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The IndyCar Revenant

It’s movie time for the Verizon IndyCar Series once again.  This time, the movie connection is The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Academy Award winning vehicle.  Of course the plot of the entire movie doesn’t reflect the current state of IndyCar, but one scene certainly does.  The scene in question is THE scene in the movie.  DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his compatriots.  Violent, bloody stuff it is.  Which leads us to the current state of IndyCar.

The DiCaprio character of Hugh Glass is Honda Performance Development and the grizzly, of course, is Chevy.  Currently, Chevy is having its way with Honda, both with engine power and aero kit performance.  And it’s bloody.  In the movie, the DiCaprio character vows revenge.  We can only hope that Honda Performance Development has the sand that the movie character displays.

And that’s the question, isn’t it?  After years as the only engine supplier, using dependable, de-tuned motors, Honda welcomed Chevy to help with the heavy lifting and to provide much needed competition in a stagnating series.  So far, so good.  The competition was scintillating, particularly at Indy.  Then the decision to implement aero kits for each manufacturer was made.  Hello, Mr. Grizzly Bear.

Each manufacturer teamed with a different engineering firm for aero kits: Chevy with Pratt & Miller Engineering and Honda with Wirth Research.  Chevy ended up with an aero kit that teams understood and developed while Honda ended up with a work of modern art that offered too many solutions to the problems of aerodynamics.  After the perceived favoritism afforded Chevy last last year in Indy with airborne cars and changed qualifying rules, Honda has found itself falling further and further behind.  And that leads us to this moment in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Other than by using pit strategy, Honda has not been able to move to the front of pack this year at either St. Pete or Phoenix.  As expected, the Honda teams are complaining, particularly about the coming use at Indy of domed skids, devices designed to increase downforce in a spin to prevent flying cars.  After testing, the Honda teams have vociferously protested the domed skids as both unsafe for high speed racing and a detriment to competition, particularly at Indy.  Chevy, on the other hand, is just fine with it.  How about that irony?

At Indy last year, INDYCAR used safety as the absolute reason for revamping the qualification rules after cars became airborne.  Even though Honda aero kits had not suffered the same fate, it was hard for Honda to argue with safety, right?  Now, Honda is using safety as the same argument this year to remove or modify the domed skids.  Will the series succumb to the same argument this year?  Sorry, Honda.  The grizzly bear is holding all the cards.

Did Honda Performance Development hitch their wagon to a falling star in Wirth Research for its aero kit?  In hindsight, the answer is probably yes.  Truthfully, that is simply the way it goes.  Racing, as in all competition, has winners and losers.  The problem with this in the Verizon IndyCar Series is that there are only two engine and aero kit providers, and it is imperative that both remain in the series.  The series is always walking a very thin line to keep everyone happy.  Would fans like to see racing where everyone is in competition?  Sure, they would.  Do aero kits really help differentiate the cars for the fans?  No, they don’t.

For Honda, this is all about Indy.  They need to be competitive in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said, “University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.”  For manufacturers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, this is an absolute truth.  The politics are vicious because the only thing worth winning is the Indy 500. These small stakes are huge for owners, drivers, and employees in the series, too.   Sponsorship depends on success.  Expect politicking from Honda and its affiliated teams to continue until the month of May to remove or modify the domed skids.  It would be the safest thing to do on many levels.

 

 

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The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: IndyCar meets expectations

Yeah, the title is kind of damning with faint praise, but it is not totally true.  The race had much to like, and quite honestly, for the Verizon IndyCar Series meeting expectations is kind of a big deal.  Expectations, meet IndyCar.

  • As expected, Team Penske dominated the day.  Was there ever any doubt?  The best shocks, a Chevy motor, and that 50 year Indy thing.  If this happens all year, well, just expect it.
  • Additionally, Juan Pablo Montoya defies expectations.  He is not too old, fat, or cautious.  He also seems not to care a whit about what anyone expects.  IndyCar can expect a new champion this year.
  • Chevy, once again, is preparing to eat Honda’s lunch.  Did you expect otherwise?  Honda has been playing catch-up since last year’s aero mistakes.  Even with this year’s obvious gains, Honda is still behind.  Can the new motor updates coming down the pipeline even things up?  Expect Honda Performance Development to add the power.
  • What’s a race without a victim?  At St. Pete, Graham Rahal was victimized by the the optimism of Carlos Munoz.  Nobody is a better victim than Graham Rahal.  You just know that gesticulations will follow every time he feels wronged.  And he feels wronged often.
  • What’s even more expected than the victimizing of Graham Rahal?  The expected self-immolation of Marco Andretti, of course.  It seems Marco is snake bitten.  And it appears he carries his own snake.  After working his way up the grid, Marco managed to spin and hurt what looked like a pretty good car.  If he can keep his foot-shooting pistol in his holster, Marco may surprise this year.
  • You can always expect the Verizon IndyCar Series to have at least one driver each year who cannot get out of his, or anyone else’s, way.  It appears Carlos Munoz is meeting that expectation.  After causing the multi-car kerfuffle in Turn 4, Munoz managed to also end Conor Daly’s bid for a podium.  While it would be nice to hang a black hat on Munoz, he’s just too darn nice.  He accepted blame for all his transgressions.  What kind of IndyCar driver does that?  Munoz needs to attend a seminar at the Graham Rahal School of Victimization.
  • If experience has taught us anything, it’s that Conor Daly can wheel a race car.  Every time he gets in an IndyCar that doesn’t catch on fire, he competes.  Thanks to some Dale Coyne strategy, Daly found himself with a chance for a podium finish, at least until Carlos Munoz found him.  Expect a podium for Daly this year, and maybe a chance to move to a better funded team in the future.
  • As always, viewers can expect ABC to miss passes and follow the wrong battles.  On the other hand, ABC’s pit work is great.  Speaking of ABC’s booth, could Eddie Cheever be a bigger shill for ABC’s broadcast of the Indianapolis 500.  I forgive him completely for that.  I feel the same way.
  • If you agree with IndyCar honcho Mark Miles’ belief that IndyCar is growing, then you had to be excited by the TV numbers.  A 1.09 might not open any floodgates of sponsorship money, but they don’t close any, either.  Of course, there were no NCAA tourney games and NASCAR didn’t start until later in Phoenix.  Good to have a TV partner willing to find a nice slot.  I sure hope we can expect more of this.

I certainly hope this met your expectations.  If not,  just remember the words of Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar: “If you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed.”

 

 

Ten Worthless Opinions: IndyCar Preseason Edition

In lieu of having a solid premise, argument, or idea to present, I once again fall back upon the widely popular, and much easier to write, “Ten Worthless Opinions” model.  It allows me to write a few hundred words without the messy necessity of coherent thought or the thesis/evidence/conclusion paradigm so popular with critics.  My audience does not need all that; they just need the broad strokes that allow them to reach totally unsubstantiated conclusions.  So in typical fashion, here are a few totally unrelated thoughts about the upcoming Verizon IndyCar season starting this weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

1.  What forms will Verizon engagement take?  Will we just see commercials on TV and a presence in the Fan Zone?  What we need to see is Verizon using their technological wizardry to update timing & scoring and improve the entity know as race control.  Verizon says they want to be known as a technology company.  Here is their chance to have an immediate and noticeable effect on the series.  Or maybe we’ll just see ads where drivers use mobile devices in a really cool setting like we have before.

2.  With ABC’s network reach, and hopefully ESPN’s support, the TV ratings for the series should climb as the season progresses.  The vortex of negativity that often surrounds the series will become a small eddy if it does.  Of course, the vortex will become a raging maelstrom if the ratings do not peak right away because THE SERIES WILL DIE IF THIS IS NOT CORRECTED IMMEDIATELY. Or so they say.  Give the ratings a year and evaluate.  Patience.

3.  It will be interesting to see how the Andretti Autosport and Honda Performance Development shotgun wedding works out.  The divorce between Chip Ganasssi Racing and HPD was rife with public comments from Chip.  Somehow, I doubt if Michael Andretti will air dirty laundry about a partner like that.  Hope it works out for the kids.

4.  Can Chip Ganassi ever find happiness with an engine partner?  Will he take pot shots at Chevrolet if another Chevy team beats him?  Will the Verizon IndyCar Series somehow not live up to his lofty standards.  Will backmarkers who are running ahead of him refuse to yield the right of way to the rightful champion?  Will Chip start using the royal “we” in interviews and conversations?  A better than average chance exists for all of these to happen.

5.  The question is not IF Juan Pablo Montoya does an incredibly brave/stupid/dangerous/irritating thing, it’s when he does it.  The under is St. Pete and the over is Barber.  I’ve got the under.  And you just know a Chip Ganassi car is going to be involved.  A just universe would not let it happen any other way.

6.  The (Your Name Here) Grand Prix of Indianapolis is on the clock.  Is it the start of a new tradition (because new traditions DO start), or is it taking tradition out behind the barn and shooting it?  Will the hidebound traditionalists stay home or will the sound of the turbos lure them to the Speedway?  It may be an average road course, but it is still the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  See you there.

7.  In a series founded on ovals, will we see NASCAR, the owner of Iowa Speedway, try to push the Verizon IndyCar Series out of a popular and profitable partnership?  Let’s see now, should the owner of a series sponsored by a mobile technology company promote a series sponsored by a competitor of its own sponsor at a track that it-the series- owns?  Did anyone even understand that?  In other words, so long Iowa Speedway.  We’ll always have Des Moines.

8.  How important are the ovals going to be now with the relatively complicated scoring system that basically doubles the value of Indy, Pocono, and Fontana, the three 500 mile events on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar?  The answer of course is very.  What happens if Chip Ganassi loses the championship precisely because these events are worth more points?  It makes you smile to think about it, doesn’t it?  Gentlemen, start your hype!

9.  What delicious rumors will start this year?  Brazil is already in the picture for a race.  What about Providence and Fort Lauderdale?  How about F1 at Long Beach?  Is a new Canadian venue in the offing?  Will the international races be in Australia, Italy, or the Middle East?  Who will be buying the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the Hulman-George family?  Gossip and rumormongering are IndyCar traditions that will never die.

10.  Will the dysfunction caused by antiquated equipment in race control be resolved?  Derrick Walker has promised improvement.  Will Verizon be a part of the solution?  Hopefully.  Will Chip Ganassi and/or Scott Dixon call for the head of Beaux Barfield on a pike to be displayed from the battlements of their pit box?  Likely.  Will the suave and ultra-cool Beaux Barfield survive his third season?  He has to.  If the Verizon IndyCar Series is going to market itself as THE place to be, then Beaux belongs…just for the cool factor.  Smoke ’em if you got ’em, Beaux.

There you have some of the more compelling and/or nonsensical issues facing the Verizon IndyCar Series this year.  The series has iconic tracks, competitive races, robust car and engine combinations, and engaging personalities.  The series is moving from an analog past into a digital future.  This will be a great year to tune in.

 

 

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