Friday, November 14, 2014

Championship Finales

I have a couple of things to say about NASCAR's upcoming championship weekend. I'm sure my opinions aren't unique, but I'd like to think I have something useful to say about the situation...

The purpose of a championship in racing (or other sports) is to reward performance over an entire season. It's one level of accomplishment to win a single race, it's another entirely to sustain that performance over 15 or 20 or 36 races. No individual race result should be used to determine that champion-it's the culmination of his or her work over an entire season. In the current NASCAR system, it's actually possible for a driver to win the championship without winning a race (which is, you know, the point of racing, and what NASCAR was trying to encourage) all season long. Conversely, a driver could win the first 35 races of the season and still lose the championship if 2nd place in the points did nothing more than finish ahead of the points leader.

The entire concept of the "Chase for the Cup" playoff system is flawed. Playoff systems are necessary in stick-and-ball sports, not in racing. Racing's fundamental difference is that every competitor faces off against every other competitor in each event. In other sports leagues, only 2 teams can play each other at one time in any given event. When it comes time to decide a champion, the best team may not be apparent. To find the best team, those with the best records face off in eliminations until the two best teams play one series (or one game, or what have you) to decide the ultimate winner. In racing, the best team in the league is obvious EVERY SINGLE RACE-only one car can win. By assigning a points value to each finishing position, a champion can be decided at the end of the season.

But what is a complaint but a chance to put my own ideas and suggestions out there? I'm sure nothing I propose will be adopted by anyone anywhere, but it was fun for me to think about. By the way, this is non-series specific. It ought to work as well for Indycar as NASCAR as anyone else. The whole point of racing is to complete a given distance quicker than any competitor. What if the championship worked on the same principle? Instead of assigning points based on finishing position, what if the championship were based on who finished the total championship distance in the least amount of time?
What I'm thinking about is assigning points to the 2nd, 3rd, etc place finishers based on how far behind the leader they are at the end of the race. Apply some sort of multiplier based on their interval to the leader. I'd assign extra points for the win, since that's the point of the whole enterprise. Races that end under caution would use a fixed, pre-set multiplier to determine points. I admit it's a complicated system that precludes counting points in one's head, but that's what our computers are for. This system would reward winning and hard-charging at the end of races, while still putting a premium on consistency and reliability. And what better way of promoting your season finale by announcing who "Got Here Fastest!"?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014: A Disorganized, Rambling Review

And just like that, it's over. The 2014 Indycar season is in the history books. It's a little depressing to think that we're done racing for the year. On the other hand, since I wasn't indoors watching a race, I did get the garage cleaned out last weekend.

Congratulations to Will Power. The guy is Superman behind the wheel. Not to mention he led the league in penalties this year, yet still took the Astor Cup. Even with his mistakes behind the wheel (I personally think he threw away 2 or 3 wins), he was still the clear championship winner. Look out, he's only going to be more dangerous from here on out.

Regarding the Fontana race, it was good to see the attrition so low after 2013. It wasn't good to see all the complaining about the race's late start time. I thought the reasons were pretty clear: 1. The race was on the west coast, meaning 3 hours behind the eastern time zone. 2. The race was on Labor Day weekend, meaning sunset was still relatively late in the day. 3. Running before sunset meant blinding glare for the drivers going into turn 3. That would be bad anywhere, but it has to be especially harrowing at high-speed Fontana. I wouldn't think it would be a big deal to stay up late one night to watch one race, or that most could DVR it. Me? I watched the entire race, live. And I was out of the house by 6:30 Sunday morning.

The real problem is the Labor Day date. Indycar got their advice from a consulting group that may or may not have known anything about racing. Stopping early in the season to avoid competing with football seems strange to me. I can see where football would bury Indycar in the ratings. Which is worse: Being buried in the ratings and getting little attention, or not being in the ratings at all and getting zero attention? I'm no media expert, but I'd think maintaining some profile for a larger portion of the year would be better than a blitz, followed by absolute silence. Run the season into October, but accept that those late-season ratings might suffer a bit. The positive effects on the rest of the schedule should make up for it, especially in the long-term. I'm thinking of a more consistent, spread-out schedule where individual venues have a little more flexibility with their dates and races are run about every 2 weeks. On the other hand, maybe that professional consulting group knows what they are talking about and the way we have it now will prove most effective.

Anyway, I thought it was a great season. Few (if any) 'bad' races and a lot of entertaining ones. Some high points of the season for me:

Best race: Indianapolis

Winner I cheered loudest for: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Indianapolis

Biggest disappointment: The Rahal team. Between yet another disappointing season for Graham, the lack of a full-time seat for Oriol Servia, and the loss of the National Guard sponsorship, this turn-around year turned out to be anything but.

Most heartbreaking moment: Tie, Long Beach and Mid-Ohio for Josef Newgarden. Ryan Hunter-Reay KNEW that Newgarden (on fresh, cold tires) had Long Beach won. That's why he went for the position when he did. Unfortunately, the pass proved optimistic and they wound up in the tires. Mid-Ohio looked like it was in the bag, too, when Newgarden ran over an air hose on a crucial pit stop.

Most heart-warming moment (Since I already mentioned Indy twice, I'm not going to say RHR and his son at Indy): Mike Conway validating his own and Ed Carpenter's career choices at Long Beach.

Biggest Comeback: Well, one could say Conway above, Montoya, or Bourdais. What the hell, it's a 3-way tie.

Best possible handling of a bad situation: Toronto. I'm sure the fans in attendance who got no updates will disagree, but I thought Indycar took care of that tricky weekend the best way they could have.

Most impressive rookie: Not to diminish anyone else's accomplishments, but NASCAR bad boy Kurt Busch humbled himself by leaving his comfort zone and learning to play on a new stage. He finished 6th on race day, ahead of guys like Will Power, Tony Kanaan, and Scott Dixon.

All right, I'm going to wrap it up for now. I'll be trying to keep up with demand for blog posts and new T-shirts in the off-season!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Looking Back on 2014

Wow... It's so... Sudden. At this time on Saturday night, We'll be settling in for the final race of the 2014 Indycar season. I guess I understand not going up against football, but this sure seems harsh... On the bright side, this will give me more time to pin Indycar posters to my garage wall and design new T-shirts. Speaking of which, please notice the link above to order Flat Into One t-shirts. Remaining quantities of my modern Indy car shirt are on special through the Fontana race: $15 shipped within the USA! Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled program:

Talking about the championship is kind of silly at this point. In all likelihood, it will be Will Power. Yes, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud have shots at the title, but they rely on some bad luck for Power. I'd like to see Pagenaud win because the come-from-behind story would be a great one. That, and his season hasn't been studded with boneheaded mistakes like Power's has. By my count, he could have had at least 7 wins at this point in the season if not for penalties. Power might be the most phenomenal driver in the field, but he seems at times like the most likely to make a mistake under pressure.

To those who say that this season's championship has been wide-open all year, I don't think you were paying attention. That's a statement more applicable to 2013, when Dixon, Power, Pagenaud, Andretti, Sato, and Hunter-Reay all looked like champion material at one time or another. This season has been Power's to lose all along. Despite his own best efforts, it looks like this year will be his.

And some more comments:
Currently at 8th in the championship is... Sebastien Bourdais?!? With a win and 2 poles to his credit, no less! KVSH Appears to be a more productive and stable environment than Dragon could ever have hoped to have been. The Toronto win must have felt like validation and vindication for everyone involved. I hope that they are able to keep this team together and keep producing in 2015.

Also in the 'Past Champion Driver Who Scored Their First Indycar Win In a Long Time' category is Juan Pablo Montoya. His season has been uneven, but the display of his enormous ability and the victory at Pocono mean that it's been a successful one. I'm surely not the only one looking forward to next season, after he's had a year of experience in these cars.

This is based on nothing but a gut feeling, but something seems 'off' at Andretti Autosport these days. James Hinchcliffe seemed to allude to it when his car failed to leave the grid at Houston last year, and his 2014 has been dismal. Marco Andretti was tight-lipped at Milwaukee, but apparently said something about needing a "long team meeting." I haven't looked at the stats, but it seems like no other team suffers mechanical failures at the rate Andretti cars do. Which seems odd for the organization widely regarded as one of the top three in the series. You could point out that Ryan Hunter-Reay has 3 wins this year, including Indianapolis. My only response is that maybe RHR's driving (and the chemistry with his crew) have been able to transcend whatever the problem is. My gut feeling could be wrong, but if I were Hinchcliffe or Marco, I might be looking elsewhere for employment. No matter how awkward it makes Thanksgiving. It also makes me hope that the rumors of Pagenaud in a 5th car are untrue.

I'll wrap it up for tonight, but I hope to see some of you on Twitter throughout the weekend's action!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Milwaukee Indyfest Photo Post

I realized today that I told all my loyal readers about my time at the Milwaukee Indycar race, but didn't share any of the photos I took. Here are a few. More to follow later:

The RLL Team and a Honda Engineer Prepare Graham Rahal's car for the race.

Both Ryan Briscoe and Josef Newgarden had good days. Unfortunately for them, Will Power had a better day.

Simon Pagenaud was the first car to pit during Sunday's race

Monday, August 18, 2014

Milwaukee Indyfest in Review

Another Indycar race at the Milwaukee Mile is in the books. Another great weekend with friends and Indycar fans!

The race weekend really started for me after work on Friday when I was able to meet my buddy Dave Dusick (in town for the race). We had a great time catching up. Saturday I had to be content watching Twitter for updates as I had obligations around the house. Sunday morning I met my friend Mike Palmer and his buddy to hit the race! We arrived just in time to make the Sunday morning Tweetup. I got to talk to some new and old friends from Twitter, along with Indycar driver Pippa Mann and Pro Mazda driver Nicolas Costa. Pippa's trivia contest sounded easy, but I choked when put on the spot and could only name 6 of the 9 female starters of the Indianapolis 500...
We spent time in the paddock checking out the cars and personalities before heading to the seats with lunch to watch the second half of the Indy Lights race. Matt Brabham looked to have the race well in hand until he got taken on a late restart... It was very interesting watching the Lights cars go into turn 1. Some of them appeared to be pushing much harder and sliding more than others.
After the Lights race, a friend got us a very special behind-the-scenes tour. I now have a better understanding and a new appreciation for what goes into putting a race on!
I guess I don't know how it played on TV, but the main event did not disappoint in person. With only 1 caution and very little attrition, the race went by very fast. Pit strategy looked to be the order of the day. Will Power's crew made a questionable call that worked out OK. There was lots of action through the field all day long, and Power's fuel saving in front of charging competitors made for compelling closing laps.
It should be emphasized that if you haven't been to a race in person, you are missing out. The race fan in the stands should have little trouble following the action. A stopwatch, a good radio, the scoring pylon, video boards, the Verizon app, and/or a friend watching on TV willing to text during the race can get you whatever additional information you want. It's the details, though, that make being there worth it: Watching Ryan Hunter-Reay charge through the field, figuring out what broke on his car, hearing who missed the gearing, listening to Will Power back out of the throttle 100 yards or more earlier in the corner than Montoya was, etc. That's not to mention the atmosphere, the people, the sights and smells and sounds of the cars, or the friends you will see. Seriously, go to a race. You won't regret it!

Anyway, I obviously had a great time and can't wait until next year. Thanks to my friends (new and old) for coming to my town for the race! And thanks to Pippa Mann, Nicolas Costa, Johnny Rutherford, and Paul Page for your time and attention!

Next Up: Sonoma, and the second-to-last word in the championship hunt!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Welcome to Milwaukee!

This weekend, Indycar returns to my home race! That means I'll be attending my second race of the year and meeting up with more friends I see far too seldom. Got a disjointed, rambling post here. If you get bored reading, just skip to the next paragraph:

What a race at Mid-Ohio! I loved going to races there when I lived within driving distance. Even if you don't think the races are entertaining on TV, you'll love them in person. Check out the action from several vantage points and marvel at what a modern race car can do. Scott Dixon took another win here, breaking his slump for the year in dramatic fashion. I'm heartbroken for Josef Newgarden, let down once again by circumstances beyond his control, but at least Dixon made it a clinic for everyone else. See Marshall Pruett's piece at for details of how he did it.

Checking in on the championship, and... Advantage: Will Power. By 4 points. So, not by much over Castroneves. 63 Points back in third, is Ryan Hunter-Reay, clear of Simon Pagenaud by a single point. For RHR or Pagenaud to have a chance at the title, they will have to have strong runs in each of the last 3 races and hope for mediocre-or-worse results for the Penske cars. The double points awarded at Fontana are going to make a huge difference in the championship fight.

My analysis: Power has been the most consistent over the past 3 races. I was going to write Pagenaud off because ovals (which make up 2 of the last 3 races) haven't seemed to go his way this year. In fact, of the top 4 in points, he has the second-best average finish on ovals. Helio is the best, with a 5th. Of course, RHR, who has won 2 oval races already this season, has the worst oval average. What's my point again? Oh yeah, I really need to stop spending so much time on the stats... My gut feeling prediction: Power, under pressure, throws away his championship lead. Helio does likewise, but mounts a strong run at Fontana. I really hope he proves me wrong, but I'm not sure Pagenaud can out-score RHR in the season's final stages. In other words, we'll see another Power/RHR shootout for the championship in Fontana at the end of the month!

Looking through the field, I'm not sure there's a clear favorite for the win on Sunday. I'll say that Mid-Ohio opened the gates for Ganassi, and that Tony Kanaan will break through and win the race. Rather than pick a Penske car or Hunter-Reay, I'll choose Takuma Sato as my contingency pick, with a very, very hungry Josef Newgarden as #3.

The Milwaukee race date has been moved from mid-June to mid-August, immediately following the State Fair. From a purely personal standpoint, I like this move a lot. June is very close to the Indianapolis 500, and I always felt like I was catching up from being gone that weekend when the Milwaukee race rolled around. (Attention Detroit race organizers: I could maybe attend your race if it wasn't the weekend immediately following the 500!!! Thanks in advance for making this reasonable accommodation for one single, solitary fan.) Moving the race to August means a more relaxed summer for me! Seriously, though, having 10 days to sell the race during the State Fair can't be a bad thing. Oh, and tickets are very reasonably priced. If you're on the fence, I strongly encourage you to attend this race!

One final thought: I think Andretti is doing one thing very, very right with Milwaukee: Not marketing it as a 'race', but as 'Indyfest'. I think this might be a piece of getting attendance back to oval tracks. Stop calling the races the "East Nowhere 500" or whatever-give them a catchy name that implies some kind of fun or interesting activity. Then back it up with all the usual street-race-type promotional activities: loads of support races, carnivals, concerts, celebrities, etc. Give the non-race fans a reason to come out. I'm sure this might make all the old-timers blanch, but I don't think that's such a bad idea. Which would segue into another post, if I had it written yet. Stay tuned!

See you at the Mile!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Late-Season Driver Comments

Am I the only one who gets the feeling that James Hinchcliffe might do better at another team? I can't point to anything specific, it just seems to me that all might not be well in that relationship.

No one thinks that Helio Castroneves can win a championship... Yet, there he is, leading the points with 4 races to go. I'll still be surprised if he pulls it off.

Will Power might be the most exciting driver in the series. In fact, I picked him to win the championship and the 500 this year. Turns out what I thought was going to be a big change in the guy who was always a little mistake-prone when under pressure didn't come to pass. He's still usually the fastest guy on the track, his tires seem never to fall off, he never runs out of fuel, and yet he still manages to throw away race wins and good finishes with astonishing regularity. His penalties and mistakes have cost him a minimum of 2 wins this year.

Simon Pagenaud faces a very Ryan-Hunter-Reay-In-2012 situation: Stay with the team who brought him his success, or move on to one of the powerhouse teams. I think a seat might be opening up at Andretti...

Yes, Juan Pablo Montoya is back. Now never, ever underestimate him.

Anyone else notice that Carlos Munoz is 7th in points? Anyone? That's better than two of his teammates.

Red Flag Redux

Wow... Has it been almost 2 months since my last post??? I need to work on that... 

In my last post, I mentioned that I am against red flagging a race to improve the chances of a green-flag finish. I noted even then that my attitude might be headed for history's dustbin, but I've given the idea some thought. The impetus for my altered opinion was the first three quarters of this year's 500. They were all green. Which I thought was glorious (at least with today's equal equipment-in any of the first 80 500s, I guarantee that such a long, caution-free stretch would NOT have resulted in a record number of cars on the lead lap at the finish). I was disappointed, in fact, to see Charlie Kimball's car come to rest. Green flag racing is pure racing. Speed and strategy, untainted by slowdowns or distractions to the action. The fastest car to finish the distance wins. I realized that the red flag might actually be consistent with this philosophy. I would never suggest going to Green-White-Checker finishes: those belong on the Saturday Night short track, not in a professional environment with careers and million-dollar paychecks on the line. The key, I believe, is clear rules and consistent execution-something brought up by Ed Carpenter after his driver won at Toronto yesterday.

There has to be enough time left in the race to collect the field with the pace car and park it somewhere safe, refire the field, run another pace lap (giving anyone who has trouble getting re-started a fighting chance), restart the race, and have enough laps at actual racing speed to get back into the rhythm of the race. Say, 3-4 laps. At Indy, I would guess this window would fall between lap 188 and 193. Any sooner, and the incident could probably just be cleaned up under yellow. Any later, and there isn't time to organize the field.

If done properly and consistently, with well-conceived and executed rules, maybe red-flagging races to attempt to finish them under green isn't such a bad thing. Am I spot-on? Way off-base?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Indy 500 Post-Race

2014 marked my 10th Indy 500 since 2000. Somehow, they get better every year! Not just in terms of on-track action, but in the experiences and activities surrounding the race. I've already expressed my feelings on Twitter, but I enjoy the people I meet at the 500 as much as the race. It's fun to meet others so unironically enthusiastic about something!

About the race: I don't think anyone could call that pack racing. Nor can anyone complain about a lack of parity. In a time not so long ago, the fastest 2 or 3 or 4 drivers would have lapped the rest of the field several times during the 147 laps of green flag racing. I'm not the only one who was disappointed we had any yellows at all! As the race wound down, it was clear that the fastest guys were Helio, Hunter-Reay, and Marco Andretti. It looked like RHR might have had a slight speed advantage. Will Power wouldn't have won me any money; his pit lane speed violation was the kind of mistake I expected from the Will Power of 2011 or 2012. I think Montoya had the field covered and was ready to be the man in front at the end of the race, at least until his pit lane speed violation. I was actually surprised he didn't stay out during the circa lap 150 pit stops-my mental calculations indicated he was one of (if not THE) only driver who could have completed the race with just one more stop.
Me giving RHR the tip he would need to win Indy two years in the future

Second or third on the list of discussion topics is the red flag. I believe I covered this back in 2012 when Indycar flew the red flag near the conclusion of the Fontana race. In my opinion, the red flag should not be used to stop the race to make an attempt at a green-flag finish. Sometimes races end under yellow. That's just how it goes. The race goes to the driver who completes the stated distance first. Red flags should be used to stop the race in the interest of safety (rain, track blockage, track repair, etc), or for other specific uses by race control. If the catch fence or SAFER barrier needed attention, then I'd call Sunday's use of the red flag appropriate. I fear that I might be on the losing side of the future with this one. If so, I hope Indycar clearly defines the rules for the red flag's use. That's something NASCAR never did.

I should also mention dinner Thursday night, Carb Day, the Carb Night Burger Bash, Legends Day, and our traditional Post-Race Mexican Dinner and Watching of the Rebroadcast. Again, it was great to meet all the Twitter and online friends I hadn't met before, and to catch up with those I had. Here are some more photos from the weekend:

Your 3rd Place Finisher, Practicing on Carb Day

Takuma Sato, Kevin Lee, and Arie Luyendyk at the Carb Night Burger Bash
Public Driver's Meeting on Legend's Day. Notice the range of expressions: from 'Bored' to 'Excruciatingly Bored'
Part of the Hall of Fame Museum's Turbine Car Display

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Live From Indianapolis...

Having a great weekend here in the Racing Capital of the World! Not much time to blog, but I figured it was time to break out the chisel and etch my race picks in stone.

1. Will Power - If his car is working good on Sunday, never count Will Power out. More importantly, the Will Power I saw win the 500 miler at Fontana last fall is ready to win another one. The big one.

2. Simon Pagenaud - Smart and fast, whether you see him or not, whether you like it or not. This should-be superstar is a threat everywhere. Especially somewhere speed and smarts are paramount.

3. Juan Montoya - It's time. His season has started, he's had time to adapt to the cars, and now he's back at Indianapolis. If you are a doubter, well: You weren't there, man! You didn't see what he did! We know! We're ready! Your minds will be blown, man!

Finally, my 'out of left field' pick; the guy with the mediocre season who will shine in one race:

Ryan Briscoe

That is all. Looking forward to the race tomorrow and seeing more of you!

Until then, here's a Carb Day pic:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Month of May is Underway

It's May!
Yes, I'm a little late. 500 travel preparations are in full swing at the Flat Into One house, and they unfortunately coincide with family visits, nice-weather projects, and other obligations so, sadly, sometimes the blog gets shuffled down the priority list.

I did watch the Grand Prix of Indianapolis: Great race!
(Yes, a 2-word review is a cop-out. This is going to be a short post)
I also watched the Fast Nine qualifying shootout. More good stuff. Congrats to Ed Carpenter on his second pole position. You may have noticed the interloper in the booth humiliating Eddie Cheever. That would have been Flat Into One favorite, Dario Franchitti.

Dario may have been the best motorsport analyst I've ever heard/seen on TV. Bold statement, yes, but contrast him to Cheever-Dario has first hand knowledge of the cars being discussed. Dario has driven a car in anger within the past decade. He also has charisma and a personality that comes across on TV. The best part was the sheer depth of detail he added. For instance, during Simon Pagenaud's run, Dario pointed out Simon's body language and noted that it was the stress of running flat-out at Indianapolis, not necessarily any exceptional physical exertion. Stuff like this is fantastic.

Other websites have hyped two new books on historically important events at the Indianapolis 500. One covers the horrific crash that came shortly after the start of the 1964 race. I'm sure it's good reading and will make time to read it through. In the meantime, here is another account of those events. 

The second new book covers the Penske Racing domination of the 1994 race with a purpose-built pushrod engine. This series covers the story of that engine and the events that surrounded it (including what happened to the Penskes in 1995, the formation of the IRL, etc). It's packed full of information, analysis, and tangential asides-just the way I like it!

By the way, if you're as big a race fan as I am, it might not be a good idea to visit the home website of the above links without several hours to killl...

Anyway, there are a couple of things I wanted to get off my chest. If I don't get another entry posted, then I hope to see you somewhere in Indianapolis this weekend!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis

The early phase of the Indycar season is complete. If the three races run so far are any indication of the rest of the year, this will be another great season! Three different pole winners, three different race winners, old favorites on top, and validation of some tough choices.

Next up is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, when Indycar will run on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At first, I was opposed to running this race in May. I accepted that maybe a road race at the Speedway wasn't such a bad idea, but should be run at a completely separate time. As the season finale, for example-especially if the season will end by September, when good weather is still the norm in Indiana.

My problem wasn't the track layout or using the facility for something other than the 500. Personally, I thought that the Mickey Mouse track configuration used during Formula 1 races was less important than the fact that there were Formula 1 races held there. And I can't really complain about the use of the track-it's also hosted Stock Cars, minor-league stock cars, motorcycles, a lesser sports car series, showroom stock sedans, autocrosses, and bracket racing. Ok, maybe not the last two. Yet.

I didn't think that the Month of May should suffer the distraction of another points-paying Indycar race. The focus, I believed, should be on preparations for the World's Greatest Race. My opinion has turned around 180 degrees. Leadership at the track and at Indycar seem determined to bring back the luster and the glory (and viewership) of the 500. They are doing this not with 3 weeks of practice and time trials of interest only to the most dedicated racing nerds (yes, you), but with events that have real stakes to the participants and the fans: A full points-paying Indycar series race on the road course on May 10 and a day of qualifying that sets not only the starting order for the 500, but pays out even more championship points. I think these are very important things.

Personally, the more Indycar and Indianapolis 500 stuff I consume, the more excited for the race I get. Trouble is (and I can't believe I'm alone), my time is limited. It's easy to sneak in the Trackside and Talk of Gasoline Alley podcasts while commuting, working, eating, etc, but sitting down in front of the TV to watch hours of practice is hard to justify. My free time is limited after work, my wife, my small children, side businesses, and the regular chores. Add in the first good weather since October here in the upper midwest, and watching part-time backmarkers scuff tires gets really hard to justify. I do make time, however, to watch every race live. If it's an Indycar event that has racing and actual championship consequences, watching becomes easy.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis gives fans a real reason to watch more Indycar, and get more excited for the Big Race. Awarding points on qualifying weekend does the same thing. The result is one continuous, weeks-long festival with the 500 as the climax, where everyone at the track and at home is more excited for the race and the series. I know I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 is Underway!

I hope everyone enjoyed the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg; I thought it was a good, interesting race. The winner was no surprise, but it was fun watching him do it.

For the first time I was able to watch live timing and scoring during the race. (Sometimes I'm a little behind the times...) What a fantastic addition to the race-watching experience! It added almost as much depth and detail as being there in person. For once, I was able to watch the leader and the rest of the field throughout the race. I knew Mike Conway was on the move, and wondered why the TV folks never seemed to notice. Is there a publicly-available source for every driver's lap times over the whole race? I have some questions about what Will Power was able to do. Quick notes on some of the race's controversies: Power's slow restart was fine. Were Conway's problems just the result of communicating with a new team? Once they get sorted out it doesn't look like Ed Carpenter Racing will have any problem proving the naysayers wrong. I was impressed with Jack Hawksworth. Takuma Sato and AJ Foyt Racing will not be ignored this year. There are lots of other great storylines that will carry over to...

The Grand Prix of Long Beach!
The second race of the year will be the first to feature standing starts. I'm not a fan of these. There's already a popular open-wheel series that uses standing starts. I don't see what they add to a race; if anything they seem to cause more problems, drivers don't seem to like them, and the DW12 doesn't seem particularly suited to the practice. There is nothing unexciting about a flying start-it's one of the trademarks of that big race in May.

Why we're talking about Long Beach and F1, it seems that the promoter is working to make the street circuit race a Formula 1 event in the near future. I'll admit I'm very pessimistic when it comes to combining "Formula 1" and "America" in any way: witness the number of American F1 teams talked about vs the number that have made the grid in the past 15 years and that second American race that keeps getting postponed, etc. But this move has the feeling of a cash grab for the promoter, damn whatever is best for the event, the host city, etc. Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe I just don't want to lose an Indycar event.

If you don't already, please follow me on Twitter: @FlatIntoOne . I try to get at least a few (and sometimes many more) tweets off during the race broadcast.

And now for a brief commercial message:
You may have noticed the button above advertising my Kickstarter. It's not Indy or Indycar related, but I think it's a cool shirt. Contributing $20 will get one shipped to your door. For some shirts closer to the theme of this blog, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page for the links to check out and order them.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Indycar 2014-the People

With the season opener at St. Petersburg this weekend, I'd like to share some comments on the 2014 Indycar personnel lineup. It was going to be just drivers, but I have something to say about Derrick Walker's comments in a recent article. In no particular order (other than what's on the Indycar website):

Derrick Walker
Walker talked about a lot of rule changes for the 2014 season, many of which will certainly ignite controversy (no more double-file restarts???). The most important thing isn't the rule changes themselves. Rather, it's that someone at Indycar is talking about what they are and why they made them. You know, something befitting a professional sports organization. I doubt these comments would have been made to anyone in the press, say, 5 years ago. The mentality was (to this fan) so private-club.

Marco Andretti
Much was said about how 2013 was going to be his breakout year. Indeed, he was a strong performer for a good bit of the season. Part of that may have been because everyone else seemed intent on being as inconsistent as possible for the rest of the year.

Sebastien Bourdais
I believe getting away from Dragon racing is a good thing. Inconsistent on-track and a lawyer magnet off, one wonders what went on behind the scenes there. KV is a step up, if maybe not to the top as Bourdais would like. Prediction: Not a championship contender, but this team will dazzle at times and challenge for wins.

Ed Carpenter
I was pulling for Carpenter to develop on the road courses, but he made a good decision for his business and hired a specialist for those rounds. Conspiracy theorists may suggest that awarding double points for the 500 milers is a ploy to give Ed a chance at the championship.

Helio Castroneves
I almost feel bad for Helio, since everyone has already written him off for the 2014 championship. His unsuccessful 2013 championship run was regarded as his best shot at the title. See Marco Andretti above for the reason why.

Scott Dixon
My impression is that Dixon is the most feared driver on the grid. Odds are at least even on a 4th championship for him. If only the fans would give him the same love...

James Hinchcliffe
There are so many trite cliches that could describe Hinch's 2013 season. I think we should come up with a new one. How about... "He was leading the pack...Or bringing up the back!" That's pretty terrible, I think I'll go with it. Much better than having to hear "feast or famine!" again.

Tony Kanaan
This might be our last best chance to see what TK can really do with a car, especially when paired with a 3-time champ for a teammate.

Charlie Kimball
It's a toss-up: Who gets less respect-Helio Castroneves, or Charlie Kimball? Every piece written about him has a "but..." somewhere in it. 

Juan Pablo Montoya
Did 7 years in stock cars dull his reflexes? Is he still hungry? Can he keep his temper in check? I hope so. He might be the most exciting man on track this season. Remember 1999-2000 in CART? I do. I was there, man. I saw it...

Carlos Munoz
It's very difficult to tell on TV just how hard a driver is pushing it. Munoz' qualifying run in the Fast 9 at Indianapolis last year was an exception to that rule. I'm looking forward to watching him all season. I can't find complete stats on this short notice, but I would bet that he has the third-best average 500 finish in the field (2nd).

Will Power
If Scott Dixon is the most feared driver in the series, Will Power is the least scared. With his 500-mile win at Fontana last fall, the final piece of his confidence fell into place. I'm picking Will Power to win the championship in 2014. And he's going to have a good time doing it.

Graham Rahal
By my (possibly inaccurate) count, this is the 38th year in a row that Rahal has had no excuses and absolutely must perform. By teaming up with his father, both are betting their reputations that he will. With a rebuilding year under their belts, this should be the year Graham breaks through and regularly contends for wins. Seriously. We mean it this time.

Oriol Servia
Yes, yes, and yes! Finally, in a car he deserves! Er, well, for at least 4 races, anyway... 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Indycar Winter: Some comments

It's March here in Wisconsin, and we're still frozen in the middle of a winter that just won't end. The Indycar season is a few weeks away yet, but I thought I'd run down some of the stories that have come up during the off-season:

Ryan Briscoe to Ganassi; Tony Kanaan fills Dario Franchitti's old Target seat:
Briscoe may not have been the flashiest or the fan-favorite driver to fill this seat (I had really hoped for Justin Wilson), but that doesn't mean that he didn't earn or deserve it. He's a proven winner who's worked with Ganassi before. I can't think of anything bad to say about him. If I were Chip Ganassi, it would be hard to justify not hiring him.

National Guard to RLL:
I didn't realize what a stink this would become when it was first announced. Now Indycar, RLLR, and a bunch of other parties are facing lawsuits from Panther Racing's principals. This after they fired a popular American driver in the middle of the season (even if one could understand why), hadn't won a race in years, and asked for $5 million more than RLLR. Sounds pretty clear-cut to me. But I'm not a zillionaire team owner with a track record of not caring about the series' real customers...

Allen Bestwick to ABC Broadcast Team:
While I'm sure Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear, and Eddie Cheever are fine people who are fun to be around, they had zero charisma or chemistry on TV. They looked barely interested in what was going on, much less able to convey the excitement of an Indycar race to fans watching on TV. A change was long overdue. I think Bestwick is a great choice. He always did a good job on MRN radio in the '90s, knows what he's doing, and will be a familiar, comfortable face for any NASCAR fans who happen to tune in. He also has something underrated in a racing broadcaster-a great voice. Bob Jenkins might be the best example of someone who can speak loudly and clearly without apparent effort.

Revised Championship Points System:
After NASCAR and Formula 1 did their best to ruin competition and destroy what credibility they have with revisions to their points systems, Indycar made changes that, well, kind of make sense. In a nutshell, 500 mile races (Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana) are each worth double the points of any other race while Indianapolis 500 qualifiers score from 33 to 1 point for making the big show, with bonus points paid to the Fast Nine qualifiers.
The extra points paid for the 500-milers are a sign of how important Indycar (rightly) sees its longest races. They are the series' biggest, fastest, longest, and most prestigious races, and now the competitors have reason to look at them the same way. If you don't like it, well, I guess think of it as more closely matching points paid to miles driven.
Points for Indy 500 qualifying seemed a bit stranger, until I gave it some thought. It kind of dovetails with last week's post about bump day. Without any significant bumping (and all the qualifying on TV), awarding points by qualifying position gives the day some real stakes. Points for the Fast Nine mean that no one who makes it that far will be able to rest on his laurels. With every position worth a point, competitors will be much less likely to make a slow, safe run knowing that they'll start at least ninth.
With the consolidation of 'real' qualifying events to one day and the awarding of points to the results of that day-it's almost like adding an extra race weekend to the schedule.

Verizon as Series Title Sponsor:
It was recently announced that Verizon would be the title sponsor of the Indycar series for the next several years. This is fantastic news. Not only from a cash- and activation-(which reportedly will be far greater than what came from Izod the past couple of years) point of view, but because this is the exact kind of sponsor Indycar needs. Often ignored is the 'reverse sponsorship' effect-where identification with the branding sponsor brings attention to the series, instead of vice-versa. Think of someone not interested at all in racing-then he sees the car sponsored by his favorite brand of beer. Without knowing anything at all about the series, the driver, the team, the history, or anything else, he has become a fan of, say, the Budweiser car. The brand's advertising has made him aware of the series, instead of the opposite, intended effect.
The best sponsors in this case are national consumer brands (companies that sell their wares only to professionals-Snap-On tools, DuPont paint, for example-are not 'consumer brands') with near-universal recognition and loyal followings. Other than Verizon, Target, HP, and Shell/Pennzoil, there aren't very many recognizable sponsors, and that much less for the casual fan to latch onto and identify with. Hopefully Indycar's marketing staff is courting companies like this; my ideal grid would have the Pepsi car, the Coca-Cola car, the Google car, the Apple car, the Budweiser car, the Miller car, the Wal-mart car, and so on.

I'm hoping to have a couple more posts up before the green flag at St. Pete. I have some things to say about the various driver moves and everything surrounding the Indianapolis 500.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

There's No Need to Mourn Bump Day. At Least Not This Year.

Indycar announced last Friday a revised qualifying procedure for the Indianapolis 500: All cars run on Saturday to get in the race. For Sunday, times are scrapped and the fastest 9 run in a shootout to determine the pole sitter. Each car in the rest of the field makes another 4-lap run to set the starting order. This procedure, obviously designed to showcase the race for the pole on TV, is undoubtedly inciting a lot of anger among fans: Bump day has been effectively relegated to Saturday, robbing the fans of that high drama in favor of just setting the field and running for the pole. Once, the final Sunday of qualifying was the most dramatic day in motorsports as drivers at the bottom of the speed charts chased their dreams by making last-minute deals and hanging it all out for 4 laps. On the last day of qualifying in 2014, all but the 9 fastest cars will be making qualifying runs that do nothing but rearrange their starting order. The fastest 9 will be going for the pole. It's all glory for those 9, not much drama for anyone else.

The effective death of bump day will make some fans apoplectic. And I understand that. Rage may be a pretty reasonable reaction to the loss of a tradition like this. But it won't bother me at all, at least not this year. And it shouldn't bother anyone else, no matter how strident a traditionalist he or she may be.

That's because, in 2014, it's unlikely there will be any bumping. I'm not sure if 33 entrants have been identified at this point on the calendar. 'Bump Day' would have been a drama-free (i.e. boring on TV) event anyway. If ABC's cameras and air time are going to be focused on the Speedway for a few hours, everyone who wants more exposure for the series should agree that the shootout for the pole is a much better use of that time. That's at least worth points and money, unlike a glorified practice session.

The future is a different story, at least if there will be bumping. If there are, say, 36 or more entrants in 2015, then I would advocate tweaking the format again: Everyone runs on Saturday to determine the Fast 9 and provisional positions 10-33. Sunday is for the actual Fast 9 shootout and bumping. The question is, if you want to hook casual viewers, which do you run first: The bumping, or the Fast 9?

Another question: 2014's Fast 9 shootout gives each of the pole contenders one 4-lap shot at the pole. Which makes for a better show: That format, or the timed format of a couple years back that allowed for multiple attempts during the shootout? I thought it was pretty cool to see Ryan Briscoe waiting in the cockpit of his car, helmeted and suited up, ready to go in case someone bested his time.

Please stay tuned, I am preparing some new posts for this blog and plan to roll them out as the Indycar season approaches!