Random Thoughts On Belle Isle
The DVR is a wonderful tool. It allows us to watch an event that had taken place earlier at a more convenient time. – with the added bonus of zipping through the commercials. That was my plan for both days this past weekend. With a broadcast time of 2:30 central time on both days; the double-header at Detroit effectively ate up most of the weekend afternoons. Being gone four of the past five weekends, I had a long list of household chores that did not include plopping down in front of the television for both afternoons.
My plan was to DVR the race each day and watch the recording each night. For both days, I stayed offline – in order to make sure I didn’t see the result. That way, it was like watching it live – sans commercials. I avoided e-mails, Twitter, Facebook and anything that might tip me off to the results. I was completely successful in my quest on Saturday. It looked as if my plan would work perfectly for Sunday as well. But then, a friend sent me a text message at 4:35 on Sunday afternoon that contained only one word – “Helio”. With that one word, my suspense was gone. Why else would he be sending me that message?
Since I’m sure that I am not the only person who sometimes watches a race (or other sporting events) via the DVR, here is my public service announcement: Don’t assume someone is watching it live. We are trained like seals to view a text message the second we hear that sound. Always ask “Are you watching the race?” as sort of a spoiler alert, before you blurt out the results. In this day of ever-changing technology, there is also a new code of ethics that is evolving. Please follow it. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to rant.
As I first started watching Race 1 of the Indy Dual in Detroit on Saturday, it started off as somewhat of a parade. I was immediately cursing the schedule-maker. I asked myself; after such a thrilling Indianapolis 500 that pulled in more viewers than last year – why would they plan the very next race at such a venue that has produced some of the duller races over the last two decades?
I’ll be honest – Belle Isle is probably my least favorite race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. In the past, it has produced some single-file snoozers. The walls are confining and passing is at a premium, to say the least. It all equates to me never looking forward to this race.
Then last year, they made it a double-header. I figured that meant double the boredom. As it turned out – they were both pretty good races.
But as Saturday’s race got underway, it looked to be a typical Belle Isle race. Sure there were some intriguing storylines. Street-course ace Will Power was starting sixteenth and Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, was starting in the back – while the “500” runner-up, Helio Castroneves was starting on pole.
At first, it looked as if Helio would run away with the parade. But somewhere along the way, different teams employed different strategies. From way before the halfway point – there were several different scenarios that had the potential to play out, and you had no idea who would win. Saturday’s race eventually came down to Will Power just edging out Graham Rahal for the win.
Sunday’s qualifying again jumbled the field. The last row featured the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and the last two IndyCar champions in Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon. After Saturday’s race, Dixon had joked that maybe they should start Sunday’s race from the back. I didn’t think he was serious, but that’s how it played out. Hunter-Reay found himself in the back in the second day in a row.
On the first lap of Race 2, we already knew that Graham Rahal would not be repeating his outstanding performance from the day before. Will Power made an ambitious move to the inside and shoved Josef Newgarden directly into the path of Rahal and Justin Wilson. Power would be issued a drive-through penalty as a result of his aggressiveness.
Sunday’s pole-sitter, Takuma Sato, was turned around when he tried to squeeze into the same corner with Ryan Briscoe and rookie Jack Hawksworth. Sato ended up being the odd man out as he was struck by Briscoe – who did not suffer a penalty for his actions. Sato would finish eighteenth, while Briscoe went on to finish tenth.
A few drivers made contact with the outside wall on Sunday, either by their own eagerness or with some help. Like last year’s double-header, it seemed as if drivers were a bit more over-zealous in Race 2, since they didn’t need to worry about protecting their car for the next day. Consequently, there was more carnage on Sunday than on Saturday.
As my friend had made sure that I knew immediately, Helio Castroneves won Sunday’s race, making it a Team Penske sweep for Roger Penske, who happened to be the promoter of this event. Will Power finished second on Sunday, after serving a penalty on Sunday and winning on Saturday. The success of Power and Castroneves also capitalized on a disastrous weekend by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
After assuming the points lead after his dramatic Indianapolis 500 victory, Hunter-Reay could do nothing right in Detroit. After dealing with an electronic issue on Friday, Hunter-Reay could not keep his DHL Dallara off of the walls in both days of qualifying and during Saturday’s race. His weekend to forget came to a merciful end on Sunday with mechanical issues, nine laps from the finish. Power reassumed the points lead with his strong showing in both Detroit races. Helio Castroneves moved into second with his first win of the season, just nineteen points behind Power. Hunter-Reay slipped to third, twenty-seven points behind Power.
TV Coverage: Just as I was really getting used to associating Allen Bestwick with the Verizon IndyCar Series, the ABC/ESPN portion of the schedule is done for the year. I cannot begin to describe how far Bestwick elevated ABC’s production of the series. I never had the problem with Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear, that others have had. Sure, their counterparts at NBCSN offer more insight and have better delivery. But my main complaint with ABC/ESPN over the years was with Bestwick’s predecessor.
Were the telecasts this weekend perfect? No, but at least I didn’t come away from either one with rage like I usually did the last few years. Knowing that St. Petersburg was the first time Allen Bestwick had even attended an IndyCar race, I got the impression that he came away from the few races he covered as a newly converted fan. His enthusiasm seemed genuine and his presence appeared to raise the game of everyone involved.
When the broadcast schedule comes out for next season, I will no longer cringe when I see what races will be carried by ABC. That is due to the performance of Bestwick. Now, if they can get Dario Franchitti into the booth full-time…
A real rivalry: I’ve written before how contrived it seems when some in the media try to create a rivalry that isn’t really there – mostly Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti. Those desperate for any type of rivalry conveniently glom onto that one, since their respective fathers competed head-to-head with each other. It’s hard to get fired up about two mediocre drivers that had fourteen years between them heading into this season, yet shared only three wins.
If they want to see what looks like a real rivalry brewing, look no further than Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. The two Champ Car teammates have been battling on the track and in the media all season long. They share as many wins in this young season as Rahal and Andretti do in their careers; and they both seem to be growing really tired of each other. The Pagenaud and Power rivalry needs to hype from the media. This looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch throughout the season.
On double-headers: We’ve now seen four of these take place, and I’m still not sure how I feel about them. I’ve never attended one in person, so I’m probably not the best person to sound off on them. But from what I’ve seen, they really put a strain on the drivers and crews. Sitting on or couch, it’s easy to underestimate the toll that a single race takes on the participants. We all just like to see as much racing as possible. But I think the physical and mental strain of all of those involved in a race weekend is really stretched with these double-headers.
They even ask a lot of us fans. As I mentioned in my “spoiler-alert” rant – blocking out two and a half hours of both weekend days is asking a lot. Even we die-hards have a life outside of racing. For those of us in the central time zone – the 2:30 to 5:00 window is pretty much the heart of the day. Asking fans to give that up once in a weekend is fine. Expecting it twice is a bit much.
All in all: Despite being unsure where I stand on double-headers, I thought it enhanced the racing at Belle Isle. As I mentioned earlier – this is one of my least favorite venues. I’ll freely admit that I have never been to Belle Isle. I’ll also acknowledge that I understand it is a lot better in person than what you see on television. But based on what we have seen over the years on television, it can be hard to watch racing from Belle Isle.
But I thought both races we had this weekend were intriguing. I thought Saturday’s race was better than yesterday’s, but both were entertaining – and isn’t that the primary goal for television viewers?
Still, I’m glad to have Belle Isle behind us for the season. Despite these two races being better than others we’ve seen from there, I still think that the Verizon IndyCar Series would be better served to have a more sexy and exciting draw immediately following the Indianapolis 500. The traditionalist in me likes Milwaukee to follow the “500”. But I would be happy with Texas or even Iowa. That way, the series would have a better show at capitalizing on the potential momentum generated by the Indianapolis 500 and the revised Month of May.