Another event without a title sponsor, massive construction pains Thursday night, controversy over train tracks and chicanes, a poorly designed pit road; the event in Baltimore was almost born from controversy. As the checkers fell on Sunday afternoon, most of the worries had been solved and an incredibly well received event was in the books. Reports from the ground on Friday saw an amazing amount of people in the gate for Friday practice. Organizers had said they expected that many people for race day, so the weekend was off to a great start. Come Sunday morning and the grandstands were sold out, standing room only was the word of the day. There were still complaints about the track, especially the chicane, all weekend long but it never turned into the carbon fiber junkyard that so many people were predicting. Will Power came home first, ahead of an amazingly clean field. The drivers really showed some professionalism as the double file starts were the best we have seen all year. Yes, not may rows could align after the chicane, but everyone took care of each other and showed some respect for the well being of each other. It was an awesome sight to see the two by two field file safely through the first few turns.
Oriol Servia – I don’t think anyone would disagree that this team is on a roll. Honestly, they should have more than zero wins this year, if it weren’t for an extreme case of bad luck. Oriol Servia was, again, just a few laps of bad timing away from capturing his first combined series win. Yes, if Servia could have stayed ahead of Power, we would have had a titanic battle for the lead and I just don’t think he could have held off a charging Penske car on new tires; and even less of a chance holding a firey, driven and rage filled Will Power. The team’s chances of glory are severely diminished on an oval, as are most teams outside the top five drivers. Servia’s final and best shot for a win may come at Motegi in two weeks.
Tony Kanaan – No race report would be complete without more than a few lines dedicated to the crazy weekend TK and his KV team experienced in Baltimore. If I were to assign an epic performer in the post race, TK would have undoubtedly won it. The weekend was going down like any other weekend for the team, a ho hum practice on Friday with a P9 and P22, qualifying in P11. Not terrible, but not the results that we all know the 82 team is capable of. Then came his huge crash with Helio during the warm-ups on race morning. The team thrashed to frankenstein a workable chassis together and made it to the grid, moved to P27 due to starting in a backup car. From the moment the green dropped, TK sliced through the field like he was the only car on track. He finally came home in P3, gaining 24 spots on the day.
Rookie of the Year – JR Hildebrant and James Hinchcliffe have been locked in a epic battle for the ROTY honors for most of the second half of the season. Only three points separate the amazing rookie duo. There has not been a really good, honest to goodness rookie battle since 2003 when Wheldon took the honors by ten points above Roger Yasukawa in a battle that went down to the least round of the season. 2003 saw Wheldon win while competing in two less events, could this be a foreshadowing of how this year’s battle will end?
The Event – An estimated weekend total in the neighborhood of 110,000 and a local TV rating of 5.1, punctuated an amazing weekend. The track has some birthing pains on Thursday night into Friday morning, delaying the start to practice by some five hours. My biggest concern of the weekend, the durability of the new asphalt areas and curbs, was unfound. The track held up extremely well with even the three chicane curbs not crumbling one bit over the course of the event, and may not even be needed in future editions as many drivers said the tram tracks were not that bad to hit at full speed. A few minor tweaks here and there and this event could easily become a “crown jewel’ of the series.
Track Safety – After the shenanigans of the New Hampshire race, I touched on track safety. Those concerns came to a head again this week, as at least one safety truck was still on track when the green flag fell. One was caught on camera, and other reports say something similar happened at turn three. Usually, the excuse we hear is that indycar can’t make deals to race at the top tracks in the US, often taking tracks that are not quite up to spec when protecting the high speed open wheel cars that come to visit. This week was purely an over sight by race control, not a deficiency in the track safety program. This was born from an event that was brand new, no mistakes had been made yet and all safety systems would be a brand new design. None of these things failed, save for possibly a radio. We have not heard word yet about why this happened, but it was an absolutely stupid and scary moment. Imagine how Graham Rahal felt seeing that truck speed the wrong way at him while going side by side with Power.
I know that the old faithful that is race control made a few judgment errors this weekend, it was a better show than we have seen in the past. My only complaint was not putting Briscoe at the end of the line before the track went green, causing him to serve the penalty from the back. It just doesn’t make any sense to allow him to stay up in P4 if race control knows they are going to penalize him as soon as the green falls. Ahh, the amazing nuances of indycar officiating. Next week we head out to the road course in Motegi, Japan. There has been a small, but vocal group denouncing the trip on the grounds of safety. Were going, it’s too late now guys. Will Power, after pulling to within five points of Franchitti, has one last really good shot at the final twistie to help his championship aspirations. Points will be hard to make up come the ovals. Three rounds left, and the race for the championship is heating up, six weeks or so after everyone proclaimed the race was sealed and Power has a real chance if he can perform on the ovals.