boring, but it would also be more fair. The biggest issue is that restrictor plate track qualifying is always a little strange as the teams who are most likely to be eliminated always try a lot harder and are often a lot faster than teams which are less worried about failing to make the race. Qualifying at a plate track does not indicate speed on race day. The other option would be to do qualifying races like at Daytona. This would be more fun for fans and more reflective of how drivers will run on race day. The only issue with this is a crash or two in the races could also lead to some crazy results. Either of these solutions are better than what was seen Saturday.
NASCAR has for whatever reason banned tandem drafting and push drafting, although bump drafting is allowed. Push drafting is when one car pushes another around the track. Bump drafting is one car bumping the other. Both are very effective on a plate track. The ban on push drafting is not a good idea. It leads to unfair penalties and it makes it much harder for drivers to advance through the field. The penalty is also incredibly subjective. On late race restarts and during Green-White-Checkers flag moments about 2/3rds of the field end up pushing each other with no penalty. As seen in yesterday’s Truck race when Matt Crafton and Joe Nemecheck were penalized for pushing but a lot of pushing went on in the last two laps with no penalty the rule is not fair nor easy to enforce. Push drafting is risky, but if drivers want to risk it they should be allowed to do so.
NASCAR at Talladega is worth watching. Plate racing is a bit fake. It is not really fair. But it is exciting. It’s unpredictable. And while the Elimination Chase is also fake and unfair, it’s also exciting. Combining the two creates a cannot miss spectacle that promises to entertain and shock in equal measures. I’ll be happy as long as Jeff Gordon advances to the next round!
By the way, while picking a driver to win a plate race is futile, I’ll pick Jeff Gordon!
The A1GP series was a winter open wheel racing series in which each nation had their own one car team that was supposed to be driven by a driver from said country. Designed and marketed as the World Cup of Racing it never quite attained the lofty goals of its creator. The series lacked enough star driver to really become a major force in the racing world. The economic collapse of 2008 proved to be fatal to A1GP , and the series ended up canceling their 2009/2010 season. Since then a number of winter series ideas have been proposed. Even Indycar has talked about a running a large number of international races in the winter. The all electric open wheel series Formula E now moves into the off season slot which A1GP used to hold. Beijing was the first race. Despite all of the potential for disaster, the first race was mostly a success. If Formula E makes the right moves they can succeed where A1GP failed.
Formula E’s first race saw no major issues. The cars worked fine. Some people hated the lack of sound. To me they sounded like Go Karts. I don’t mean that as an insult either. After watching the first race I really wanted to go to the nearest indoor electric kart track and do some rental racing. A few mechanical failures marred the debut slightly. Although it was disappointing to see Bruno Senna get eliminated early and although some of the power saving was a little over the top most of the race was good. We were treated to an excellent last lap battle between Nick Hiedfield and Nicolas Prost saw Prost make an egregious block which caused a big crash that allowed Lucas Di Grassi the win.
Andretti Autosport had a strong debut. Frank Montegney finished second in stark contrast to his Indy Grand Prix result. Andretti Autosport currently leads the team points standings in Formula E. Overall there was a decent amount of parity between the teams. Surprisingly, or not, one of the main exceptions was Dragon Racing. Oriol Servia could only manage a seventh after attrition; the teams cars were never truly competitive. Sadly, Katherine Legge and Takuma Sato’s Aguri team also struggled for speed. Legge finished outside the points while Sato failed to finish. Sato did manage to set the fastest lap of the race; likely contributing to why he did not finish. Stephane Sarrazin finished 9th and potential Indycar driver (Though I hope he doesn’t become one) Daniel Abt finished 10th. Another potential Indycar driver (again, don’t want, but may happen anyways) Sam Bird finished 3rd. Professional crasher Nelson Piquet Jr. finished 8th.
Formula E’s debut was fun. It was not revolutionary. The slow speed of the cars allowed for some interesting racing and some significant drafting. The cars do need to be a little faster, however. My biggest concern with Formula E is the amount of focus on the environmental side of it. Climate change is real, and I voted for Barack Obama. However, the type of environmentalism at times promoted by Formula E is almost enough to make me want to watch Fox News and listen to Rand Paul. As an example Formula E refuses to allow any support series which are not electric to run with them. They also talk incessantly about being eco friendly and how they reduce emissions. These are potentially serious issues which Formula E addresses in a preachy and annoying fashion.
Formula E has a great deal of potential if it tries to build itself as a new A1GP. The first thing to do is to find some star drivers to race in it. The second is to focus on being a fun racing series rather than over-focusing on being environmentally sound. One final thought: Formula E needs some American drivers. JR Hildebrand, Conor Daly, and Marco Andretti were all part of the Formula E drivers club but none got a ride. Even though Marco’s dad owns a team! If you are going to have two races in the USA (Long Beach and Miami) with some small rumors of a third (Atlanta???) you kind of need an American driver. Until then we have Legge and Servia and maybe Sato to cheer on. Hopefully their teams improve.
I haven’t wrote anything on TLR since July. I’ve meant to write and podcast more. I really have. It is just that there has not been enough time. Quite frankly, I’m not sure if there is enough time moving forward either. Despite this concern Triple League Racing is coming back. Jeff Gordon is a serious contender for the 2014 Sprint Cup. No matter how contrived the Elimination Chase may be, I have been a Jeff Gordon fan since I started watching racing. This is his best shot at winning the Sprint Cup since I started blogging in 2009. I cannot let this opportunity pass me by.
Beyond NASCAR there are a lot of things in racing I want to talk about. I actually have had some changes in where I work which means that I have most weekends free. This has allowed me to watch more races live than for the last couple years. There is a lot of stuff to talk about. Joseph Newgarden will by driving for the combined Carpenter/Fisher/Hartman team in Indycar next year. Red Bull Global Rallycross is awesome, and I plan on covering it. I watched Formula E and enjoyed it. That may shock some of you. Obviously there are some things I am not happy about with Indycar, but there are also good and interesting things about it. MotoAmerica is rising out of the ashes of the AMA. I am looking forward to covering it all over the off season and into next year. Most of my writing will also appear on WFOpenWheel.com, as it was earlier in the year.
The TLR Podcast is also going to come back. Two issues may delay it. It takes a long time to edit the podcast and second I may have to upgrade computers before I can effectively record audio. We will have to see. Whether next week or next month or next year, the TLR Podcast with myself and James will be back at some point.
What I want, what Triple League Racing needs, is to evolve. Triple League Racing needs other writers and other opinions to return to being the vibrant and compelling blog it was a few years ago. So if you are a blogger, or want to be one, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or dm me on twitter, because I am interested in combining bloggers who are fans of any, or all types of racing in one spot. Sports cars, Indycar, F1, NASCAR, MotoGP, MotoAmerica, Rally Cross, or whatever other racing series you are a fan of. Blogging can be hard. Developing your brand and identity and then getting people to read it is a major challenge. We are better off working together. So if you want to write, I promise 100% editorial freedom. The only rules are no harassment and no plagiarism. Otherwise, if you join Triple League Racing you can write what you really believe and think.
7/7/2014. This may be a day that will mark a change in racing history. NASCAR’s top 9 teams formed an organization called Race Team Alliance. Penske, Ganassi, Hendrick, Stewart Haas, Gibbs, RPM, MWR, Roush, and Childress have all united to form the group. This is a big deal. NASCAR has resisted organization or franchising since its inception. This is contrary to many other forms of racing. These associations are clearly positive for the teams, but whether they are good for fans or the direction of a series as a whole is much more debatable. What is going on in NASCAR is unclear. The RTA claims to be after nothing more than improving the sport, increasing marketing, and streamlining costs. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Micheal Waltrip Racing was elected as President of the Race Team Alliance, and in an interview claimed that fans should welcome RTA. Perhaps. But a look at the history of racing and team owner organizations is troubling to say the least.
Most infamously CART was organized in 1979. CART saw Indycar rise to unprecedented levels of popularity while at the same time squeezing out American drivers, ovals, and smaller teams. CART and IMS CEO Tony George fought an infamous power struggle which brought down American Open Wheel Racing. After Unification, team owners again stretched power which has resulted in everything from the firing of innovative, fan focused CEO Randy Bernard to the elimination of double file restarts. Drivers and team owners have increased their power in Indycar, and many of their decision are not necessarily helpful in creating an exciting product for fans.
MotoGP has two organizations, the IRTA for the teams (generally speaking non-factory teams) while the motorcycle manufacturers has the MSMA. These two groups are not as infamous as CART, nor are their decisions so wholly destructive. Yet rules out of these two groups still can be troubling, and give a ton of power to motorcycle manufacturers irregardless of whether these rules are good for the series as a whole or fans. Examples such as the various rules about electronics, tires, and bike specifications exist. Even when not destructive, the process of sharing power between these organizations, Dorna, and the FIM leads to more politics and simply more time in making decisions. Formula One teams formed an association called FOTA in 2008. This organization nearly caused a Split in Formula One, though its power waned considerably and the organization dissolved this season.
NASCAR’s history with organization was more focused on preventing a drivers union than a team organization. Two key attempts at organization were create in the early days of NASCAR. 1961 saw the attempted formation of a drivers union with some involvement of the Teamsters Union. Curtis Turner was a driving influence in the creation of the Federation of Professional Athletes which saw many drivers join. The union’s most enthusaistic supporters were given lifetime bans while Bill France Sr. also created the Grand National Advisory Board to give some voice to others. The FPA failed as everyone involved left, and the drivers given bans (greats such as Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, and Fireball Roberts) were all reinstated. Eventually.
1969 saw a new organization brought into existence. This time the movement to create the Professional Drivers Association was led by Richard Petty. Key issues included insurance and pension for drivers. No one was suspended this time, but conflict flared up over Talladega. Tire issues at Talladega caused most of the drivers to seek a postponement. Bill France Sr. would not allow that. 32 drivers boycotted the initial race at Talladega. The race went on however, with many drivers in what is now the Nationwide series (then Grand National) filling in. 1970 saw the introduction of a rule which said that any car entered into the race would have to race, regardless of whether the initial driver did or not. In 1973 Richard Petty left the drivers organization which then collapsed. Thus ended any sort of power sharing agreement in NASCAR, at least until now.
I am not saying that massive conflict will happen in NASCAR. I am not saying a Split is imminent. Or a boycott, or anything of that sort. Clearly, everyone at this point knows that a “Split” would be incredibly destructive. Yet the risk is there. With team owners looking for more power, and NASCAR famously jealous in its guardianship of said power, conflict seems likely. NASCAR’s response to this was short. Yet the timing of this announcement right after Brian France’s mid season State of the Sport is telling. Until more details come out it we can only speculate on the goals of RTA and NASCAR. But it seems to me to imply some serious dissatisfaction with the current state of NASCAR.
So what if there was a “Split” in NASCAR? Again, I am not saying this will happen or is likely to happen, but what if? The teams would only be able to do this if Bruton Smith’s SMI joined with them, or at least let them race on SMI tracks. As such RTA would have at minimum Bristol and Charlotte as marquee events. They would also have Vegas, Kentucky, Loudon, Sonoma, Atlanta Motor Speedway, and Texas Motor Speedway. Interestingly enough SMI also owns North Wilkesboro Speedway though it would need updates. NASCAR would race at all of the ISC tracks as well as NASCAR owned Iowa and DMG controlled Road Atlanta and Sebring. Whether NASCAR would continue to run SMI tracks is hard to say, but it is decidely unlikely RTA would be allowed into any NASCAR controlled tracks.There are a number of independent tracks which could swing either way, or run both. Pocono, Indianapolis, Dover, Gateway, Milwaukee and Nashville most notably. If a Split were to happen it also might mean more road racing in NASCAR. From Nola to Road America, Montreal to Mosport, Mid Ohio to New Jersey Motorsports Park, a lot of potential road courses are out there, and in a desperate situation might be able to get a NASCAR and/or RTA race. RTA includes Roger Penske, who of course promotes the Belle Isle street race for Indycar. Could an RTA series use street courses as a way to make up for the loss of ISC tracks?
The possibility and power of a Split would depend on if all the RTA teams left together. If they did, and if they took all of the drivers with them then NASCAR might be in some trouble. As it currently sits what would NASCAR have left? Would fans stick around if the stars went to another racing series? NASCAR would have the Daytona 500, but is it enough to sustain the series? On the other hand could RTA survive without Darlington, Daytona, or Talladega? For television, the most successful way for RTA to position itself would be to get back on the ESPN team. Were that to happen ,and RTA to have the full power of Sports Center on their side, NASCAR would be in considerable trouble. All of this is purely hypothetical and unlikely to happen, but it is an interesting thought experiment.
Could positive developments come out of the Race Team Alliance? One thought some people have is that the RTA may mean more of NASCAR’s television and sponsorship money given to the teams. Revenue sharing and franchising could be a positive move for NASCAR. It could reduce ride buying, improve parity, and stabilize the lives and livelihood of drivers, pit crews, mechanics, and all of those whose living depends on racing. On top of that NASCAR is going to have many of their races on Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports starting next year. This may have a dramatic affect on the television ratings. Indycar ratings dropped incredibly when they moved from ESPN to NBC Sports. If that happens to NASCAR there will be some significant issues with sponsorship for teams. This would make revenue sharing even more vital for the survival of the several teams. The other hope with RTA is that it really does lower costs and help get more teams or at least more cars to races. Though the history of cost savings in racing is filled with failures, perhaps RTA will help push NASCAR along to a successful path. Certainly, NASCAR has a number of serious issues. Fans are disappearing, and engaging younger fans and non-traditional NASCAR fans has been an incredible struggle. RTA claims to want to focus on marketing so perhaps a new approach is what NASCAR needs.
The Race Team Alliance could have any number of results. It might even be much ado about nothing. But it does make me a bit uncomfortable. I’ve seen too much in Indycar over the last four years to really feel good about seeing team owners get more power. If nothing else, lets have a moment of silence for Randy Bernard, the Indycar CEO removed by Indycar team owners. I certainly hope RTA either has no effect on NASCAR, or has a positive one. I just can’t shake the feeling that the NASCAR world will never be the same again. Whatever happens, and whatever you think will or should happen, this is a story that should be followed closely by anyone interested in racing.
This article also appears at http://www.wfopenwheel.com
The condensed Indycar schedule has resulted in lots of races in quick succession. As such Houston and Pocono are getting combined into one race review. The Houston double header went first. Race one was held in the rain while race two was dry. Pocono produced a long green flag run and a fast race. Overall I was very surprised about how exciting Houston was, especially the first race. As for Pocono I was very disappointed with the lack of action seen during this weekend. After the less than thrilling race last year and the boring race out of Texas this year I was not exactly surprised about what we saw out of Pocono.
Firestone Delivered Real Rain Tires: The most interesting aspect of Houston for me was the new Firestone rain tire. Rain tires have been a major issue in Indycar for years. The tires Indycar had were only suitable for small amounts of water and thus rarely were useful. The new tire had been promised all year, and the first weekend it was available it saw use. The results were incredible. A street race in the rain. That was shocking. The new tire seemed to preform perfectly. If there is one concern it is the fact that Indycar does not have an intermediate tire. The old rain tire was more of an intermediate tire but it has been retired completely. The tire seemed to preform well as the rain slowed, and in all honestly the red tires (softs) were pretty good on the half wet track as well. But I would be somewhat concerned that in really heavy rain or in very marginal rain that the new tires might not preform as they’re meant for too wide of range. I really think if Indycar’s going to race a lot of road and street courses they need wet and intermediatetires, just like Formula One and MotoGP.
Huertas, Alishen, and the Rookies: Carlos Huertas won the first race. I love underdog success stories, but that wasn’t the underdog success story I wanted to see. After thinking about it I now feel a little more generous about it. After all it proved anyone can win in Indycar. Literally. While it’s nice to see Hawksworth and Alishen and Munoz have success they’re not really the younger drivers Indycar needs to succeed. I love rookie drivers doing well; just not these rookies. I mean, the 2013 Lights Champion is rideless. Anyways, it was good to see but I would just hate to see Alishen or Hawksworth one day get a ride that otherwise would have gone to Karem or Newgarden. JPM and Munoz joined on the podium. Graham Rahal or Tony Kanaan might have had a podium however Rahal speared Kanaan coming to the final (called off) restart and was then penalized.
Simon Pagenaud Wins Race 2: Speaking of talented but non exciting people, Simon Pagenaud won race 2 and won the pole for race 1. He’s an incredibly talented driver but again does Indycar need another talented but bland international driver? Don’t we already have Briscoe and Dixon? Do we need another? Pagenaud’s win was never in doubt once Helio crashed. Pagenaud is mulling over his options for 2015. I personally hope he moves to F1 or joins the WEC. But that’s unlikely. Right now it looks like Andretti Autosport or staying at Schmitt are his options. I prefer to see him stay at Sam’s team, and I think from Honda’s perspective that makes the most sense. After all that gives Honda 2 very strong teams instead of just one superteam at Andretti. His potential Andretti ride appears to be a fifth car. Which is more acceptable to me than him getting a ride at Penske and Ganassi; after all Andretti employs the very marketable Hinchcliffe and the potentially series saver Marco. Penske and especially Ganassi on the other hand could use a younger American or at least fun personality under 30. So if Pagenaud has to get a Big Three ride I’ll take Andretti over Penske or Ganassi. Though I do worry how this could hurt Hinchcliffe and Marco.
The Chicanes: One aspect about Houston that needs to be improved are the chicanes. As the track is set up in a parking lot I am not sure some of the chicanes are needed. They just spread the field out and ended up getting cut a lot of times anyways. In particular the chicane every seemed to cut the most (Pagenaud and Hinch cut it a ton in race 1) seemed pointless and unnecessary. The racing was pretty good, but since this is a parking lot track lets get a longer straight away, okay? Honestly, despite the good racing I just have a hard time really getting into a race in a parking lot, but at least if we’re going to do it lets make it the best course possible.
2nd Race: Race 2 managed to be fairly exciting outside of the top 2. After Helio and Bourdias made controversial contact Pagenaud and Alishen pulled away from the field. Juan Pablo Montoya charged ahead to try and take 3rd from Jack Hawskworth. Lots of good racing ensued. In the end JPM fell back to 7th but he and the other drivers in the top ten managed to keep the race interesting. Overall I enjoyed race 1 slightly more than race 2, but I think that’s due to the rain, and the fact Hinchcliffe ran upfront for so long.
Timed Races, Overtime, Green White Checkers: I am no fan of timed races, but I do understand the need at times. Rain slows a race way down, and it needs to be done within a reasonable television window and before sunset. Even a race is timed I still think there needs to be an overtime system; or a green white checkers rule. Most people consider soccer (or football) a fairly pure sport and the World Cup features both Overtime and Stoppage Time. Indycar needs a similar rule. Otherwise the most dramatic part of a race can be lost. There could have been a fantastic finish to the Houston race… instead Huertas won because Rahal crashed Kanaan under yellow. Is that really how you want a race to end? Also, as I’ve said on numerous occasions Indycar has more yellow flag finishes than any other racing series. To me that is a problem.
Juan Pablo Montoya’s First Win! At least his first win in Unified Indycar. Juan Pablo Montoya qualified on pole and ran up front. Just like Indy he seemed to stretch fuel slightly longer than most drivers. As he went to pass Will Power on the only restart Power threw a massive block. They made contact and part of Montoya’s front wing was clipped off. Power was penalized while Juan seemed no worse for the wear. He easily held on to the lead until he had to pit. Joseph Newgarden and Tony Kanaan took the lead when Montoya pitted. They could not save enough fuel and so without a yellow were unable to make it to the finish. Montoya retook the lead when they pitted and won by over 2.5 seconds. Montoya’s win vaulted him up to 4th in points behind Helio, Will, and Simon. Though he is a longshot Montoya appears to be back. He intends to run next season as well. Can Juan Pablo Montoya win another championship during his comeback tour?
Another Dull Oval! The 2014 Indianapolis 500 was a great race. The 2014 Texas race was incredibly boring. Pocono is flat and long so it is more similar to Indianapolis than Texas. However the racing we saw was much closer to what was seen out of Texas than Indianapolis. The racing was processional, the focus was on fuel saving, and the fact it was the fastest 500 mile race (or one of the fastest three, can’t remember/don’t care) really doesn’t mean much when the racing was… sub par. The most interesting moment of the race came when JPM passed Power. Other than that the race was fairly spread out and the drivers were more comfortable saving fuel than racing side by side.
Long Green Flags: I am not convinced long green flag runs are such a great thing. To be clear I do not watch racing for crashes, nor do I support phantom cautions or making the cars harder to drive on ovals. But seriously I do not see how having long green flag runs are a positive. Homstead in 2009 saw only 3 cars on the lead lap. Texas this year had six. In 2012 Rahal hit the wall and still finished 2nd. Will Power’s penalties at Texas and Pocono were made significantly less worse because of how spread out the field was. How is any of this good? Long green flag runs spread the field out, they encourage strategy and fuel savings over on track action. It may make the racing more like Formula One or Le Mans but that doesn’t make it good. On a related note I’m not sure 500 or even 400 miles at Pocono is a great idea. Would a 300 mile race have been more exciting? Or would it have been over in an hour?
Low Car Count: The racing at Pocono was not helped by the poor car count. The 2014 season features just 22 cars (Formula One like and not in a good way) and this race only had 21 starters as Jack Hawksworth was injured and BHA pulled out. While that decision makes sense from the teams standpoint from the series standpoint dropping to 21 cars was not a positive. NASCAR has a rule where if a team enters a race it must race, regardless of whether a driver gets injured or not. This rule was put in place generations ago to prevent a driver boycott, but it also means if a driver gets injured a relief driver is always found. Perhaps a rule like this should be implemented in Indycar.
Is Pocono the worst oval in America? Well, Dover and Nashville are probably as bad if not worse. I mean, NASCAR or Indycar, Pocono just doesn’t seem able to produce good racing. Very Dover like, at least on the NASCAR front. I do not particularly imagine that an Indycar race at Dover would be particularly enjoyable either. Some people enjoyed the Pocono race, and I guess if you like technical racing and race strategy then maybe I can see it. But Pocono certainly wasn’t the type of racing I want to see, in any series.
The Myth of the Flat Oval: Some people like to say that Indycar should run flat ovals. They say this is what Indycar’s were designed forSince I’ve watched Indycar (2007-now) the best racing I have seen has been at the banked 1.5 mile ovals, Indianapolis (new car) and Fontana (new car, but presumably good with the old). Pocono? Loudon? Milwaukee? Richmond? Nashville? Some have been better than others, but overall they have not produced great racing. Perhaps they used to with USAC and CART, but today, not so much. Iowa is an interesting track because it is short yet banked. Some great racing has been seen there, though since 2012 the race has started to spread out a bit as well. What will we see next weekend at Iowa? Flat ovals may be safer (though Hawksworth may disagree) but that doesn’t mean they produce great racing or are better for Indycar than more banked ovals.
Attendance Issues: I have already discussed attendance and Pocono in a previous posting. Based off the racing we’ve seen the last two years how is it surprising that attendance is a bit low? The Indycar race may have been more entertaining than the NASCAR races at Pocono, but it was not very exciting. I love Indycar oval racing, and I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to see what we’ve seen the last two years from Pocono. Attendance looked okay on television. Some angles looked very strong, other angles were less positive.
Ryan Hunter Reay’s Championship Falls? Another bad result, another mechanical failure saw Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay’s title hopes take what appears to be a terminal turn. Though I suppose anything is possible it will take a miracle for RHR to win the title.
Houston demonstrated that Indycar can run in the rain. Pocono demonstrated that some tracks are not terribly exciting no matter what cars are put on them. Indycar can produce great racing, but something needs to change. What we saw at Pocono was simply not exciting. It’s especially disappointing because of how good the racing has been at Indianapolis. I do not want to see Pocono go away because we cannot afford to lose any more ovals and because I do not want Indycar to become a 14 race series. Yet at the same time if Indycar were able to trade Pocono for another oval (preferably a banked oval) then I would be ecstatic. Maybe aero kits will improve the racing, or maybe it will lead one manufacturer to lap the entire field. As for Iowa there is always the potential for a great race, but the new car has not been as good there as I would have liked. It’s not been as bad as Texas, but it is not as good as it was in 2010 and 2011. Hopefully this year will see an improvement. Otherwise we could be in for the third dull ovals in a row. When this happened in 2009, Indycar made changes which created some great oval races. Should be see 3 poor ovals in a row, will changes be put in place for next season?