Into the Crystal Ball… 500 Miles To Go Edition

crystal ballA 500 mile race in indycar racing, and especially the Indy 500, is an endurance test packaged as a sprint race. There is literally no time to think during this race, only time to allow ones instincts to make the correct decision. Those kinds of expectations make The 500 the most stressful three hours of the season. The grandeur of our series crown jewel only adds to the pressure placed on everyone involved in the event. If there is one thing the paddock can agree on it that the Indy 500 is the must win event of the season. And it’s not for championship reasons; we all know why teams want to taste the milk. A good result could save your team, or set it up for a much more lucrative second half of the season. There is everything to win and even more to lose at The Brickyard.

What to Watch

The Draft – There is no mistake that the DW12 produces some of the best drafting conditions racing has ever seen and if practice was any indication, we could break the pass record yet again. Anecdotally, it has always been said that if you can see another car at the end of a straight, you’re getting some help in the draft. We have seen that “some help” may be the understatement of the year. If a driver is close coming out of T4, the pass can be completed before the bricks. And if you are not close, you can still get the pass done before T1 if you exit T4 well. People talk about Daytona and Talladega as the premier drafting facilities, but the DW12 and Indianapolis create something entirely different: racing, drafting and distance in a perfect mix to cultivate non-stop action all day.

500 miles – Since The 500 has morphed into a long distance sprint event, any mistake on or off track is magnified a 1000 times over. A nearly flawless day is needed to achieve victory over some of the most prepared teams for a specific event in the world. We may not have the huge miles of in-season testing seen in prototype racing or the pure cubic dollars of Formula One, but no single event motivates its participants to execute a flawless afternoon more than the Indianapolis 500. Race strategy has been in the works since the checkers fell last year and drivers have been chomping at the bit for a chance to succeed for even longer. 500 miles are clicked off very fast, but it is still a long race in terms of mileage; the chances of disaster are increased with every yard completed.

Pit Stops – Teams will be expected to make between eight and twelve pit stops over the course of the race. This means that not only will a driver be expected to make zero mistakes; the pressure is on the teams as well as much as it is on the pilot. Dario Franchitti proved in 2012 that you can have a pit road problem and still come back for the win after EJ Viso spun him out in the pits on the 15th lap. That was early enough for the team to come back from, but a self-inflicted mistake could cause a cascading disaster throughout the team ending all hope of a properly good finish.

Fuel Mileage – 2012 saw the Chevy contingent have the power advantage all month long which parlayed itself into more downforce and more stable cars than the Hondas all around. Chevy decimated the Japanese manufacturer during practice and really caught them by surprise during qualifying. 2013 has been even more pronounced in the imbalance of the Honda and Chevy engines. However, once the race was on and 33 cars were in the draft, all that extra Chevy power did was decrease fuel mileage a noticeable amount. The Hondas may not have been fast, but they sipped on fuel all afternoon long. Given the even larger speed disparity between the manufacturers this year I expect more of the same. But will Chevy have learnt a lesson and Turn that glorious power down in search of more efficiency? It wouldn’t be the worst or most surprising outcome of the weekend.

Momentum – With that said, keeping your line clean and speed high through the corner will be paramount to not losing too much time to the leaders. With only 550 or so horses on tap, the 2.2 liter turbo engines just don’t have the grunt to pull the chassis out of the corner and down the straight if any part of the driver’s line is compromised. This is especially apparent when you consider how sensitive these chassis seem to be in terms of setup, heat and wind direction. Making it through the corners quickly and cleanly will be important to staying near the front. Andretti Autosport practiced more on race setup, drafting and clean position swaps all week long and could have an advantage using all five cars to pull away as a pack.

Andretti Autosport – Speaking of the four car super team, AA may very well play a protect strategy on Sunday afternoon. I cannot shake the feeling that the five car operation will run a bicycle racing tactic: using the pack to insulate themselves from outside attack, gain speed by running as a unit and basically locking out the top of the standings all afternoon. A single car could probably make its way through the pack, but a two car attack may be met with extreme resistance if the teams can keep all five cars within the setup window throughout the entirety of the race. There is not a better prepared team this month and the results of practice and qualifying more than prove this. The Andretti name may yet find its way into victory lane again.

Predictions

Winner – Tony Kanaan – I can’t pick another driver for the Indy win until he get at least one under his belt. I don’t care how slow or how difficult a month he is having, TK will find a way.

Best Rookie Finisher – AJ Allmendinger – I’ve already laid my expectations of AJ out many times before; he has no excuses and it’s time to perform.

Epic Performance – Simona de Silvestro – Simply put, anything will be better than her 2012. She will not get black flagged before the race reaches double digit laps and she will have enough power to race and have some fun. Enjoy it SdS, you’ve earned it.

Biggest Loser – DRR – An IRL and IMS stalwart poised to shutter the doors once the checkers fall. Nothing short of a win will save them and they just don’t have the prowess to best Andretti, Penske, Ganassi or ECR from the initial look of it.

The 2013 field is the most competitive field we have seen in many years. The multiple winners may not stack up to previous years, but there is not really anyone who is just out to lunch. The teams are quick, sharp and prepared and the drivers’ possess quantified skill from P1 to P33. The weather looks like it will be perfect for 500 miles of speed and danger on Sunday and nothing is standing in the way for us to have yet another epic edition of the Memorial Day Classic. Thousands of pages of analysis have been published, every scenario has been dissected and every possibility has been considered; let’s just race this thing already. 500 Miles to go…

Eric Hall

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Bump Day Live Blog!!!

FINAL UPDATE

As The Speedway sits quietly after two days of non-stop running, Michel Jourdain packs up to head home after a heartbreaking afternoon. The #17 crew called off a last minute bonsai run after an entire day of parts changes, driver swaps and nerves of steel. The car simply did not have the speed. The tub is purportedly the same one Takuma Sato wadded up on the final lap of the 2012 500 (it has been discovered that the Sato tub was NOT in use by Jourdain this weekend). Graham Rahal took the wheel for five laps early in the afternoon and confirmed there was something wrong very deep within the machine.

Even though there was no final qualifying attempt, the tension was high all afternoon. The drivers at the tail end of the field sat in qualifying mode once the completed their runs before one PM until the track closed for the day at six. No one on these teams were able to relax or put a race setup on the car and do some worthwhile practicing with the rest of the field. It was qualifying mode, do or die, all afternoon long.

After the field was filled, most locked in teams took to the track for some race simulation work. At one point, it looked like there was an actual race going on as drivers jockeyed for position and generally mixed it up in a way totally opposite to the objective for the day: bring it home in one piece. The only other incident besides Connor Daly’s smash yesterday was a slight brush from Will Power exiting T4 very late in the afternoon. In terms of crash damage, it was a remarkably clean weekend.

I headed home a bit early from The Speedway today and was able to catch the final hour of the practice telecast. The coverage was remarkable, and Will Buxton looked to be having quite the good time during his first trip to Indianapolis. It was truly unfortunate that NBCSN’s time was cut a bit short on coverage because they did a remarkable job. The storylines were well explained, the technical insight was top notch and the camera work was of Formula One world feed quality.

With that, we conclude out coverage of the most stress filled day in motorsports. Enjoy the few days of peace before the weekend kicks off on Friday morning with the final hour of practice on Carb Day. Once again, the field looks incredibly tough. Filled with high quality veterans and skilled rookies, there is really not a single wasted seat.

Of course we didn’t even get to see some of the beloved Indy specialists that have graced the bricks over the years. But that’s how racing evolves and moves forward. Save for Rick Mears, what driver actually retires? They fade from hero, to and Indy specialist to obscurity before finally coming back as a guest and taking in the grandeur of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from an entirely different perspective.

In less than one week the twin checkers will have waved for the 2013 Indianapolis 500. The week before a race fans Christmas is upon us; revel in what was witnessed this weekend and come back with batteries recharged for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Eric Hall

Ed freaking Carpenter! I think that’s all that need to be said regarding the on track activity yesterday. It was a banner day for the USAC contingent as one of their own, and an Indiana boy to boot, put himself on pole at the greatest race in the world. We have to go back 15 years to the early IRL to find the last USAC stalwarts to grab pole. Billy Boat in 1998 and Tony Stewart in 1996, although the link from USAC front engine dirt cars to rear engine formula cars has been lost for a very long time, it was nice to see a grad up top.

The TV coverage has been a huge bone of contention throughout the entire weekend. It started at six PM last night when NBCSN chose to air the Preakness Stakes post-race show in lieu of the fast nine shootout from IMS. In an unfortunate turn of events, when NBCSN rejoined, they did so live causing TV viewers to miss the first five or six cars from the shootout.  I understand the need to preempt certain events, but it would have been very nice if the broadcast could have been shown slightly delayed. Unfortunate.

The troubles continued today when the first 15 or 20 minutes of the TV broadcast were preempted again. This time it was hockey overtime that took precedence over indycar racing. Fortunately, there wasn’t much that was missed by the TV viewers in the 20 minutes of a six hour broadcast. On one hand, it is frustrating to be shown exactly where indycar sits in the sports hierarchy of NBC. Even more unfortunate, I don’t think it’s a shock to anyone that this is the case. But this is Indy that should count for something.

On the other hand, this shows exactly why you need to be here and in person to experience the awesomeness that is qualifying at Indianapolis. If everyone came out who was peeved by missing about an hour of qualys in the 12 hours of running, the place would be packed! We want those big huge bump day and pole day crowds back, time to make plans to meet in Indy in 2014.

As of one PM, the field for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 has been filled with a run from Katherine Legge. Michel Jourdain is on the outside looking in but has a bit under five hours to bump his way into the field. The final 30 minutes of bump day are the most intense and emotional minutes of the entire year. Someone’s hopes and dreams will be crushed today when the gun goes off at six and qualifying for 2013 closes. Tears of joy and heartbreak will be seen shortly thereafter and one driver will pack his stuff up and head home.

It’s another hot day at The Speedway today so the track should be greasy and difficult to keep up with throughout the day. Look for Bump Day to commence in earnest shortly after the top of the five o clock hour. If you’re out at The Speedway, make sure to stop in at the Social Media Garage and say hi; we have a live track feed, shade, sims and timing and scoring in the house.

Check back later in the day for another update! And as always, thank you for reading!

Eric Hall

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Pole Day Live Blog!!!

Wow, what a first run through the field! Will Power has the current fast speed of 229.808, nearly an entire mile an hour faster than Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. That elusive 230 mile per hour lap looks like it will have to wait another year… Maybe, but more on that later.

The program has changed a bit due to the early rain delay. Main qualifying has been extended until 6:00 PM with the pole shootout starting at 6:30. Although I have no idea what the schedule for the fast nine will be, I cannot imagine that the drivers will get more than a single attempt out there.

Now that the Fast Nine has been pushed back, there is a very good chance we will see some speed increases. Remember, they are paying big points for the top five in qualifying so teams and drivers have every reason to put up a big time.

The shoot out starting at 6:30 will have a very “happy hour” feel to it. The track will be legitimately cooler as the grandstands down the front straight and into T1 will shade the track like the pre daylight savings time era. The track will have a very different look than we have been used to in years past. The cooler track and cooler air could very well push the cars into the mythical 230 range.

The urgency to lock the car into the top 24 is clearly present with the lower teams. The track has not really opened for practice as most teams in danger are turning qualifying attempt after qualifying attempt.  The shuffle at the bottom of the grid has been fast and furious and at this point, it’s anyone’s guess who will be left on the outside looking in.

On a side note, if you are at home wondering if the fast nine shootout will be televised, NBCSN will be back on the air at 7, after the Preakness Post Race to show the balance of qualifying. I have to assume the fast nine will be tape delayed.

Hopefully we will be able to do an end of day wrap up at some point tonight. But there are no promises. As of RIGHT NOW, the bubble speed is 224.656 and the fast nine speed is 227.493. Drivers have less than 30 minutes to lock themselves into the field or to get a chance at the fast nine shoot out.

Eric Hall

(programming note: poor internet access at The Speedway (shocking… I know) prevented part one of the live blog from posting. So here it is, better late than never)

Welcome to the Greatest Race Course in the World on a rainy Pole Day. There are quite a few people in the house this morning; surprising for the current conditions. The pavement is starting to dry right outside of the social media garage and jet dryers are screaming down the track at three miles an hour. The sun is starting to peak through the cloud cover and we have a jazz combo set up right outside of gasoline alley. Now the only thing we are missing are some stupid fast racecars taking to the track for the most white knuckle four laps of the season.

There has been a fair amount of press regarding the possibilities of a 230 mile per hour lap turned today; something that has not been seen at The Speedway in ten years. For some reason, I have always felt that 230 was a magic number; a mythical animal of sorts. NASCAR hit 215 before hitting the brakes headed into T1 during a tire test recently, and MotoGP has been known to hit 215 as well heading into road course T1. A 230 average speed from indycar usually means a trap speed well into the 240s.

Unfortunately, that isn’t happening today. The top speeds of the month were in the 229s… with a tow. Even if the cars are trimmed and slippery through the air, the penalty of running qualy laps alone will surely be the speed limiting factor today. The patented anotherindycarblog pole speed prediction is 227.898.

Who is your pick for the big winner in the final pole shootout? Initially I had picked Tagliani because he and his BHA team seem to really have a knack for putting down blistering qualifying laps here. However, the Honda engines have been sluggish all month but have finally started to show some speed during the morning warm-up today. The true shining star in a Honda has been young Josef Newgarden who has topped the Honda contingent during the preceding week of practice more than once. If anyone is primed to break up the Chevy party at the front, it may very well be Josef.

It’s just now after one in the afternoon and track drying seems to be going well. I felt a few sprinkles while circulating the garage area, but it was nothing that would severely hurt the drying process. That’s about it from the SUPER FANTASTIC SOCIAL MEDIA GARAGE (if you haven’t stopped in to say hi, what are you doing?) Enjoy the day of high speed insanity today whether you are here at the track, following along at work, or watching the fantastic NBCSN coverage. Check back later in the day for updates!

Eric Hall

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Welcome to May!

 

Welcome to May

Welcome to the official opening day Social Media Garage live blog on a chilly day at the Greatest Race Course in the World. We’re starting a bit late due to the ridiculously chilly weather today but that hasn’t dulled the mood here at all. This morning started with The Celebration of Automobiles in the Pagoda Plaza. There are some stellar examples of rare midcentury cars out there; not your run of the mill corvette/mustang car corral. In fact, there were no less than 30 Deloreans rallied together! I had no idea there were that many still in driving condition. An opening day miracle for sure!

Not all teams are loaded into Gasoline Alley quite yet with Dale Coyne Racing still putting together Pippa Mann’s machine up in Chicago. That gave her the perfect opportunity to stop into the Social Media and do a quick QA for those lucky enough to find us.

And I cannot believe we have made it 11(!) days into the month without mentioning said Social media Garage. Myself, @Kelsey USA (visit her blog #SteelOvaryNation), @openwheelmom (visit her blog Openwheelmom’s Blog), @Andhesonit (visit his blog …And He’s on It!) and @nascarcasm (he is a man of mystery… no blog from him). We are based in the old F1 garages in stalls 34 and 35. If you missed then chance to join us today, make sure you head there during qualifying, we will be open both days.

Joseph Newgarden made an afternoon appearance in the garage for the second tweetup of the month and answered some fan questions. If you’re curious, the SFHR gnomes did not help the team move but have slowly started making their way to the new shop on main street, Joseph had a blast with Pippa and Sarah Fisher during the street party on the cold and rainy Friday night.

Newgarden was the first driver to hit the bricks once the track went green shortly after noon. Fun fact: no “first driver out” has ever won the race. When informed of this, JN proclaimed: “THAT CHANGES THIS YEAR!” you have got to love his energy.

As of writing, AJ Allemdinger has successfully passed rookie orientation and Munoz is through two of three phases and should have no issues completing phase three.

The sun has broken through the clouds out here and the afternoon looks to be a bit nicer than this morning was. However, I do not expect to see much heavy running as teams will probably run a few shake down laps to make sure the car is in the ballpark and park for the remainder of the afternoon in hopes of warmer weather later.

Considering the tire supply and engine miles, a driver would not be able to run all day every day anyway; the mileage and equipment just in not available to teams to do that. A possible quirk in the cost imited spec era, but this also builds in bad weather contingency time so it may not be the worst thing in the world if we are forced to only run a single week.

Thanks for stopping by and make sure you check back regularly throughout the next two weeks for more pretend inside access and mindless ramblings from one of your four sources of Social Media Garage craziness!

If you want to get into the May mood, check some of the content from last year.

Surviving the Coke Lot

What Indy Means

Aerodynamic Case Study: Engine Covers at the 500

Eric Hall

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Weekend Review… The Greatest Street Race EVER Edition

Yet another race in the books, and another finish for indycar lore. Depending on who you ask, the 2013 Indy Brazil 300 was either the race of the year, decade, century… or ever. I’m not sure I have the qualifications to make such claims, but they sure aren’t too far off. There were multiple on-track passes for the lead, and even given the roulette type nature of the previous three races, we literally had no idea that Hinch would pull it out in the final corner. Especially while sitting in P4 with ten laps to go and nearly ten seconds of time to make up.

Hinch – The Canadian driver showed experience well beyond his year on his way to victory lane this weekend. Keeping his cool while Sato was just toeing the line between tough defensive driving and blocking, James pounced when Takuma over cooked the entrance to the final turn on the final lap. The patience that was displayed to simultaneously run hard, making up a couple second gap and three positions with just a handful of laps left, but wait until the time was right to finally put the deciding move on Sato. Well played by The Mayor as he clinched win number two, the second of many more this season.

Blocking – If the definition of blocking is moving from the racing line to impede the progress of another driver, Takuma Sato did not block on Sunday. The only thing he is guilty of is apexing the slight doglegs on the back straight. Sato consistently ran the inside line while apexing the doglegs for the majority of the final stint once he gained control of the lead position. There were no jerky motions to the inside and Sato had started his drift to the apex before either Hinch or Josef made their own move to the inside. In reality, if a driver is taking the Sato line, the passing zone does not open up until after the final meander in the back straight before turn 11. It was great racing from Sato, Newgarden and Hinch all the way to the end and an even better no-call from race control If you were upset with the no-call, how would you have taken race control monkeying with the finish?

Josef Newgarden – Speaking of blocking, If anyone got the short end of the stick, it wasn’t Hinch, it was Newgarden. The video replays were much less decisive in Newgarden’s case than Hinch’s. And if there was a real, honest to goodness block, it was probably when Josef violently abandoned his inside line on lap 70 due to the encroaching Sato. After a few spirited laps in the closing segment, Joseph’s tires were shot causing him to lose a few positions before coming home in his career best finish of P5.

Tires – The forced decision to run the 2012 tire compounds actually helped the racing and finish. It was clear from the start that drivers could run quite hard on the softer reds this weekend without a large amount of tire degradation with many drivers turning their personal best lap near the end of the final stint of the race while on reds. This allowed all drivers in contention to run as hard as they absolutely could almost all afternoon without the tires falling off the cliff (see Simona de Silvestro in St Petersburg). I prefer the 2013 spec tire as it opens more possibilities to alternate tire and pit strategy along with maintaining a wider gap in grip and longevity between the blacks and reds.

Cautions – Say what you will about the drivers seemingly inability to keep the race clean for any length of time some weekends, but all that yellow allowed the drivers to run hard, every lap, until the end of the race; no slowed stints due to fuel strategy. The yellow flag periods were relatively quick by indycar standards, probably because there wasn’t enough running to necessitate heavy usage of the sweepers. Yellows aren’t always the best of things, but they seemed to play into the race quite heavily; a nuance that makes 19 yellow flag laps, over a quarter of the event, more bearable than usual.

DCR and Ana Beatriz  – Three DNF’s in four races that were all the result of some type of mechanical gremlins have really put Ana Biatriz and the second car at Dale Coyle Racing in a tight situation. I fear that her perdicimant is shining the spotlight squarely at Dale’s poor prep work on the second, rent-a-seat ride. I was honestly shocked on Sunday when her engine cover came off and there was helicopter tape, the extremely expensive tape used to cover seams and find hundredths of a second, stuck to the cover as well. Ditch the tape and spend some time finding out what the heck is wrong with the second program. Ana and Justin Wilson deserve more out of their operation.

KV Racing – How in the name of the Borg-Warner did KV manage to run Tony Kanaan out of fuel while in Brazil? Tony’s final sponsorship check for the weekend must not have included three full tanks of gas. That, or Vasser is far worse at race strategy than anyone could have dreamed of. This is the same guy who pulled Takuma Sato out of the lead, and an almost sure win, at this very track in an attempt to go “off strategy”. I’m not sure where the KV crew learned to call races, but they could really use a refresher course. TK does not deserve to be locked into the bag-o-snakes that is Vasser, Kalkhoven, and their KV Racing crew.

For the fourth race in a row, I was muttering to myself that I need to start taking Ryan Hunter-Reay more seriously. The 2012 champion still feels like a dark horse for me, even after four competitive runs this year. Although no one is watching, indycar has the most momentum heading into The 500 than it has had in a long time. There is no way there wasn’t increased casual exposure in the wake of the Brazil finish; see this article on Jalopnik, a casual motoring website, for proof. We have 33 entries lined up with the promise of one or two more possible late comers. That’s it for the opening act of the 2013 season; on to Indy and the meat of the season.

Eric Hall

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Into the Crystal Ball… The Sambadrome Edition

Welcome to May! Before we hit the famed Brickyard, there is one more stop to make: The Streets of Sao Paulo Brazil. Without a doubt, this track is a favorite of fans and drivers alike. Half of the circuit consists of standard, 90 degree street course turns without much in the way of elevation change. Not super spiffy or fantastic; we love this place for the longest straight on the schedule followed by a gnarly hairpin and a blast down the Sambadrome straight. All of this has led to intense action during the previous three trips with 2013 looking no different. Gaining momentum heading into Indy will be very important as it can often take trips to multiple venues to rebuild the composure of a rattled team.

Five things to watch

Turn 1/2 Complex – After four years of ridiculous traffic jams and fender benders that would end a race, NZR Consulting has finally reprofiled  the turn 1/2 complex. Most of the accordion crashes were caused by a simple lack of room from the exit of turn one through the exit of turn two; two cars would barely fit side-by-side. Drivers have been given an extra ten feet of track from curb to wall and the two corners have been made a bit quicker to help prevent the stack-ups that have become expected when racing in Brazil.

Downforce – The Sambadrome circuit has a back straight of nearly a mile; the perfect reason to take some chances with car set-up. Unlike the balance of the twistie season where you crank in as much downforce as possible, Brazil give teams the unique opportunity to run a bit less downforce to gain some straight line speed. Of course, the car would be a handful in the tight sections, but the gains could out weight the tire wear penalty. Midfield teams who have a setup and driver that is easier on the tires would be the perfect candidates to roll the dice on different aero configurations.

Turn 11 – What’s almost as good as a nearly one mile straight? Following it up with a tight hairpin. Said hairpin is the best passing zone on the track and possibly the best passing zone on the entire schedule. Decelerating from 190 mile per hour to about 60 in a few hundred feet on the bumpy street circuit is no easy task leading to quite a lot of action taking place in the final turn before the Sambadrome straight. Having a car that can make it cleanly and easily through this corner will be paramount. If a drivers setup is compromised in this turn, they’ll be losing positions here all day.

Tires – Firestone’s 2013 tire compounds have been a big hit with drivers and fans alike. The gap between the softer reds and harder blacks has been widened leading to tire strategies that have been more dynamic than we have even seen since adopting the two-compound program. This weekend, Firestone has elected to bring the 2012 compounds. I don’t understand the rationale behind throwing teams a curveball after they spent three races and spring training forming new setups and developmental paths tailored to the new tires.

Rain – The forecast looks mostly clear for the city over the weekend with the bulk of expected rain to move in on Monday. But this is Brazil we are talking about; the chance of precipitation is always present. Will any teams opt for a wet/dry split? I highly doubt it given the forecast, but we are still a few days out from raceday. If chances increase, this would be another area for the midfield teams to take a chance and pull out a shocker. And if it rained, those teams and engineers would look like geniuses.

 

Predictions

Pole – Dario Franchitti – The fantastic run he had in Long Beach will parlay itself into an even better weekend for Dario. And it all starts with the pole.

Winner – Takuma Sato – AJFE and Sato can absolutely repeat their Long Beach performance this weekend. Sato has been close to the win the past two years and has proven he can run clean and mean all day long.

Epic Performance – Dario Franchitti – His season got off to a rough start but the turn-around two weeks ago is something we haven’t really seen out of Franchitti since the adoption of the DW12. A top five would give him and the team a fair amount of momentum heading into Indy.

Biggest Loser - Will Power (?!) – After picking him for the win and pole two out of the previous three races, I think there may be something seriously wrong with the organization. Power has been plagued by inconsistency, bad luck and poor race strategy for nearly a year now. Anything but a win is not enough to erase the last year of hardship.

Helio leads the standings heading into the weekend while most of the would-be contenders have had a slow start. If the first three races are any indication, once the checkers fall the standing could look very different from anything we could have expected in March. There are many fresh, young faces finally getting their chance to shine, and journeymen drivers stepping into the respect and results they have been striving to achieve for many years. This particular street circuit has character and it produced great racing with the old chassis and even better racing with the new one. Regardless of championship implications, the annual trip to Brazil is always an extremely exciting time.

Eric Hall

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Weekend Rewind… The Broken Record of Fantasticness Edition

Sunny So-Cal and indycar had another amazing weekend, punctuating a blistering start to the 2013 campaign. Takuma Sato took the checkers while the rest of the finishing order looked like something out of the twilight zone. Some will say that Dallara was the real winner because nearly every car had some sort of physical damage at some point throughout the weekend. I say, through good use of local yellows, full course cautions and laps behind the pacecar were minimized considering the track and amount of contact. The race was another stellar performance from everyone involved; we are all sounding like a broken record at this point, but I don’t think anyone is complaining.

Reactions

SATOOO – The Japanese driver finally arrives in indycar with his long overdue win on Sunday. He not quieted naysayers about himself, but he also raised AJ Foyt Enterprises stock quite a bit. The car was clean and without a blemish on the nose, Sato drove a picture perfect race, and the crew was able to give him the support he needed throughout the race to finally seal the deal. With Larry Foyt and Takuma Sato helming the ship, AJFE could be headed to the top of the midfield. Where’re you at SSPM, DCR and BHA?

Clean Driving? – It’s hard to fault the drivers for the plethora of bent noses and shattered carbon fiber seen on Sunday. Sometimes on street circuits, indycar has a sort of minor league feeling with all the yellow flags that fly, but our street circuits are more akin to Monaco than anywhere else. Super tight confines and open-wheels are never a winning combination. I’m not too sure the F1 guys really could do a better job of keeping it clean at Long Beach, especially considering the poor surface indycar drivers are asked to work with at almost all street facilities.

Kimball – after the drive of his life in Barber, Charlie ends up in the tire barrier… twice. And both were cases of over cooking the corner and ending up in the tires. His first foray into the fence came after quite a spirited and clean battle with Alex Tagliani before making a rookie error. On the front row as a lapped car on the map 55 restart, Kimball proceeded to smash it into the barriers once more for good measure. Not good Mr. Kimball; Wild, self-inflicted inconsistency does not sit well with The Chipster.

The Booth – With all credit to our wonderful commentators and NBCSN, I absolutely hate it when the guys talk over pit-to-driver radio broadcasts. It’s not a new problem for the network, and it seems like the guys just don’t care. Not only can we not hear them, most of the time the booth makes no attempt to relay the missed message to the audience. Not that it would matter, because there are no accompanying graphics to denote who is actually on the radio. I love the usage of comms in the broadcast, but NBCSN needs to figure out to make it work. …(cough cough)… F1 …(cough cough)…

Championship – The 2013 campaign thus far: no Penske or Ganassi wins, Simona de Silvestro and Will Power are tied for P8, AJFE pulls out a huge win and we have had two first time winners in three races with the most recent podium containing AJFE, RLLR, and DCR. We knew this year would be competitive, but no one saw anything like this coming. Who would have thought we would be celebrating a Franchitti finish of P4 to pull him into P20 of the championship?

Ganassi Rebound – They figured something out for Long Beach. All three drivers were on it and with May looming only a few weeks away, Ganassi may be heating up at just the right time. It’s hard to say the team has been out to lunch, but it has been a dice roll regarding which car would be fast on what weekend. All three drivers were in the hunt with a fast car under them all day long. With a win or two, we could have a nice team battle brewing with AA.

Andretti Autosport – I’m sure that days like Sunday make Michael Andretti, and every other team owner in the paddock, glad there is no team championship in indycar. When Marco is your highest only finishing entrant on a street circuit, you know something went amiss during the race. Hunter-Reay drove it into the tires, Hinch put himself in a poor position and got squeezed into the wall, and Viso fell victim to the accordion effect to end his day. Not a total team failure, but there were still shades of the AA of past on Sunday.

How can a series redefine road racing every single time they hit the track? Indycar has been doing that for the past three races. It used to be that you would strap in for a snoozer with the possibility of moderate excitement always present, but usually untapped. Now it does not seem unreasonable to expect at least a “good” race every weekend with the possibility of a snoozer almost undetectable. And a great race is absolutely possible every single time the green falls. Dreams of “what could be” were realized at Long Beach this weekend. There are almost no expectations at this point in the season and quite possibly anyone is in position to steal race wins and a championship.

Eric Hall

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