Programming Note: In response to a few questions I have received regarding my pre and post-race reports from new readers, I feel I should shed a bit more light on my “style”. I have always contended that I am not a news site; there are plenty of professional and high quality amateur sites available for that. My choice of topics usually revolves around the event and not the people; I choose a more philosophical voice regarding what happened during a race weekend. I don’t necessarily have a favorite driver and am only in it to see fantastic racing, and share my brain vomit with the rest of you. I am a fan of the entire experience of American open wheel racing; sometimes the personal aspect of the drivers is the least important part of a race weekend for me.
Sooo… Was that awesome or what? We saw those guys and gals drive those puppies this weekend. In practice, the 500 was the only race on the schedule that required flawless race execution from everyone on a given team to have a shot at winning. But what we saw Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway was a throwback to that same style of team racing; a throwback to a type of oval racing that hasn’t been seen outside of Indianapolis for almost 15 years. And who came out on top? Road course specialist Justin Wilson(!) driving for the perennial underdogs at Dale Coyne Racing. Why? Because Wilson can drive and that is exactly what was needed to take that hard left into victory lane. Flirting with the wall wasn’t an option due to the new racing, and Graham Rahal took a bit too much and threw away a near lock with the white flag in sight. Even with the early domination from Scott Dixon, you just knew it wouldn’t last all night. What. A. Race.
What Pack Racing?!? – The racing was… different. Not bad by any means, but a definite night and day sort of difference from years past. Some would say, me included, that we have not truly seen honest to god pack racing at Texas since about 2007, but that doesn’t mean the series and drivers should not have strived to make the racing safer. And that is exactly what they did. After a few tests and a myriad of aero changes in preparation for the Saturday night showdown, it looks like the series is finally heading down the right path. Anytime the field went green, we very quickly saw the field string out and cars losing grip even faster. It turned out to be impossible to run side by side for more than a lap. I have not decided if I’m totally on board with this much room between cars, but it was nice to actually enjoy a race at Texas instead of watching with one eye closed in fear of calamity.
Lead Lap – The main complaint I have heard in response to the racing on Saturday night was the lack of actual contenders with a chance at the end. There were only six cars on the lead lap by the time the checkers fell and some were left a bit underwhelmed. When you take away the two by two draft and the high downforce levels, this type of race is exactly what we should expect at any large oval we compete at. The pretenders are left behind very quickly when the teams and drivers have to be in constant communication regarding the ever changing track conditions, and do it at an average of over 200 miles per hour. Any bobble during green flag running from anyone on the team could end a day before it really gets going. Imagine if this would have been a 500 mile race; we could have had three cars on the lead lap by the end. It really did feel quite old school and was an awesome departure from what we have been accustomed to. Is saying we are witnessing a renaissance of on track action in 2012 too much?
Local Alienation – Personally, I was enamored with what I saw. All gushing aside, I would have liked to have seen slightly less tire fall off over the course of a 50 lap run if only so the drivers could have driven hard for a little bit longer into the stint. Not really a huge issue in the big scheme of things. The most pressing fear I have about this “new Texas” is that the local community will not be on board for 2013. We know the racing has been decidedly less pack-ish in recent history, but the cars were still extremely close until this year. Will this not sit well with the estimated 69,000 people in attendance on Saturday night? The event was built on the type of wheel to wheel racing the series had been feverishly trying to stop. Mission accomplished, but will the loyal fan base at and around TMS see it the same way the hardcore national fan base sees it? The racing is safer, more exciting and skillful; hopefully this doesn’t absolutely kill the attendance if and when the series returns in 2013.
Lotus – Kudos to Lotus… seriously. They have decided to not completely give HVM Racing and Simona De Silvestro the year-long shaft. How? They are committed to at least attempting to bring the beleaguered team a new engine upgrade with every event remaining on the schedule. This development cycle would be in the same vein as the “step-two” Honda engine that debuted at Indianapolis. Engine manufacturers are allowed to work on upgrading engines between rebuild cycles and teams take no penalty for installing these upgraded engines when the currently used engine reaches its mileage ceiling. However Lotus is going to bring a new upgrade each event at the cost of a ten grid penalty each time an engine is swapped before it’s due. But does a ten spot penalty mean when you start last every week? Unfortunately, they didn’t kick this new program off very well as HVM was a no start due to low fuel pressure and was out before the green even fell. At least SdS and HVM have a glimmer of hope as the year wears on. Well played Lotus, I hope it works out for you.
Best of the Rest? – It used to be the big three; Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. Now it has clearly become the big two with Andretti franticly searching for the answer to its mediocre performances of recent history. In 2010 and 2011, it looked like KV Racing was in the prime position to snatch the best of the rest title from Andretti but KVR fizzled more than flourished. Now in 2012 there have only been three teams that have won a race: Penske, Ganassi, and Dale Coyne Racing. Could DCR take the best of the rest title by the end of the season? They are the only other multi car Honda team outside of the Ganassi powerhouse. With the win, Wilson still sits behind two Andretti drivers and a single KVR entry. DCR is clearly not the best of the rest quite yet, but the future looks surprisingly bright for the team once considered a joke in the paddock. If KVR wants to stay in the running they need to preform and do it immediately. Watch out boys, because Dale Coyne, Justin Wilson, and Bill Pappas are coming for blood.
Are we having fun yet? I sure am. The sour taste in my mouth from Detroit was instantly washed away once the green flag was dropped. Not that Detroit was the WORST RACE I HAVE EVER SEEN, because it wasn’t! But it didn’t show as well across the airwaves as it did live and in person. But don’t worry INDYCAR, all is forgotten. When the dust settled and the points were calculated, Will Power has actually extended his lead after serving a late race drive through. Good for Will, but his latest faltering while turning left was his fault and his fault alone. No team to blame that one on! He still has some work to do as we head to weeks two and three of the mid-season oval swing. Milwaukee is next on the docket and looks to be even more driver intensive than Texas. We need someone to take a decisive second place in the championship before we head back to the twisties or it’s going to be over sooner than later.
Good stuff, Eric. I’m interested in Lotus’ strategy this year. I hope it pays off towards the tail-end of the schedule. I’d like to see a decent result or two from that program (though the P13 at Detroit was decent).
I’m quite alright with only 6 cars on the lead lap. The action was great, and the drivers actually had to drive their cars allowing the more skilled to move to the front. This is what oval racing should be!
I cannot wait for Milwaukee. I’ve never been a big fan of the mile and a half tracks for Indycars. I’ve always felt that Indycars look racier on the one mile ovals. Given the new lower downforce package, and DW-12’s rear “bumpers” I’m expecting a wild race in Milwaukee, a track where the drivers have always had to pedal their way around.