Random Thoughts On The GP Of Indianapolis
Although I have yet to watch the TV broadcast of Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, I’ve read the comments here and have spoken with others who did watch it on television. Unfortunately, my suspicions were true that the first two-thirds of the race looked just as boring to viewers at home as it did to those of us in the stands. The problem was, those at home weren’t able to at least enjoy the fact that they were at the track – even though they were going the wrong way.
I know I’ll be labeled a curmudgeon for saying this – but after two years of watching this race from the Tower Terrace, behind Pit Row just north of the Pagoda – I am still not used to watching the cars go the “wrong” way down the main straightaway. We watched qualifying from the temporary stands in Turn Seven and that seemed natural. But it’s going to take a lot of time to erase fifty years of watching cars go from north to south down the front straightaway.
Some will ask why I keep sitting there. Well, for several reasons – but the main one is of convenience and I feel more connected there. While watching qualifying, I was not seeing what the PA announcers were describing. I was at the opposite end of the course. Plus there was a video board directly across the track from me that not only showed video, but kept us abreast of time intervals.
The difference in speed is very noticeable too. It should be. For the “500” I think cars can hit close to 240 mph sometimes down the straightaways. The highest trap speed recorded during Friday’s qualifying was Helio Castroneves when he hit 188. That’s more than 50 mph difference. It is very noticeable.
Fortunately, Graham Rahal made things interesting at the end, at least for those of us in the stands. I don’t know, but I’m sure that ABC capitalized on that angle to keep viewers interested…or awake. In the end, however, it was Will Power completing what he started. It’s not his job to manufacture drama or to make things interesting. It’s his job to destroy the competition and that’s what he did on Saturday. Now he turns his attention to the “500”. Those in the know say Power is totally focused on the “500”, now that he has finally won a championship. That could be a scary thought for his competitors.
Fun & Relaxing Weekend: Aside from the fact that the race was not riveting, there was a lot about this weekend to like. I’m being genuine when I say this and not snarky in the least – if you don’t care for large crowds, the Grand Prix weekend is for you. I’ve heard so many people say they stay away from the “500” because they don’t like crowds. This would be a good alternative.
As I’ve been saying for the last few days, you are doing the Grand Prix a disservice if you compare it to the “500” – sort of like not liking it because the cars run the wrong way. Um…yeah. Let it stand on its own merit and take advantage of the things that are different. One difference is that you don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn to get to the track on time.
Susan and I left our hotel around 8:30 am. We went and had a nice leisurely breakfast at Charlie Brown’s in Speedway (without even waiting in line) and were inside the track around 9:30. By the way, if you’ve never been to Charlie Brown’s Pancake and Steak House in Speedway – do yourself a favor and go. Not only is the food good, but it’s worth double the price of your meal just to see all of the IndyCar memorabilia in there. Plus, during the Month of May – you are quite likely to walk in and see AJ Foyt and friends having a cup of coffee at the front counter.
When we arrived at the track at that hour, we got a primo parking space and found ourselves in the middle of everything in no time. There was activity everywhere, but no crowds. You were free to mill about without feeling like you were being herded or someone might be out to pick your pocket. We were able to walk at a brisk pace wherever we wanted to go. At no time did we ever feel rushed to get anywhere. That won’t be the case in two weeks.
Susan did not go to the Grand Prix last year because she had to work. I came alone. She really had no idea what to expect. By Friday afternoon, she kept saying how weird the whole place felt. It wasn’t like practice, qualifying or Race Day for the “500”. Twenty-four hours later, she said she really liked the slow relaxing pace that the weekend had. It was nice to be able to have the freedom to do a lot of things inside the track without the crowds. She was right. Right now, we are planning on returning for the Grand Prix next year for another low-key weekend at the track.
Rahal & The Rest: After five races, I have been very impressed with what Graham Rahal has done this season. Not only has he been running up front and contesting for wins on a consistent basis, he has kept Honda from becoming a laughing stock this season.
My question is…where is everyone else? Francesco Dracone and Gabby Chaves are not the only other drivers with Hondas. There are some excellent teams and drivers including James Hinchcliffe and defending Indianapolis 500 winner and former IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay; along with Hunter-Reay’s team – Andretti Autosport.
Has Graham Rahal and his team suddenly become that much better than Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport? What have they figured out that no other Honda team hasn’t? Granted, Graham Rahal’s interview on Trackside in the pre-season revealed a much more mature sounding Rahal than we had been hearing – but is his performance strictly attitude? The last time I heard him interviewed, James Hinchcliffe had a pretty good attitude. Yet his Honda has been mired back in the pack with the rest of the Honda teams.
I have to think that it’s a combination of a refocused Graham Rahal, along with something that the revamped engineering staff at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has figured out that no one else has. I’m sure the Honda folks at HPD would like to know what it is and share it with their other teams. But good for Rahal’s team for figuring it out first and having a driver who can execute it on-track. Let the other teams figure it out like they did.
Tenderloin Quest: If you listen to the nightly editions of Trackside in May, you may have heard IMS President Doug Boles discussing the concession situation at the track, last week. The new and disgusting tenderloin is available agin this year at the main concession stand behind the Pagoda. I had one when we were there for the open test for two reasons. First of all, it was the only stand open. Second – I thought I would be open-minded and give it another try. If anything, it was worse than the one I had last year. The good news was that Boles revealed that the “classic” jumbo tenderloins that had been sold for years, would be available at all of the other stands.
Unfortunately, there weren’t that many stands open since many of the main stands along the front straightaway were closed for the Grand Prix. Saturday morning, I lugged Susan all the way from the Pagoda Plaza all the way down to Stand J, outside Turn Four. There I found a stand and they had it – the original tenderloin in all of its perfectly seasoned crispness. All was right with the world. So, if you’re at IMS for the next couple of weeks and the urge for a good tenderloin hits you; don’t fall for the inadequate $9.00 version behind the Pagoda. Go for the real thing at any other stand for only $7.00. Two dollars cheaper and it tastes much better – what a deal! There will be more on tenderloins as the month progresses.
Helio’s Start: I will temper this by reminding you that I have not seen the broadcast and have still not seen many replays of the Turn One melee at the start of Saturday’s race. But from reading comments here and on social media, it sounds as if there is no question who caused it – Helio Castroneves. While he apparently ruined the day for drivers like Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth, Helio came away with a sixth place finish.
When races are run on Sunday, penalties are usually handed down by Wednesday. Given where we are on the calendar, if there is a penalty headed Helio’s way – it’ll probably come sooner than later. Helio fans say it was a racing incident that warrants no punishment. Fans of the affected drivers say he should be suspended, if not tar and feathered. When the dust settles, I expect something somewhere in the middle. I suspect Helio will be heavily fined and put on probation for a few races. I’ll be surprised if points are deducted, but I’ve been wrong before on such things.
All in All: Overall, I thought it was a very enjoyable weekend – but I’m admittedly biased. Over the past fifty years, I never recall having a bad time at IMS or even being bored. If I’m inside the gates of the historic oval, I’m a happy man.
Again, I can’t speak to whether or not the TV broadcast was entertaining; but I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. I would easily recommend people go and attend this race personally before writing it off as a bad idea. Personally, I like it and look forward to watching it grow over the next few years.
But now that it’s over, everyone can completely focus on the next couple of weeks and getting ready for the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Extended Sympathies: On a personal note, Susan and I would like to extend our sympathy to Andy Loviscek and his wife Retha, who suddenly lost her father unexpectedly on Sunday.
Many of you know Andy. He is the Groundskeeping Supervisor at IMS. We’ve known Andy for a few years and got to meet Retha on Race Day of the 2013 race. They are both some of the nicest people you will ever meet. We visited with Andy just his past Saturday and were shocked to learn what had happened after we got back home yesterday. Please keep Andy, Retha and their family in your thoughts and prayers during this time.