Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio
Just like the last few times that the IZOD IndyCar Series has made the trek to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; the crowds came out to support them. And just like the last few times; the masses witnessed a snoozer. Except for Alex Tagliani going wide and forcing James Hinchcliffe off course on the first lap, there was nothing that went off script – as Scott Dixon had his way with the entire field. Hinch’s shunt resulted in an early pit stop that, combined with a fortuitous crash by Sebastian Saavedra on Lap twenty-one, resulted in Hinchcliffe leading the entire second stint. But when he and Scott Dixon cycled through their pit stops, Dixon found himself out front again and coasted to his first win of the 2011 season.
Except for some poor timing on both pit stops by Will Power’s team and a late spin by Graham Rahal, that’s pretty much the entire race. Oh, I forgot – for some reason, Danica Patrick chose not to pit on the first caution. After starting twenty-first and being practically invisible all weekend, except for the AP report that all but confirmed her impending move to NASCAR – I suppose that her Go-Daddy sponsor needed some free airtime, so they let her lead some laps. That’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why she would stay out while everyone else pitted.
Will Power suffered in the point standings. His nemesis, Dario Franchitti, drove a safe race and finished second. Due to some bad luck on pit strategy, Power finished a distant fourteenth and is now sixty-two points behind with only six races remaining. If Power doesn’t stop this summer swoon of his, Scott Dixon could overtake him for second before October. Next week’s race is a short oval, which doesn’t exactly play to Power’s strengths. It’ll be interesting to see if Power can shake things up and begin a late season turnaround this week.
TV Coverage: I would give the coverage this weekend a B. There were no major flubs, but there was nothing spectacular either. Let’s just say they were solid. There was one thing, though. As humorous as it was to see Robin Miller scurry about to find anyone to talk to during his Grid Run segment, they need to coordinate their timing with INDYCAR to make sure that the drivers will actually be on the grid during the next Grid Run.
By now, we’ve all heard that Versus will officially become the NBC Sports Network on January 2. That’s no big surprise. I’m glad that they incorporated “NBC” into the name, which lends legitimacy. Having “Sports” in the title actually tells what the channel is about. No one seemed to know what Versus was or if they even had it on their cable system. Most of my non-racing fans have said they didn’t think they had Versus, when they really did.
But the biggest news regarding NBCSN (is that how it will be referred to?) is the news that they are going after the early season, eight game Thursday night package for the NFL. If they are successful in getting the NFL on their cable channel, then the fledgling station is suddenly a legitimate contender to ESPN.
Remember when FOX was launched in the mid-eighties as a fourth network to compete with ABC, CBS and NBC? It was pretty much a joke. All they had was Married…With Children and The Simpson’s. When they snagged the NFC package away from CBS beginning in 1994, no one was laughing anymore. Today, FOX has an empire of network programming, news, sports, and financial news. They were not considered legitimate on any level until they had the NFL.
Many of us have complained that the ten-year deal with Versus was an albatross around the neck of the series. Now, through a strange quirk of sheer luck – it may prove to be a Godsend. That is, unless NBCSN gets so big that the series finds itself at the bottom of the rung and is given no publicity. We’ll see.
Ganassi’s playground: On Friday, I referred to Mid-Ohio as Chip Ganassi’s playground, simply due to the fact that his team has won three of the four races there since the IZOD IndyCar Series began racing there. He also won there with Juan Montoya back in 1999. Nothing happened this weekend to make me think any differently. His team won the pole, the race and wrapped up second place as well. All four Ganassi drivers qualified in the top-ten, with three in the Firestone Fast Six. I’d say Chip Ganassi has this place figured out.
Justin Wilson possibly out: The biggest story of the weekend came on Saturday, when Justin Wilson was involved in what was seemingly a mild off-track excursion. However, as he drove across the lip of an access road, the car went airborne and landed hard on the asphalt. The result was a compression fracture to his lower back. Chances are, Wilson’s season is probably over. It is the same type of injury that Vitor Meira and Will Power suffered in 2009 that resulted in both of their seasons being cut short. It’s a shame because Wilson was coming off of his best finish of the season – a fifth at Edmonton. He was also fifth quickest in the practice session when he had his incident.
Simon Pagenaud did an admirable job as a last minute substitute, finishing a respectable thirteenth. I hope that Dreyer & Reinbold will stick with Pagenaud for the rest of the season. If not, they should at least stick with whomever they choose. The “Driver of the Week” thing they went through last year, after Mike Conway was lost for the season, did no one any favors.
Rough rookie season: With the season now two-thirds complete, I have to say that one of the rookies has really been a disappointment. Ana Beatriz ran a handful of races in 2010, but is still considered a rookie in 2011. She made an impressive debut last year, by finishing thirteenth in her home country of Brazil in her very first outing in an IndyCar. To date, her best result – is an eleventh place finish in the crash fest at Toronto last month. After qualifying twenty-fifth, Bia finished seventeenth yesterday and now sits twenty-second in points. More importantly, she is eighty-one points behind fellow rookie J.R Hildebrand.
Ana Beatriz has not done anything stupid. Instead, she has been invisible. As frustrating as it has been to watch EJ Viso over the years, he at least turned some heads as a rookie. Although he did some boneheaded things as a rookie, he showed some flashes of brilliance. Of course, we all know how that turned out so that’s probably not a great example.
The point is, I expected a lot out of Ana Beatriz. Coming into this season, I expected nothing out of Charlie Kimball, Sebastian Saavedra or James Jakes. For the most part, they haven’t surprised us – although Kimball did have a nice run this weekend. I did, however, go into this season with some level of expectation from Beatriz, Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe. Hildebrand and Hinchcliffe have delivered good performances at various times of the season. Beatriz has not.
It’s frustrating, because I like her and hope she does well. Hopefully, she can perform well in the final six races and finish the season on a high note and build some momentum for 2012.
All in all: I thought it was a typical race at Mid-Ohio – boring, for the most part. Although I appreciate the tradition at this track as much as anyone, I have to wonder why Barber Motorsports Park is considered the scourge of natural terrain road-courses on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule? I have no way of knowing, but I’ll bet there was more passing at Barber this past April than there was at Mid-Ohio yesterday. I know there was more action at Barber this year than yesterday. Yet, Mid-Ohio is praised at a demanding and physical track, while Barber is considered nothing more than a parade site. Not only did Barber provide better racing this year – yes, it’s much more beautiful.
Shameless self-promotion: I’ve mentioned on Twitter a few times this past week that there is going to be a yawn-inducing announcement this week regarding something new at Oilpressure.com. While it may rival yesterday’s race in putting some people to sleep, some may find it halfway interesting or at least mildly amusing. Be sure and check back here on Wednesday to be completely underwhelmed.