Rain, chicanes, ultra compressed timetables and local political grandstanding did nothing to detract from the rousing success that was the Baltimore Grand Prix. After yet another successful race promoted by Andretti Sports Marketing and everything that comes with it, I can’t help but wonder what could be if other teams owners took such an active role in the future of indycar racing. Michael Andretti was rewarded for all of his commitment with another win by Ryan Hunter-Reay and his first realistic championship berth since 2007. The confusion of Sonoma was persistent through an event that was punctuated with nine caution periods. Quite ridiculous, indeed. When the checkers finally fell, RHR was a mere 13 points behind Will Power heading into the season finale at Fontana.
Road Championship – Well… was there really any question about who would win it? I may be mistaking, but I believe Will Power actually wrapped the championship up when the checkers fell at Mid-Ohio, but I guess there is probably a discussion regarding the importance of these championships in there somewhere. Personally, I really like them. Whether or not there is enough cash and fame connected to the championships is not an issue for me. This is just a creative way to differentiate the different skills needed to be competitive and successful in the world of indycar racing. The season championship table never shows the complete picture of what happened throughout the year. We always complain about “fan service” and this is a prime example of the series putting its money where its mouth is. At the end of the day, the oval and road championships are for the fans and no more.
Yellow! – After four races of relatively clean driving and very few brain detached moves, the caution flag made up for itself this weekend in Baltimore. Out of the nine cautions that flew in the two hours and nine minutes of racing, only one was for a stalled car. The other eight involved cleanup of some sort. Sunday was like looking back into indycar twistie racing history with all of the silliness the drivers created. Scream hate and bile, but think about this first: I would bet a shiny new dollar that the majority of teams were running a compromised wet/dry setup. With a combo setup, no one had the grip or pace they needed in either condition. It was more an afternoon of survival and steady driving than a chance to outpace the competitors. On the plus side, the longest yellow was four laps, the rest were three or two.
Give ‘em a Break – 24 yellow laps total, or about a third of the race; not bad for a street race that started dry, sporadically raining throughout and ended in the dry. The conditions were beyond tricky on Sunday afternoon, and when it was raining on one portion of the track and dry on the other tire selection looked to make no meaningful difference in pace; the rain tire takers were mostly disadvantaged due to the extra trip down pitlane. Even open wheel journeyman Sebastien Bourdais spun his racecar while circulating under yellow with slicks on a wet portion of track. With all of that said, I must ask: only nine yellows? It could have been far worse and we have seen worse in the dry. And, kudos to the safety crews who managed to clear the track with the skill and speed we expect from them. The final caution of three laps was to clear five cars either stalled or literally sitting on top of another one. Fantastic work guys.
Ryan Hunter-Reay: The Esoteric American Winner – I totally wrote him off for the championship last week, and that was after penciling him in for the season ending hardware no more than a month ago. I would never have taken the bet that RHR would win at Baltimore while Will Power languished down in sixth place. And when RHR finally made his way to the podium, something more akin to an F1 podium celebration followed. The people were there, and they were loud. I never subscribed to the idea that indycar needs a winning American to find new fans, but this weekend showed the fruits of Hunter-Reay’s labors. All nice and good, but there is still a championship to be won and he made massive strides in denying Will Power his maiden championship for at least 13 more days. I have never been sold on his skills, but RHR has thoroughly shocked me with his results this year and it may actually be helping bring a few casual eyes to the series.
Chicanes and Restarts – The big question from the weekend was if Ryan Briscoe got snookered by race control when he was passed like a Lotus on the lap 69 restart. In my book green means go; Briscoe should have known there was blood in the water and done a better job protecting his position. We have seen this issue exactly zero times before this weekend; maybe Briscoe forgot how to restart at the front. (Ed: not fair, RB successfully defended his P1 position during two restarts at Sonoma.) Even more disappointing than that was only six or so cars could get side by side for said restarts because of the silly chicane. I know it’s there for a matter of safety, but its presence is despicably awful. This is one instance where I wish a rich uncle could drop a bag of money on the organizers to repave the entirety of Pratt Street. From what I can gather this would be the only realistic way to banish the chicane back to the racing hell from whence it came. For the love of everything that is good, MAKE IT SO!!
2012 has been far too short. The excitement that came from five race weekends in a row has truly been tempered as we close the book on the penultimate round of the 2012 campaign. The only thing worse than a 15 round season spanning seven months is the five month off season that is sure to follow. But we have one more, and it’s an oval, and it’s 500 miles, and it’s Fontana; not many better ways to close a year of hard fought indycar racing. Ryan Hunter-Reay survived the melee that was Baltimore and is within striking distance heading into possibly the only thing standing between Will Power and a championship… an oval… I envision Power suffering from flashbacks for the next week and a half. This could get very interesting before the checkers fall on the 2012 campaign.