Watkins Glen Preview
The surprise weekend of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season is finally here. When the green flag dropped on the season in mid-March, all indications were that the series would be running the streets of Boston this weekend. We all know the questions that surrounded that event before it finally fell through at the end of April.
Most fans, including myself, felt as though there would be no replacement found and that there would be a huge gap between Pocono and the season finale at Sonoma.
Miraculously, IndyCar President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye was able to leverage his strong connections within NASCAR and ISC to put together a replacement deal in record time. Roughly two weeks after the cancellation of the Boston race, Jay Frye had solidified the deal with Watkins Glen International to race there on Labor Day weekend.
To add icing on the cake, it was announced last week that IndyCar and Watkins Glen had signed a multi-year deal for the series to return for the foreseeable future. This was one of the many bits of good news we got last week regarding the long-sought after continuity of the IndyCar schedule with date equity.
Regardless of the fact that there have been few Indy car races at The Glen over the years – IndyCar needs to be there. There are two natural terrain road course facilities that I think should be main fixtures on the IndyCar schedule – Road America and Watkins Glen. For the first time ever – both appear on the same open-wheel calendar in the same season.
CART ran at Watkins Glen from 1979 through 1981. Bobby Unser won the first two races, while driving for Roger Penske. Then Rick Mears won for The Captain in 1981 CART/Champ Car never raced at the Glen after that. The following year, CART started racing at Road America. They were a mainstay on the CART slate until 2005, when they did not run at the four-mile circuit. Champ Car ran again at Road America in 2006 and 2007, before unification of the two series.
The IndyCar Series began running at Watkins Glen International in 2005, when non-ovals were first introduced to the schedule. They ran six races before sparse crowds before ISC and the track pulled the plug on the race. This was in the first year of the Randy Bernard era following the ugly upheaval of Tony George from IndyCar. I’m guessing that relationships were not near what they are now with Jay Frye in the mix. That coupled with paltry attendance led to the demise of Watkins Glen after the 2010 season.
But now the series that is suddenly enjoying a bit of momentum is back at the historic track. Road America and Watkins Glen both have deep roots with open-wheel racing. Road America is more with CART/IndyCar, while Watkins Glen goes back to the early days of Formula One, when the US Grand Prix was held at The Glen from 1961 to 1980. Some of the most legendary names in F1 history posted victories at Watkins Glen, including the likes of Bruce McLaren, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ronnie Peterson, Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Gilles Villeneuve.
For the six races campaigned at The Glen by the IndyCar Series, the first three were won by Scott Dixon. Ryan Hunter-Reay broke through with his first series win with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2008, before the team was mostly shuttered the following year. This will mark the first visit by the team since visiting victory lane in 2008. One of the most memorable of the six IndyCar races was the 2009 race, when the late Justin Wilson scored his first series win while giving Dale Coyne Racing their first win in twenty-five years of competition. It would prove to be the only win that season by a car not owned by either Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi.
2010, the final year for IndyCar at Watkins Glen, saw Will Power win the third of his five victories that season at The Glen. For the fifth straight year, the race was run over the Fourth of July weekend, which probably had more to do with the small crowds than anything else. That was the last race for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Watkins Glen until this weekend’s race.
I’ve never been to Watkins Glen, located in the Finger Lakes Region of western New York; but I’m told I need to go. Everyone says I’ll like it just as much as I liked Road America. If you haven’t noticed, I tend to prefer the older tracks that tend to have their own personality; like IMS, Road America and Pocono. Although I’ve never been to Kansas or Chicagoland, from what I can gather – they seem to be very sterile and devoid of any uniqueness or personality.
After last week’s exciting race at Texas where three drivers were battling at the end for their first win of the season; the focus shifts back to the championship for the next two races. Will Power now trails Simon Pagenaud by twenty-eight points. I was a little surprised how Pagenaud came out of nowhere in the final laps at Texas. It reminded me a little bit of…Will Power.
Both drivers will be strong this weekend. But Simon Pagenaud has never raced an IndyCar at Watkins Glen, while Will Power won the last IndyCar race there in 2010. With two races left and one of them being a double-points race, a twenty-eight point deficit is nothing. I’ve been saying it since early June and I’ll be saying it next week – Will Power is going to win this championship. He will start by winning this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen and possibly taking the points lead with one race to go – and that’s after missing the first race of the season entirely. We’ll see.