Watkins Glen Preview
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.