Random Thoughts On The IndyCar Grand Prix

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The IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis has never been known as a nail-biter. When you put practically identical cars on a track with two long straightaways connected with a lot of very technical turns to negotiate, cars tend to spread out each lap. That has been the case in the past, but there were usually a couple of cautions to pack the field up again.

Such was not the case Saturday. Will Power pulled away and hid from the second-place car of Helio Castroneves for the first twenty-four laps. After the first round of pit stops, they swapped places and Helio pulled away from Power. Another round of pit stops and it was back to Power being in command. From a spectator’s viewpoint in the stands that couldn’t hear the PA that well – that was pretty much the race.

We sat in the Tower Terrace just north of the Pagoda. Specifically, we were sitting about three-quarters of the way up, behind the pit of James Hinchcliffe. We had a great view of the main straightaway all the way down to (road course) Turn One. We had a video board directly across the track so that we could watch what other action there was on other parts of the track. Plus we got to see the pit stops of about half the field. There just wasn’t that much going on.

But it was a beautiful day – one of the most pleasant I can remember for any event. There was not a single cloud in the deep blue Indiana sky. Every now and then a nice gentle breeze would come along to cool us off a bit. Best of all – I was sitting in the stands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Indy cars running in front of me – albeit the wrong way.

I’ll be honest, this was the most boring race I have ever been to or maybe even seen on television. If this was the headline event at another track – I wouldn’t go back. As it is, it serves as a nice teaser for the Month of May. I’ve never had a bad time at any race track, and certainly not at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I have heard crowd estimates from less than thirty thousand to over fifty thousand people. I would put it nearer the higher number. I am guessing that this was the second largest crowd after the inaugural event in 2014. I was in the midst of the crowds all day Saturday and did not hear one person complaining.

I’ve always hated this expression, but it applies to the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis – it is what it is.

If you enjoy going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and watching race cars, then I would advise you to continue going. It’s a great way to enjoy all the facility has to offer without the massive crowds of Race Weekend. The IMS Museum was free this past weekend, and the gift shops were fully stocked. If you don’t set your expectations too high for the actual racing, you’ll have a great weekend.

TV Coverage: When I got home yesterday afternoon, I chose to watch the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs rather than the DVR of the race. While I haven’t seen the coverage, I got enough texts and e-mails during the race to get an idea of the level of coverage that ABC provided. Based on what some of you have told me, it wasn’t good. In fact, I heard that it was worse than ever.

I’m going to give ABC a pass for the Month of May this year. Their on-air crew are all lame ducks, after ESPN laid them off in their blood bath a couple of weeks ago. If your employer said you were being put out onto the street after this big project was done next month, how would you feel? How engaged would you be in making sure that project was a stunning success for your soon-to-be former employer?

I would say that the chances are pretty good that this is ABC’s last Indianapolis 500 to cover for the foreseeable future. Before ESPN had their massive layoff, I thought it would be 50-50 that ABC/ESPN would be back. While fans may cheer if that happens, remember there are a lot of good talented people who have been shown the door by ESPN who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. People like Dr. Jerry Punch and Allen Bestwick are simply paying the price for the bone-headed decisions made at the top that put ESPN in a financial predicament in the first place.

Tenderloin Hunt: For the past few years, the traditional IMS classic Jumbo Tenderloin sandwich has been a rare find. The Speedway still sells them, but they have been relegated to just a couple of obscure stands each year. Instead, they promote the horrible abomination that they try to pass off as a tenderloin in the big concession stand directly behind the Pagoda. Buyer beware – if you buy that thing, you will be disappointed.

It would be much easier if the good folks at IMS sold the classic Jumbo Tenderloin at the same stands each year. Instead, they move it around like a shell game. Each Grand Prix weekend, I scout out as many concessions stands I can in search of the Jumbo Tenderloin. I was getting discouraged until Saturday afternoon, a couple of loyal readers here tweeted me with news that the Speedway Grill beneath the north end of the Tower Terrace was selling them. They even tweeted a picture.

Still, I was skeptical. But Susan, Paul Dalbey and I made the long trip down there. Lo and behold, they had them – the real thing! Better yet, for the first time in recent memory they even had mayonnaise as one of the condiments. I guess it’s a southern thing, but mayonnaise is the only condiment I add to my tenderloin. Some find it disgusting, but I consider it the perfect enhancement to the perfect sandwich. Making it even more perfect was Paul settling a bet on the first round of the NHL Playoffs between Nashville and Chicago. The stakes? An IMS tenderloin. Knowing he bought it made it taste even better.

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Why do I go bizerk over tenderloins each year? It’s a Midwestern delicacy. We don’t have them down south – at all. When I say tenderloin sandwich in the south, people think I’m talking about a filet mignon sandwich. Um…no.

So if you are at a concession stand this month, make sure it is a Speedway Grill and that the key wording is Jumbo Tenderloin. Other private vendors sell them, but they don’t have the delicious seasoned breading of the classic Speedway Jumbo Tenderloin.

Penske Domination: This season started out with two surprise winners from two of the smaller teams. Sébastien Bourdais won the season-opener at St. Petersburg for Dale Coyne Racing and Honda, while James Hinchcliffe took the checkered flag in his Honda-powered car at Long Beach for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. We were all thinking that Honda was having a resurgence and the smaller teams would be beating the big boys on a regular basis.

Now it looks like reality has set in – at least for the moment. Chevrolet powered cars of Team Penske have reeled off three straight wins in dominating fashion. If a Penske front-runner falls out of contention, there is another to take his place.

This is not a Chevy thing, this is a Penske thing. The other Chevy teams have had glimmers of success, but they have also struggled. Penske is beating them and the Honda teams very regularly now.

It’s no secret that I am and always have been a fan of Team Penske. But I am a bigger fan of good racing. Lately the racing has been between the Penske cars – especially in qualifying. A glance at the point standings shows the four Team Penske drivers in the Top-Five in points. Yawn.

Honda is considered the preferred package for the Indianapolis 500, but I’m not sure I’d bet against the Team Penske five-car armada. Then what about the rest of the season? If the final two-thirds of the season look like the last three races, we may really be looking for things to talk about in August.

Bourdais Woes: So much for the sensational start for Sébastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing. At Phoenix, Bourdais was an innocent bystander and victim in the first lap crash initiated by Mikhail Aleshin. On Saturday, Bourdais suffered what is being officially called an engine failure by the team; after a promising qualifying effort that saw him in the Firestone Fast Six. Consequently, Bourdais has tumbled from leading the points just two races ago to now sit in seventh – through no fault of his own.

He now heads into preparations for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 – an event where neither Bourdais nor Dale Coyne Racing excels. Belle Isle probably can’t get here quick enough for Bourdais.

Drive of the Day: While some may point to Ryan Hunter-Reay for starting eighth and moving up for a podium finish; I’m going with Graham Rahal, who was completely out of sorts with a poor qualifying effort that saw him start twentieth. He fought hard all day long and was able to salvage a sixth place finish. Some of the few shining moments that I was able to see from my vantage point had Graham Rahal trying to set up a pass in front of us on the main straightaway against several drivers. As our eyes followed them into Turn One, it was always Rahal completing the pass. If Rahal could have qualified higher at some of these races, he would be much higher than his current thirteenth position in points. Being at the back of the grid in Phoenix, caused him to get caught up in the Aleshin crash. Starting at the back made him work extra hard for that sixth place finish on Saturday.

Personal Highlights: We had two very special highlights that I hesitate to mention at the risk of sounding like I’m gloating or bragging. I’m not.

We got to do a pace car ride on the road course on Saturday morning. The g-loads and the heavy braking were substantial enough in a pace car for one lap. I can’t imagine what it would be like in a much faster Indy car for eighty-five laps. If you think these drivers are not athletes, you’re dead-wrong.

Another personal highlight was after the race and their broadcast, the great Donald Davidson came over and spoke to the four of us – me, Susan, Paul Dalbey and James Black – for about twenty to thirty minutes after the radio network wrapped up its broadcast. We asked him questions and picked his brain. It was as if we were having our own private Talk of Gasoline Alley. I’ve met a lot of drivers over the years, but I still get star-struck whenever I meet Donald. I don’t know why, because he’s extremely nice and accommodating. Still, I do.

Turning the Page: The IndyCar Grand Prix has served its purpose. It has generated excitement as a kickoff for the Month of May. If you think its existence is tied to anything other than that, you are mistaken. But with that having been said, it served its purpose and has to be considered a success.

But today, practice begins for the Indianapolis 500. The barricades for the Grand Prix will have been removed and the track will take on its much more familiar configuration. By tomorrow, the Grand Prix will have been forgotten about and we will have new stories every day about who is fast, who is struggling and so on.

It will also begin the least productive work week of the year for IndyCar fans. We will all have our work computers set to the streaming practice sessions every afternoon as we all just sit mesmerized at a car turning laps over and over with nothing but the sound of the PA. It’s another of those inexplicable May traditions we all go through each year. As we turn the page, here are a few more shots we took from Saturday, including the legendary Linda Vaughn – before wrapping-up with my final thoughts.

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All in All: The IndyCar Grand Prix was a dud of a race, but did anyone really care? I didn’t. I was at my favorite place in the world on a beautiful day watching race cars alongside my wife Susan. I got to reconnect with old friends I hadn’t seen since last year and got to enjoy May in Indianapolis. We got to eat dinner Saturday night at Dawson’s on Main and made a trip to Long’s Donuts on Sunday morning and had lunch at the Mug-n-Bun before leaving town. All in all, I’d say that’s a great weekend. But it’s just the beginning. Things will step up throughout the week and then there will be qualifying on Saturday and Pole Day on Sunday (I’m still not used to that reverse order of things). It all builds to a crescendo for Race Weekend in less than two weeks with the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28th. The Month of May is finally here.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “Random Thoughts On The IndyCar Grand Prix”

  1. Compared to the other races this year I didn’t think it was that bad. Yes the racing this year has not been the best but there was lots of passing behind the leader. I agree this race needs to be accepted for what it is

  2. S0CSeven Says:

    I am and will always be a ‘rooting for the underdog’ guy.

    Penske and his 10 car (or whatever) team will always be the enemy.

    I don’t really know or care who his drivers are as they’re all the same in my mind ……..it’s just that cubic $$$ should not determine who is the best driver ……… ala F1. So we have the ABC coverage covering only the leaders and ignoring everyone else ……. and yeah, I went to sleep on the couch.

    I’m glad you used the word “boring” George. I thought I was the only one with that perception.

  3. Gurney Eagle Says:

    George, I don’t know if you’ve tried the tenderloin at Dawson’s but the one I had on Saturday evening (with only mayo) was outstanding.

    • I have and you’re right. It is outstanding. But there’s something about the seasoned breading of the classic Jumbo Tenderloin that trumps all the others. We ate in Dawson’s Saturday night too, but I had did not have the tenderloin.

  4. I enjoyed the race and seeing RHR and Rahal get going was great. However, when the back drop on IndyCar racing is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway then I am all over it.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    The race could have used a restart or two. When that didn’t happen, it was all about making hay in clean air and using your P2P effectively when you approached someone. Just like last year, Rahal did this best.

    It was a Penske-perfect day for Power, but not so much for his teammates. After much being said about how he did not look rusty in practice and qualifying, Montoya looked rusty. Newgarden had pit speed limiter issue. Pagenaud qualified “poorly”. Castroneves had a great run downgraded by the awful strategy call to run the final stint on black tires.

    I am going to defend ABC a little here, mostly because they have set such low expectations in recent years, but this was far from their worst effort (which was probably that time they missed the green flag at Watkins Glen). There were positives: While they could have shown more, they did show a fair bit of the passing that was going on mid-field. They used wide shots down the front straight/pit row to show where contenders exiting the pits were rejoining the running order (which they did not do last year). Jon Beekhuis got to talk. Much of what they have done poorly, of course, they continued to do quite poorly. Bestwick seems to have a better grasp of how a race car works than driver “analysts” Goodyear and Cheever. Cheever’s insipid pontificating would at least be amusing if it was paired with more competent commentary for contrast. They all but refuse to interview anyone mid-race, or follow up on why anyone midfield or further back has left the race. For some reason, they did not produce the on-board footage of Marco clipping Kanaan until long after he had been penalized. From the replays they initially showed, it appeared Ed Jones was the driver who caused the incident.

  6. You’re spot on with streaming the practice sessions at work! I liken it to having a baseball game on in the background, the relaxing tones of race cars making laps interspersed with the PA announcements. Makes being at work tolerable!

    By the way, is there an official IMS stream with a streaming commentary or is it just through race control now?

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    I must admit I basically watch the twisty race there only for the glimpses of the facility. I agree that Mayo is the proper condiment for a tenderloin. Mayo is always featured on tenderloins way up nort der by me. I watched the Kentucky Derby recently which featured lots of horsepower, low downforce and lots of passing. The TV crew frequently mentioned and apparently frequently drank the iconic “Mint Julep”. That got me thinking. Perhaps you noticed the steam. Anyway, while the tenderloin rules in the Indy500 sandwich category, I am not aware that the 500 tradition includes a iconic drink. I don’t think beer counts. So, I have been attempting to create a iconic Indy500 drink that hopefully will become popular. I am calling it the “Fuzzy Tulip”. It is basically a Bloody Mary except that it must contain Fuzzy’s Vodka and instead of a pickle and other vegetables, a colorful May tulip is added along with a straw. IMS could further enhance the Fuzzy Tulip by serving it up in a colorful cup featuring the Fuzzy’s Vodka livery.

  8. tonelok Says:

    ABC’s coverage was probably the worst it’s ever been. Scott Goodyear and Cheever go through the obligatory job of covering the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and all they can talk and think about is the Indianapolis 500. We all know the 500 is coming we don’t have to be reminded every five seconds. Also they can’t not bring up their experiences as drivers. Every other sentence is I,I,I. I kind of forgot ABC was covering this race. The moment those two popped up on the screen I was like… agggh! Alan Bestwick showed that he probably knows more than those two and it was evident through many occasions throughout the broadcast

    • Ron Ford Says:

      TV is a visual medium of course, so If I don’t like the announcing crew I simply hit the mute button and continue to enjoy the sight of the race cars. Is the sound of a sleepy Cheever any worse than the way over-the-top sound of a Diffey? I think not.

  9. David Le Tourneau Says:

    What are your thoughts on them reconfiguring the course to include some elevation changes on the segments nearest the golf course? It needs something in the worst way. The flatness just doesn’t produce any raciness at all. I wholeheartedly agree on it being a great way to kick off the month of May, but there needs to be at least *some* excitement race-wise. My good friend George that comes up from Florida every year for this and the 500 turned and said to me Saturday, “This race is going to suck, but damn it’s good seeing cars on this track.” That pretty much sums up the GP experience.

  10. Too much talk about the past (Cheever & Goodyear’s “glory days”) and the future (Alonzo at the 500)

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