Have They Lost Their Mind?
Lost in all the hoopla last week of a new Race Director and the loss of the season-opening race in Brasília; was what would have been a major story in any other week. Last Wednesday afternoon, we learned that Pippa Mann would no longer be part of the IMS Radio Network, which broadcasts all IndyCar races, as well as race weekend practices and qualifications. Have they lost their mind?
I’ll throw out my disclaimer to those that don’t already know; that I am an unabashed Pippa Mann fan. No, I’m not some creepy old man that is obsessed with a driver that has bothered to chat with me from time to time. It’s simply that I think Pippa Mann is one of the best ambassadors that the Verizon IndyCar Series has.
Pippa is one of the many drivers that came out of Indy Lights about five years ago and had no place to go. The 2010 season, her second year in Indy Lights, saw her win the pole for the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis and she won the race at Kentucky later that season, on the way to fifth in the final point standings.
She got her chance in IndyCar with Eric Bachelart’s Conquest Racing the next season. She was hired to drive the second Conquest car at Indianapolis alongside their fulltime driver, Sebastian Saavedra. Although it was her first time in the bigger, more powerful IndyCar; Mann qualified thirty-second for a race that saw many well-known drivers fail to qualify.
Names like Mike Conway, Patrick Carpentier, Rafa Matos, James Jakes and even future IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay were all left on the outside looking in, when the gun went off. Also on that list was Pippa’s full-time teammate, Sebastian Saavedra. Hunter-Reay eventually bought his way in at the expense of Bruno Junqueira. Suffice it to say, qualifying for the race that year was anything but automatic. Yet, Pippa Mann did it on sheer driving ability in a car she barely knew.
In the race itself, Pippa moved up through the field – even though her hydration system had failed and she could not get a drink throughout the hot day. She dealt with severe cramping late in the race, but she held her foot to the throttle and finished a very respectable twentieth.
Mann was to drive three oval races for Bobby Rahal later that season, the first of which being New Hampshire. But she was injured in a practice crash and did not start. She had a forgettable day with Rahal’s team at Kentucky and qualified thirtieth in a thirty-four car field at Las Vegas. Pippa was caught up in the massive crash that took the life of Dan Wheldon. After watching the replays, it’s hard to imagine that she escaped with “only” a severely injured hand that has required multiple surgeries.
She returned to Indianapolis in 2013 with Dale Coyne. She finished thirtieth in the 500 with a car that ended up brushing the wall on Lap 46 and bending the toe link, after she got caught in dirty air. She also ran at Texas a couple of weeks later, but her car caught fire and retired by the end of Lap Two. She acquitted herself at Pocono by finishing a very respectable fifteenth, before finishing the season against the wall at Fontana, while trying to avoid a spinning Sebastian Saavedra.
Her most recent time in the car was at Indianapolis this past May, in the strikingly pink Susan G. Komen car. She qualified a very respectable twenty-second – just one row behind the eventual race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. A tire did not go on properly during a routine pit-stop. She pitted again the next lap. The locking nut did just that – it locked on and she lost several laps before her crew was able to get it off and replace the tire. But she was running at the end and finished twenty-fourth.
Do I consider Pippa Mann to be a present-day Rick Mears? No. Do I think she is as good as or better than some current drivers that have full-time rides? Yes. Her brief record is admittedly spotty, but it is in mostly sub-par equipment. Some drivers are very good when the car is perfect, but can’t deal with a car that is a handful. I’ll venture to guess that most of Pippa’s rides in IndyCar have been more than handfuls. She earned my permanent respect for what she did at Indianapolis in 2011.
She has missed out on full-time rides in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Pippa now seems to have resigned herself to pursuing Indy-only rides, as of late. It has been five years since she has turned right on a race track. That’s a long time away from road courses, in a series that is full of road/street courses.
For the past three years, she has had the added duty of doing analyst work on the IMS Radio Network. She spent two years doing Indy Lights races, before moving into the analyst role alongside Paul Page for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Listening to that first practice broadcast on the internet – I wasn’t quite sure what had happened to Davey Hamilton, who had been in that role for several years. I checked around with a couple of people I knew who would know, and their answer was simple – they felt Pippa was better. I agree.
I was convinced that this was Pippa Mann’s new career, once she decided to step out of the car for good. Although it was a brand new pairing, and she was less than half the age of her partner, Paul Page; they seemed to have an immediate chemistry. That was not necessarily due to Page’s experience either, because I can go back and think of more than a few analysts that Paul Page was paired with, who did not exude good chemistry (Danny Sullivan and Parker Johnstone come to mind) with their partner.
I found Paul Page and Pippa Mann to be a vast improvement over the previous year’s pairing of Mike King and Davey Hamilton. King’s shortcomings have been well documented, but I felt that Davey Hamilton had grown stale. He had not been a full-time driver since his frightening crash at Texas in 2001.
Prior to his crash, Hamilton put up decent stats against the inferior talent pool of the old IRL. Still, he never won a race – yet the likes of Jim Guthrie, Eliseo Salazar and John Paul, Jr. did. He went six years without driving, before he drove in the 2007 Indianapolis 500 when he finished a respectable ninth. Since then, his Indianapolis record has been finishes of fourteenth, twenty-ninth, thirty-third and twenty-fourth. His last time in a car was the twin at Texas in 2011, when he had finishes of twenty-seventh and twenty-fifth.
I never had major complaints about Hamilton as an analyst, but that may have been because Mike King was making him look so good. Hamilton seemed to spend most of his time politely correcting King for his on-air gaffes. Perhaps it was his laid-back style, but I always got the impression that Davey Hamilton came across as slightly disinterested and not engaged. I also had the feeling that Hamilton was sort of talking down to the fans, as if it was a privilege for us to share in his wisdom.
When the new pairing of Paul Page and Pippa Mann hit the airwaves from St. Petersburg last spring, it was a breath of fresh air on the IMS Radio Network. Page made a few gaffes of his own as all announcers do, but you never had the feeling that Pippa was there to do damage control. Instead, she brought a fresh voice and attitude to the broadcast booth.
I also felt that what Pippa Mann was sharing was relevant information. She had driven the old style Dallara, but she’s also driven the DW12 in as many races as the previous version. She was able to discuss the nuances of the new car, as well as compare some of the differences it has with the older car. Hamilton has never driven a DW12, unless it has been an extended two-seater version. As far as racing it, he never has and probably never will.
As I said earlier, I consider Pippa Mann to be one of the best ambassadors for the Verizon IndyCar Series – and that’s not just because she has a history of making herself very available to the IndyCar blogging community. She does that with everyone. I do not know of a single driver that has utilized social media the way she has. She doesn’t use it to promote Pippa Mann. She uses it to connect with fans – and she succeeds.
For the first time in the history of an IndyCar broadcast, Pippa actually used Twitter to interact with fans on the air. Mike King always made it a point to let listeners know he held bloggers and social media in complete disdain. Pippa made sure that tweets and questions were read aloud, and Page seemed more than happy to let her weave that into the broadcast.
With such an improved over-the-air product in 2014, it seemed only natural to assume that we could expect this excellent pairing to continue for many years. But the IMS Radio Network has made some curious moves before, so we should know that common sense should never be assumed. Last week, we got the word that Davey was back in and Pippa was out.
As a blogger, I don’t have many “sources” – but I know a few people that are in the know. I went to them, and they say the decision wasn’t based on Pippa’s popularity or ability. It came down to the almighty dollar – and not just salary. It boiled down to travel costs.
Davey Hamilton is still working on putting together a deal with an existing team to field a car. He is already going to all of the races anyway. All he is charging IMS Radio is his fee to be on the broadcast. I know for a fact that when I was at Barber last year, Pippa was in her personal car. From her tweets, you could tell that she also drove to St. Petersburg and Pocono. God only knows where else she took her own car. To me, that seems a little cheap – but what do I know? Whatever the case, the IMS Radio Network opted for Hamilton’s return while they showed Pippa the door. Have they lost their mind?
Furthermore, I’m told that they waited until the last minute to drop this news on her – thus preventing her from lining up any other broadcasting jobs with ABC / ESPN or NBC, since their lineups have already been set.
All the while, Pippa has been handling this with total class, dignity and professionalism. By her posts on social media, you couldn’t even tell whose decision this was. She waxed on about how she will miss the team she used to work with and how she will miss working with the guys she worked with for the past three years. But I’m told she was let go and it was based strictly on travel costs.
So, in case anyone with IndyCar’s TV partners – ESPN and NBCSN – reads this and has the ability to make some last minute additions; they would be doing themselves a huge favor to add Pippa Mann to their broadcast team. She’s a popular and knowledgeable driver that has a connection with fans – and she has the ability to draw in new ones. Isn’t that what IndyCar and the networks covet more than anything? They just need to keep one thing in mind – she is unavailable for Memorial Day weekend.