Random Thoughts On St. Petersburg

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After watching the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg yesterday, which was won by Team Penske driver Juan Montoya; I talked to a couple of friends about the race, scanned social media, thought about what I had watched – and still wasn’t sure what I thought about what had just transpired. Let’s just say it was a mixed bag for me.

It appears that a lot of the fears of the aero kits may have come to fruition. Many predicted that street courses would become “festivals of carbon fiber”; with apologies to our friend Pressdog, who coined the phrase. Based on the first half of the race, that’s exactly what it was.

Others have worried that the close racing that we enjoyed for the past three years with the DW12, would be lost with these new aero kits. It’s hard to say after one race, but there are already some indications that may be the case. Will Power said after the race that the new bodywork makes it extremely difficult to get close to pass.

Another concern was that one manufacturer would have a distinct advantage over the other. After wondering if Honda was sandbagging at the open test a couple of weeks ago at Barber Motorsports Park – I am wondering no more. I am now declaring Chevy the early leader in the development of the aero kits. The results pretty well mirrored what we saw at Barber for both days; with the highest finishing position for Honda being seventh and placing only three Hondas in the Top-Ten. There is no sugar-coating it. If I’m a Honda team, I am now officially worried.

The streets of St. Petersburg are nothing like the undulating road course at Barber. Yet, the results were pretty much the same at both venues. Word has it that Honda is focused exclusively on the Indianapolis 500 and is conceding the rest of the season. I don’t buy that for a minute. Yes, the Indianapolis 500 is the crown jewel – but only one team will win that. Nine of the last fifteen Indianapolis 500’s have been won by either Penske or Ganassi. The odds are good that one of those two will win it again this year – and they both run Chevys. If Honda’s focus is Indianapolis, and they come up short – they have a lot of explaining to do to their teams.

We are constantly reminded that Chevy and Honda took totally different paths with their respective designs of the aero kits. There is such a thing as outsmarting one’s self. It appears that Honda took the complicated approach with too many variables available to the teams. On the pre-race show, Jon Beekhuis pointed out that there are up to a million different aero combinations that a team can choose in setting up a car. Seriously?

Chevy, on the other hand, seems to have taken the KISS approach (Keep It Simple, Stupid). There are fewer options and, consequently, fewer ways to screw it up.

Admittedly, I applauded Honda’s design when I first saw it. It looked like they had put a lot of thought into their design, while the Chevy kit simply looked like they had just stuck a few winglets in odd places. That shows what I know.

I also thought that the raised winglets that looked like T’s on each front wing looked like they were asking to be knocked off. Although several T’s were casualties in yesterday’s race, the Chevy teams were generally able to continue with damaged wings. Whenever a Honda front-wing was damaged, all of the layered louvers seemed to disintegrate within a couple of laps after contact.

Journalists are not supposed to show favoritism, but since bloggers are not journalists – we can get away with it. I was pulling for Honda and still am. Chevy has bailed on open-wheel racing twice in the past two decades. They left CART after the 1993 season after being soundly beaten by Ford, then Honda chased them out of this series after the 2005 season. Honda has been a loyal supporter of the series and I shudder to think where the series would be, had they not stepped up and supplied the entire field from 2006 through 2011. Plus, except for a three-year period that I regret, I’ve always had at least one Honda (sometimes more) in my garage since 1981. So to say I’m pulling for them to succeed is an understatement.

But if I owned an IndyCar team, I would be very worried right now if I had aligned myself with Honda – based on what I saw yesterday. I am not an engineer, nor do I know anything about aerodynamics. But I do know stat sheets and they don’t lie. The Hondas are chasing the Chevys.

The Honda-Chevy battle was not the only disparity in yesterday’s race. I’m an unapologetic fan of Team Penske and want them to win the championship. But yesterday was a case of the Penskes and everyone else. Had it not been for Tony Kanaan spoiling their party, they would have swept the top four spots – just as they did in qualifying.

Does anyone remember the 2009 season? That was the year that the “red cars” of Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing won all but one of the seventeen races. Except for Watkins Glen, which was won by Justin Wilson for Dale Coyne, each race and the championship was a battle between the two red and white Marlboro cars of Team Penske (sometimes another entry driven by Will Power) and the two Target cars of Ganassi. As someone pointed out here the other day – it was one of the most boring seasons in history.

Based on what we saw yesterday, this season could be worse. This championship could very easily come down to a battle between all four drivers within Team Penske. Everyone else could be racing for best in class.

Even though I have been a lifelong fan of Team Penske; I don’t want that. The combination of Team Penske always being one of the top teams in the sport, having possibly the top four drivers on their team and being aligned with Chevy could prove insurmountable for the other teams. I hope I am wrong. That could be a pivotal blow for a series that needs intrigue and excitement in the worst way. It’ll be hard for the die-hards to tune in each week to watch four drivers on one team challenge for the win, while the other teams are left to fight for the scraps of fifth place and below. That is not what I call “must see TV”.

Aside from slight contact that sent a lot of carbon-fiber pieces flying, and a fairly interesting duel at the end between Will Power, who dominated most of the race, and the ultimate winner Juan Montoya – this was not edge-of-your-seat competition. That’s a shame, because after a seven month offseason and the debut of the aero kits – I was probably more excited about this season-opener than I had been in years. But after the novelty of the new kits wore off, most of the race sort of left me flat. Here’s hoping things vastly improve at NOLA.

TV (& Radio) Coverage: After the defection of some of the ABC/ESPN broadcasting team to FOX, it would be easy to understand if ESPN’s coverage dipped in quality. But Allen Bestwick stayed, and that’s a good thing. I’m not going to say that Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever were the best ever, but Bestwick’s presence has brought them to a higher level. But I would say that the ESPN IndyCar pit crew improved over last year.

Rick De Bruhl is solid and has now been around since the 2010 season, so we viewers have gotten comfortable with him, He is the lone holdover from last year’s team that also included Jamie Little and Vince Welch. I had no problem with either of them, but the addition of Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhuis is a big improvement in my book.

Dr. Punch has been a fixture on their Indianapolis 500 coverage since the late eighties and is one of the best, in my opinion. Jon Beekhuis brings a very technical approach to each broadcast and has the unique ability to put things in layman terms, where even people like me can understand what he is trying to say.

That brings us to yesterday’s broadcast, where Beekhuis did an exemplary job in describing the differences in the aero kits. That segment was one of the highlights of the pre-race show.

I will ding Eddie Cheever, however, for using the old cliché of “Catching Montoya is one thing. Getting around him is another”. There should be some code among racing analysts that forbids them to ever use that tired old saying. Overall, it was a good start of the season for a network whose overall production used to make me cringe before Bestwick’s arrival.

Speaking of cringing, I watched Friday and Saturday practices, along with qualifying, online. The newly renamed Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network provided the audio feed from the Firestone Studio which was trackside. I could listen to Paul Page all day, but I’ll admit he had a few gaffes. Still, he was a pleasure to listen to. Mark Jaynes, Dave Furst and Jake Query all did a good job. It’s too bad I can’t say the same for Page’s new partner, Davey Hamilton. If you’ll recall, Hamilton has replaced Pippa Mann as the driver analyst, after Pippa did an outstanding job working with Page all of last season. Hamilton has been away from the booth since Mike King did not return after the 2013 season – and it showed. He sounded very rusty, almost as if he had forgotten the Fast Six qualifying format.

But what made me cringe was his grammar. Look, I don’t pretend to be the king of grammar here. There is at least one regular commenter on here, that is more than happy to point out all of my grammatical boo-boo’s. But I’m not representing the series and I’m not paid a dime to do this. Hearing Hamilton say “I seen” about a dozen times, and then talking about how a driver “has broke through” – made my ears begin to hurt. All the while, I kept thinking about how much I missed Pippa’s British accent.

Unending Yellows: On the first lap, there were several carbon-fiber pieces that went flying and landed in precarious positions on the track. Before the field came around, the yellow flag flew so that the pieces could be picked up. Granted there were a couple on the main straightaway, while others were in the Turn Six and Seven area. But why on earth did that become a four-lap caution period?

I’m not sure what you call the guy that marries your niece. Is he my nephew? My nephew-in-law? My niece’s husband? Whatever you call him, he has become quite the IndyCar fan in the past few years. I saw he had a good quote on Twitter yesterday. He has quickly named 2015 as The Year of Debris. I like that. Unfortunately, it may turn out to be quite true.

On most road and street courses, this scattering of debris is likely to be repeated throughout the season, given the fragile wings of the new aero kits. Someone needs to devise a more efficient way to remove the debris from the race course. I see no reason why it should take four laps of yellow to remove a few endplates and winglets from the track surface.

I was glad to hear them say that at one point, a track worker was able to safely go out and retrieve a piece of debris from the straightaway without bringing out another full-course yellow. They need to use that kind of thinking more throughout the season, in order to allow races to develop some type of rhythm.

Please, Make it Stop: This is a repeated rant that I’ve gone off on before, but it was something I had mercifully forgotten about in the offseason. A couple of years ago, I met Michael Young at Barber. He is a genuinely nice guy and I really feel bad for belaboring this topic and bashing him on this.

If the name Michael Young doesn’t ring a bell, he is the one that makes me cringe just before the start of each race by screaming out “Race fans!…Are…You…Ready??????”. It sounds like someone being introduced for The Price Is Right. It gives the entire race day experience a very cheesy feeling, whether you’re at the track or on your couch. There are better and more tasteful ways to introduce the Grand Marshall that will get the crowd more fired up and not leave everyone shaking their heads.

Early Success: Sometimes, teenage drivers experience success very early in their careers and it sets them up for disappointment down the road. You don’t need to look further than Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti for drivers that experienced success in their teen years, only to struggle afterwards.

I can’t help but wonder the same about Sage Karam. He had a Month of May last year that few could even dream of. Had it not been the more famous Kurt Busch earning the praise of those that voted, Karam could have and possibly should have been named Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 2014; by starting thirty-first and finishing ninth as a nineteen year-old.

Karam has had ten months to think about that performance and how easy it seemed. Well, things got tougher on the first day of the open test at Barber, while testing for Ganassi. He crashed and broke his wrist and cracked the tub of his car. He returned to the car last week and started yesterday’s race. He was unspectacular, starting eighteenth and finishing nineteenth. But his most noteworthy moment yesterday was not getting out of Will Power’s way in the waning laps as Power was trying to track down Montoya. It probably did not affect the outcome, but it was still very much a rookie mistake that he will likely learn from.

I think Sage Karam is a great kid with a steady head on his shoulders. I hope he gets several more chances with Ganassi this season. I also hopes he learns as much from his weekend at St. Petersburg as he did last May. If so, he’ll have a great IndyCar career.

Tilting Camera? As we rode along with Simon Pagenaud’s onboard camera, it suddenly tilted down where we could no longer see what was ahead of him, just his hands steering the wheel. Was that on purpose? Do these cameras tilt, as well as rotate? Or did he hit something that jarred the camera and it accidentally tilted on its own? Just curious.

Kanaan’s Strong Start: Last year, crowd favorite Tony Kanaan finished sixth at St. Petersburg in his first outing with Chip Ganassi Racing. From there, things went south for much of the first half of the season. Yesterday he finished third and says he is much more comfortable with his new team. The fact that Kanaan inserted himself into the middle of the Penske juggernaut speaks to how strong a day he had. His full-time Ganassi teammates, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball, finished fifteenth and eighteenth respectively. Here’s hoping the forty year-old Kanaan can give Team Penske a run for their money this season.

Silent CFH: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the first outing for CFH Racing. Their results weren’t horrible. In fact, Luca Filippi had a career-best ninth place finish. The thing is; I’m not quite sure how he did it. He was practically invisible during practice and qualifying. During the race, I’m not sure I ever heard his name called. I only saw his car when it was being passed by others. He seemed destined to finish near the back of the pack. Then suddenly, he was up to twelfth and then finished ninth. It’s the quietest ninth-place finish I’ve ever seen.

Josef Newgarden was slightly disappointing also. Last year, it was not uncommon for him to make it to the final round of Fast Six. This year, with Chevy power and body kit – he started a forgettable tenth and finished twelfth. He had a very ordinary and disappointing day yesterday.

Rahal’s Penalty: Graham Rahal showed the speed I thought we would see out of him. Unfortunately, some of his old personality showed up this weekend as well. Although Rahal showed good speed in practice, he failed to make it out of the first round in qualifying. When he got out of the car, he seemed very agitated with one of his crew members. Then when interviewed, he came across as the whiney Graham we’ve come to know and not love over the years.

In the race, he showed speed and ran as high as a legitimate fifth. He then tangled with a disabled Charlie Kimball and ended up punting Kimball out of his way. It was a questionable call that could have gone either way, but Race Control black-flagged Rahal for a drive-through penalty. When he finally served it, he was heard over his radio saying “They’ll find any way they can to screw me.”

Then Rahal made his biggest mistake. He engaged the crazies on Twitter. One tweet from Rahal read “Love all my haters cause your (sic) clueless. Everyone that knows anything about racing agrees we shouldn’t have been given a penalty”. Just when I think I might be ready to become a Graham Rahal fan…

Andretti’s Mixed Bag: It was a decent day for half of Andretti Autosport. Ryan Hunter-Reay overcame some early problems and was the highest placed Honda, finishing seventh. Likewise, Marco drove a hard race and finished tenth. Simona de Silvestro and Carlos Muñoz didn’t fare so well. They tangled with each other, causing damage to the front wing of Muñoz.

Later, Simona ran into the back of James Jakes and punted him off course, ending his day. Muñoz finished fourteenth, while Simona finished eighteenth in her only confirmed start with Andretti.

All in All: I hate to use the term “mixed bag” for a third time in this post, but that’s what yesterday was for me. I’m a Team Penske fan, so I was happy to see them place four cars in the Top Five. But the way they dominated is not good for the series.

I was excited about the aero kits, but seeing how poorly Honda showed was discouraging – no only as a Honda fan, but as a fan of the series.

When the race was over, I had a strange feeling. I wasn’t quite sure whether I liked what I had seen. I certainly didn’t come away from this opener like I had for the past several years. I feel like the series came away from St. Petersburg with more questions than answers. Hopefully, NOLA will give us some answers in a couple of weeks.

George Phillips

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34 Responses to “Random Thoughts On St. Petersburg”

  1. Jim Gallo Says:

    After 209 days off-air, it was enjoyable to sit back and watch these new cars on track. With the new aero kits and all the bling these new cars show, especially the Hondas, the carbon fiber carnage was a bit less than expected. Agreed that the longer than needed yellow flags were displayed on several occasions. And, I and not sure if it was our St. Louis ABC on DirecTV broadcast, but it seemed that the sounds of the cars overwhelmed all the commentators. If this was a NastyCar broadcast effect, it would have been a good thing. So, I am not sure what comments were made by each. Overall, enjoyed viewing all the new paint schemes and hoping for a tighter mix on track in the next few events. Thanks again George for all your insites.

    • I have noticed the cars being louder than the announcers before, I don’t think you are imagining that.

      • They are definitely louder, especially in the pit lane when the turbos are bypassed. I noticed immediatey hearing them in person at Barber.

    • pete1945 Says:

      I found it almost unlistenable (sic). ABC had the same problem last year. The car sounds are cool but I want to hear them tell me what’s going on. As it was I relied on race control on my laptop to keep me apprised. The radio feed winds up being too far out of sync so listening to that doesn’t help.

  2. You pretty much covered it. My question is – Where is all this exclusive coverage in USA Today? I haven’t seen the paper but there is no IndyCar race coverage on the web site or the app. The only article I can find is the Will Power Blog.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    A festival of carbon fiber (and kevlar) indeed! The kits seem overly complicated and fragile to me. Passing seemed more limited than last season, but my memory is not what it used to me. Still, for long periods of time it was mostly follow the leader. I don’t know how teams, particularly the less funded ones, will be able to afford to keep replacing front wingy, thingys at $20-30,000 a pop. I’m sorry, but when crew members lift those Honda front wings into place they just look goofy. Does anyone remember those cars with the side curtains that made the cars practically stick to the track? I think we are approaching that situation again. Too much downforce in my opinion. Finally, with all due respect to Michael Young, the “ARE YOU READY? deal is almost as bad at the boogity, boogity, boogity guy. The best strategy yesterday seemed to be either start and stay at the front, or just try to avoid losing your winglets. Overall, I was not overwhelmed. I was not even whelmed.

  4. It appeared to me that the fears of debris all over the track from the aero-kits came true, at least for Honda.

    It was a boring race but honestly that is what I expect at St. Pete. Last summer while on vacation I drove part of the track they used, and saw Dan Wheldon Way. So I enjoyed seeing all that again and being able to put where the track is in perspective. I love St. Pete (the city/beach) and did attend this race many years ago.

    The domination by Penske did fulfill some peoples fears. Hopefully that won’t continue, but I do prefer innovation to “spec racing”.

  5. Still think it is too early to write off Honda – at least the engine and aero kit. I have a feeling if Penske was running four Hondas, the results wouldn’t have been much different. The talent pool in terms of both teams and drivers is SO heavily weighted against them.

  6. The number and duration of the yellows blew up the race for me. I was flipping back and forth from another race and every time I came back … yellow parade. I ended up going for a walk with my wife in the 62-degree nice day here in Iowa and missing the end. I caught up with it on 30x DVR replay. But, as others have said, it was St. Pete, where I usually fade in and out. At one point I saw rear body work fly off due to hopping a curb. No contact required. On the plus side, streaming video of practice etc. was a nice improvement for IndyCar. I think IndyCar sweeps some if not all of the track at every yellow, which could account for the seemingly 13-lap duration.

  7. I’m going to watch last years St. Petersburg race for comparison to confirm what I noticed as a lack of passing. Confirmed by what Will Power said when interviewed that’s it’s just really tough to pass. The draft effect of the Dallara bodywork seems to have disappeared. There was hardly any passing on the main straight. The cars sure looked fast through the corners however but the ongoing lack of horsepower again was noticeable. Over all my impression was: it is only the first race and this is a work in progress so hopefully some parity will work its way into the road course kits as the season progresses.

  8. Jim Gray Says:

    I thought it was a decent race. I enjoyed it quite a bit, in no small part because of all the company I had at the Indy fans viewing party. I thought it went about as expected. We all expected flying carbon fiber as the old chassis allowed more rubbing than the current kits, the drivers will figure it out. I had no problem with Sage as even Will Power commented that Sage did move out of the way as quick as he could. If a driver has no issues, why should I? Graham…well yeah, I think we all hope for better but we get…Graham. The drivers raced hard and are still feeling it out. Some will picking up quicker than others but Chevrolets advantage at this point is going to be tough to leapfrog over.

    • Agreed, Jim…especially if Power is right that the addition of the winglets on the top of the rear pods in the new kits causes real problems in seeing the car behind you. Might be a lot tougher to judge how close a car is behind you, or how quickly that car is closing.

  9. I agree with PC–it is too early to write off Honda from a technical standpoint if Sato was only 0.15 sec off Power in practice 3 (assuming he did that on blacks–using reds is apparently what put Rahal on top of pre-race warmup yesterday.) The series absolutely must come up with a way to cut down on FCY time to improve the quality of the street race broadcasts for new fans, but I’ve been saying that for years. I fear the aero kits are going to make that an even harder task. And what was with that graphic that claimed Honda had seven broken wings to only one for Chevy? By that point in the race, more than one winglet was missing from a Chevy.

  10. Phil Kaiser Says:

    The audio in Indianapolis (at least for me) was instantly atrocious, the cars were way louder than the booth or pits. I even tried to see if it had something to do with 5.1 surround versus 2.0 stereo but it made no difference. But then I began to wonder “is this a bad thing?” LOL. Goodyear and Cheever are soooo boring, but Jan and the Doc are very good and Bestwick is certainly coming along and is a total pro.

    The strange feeling I had after this race was a kind of emptiness and the nagging thought that I might be witnessing the beginning of the end of something I’ve been in love with all my life. Like maybe this whole aero-kit thing is a “bridge too far” and has the very real potential to ruin the fabulous racing we have seen these past few years while turning off thousands of new race fans, as well as thousands of us “diehards.” I mean, I am the original road course hater, yet for the past few years folks have heard nary a peep outta me about them because the racing on them has been so undeniably good, if not great when compared to other series. Am I throwing in the towel after one race? Heck no! But that’s the strange, empty feeling I had after watching that “race” yesterday. Can IndyCar survive a year of boring competition after its well documented years of unification, rebuilding its brand and struggling to become the world’s fastest, most competitive and most intriguing open wheel series? As fickle as we have become in this society these days , it’s hard to know, and that thought gives me that strange, empty feeling….

    Phil Kaiser
    Indianapolis

    PS: By the way George, the sentence should’ve read: “There is at least one regular commenter on here who is more than happy to point out all of my grammatical boo-boos.” No comma after commenter, people are “who” and not “that,” and boo-boos is plural, not possessive or a contraction of boo-boo is… hahahaha!

    Just messin’ with ya!

    • I’ve had that same feeling since 1996. It’s been a long illness and it appears to be terminal. Try switching to mono – it helped a lot on my TV. How many times did Goodyear say “as we call it” describing the most basic racing terms as if the viewers were complete idiots?

      • Phil Kaiser Says:

        Oh my! YES! I remember Jack Arute and how EVERY YEAR during EVERY RACE he would get on his knees with a dixie cup to show us what “stagger” meant! And that’s just one example.

        My contention for years was that TV was not getting “new” viewers if the ratings were (are) continuously going down, so why, for the past 25 years, have the ABC announcers talked to us in every broadcast like we are all first time race watchers?????

        Ugh….

    • I got the same feeling Phil. That empty feeling you described so well. I’m a lifer too. The thing is, no one was watching before so what is the solution? They have got to continue trying new things. The Indy 500 will probably be different this year.

  11. Completely agree with George about the “Are You Ready?”nonsense. I am praying for the day the crowd yells back “No we’re not ready. Let’s wait another hour or two.”

    • I agree with George too – I cringe at the Michael Young introduction “ARE YOU READY?”… sounds like I’m at a minor league hockey game or something. It sounds like NASCAR. Can’t we get something more formal like “Let’s welcome the Grand Marshall of today’s Grand Prix of ___”

      Of course, I’m also annoyed (like so many) that they continue to use the NASCAR version “Drivers start your engines”. At least at the Indy races they do the command to start engines correctly.

    • DZ-groundedeffects Says:

      YES x 1,000. Please, for the love all racing fans across the world, STOP IT NOW! “Oh, no it’s only seemingly been 23 months since the last Indycar race, yes we’re F****G READY.

  12. CORRECTION – IndyCar coverage on USA Today website can be found under the MORE tab

  13. good recap, george. I am in strong agreement about the announcer at the beginning–makes me cringe every time.

    did they make a huge mistake by designing aerokits that don’t allow for contact or is it the fault of bull-in-a-china-shop drivers who are going to have to learn to avoid contact at all costs? (and I say “costs” because those wings are going to get expensive.)

    Winglets. ugh.

    restarts are still horrid ugly. Indycar, like an exhausted mother of five at Wal-Mart, has given up on any form of discipline and just let the children run wild.

    Hope it was fun for the folks who were there but the best I could say about the race on TV is that the weather was nice. While Bestwick is good, Cheever and Goodyear are the worst.

  14. Typical St. Pete race. Never has been a great race other than it is 1st race of year and gets a pass because of that. What did we all expect, no carbon fiber/wing issues. This is what always gets me, fans clamor for change. Then fans complain about the changes and what results occur from the changes. People, you can’t have it both ways. What I read here is typical responses.

    ABC coverage I thought was very good, however Cheever and Goodyear still annoy me. Goodyear talking about Rahal’s impatience and judgement, when I remember Goodyear leading INDY, but taking off before Turn 3,laying rubber when he took off, and passing the pace car under yellow in Turn 4.

    Rahal’s penalty in my opinion was a joke. He is passing a disabled car, smoke pouring from the LR, due to Pagenaud clobbering Kimball’s car. So Graham get penalized when Kimball should have gave way and the guy who really started the whole thing (Pagenaud), gets no penalty. And 3 people in Race Control made these decisions? Really scarey stuff. This is why people do not trust BB. Simona blasts the moving chicane of James Jakes, penalized. Pagenaud blasts Kimball, only because he does not spin, is the only reason I can think of why Pagenaud is not penalized.

    INDY will be different, but I did enjoy the racing @ St.Pete. Looking forward to attending my 1st non-oval race at GPofNOLA.

  15. billytheskink Says:

    It was fair as street races go, but colored by the lack of team and manufacturer diversity at the top of the running order.

    In fairness to race control and the safety team in regards to the long debris cautions, it appeared to me that they were cleaning up many pieces of debris in multiple parts of the track. This understandably takes longer than picking up only a single item of debris, as they did later in race without the use of caution flag.

    The penalty on Rahal was a poor call. Rahal’s move was a little late, but Kimball closed the door he opened even later and did so with a wounded car (not sure whether he yet knew his car was wounded). It was not terribly different than Power’s last shot at overtaking Montoya and should have been ruled a racing incident.
    His reaction, of course, was not very becoming, but maybe he’s trying to play the black hat.

    Rahal was, however, worth the price of admission, as was Jack Hawksworth. They were among the few drivers who frequently made passes. Both had the race pace to have had outside shots at top 5s had they not been derailed by other circumstances (Rahal’s penalty, Hawksworth replacing a front wing and having to finish with a severely damaged spare).

    And on a couple of notes not discussed much:
    – Scott Dixon is snakebit early in the season… again. Not sure he looked like he was going to be a factor in the race, but that broken air jack ended any chance.
    – Kudos to Firestone, whose tires ran over quite a bit of debris (usually from the remains of the front wing in front of them) and did not appear to suffer any immediate punctures. Good work there.

    • Agree with you on the change comments. I think the introduction of aerokits has been great. Look at all the publicity and discussion it’s created so far. They also raise questions like “will Honda improve?” “Will drivers change their style to avoid breaking wings?” that encourage you to stay tuned and find out.

      • I think drivers got a little lazy with the Dallara front wing that was described by a few drivers as a little too strong at times. Drivers learned to use it as a chrome horn. They can’t do that anymore.

  16. I expected more out of Scott Dixon’s team and, as I said on “One Take Only,” the Honda teams were not sandbagging and there is some major work ahead for the Honda teams. I am now wondering what the oval kits are going to be like and the difference in speed between the manufacturer’s.

  17. Don’t always agree with everything written here, but I found myself nodding my head reading this entry. I should start by saying that my wife and I did enjoy the race, overall. We were actually in the Tampa/St. Pete area in early March visiting family, several of whom volunteer in the race every year. I was fairly impressed with how much of a presence IndyCar had in that area even weeks before the race. And the optics with the full stands on television were quite good. I’ll never be totally on-board with an almost completely road/street course season, but if they were all like this one, it would be pretty good.

    All that positivity aside, I’m worried about aero kits and the potential dominance of Chevy/Penske. The Honda kits are visually pretty interesting, but any 7-year-old who has ever tried to step up a design playing with Legos could have told them how fragile that would be. The DW12 was supposed to be a more durable chassis, but when you put all this extra stuff on it, suddenly you have loose parts that become easily dislodged and then cause damage to tires, wings, etc. as they become dislodged.

    I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of drivers and fans with all this junk constantly laying around the track. Those carbon-fiber pieces look small on TV, but I really hate to think what will happen when one of them is shot at 100+ mph at a driver or into the stands. This has already been a recurring safety concern for the series, and this new design just looks to be a step in the wrong direction. And, sadly, it doesn’t even appear to have any benefit, since the Chevy kits are less dramatic but, apparently, faster.

  18. There are worse things in the world than Penske-Ganassi domination. At least it will be a six car fight. A fast Montoya will be quite the straw to stir the IndyCar drink.

  19. I agree with most of what George wrote. Based upon driver comments, the new kits make passing a lot more difficult and with the fragile wing/winglet issues it has some concerning possibilities. Penske/Ganassi domination is old already. If a Penske’s got to dominate I suppose I would rather see JPM than Power or Pagenaud. I think the bigger issue is that the extra adjustable parts are giving Penske and Ganassi an edge more so than Honda/Chevy disparity. The biggest issue in racing with Honda seems to be the parts breaking.

    Overall, not a great start to the season, and I am definitely concerned where this season might go. I’m interested to see how NOLA ends up with a track that is allegedly Cleveland esque. As for Barber, will fragile cars and dirty air make it as processional as it was pre-DW 12? Maybe if enough aero kits get broken Indycar will go back to the old car configuration?

    I found the struggles of Karam/Newgarden/Simona/Hinch rather depressing as well. Good qualifying effort by Simona and Joseph, but not a good race.

  20. I don’t think the sound problem was with the cars’ engine notes, it was with the poor mixing in the booth by ABC’s sound engineers. The mikes of the three guys in the booth were consistently low and muted, whereas the field reporters actually came in more clearly, most of the time.

    One of the items that the ABC guys did mention lightly that got lost in the shuffle was that, when a wing or, more specifically, winglette did get damaged, the vibrations from traveling around the track seemed to shake off even more small pieces and shards (i.e. razor blades) of carbon fiber, like a Q designed James Bond car. Frankly, I was surprised that there weren’t a large number of tires that went flat. It seems that the entire wing structure is not as robust as it could be. That was the reason for the super long yellows to clear the track: the long stretches of razor blades.

    One thing I did agree with was Race Control holding off on the one yellow to allow everyone to pit before throwing the long track cleaning yellow to keep the race as fair as possible, rather than closing the pits right as the pit window opened. Most of the drivers agreed with the decision post-race, as long as race control continues this policy throughout the season. Frankly, I thought race control did a nice, even-handed job this weekend.

    The Honda teams are going to need to hit the Cray Super Computers and figure out which of those million positions to place the wingidingies into if they want to do a better job in two weeks. I agree with George that Chevy’s KISS wings seem to be more effective. It does seem that The Captain has once again found his Unfair Advantage.

  21. It became fairly obvious in this race that the manufacturers need to go back to the drawing board and make their front wings more robust. If you look closely at the Honda frontwing, it’s almost like the elements on the sides are perforated which lets them break off easier. This race had way too many cautions for debris, and to say the least, this didn’t come unexpected.

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