Random Thoughts On Sonoma

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Well, that was certainly different. The only word I can come up with to describe the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma is…strange. It was a very static and boring two car parade up front, with Dario Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe starting and finishing first and second respectively. However, what happened behind them was, well…strange.

Franchitti and Briscoe both did exactly what they needed to do, as unexciting as that may have been. Franchitti never relented the top spot and Ryan Briscoe was wise to never really challenge for it, given all of the mayhem that was going on behind them. Briscoe played it cool and reclaimed the points lead, while Franchitti leapfrogged over his faltering teammate and moved within four points of the championship lead with three races to go.

The strangeness started right after the first turn as the entire field was going up the hill. At first, I thought Marco Andretti was to blame for cutting across the bow of Graham Rahal. After viewing several replays though, I now think the finger can be pointed at Rahal for being too aggressive too early. Whoever was to blame, what followed can only be described as a melee, which points leader Scott Dixon got the worst of.

Dixon was already starting in mid-pack due to a poor qualifying effort on Saturday. Supposedly the team had found the problem in his brakes and he was set to carve his way up at least a few spots on this narrow track. Unfortunately for Dixon, by starting that far back he got caught up in someone else’s mess. By the time the dust settled (literally), he was at the back of the field albeit still on the lead lap. He was going to have his work cut out for him for the rest of the day. Dixon managed to run as high as tenth before being punted by Marco Andretti on the final lap. Dixon finished in fourteenth place, but was later moved back in front of Marco in the final results and credited with thirteenth and twenty points out of the championship lead.

Other positions underwent major shuffles after the opening lap skirmish. Justin Wilson, who was starting from the back of the field, passed half of the field moving from twenty-second to eleventh. Wilson would eventually overcome a strange pit-strategy and dirt-tracking one of the turns to finish seventh. Other big moves toward the front included Robert Doornbos, by advancing nine positions; and Ryan Hunter-Reay and Oriol Servia, who each moved up eight spots. The big losers in the first lap brawl besides Dixon included Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, EJ Viso, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. Viso was knocked out immediately while Graham Rahal would eventually come back out and run a few meaningless laps before retiring for good. Everyone else was relegated towards the rear to fight amongst themselves for track position.

Helio Castroneves drove stronger than I expected, but his car was damaged late in the race when he tangled with Kanaan and his suspension eventually broke, sending him into a spectacular first turn shunt with nine laps remaining. Helio finished eighteenth.

While my predicted order for first and second was reversed, I felt a hunch that a wildcard entry would finish third. That was the case with Mike Conway driving a superb race coming through the confusion from a ninth starting spot for a well-earned third. He may be the most improved driver for the second half of the season. Hats off to Hideki Mutoh for another solid drive to move back into the top ten in points; and also to Oriol Servia for an excellent sixth place drive in only his second race back with NHL.

TV Coverage: The Versus coverage was at its usual level of excellence. The crew in the booth continues to gel together nicely. I’m especially impressed with the performance of the pit reporters Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston. They both now seem comfortable in their roles, letting their personalities come through. Lindy Thackston seemed a little nervous at the beginning of the season, but really blossomed at Indy. I now consider her accepted and “one of us”, for whatever that’s worth.

Bob Jenkins is to be commended for expanding the record book by noting that Dario Franchitti now has twenty-two “open-wheel” wins, tying him for fourteenth on the all-time list with Helio Castroneves and Emerson Fittipaldi. He also mentioned that he is only two wins away from trying Bobby Rahal and Rodger Ward who each had twenty-four. Now, that’s the way it should be. It wasn’t cumbersome at all. In two quick sentences, Bob Jenkins acknowledged the IRL, CART and USAC eras of open-wheel racing. It’s nice to hear some of Rodger Ward’s accomplishments being mentioned on a current day telecast.

I know from Jack Arute’s book, that he has a genuine and healthy fear of snakes. Quite honestly, I’m not too crazy about them myself. Maybe that’s the reason, but I didn’t care too much for the EJ Viso snake segment during the pre-race show. It was just a little too uncomfortable to watch.

Versus should go back and re-record a voice-over for a commercial promoting the final three races of the season. Dario’s last name on the promo is pronounced Fran-SHID-dy. Enough said.

Although there is a new ApexBrasil commercial and they seemed to have toned down the endless Izod commercial – what’s the deal with the male-enhancement commercials? Talk about something being uncomfortable to watch! The cheesey couples constantly using words like “big” and “firm” to describe their product is just a little more than my weekend viewing pleasure can stomach. I would rather be subjected to an endless loop of the Danica Patrick Boost Mobile commercials, than this. Please, make it stop!

Overall: It was a strange race, but that is probably what was needed to shake up a potential yawner. It’s been a while since a big crash took some of the leading names out of contention early. The only thing that would have completely stirred things up would have been the top three starters getting tangled and somehow collecting Dixon, thereby allowing names like Conway, Mutoh and Servia to battle for the win.

Once things settled down, it was a typically dry race at Sonoma (no pun intended). There were a lot of battles mid-pack, but the lead of the race was never questioned. It was at least more entertaining than I expected, but I’m glad to get that one behind us. Now it’s on to Chicago and what I expect should be an exciting race this Saturday night. The final three races will decide the three-way battle for the championship. Saturday night will be fun to watch…at least, I hope so.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Sonoma”

  1. Anyone know what’s going on with DirecTV and Versus? The annoying bug at the bottom of the screen kept popping up. Negotiations on renewal not going well?

  2. John McLallen Says:

    Good commentary George. I too, liked Jenkins’ new take on the history of AOW and I couldn’t agree more about the VS. coverage. It is excellent.

    By the way, the Hot Wheels IndyCar merchandise are now in the Nashville area Target stores. the 1/24 cars look great as do the 1/64. The big one looks like it will be every youngster’s delight.

  3. I thought Justin Wilson was impressive. Maybe my new favorite driver.

    Seems like everyone (even drivers) talks about the lack of passing on these road/street things, especially at Sonoma. Don’t mean to make my ignorance obvious but why don’t they just fix it? Why don’t they build in some wider areas to allow for more passing?

    Agree on announcers & Lindy–she does a nice job.

    • @ Redd,

      Right now, it’s not just the circuits, but also the cars that need to be fixed. They just have too much aerodynamics and too little speed to facilitate decent amounts of overtaking.

  4. bickelmom Says:

    Did you think Helio’s team’s complaint that the tangle with Kannan was the cause of his suspension breaking was legit? It seemed to me Helio was banging that car up all weekend. Maybe the Kannan crash was the last straw, but the suspension didn’t break until well after the hit…

  5. I agree with the comment on the male enhancement commercials. They were a bit much. Also, I hate to correct you, but Lindy’s last name is spelled Thackston. Sorry. A great article nonetheless!

  6. I have written (on my blog) an open letter to DirecTv and Versus. This needs to get fixed and now, particularly with 3 ovals left and the championship up for grabs.

    As to the race, the last few laps were excellent, the lack of passing notwithstanding. Lots of slicing, dicing, spinning and saving. The first part of the race was sooo boring that I did, in fact, fall asleep.

    I am glad to get back into oval racing for the stretch run to the title. There are more opportunities for a sleeper to come into and break up0 the championship derby.

  7. I agree that at the front it wasn’t particularly exciting, but road racing is about strategy, speed, discipline to stay on course and it has its own value.

    Versus-as always, good.

  8. I was pleasantly surprised by that race. Granted, the first lap incident may have had plenty to do with it but still, some of the battles were pretty cool and those last few laps were pretty neat. I do wish Briscoe was a little more aggressive to get by Dario but I can’t complain too much.

    Perhaps this is my unusual sense of humor or fascination with Viso, but that segment was one of the funniest I have seen in a while.

  9. I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say the race was “strange”. Personally, I thought it was pretty good. I don’t think it was boring up front at all. Dario and Ryan ran lock-step all the way through and Helio joined them soon after. it was nail-biting stuff for me. A single mistake would have changed the order immediately and the excitement remained during pit-stops, although there was clear advantage to anyone who could save more fuel.

    And I agree, the battles in the midfield were pretty exciting. I never once felt the race was stagnating, there was always something exciting to see. And kudos to the Versus production team, the coverage was really enjoyable. Just cut back on those commercials, they were excruciating! I live in Eastern Europe (don’t ask how I get to see Versus), so the style and frequency of the adverts was really painful.

    Anyhow, it was a good race. Compared to the Valencia F1 race that was ran earlier the same day… now THAT was a snooze-fest!

    • @ Kasper,

      Fairly bang-on, the race was definitely better than expected and to be honest I don’t think any F1 fan likes Valencia.
      As for Versus, a decent job in the booth and the pits, but I think they need a new director for the road street races and they cut away from so many passing maneuvers only to show them as replays 20 seconds later

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