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!