Random Thoughts On Baltimore

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When the IZOD IndyCar Series announced last year that they would be running the streets of Baltimore over Labor Day weekend, many people were very excited. I have to admit that I was not overly thrilled and greeted it with a basic “ho-hum”. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong.

The Inaugural Grand Prix of Baltimore was a great success. It wasn’t without its problems, mind you. In fact, I’d say it had more growing pains than most first-time events. From local political controversies to a last minute chicane to lower speeds while crossing train tracks in the middle of the circuit, you had to wonder if this was going to be just one giant headache. Despite the problems and the pre-race predictions of major carnage – the race was a success, both locally and for viewers at home. The stands looked full and reports are that all of the standing areas were packed as well.

Will Power dominated; taking the single point for winning the pole, the two points for most laps led and the fifty points for winning the race. By taking the maximum points available and with Dario Franchitti finishing fourth, Power has closed the gap to trail Franchitti by only five points. That’s pretty remarkable considering that Franchitti had a sixty-two point lead heading into New Hampshire.

The day started with a scary crash in the morning warm-up. Tony Kanaan lost his brakes heading into a tight corner, ran into the back of Helio Castroneves and was launched into the air by Helio’s rear tire. He landed and drove through two layers of tire barriers before being stopped by a third. Kanaan and Castroneves both had to go to back-up cars and start from the back of the field.

The start was ragged, as cars had to go through the makeshift chicane in a single-file line before lining up in their rows of two. By the time the green flag fell, only the first three rows resembled a double-file start. Most predicted problems at the very first turn, but everyone managed to get through unscathed. In fact, everyone behaved until Lap 32, when Tomas Scheckter stalled on-track. That brought out a full-course yellow. The ensuing re-start was the defining moment of the race.

Once the race re-started on Lap 37, Ryan Briscoe tried a foolish move in Turn Three, which resulted in spinning out Ryan Hunter-Reay. The car of Hunter-Reay was helplessly stalled across the course, effectively creating a parking lot that only a select few were able to navigate. Right or wrong, Race Control became part of the story again by going back to the running order at the re-start – except of course for Hunter-Reay, who was an innocent victim. To confuse things further, a few cars that snaked through the wreckage were able to keep their newfound positions but others, including Tony Kanaan, were not.

During the lengthy yellow; many drivers near the back of the field, including Oriol Servia, pitted just before going green. This set up a strange sequence of events late in the race that seemed to penalize all of the front-runners, except Will Power. One by one, the front-runners had to pit for fuel in the late stages. None of them made it all the way back except for Power. Simona de Silvestro, who had a great race, was running around seventh place for most of the second half of the race. She even led before pitting on Lap 60. She re-entered the track in fourteenth place and finished twelfth. Dario Franchitti was leading when he pitted, but finally worked his way up to fourth at the finish. It looked as if things were going to work out for Oriol Servia to finally get his first IZOD IndyCar victory, but Will Power and Tim Cindric timed things perfectly to leave the pits ahead of Servia, who finished second.

The drive of the day, and perhaps the year, went to Tony Kanaan. As true racers do, he put the terrifying crash of the morning out of his mind. He climbed into EJ Viso’s back-up car at the back of the field and carved his way through the field to finish third. Had he not been sent back in the field after the so-called aborted restart, I think he could have won the race. Don’t tell me that this guy is over the hill.

Scott Dixon finished fifth even after suffering a flat tire during the Turn Three fiasco. Danica Patrick drove well herself, coming from a starting spot of twenty-third to finish sixth. Graham Rahal probably had one of the most disappointing days of anyone. He started second and drove near the front all day before botched pit strategy bit him. He finished an unimpressive tenth that doesn’t reflect the day he had.

TV coverage: I thought this was one of the better efforts from Versus. They normally do an excellent job anyway, but I thought they were really on their game this weekend. New events can sometimes provide some kinks to TV crews as well, but they had an outstanding weekend.

Robin Miller had probably his best Grid Run of the season. This was a segment that seemed to be on life-support earlier. I don’t even think they did it at Sonoma, but it came back at Baltimore in fine fashion.

Kevin Lee has really grown in his role as host of the pre-race show. He now comes across as a time-tested veteran instead of a first-year rookie. Although pit reporting is nothing new to him, he excels in that role as well. Although Tony Kanaan called her “Lindsey” yesterday, Lindy Thackston had a good day also.

In fact, I can’t think of any flub or anything negative from the Versus crew. They gave us several interesting aerial shots of downtown Baltimore and the beautiful Inner Harbor. Good job all the way around.

Bad weekend for Helio: After a strong qualifying run on Saturday that found him in the seventh starting spot, Helio Castroneves found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when Tony Kanaan’s brakes failed in the Sunday morning warm-up. Fortunately for Kanaan Helio was there to help slow him down, but the accident forced Helio to go to his back-up car and start from the very back of the field.

This was bad enough, but supposedly Helio and Tim Cindric were initially told that they could keep their original starting spot if they went to the back-up car. Then after the back-up car was prepared, they were told that they would in fact, have to move to the back of the grid. If this actually happened, it’s unfortunate because Tim Cindric maintains that they could have repaired Helio’s primary car to keep the position. It was only when Team Penske was assured they could use the back-up car in the seventh starting spot that they decided to go with the back-up. If this is the way it actually happened, you can rest assured that this is not the last we’ll hear of this. Roger Penske won’t take this without a fight and I don’t blame him. Once again, the inconsistencies of the rulebook have become a part of the story.

RHR Rebound: Don’t look now, but since the embarrassment of not making the Indianapolis 500 and his sponsor buying his way in, Ryan Hunter-Reay has quietly put together a solid second half of the season. Although he was punted by Ryan Briscoe in the melee on Lap 37, he managed to finish eighth yesterday. That makes the eighth top-ten finish that RHR has scored since the Indianapolis 500, including a win at New Hampshire and podium finishes at Toronto and Mid-Ohio. In the races prior to Indianapolis, the best finish for Hunter-Reay was a fourteenth at Barber. In fact, after his twenty-third place finish at Indianapolis – Hunter-Reay’s average finishing position was 19.8. Since Indianapolis, his average finish has improved to 9.4. He has quietly worked his way to seventh in points after being buried in the standings in the first part of the season.

Biggest negative of the weekend: No, it wasn’t the violent thunderstorm that rolled through after the Saturday practice. Nor was it the impromptu chicane that was added to the front straightaway. It was that God-awful rendition of our National Anthem before the race. Do those in charge of such things not make performers audition or provide a sample of how they plan to sing? Obviously not, or the person who will and should remain nameless would never have been allowed to perform. These attempts to stylize the words of Francis Scott Key before sporting events have grown tiresome.

All in all: As far as street races go, this was a good one. In fact, I’d rate it as perhaps one of the best non-ovals of the season. Those that tune in to watch wrecks were disappointed – all they got to see was a parking lot on the Lap 37 re-start. But if you are a race fan, this one had a little bit of everything. There were passes, even a couple for the lead on the first lap. There were multiple pit strategies to be played out. Most of all; I think those that attended the race in person probably walked away feeling they got their money’s worth.

I wasn’t there, but the crowds on Friday sounded as if they rivaled a few Sunday crowds at other tracks. Everyone in attendance kept referring to a definite buzz at the track. Although Friday and Saturday were gloomy (and sometimes stormy), Sunday had a beautiful sky. The layout showcased the Inner Harbor and downtown skyline and ballparks of Baltimore. Randy Bernard did his homework and it looks like his marketing know-how has paid off on the East Coast. I’ll be curious to see what he does with the season finale in Las Vegas next month as an encore.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Baltimore”

  1. JIm in Wilmington Says:

    I have to agree with you about the National Anthem. It would have been terrible anywhere, but it almost seemed sacreligious to have something like that sung in Baltimore, the birthplace of the song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a worst rendition. Not only that, she took it so down tempo that it took forever.

    The only other flub was with the PA system when General Powell was trying the say “Drivers Start Your Engines”. Otherwise, this was a great race.

    • Yeah, not good with anthem. Is that Indycar or venue’s choice?

      And what is the deal with Versus and properly working microphones?

      • The anthem singer was a last minute replacement after a cancellation. It wasn’t good, but it was by no means the first choice. Anthem singers are the promoter’s responsibility.

  2. A well-supported event on a pretty decent street course. Impressed with all the drivers–but particulary Kanaan, Power, RHR, Rahal and the very sneaky good Dixon.

    I expected many yellows. I was actually a little worried prior to the race. But the drivers all did a great job. Unfortunately. Because it needed a few more cautions to make it interesting.

    Bad idea with the chicanery. I thought there would be a boatload of passing opportunties. And I’m tired of Willpower being so good.

  3. The anthem was a disappointment, especially considering it’s what many saw first thing as they tuned in. I’ve worked on a music video for the singer and i think she’s better than her rendition but trying to stylize it was a big mistake. I think since she is a celebrity face of the Guard that might be what got her in that slot but I think Indy Car should look for more A-list artists to do the anthem. With so many artists out in the world today I can’t believe they can’t find someone with more name recognition.

  4. Anyone know their history? Key wrote the poem while on a Prison Ship in Baltimore Harbour. That version would have made him want to get back on the ship.

  5. A few salient points: First, the anthem. Steve K’s comment nails it. One of the worst I have ever heard, (although Rosanne Barr will always hold the top spot in that one.)

    2. Rules, rules, rules….We don’t need no stinking rules! (Or maybe we need some new ones…) Race control, when it had an opportunity to shine, peed all over itself again with the inconsistency of the applicataion of whatever rule they used to unscamble the parking lot. Even people who give NASCAR the business for their inconsistent application of the rule book were mystified.

    3. The chicanes: An absolute joke, which led to another inconsistency of rules application, the infamous “slow down” penalty impoed for WIll Power missing it. That penaly should have been imposed with a “hold” on a subsequent pit stop, rather than trying to “guess” how much of a slowdown Power should face. If no pit stops remain, then a pass through might have done the job.

    4. Attendance. Looked from my “recliner’s eye view” to be excellent.

    5. The Versus broadcast. Here I have to differ with George. I had the IMS Radio broadcast playing on my computer at the same time as the Versus telecast. Without question, the radio guys were much more on top of what was going on and even though the stream was running 2-3 seconds behind “real time,” they seemed to give the CORRECT information a couple of seconds (and in some case more) before Bob and the booth got it right. I too would have felt the same as George had I not had both running simultaneously.

    After the snooze fest at Infineon, this was a definite improvement.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Run-aways aren’t typically exciting, but watching Will Power pick up 2 seconds a lap over Servia in order to stay ahead of him after pitting was very impressive.

    Good event, decent race. Should be better if they can find a way to get rid of that chicane next year.

  7. Wll, I guess I am going with Will Power for the Championship. I don’t know what Penske did to right the ship, but they are back.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Mr. Penske told Mr. Cindric to supervise Power’s team so that the car can leave pits with four wheels attached every time. And Will drives like a demon.
      Another excellent blog post, George. good content + good style

    • The last two races are on ovals, so careful with the Power predication for the Championship.

  8. I was in Baltimore Saturday and Sunday. The organizers have some big growing pains to overcome for next year. The folks working were very nice, but they lacked very little organization and knowledge on how to move large crowds efficiently.

    I was a “fence hanger” at the end of Turn 11 for the race, and the crowd around me was amazing. The locals were excited and eager to learn about the racing from anyone with knowledge of the series. The only major downfall was people not knowing what was going on. If it hadn’t been for my Twitter feed I wouldn’t have known anything that was going on because of no PA system (though I guess its a good thing I couldn’t hear the Anthem).

  9. Greetings from Indonesia.

    I’ve been a silent reader in your blog for a while.

    I hope they abolish morning warmup just like what they did in F1.

    Just in case you guys want to know a lil bit about the race in Baltimore from the perspective of an average Indonesian guy, feel free to comment here:
    http://takemebacktoindy.blogspot.com/2011/09/baltimore-2011-please-stay-with-us.html

    Thanks.

    Cep.

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