Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Indycar Thanksgiving

In the spirit of positivity and the holidays and love for the Indycar series, I thought I'd share what about the series and the 500 I am thankful for. In the spirit of Hanukkah, which begins Thursday night, this list has 8 things to be thankful for:

  1. Sebastian Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, and Juan Pablo Montoya. At one point or another, it looked like one or more of these guys wouldn't be racing Indy cars in 2014. In Montoya's case, it didn't even occur to us until September or so. Fortunately they all have funded rides and we can look forward to seeing them battling on track next year. By 'battling', I mean Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and Jimmy Vasser should order a few extra front wings from Dallara. 
  2. Will Power, Scott Dixon, Justin Wilson, and Simon Pagenaud will be back in 2014. No disrespect to anyone not listed, but these guys had some good momentum going in the final third of 2013. Plus, they'll be on track with the guys mentioned in 1, above.
  3. An Indycar leadership willing to try new ideas-and tinker to make them work. See: Road racing at IMS, Double headers, standing starts, and ending by Labor Day. Even if we don't always agree with the ideas, somebody is doing something-which is much more than a few years ago.
  4. A different, badass-looking race car. Yes, I still like the DW12. 
  5. An entire season of racing, and I can't think of a single one I didn't enjoy watching. The events at Sao Paulo, Indianapolis, and Fontana were classics. Seriously, watch the closing laps at Sao Paulo again. It's worth it.
  6. Another thrilling Indianapolis 500 with another crowd-pleasing winner. That might have been the loudest crowd I've ever heard. 
  7. For that matter, a marquee event that just so happens to be an American institution, a family reunion, a party, and an overall great time. This year I arrived in Indianapolis Thursday night before the race and enjoyed 3 days and 4 nights of racing, friends, food, history, etc. It's worth saving up vacation time and 'Daddy Goodwill' for an entire year. 
  8. One set of informed, intelligent, entertaining TV announcers for the series. St. Petersburg looked like things might get a bit rough for Wally, but everything smoothed out and he, Townsend, and Leigh did a great job for the rest of the season. 
Ok, maybe not the greatest list, but 2013 was overall a great year for Indycar and I'm really, really looking forward to 2014.

Would it be too much to hope for NBC Sports to rebroadcast some races on Thursday afternoon while we digest our turkey?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

An Embarrassment of Riches

With Dario Franchitti's retirement, the talk of the off-season has quickly shifted to "Who will replace him" in the coveted Ganassi/Target #10. If talk stays with 'available' drivers, there's a pretty good list going: Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden, Oriol Servia, Ryan Briscoe, Alex Tagliani, and Simona de Silvestro. Any one of those would be a great story, but talk has expanded to Formula 1 pilots Paul di Resta and Sergio Perez. With Chip's track record of surprising us with unknown talent, the answer could lie still elsewhere.
Which is kind of disappointing. It's a little disappointing, in fact, every time a talented, worthy driver gets called up to Indycar from the feeder system. Not for him/her, but because some other talented, proven driver continues to go rideless. Recall that guys like Paul Tracy, AJ Allmendinger, Townsend Bell, Bruno Junquiera, and Buddy Rice have sat on the sidelines for most of the past few years (note the Champ Car Champion and Indy 500 winner in that list).

I rush to point out that it's not that I don't think Josef Newgarden, JR Hildebrand, Tristan Vautier, or Carlos Munoz have earned or deserve their drives. I'm just disappointed that someone I've been a fan of for a long time doesn't get the chance to be more successful.

So, Chip, please, pick one of those guys from the first list for the #10.

Though, I suppose if he doesn't, he's just as likely to bring us the next Alex Zanardi or Juan Pablo Montoya. Which would be all right, too.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Farewell and Thank You, Dario Franchitti

We've started to see, and will certainly see more, tributes to Dario Franchitti and his career-but I'm going to add mine, anyway. It's no secret that Dario is probably my favorite driver, but I do have something to get off my chest. Dario betrayed me. I thought he was one of us. I thought I could stand in solidarity with him, that I could be like him when I ran the clippers through my hair. I felt good-cooler in the summer, lower maintenance, looks better with male pattern baldness, and I was like wealthy, movie star-marrying, Ferrari-driving car racer Dario Franchitti. Then came 2009. Turns out Dario didn't have to wear his hear closely cropped. Turns out he's got a full head of hair. Not just a full head of hair: An award-winningly GREAT head of hair. Thanks, Dario. Thanks a lot.
Seriously, Dario Franchitti is one of the greats, even if he doesn't seem to get much respect from the fans. I've seen few drivers make this such a mental game. Even if his car wasn't the fastest, Dario somehow wound up running up front when it counted. When it was the fastest-watch out. I already had him picked to win Indy in 2014. Are his three 500 wins in five races some kind of record?
Two of my favorite memories come from the 2010 season. His performance at Indianapolis was one of the all-time great dominating drives. It sounds boring, but it's actually fascinating to watch performances like that. At one point in the second half of the race, as green-flag pit stops loomed, he pulled out a 7 second lead on the field-that's an entire straightaway at Indianapolis.
A few months later, I attended the race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL. Instead of being a thrill-a-minute pass-fest like races there and at Texas used to be, I noticed pretty quickly that if the leader could hold his car on the bottom of the race track, no one could get by. Dario was running well down in the top 10 when a caution came out in time for the final pit stop cycle. I said out loud (and texted to my buddy The Speedgeek), "Whoever gets off pit road first will win this race." Attention had been focused on Will Power, Marco Andretti, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. But the first car off the jacks was Franchitti's. By forgoing fresh tires and taking on only fuel, the No. 10 car gained 8 positions and the lead. It stayed in control for the rest of the race, and Dario won. (Will Power's stop was slowed by a fuel hose problem, which was compounded when he had to return to the pits for sufficient fuel to finish the race; losing a lap in the process. It was one of those moments when you just knew that the championship momentum had changed hands.)

I felt like Dario Franchitti was very easy to relate to because of his appreciation for racing machines, racing history, and road cars-something I don't sense from a lot of race car drivers (someone, correct me if I'm wrong!). Dario has driven Jim Clark's Lotus and owns a Ferrari F40, and acts as excited about those two as I think I would be!

I can genuinely say that I'm going to miss seeing Dario Franchitti on track.

What will be next for Dario? I'm sure he has his own ideas and his own plans, but I (selfishly) hope he stays visible and involved in the sport. Chip Ganassi's comments make me wonder if he might end up on the scoring stand as a team strategist in the near future. He made at least one appearance in the NBC Sports broadcast booth, and did an outstanding job in his brief time there I (and many others) think he would make an excellent TV analyst. I also think his experience would be useful in Indycar Race Control.

Farewell, Dario! You had a fantastic career that made at least one person love Indycar, its past, present, and future that much more!
Dario Franchitti and Parnelli Jones Receive Baby Borgs at the 2013 Indy 500 Driver's Meeting

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2014 Championship Prediction

I've been doing some thinking lately, and I've come to a conclusion: Will Power will win the 2014 Indycar championship. He came close three years running, and spent most of those dominating the street- and road-course races. At this point in time, all the remaining elements are falling into place. His victory in the 2013 finale was unusual for him-it was on an oval in a 500 mile race-and it was no fluke. He qualified on pole, led the most laps, and won the chaotic race. He called the win the best of his career. His critics have been silenced and, most importantly, he knows that he can take charge and win on the ovals that have bedeviled him up until this point.

In my opinion, it would be foolish to bet against the guy who is probably the best in the field at making up positions, at turning out fast lap after fast lap, and at conserving fuel. Oh, and he's easily the most entertaining to watch on the in-car camera. 

Will Power leaves the pits at Milwaukee, 2013