The lush green hillsides of Alabama were made even greener as torrential rains fell on the facility for most of the weekend. We had a time shortened race, some pretty sweet driving and a few guys who just couldn’t keep it between the white lines. The race was very unpredictable into the final pit stops, and we also got to witness Will Power overcook a corner and hand a P1 finish to Ryan Hunter-Reay; aka, the IndyCar unicorn. It does exist! This weekend was an excellent example of how different the races in IndyCar can be. From the ham fisted slop show in Long Beach to the clinic in wet weather racing in Barber, what a difference two weeks made.
Qualifying Broadcast – In a word, I was salty on Saturday night/ Sunday morning. The tape delayed qualifying broadcast was scheduled to go down at 12:30 AM Sunday morning. From what I can gather, that time was already pushed back from midnight a few days earlier, but thanks to the modern glories of DVR’s, I was not worried. However, late Saturday night, word came that the broadcast would be further delayed until 1 AM Sunday morning.
It’s already unacceptable that qualifying was tape-delayed by nearly eight hours, but I can understand the intricacies of playoff futball… is it the play offs? I have no idea how that sport works, but I digress. No harm no foul for right now. It is nice to remember though, that airing qualies after midnight forces most people to consume that programming via time shifted viewing, and not giving fans time to react to the change is unforgivable.
I was lucky, and preempted the preempt by adding an extra hour to my scheduled recording, because I have missed the end of enough races to know better. More than a few people weren’t as lucky. They awoke on Sunday morning totally excited to watch qualifying, and upon firing up the recording they were welcomed with 30 minutes of overtime futball and the first 30 minutes of qualifying. The last half of qualies lost to the pushed-back ether.
What if a new fan was actually interested in qualifying and recorded the show on a whim, what are the odds that they won’t care enough to record again. Tough to make new fans, and keep old fans happy when half of your weekend programing is not broadcast or recorded correctly after you force most of your audience to DVR.
Rain Delay – I completely understand why the series delayed the green flag. There were literal ponds and rivers all over the track. And at best, IndyCar has drizzle tires available to them… still waiting on those promised updated wets Firestone, still waiting. The race was green flagged maybe 15 minutes after the track was actually ready for racing. Not and awful delay, and understandable considering this would be the first time the DW12 would see rain in race conditions.
Due to the delay and the hard window because of upcoming hockey on NBCSN, the race was changed into a timed event of one hour and 40 minutes. As the race played out, the broadcast ran well over time; nearly five minutes into the hard window. NBCSN did an excellent job looking out for their properties, and thank you for getting this one right.
It’s not all rainbows and kittens on the race directing side though. We sat through a 30 minute post race, why in the world did we not run to the historic two hour time window? If it’s still too treacherous for racing, start the clock and send the field behind the pace car. The track would have been more dry well before the delayed start time had we circulated for those 15 questionable minutes spent waiting for the green.
To add insult to injury, this timed race which was already shortened, but had more than enough time to run for two hours, finished under yellow due to a big impact by Mikhail Aleshin into the Armco barriers. Teams planned for a 100 minute race when doing fuel strategy so extending the race a la NASCAR green-white-checkers is not an option. However, the league has already proved it isn’t scared to throw the red in the waning moments of a race; stop the clock, fix the track and let us see the guys at least attempt a run to the checkers. We obviously had the TV time, so the only limiting factor was the race clock ticking precious seconds away. Plus, had we run to the traditional two hour timed window, this wouldn’t even be a discussion point.
The Actual Race – Wet racing is always a blast, and Sunday was no exception. The time spent on wets, and the first stint with reds strapped on was electric. Cars were sliding, drivers were fighting the elements and each other and the wet line was obviously faster. It has been a few years since we have seen IndyCars race in the rain, and it is often easy to forget how skilled these drivers are. We have noticeably less downforce than Formula 1 and a super torque-y engine capable of producing nearly 750 horses. These machines are no treat in the rain.
After the final round of stops, most of the field had settled in and were making the final sprint to the finish. Admittedly, the drivers were pretty lock-step for the rest of the afternoon, but the drying track was still testing the drivers. Fast lap after fast lap was being set as drivers searched for grip and found enhanced speed corner after corner. It was in this phase of the race that drivers earned their money. Go off line by an inch and all your adhesion is gone; welcome to the guard rail. The last third of the race was definitely a clinic in shaving the gap and managing wing angles. It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s refreshing to know these guys can really attack violently shifting conditions successfully.
Three races in and Will Power looks like he could run away with the championship, but at least we were reminded that he is human and can make mistakes just like anyone else. We know Power will lose some consistency as the season wears on; while other drivers not catching fire until the second half of the season. This is always an interesting time in the championship as the contenders really start to present themselves. With the inaugural GP of Indianapolis on the horizon, there is only one more chance to bag precious championship points before the summer grind starts in full strength. And yes, it’s almost May.
PS. Did you know I had a YouTube channel as well? I was out for the very last few minutes of Rookie Orientation Practice and captured some short clips of Jacques Villeneuve and Kurt Busch turning laps. Video is here. More on the ground clips will be added as the season pushes on.