Monday, April 11, 2011

Barber Recap: Power, Passing, and Viso

Who said there was no passing at Barber? Whoever it was had to be pleasantly surprised, because the weekend's Indy Grand Prix of Alabama had plenty of action, both on and away from the restarts (which went much, much smoother this weekend, by the way). It sounds like attendance was great; TV coverage on Versus had to go up against a nail-biting Masters, so we'll see what that brings, but hopefully there's an increase there as well.

Will Power evened the score against Dario at one win apiece, dominating this entire race start to finish. Ryan Briscoe had more bad luck. Danica was as high as 3rd place before getting passed repeatedly as her old tires wore away to tiny little nubs of slippery rubber. James Jakes' car caught fire in the pits, and no one seemed to notice.

Super-Sub Pagenaud!
Honestly, despite all predictions, this was a varied and interesting race. We had some contact, some tremendous passes from drivers like Bourdais, Ryan-Hunter-Reay, and Tony Kanaan, and we also had EJ Viso wreak have once again--but much, much more on that last item below.

Let's hit some of the big stories of the weekend:

Mazda Road to Indy Update: Tristan Vautier dominated in Star Mazda Championship competition over the weekend, with American Nick Andries nabbing a podium with 2nd, after a strong drive all the way up from 9th place. Colombian Tatiana Calderon finished a strong third to grab her first podium in the series. Contact with one another damaged the hopes of the USA's Conor de Phillipi and Ireland's Patrick McKenna. Other notables included American open wheel rookie Nick Mancuso, who finished a sold 6th. There is some intense competition in this series this year!

In Firestone Indy Lights, Andretti's Stefan Wilson gave it everything he had, but couldn't get past Team Moore's Victor Garcia, who led from start to finish. Americans Conor Daly (11th) and Josef Newgarden (6th) both had trouble that ruined their hopes for a podium spot. Perhaps the gutsiest drive of the race belonged to Jorge Goncalvez, who drove with a broken leg, moving up 10 spots to finish 4th. It was great to see the Lights race on Versus; I thought the Lights broadcast team had a very good initial outing.

Versus Coverage: Great, diverse interviews with Justin Wilson, Ryan Briscoe, and a heartfelt segment on Taku Sato and the tragedy in Japan marked the IndyCar Versus coverage. Features on Simona de Silvestro, Will Power, and multiple other drivers really gave this broadcast a well-rounded feel. They did an excellent job changing it up and interviewing multiple drvers in the field. Not everyone will agree, especially with the technical issues here and there, but I thought the Versus coverage crew was good from Indy Lights through the end of the IndyCar race. Also, kudos for showing the National Anthem and opening ceremonies--it's a proper and fitting touch. The only big suggestion I would have would be that the "Through The Field" segment could have been much smoother.

Cinderella Stories Continue: Oriol Servia finished a strong 5th for Newman/Haas. Tony Kanaan gained 18 positions to finish 6th after starting 24th(!). Simona de Silvestro recovered nicely from an incident to finish 9th. Right now, the Top 5 spots of for series points are Power, Franchitti, Kanaan, Dixon, and de Silvestro. It probably won't last like that, but it's all good fun for now.

Hinch's Debut: The "Draw The Track Blindfolded" challenge with James Hinchcliffe was hilarious. Hinch could not possibly have drawn the map any more poorly if he was a preschooler drawing on the back of a diner menu. Hinch's humor and personality shone through the entire segment, and you have to think he is a tremendous asset for this series. He's only going to increase in popularity as more people get to know him. An early spin moved him towards the back of the field, but he was up as high as P12 before Viso took him out. Which brings us to...

Veto Viso: EJ Viso right now does not look right as if he belongs in an IndyCar. I personally like EJ Viso, but he is not performing at a level commensurate with the Fastest or Best Drivers In The World. IndyCar needs to take a long look at where his head his right now, because with how he's driving now, he's as much a detriment to the series as Milka Duno was. He needs to get it together or be parked. You cannot have an incident in nearly every on-track session so far this year and claim you belong in this series. I'm about the last IndyCar fan to go on a rant, but this is getting embarrassing. I know this can't be fun for EJ, but it's no fun for us, either. There's too much good stuff this year to have this as an unwelcome distraction.

Viso's a nice guy, but he needs to improve ASAP.
TK Continues To Rock Our Socks: Tony Kanaan moved from 24th to 14th before the first yellow of the race. He finished 6th, and was pushing Oriol Servia hard for 5th. He's third in the points standings right now, and I don't think he's finished putting on a show.

Andretti's Luck: Ryan Hunter-Reay was penalized for avoidable contact with Ryan Briscoe and finished 14th. Danica Patrick didn't take tires on her last stop and faded to 17th place as everyone and their brother passed her. Mike Conway had contact with Danica and went into the wall hard (22nd). However, Marco Andretti continues to seem to like this track, finishing 4th. They'll hope for Conway and Hunter-Reay in particular to put it all together starting next week.

Not-So-fun Fact: Penske Racing driver Ryan Briscoe is currently placed 25th in points standings, dead-last among all drivers with two starts. It's early to start talking about his chances for a series title slipping away, but unless things turn around in a hurry, that will be where we are.

Rookie Report: Perhaps the most impressive rookie wasn't even a series regular. Simon Pagenaud ran an extremely impressive race to place 8th. Of the full-season rookies, Charlie Kimball had a quiet but steady day, finishing 10th. JR Hildebrand had a rough day, but kept it out there, finishing 13th. James Hinchcliffe (24th), James Jakes (25th), and Sebstian Saavedra (26th) did not finish. Right now, JR Hildebrand is first among rookies at 13th in the points standings (36 points), with Kimball just trailing in 14th (32 points). Honestly, a podium or near-podium by any of the rookies next week could still turn this thing on its head.

Best Story: It's going to get overlooked, but you have to be really thrilled with how Simon Pagenaud finished in his first IndyCar race. He kept it clean, took opportunities when they were presented, and finished strong. I'm not sure if Ana Beatriz will be back in time for Long Beach, but if she isn't, Dreyer and Reinbold should know they've got a great option behind the wheel.

Worst Story: Normally, it'd be the horrific tire strategy at the end that caused Danica to lose so many positions, but you've got to give it to EJ Viso.

Next Stop: The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, this weekend!

(Images courtesy of IndyCar Media)

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