Are we enjoying our week off? I bet the teams and drivers are! A five straight race stint is a tall order when you are dealing with carbon fiber constructed open wheeled cars, but the teams took the challenge with grace and did not disappoint. Going back three weeks; the Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa triple header has been the most exciting few weeks of racing I have ever seen. We saw amazing on track action, different surprise winners and a very intriguing championship points battle take place. Wow, and thank you INDYCAR; it feels good to be a fan right now. Iowa was the pinnacle of action seen thus far during the 2012 campaign. Who had Ryan Hunter-Reay winning two in a row? I think he is the new king of the short oval, but can he take the fight to Will Power on the twisties and mount a serious assault on the championship?
Andretti Autosport – Even with everything that James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay have accomplished this year; the team is still just the best of the rest. Hinch was placed P2 in the championship before crashing out at Iowa. An amazing feat for the Canadian sophomore considering he is the new kid on the team. It has been quite a few years since AA has been in this position in the championship standings at half way. Even more impressive is Hunter-Reay’s back to back wins at Milwaukee and this week in at Iowa. Between those two drivers, it seems like AA has really hit on something and has regained some of the good will that was lost during the Danica years. But, until Marco performs or Michael tells him to move on, I just can’t take the team seriously. This year has really shown the chasm between I-drive-for-my-family Marco and we-drive-for-a-job Hinch and Hunter-Reay. It’s time Michael… do it fast like a Band-Aid… I promise the team will be better because of it.
Ovals For the Win? – During 2010 and 2011, the common school of thought was that it would be easier for a non-Penske/Ganassi team to steal a win on a road course. Enter 2012 and the tables have been completely turned. Two wins for Andretti Autosport and a win for Dale Coyne Racing punctuate the increased competition seen on ovals this year. Such a shift in the balance of power has been tough to follow this year. I went into the road course races knowing that this was the best place for one of the little guys to pull one over on the big boys. The exact opposite has been the case and an explanation totally eludes me. If you would have told me during the offseason that the field would have been more closely matched on the ovals that the twisties, I would have told you to stop playing with my emotions. If we can just pull some of that oval parity onto the road courses we would be in for one heck of a run through the end of the season.
Iowa Wins – I have stated more times that once that Texas was my favorite race outside the hollowed grounds of 16th and Georgetown. After three years of increasing action and continuity, Iowa has superseded Texas as my oval cornerstone event. Was Texas bad? Absolutely not, but it was very different from what we had been accustomed to when the new DW12 hit the track. And honestly, I was a little bit disappointed by the speeds throughout the race. On the other hand, Iowa thrived with the new chassis. The speeds were faster and the racing was as close as ever. Again, the DW12 has found another track that compliments its handling characteristics to a ‘T’. Iowa has been upgraded from a bucket-list race to a-must-attend-as-soon-as-possible-race. Texas was never to that level and has since been downgraded from bucket-list to an-exciting-race-to-watch-from-the-comfort-of-my-couch event. Well done Iowa , well done indeed.
Will Power – A common statement in the past about Will Powers oval prowess was: he make a lot of mistakes. This was quickly followed up by: yes, but most were cause by his team. Power is well into his fifth year of oval racing and still seems like he just doesn’t get it. His oval performance this year can be blamed on no one but himself. The latest transgression? Cutting Viso off, wrecking the already crash prone Venezuelan and then he capped it off by giving Viso the double angry birds. Make no mistake, Power was totally at fault here and to his credit, once he saw the replay he took responsibility for the coming together. Nevertheless, I am tired of Will Powers continued shenanigans on the oval tracks. These types of mistakes are not what a “championship caliber” driver should be making. I hope Power and Penske lose the championship in a nail biter; Power doesn’t deserve it this year.
Regarding the Heat Races – I thought they were really cool; a bit anticlimactic but very unique in their own right. When the green fell for the first heat there was nearly instantaneous complaining from timing and scoring viewers that the races were boring and a waste of time. I have it on good authority that the heats were only 30 laps long and there were actually racecars on track racing during the entirety of the heats. What more could you want? To go back to two lap qualifying? If you can tell me with a straight face that you would have enjoyed that more than the three heat races, then you should be given a medal. Anything is better than watching a single car take to the track, period. Not to mention that doing nothing new is one of the reasons we are in the mess we currently find American open wheel racing in. Tweaks will be made and changes will be carried out, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to abandon this idea after a single attempt. Missing the target when trying something new is infinitely better than continuing to drive down a familiar rut week after week. Remember, the mantra for this year is “evolve or become extinct”; this goes for every level of the sport.
Best. Race. Of. The. Year… so far. But in true indycar fashion today we were hit with equally amazing and devastating news. Road America will not host a round this year, and INDYCAR and IZOD are content with a 15 race schedule. Bad, bordering on terrible. However, the season ending race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana will now be a 500 mile race. That’s right, 500 long miles; the only 500 mile race to be run under IRL/INDYCAR sanction outside of The 500. Progress. But we still have a long road ahead. Will Power retains his championship lead by a slim three points over Ryan Hunter-Reay after his crashy Iowa race, but he has five straight rounds of twisties to spank the competition with. Will he though? After the three oval stretch we have just completed, I’m not sold on the idea that Power will run away with the championship. Enjoy the week off because it gets real in Toronto.