Random Thoughts On St. Petersburg

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The 2010 edition of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg started out like it was worth the wait – especially for people like me who avoided the internet and radio all day long in order to be able to watch the DVR event on Monday night, as if it were live. My girlfriend had learned the results and seemed very intent on sharing them with me. As she dropped a couple of hints that sort of told me how the thing might end – I had to get a little testy with her. I don’t think she was amused. She left at the halfway point.

Anyway, it started off like it would be a wild race but the last stint proved to be mostly a parade and a bitter reminder of what I don’t like about street courses. Although Nashville area resident Dario Franchitti showed everyone that passing was still very possible in the late stages, most drivers played follow the leader for the last twenty or so laps. Given the fact that my earlier TV companion had already graciously informed me that there were no surprises, it did not make for a great deal of intrigue. Lately, she has fallen into a habit of not reading this blog that often. I hope that trend continues for at least one more day or else I’m in trouble.

The Izod IndyCar Series had quite a bit of misfortune with this race. Qualifying was interesting, but unless you were one of us diehards that watched it online – no one knew because ABC/ESPN doesn’t show a qualifying race. When the rains came on Sunday, it took away the chance for a large viewing audience. But I’ll repeat my stance from yesterday that Brian Barnhart definitely made the right call in postponing the race until Monday. I give him plenty of grief when he makes the wrong call, so it’s only fair to recognize him for getting it right.

By winning his second race in the first two events, Will Power showed everyone what he showed us in Brazil – that he is the king of the streets. With more non-ovals on the circuit this year, he has already made himself an early favorite to win the championship. If his team can do on ovals what they’ve done on the streets…look out!

The drive of the day is a tie between Franchitti’s recovery from a spin at the beginning to finish fifth, and Ryan Briscoe’s recovery from choosing the wrong tire in qualifying and a nineteenth place start to finish third. Breaking the tie, I’ll give the nod to Briscoe simply because he didn’t make a mistake in the race like Franchitti did. Dario was the one who put himself back there to begin with. Briscoe’s poor starting spot was more of a team effort, but he advanced through the field quite nicely on Monday. A win would have atoned for his mistake in Brazil, but he has at least gotten himself out of the doghouse.

Danica Patrick and Rafa Matos both deserve a tip of the hat for their recoveries after poor qualifying efforts on Saturday. After starting near the back, Danica and Matos both finished seventh and eighth respectively. Marco Andretti drove like his father in the early nineties during the first few laps, before settling back and getting some laps in before finishing twelfth.

Among some of the disappointments of the day, Tony Kanaan was probably tops on my list. Starting second, he was already in fifth after the first turn and never threatened. I really thought he had a strong chance to win, but he disappeared early and rarely resurfaced before finishing tenth. Scott Dixon continued the underwhelming early season for Target Chip Ganassi when he clipped the wall and finished eighteenth. With all of the hype going into the race, I expected more out of Graham Rahal. Yes, Sarah Fisher’s team is small and does not have the budgets or resources of some of the teams his name has been tied to lately – but I saw a lot of mistakes from the young Rahal and not a whole lot that told me he was worthy of the all of the hype he had gotten this off-season. I expect more at Barber and much more if he re-joins NHL at Long Beach for the season, as rumored.

One of the bonehead moves of the day goes to one of my sentimental favorites; AJ Foyt Racing. While the rest of the field made their final pit stops, the Foyt team inexplicably left Vitor Meira out on the track. Yes he led a few more laps to add to his total from earlier in the race, but just a few laps after the field went green – he pitted! He re-entered the race in the seventeenth spot and finished fifteenth. It’s moves like that, coupled with their unbearably slow pit work that relegates this team to never being more than a third tier team. I’ve also noticed that they still have their morbidly obese outside front tire changer, who could rival AJ in girth and lack of agility. I’m sure this gentleman brings a lot to the team, but they should get a much younger and quicker person in that position.

TV coverage: It’s a shame that the race got shifted to ESPN2, but I understand why it happened. Such is life when dealing with rainouts. I’m just glad there was some place to put it. Marty Reid didn’t do anything to laugh at nor did he give me any reason to think he was the best man for the job. He just made me appreciate Bob Jenkins that much more. One massive improvement for the ABC/ESPN crew was the addition of Rick DeBruhl in the pits. The talent level in the pits was seriously upgraded with DeBruhl taking the place of Brienne Pedigo. DeBruhl meshed right in with the rest of them and you felt like he had been working with them for years. It took about thirty-seconds into his first interview before the race to show that he had credibility in the series. Whoever made the decision to bring him in…good hire!

All in all: It wasn’t a bad race given the circumstances. It wasn’t as entertaining as Brazil, but most of them aren’t. Justin Wilson broke up the Penske juggernaut as he sandwiched himself just behind Will Power and in front of Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. Franchitti did well to salvage fifth after a sub-par weekend. And another outstanding job for Alex Tagliani and his Fazzt Racing Team. To me, that is the biggest surprise of the young season.

On to Barber: Next Friday April 9, I’ll be attending practice at Barber Motorsports Park. I went to the pre-season test there last March, but this will be my first race weekend at a road course. Family obligations will prevent me from being there on Saturday for qualifying, but I’ll be back on Sunday for the race. I have heard from a few fellow bloggers and several readers that plan on going. If you are going, please e-mail me at geophillips14@gmail.com and let’s try to meet somewhere. I’m anxious to get to meet a lot of people that I have been corresponding with for the past eleven months.

No post on Wednesday: Due to the extended schedule for the race weekend, there will be no post here on Wednesday Mar 31. I’ll return here Friday Apr 2.

George Phillips

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19 Responses to “Random Thoughts On St. Petersburg”

  1. I agree with your comment about Graham and SFR. I expected better from him in St. Pete’s. Great blog! Enjoy Barber!

    • WTF wer you expecting keith :?: SFR is basically an all-OVAL team & this was their 1st RC in a long time.

      Will Power in a SFR car would have had similar results :idea: I’ll join you in the disappointed camp if Barber brings the same general results.

  2. The American Mutt Says:

    You forgot the BIGGEST let down of the race. EJ visos engine crapout, basically ensured an inevitability to the last twenty or so laps of the race. A top ten is respectable enough given the lack of good data Fisher Racing has on the road courses. I wonder to what extent Dixons crash (the one that merely required a nose replacement) had in relegating both Andretti and Kanaan to the back. They both had to come into the pits an extra time because of it. I also think it’s interesting that Dixon effectively made the same mistake in that spot as he did last year by trying to pass way too late down the front stretch.

  3. Stephen_P83 Says:

    I enjoyed the race a lot and like you, I totally avoided the Internet yesterday so I could get home from work and watch the race. I really do prefer road racing to ovals by a mile and I’m excited for you to be seeing you’re first road race in person George. I think work issues are going to have me watching it on the tv. You’re right about lack of passing in the top 5 during the last 20 laps at St Pete, but there was plenty of action further down the field. DVR the race at Barber. Count how many passes you see on whatever turn you watch from. I bet you’ll see more in person than in TV. The series is spending a lot if time focusing in the front of the field and not showing the action further back. That is one reason people call road racing a parade. Dario came from the back to the front and the TV showed about two passes!

    I agree with your thoughts on Graham. I didn’t see anything amazing, but I think he did a great job getting a top ten. SFR had no set-up data to work with so the team made a great effort to improve the car.

    My dissappointment was with Hunter-Reay. After last week I expected more from him. He was a non-player for the entire race.

    Anyone who saw the FIL race, JK Vernay did great. Good job to Charlie Kimball. I’m a bit disappointed by Jonathon Summerton’s drive. He was having a good race until the last lap. Maybe he was pushing a little too much, which led to his spin. I understand he wanted to get another position and maybe impress someone for more rides. Without that spin he would have finished better and been more impressive anyway!

  4. Filipe Furtado Says:

    I don’t get why people are disappointed at Graham. He got the best finish of Sarah Fisher Racing history and the team had pretty much no road course data. I’m pretty sure Sarah is thrilled with how everything work out. That said I do find curious that people often look the other way when Graham does a bonehead move (like the one that ruined Silvestro’s race), specially given how much grief Marco always gets.

  5. I agree that Graham drove well considering where he started an that Sarah’s team is not exactly super experienced on twisties. I wouldn’t call the ending a parade. Dario was inhaling everyone in sight on camera. I thought it was a good show throughout, and I’m plenty tough on the twisties.

    • Amen. People who were thinking that Graham was going to win with a team (however much we may like that team) that had never previously gotten a top-10 were sadly over-optimistic. Whatever. Graham did fine, though he does still make mistakes. For me, it’s easier to forgive those mistakes given how much more fan-friendly he seems to be than Marco (who makes about the same number and type of mistakes), and given the fact that Graham’s several years younger, not as far along in his IndyCar career, and has probably been over-driving his slightly inferior equipment somewhat. That’s just my opinion, though.

      And amen on the “show”. People may complain that it was a bit of a parade (Dario notwithstanding) at the end, but…how often do we really get a “classic” race anywhere, ovals included? Not every race is going to be Indy 2006 or Chicagoland (pick your year) or have a fairytale ending like The Glen 2009. Anybody who is *expecting* that sort of thrill every other week should find a new hobby…like base jumping or sky diving. As long as we’re not delivered a Richmond 2009 or Nashville (pick your year) product more than once or twice per year…I’m OK.

    • Double AMEN P-Dog… well said :!:

  6. I’m just guessing here, but I’d bet that SF Racing learned a whole bunch about making their car better this weekend by working with Rahal. I thought they were decent, but I’ll bet they’re faster at Barber.

    I’m becoming a DiSilvestro fan for sure, too bad she got dumped.

    I thought the race was pretty good. Looking forward to Versus coverage and Barber.

    I’d wouldn’t mind them fitting it some kinda oval in the middle of these opening four twisties though. Someplace like Vegas or PHX. But I’m also really enjoying the IIRS so far.

  7. Just saw an ad for the Barber race next week. It was juxtapose a golf event. Much better than St. Petersburg, which was a boring weekend-
    Graham Rahal did very well. considering that he is so underfunded. Wht not just eliminate the under dogs for the big A rated team?
    Dario was a class act, as usual.
    Izod did a fabulous job, they should be exhausted by now with the monsoon rains following them around-

  8. billytheskink Says:

    If I recall the braodcast correctly, the explaination of why Foyt left Meira out on the track was because they had not yet run the required set of the softer red-sidewall tires and they did not believe the softer tires would go the remaining distance if they pitted under that yellow.

    Poor strategy.

  9. RHR has to be the biggest disappointment. How could he stay clear of mishaps and still fall back that way? Its understandable when TK or Marco fall back after hitting bad luck in debris, but what happened to RHR? Danica demonstrated what should happen when you keep your nose clean… you move up without needing to make on track passes.

    You have to give ESPN credit. They spent most of the race following cars that weren’t actually the leader of the race. Very unusual for the network.

    As usual the restarts are a total disgrace. The league needs to put an end to the leader leaving the field in the dust by jumping the restarts. He shouldn’t be at full throttle crossing the start/finish line while the 5th place car is still exiting the corner and there shouldn’t be a 3-4 second lead on the 3rd place car when they enter the first corner. Those restarts make for boring finishes like we saw yesterday. Goodyear said that the rest of the pack needs to keep on his tail, but that is idiotic. You can’t keep on his tail without racing and it is insane to encourage the pack to start racing prior to the green being thrown without creating safety issues.

    They need to get a radar gun out on the track just before start finish and never wave the green flag before the leader reaches it. If he’s above a set speed, give him a stop and go. Give anybody who jumps out of line a stop and go behind him.

    Why is this series afraid of penalties anyway? They need to start handing them to guys like Graham when he punts the Swiss Miss out of his way too. He shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from taking out somebody he had failed to pass properly.

    If the current regime were running the 500 back in 1995, they would have just put the pacecar back out in front of Goodyear and given him a second chance to win the 500. There is absolutely no discipline enforced out there.

    Maybe if they can get a handle on these guys they can figure out how to not close the pits unless there is an actual incident that impacts safety in the pit lane. That way we wouldn’t have cautions that last 10 minutes and 5 laps for a spinout in the backstretch that is pushed out of harms way in less than one lap. I know it’s a lot to ask for, but seriously, if there’s a pit speed limit how is it safer to have 22 cars pit at once rather than spacing them out based on when they reach pit lane? All the current system does is benefit the points leader with the patented IRL “rich get richer” pit selection system.

  10. I didn’t get to watch the race (don’t have a DVR), but it sounded alright, better than Fontana(NASCAR) or Barhain (F1).

  11. Stephen_P83 Says:

    Better than Bahrain for sure, but not close to the Australian GP!

  12. Totally agree with Scott but this is a “new” racing experience.
    Watching Helio, Power, and Briscoe at the beginning of the race this weekend put it all in perspective, along with the new Izod commercials, of course-
    RHR is now the pretty boy and we have to watch him be humiliated, but that is what he signed up for-
    “Pretty and Prettier” is the new standard but Briscoe, Power, and Helio are the force-
    Hard for the rest-

  13. Along with Lewis Hamilton apologizing for getting his car impounded after the Australian race, change is on the horizon-

  14. I thought I had it all out of my system, but there is one more issue to vent about.

    They delayed the start of the race because if the cars started on rain tires, league rules dictate that it become a 2 hour timed race.

    I don’t get it. Why have a rule that says “If you start now you will only get to go for 2 hours, but if you waint for another half hour to start, you will be able to run a full 2 hours and 7 minutes!”.

    Personally I like to watch a wet/dry track transition because it levels the playing field and rewards the drivers and teams who handle the situation with the most skill and best strategy.

    But I don’t get to see that because they have a rule that makes the event more difficult to fit into a TV window for absolutely no reason!

    Surely somebody can explain the point of this idiocy, right?

  15. Surely the quote of the weekend came from Goodyear just before the start of the race when said:
    “…there’s Milka Duno. She’s just won the award for spinning in every possible place this weekend.”

    Brilliant :D

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