Still Mixed Emotions On Qualifying

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The disclaimer I’ll throw out here is that I have still not watched the television broadcast of qualifying on the DVR. We got back late Sunday night and last night, we were both playing catch-up with “life” at work and around the house. After two weekend in the fantasy world of racing, it’s tough to go back to the hum-drum of everyday living. At least we know we’ll be going back in just three days. It’s a week from now that reality will come crashing down on us.

Anyway, as I think back on qualifying – I’m still looking at it strictly from the eyes of a spectator instead of a television viewer. Although there’s no replacing being there – viewers at home generally know more about what’s going on than spectators at the track. But looking back as a spectator, I’m still not sure what I think about the new qualifying procedure.

I know the goal of IMS management was to build the momentum from Saturday to a crescendo on Sunday. I’m just not sure they got what they wished. From my point of view, Saturday was intriguing. It had strategy playing out. It had drama and excitement. Yes, it was complicated – I had never heard of the “express” line until I saw the two lines on pit road on Saturday. It also had a race against the gun as teams were trying to get into the Fast Nine and stay off of the last row.

Sunday was different. There was no strategy. Each driver got one chance to simply get in the car and drive fast for their spot on the starting grid. To be honest, there was more drama watching the cars in rows four through eleven qualify on Sunday than the Fast Nine. You got to see some dramatic winners and losers as cars gained or lost ground compared to their Saturday times. Except for Carlos Muñoz laying an egg – the Fast Nine pretty much matched what they did on Saturday.

In short, I found Saturday to be exciting and intriguing. I considered Sunday to be interesting, but that’s about it. I’m not clamoring to go back to the four days of qualifying where the car qualified and not the driver. That no longer works in today’s economic environment. I’m just wondering what very minor tweaks might improve this version.

Maybe once I go back and watch both telecasts, I’ll be convinced that Sunday was as entrancing as Saturday. The viewer numbers bear that out – Saturday got a 0.9 rating, while Sunday earned a 1.2. If you listened to Trackside last night, you heard Curt Cavin extolling the virtues of having this two-day event on ABC. He maintains it served as a two-day commercial for the Indianapolis 500. Fair enough – but before they had mentioned it, I was already wondering if they should just cram qualifying into an action-packed one-day event on Saturday and save Sunday as your rain-date.

As they mentioned, the crowd was not good on Saturday. The question is – was that a function of the weather or the new format? Saturday was fairly miserable. It started off partially sunny, but soon clouded up with a few sprinkles. On top of that, it was cold – very cold. Sunday was pleasant. I finally shed the jacket around noon and had short-sleeves going – but that was still a little chilly in the shade.

I do have to get this off my chest to show my grumpy old man side. While there were not that many fans in the stands watching qualifying, there was a packed house in the Pagoda Plaza watching the band “Live” perform on the stage set up directly behind the Pagoda. I know I am in the vast minority, but it is beyond me why anyone would come to any race track – much less the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and seek out a band playing while cars are on track. If they are playing during an afternoon lull, that’s one thing. But to pass up the reason the event is taking place, in favor of ancillary entertainment on the property is something I just don’t understand. Now…get off my lawn!

The concert notwithstanding, it really doesn’t matter what I think about the new qualifying format. Maybe there should be a few tweaks here and there, but they need to give this a good lengthy try. This is the third change in less than ten years. That’s no way to judge if something is a success or not. Like it or not, they need to stick with this format for a good while to get a good read on it.

But I’ll say this – I’ve been to IMS for qualifying when Mario Andretti dramatically unseated Dan Gurney for the pole in 1967 and when Joe Leonard and Graham Hill put turbines in the first two spots alongside eventual winner Bobby Unser in 1968. I’ve also been there when the entire weekend was washed out. The point is – I’ve never in my life had a bad time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If I’m there, I’m happy. This past weekend, I was happy.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Still Mixed Emotions On Qualifying”

  1. Every time I checked ABC basketball was on. Was it really televised? Awarding massive points for qualifying is just plain dumb.

    • billytheskink Says:

      While the final day of qualifying ended much earlier than it traditionally has, the 11:00-1:00 ET ABC broadcast window was announced during Saturday’s qualifying broadcast, during the GP of Indianapolis broadcast, during several ESPN broadcasts, online at both Indycar-affiliated and independent websites, and in the TV broadcast schedule section of many major newspapers…

  2. sejarzo Says:

    My seat for the 500 in 2011, up in Paddock Press Penthouse, was just south of the 6th St tunnel…so I could easily see into the infield between the Pagoda and Tower Terrace. I was baffled by the sea of humanity milling about in the plaza area all throughout the race. Why would you come to the race and not be where you could see it, other than on that big screen?

  3. I went up on Sunday since technically that was Pole Day (and was so advertised at the track). I was very disappointed. There was no strategy, with cars only getting one shot. One after another, just to get it done.

    It became apparent to me that all this was was a scripted for TV day. The way it was set up was perfect for television. It was also strange to realize everything was done by about 2:40. Happy hour? How quaint and old fashioned.

    I left disappointed. If we are to have no bumping, then I kind of agree with you that this all needs to be in one day. Wiping out the times of Saturday also diminshed Saturday, even though there was more strategy on Saturday.

    Left the track with a disappointed, kind of empty feeling about it all.

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    I seldom disagree with Curt Cavin, but this time I don’t agree with his opinion that two days of network TV time was better than one. ABC was locked into a 2 hour window on Sunday. It could easily have been rained out. I do agree with Robin Miller, Ed Carpenter, and probably most teams and drivers that doing everything in one day would be better for everyone involved including the few fans who still pony up money to actually go there.

    I believe the core issue is that somehow IndyCar and Dallara need to make the cars more affordable so that there might be more one-off entries. Right now it is like having the only dealership in town be a Lamborghini dealer.

  5. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    I enjoyed listening on IMS radio and watching on TV both Sat and Sun, while running about. I haven’t been watching this intently throughout all of qualifying in many years.

    I did also note how the weather smiled on IMS and did nothing but help the TV coverage/speeds, when it could also have gone quite horribly if it rained for two days.

    I also noticed a divide of opinion via twitter among those at the track who seemed non-plussed, and those who watched on TV/listened to radio, who seemed to have a more positive opinion. I think the (seemingly) constant flow of qualifiers all day both days was a huge improvement over the past.

  6. My perspective is from that of having followed the two days by internet – IMS timing and scoring, twitter, 1070thefan.com, and TV.
    Generally, it worked quite well.
    The adjustment I would like to see would be to leave Sunday a full day and let the teams/drivers have three attempts and the choice of when to take them, subject to their place in line.
    That doesn’t make such a neat package for TV but would, overall, produce a much more compelling day.
    The first hour of the Sunday ABC coverage was filler and feature, when it could have been action.

  7. TheAmericanMutt Says:

    Worked great on TV in my opinion.

  8. woolyninja Says:

    I agree that Saturday was the more exciting day but the final few in the fast 9 were fun to watch on Sunday as well.

    I just hope that at some point in the near future we get back to having around 40 cars trying to qualifying and Sunday can once again be “bump day”. There’s nothing quite like watching teams scramble to try to make the race.

  9. Mike Silver Says:

    I thought Saturday was exciting, but Sunday was anti-climatic. Maybe the Fast Nine should have an opportunity for a second shot if they want. What would really help both days is more than 33 cars.
    There was too long a gap between 10-33 and Fast Nine on Sunday. A one-day show would be much more intense, than use Sunday as race setup day.
    Sunday’s crowd seemed to be the biggest qualifying crowd in several years.

  10. billytheskink Says:

    I thought it worked well providing 2 days worth of action with only 33 cars. If there is any significant bumping to be done in the future (probably need 36+ entries), returning to something like last year’s 2-day format would probably be preferable. While this year’s qualifying could certainly be done in just one day, the television ratings easily justify the two day format for the time being.

    There were a couple of bumps in the road, though. The new qualifying format started to make sense as you watched it, but was quite difficult to explain beforehand. Things such as the priority qualifying line seemed only to receive explanation after they had been employed several times.
    I also thought the priority qualifying line (and Marco hopping right back in it after waving off a run) and the thankfully-not-used Sunday last row qualification rules could use some tweaks.

  11. Matt B. (Dayton, OH) Says:

    I’m echoing many others here, but having more than 33 car and driver entries (36-40 or even more) would make a HUGE difference in drama and interest generation, and would increase all numbers – track attendance, radio listeners, television viewers. It would also increase the cache of making the race which increases the stature of the entire event on all fronts. This should be Indycar’s highest priority.

  12. I went Sunday at the last minute because the weather looked like it would be good and I had some time to get away so I drove up from Louisville. I spent most the day in The turn one vista which I think are the best seats in the house. Did live play on Saturday? I went into the infield on Sunday and they had a bunch of Street acts going on. It seemed pretty crowded in there. For the life of me I can’t figure it out either. Why would somebody go to IMS to watch something like that in the infield when there’s far better action going on on the track. It truly boggles the mind. I guess I’m just getting old and I just don’t get it I guess people just need to be entertained 24 seven. Just having a car go around the track it 230+ miles an hour just isn’t enough entertainment for people anymore it’s truly baffling.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Dan, I think you have hit on something with your remark that people seem to need to be entertained 24/7. When the three high school kids get off the school bus each day at the end of our street, all three of them walk down the middle of the street texting or tweeting during the few minutes it takes to get to their house. I don’t get it.

  13. until they have 40 entries again, this was better.

    no music. before. after. okay. not during.

    condense to one day.

    give the drivers a break by limiting the number of mind-numbing, skull-splitting runs they may attempt.

    ABC: replace Goodyear with Dario.

    • Amen to having Dario in the booth in the future. The other two are stiffs in comparison. Any word on guests in the booth for Sunday’s race? One can hope for some animation.

      Always glad for pit reporters interviewing drivers, but it went on way too long on Sunday.

  14. Yannick Says:

    If there are 34 or more entries, I must say I still prefer the old format in which a driver needs to qualify only once. But if there are 33 or less entries, the new format is about the only possibility to stage a show. Yet, having to qualify 2 or more times is somewhat devaluing the effort it takes, especially when you consider what’s at stake at this racetrack, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
    If I had a say in this, I’d revert to the old format in no time, not because of tradition, but because it appears to me it puts less risk on the drivers and the cars.

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