Random Thoughts On Edmonton
Those that tuned in to yesterday’s Edmonton Indy expecting another round of the fireworks like we saw in Toronto, probably came away a little disappointed. Instead of a bunch of cars involved in something that resembled a WWE Smackdown, they actually witnessed a race on Sunday. It didn’t have the trash-talking that followed the race in Toronto, nor did it have the controversy of last year’s race at Edmonton. Still, there were enough bone-headed moves by drivers to keep things somewhat interesting.
Other than sequencing through the pit stops, there was only one pass for the lead. When pole-sitter Takuma Sato bobbled for an instant on Lap Nineteen, Will Power seized the opportunity to take the lead. For the most part, that pretty much decided the race as Power did all he could do to rectify his perceived injustice from Toronto. He pretty well dominated on his way to his fourth victory of the season.
First of all, I was glad to see that the IZOD IndyCar Series officials decided to get serious about enforcing penalties. There weren’t a lot of tough calls to make on behalf of the officials. Things were pretty well cut & dried without a lot of gray area. Alex Tagliani started things off with a bold, but idiotic move going into Turn One. His actions indirectly ended the day early for Graham Rahal and Paul Tracy, yet he continued on to actually finish the race. It was the same for Mike Conway, who attempted a ridiculous move on Oriol Servia. Servia went into the tire-barrier, while Conway went on to lead the race before serving his penalty. Conway finished eighth, while Servia was relegated to finishing twenty-second.
Turn Five was the scene of the two dumbest moves of the race. EJ Viso went barreling into the turn to see just how many cars he could make get out of his way. He ended up spearing Scott Dixon’s radiator. What looked like a promising day for Dixon, turned into a twenty-third place finish due to Viso’s foolish move. Viso wasn’t penalized because he lost two laps in the melee before he was able to rejoin the race. Later, Ryan Hunter-Reay attempted what was obviously an impossible pass on pole-sitter Takuma Sato, who was running fifth at the time. Sato was turned around and stalled the car while Hunter-Reay kept going. Sato finished twenty-first, while RHR went on to finish seventh.
Although all of the guilty drivers mentioned were penalized for their indiscretions, every one of them finished higher than the driver they hit – even after serving their penalty. Something about that just doesn’t seem right. In other sports, a penalty erases whatever resulted from the infraction. There are too many moving pieces in a race to make that possible, but there needs to be something implemented to correct this. Yesterday’s race had several situations where a driver makes an obviously stupid move, punts an innocent car out of the way, serves a penalty, yet is able to have a good finish while the other car is either out of the race or put several laps down.
Do they penalize with points? Should drivers be fined or put on double-secret probation? I don’t know, but for Conway and Hunter-Reay to finish eighth and seventh while their respective victims finished in the twenties after having good races – something’s just not right about that.
If you were a fan of Team Penske, it was a bittersweet day. At one point, the three Penske cars occupied the top three spots, while Dario Franchitti was the only Ganassi car out of four entries to be in the top-ten – and he seemed to be hanging around between seventh and tenth. Helio Castroneves had his best race of the season, finishing second behind Will Power, but Ryan Briscoe was forced to give up a fourth place finish when he had to come in for a splash of fuel, with one lap remaining. A miscalculation like that is very un-Penske like and it’s those uncharacteristic blunders that have plagued this team all year.
Added to that misery for Team Penske was the fact Dario Franchitti carved his way up to third by the finish. Just like in Brazil, when Franchitti had a miserable day but still finished fourth – some would call it a season of destiny when a seemingly bad day still finds a driver in third. For the near-perfect race that Will Power drove, he only whittled seventeen points off of Franchitti’s lead and still trails the two-time defending series champion by thirty-eight points.
TV Coverage: Overall, I thought this was one of the better efforts of the season for Versus. They lost the sound on the Canadian National Anthem and we never heard the command to start engines, but other than that – I can’t recall any major gaffes. I missed Dan Wheldon being in the booth. Although he tended to be a little chatty, I thought he brought a fresh and current perspective to the audience. If they can somehow get him back, they should do it.
Although he was cut off early by a commercial break, I really enjoyed Robin Miller’s Grid Run. His rapport with the drivers and team owners is obvious and his spontaneous one-liners are priceless. And he does move pretty well for some one even older than me.
I thought Lindy Thackston did a great job interviewing Scott Dixon in the pre-race show. She pinned him down and asked him the hard questions on his relationship with quasi-teammate Graham Rahal and how he perceived the “second Ganassi team”. Lindy is very good at asking pointed questions without being so “in your face” about it.
KV Woes: If it wasn’t for EJ Viso, we would be talking about the bad luck for KV Racing Technologies, instead of poor decision making. Tony Kanaan drove a solid race and finished a quiet fourth. He has now moved back to fourth in points. Sato had his second pole in three races and led for the first eighteen laps. He was driving a good race and seemed headed for a decent finish when he fell victim to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s poor decision. But Viso pulled yet another brain-fade and took out Scott Dixon, who was running third at the time. I’m sure there is a nice check from Venezuela to run Viso, but if I were to have a say-so in the running of that team – I think I would let Mr. Viso take his services to another team next year.
Team Penske Liveries: I know I’ve griped about this before, but it is frustrating to try and guess which cars Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe will be driving from week to week. Briscoe drove the yellow Penske Truck Rental car a couple of times early this season. Helio drove it last week at Toronto. Yesterday, they both drove it.
So far this season, Briscoe has driven liveries for IZOD, Penske Truck Rental, GuidePoint, and PPG. Helio has been seen in colors for GuidePoint, AAA, Shell/Pennzoil and Penske Truck Rental. With the swapping back and forth of the same sponsorships, it is almost impossible to build a brand for a driver. I understand the economics of rotating sponsorships, but surely they can come up with more consistency than what we’ve seen. For a team that kept the same distinctive Marlboro livery for twenty years, this is a culture shock to fans of this team.
All in all: Racing snobs will tell you that this was a great race. They will say it was filled with various pit-strategies and it was run on a very technically difficult course. They will also tell you that if you didn’t like it, you simply don’t know how to appreciate pure racing. I consider myself a pretty hard-core IndyCar fan, but to be perfectly honest – I found this race to be pretty boring. Take out the aforementioned incidents and there was just not a lot to get overly excited about. There was one genuine pass for the lead. Helio and Dario closed up behind Will Power in the closing laps, but neither looked real serious in forcing the issue. They both seemed content with decent finishes and Will Power ran virtually uncontested all day long.
The drivers seemed to prefer the old Edmonton layout that featured many high-speed corners. This layout had some long straightaways, but I think three hairpin turns is a little much. Still there was some passing in the middle of the pack, but the front of the field was pretty much static throughout the day.
But this is what makes the IZOD IndyCar Series so challenging and so diverse. One race, you’re dodging bullets left and right like we saw at Toronto. Other races, you may be your own worst enemy as one mistake can ruin your day – as we saw when Sato gave up the lead. That’s why I think an IndyCar championship is so coveted. Dario Franchitti may be well on his way to winning his fourth championship in five years. The only reason he didn’t win it in 2008 is he was not in the series. Regardless of how he won the Toronto race, I’m learning to appreciate watching his race right now. Whoever wins the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series championship – they will have earned it.