It’s Finally Race Week!
For the first time in twenty-three weeks, we can finally say that it’s race week. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg runs this Sunday, with the first practice to be held on Friday morning. Except for the beginning of the Month of May, it’s one of my favorite times of the year. While I have been intrigued with the run my Tennessee Vols are currently enjoying in the NCAA Tournament (who would’ve thought Sweet 16?); my idea of March Madness is the long-awaited start of the season for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
For the time being, we no longer fret about what’s ailing the series. Gone are the worries that the new regime is sitting on its hands. This is not the week to wring our hands over complicated engine change-out penalties or a curious change to the point system. This week, we lay aside all politics of the sport and focus on action on the track – something we haven’t done since mid-October.
This is the week when optimism abounds. All teams and drivers are starting out with a clean slate. Sure there are questions – lots of questions, but they are all racing related. Will a new engineering staff breathe new life into the fortunes at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing? What will be the result of two of the top-three teams swapping engine manufacturers? Will Team Penske have a leg up since they stayed with Chevy? How will the exodus of key employees at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing affect third-year driver Josef Newgarden? Will Carlos Muñoz bring the magic he showed at Indianapolis last May to a full-season ride with Andretti Autosport? How will Juan Montoya fare in his return to an open-wheel cockpit at age thirty-eight? Will Charlie Kimball continue the improvements he showed last season?
These are the kind of questions we all like to discuss, instead of what marketing deals are not being cut and what can be done to increase TV ratings. Granted, those are important subjects – but actual on-track topics are what the majority of race fans really enjoy talking about.
Speaking of television, I am curious to hear how Allen Bestwick sounds in calling an IndyCar race for the first time in his career. We won’t have to wait long. This week’s race will be carried by ABC. I’m also interested to see if he can bring along the chemistry (or lack thereof) between Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear. I’ve always thought that Goodyear played up or down to whoever he was paired with. He was good with Paul Page, not so much with Todd Harris or Marty Reid. The phrase commonly used to describe Bestwick is “a complete professional”. If that’s true, maybe Scott Goodyear will raise his game.
I also like seeing the new liveries on the track. Of the four Andretti cars, only Ryan Hunter-Reay’s looks even similar to last year’s – and his is now solid yellow since Sun-Drop seems to no longer be part of their program. Marco has a yellow & blue Snapple livery, Muñoz drives a good looking white & green car with sponsorship from Cinsay and James Hinchcliffe is in a United Fiber & Data liveried car trimmed in light blue & white that is sort of reminiscent of the late Greg Moore’s Players livery. Montoya is driving a sharp looking red & white Verizon car for at least eight races. Helio Castroneves will pilot an updated paint scheme from Hitachi along with other sponsors at various races. The Ganassi cars pretty much look the same, including Ryan Briscoe’s NTT Data car from last year’s Indianapolis 500. However, photos from Barber indicate that Charlie Kimball may have a reverse paint scheme, with blue sidepods instead of orange.
As optimistic as everyone seems today, there will be some short-lived dreams quickly turned into nightmares after the first practice this Friday. Someone will crash, forcing their crews to thrash the car together and potentially be behind for the rest of the weekend. Other would-be front-runners will mysteriously be unable to find speed and will languish at the bottom of the speed charts all weekend. Smiles of eager anticipation will morph into long frowns and scowls. But someone will exceed expectations – whether it is a surprise winner or an unexpected occupant of the podium. Such are the moments of the season-opener in any sport.
Will there be a Dayton or a Tennessee to play the role of Cinderella this coming weekend? Will a Duke or Ohio State get toppled? Or will one of the typical powerhouse teams dominate the weekend? The things that everyone loves about the NCAA Tournament, applies on the opening weekend of the Verizon IndyCar Series also.
So get ready. This is going to be a fast and furious season, in more ways than one. With the compressed schedule that has the season ending in August, there are not going to be a lot of off weekends. The upside to that is that there will be a lot of racing weekends bunched together. The downside is that once the end of August comes, we will begin an offseason longer than we’ve ever seen. But the light at the end of that tunnel is that it appears that the promise of a better schedule for 2015 by Mark Miles, may be coming true – if reports of a new race in Brazil next season are correct. Maybe the new regime isn’t sitting on its hands after all. But that’s another discussion for another time. Why? Because it’s finally race week!