Random Thoughts On Sonoma

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Well, I’m not quite sure what to think. There was lots of action behind the leaders, but there was never much doubt that Will Power would win the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. He did.

I was not looking forward to this race at all. Before the race, I was tempted to watch a Jake & The Fat Man marathon that I had come across, but I had promised Roy Hobbson that I would join him on his Versus Live Chat that he was hosting. I don’t think he would have missed me. The Pagodians were out in full force and I contributed little, if anything, to the event.

In all honesty, the race was better than I expected. It was sloppy and lacked suspense, but there was a lot of bumping amongst the backmarkers to keep things interesting.

Simona de Silvestro was using her heavier old Dallara as a tank. She booted Rafa Matos, as his car suddenly had a forty-five degree tilt to it – but amazingly, he held onto the position. Later on, one of the KV cars punted her – but that was nothing compared to the shove that Takuma Sato gave Danica Patrick with three laps to go.

The most spectacular event involved Dan Wheldon, before he even got to the green flag. Bertrand Baguette ran up into the rear of Wheldon’s car. When they locked wheels, Wheldon’s car flipped over and spun like a top as car and driver pirouetted down the track. Fortunately, Wheldon escaped injury.

Marco had an unspectacular day, as well. He ran into the side of JR Hildebrand, ending Hildebrand’s day early and generally just being a nuisance to most of the drivers, on his way to finishing twelfth. His teammates had varied results. Danica would finish sixteenth, but Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished seventh and eighth respectively.

The final standings of this race were pretty predictable. The top five were three Penske cars and two Ganassi cars, followed by Justin Wilson for Dreyer & Reinbold, the two Andretti Autosport entries and then Graham Rahal. The only pleasant surprise was that Alex Lloyd finished tenth for Dale Coyne.

TV Coverage: I hate to say it, but this was the weakest effort I have seen from Versus this season. They over-hyped the Will Power accident from a year ago. Sure it was worth mentioning and doing a small feature on it, but the feature was way over-dramatic and way too long. Then, we were subjected to mentions of it throughout the telecast and then again in victory lane.

Lindy Thackston seemed a little off her game as she stammered and stuttered at the beginning of the telecast, as well as during her Dario Franchitti interview before the race. All three in the booth seemed to have some gaffes and Robbie Floyd had an ill-timed and boring feature on heart rates of drivers. Mid-way through the segment, Baguette crashed, but instead of showing replays as to what happened – they returned to the “Pit-Fit” guy to show us graphs on driver’s heart rates. I know this was Pit-Fit guy’s time in the spotlight, but was that more important than the accident?

The worst moment for Versus was when they cut away to yet another commercial with five laps to go. There were only two laps when they returned, but they felt compelled to show some intro shots of Will Power instead of the final moments of the race. It was frustrating, to say the least.

Quiet day for some: Although Versus chose to focus most of their air time on Will Power pulling away from the field, there were some nice drives that got little play because their days didn’t involve turning people sideways. Vitor Meira had a very nice, albeit invisible, day yesterday as he calmly worked his way up from his twenty-first starting spot to finish fifteenth. Graham Rahal overcame a miserable qualifying effort to move up from sixteenth to finish ninth. Alex Lloyd moved all the way to tenth after starting twenty-second.

Nice mention: I was glad to hear Bob Jenkins acknowledge that it was thirty-five years ago this week that Mark Donohue lost his life. Donohue had come out of a self-imposed retirement to run in Formula One for Roger Penske. It had just been three years earlier that Donohue gave The Captain his first of fifteen Indianapolis 500 wins. While practicing for the Austrian Grand Prix at the Österreichring, Donohue crashed into a catch fence after cutting a tire. Safety precautions are not what they are now and Donohue was dropped off at the Penske garage even though he had admitted to hitting his head. He collapsed soon afterward, slipped into a coma and succumbed to his head injuries a few days later. Although his career was relatively short, he was one of the great ones and should not be forgotten.

Points race: Don’t hand the overall championship to Will Power just yet. Things look pretty secure for now, as he did what he needed to do by winning on the last road course of the season – but he still needs some good performances on the remaining four ovals to wrap this up. With a fifty-nine point bulge, he could stay home from Chicago and still be the leader afterwards, even if Dario Franchitti won the pole, won the race and led the most laps – netting himself all fifty-three points available.

But all it takes is one chance meeting with a Milka Duno or a Mario Moraes to tighten things up a bit. The same logic applies to Franchitti – any blunder on his part, could put the championship completely out of reach for Dario. I’ll be curious to see if there are any shakeups with the points after the Chicago race on Saturday night.

All in all: Yes, it was a boring race – but we all knew that going in. The action in the back kept it watchable and Dixon’s hot pursuit on the last restart kept things fairly interesting for a couple of laps near the end, but I don’t think anyone really expected Dixon to overtake Power for the win.

The best news (for me, anyway) is that we are done with the road/street courses for the year. The next two races, at Chicago and Kentucky, are normally very exciting. Motegi and Homestead, normally aren’t that riveting, but are still much better than what we’ve seen for the last couple of races.

I just wish that we didn’t limp towards the finish where the last three races take six weeks to run. With college and pro football cranking up and one of your last three races across the International Date Line, it’s easy to see how the IZOD IndyCar Series will be lost to the casual fan. Hopefully, Randy Bernard can rectify that situation to keep the momentum strong for the end of the season in years to come.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Sonoma”

  1. It was an interesting race to me. Not per se exciting-open wheel racing on street/road courses, with the exception of some of the old F1 races at Monza in Italy prior to the introduction of chicanes in the name of safety-are rarely exciting at the front, but yes, it was an interesting race.

    I do agree this wasn’t Versus best day. There were some issues which you mentioned-I would add one; that Robbie Buhl needs to not simply parrot what Jon Beekhuis says and also sometimes to let his partners talk without having to jump in all the time-, but still, on Versus’ worst day, it’s still better than the dreck ESPN puts out-in all forms of racing.

    Simona was very aggresive-good for her. I think she is auditioning for another seat higher up the pit lane, and I sincerely hope she gets it. Hopefully at KVRT. Speaking of…

    Memo to Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser: I know like all team owners you need drivers to bring money, but PLEASE get some different drivers for next year. I can’t recall a race this season when at least one KVRT car-if not all three-didn’t suffer damage, mostly self-inflicted. This has gone from comical to disgraceful, and it has to change.

    Give Will Power a ton of credit. He is very good on street/road courses. However, my feeling is he needs to be at least in the top 5 at each of the final four races to win the overall title, as both Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon-let’s not count him out of this-are both stronger on the ovals than Power is.

    Yes, it was a very sloppy race-while the series may be competitive, one can question the talent levels of a good number of the drivers-it was exciting to me. I’m sure others will disagree, but I for one appreciate the balanced schedule that IndyCar has and I find it more compelling than an all-oval or all street/road course series.

    • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

      Regarding KV:
      As much as I like Sato from his F1 days, even I think he has underperformed to his potential this season. Even during his days at BAR and Super Aguri, he never had this many accidents.
      Viso has also gone down in my eyes this year, but not as much as Moraes, who has either not been “on it” or has been getting out of a wrecked car.

      • It’s surprising to me how Viso seems like the switch is either on or off to me (the same way that Arie was described by his own team back in the late 80s). Moraes is like a Jekyll/Hyde incarnate in terms of his driviing. I’m hoping that Sato will perform a lot better next year, if only for the sake of my friend who’s wrenching on the car…who needs to catch a break from constant rebuilds (presuming he’s returning).

  2. Leigh O'Gorman Says:

    George,
    One thing I still don’t understand is the strategy between the two Ganassi guys. Maybe it’s just me or maybe I’m just used to F1, but in my eyes this title battle is between Power and Dario – so it just seemed illogical to get Dixon in front of Dario to go after Power.

    Power was controlling the lead – something that became more apparent when he started going one second per lap faster once Dixon was released, so maybe keeping Dario in 2nd spot would have been better damage limitation?

    • I was wondering about that myself, Leigh. The booth guys tried to explain their take on it, but I still didn’t really see the reasoning. I guess they were pinning their hopes on the reds not being able to hold up?

    • I saw that this way: once Dario was on the blacks (thinking that they’d perform better at the end of the race than the reds and make up the difference) and Will began to gap him so badly, they decided to let Scott go after Will with the same compound, hoping for (and getting) a yellow. At that point, it was “possible” that Dixon could have passed Will, thereby cutting into the point gap growing by as much over Dario…not to mention that Scott still has a chance at the overall title himself.

  3. This is a very “legion of the miserable” type of recap!

    To help pile on Versus, my biggest disappointment came when TK and RHR were bearing down on Rahal and they cut away to show a red car pitting. So much for spotlighting the American golden boys who are the supposed lifeblood of the series!

    If the battles that were taking place from 10th on back were ) going on up front and 2) televised this would have been a great event.

    I am probably one of the few KV fans. I love those guys because they are always pressin the limits and their luck. I just wish the guys up front had to scramble that hard for their success.

  4. It was very Formula1-ish, and not in a good way.

    I’ve said this to myself more often than I’d like this season: if I were trying to get a friend interested in watching Indycar racing, this wouldn’t be the race I’d want him to watch.

  5. Agree with most of your points, George. Versus seemed to be trying too hard with the bells and whistles, they should just show the race.

    The Penske/Ganassi dominance was in full force yesterday. But even they tended to follow one another rather than race one another. It’s a track that basically guarantees the polesitter a victory unless they make a big mistake. I guess there was a lot of action in the back of the pack because there were plenty of mistakes in the back of the pack. I dislike it when they’re talking about fuel strategy on the 20th lap and when driver’s admit in prerace interviews than it’s difficult to pass “on the track.”

    I am becoming very annoyed with the starts and restarts of these races. It looks awful. The leader is given a three or four car length head-start. So it’s both ugly and unfair. I understand that Mr. Barnhart’s philosophy is that the pole sitter earns the right to lead the first lap. I disagree with that. I want two by two. And in the greatest spectacle, I want three by three. I want the suspense of those cars drag-racing for the first corner at every track. (Take a breath.) Okay–I feel better now.

    (By the way, I tried to follow the live blog on VS, but thought it was difficult to pay attention to both the race and the comments.)

  6. I think the action in the back of the pack was a direct result of the circuit’s lack of passing zones. There is really only 1 good braking zone for setting up a pass, and I think this led to a lot of aggressive, bonzai moves out of desperation.

    I know that Sonoma is an SMI track, and that it’s location near San Francisco works well for sponsor hospitality, but I would really like to see them make some adjustments to the course to add in at least one more passing zone. I heard it suggested that they use the N-car Turn 11 (which they used for the race start and re-starts). Not sure if this would solve all the issues, but it would at least offer one more hard braking zone for drivers to pass.

    Before I get lablelled a legion of the miserable, I will say that re-building the Indycar brand, and following is a multi-year process. Along the way there will undoubtable be times when it’s one step forward and two steps back. I do think that the leadership “get’s it”, and I do believe that they are ultimately heading in the right direction. Major schedule overhauls take time, and involve a lot of forces beyond the series’ direct control.

    One positive note, we’ve got 29 cars lined up for Chicagoland next week!

  7. Versus sucks.

    They suck less then ESPN, but they still suck.

    Jenkins is a traditional oval/American driver guy, so he has to hate most of these boring parades and F1 washout drivers that Indy Car racing has resorted to.

    Buhl is boring and adds very little. He’s better then Goodyear, but then again a mute would be better then Goodyear.

    Beekhuis is a dork, who seems more enthralled with “the technical aspects” of tracks or cars, then the actual racing (which most places have very little of). Guess what Yawn, most folks watching don’t give a damn about how “technical” things are. They want to tune in to see a race that has action, interests them and keeps them awake.

    Arute? Grating to even the biggest of fans.

    Robbie Floyd? Should go back to QVC or wherever he came from. His lack of racing knowledge always comes through.

    Lindy is OK and would look better if she showed more skin, but her over-hemogenized “announcer voice” is annoying. She sounds like she is auditioning for some voice-over work. Talk a little more normal, Linds.

    I don’t understand why Versus has been given all of these props for their coverage. Sure it beats ABC/ESPN. It would hard not to beat that mess. But they miss a lot (and always have) and seem lost much of the time. And its still a network that literally nobody is watching or even knows about 99.9% of the time. Bernard would give half of his paycheck to get out of that ridiculous contract and get away from Versus, but he is stuck.

    • Versus is okay. You admit they’re better than ABC/ESPN. And besides, when it came time to negotiate the last TV contract, Versus was the ONLY network that wanted Indycar. If Indycar got out of the VS contract–where would they go?

  8. Compare with the ALMS race ran at Road America… in one race, the Red cars dominated and held all the top spots, again… in another, a car pits late and fights from 4th to 1st, giving it’s team it’s first win.

    There were a few passes, all at turn 11, and a couple wrecks, but really, not a whole lot of exciting stuff.

  9. Mike Silver Says:

    Totally agree about the Versus coverage. Cutting away with 5 laps to go? Glad they made it back for the finish. Heart rate monitor- prerace fluff in the wrong place. I have thought versus has not been as good all year as they were last yeaer. Still better than Autoracing Badly Covered network, but slipping quickly.

  10. billytheskink Says:

    From the sound it, I guess it’s a good thing I watched the race online. If anything, it was worth it to hear Davey Hamilton gripe about how terrible the starts were. Restarts were better than average, but I still don’t understand why the pace car leaves the track so early.

    It seemed to be even harder to pass at Sears Point than it was at Mid Ohio. Dang.

    On the positive, nice runs by Dixon, Graham, and Wilson. Felt bad for Tagliani. FAZZT has found quite a bit of speed in qualifying, hope they find a way to put it together on race day more often.

    • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

      Hi Billy,
      Must agree in general about indycar.com – their coverage feels a little better and despite their radio adverts, they don’t cut away from the screen.

      It’s a different director too, so the internet feed often catches different things and isn’t just going to stick with someone, because there is a “story” or a “journey” (or some other media invented garbage).

      • billytheskink Says:

        My only complaints about the online coverage is that too often they choose poor camera angles (they chose a helicopter shot looking at the back of the grandstands during the start) and that there is sometimes a disconnect between what the radio team is talking about and what indycar.com has on camera.

        As you said, though, they do a lot of things quite well. They catch some different things that the television networks don’t catch, follow a broader range of cars. The radio team is more race action-oriented and doesn’t dwell on human interest stories that television uses to keep casual fans interested. And as you mentioned, the video feed never sees commercial interruption.

        Ultimately, I just want to see the race. I usually watch the races on television because it’s nice to see it on a larger screen, but when I not able to get out and watch with friends (and since I don’t have cable), watching online is more than fine with me.

      • Leigh O'Gorman Says:

        Agree completely about the heli-cam. The race start was an awful time to use it, especially when the pit buildings were in the way as they crossed the start line.

  11. If Sonoma was like F1, Dixon would never have passed Dario, although it did seem Briscoe won the race for Power holding the Target cars back. How he got in front of them was something versus ignored. But he was and he clearly dogged it (unless he just sucks) enough to give Power a 9 second lead before the last pit stops. Dixon burned up the reds enough to cut the lead down to 4 seconds before the last caution. He had nothing left on them but did make for an exciting Montoya-Ambrose duel that we didn’t as versus went to commercial. I hope for next years road courses they bring back the super softs. They seemed to make the race interesting as the better drivers who didn’t abuse tires were rewarded on track. Firestone nailed this one.

    • What I would like even more would be teams choosing either black or red before quals and running the rest of the weekend on that choice (akin to the multiple compound days of the tire wars in the 90′s.

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