Random Thoughts On Chicago

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What a race! At the moment, that’s all I can say. Hats off to both Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon. Either one of them deserved that race, but Briscoe nipped Dixon by just a few inches at the line. They both fought hard and drove clean. Briscoe suffered a miscue in the pits when he failed to pull close enough to the fuel hose. He fell back into the second half of the pack and seemed destined to follow Dixon’s fate of last week – falling from first to third in points. Dario Franchitti had his own miscue when his right front tire changer bobbled the air gun and cost him an extra second or two on pit road. As Dario said in the post-race interview: “That’s what costs championships”.

Helio Castroneves had his own issues. At first, it looked like he might be a repeat winner when he made a move to the front when the lead pack came upon slower traffic. Then after a slower pit stop, Helio found himself in seventh and then started dropping like a rock, falling back to fourteenth. Suddenly after the last set of pit stops, he was in the third position in front of Franchitti. I’m still not quite sure how that happened. It ended up being a moot point as Helio’s front suspension failed for the second time in two races, sending him hard into the fence. Castroneves has now been officially eliminated from championship contention.

Many people, myself included, wondered if the aero tweaks that were given back for the Kentucky race would work as well for Chicago as they did at Kentucky. I think we all got our question answered. This was sometimes as wild as anything I ever saw at Texas. There was constant three-wide racing for many laps on end. There was one shot for a couple of laps that featured two and sometimes three rows of three cars running in perfect formation. For several laps, there was a tighter three-wide formation than we ever saw on either of the two starts at this year’s Indianapolis 500.

I kept holding my breath waiting for Mario Moraes or Graham Rahal to make a youthful mistake. There were times that I was certain their wheels would interlock, sending one of them sailing – but it never happened. They both maintained their focus, even though they both freely drifted into each other’s paths as well as anyone around them – but they kept it together and Moraes had a career high finish of third.

Rahal had another top-five finish on an oval by finishing fifth – just behind Franchitti who fell another twenty points back in the championship. Dario now trails Briscoe by twenty-five points. Dixon is eight points behind Franchitti and thirty-three points out of first. Ryan Briscoe by no means has this locked up. A bad race in the final two can drop him clear out of the championship picture. But the way things stand right now, the Target boys need to do their homework over the next three weeks before the next race at Motegi, Japan.

Post Race Interviews: My opinion of Graham Rahal changes every other race. There are times when his brain-fades seem to outweigh his talent. There are other times when he basically comes across as a spoiled whiney brat with a sense of entitlement about him. Then there are times like last night, when I think I’m listening to the next American superstar of this sport. He drove the wheels off of that car and had a legitimate shot in the closing laps to win the race. Then in the post-race interview, he delivered an articulate and insightful interview that went above thanking the sponsors, the crew and the guys at the shop. He gave an impassioned plea for a bigger budget, which is something that team sorely needs. With a veteran like Oriol Servia to serve as a mentor for the young Rahal, I think NHL would be wise to gain more sponsorship in order to re-sign Rahal when he becomes a free-agent at the end of the season. I know it is harder than it sounds – especially in this economy, but I think Rahal is getting the seasoning he needs right now. NHL shouldn’t let him get away and take the experience they gave him to another team.

Another post-race interview helped me to soften my stance on Mario Moraes. Since the unfortunate death of his father, he has come back a changed man. He has matured greatly this season. He is no longer brash and cocky but is now understated and confident. If he could shave all twelve of those overgrown whiskers off of his face, I think he would be easier to like. There should be a hair-density factor a driver must meet before being allowed on pit lane unshaven.

TV Coverage: Once the race finally started, the TV coverage was as good as usual. The trouble was they chose a night with the latest starting time to have their longest pre-race show. I’m beginning to repeat myself, but the three in the booth were superb as usual. I continue to be impressed with the job that Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston are doing. They are new at this, but you’d never know by watching them after their first few races. They have really grown into their roles.

One that has over-grown his role is Jack Arute. First of all – I really like Jack Arute. I really do. I’ve read his book and his voice is the one constant through the years for the IndyCars. However, I find his “In Color” segments a little hard to watch (and why are they in black & white if it’s called In Color?). He seems to assume the persona of David Frost or Barbara Walters. It just seems ol’ Jack is taking himself a little too seriously. The drivers seem uncomfortable also. I think they know the “real“ Jack too well and they wonder; “who is this close-talker leaning over the table asking me all of these bizarre questions?” I think Jack needs to stick to pit reporting and being the pit strategist.

Which brings up another point about Jack Arute. I have listened to Jack Arute on IndyCar broadcasts for over twenty years. In all that time, not once have I ever heard him use the phrase “make fuel”…not until this season. It’s very annoying. Scott Dixon doesn’t MAKE fuel – he SAVES fuel. Rick Mears was always one of the best at saving his tires for the end of a fuel run. Yet no one ever said Rick Mears was making tires. He was saving tires. We all know what he means, but the clever saying of “making fuel” has run its course.

I was sorry to see Versus taking a page out of the old ABC playbook. In some of the most intense times of the race, they would go to a split screen to show driver’s wives, mothers or unidentified crewmembers. Please don’t. If I want drama, I’ll watch Grey’s Anatomy (not really). But at best, it’s very distracting and takes away from the racing. It reminded me of the 1989 Indy 500 ABC broadcast which seemed to focus more on Shelly Unser and Teresa Fittipaldi, than their respective spouses on the track.

I didn’t see every single commercial, but fortunately Versus has toned down the male-enhancement commercials from last week. I was afraid that the marketing research showed IndyCar fans as being mostly over-the-hill, inadequate lovers. I’m glad to see that may not be the case. They have also corrected the mispronunciation of Dario’s last name on the promos for the remaining races.

Overall: This was an outstanding race. There were lead changes, pit miscues and phenomenal mid-pack racing. There were only two crashes, both involving only one car. There were also charges from deep in the pack up to the front – one for the win. Any of the three remaining eligible drivers would all be worthy champions. All three exude class while winning or in disappointment. The final two races will have plenty of build-up with so much time before each one. If the aero-tweaks work on the remaining two tracks as they did on the last two ovals, they should be very exciting.

*Please note – There will be no new post for Monday. I’ll return Tuesday morning.

George Phillips

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5 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Chicago”

  1. tim nothhelfer Says:

    “Making Fuel” …sounds like methane production.
    “Chase for the Championship” is contrived to sound important like another series.

    The racing was fun to watch from front to back. I look forward to Motegi.

  2. You were lucky and got to watch actual promos for the Motegi race. On DirecTV, the provider and the channel were having a better hissy fit than most that I saw in high school. It was entirely annoying and distracted from the race on several occasions for me.

    • I have Direct and saw the crawl-war as well. But I was amused by it. I want to keep VS, but at the same time I don’t like Comcast from when I had cable, so I’m siding with Direct.

      I really don’t think VS will be dropped more than short time. Comcast wants money, but VS needs the exposure. If you’re Comcast/VS, you don’t really want to go to Peak, that snake-oil “male-enhancement” outfit, and so on, and explain to them why the ad schedule they bought is suddenly not going to be seen by a large chunk of the audience, as paltry as it was to begin with. They’re trying to build VS into a viable alternative to Speed and (someday) ESPN: they need all the venues they can get.

      If I’m wrong and it’s not picked up for Montegi: I’ll just watch it on-line.

  3. So you have a weekend without Nascar and you schedule one of the best races of the year to start after 9pm on a Saturday? The last weekend Nascar took off the IRL decided to take off also. Seems a little short-sighted.

  4. Facial Hair Density Factor – LOL!!!

    Maybe…
    The IRL can add FHD testing to the dirver’s physicals
    Fans can go online to guess where their favorite driver falls on the FHD scale (FHD scale ranges from Nigel Mansel to Janet Gtuhrie)
    Jack Arute does a 5 minute piece correlating FHD to career wins/top 5 finishes/etc.

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