Sunday, September 16, 2012

Most Things Right, One BIG Thing Wrong

... And with that, the 2012 Indycar season is over. It's a bit strange to have it come so early in the year, but I guess I can understand why. It will make the off-season seem extra long, however.

I'll start with the positives. Congratulations to Ryan Hunter-Reay for winning the championship by driving his heart out and doing exactly what he needed to do. It makes me proud to say I was wrong about picking Power to win. Speaking of whom, nobody will fault his drive, determination, and sportsmanship. It's not that I ever disliked him, but after his conduct in this race and speaking to him at a Milwaukee autograph session in June, it's getting easier and easier to cheer for him.
The race was great. Lots of competition, several leaders, and 500 miles of varying strategies and fortunes waxing and waning. I miss 500-mile races. I don't know that I want a whole season of them, but the distance adds a lot.

Further, I've been watching various forms of racing for more than 20 years. For most of those years, Bob Jenkins was THE Voice of Racing. He is knowledgeable, passionate, enthusiastic, and had the perfect announcer's voice-one that doesn't sound like he's working hard or straining when describing the action. After the ESPN Ride-Along Program commercials in 1997, my favorite Jenkins moment might be spotting him in the stands at a midget race in Indianapolis in about 2001. It's good to see people like him taking in a race like the rest of us.

HOWEVER. I have to talk about something else that happened in the race. The red flag that was shown when a car wrecked with only a few laps remaining. I am adamantly, vehemently opposed to this practice (as my angry, profane Twitter comments probably indicated...). It didn't even exist in top-level professional racing until May 1998, when NASCAR threw the red after a late caution at Richmond. Before that moment, nobody realized or cared that they 'deserved' or were 'owed' a green flag finish-or that one would even make the race better or more memorable. It's a fact of racing life-the action continues and laps count down until the total distance is reached. Altering that creates an artificial, contrived situation that is unnecessary and undesired for the creation of drama. Is this a sport, or is it entertainment? I thought it was a sport-one governed by consistent rules and regulations with an outcome determined by the actions of the competitors.
Strategists on the pit boxes and fans know that a very late caution could possibly bring an effective premature end to the race. That's part of the drama and the excitement. Races sometimes end under yellow. That's racing. Get used to it. I have more to say and more to analyze about this point, but I think I'll save it for later. Suffice to say that I'm disappointed. Unlike many other types, I don't like to make empty threats every time I see a race that isn't a barn-burner. I watched through the dull, dark days of 2009. 2012 is a whole different animal. Most races have been exciting and interesting. But I told others that, if Indycar started throwing red flags or doing Green-White-Checker finishes, I was done. I would quit watching. And now they've done it. I have a long off-season to think about it, but my principles have been offended. I'm not sure if Indycar leadership cares about my own little opinion, my own little voice, or the pittance I spend on race-going, but part of me says that quitting is the right thing to do. It's a shame to have ended an otherwise sublime race in such a way...

More to come. Feel free to try to talk me off the ledge,

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back. Again.

Yeah, well... That didn't go so well. You may have noticed that this blog hasn't been updated since before Indianapolis (on a 500-centered calendar, that means "half a season ago"). Rather than make excuses and belabor the point any further, I'll just ask you to stay tuned in. Please. This time I mean it. I hope to make this an interesting place to visit over the off-season, too.
No one is safe from making a championship prediction, so I'll go ahead and get that bit out of the way. The choices are:
Will Power-aka, "The Safe Choice". Straight up, head-to-head, speed-wise on a road course, he's untouchable. Three consecutive wins in the spring had this race fan worried that Indianapolis would be a dull Will Power runaway. If speed were all that mattered, he'd be a two-time champ right now. Mistakes by his crew, however, cost him precious finishing positions at several races in 2010 and 2011, leading to narrow point deficits at the ends of those seasons. He has a better 500-mile race record, though his lack of top-5s in that category are probably due to crashes and problems on pit road.
Ryan Hunter-Reay - aka, "The Feel-Good, All-American Underdog Choice". The guy who's been through the American Open-Wheel Driver Wringer, he's showed up and WON everything he's ever driven, yet couldn't get anyone to hire him for more than a year at a time until Michael Andretti took the chance on him in 2010. His highest-profile setback this year came at Sonoma, where a good run was spoiled by an overeager competitor. Mechanical problems at Indianapolis (where he qualified on the front row) and Mid-Ohio can also be blamed for his 2nd place standing going into Fontana. His 500-mile race record isn't as good, but luck has been harder on him. He failed to qualify his sub-par Andretti entry in 2011 and instead raced the Foyt entry Bruno Junquiera got in the field, only to spend the day mired mid-pack after limited practice. In 2010, the Izod poster boy was running well until he ran out of fuel and made the highlight reels as Mike Conway's ramp.
My gut is telling me that Will Power will take the championship. There. He's my pick, no qualifiers or conditions.
While I'm making predictions, Helio Castroneves is the first name that comes to mind for picking a race winner. One great thing about a 500-mile race, however, is that it's long enough for differing strategies to play out and to get some unusual faces up front (See: Indy 500 podiums in 2011, 2010, and 2009). I'd like to see a guy who's run well all season without a win get a turn in victory lane-someone like Simon Pagenaud or Oriol Servia.
More news is rolling in and I hope to have more comments coming. Thanks for reading!