If there is anything more depressing than taking down the Christmas tree after a month of anticipation; it’s realizing that the Month of May has come to a close for another year. Yes, we still have the memories and we can go back and relive the month by watching the recording of the race or listening to a podcast of Donald Davidson – but it’s not the same. We reluctantly realize that it’s time to put a period on the month, turn the page and move on. Fortunately, there is another race just six days after the Indianapolis 500.
Not only is it a race, it’s what used to be one of the most exciting of the season. I say, “used to be” because last year’s edition was a dud. In fact, the clunker at Texas last year is what opened everyone’s eyes that something was no longer right with the oval package of these cars. A few weeks later, after the yawner at Richmond – the powers that be finally put their heads together, listened to the fans and did something right. They changed the aero package in order to allow cars to run closer together and hopefully create more passing.
We had to wait until the first of August when the series ran at Kentucky to see if the changes worked. Did they ever? Ryan Briscoe inched ahead of Ed Carpenter just before the finish line; in what was one of the most exciting races I’ve seen in a while.
Even then, all I could think was that I couldn’t wait to see these changes implemented at Texas. That anticipation has been tempered somewhat, after the snooze-fest at Kansas this year. Once again, there was a single-file parade at Kansas, even with the new aero package – so now I’m only cautiously optimistic. But if we get what the Texas race used to be tomorrow night – we are in for quite a show.
I know one thing; it’s going to be hot in Texas tomorrow night – hotter than Indianapolis, and that’s saying a lot. It will still be daylight when the race begins, so there is a good chance the track will be very slippery at the first. The drivers will certainly be challenged trying to keep pace with the changing conditions of the track, but so will the engineers. That’s why I don’t expect a surprise winner to win this race tomorrow night. The top teams have the very best engineers, and that will make the difference in the race tomorrow.
But if I had to pick a non-Penske/Ganassi car, it would come from KV Racing Technologies. Any of their three drivers are capable of winning this race. EJ Viso and Mario Moraes are both capable of winning, if they can remain patient – which is probably easier said than done. Takuma Sato ran great at Kansas before he and his fellow countryman, Hideki Mutoh, collided in the closing laps. The reason I say this is because they have Bill Pappas, one of the best engineers out there and probably the best to be on a non-Penske or Ganassi car.
Another driver I’ll certainly be watching is Tomas Scheckter, who has been signed to replace Mike Conway at Texas. Conway is most likely sidelined for the remainder of the season, after his horrifying crash at Indianapolis last week. Scheckter won this race in 2005, giving Panther their last IZOD IndyCar Series victory to this point. Although Davey Hamilton is not currently a Scheckter fan, he can certainly be fun to watch – especially at a track like Texas Motor Speedway.
Several drivers will be driving at Texas for the first time in an IndyCar. Some of those include Alex Lloyd, Simona de Silvestro, both Conquest drivers, Takuma Sato and Jay Howard; which should make for some tense moments.
One driver was slated to make his first start in Texas in almost ten years. Davey Hamilton was scheduled to drive in the race tomorrow night, for the first time since a devastating crash mangled his feet at the very same track in 2001. Unfortunately, his team, de Ferran Dragon Racing, suffered quite a bit of carnage at the Indianapolis 500 last week; and they only have one car to run for their primary full-time driver, Rafa Matos. This team has been very disappointing since the start of the season and they need something good to happen to them. It won’t be this weekend.
Someone else needing something good to happen is Ryan Briscoe. I never fully heard what put him into the fence while coming out of turn four at Indianapolis, but it appeared to be the cold tires shortly after leaving the pits. If that’s the case, then chalk up another brain-fade for Ryan Briscoe. I really like Briscoe, but I’m afraid too many incidents like Sunday’s are starting to mount up. Ryan Briscoe is not having a good season, so far. He would have won last year’s championship, if not for a brain-fade at Motegi while leading. He inexplicably allowed the car to get away from him while leaving the pits, and he clouted the inside retaining wall. That set up an improbable scenario that allowed Dario Franchitti to sneak in and steal the championship away at Homestead in the season finale.
Although Curt Cavin said otherwise yesterday, I fear for Briscoe’s job security. I don’t ever recall Roger Penske making a mid-season change, and he probably won’t this year either. But unless Ryan Briscoe picks up the pace and stops wrecking cars, there is no telling what the future holds for him after the season is over. He should have won this race last year, except for Helio’s preferred pit placement. He had the field covered until that final pit stop. If Briscoe wants to turn his fortunes around, tomorrow night will be a timely place to start.
I still don’t know what to think about the Andretti Autosport cars. After a horrendous Month of May, they redeemed themselves on Race Day. Can they keep the momentum from Indianapolis going, or will they revert to their old ways? We’ll have a good idea by tonight after they have qualified.
So who is my pick for Texas? I hate to do this to him, but I’m going with the only Penske/Ganassi driver to not win yet this season – Ryan Briscoe. He needs it.
Please note – I’m sliding back into my post-Indy mode. There will be no post Saturday morning. I’ll post a race recap late Saturday night, then I’ll take a couple of days off and not post again until Wednesday June 9. -GP