Holy all that is good, the drivers made it through turn 1 repeatedly without absolutely disrespecting each other by running over the cars in front. Last year I was completely embarrassed to call myself an indycar die-hard for the first 25 minutes or so of the race. This year we watched a clinic on clean and respectful racing. I don’t care that some say the race was a snoozer; the drivers showed their professionalism all day. Helio took the early point lead and played spiderman one more time by taking the first win of the season and the first win in the all new manufacturer competition era. Many things went right in sunny Florida; so much was riding on the drivers to give us the show we saw and many, including myself, were more than surprised at how successful the event went off.
I chose the picture of spidey-Helio because this image will be burned into my brain just as vividly as Dan Wheldons milk over the head celebration. What a way to bring a bit of closure to a tough off season.
Race Control – BxB did a fantastic job during his maiden dance with the devil know as INDYCAR race control. The only point of contention during the entire weekend was when Castroneves showed Carpenter the chrome horn. A no call was the outcome; a call that I agree whole heartedly with. This was the definition of a racing incident. Eddie was maybe a bit over his head and got himself into trouble because he simply lacked the road racing knowledge when dealing with the situation he found himself in. The blocking/defending line of demarcation may be coming into focus as the drivers seemed to play unusually nice considering the chokehold they were in for so long. Congratulations all around to everyone involved in this new rule era of racing; refreshing is the only word that comes to mind.
Helio – Throughout the early stages of the season last year I was wondering what’s up in Helio-land. He had a couple bad races to start the season and never was able to recover. Ultimately he was unable to score a win in the 2011 season and turned out to be a non factor at Indy and in the championship hunt. This year HC came out swinging and reasserted himself as a contender and made inroads into Will Powers supposed number one status at the Team Penske powerhouse. Throughout the latter stages of testing and the St. Pete weekend, he was at the sharp end of the field. Once again he reminds us why the Captain keeps him around. Can he keep up his momentum through the year and be in position to make a run at his first championship? I sure hope so; HC still has speed and drive.
ABC – It would seem that no race review would be complete without a knock on ABC… so here’s mine as well. We know there was passing throughout the field below the top five; I could see it happening on the position crawl. But as a TV viewer I was fighting the feeling that I was watching a snoozer all afternoon long. Reports of passing into T1 and T10 were rampant, but I seem to have missed them during the broadcast. I am not a timing and scoring junkie during a race broadcast so I take the race in as any ol’ casual fan would. We really need more engaging coverage, plain and simple. Scott Goodyear and Marty Reid are painfully boring and don’t seem to have a real grasp on what is happening on track and off. There were mysterious retirements that had no attention paid to them. Even worse, in Hildebrands and Bourdais case, they were on screen minutes before they were knocked out with trouble but no mention was made as to why or even that they were out of the race. All in all I say poor coverage from ABC; I cannot wait to watch Barber on the NBC Sports Network.
Attrition – There was no surprises this weekend; no more DNFs than a usual St. Pete weekend were recorded. They were just for mechanical failures instead of bone headed driving. No engines were lost in a flaming cloud of smoke so I guess that is a good thing. There seemed to be more peripheral failures than actual engine losses; power, gearbox, fuel systems. On the plus side; the DW12 seems quite robust. The fact that HC didn’t need a new wing after nerfing EC was more than enough needed proof. We also saw some front wing and endplate rubbage against the bumper without a shower of carbon fiber. I was quite amazed we didn’t see more front wing changes except for when Jakes stuffed his chassis into the tire barrier. The surprise factor was kept to a minimum during this first race; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Engines – Honda and Chevy, unsurprisingly, dominated the weekend with Chevy taking the early edge. Lotus was nowhere to be found, but two out of five cars completed the race; an absolute win in my book. I still don’t really have a feel for the differences in the leading engines, but more will be learned each and every race weekend. Once the cars got racing I felt that Hondas problem may have been more symptomatic of poor setup across their teams. Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato had no problem cutting it up with the leading Chevys. Hondas main drawback may be the lack of multi-car teams as half of the Chevy leases are taken by two heavy hitting teams where as Honda has a single top level multi-car team. Lotus did better than could have been imagined when Sebastien Bourdais ran as high as P2 and actually had something for the other engines. Admittedly, Lotus still has an enormous mountain to climb, but they didn’t completely miss the mark; progress will be made.
What a weekend! Again, I am so impressed with how painlessly the entire event went down. Next week the drivers trade the relatively wide open airport course for a tight and twisty motorcycle track. Everyone will truly be put to the test when trying to find clean racing room and hopefully these new found cooler heads will prevail all around. No matter how awesome the weekend ended up; there were still the painful reminders all around that we were racing without one of our favorite brothers. This was punctuated with Helio’s emotional victory celebration with the memory of DW on his very own corner. Barber marks a new beginning for the series. No more excuses will be made and laser like focus will mark the championship battle really starting to heat up.