Watkins Glen Preview

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This weekend marks the Fourth of July, the running of the Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen and the crossing over into the second half of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Season. Where has the season gone? It seems like Brazil was just yesterday. With NFL training camps starting later this month, fall is just around the corner and the next thing you’ll know the series will be crowning a new champion at Homestead.

Wednesday’s update from the ICONIC committee was about as underwhelming as it could have been. The only bit of information we got was that an announcement on the 2012 chassis will be made at an undetermined location in Indianapolis on Wednesday July 14. A longtime reader of this site, “Savage Henry”, posted an excellent point in the comments section on Wednesday. He remarked that they wouldn’t kill off the DeltaWing until the last possible moment. It is the wild card. People either love it or hate it. Put me in with the latter. His logic is that why end the buzz by killing off the one item that has created the most controversy. That would make the final announcement pretty much of a non-event. I agree.

So the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to a stretch of five road/street courses this weekend as the series descends upon the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York to race at Watkins Glen International. Other than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this is one of the most historic venues that the IZOD IndyCar Series visits each year. Unfortunately, rumor has it that this year may be the last at Watkins Glen. The current series has a short history at The Glen, having only raced there since 2005. Attendance hasn’t been great and relations with track owner ISC are not currently at an all-time high.

There have been snoozers and thrillers in that time frame. Last year’s race provided the only real surprise in an otherwise, very predictable season. Justin Wilson gave Dale Coyne his first win as a car owner after about a quarter-century of trying. It was also the only non-Penske/Ganassi win of the entire season. But it was no fluke. Wilson flexed his muscle early and passed Ryan Briscoe on the backstretch to take the early lead on his way to a dominant performance. Wilson returns with another good chance of taking the win, but this time with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Dale Coyne returns with two drivers and one chance at a win. Alex Lloyd will drive at Watkins Glen in an IndyCar for the first time. He has been strong since Indianapolis and has made the most of his team’s limited resources. Milka Duno will probably be parked by lap three.

Wilson will have his fourth teammate in as many races, as Paul Tracy will sub for the injured Mike Conway this week in the Dreyer & Reinbold No. 24 car. I’m not a fan of renting out the ride to a different driver each week. Although they have had big names such as Tomas Scheckter and Graham Rahal filling that seat each week, I don’t know that anyone but the sponsors benefit from that car suddenly becoming a revolving door. To me, it seemed a no-brainer to put a very available Graham Rahal into the car until Mike Conway returned – but what do I know? I’m sure Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl have their reasons for this approach and the decision is probably purely financial.

I’m just not as on-board the Paul Tracy bandwagon as others are. Yes, Paul Tracy is a talented driver with a well-documented track record in American open-Wheel racing. He also adds some spice to the series, albeit about as rehearsed and contrived as the sponsor-driven blathering of other drivers that he loathes. Tracy was clearly caught without a chair when the music stopped in 2008 and his car owner in Champ Car, Gerry Forsythe, decided he wanted no part of the reconciliation between the two series.

But after a smattering of mostly forgettable appearances in different cars on various teams – some better than others – it’s pretty clear that Tracy has lost a step. At age forty-one, that’s understandable. The legions of the miserable die-hard fans over at Track Forum that worship PT will never admit it, but his time has past. There is a reason he has been available for three seasons and no team has picked him up for a full-time ride. It is still a travesty that a driver like Milka Duno has a ride while Paul Tracy does not; but it is an equal injustice that a young talent like Graham Rahal will sit this weekend while “The Thrill From West Hill” will fail to thrill us as he once did.

As far as what to expect this weekend, it’s hard to say. The first three races of this event saw Scott Dixon walk away with the victory. Then in 2008, Ryan Hunter-Reay won a thriller while driving for Rahal-Letterman Racing over Darren Manning who almost pulled off a road course win for AJ Foyt Racing. Then it was the popular win for Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing last year.

Large expansive road courses like Watkins Glen International are harder to predict than mille and a half ovals. If forced to make a pick, I’m torn between the logical pick of Scott Dixon and the emotional pick of Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is now driving for Andretti Autosport. After Tony Kanaan’s big win at Iowa, I think that the Andretti Autosport run continues as well as the quest for funding for the No. 37 car, so I’ll go with Ryan Hunter-Reay. Stay tuned.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Watkins Glen Preview”

  1. Brian McKay Says:

    No comments yet? I’m surprised that no one’s rushed to defend P.T. and that you’ve picked RH-R to win rather than your favorite, Castroneves, his teammates, Dixon, or Franchitti.

  2. I will be bummed if they drop the Glen. It is as close to a “home” track as I had growing up in rural Western New York. You are right, in that next to IMS, the Glen probably has the most racing heritage of any venue on the schedule. However, it has never been able to establish an Indycar presence. I’ve been surprised, and disappointed that the Indycar Series hasn’t been able to draw better. Not sure if it’s a lack of promotion, the distance from major metro areas, or the general indifference of fans in that part of the country to Open Wheel racing. Over the years Western New York, and PA have become NASCAR country. It didn’t use to be that way.

    The F1 and sports car heritage at the Glen used to draw in the “Wine and Cheese” set every year. But when F1 dropped the track, and it fell into disrepair it was ISC, along with local business interests, that stepped in to save it. As much as I dislike the France’s, I have to tip my hat to them. They saw the value, and had the vision that the Glen could help them expand their market. When they started Cup racing there in 1986 it was the beginning of the area’s conversion to NASCAR country.

    As much as I like to see Indycar at The Glen, I have to admit, it’s probably in their best interest to drop the track for a non-ISC venue in a larger market. Now that Toronto is on the schedule, they really don’t need the Glen anymore.

  3. Okay, I’ll bite. I think Tracy–personality-wise/sound-bite wise–would be great for the series. Tracy has a scrappy, old-school, politically-incorrect “American-ness*” to him that is lacking in a series that has a bunch of really polite, proper and well-spoken drivers. I’d also be curious to see Tracy in a good car for once before I’d write him off.

    I’m picking an all-black podium this weekend, the Penskemericans.

    As for the new chassis, I’ve decided I’m good to go with whatever they do. I won’t even complain if it’s the DW or some variation thereof. Really. I just want a new car (at least one) and a little engine competition and “let’s go racin’ boys.” (Oops—wrong DW there.)

    Happy 4th of July George & readers.

    *yeah, that’s probably not a word and yeah, I know he’s Canadian.

  4. Maybe I want a “feel-good” story again, but I think Wilson has a legitimate shot this weekend. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but seeing D&RR flex their muscles would be a welcome sign.

  5. Three things:

    1) You’re not giving Milka enough credit. Lap times at The Glen are in the 90 second range, so it’ll be at least lap 9 or 10 before the leaders can catch her. I’d put the over/under for her parking at about lap 17, when the leaders might theoretically catch her for the second time. I’ll take the “over”…barely.

    2) Isn’t PT bringing some token sponsorship with him from Honda Dealers of Canada? Might that have been the deciding factor between him and a “sponsorless outside of five extra cases of QuickTrim leftover from Indy” Graham Rahal?

    3) PT showed last year that he can be competitive, but I’d doubt that at this point of his career that he’d be in the top-5 week-in-week-out even if he had a full time ride in a Penske or a Ganassi car. Fact of the matter: he’s 41 years old. Michael Andretti (who many, myself included, would rate as a better overall driver than PT) retired from full-time driving when he was 40, and most would say that he’d lost a step by then. PT’s ceiling at this point (given top equipment) would probably be a top-5 once every 2-3 races and maybe a win or two per year. He’s seven years removed from his one top level championship and fully 19 years removed from his CART debut. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t like to see him do one more full season, just for old times’ and comedy’s sake (I can’t imagine the things he’d say if he ever got tangled with Mario Moraes or Marco Andretti), but the folks who think he’d be a championship contender again are probably doing some wishful thinking.

  6. I highly doubt Tracy can make it happen this week too, though being with Dreyer & Reinbold, with the last year’s winning driver/engineer combo in the next-door garage, will help quite a bit.

    Interesting stat on PT: he has only five wins on natural-terrain road courses in his lengthy career. Most of his 31 triumphs came on streets or ovals. Look out for Paul in Toronto again, but he won’t be more than a long shot at The Glen.

  7. Savage Henry Says:

    Thanks for the shout out, George.

    I’d like to see PT back in a car full-time for a year or two. He’s not his past self, but he is still better than a lot of the current drivers and he would certainly stir the pot. I think that they should sick him on Danica – that would get ESPN’s attention.

    I would like to see somebody new win this week, especially an American driver (it is the 4th of July), but I expect to see at least two Penske drivers on the podium and one on the top step.

  8. Give Tracy and John Andretti a track in Branson Missouri. Either that or I want a moratorium on why Talented Rookie can’t get a ride stories.

  9. I agree; they’ve had their days in the sun.

  10. Bill Hudnut Says:

    Tracy is one of the most overrated drivers in the history of Indy Car Racing.

    At this point in his career, he is more PT Barnum then anything else. He is playing a role and plays it pretty well. He kisses ass over at TrackForum just like he used to kiss ass for the Crapwagon delinquits. Of course those mental midgets from CW are now part of the show over at that forum (which I think only still exists as a mouthpiece for the nutjob ultra right wing of America).

    But what has he done in the past few years? He was terrible at Milwaukee last year for Foyt. He was never at factor last year at The Glen (admitting that the cars “were faster” then he expected). He couldn’t even qualify at Indy this year (and flat choked on Bump Day). And he keeps bouncing from team-to-team like some of the no-talent hacks he always makes fun of.

    Tracy needs to go back to Las Vegas and ride his Harley and drift into retirement. And he can take his minion fans with him.

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