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Ten Worthless Opinions – Sonoma and Baltimore Combo Edition

You take one weekend to attend a sprint car race at Kokomo, Indiana to research a profile on Bryan Clauson because you assume the next two races are going to be road course/street course events with very little excitement and what happens?  Strategy! Weather! Passing! Thrills!  Who knew?  The plan was to combine the WO’s (worthless opinions) of Sonoma and Baltimore into one post then move on to the finale at Fontana (Finale at Fontana…has a little ring to it, huh?).  So here they are, your “Ten Worthless Opinions  –  Sonoma and Baltimore Combo Edition.”

1.  Sorry for the missed week.  I was at Kokomo Speedway in Kokomo, Indiana to interview Bryan Clauson for an upcoming profile in The Polk Street Review, Noblesville, Indiana’s finest literary review.  Well, it’s also Noblesville’s only literary review, but that doesn’t nullify the previous statement.  Be sure to pre-order your copy now.  How fun were the races at Kokomo?  I’ll let the picture do the talking.  That’s my pensive look.

2.  Just a quick comment on the TV pre-race at both Sonoma and Baltimore.  It was a smart move to put the odd gear-like structure on which Kevin Lee perches in the IndyCar Fan Village at Sonoma.  Suddenly, it seems that there are people at the race, and that really makes a difference to the viewers.  The spot at Baltimore did not have the same crowd.  It looked like ten people wandered by as they were going from bar to bar.  Come on, NBC Sports Network, at least make it seem that there is excitement in the crowd.  In a related comment, I have never liked the location of the gear-like structure at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The garage area there certainly has a cool vibe, but it always seems so empty compared to the plaza behind the Pagoda.  Just one more WO (Worthless Opinion) from your always helpful host here at New Track Record.

3.  Once again, Robin Miller gets his own WO (worthless opinion).  At Sonoma, he disappeared during the broadcast since so much of the race was run under green.  Even though he stumbles through his comments at times, he brings knowledge and insight to a sport that needs it.  He knows the drivers, owners, and WAGS of the series.  He is passionate about a sport that needs passionate fans.  But then we have Baltimore.  His cartoon icon trotted across the screen as he began his grid lurch.  Let’s face it, it’s hardly a grid run now, is it.  In truth, it was one of his better grid runs of the year.  He huffed and puffed his way to talking with a number of drivers.  I really like his “friendly frog” sobriquet for Simon Pagenaud, who mildly mocked him with a comment about his age.  I finally figured out who Miller sounds like, though.  He calls everyone “brother.”  It’s always “Hey, brother,” or “Thanks, brother.”  Robin Miller is channeling Hulk Hogan at his finest!  He just needs to lower his voice a little and have a slight rasp to it. I only hope he doesn’t steal Hogan’s move of ripping his shirt off.  Even New Track Record has its limits.

4.  Sonoma, now with GoPro sponsorship, did some work and created some passing zones.  Even so, this race was decided under yellow with cars slowing down Will Power as he tried to race back to the blend line while his teammate Ryan Briscoe slid out in front of him.  The TV announcers did a great job of pointing this out as it happened.  It was exciting.  Keep in mind that I am an oval guy to the core.  I like the speed and edginess.  I have warmed up to the strategy of the twisties.  All it takes is one overly optimistic choice (sorry, Tags) to change the whole complexion of the race or even the championship.  The same thing happens on the ovals.  And for those who don’t thinks danger lurks everywhere in racing, just watch the replay of the Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden crash.  That was hard.  Thanks, Dallara.

5.  Michael Andretti and his team of promoters did a yeoman’s job of providing CPR to a Grand Prix of Baltimore that was  drowning in debt and mismanagement.  It looked like the crowd was down, but it sure seemed big enough to have a go again next year.  IndyCar needs the East Coast and this race.  It had passing, strategy, rain, and chicanery.

6.  Ah, the chicane at Baltimore.  Once again, it seems that IndyCar has pissed on its trousers.  You know what I mean.  IndyCar dresses nicely, has all the right connections, and as it voids its bladder before a very public appearance, it leaves a tell-tale track across the pleat of its pants.  That’s the chicane.  I could rant rhapsodic on it, but Alex Lloyd already did in this piece from Jalopnik called “Why Einstein Should Have Designed Racetracks (And the Insanity of the Baltimore GP).”  Any driver that quotes Einstein is aces in my book.  Read it now and thank me later.

7.  The chicane at Baltimore notwithstanding, that was a hell of a race.  Simon Pagenaud’s pass on a re-start was world class.  If that didn’t make your heart race watching the replay, then go watch football.  The rain created strategy with the choice of slicks or rain tires allowing Ryan Hunter-Reay to move to the front of the field.  And even though not all corners allowed passing, the turn one re-starts were worth the price of admission.  The drivers were aggressive and willing to take chances.  That always makes good racing.

8.  The start of the race and the restarts were schizophrenic.  The start and the restarts were FUBAR in relationship to the full field being through the chicane.  The front half or so would be lined up and taking the green while the rest of the field was still single file coming through the chicane.  It looked bad.  With that said, the front of the pack sliced, diced, chopped, and bumped each other without serious damage.  The chicane has to go.  It ruined the start and restarts for the second half of the field.  They deserve a fair start, too.

9.  The big question is whether Ryan Briscoe got cheated or snookered on a restart that quite likely cost him the race.  Here’s the rule in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Rule Book:

7.11.1.3. When the Track is clear for racing, the Safety Car will assist the field in preparing for a restart. At the appropriate time, the flashing lights will be turned off, indicating intent to restart. The leader is required to maintain the pace lap speed until reaching a point designated by INDYCAR near the start/finish line when the leader shall accelerate smoothly back to racing speed and the green condition will then be declared. All Car(s) must maintain their respective Track position for the restart.

Hmm.  Briscoe says he did not have time to accelerate back to racing speed before the green condition was declared.  Hunter-Reay said he came along side of Briscoe and the green flag was shown, and that means start.  Watching the video, it is clear that Hunter-Reay was accelerating at a speed greater than Briscoe’s when the green flag fell.  Briscoe was quite obviously bringing the field up at a speed that he thought all other cars would be doing at the drop of the green.  As the leader, it was his field to pace to the restart, and it was the responsibility of all other drivers to be paced by Briscoe.  So who’s at fault?  The easy answer is everyone.  Hunter-Reay snookered Briscoe.  He said he just did what Pagenaud did earlier in the race, and everyone raved about that.  Briscoe has the responsibility to protect himself from being snookered.  And the flagman for IndyCar has the responsibility to call off the restart if he sees something amiss.  That restart was a comedy of errors, and the only one still smiling is Ryan Hunter-Reay.

10.  A big difference to a TV viewer between a natural terrain road course like Sonoma and a street circuit like Baltimore is recognition of course features.  After a while, a viewer can tell the difference among the corners at Sonoma.  They look different.  You can tell where you are.  Some of the corners at road courses have names like the Bus Stop or the Keyhole.  You can see where you are.  At a street circuit like Baltimore, you just don’t have the visual cues to differentiate the geography.  It all looks the same, hence the confusion a viewer has watching the race.  New Track Record is always ready to offer suggestions that make the viewing better for all fans.  Most street circuits have advertising posted on the fences in the corners.  Why not add the turn number in the advertising?  As a viewer, I would actually look at the ads to see the turn numbers.  Why can’t you have “Dr. Pepper Turn 5” or “DSL Turn 2?”  Selling advertising and making money for the series, the promoters, and the networks doesn’t bother me.  Just don’t forget making the experience at-track and on TV better for the fans.  We deserve it.

There you go.  The IZOD IndyCar Series had two exciting races that should create interest in the “Finale at Fontana.”  The championship is still undecided.  Ryan Hunter-Reay is stalking Will Power, who has yet to show he can close out a championship season.  IndyCar has 500 miles to go in another exciting and dysfunctional season.  IndyCar may not always make it right, but they certainly make it exciting.

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