Random Thoughts On Belle Isle

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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.

George Phillips

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21 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Belle Isle”

  1. You seem a little conflicted/schizophrenic with many non-positive observations and then ultimately: “entertaining.” The bar to “entertaining” seems pretty low.

  2. I oculd not help but think that any fans gained by the 500 were probably lost after Belle Isle.

    The people running indycar just don’t get it.

    • I guess I don’t get it either. I thought it was very entertaining, had lots of passing, some drama, some hard feelings, deserving drivers doing well…..

    • Chris Lukens Says:

      Bob F is correct. Of all the people that watched the 500, barely 20% tuned in to watch Belle Isle. Of all the people that did watch the race on Saturday, over 10% did not bother to tune in on Sunday.
      Belle Isle was not the borefest I expected but it was not good racing. Fuel economy runs and people ramming into each other is NOT compelling racing.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I thought it was pretty good for Belle Isle racing. Credit to any street race that has an outcome in doubt on the final lap, as we saw on Saturday. Those who follow the business side of the series as if it were a sport should surely like Detroit’s status as a well-sponsored event that draws a pretty fair crowd.

    What a charmed weekend for Will Power. Hit about the perfect strategy in both races and avoided penalty on 3 out of 4 incidents (hitting Pagenaud and blocking Rahal in race 1, hitting Newgarden and blocking Dixon in race 2), with the one penalty served becoming largely irrelevant due to a fortuitously-timed caution.

    Throughout the ABC broadcasts this year, and this weekend in particular, it seemed as if Scott Goodyear would only join the commentary when prompted. One has to think that at some point ABC will start wondering why they pay him. If he is back next year, I hope he asserts himself a bit more, we need a counter when Cheever starts making up stories about winning Le Mans.

    Also, Shinola makes watches and bicycles instead of shoe polish? Points for informative track advertising.

  4. With the success of the DW12 chassis, the only thing preventing good races are the tracks. Some tracks (Barber, Belle Isle, Snornoma) need to be widened or straightened or whatever in order to provide the best, most exciting racing.

    I may be callous, but I don’t normally feel too sorry for the crews and the change-overs. But to go from Indy Twisty right into the 500, the next week to double twisty and then back to oval for Texas seems like bad planning. I agree with whoever said it that Milwaukee or Texas should follow Indy,

    Seems like the double-headers should make sense economically for Indycar but I wonder what the crowd size is for both races? Are they dividing their audience into two days or do people show up for both days? Is the Sunday audience smaller than Saturday?

  5. I thought It was a pretty good race but I don’t like what I see from Race control and Will Power. Two blatant, dangerous blocks. Two issues knocking competitors out of the race. One blocking warning and on drive through as the penalty of knocking two guys out of different races. (Pagenaud and Newgarden) and nearly ruining the races of three others. I don’t want to be the one that says title sponsorship has its privileges but just the appearance of favoritism is unacceptable in any way shape or form. I do think it is a factor in race control…and not a small factor. OK I will say it.

    I believe the title sponsorship is and has been, since the start of the season, a factor in Will Power not being penalized. It is obvious that it is far more than just the appearance of favoritism, but is in fact complete favoritism by race control towards Will Power.

    Dear Mr Miles, This is NOT OK. You need to step up or get out.

    • I guess your guy didn’t win, huh? You sound like a sore loser. Everyone blocks. Did you not see the recent interview of Tony Kanaan? He laughed, said we all do it, we all block, you guys just don’t know what it is, and you don’t see it. Or, something like that.

      In Rahal’s interview about the Saturday block on the last restart, he laughed and said Power blocked him, but he would have done the same thing, no hard feelings.

      I haven’t noticed any comments directed toward Helio or Montoya, both of whom are also sponsored by Verizon, at least in part. I guess neither of them screwed your driver?

      • billytheskink Says:

        I don’t really buy any conspiracy theories about Race Control smiling upon Power, but I can see why a relatively objective Indycar fan would be willing to believe he is receiving favorable officiating for whatever reason.

        Power’s block on Rahal received a warning, indicating that Race Control clearly considered him in the wrong. I think this slack would be easier to swallow had Power not used it up earlier in the race by taking Pagenaud to the wall. Two incidents that appear to Power’s fault to many fans, one of them explicitly said to be a violation according to race control, no penalty issued… of course some fans are unhappy, regardless of who their favorite driver is.

        In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Graham Rahal fan. Feel free to discount my opinion because of this. However, lest you accuse me of being a sore loser, let me remind you that as a Graham Rahal fan I have no qualms about backing a losing driver.

      • Actually, I am an ECR fan. So don’t classify me as a sore loser. I am just tired of watching one driver consistently ruin other contenders races. I only talked about Detroit weekend. 2 races, 4 incidents, one penalty and one warning. He served a penalty for running over an air hose at the Indy Grand Prix….no brainer. That’s it for the season of carnage he has inflicted. Also, Power’s car is the one that has BIG letters on the side pod, not in little tiny letters. I have been watching Indycar since 1972 and I don’t remember a driver with such disregard for the safety of his competitors.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    Additional random thoughts on Belle Isle:

    SFH and Newgarden can’t seem to catch a break.

    Other than Rahal chasing Power in race 1, not so entertaining. Better passing zones needed.

    I don’t get all worked up over the ABC coverage as long as there is good camera work with all that means. If that is good, the less talk the better as far as I am concerned. When there is a close chase for the lead or for position, more in-car coverage from the hunter would be good.

    I found both races difficult and frustrating to watch, so imagine how it must have looked to a casual viewer. The commentators were left to drone on endlessly about tires, fuel strategy (I hate that), yellows, etc. The yellows seemed needlessly long with little or no explanation as to why they were so long. The booth guys probably did not know either.

    As this compressed season wears on, the wear and tear on everyone involved will add up. The teams that are the most physically fit and the most organized in every detail, including travel, will rise to the top.

    Carlos Munoz seems to be the most consistant of the Andretti drivers. The others are either very good or very bad.

  7. Anyone else have a DVR that didn’t R? I missed the first 40 or so laps of race 2. Sometimes I want to punch Time-Warner.

    I love the double headers. I wish Mid-Ohio would get one (or two?).

    I miss double file restarts.

    Did they do a standing start on race 2? It was a shame they didn’t do one for race 1.

    • ESPN3 has it. Otherwise check youtube, most races get uploaded

    • also love double-file restarts. but drivers are unable or unwilling to attempt them. and the standing starts are iffy because either the cars or the drivers are unable to perform them. better just take the easiest route and release cars one at a time at 10 second intervals.

  8. The races were better than Belle Isle of the past, but that does not make them good races. Overall, I’m sick of strategy races and fuel savings in Indycar. That is not why I started watching, and watching Indycar turn into a strategy and street racing series is to me, a bit depressing. Outside of the Indy 500 I am afraid the 2014 season has been very… underwhelming. Hopefully Texas will be exciting; based upon the last two races there I am not going enter with a lot of hope. Seriously, I have heard enough about fuel saving in the last few races to last a lifetime.

  9. Yannick Says:

    After Belle Isle, it’s looking increasingly like the Championship will be decided amongst two of the three Team Penske drivers. But with the other two teams from the “Big Three”, Ganassi and Andretti Autosport, having changed engine partners over the winter, how could it be any different.

    Even in the now unofficial “Mario Andretti Road & Street Course Trophy”, Helio Castroneves is P2 after Detroit:

    W. Power 241
    H. Castroneves 189
    S. Pagenaud 179
    R. Hunter-Reay 173
    S. Dixon 154
    T. Kanaan 139
    J. Wilson 137
    M. Andretti 124
    C. Kimball 124
    M. Conway 122
    J. Hinchcliffe 116
    R. Briscoe 116
    C. Munoz 111
    S. Bourdais 108
    J. Montoya 105
    G. Rahal 105
    C. Huertas 102
    T. Sato 101
    M. Aljoschin 100
    J. Hawksworth 99
    J. Newgarden 94
    S. Saavedra 87
    O. Servia 55
    M. Plowman 12
    F. Montagny 8

  10. Dear George,
    In response to your recent article about the weekend at Belle Isle, I agree with the statement that the track is “probably my least favorite track on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule” (Phillips 2014).
    Looking at the all of the tracks in IndyCar, the once all oval series is anything but these days. Of 18 races in 2014, 6 events are on ovals, 12 are on road courses. In 1996 when the split happened, the CART teams ran 2 races at Michigan to compete with the Indy 500, now; Michigan is left off of the schedule while Belle Isle, the boring 1 groove road course takes the slot.
    The double header format, while exciting, is, in fact a double boredom weekend for IndyCar in theory at Belle Isle. However, due to fatigue and car stability, this is the only thing that can be done to spice up the show for IndyCar. While this past weekend’s event did have some excitement, I can’t say that events like this will keep the series in the financial condition it needs to be in to grow.
    IndyCar should, in my opinion, focus on something different. My suggest would be to run a double header weekend, one day on the oval Speedway track and one day on the road course. The tracks are in close proximity to each other and the idea of this type of event would be enticing to many, a true athletic event for all involved.

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