Recent Memories From The Glen

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With all of the off-track news that has hit the IndyCar series this week, it’s fortunate that there is a race this weekend to put the focus back where it should be…on the track. Aside from the upheaval with the Hulman-George family, there is still all of the chatter of the boring races and the dominance of two teams that have beset the Indy Racing League. The timing of going to historic Watkins Glen could not have been better.

Anyone who knows me knows that I much prefer ovals to road courses. That being said, with the ovals being so stagnant this year perhaps the road courses can provide the variety we are looking for…meaning someone to break the Penske-Ganassi chokehold on the series.

This is the fifth year that the IndyCars have run at The Glen. The first three didn’t offer that much excitement as Scott Dixon dominated all three. In 2005, it provided Scott Dixon with his only win of the season as his Target Panoz was saddled with the woefully underpowered Toyota engine. That was the lone highlight of the 2005 season for Dixon, who never scored higher than sixth at any other tracks that year as he struggled to thirteenth in the points.

The next two races offered little excitement other than a couple of heated arguments. In 2006, Eddie Cheever inexplicably crossed into Marco Andretti’s path taking both of them out. This was the first race after the Indianapolis 500 that saw Marco almost win, so his credibility rating was at an all-time high. At the time, he was considered to be the next big star. Cheever and the Andretti’s had been feuding for years, going back to 1992 when the Andretti’s resented that Cheever, who was driving for target Chip Ganassi at the time, was the beneficiary of the Ford-Cosworth engine that they had done so much off-season development work on. There were several on and off-track run-ins that season. Now it was continuing again, a generation later.

The 2007 IndyCar race at Watkins Glen is probably most remembered for a post-race brawl that probably got more airtime on SportsCenter than any race that season. Sam Hornish hit Tony Kanaan from behind earlier in the race, but they were both able to continue. After the race was over, as the cars were coming back into the pits – Kanaan clipped across Hornish’s nose, just to let him know he didn’t appreciate the contact.

When both drivers started getting out of the car, Hornish started egging Kanaan on by mockingly clapping his hands. As Kanaan walked toward Hornish to confront him, out of nowhere came a shove by an old man…Sam Hornish, Sr. A melee ensued between Penske and AGR personnel, including Michael Andretti. The elder Hornish soon found himself on the ground amidst the scuffling.

The quote of the day came from Kanaan who later said that he didn’t want to fight and they were just talking; "…but Sam has his Daddy do his fighting for him. That’s why Dad’s should be in the stands and not in the pits.”

Last year’s race was a comedy of errors. Danica Patrick did exactly what Ryan Briscoe did to her at Indy. She got on the power too hard leaving her pits and the car veered hard right, straight into the Ganassi pits. Fortunately no crewmembers were hit, but as she shoved the nose of her Dallara into a stack of tires – Firestone Firehawks were sent flying.

Also during a yellow, Dixon got on the power a little hard while trying to keep his tires warm. His car spun and collected Ryan Briscoe who was in position to collect the win.

The end of the race was a battle between Ryan Hunter-Reay driving for Rahal-Letterman and Darren Manning who was driving for AJ Foyt. Hunter-Reay drove to victory garnering his first IndyCar Series victory; with Manning in second, giving the Foyt team their best run in years.

This year finds Hunter-Reay driving the AJ Foyt entry. Those trying to connect the dots will say that last year’s winner driving last year’s second place car should provide great results. I don’t see it that way. Hunter-Reay is in the midst of a terrible season and the Foyt team’s season is even worse. I look for that trend to continue, as the #14 car will be a non-factor all weekend.

Also worth watching will be Paul Tracy’s return in the #15 Geico car for KV Racing Technologies. Another source of curiosity is the IndyCar debut of Eddie Cheever’s nephew, Richard Antinucci in the #98 Team 3G. I’m not sure I would wish that car on anyone, as it has been painfully slow all season and appears to be going backwards. I hope this doesn’t shatter his confidence and do damage to the psyche of a promising young driver.

So will this be the weekend that breaks the streak of Penske and Ganassi? I hope so, but I’ve been predicting that for a few weeks and it hasn’t happened. The only one of those cars with a poor history at The Glen is Helio Castroneves, whose best finish was seventh in 2006. Briscoe didn’t run in 2005 due to injuries sustained after his fiery crash at Chicago. He returned in 2006 in Buddy Lazier’s Dreyer & Reinbold car to earn a third place finish. He was positioned for a strong finish last year before the Dixon incident took him out.

Dixon won three in a row before that incident last year, so his track record speaks for itself. Dario Franchitti finished third in his last visit to The Glen in 2007. If I were a betting man, I’d pick one of the Target cars – although Franchitti will be sporting the black Poloroid livery this weekend. There — now that I’ve picked a Ganassi car to win, the streak will probably be broken.

I hope everyone enjoys a safe and happy Independence Day on Saturday. There will be no blog on Sunday morning as I plan on enjoying the holiday myself. Look for the race recap on Monday morning entitled “Random Thoughts on Watkins Glen”.

Enjoy the holiday and the race!

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “Recent Memories From The Glen”

  1. Even if the race sees the Big Two up front, at least the knockout qualifying session should provide some excitement. ;)

  2. James O. Says:

    I get bored with any one kind of racing, so I like the mix. To me, the perfect year would never have one kind of racing (oval, permanent road course, temp street) as back-to-back events. Each one has its advantages and drawbacks.

    The “fix” for road courses would be passing zones and multiple lines, where you could get in front if you’ve got the power or you can drive a different ine in a turn. I’m thinking again of Le Mans, where you’ve got that long straight for speed, a lot of tight corners, plus a couple more turns where you can still get around a slower car.

    Plus, I still remember (vaguely) a road race–can’t remember where, about a decade ago where the two front-running drivers both ran out of gas on the last lap, and Pos 3 won coasting across the line on fumes. People rightly bitch about fuel conservation, but I do love unpredictability, and the end of that race was a jaw-dropper.

    • oilpressure Says:

      I want to say that was Portland in 1997…but don’t hold me to that. –GP

      • Greg Moore passed Mark Blundell and Mauricio Gugelmin for the win on the last lap in Detroit in 1997, because PacWest Racing gambled on a single-pit-stop strategy. In the very wet, abbreviated race the following weekend in Portland, Blundell beat deFerran in the closest CART finish.

  3. James O. Says:

    Well, I thought that was pretty good. A dark horse winner, but he did not dominate pole to pole. There was a fair amount of shuffling and a few surprises. TV coverage was adequate, though the reappearance of the Curb car and a new driver, and Milka D., went ignored. Even though they’re back markers, it would be nice if they got a smidgeon of camera time if only to keep me from being surprised when I see their names on the crawl (or out, in the case of Antinucci).

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