Random Thoughts On St. Petersburg
What started out looking like an embarrassing crash-fest for the first sixteen laps, ended up being a relatively clean race for the remainder of the event. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg got the season off to a wild start with a melee in the first turn of the opening lap. Last year, Marco Andretti began the season with the car of Mario Moraes landing on top of him at the first turn in Brazil. This year, Marco found himself upside-down before making it past the first turn of the opening lap. Most people are blaming Helio Castroneves for triggering the mishap. I’m an admitted Helio fan and agree that he shares some of the blame, but I think there is plenty of blame to go around for everyone.
On Twitter, the naysayers were blaming it on the new double-file re-starts. For those keeping score at home, the start of a race has always been double-file. What was to blame was six months of pent up frustration with no racing, and drivers looking for an easy way to kick-start their season without thinking of the consequences. Marco was plenty ambitious on the start. Helio’s mistake was that he followed him. It’s one of the oldest rules in racing – you can’t win a race on the first lap, but you can certainly lose it on the first lap.
With all of the talk about patience for the last several weeks, you would think that the “fastest drivers in the world” would try to not look like the dumbest drivers in the world. The innocent victim in all of this was Marco’s teammate – Mike Conway. Conway had been spectacular all weekend in his first outing with his new team and his first appearance since his devastating crash last May. He had qualified fourth and appeared to have gotten through the corner cleanly, when Marco’s airborne car nailed him. His day was effectively over at that point.
All in all, six cars were involved. They included names like Castroneves, Briscoe, Dixon, Andretti & Conway. Once the carnage was cleaned up, the season’s first double-file re-start took place. The cars made it through the first turn, but Graham Rahal and Danica Patrick had wing damage in separate incidents. Cue another re-start. Then a few laps later, another. By lap sixteen, there had been four yellows. Not good. Paul Tracy posted on Twitter that he was ashamed to be an IndyCar driver. Nice.
Two cars that benefited from the ragged starts belonged to Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro. Kanaan moved up from his eighth starting spot to run second by lap 11, while Simona advanced all the way from seventeenth to second by lap 17. Simona didn’t just inherit spots – she took them. On the fourth re-start, she sort of forced the issue by squeezing in between Will Power and Justin Wilson. She hit Wilson first, and then bounced off him and into Power. The resulting brush with Power straightened her up while she continued to surge forward; while Power and Wilson had to slow down to collect themselves. As they tend to say in other forms of Motorsports – “…that was just one of them racin’ deals”.
The fact that Simona was able to stay up front for the remaining 83 laps is a testament to her driving ability. While other female drivers may draw more attention off the track, Simona de Silvestro is quickly earning the reputation as an excellent driver. Most importantly, she is earning the respect and adulation of her fellow drivers.
The rest of the day was comparatively uneventful. Dario Franchitti took the lead from pole-sitter Will Power on lap 5 and was never really threatened from there. Power briefly led again when Franchitti pitted in lap 70, but Dario reassumed the lead when the stops all sorted out. The best battle of the day was between Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro for third and fourth respectively. The announcers tried to stir things up by claiming blocking tactics on Kanaan’s part, but I don’t think so. Even though it pains me to defend EJ Viso, I don’t think he was guilty of blocking Simona as she was lapping him. After the race, Simona was her usual upbeat self.
TV Coverage: I’ve felt pretty comfortable beating up ABC/ESPN in the past, mainly because I thought it was deserved. To be fair, I’ll give credit when credit is due. I thought their coverage was greatly improved yesterday over what we have gotten in the past few years.
Their opening montage that jumped between clips of yesterday and the present was outstanding. It had the feel of a major production rather than something they put together in a Saturday morning production meeting. Vince Welch was on top of his game, as usual. I don’t recall any memorable gaffes involving the other pit reporters, Jamie Little or Rick DeBruhl.
There was the usual worship of Danicamania we’ve come to expect, but the booth announcers did nothing terribly objectionable. There were some fresh, new commercials which had a more professional feel to them. They had a thirty minute pre-race show and best of all…they didn’t cut away as soon as the race was over. They actually went fifteen minutes over their allotted time. Like Randy Bernard, it seemed as if they had finally listened to the fans and were actually trying to serve the fans instead of simply living up to contractual obligations.
It wasn’t perfect. There were some blown camera shots and some technical glitches, but so long as I feel like they’re trying to improve – I’m more inclined to overlook some things and give them the benefit of the doubt. That’s the way I felt yesterday – not that my opinion means a thing to the powers that be at ESPN.
Foyt Ailing: It was a bittersweet day at AJ Foyt Racing. On the plus side, Vitor Meira gave the ABC Supply car a strong run. At times, Meira was running as high as fifth, after starting in the thirteenth spot. He brought the car home in eighth with little fanfare. He did this with AJ Foyt sidelined. After doctors discovered a 95% blockage in an artery, he had a stent inserted on Friday. It takes a lot to keep Foyt away from the track. Here’s hoping he’s up on the pit box for Barber.
KV Highs & Lows: After a record number of crashes last season (35), KV Racing Technology-Lotus got off to a rough start this weekend as EJ Viso had varying degrees of contact this weekend. On Sunday, he spun in the race, but didn’t hit anything. For maybe the first time in over a season, KV made it back to the shop with all three cars in one piece after a race.
Hats off to Tony Kanaan for his spirited drive on Sunday. I thought he worked wonders to qualify eighth, considering he just signed with the team on Monday and first sat in the car on Tuesday. In the early stages of the race, he looked like a threat to Franchitti to take the victory. Still, to get a podium finish in his first outing with a team he signed with six days earlier is nothing short of remarkable. I’m glad to see him get the last laugh after Marco had blogged that Andretti Autosport was going to be much stronger this year without TK. The highest finish for an Andretti car was Danica Patrick in twelfth. Marco finished twenty-fourth while on his head.
Shameless Plug: In case my morbidly verbose postings (Pressdog’s words) weren’t enough, you may now catch my wordiness on a podcast over at Crimson Cast – a site mostly devoted to IU basketball, but in the spring and summer they follow the IZOD IndyCar Series. I was so wordy there; they had to break it up into two parts. You may catch both podcasts here and here.
All in all: I was a little worried at first. The first fifteen or so laps looked like the Ted Mack Amateur Hour (look it up). The world’s fastest drivers certainly looked like they needed to knock off the rust. But after things settled down, it was a fairly intriguing race. The crowd looked great on television and there seemed to be a lot of energy in the crowd.
Although the top two finishers were from the usual Penske and Ganassi camps – there are some fresh names near the top of the standings after the first race due to the early attrition among the usual front runners. Remarkably, twelve of the top thirteen finishers hail from different teams.
It won’t take long for the usual names to rise to the top, but this sort of evens the playing field early on. Either that or it gives Dario Franchitti and Will Power a huge lead over everyone else. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in two weeks at Barber Motorsports Park. Since I’m going to it, I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.