Monday, May 30, 2011

500 Recap: The Top 10

With the Centennial Anniversary 500 in the books and a wild finish to consider, let's look at the Top 10 finishers from yesterday's race, counting down from P10 to our winner.

10) Danica Patrick: Danica may have received mixed boos and cheers on her introduction again this year, but the crowd was plenty fired up to see her lead late in the race. Again, she did a nice job of having a clean race and moving up slowly when she could.

9) Marco Andretti: Marco snuck up towards the front several times, but got shuffled back each time, it seemed. It really didn't seem like he had one of the better cars out there, but considering the month Andretti Autosport had, this was a pretty solid result.

8) Tomas Scheckter: In partial consequence of his Top 10 result, it sounds like Redline might be putting T-Scheck in a couple more races this year (at least Texas, which has been confirmed). This was an excellent run by Tomas, aggressive and entertaining without being reckless. Did anyone see his 4-wide pass through the marbles to pass three cars? Amazing.

7) Bertrand Baguette: One caution is all it would have taken. Someone crashes on Lap 195 or so, and Bertrand Baguette is your Indy 500 winner. Baguette repeatedly fought his way back towards the front, and was just a few laps away from giving RLLR a winner. Let's hope we see him back in IndyCar soon; the maturity and aptitude he's shown in the past year have really been a big plus.

6) Oriol Servia: It seemed as if Servia's car fell off a bit in the latter stages of the race, but he legitimately led laps and stayed in contention most of the day. There's a reason Servia is 3rd in the standings, only 42 points back, and that's consistency.

5) Scott Dixon: Fifth place in an ultra-competitive field is no crime, but after the dominant day Scott Dixon and teammate Dario Franchitti had, for one of those two not to win has to be disappointing. It sounds as if he was short-fueled on his last stop, which after having their issues with in qualifying is especially terrible. Dixon called the fueling decision "stupid" in his post-race interview, and he probably does have a killer headache this morning.

4) Tony Kanaan: TK gave the crowd more thrills, charging hard late in the race, but this wasn't to be his year (again). The fans at Indy love him, and you have to appreciate how he's done after not even having a team just a scant few weeks before the opening race of the season.

3) Graham Rahal: After a slow start to his season, Graham Rahal has put together two really impressive drives. Due in part to start near the back and being lapped early, he passed a jaw-dropping 67 cars on his way to third place.

2) JR Hildebrand: Hildebrand suffered one of the greatest disappointments any of us will ever see at Indy, smacking the wall with only a few hundred yards between him and his goal. Yet the rookie handled it with as much grace and sportsmanship as you'll ever see. He may have lost the race, but he gained a legion of new fans through his behavior.

1) Dan Wheldon: Wheldon led a single lap, but that's all he needed. On one of the smallest teams, in a one-shot program, against perhaps the deepest field in the last fifteen years, he put himself in a position to win when Hildebrand lost it in Turn 4. It's simply a remarkable accomplishment, however you look at it. Wheldon is an all-time Indy great, and he proved it amply today.

Our Champion.
Image courtesy of IndyCar Media

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Centennial Eve

Tomorrow, hundreds of thousands of us in person and millions more at home get to experience the Centennial Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. It seems like it's been building so long, and now it's finally here. Are we in for a letdown? Bad weather? Our favorite driver crashing out early?

Some would say the expectations for the Centennial have been raised so high, nothing less than a perfect day will ruin it. I'd say we're in luck then, because even imperfect days at Indy are pretty fantastic.

Much has been written and will be written about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this Centennial Era, trying to explain why it's special, why it isn't "just another race" or "just another race course". Like so many things precious and worthwhile in life, it isn't something that's easily explained, only experienced.

If you attend the Speedway, in the late afternoon or early, early mornings, sometimes you catch what I call a lull. The noise and humanity of the place dies away, and for a minute there's nothing but you and the Greatest Race Course In The World, listening to one another. I don't mean it to sound hokey or some faux-mystic thing, because it isn't. It's a pure moment, wherein the history and legacy of the place quietly impress themselves upon you.

In that silence, the quiet between PA announcements and the scream of motors and, lies the soul of the place. You think of Ray Harroun, Tommy Milton, Wilbur Shaw, Eddie Sachs, Jim Clark, Scott Brayton, men who played such an integral part of making this place what it is. And then the PA system kicks back to life, the engines fire up once again, and the silence is broken--but not forgotten.

No matter who wins tomorrow, no matter what transpires, we will have have been participants in a once-in-a-lifetime moment. The driver lineup will never mirror this one; the inevitable cautions and crashes will never be the same. Luck will show her face to some, and turn away from others. Some drivers will have their one moment at Indy, never to return and race again. Every Indy 500 leaves its own mark, though, its own layer of history upon the many others that blanket this place.

I can't sit here and give you a direct answer as the precise reason so many of us love Indy so deeply, I can only say I hope you get a chance one day to have those quiet moments at the track as well. In that silence, and the calm before the storm, is what you need to know.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Seven Dark Horse Picks For This Year's Indy 500

This is a difficult year in which to do dark horse picks for the Indy 500. This field is too even, with too much parity, and there remain so many drivers that one feels really have a shot at this: Dan Wheldon, Townsend Bell, Alex Tagliani, and so many more. But there a few names that haven't quite had the buzz this month that could end up playing spoiler in the Centennial Anniversary 500. Of course, this all goes with the cautionary advice that Indy can end any challenge abruptly on a whim. But in no particular order, here are 7 dark horse picks I'll be keeping an eye on come Sunday:

Bertrand Baguette: If you spend any time at all observing the Breadman, you'll notice he's quiet, perceptive, and seemingly quite confident. Since last year, I always sort of felt a big breakout might be waiting for Baguette; from the way folks talk about him in the garage area, it doesn't sound like many insiders would be completely surprised to see it. RLLR is a solid team here, and he's working from a decent starting position in the middle of Row 5.

Baguette: I'd chosen him as a lock, but then I (Belgian) waffled.
(Image Courtesy of IndyCar Media)
Ed Carpenter: If the hardcore IndyCar fan base could psychically will a driver to victory right now, I think they'd be split 50/50 between Simona de Silvestro and Ed Carpenter. Sarah Fisher's team need to avoid any mistakes in the pits and put together some nice long runs, but in a year where Carpenter's alma mater (Butler) nearly shocked the world again, I'm not giving up on seeing the ultimate Cinderella story come to fruition. Plus, Carpenter's maturation as a driver on the ovals cannot be discounted; he's at home (literally) at Indy.

Jay Howard: When I was a kid playing Nintendo, a lot of times I'd get stuck on a specific world or level of a game for hours on end. Whatever I did, it seemed like something kept me from reaching that next level. Yet when I finally did pass that level, I couldn't be stopped. I'd plow through the next part of the game like it was no challenge at all. A big part of me wonders if Jay Howard will do the same at Indy this year. He's finally in the 500 field in a solid RLLR car, and the field's biggest enigma might just put any critics that might remain to rest.

Tony Kanaan: Honestly, who isn't excited to watch Tony Kanaan on these double-files restarts (aside from the people he'll pass, of course)? TK's odyssey for that elusive 500 continues; he started dead last in 2010 and still fought hard until the very end. He's not starting from his best starting spot ever, but it sure doesn't seem to faze him much.

Tomas Scheckter: Second only to Kanaan with most career laps led at Indy without a victory, Tomas figures to be his normal exciting, aggressive, driving self. Like Kanaan, he could genuinely benefit from the double-file restart format, which plays to his natural strengths.

Marco Andretti: Marco's the furthest back of anyone on this list, but he's got two 3rd-place finishes and a 2nd at Indy; he's got the place figured out. The only warning here is that he seems to have poor runs in off year (2007, 2009), so if you're superstitious or a numerologist of some sort, perhaps 2011 isn't looking so hot. It's been 42 years since an Andretti won here; perhaps the Centennial is ready to impart a little magic to the proceedings.

Vitor Meira: Meira narrowly missed out on being in the first 3 rows of the field. It's true, he holds the active streak in IndyCar for most starts without a win, but there's not an ounce of quit in him. This will be Vitor's 9th Indy 500, and this is the best car he's had since 2008, when he finished 2nd. It's been an under-the-radar month for Vitor, but that could change in a hurry once this thing gets started. AJ Foyt won the 50th Anniversary Indy 500 as a driver; if Vitor gets just a few breaks, Super Tex could be celebrating the Centennial Anniversary 500 as a a winning owner once more.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Community Day And The IMS Kids Club

I wanted to take a moment today to highlight one of the best experiences our family has ever had at IMS. Yesterday, my wife and I took two of our kids out to the Indy Motor Speedway's Community Day. The Speedway and the IZOD IndyCar Series had really encouraged a lot of booths and displays this year, from bounce castles to fire departments to the usual displays of the military branches. There were plenty of freebies, plenty of events, and the kids had a blast. I love the fact the kids can check out the garages--something normally off limits to at least the younger ones. For a day, IMS is all-access for everyone.

What really made yesterday extremely special, however, was the event held for IMS Kids Club members. Honestly, I expected a short meet n' greet, maybe a little something for the kids. What we saw instead blew us away:

-Not only was the area the event was being held in impressively decorated, each table had balloons, bracelets, and pins for the kids to take.

-The vent was catered by Kroger, who not only had sandwiches, veggie trays, and drinks, but also an ice cream station and cookie decoration station. Just Pop In also had some of their popcorn available.

-Two bounce castles kept the kids exceedingly busy! There were also foam building blocks, hula hoops, and a big coloring table for the children.

-The 500 Festival Princesses and Queen were also around, and were absolutely wonderful about playing with the children. The children seemed to instantly bond with them all.

-There were folks on-hand making balloon shapes for the kids and also doing face painting for those that so wished.

-My daughter got to meet (and receive autographs from) Alex Tagliani, Townsend Bell, and Alex Lloyd. Props to all 3 drivers for being approachable and genuinely nice with the kids.

-The Soy-Yer Dough people were on hand, with a play area and giving away some of their product. This stuff seems like a great alternative to Play-Doh: not greasy, dissolves in water, and doesn't seem to stick to the table, either.

-A raffle was held, wherein plenty of kids won prizes from grab bags full of Indy and racing-related toys to big foam toy seats and more!

-Did I mention the glorious, glorious air conditioning?

I paid $25 for my daughter to join the IMS Kids Club. It's one of the best bargains for the price I can remember. Not only did she get to be part of all I described above, but the welcome package she had received weeks early had a t-shirt, lunch box, stickers, Kid's Club "kid-ential", coupons, a Hot Wheels car, and much more besides.

On a closing note, my daughter was able to give the card she made to Pippa Mann during the last autograph session of the day. It was a great end to a great day.

We discuss a lot about building a younger fan base for IndyCar, but activities such as the IMS Kids Club and Community Day overall are already awesome programs for the whole family. Kudos to the event staff for making it one of the most fun and enjoyable days my kids have had in some time!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Forgotten Qualifier

In 2006, Jay Howard was the Indy Lights champion, and finished 2nd at Indy in the Freedom 100.

In 2007, Howard ran a partial Lights schedule of 3 races,

In 2008, Howard was entered in the 2nd car of Marty Roth, only to be pulled in favor of John Andretti. He would not compete in Indy 500 qualifying that year.

In 2009, Howard contested a partial Firestone Indy Lights season. He finished 4th in the Firestone Freedom 100, but lost his ride after that race.

In 2010, Howard was in the field of 33 on Bump Day, only to have the team pull his time and send him back out. They could not find the speed, and so Jay Howard would be frustrated yet again.

Suffice it to say, Howard's history at Indy has not been what one would hope for. But in the offseason we learned he would again bring a Service Central sponsorship to Indy, and that Sam Schmidt/Rahal Letter Lanigan would indeed run him for this year's Indy 500 qualification attempt.

Some drivers make it at Indy on their first try. Others still never make it, either too slow or a victim of circumstances. Others have to fight and claw and scrape to show they do, in fact, belong in the field for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Jay Howard never gave up, kept fighting, and will start in the Centennial Anniversary 500.

The odd thing is, it seemed like after previous luck at Indy, their would have been more scrutiny, more pressure on Jay, especially from fans who tend to never forget the slightest thing. Yet Howard's weekend was just about as quiet as one could be. He took the #88 Service Central car out on Pole Day, qualified relatively comfortably on his first try, and that was that.

I mentioned elsewhere it seemed like we all woke up the next day, only to discover Jay Howard had apparently made the field at some point on Pole Day. That's being a little flip with it, but considering Howard's story, it is surprising we didn't hear more about his accomplishment.

Now, Howard sits as perhaps one of the more intriguing, mysterious drivers in this field. What are his chances? After waiting all this time and working so hard to get here, what will Jay Howard do? His car seems solid; can he move through the field quickly? Or will he be an early exit from the race he's waiting so long to be a part of? Running in a Sarah Fisher car as part of a team that quickly went sour (and admittedly, was not well-considered by Howard in the aftermath), he finished far back in his few IndyCar races he had in 2010. But none of those races were Indy, and they weren't with this team, either.

That, as they say, is why we run the race. However things pan out on Sunday, in the afterward Jay Howard will no longer be an Indy 500 rookie. He'll be a 500 veteran, one who earned his place in the field, and a chance at even greater glory. What he does with that chance will be the next part of what's been a long, long journey.

Howard: Indy 500 Qualifier!
Image courtesy of IndyCar Media
For more about Jay, check out his IndyCar Advocate Six Quick Questions interview from earlier this year!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Buying Another Bump Day

When Bump Day ended, we all pretty much all felt bad for Ryan Hunter-Reay. A race-winning driver, bumped by his teammate at the last moment without another chance to bump his way back in. He’s also a great driver, a stand-up guy, an American story who’s a wonderful representative of LiveStrong, and by all accounts a great teammate.

It was rough. But that’s Indy. It’s part of the reason May means something. The Indy 500 doesn’t have sponsor exceptions, it doesn’t have all-star fan votes; it’s just presumably the 33 fastest drivers able to find their way in by on-track performance.

Yesterday, the news hit that AJ Foyt and Andretti Autosport brokered a deal that saw Ryan Hunter-Reay take Bruno Junqueira's ride in the 41 car, with RHR instead piloting the machine with both Foyt and Andretti sponsors on display.

The immediate reaction to hearing this for many of us is anger. This is the second time in three years Bruno has been yanked from a car after qualifying it. There’s the idea of fair play, and getting what you earn, not buying what you want.

That’s not to say it hasn’t happen before; Foyt certainly knew a few things about it in the day. Salt Walther once offered a tremendous amount of money in an attempt to buy his way into the field. Of course, there was Tagliani’s takeover of Bruno’s car for sponsorship reasons in 2009. History doesn't make it right, however.

People like to trot out the line “well, racing is a business”. True, but that business also relies on the fans’ perception of its worthwhile nature and integrity. And this sort of business is distasteful at best. Even if they might shrug their shoulders and say they understand the reasons, no one wants to see it. I'm sure this isn't anyone's at Foyt or Andretti's idea of a good time, either. Make no mistake: no one is happy about this. The sponsors don't want to deal with it, the teams would prefer it weren't this way, and you know Junqueira and Hunter-Reay would rather it be else wise.

At its worst, this sort of rug-out-from-under-you end-around hits at the integrity of Bump Day. What does the gutsy run of Alex Lloyd mean if the fellow who later gets bumped can buy his way in? Where’s the drama if we aren’t waiting for a last-minute run, but instead a day-after business transaction? These efforts, these battles, need to mean something, and not just to the teams who can’t afford a driver swap into the field.

Indianapolis qualifying has taken its share of scrapes and bruises over the years, but it is still a unique, wonderful event. I am fully against anything that would devalue it.

A part of me knows some of the realities of the situation. It tells me that you need to keep sponsors happy, and by doing this, Andretti Autosport may have saved dozens of jobs down the road for some wonderful people. (I know it isn't a situation I would have wanted to handle). And who knows? Perhaps this will give the IZOD IndyCar Series a chance to review the "car, not the driver" rules in place, or at least make rules to discourage this kind of dealing.

Indy’s bigger than any single driver or incident. It’ll get past it, as will most fans. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

“Junky” was saying all the right things, but just because he’s accepting doesn’t mean fans will be.

For Andretti and Foyt, two of the most storied names in all of IndyCar, they’ve lent their names to an ugly deal that flies in the face of competition and the sense of fair play. And it stinks, because people like Ryan Hunter-Reay, Larry Foyt, and others are among the best you’ll find. They aren't villains--they're people doing the best they can in an impossible situation. But this is absolutely, completely, and totally wrong--a slap to everyone who’s chosen to put in on the line to make the field at Indy, and to the fans who spent their money thinking they were seeing a do-or-die situation for EVERY driver, not just the ones with deeper pockets.

Perhaps it was Tony Kanaan yesterday who had the best quote on the situation after learning of Bruno’s fate.

“Some days,” Kanaan mused, “you’re the dog, and some days you’re the [fire] hydrant”.

Unfortunately, yesterday for Bruno, the sanctity of Bump Day, and the fans, it was the latter.

Monday, May 23, 2011

True Grit: Indy 500 Qualifications

After an eventful Pole Day and Bump Day that saw more twists and turns than trying to leave IMS after a race, I found myself pretty quietly walking back to my car in the Turn 3 infield. There was a lot to think about. What I will remember most about this weekend is the absolutely clutch, amazing performances we saw from drivers who put it all on the line to make this race. You want to talk about guts? Here's my countdown of the 7 gutsiest performances we saw all weekend:

7) Danica Patrick: It appeared for much of Bump Day that a failed tech inspection coupled with poor weather would doom her attempt to qualify at Indy. But the skies cleared, the track dried, and she ripped off the 2nd-fastest 4-lap average of Pole Day. When she finally got her shot, she made good on it.

6) Pippa Mann: Honestly, when I saw Pippa Saturday night and Sunday morning, she looked frazzled. I thought she had a bad case of the rookie yips. What she did instead was keep her cool and finish a remarkably consistent run of just under 224 mph--not bad for a team that seemed to have trouble putting together four solid laps in a row.

5) Paul Tracy: It was actually raining on Paul Tracy as he finished his qualifying run (as the checkered flag waved, the skies just opened up on the stands where I was sitting). He shook it off and became the best qualifier of Bump Day.

4) Marco Andretti: I'm sure Marco was hoping the circumstances would be different, but in an all-or-nothing run as the gun sounded on Bump Day, he finally showed speed good enough for fourth-quickest on the day. Along with Danica's effort, it was a bittersweet moment on a day where two Andretti drivers ended up on the outside looking in.

3) Alex Lloyd: I'm still not sure where Alex Lloyd found the speed for that last run; he admitted in an interview afterwards that the entire car was vibrating so bad he couldn't see on the last lap. He pulled every possible bit of speed out of a poor car in one of the greatest efforts I've seen at Indy. He truly earned his place in the Centennial Anniversary field.

I...had something in my eye right about this time. Shut up.
(Courtesy of IndyCar Media)
2) Alex Tagliani: The stands went insane on Tagliani's run in the shootout. When the final lap time was announced and we all realized he had won the Pole, most of us just absolutely lost it. Tagliani made up for disappointments the last two years, and became an instant crowd favorite in the process. He was cheered and happily greeted everywhere he went on Sunday, and it was well deserved. He could easily be considered #1 on this list, if not for...

1) Simona de Silvestro: 2nd-degree burns on bandaged hands. You could see the pain every time she took off her gloves. In the oldest tub in the field, Simona was down to her last attempt before she ripped off a 224+ average to make the field on Pole Day. The crowd absolutely adored her fight, her team's supreme effort, and absolutely the most amazing display of resolve and guts we've seen in some time at Indy. When she qualified, it was a pure celebration. A star was truly born, one that walked away from this weekend with so many more fans than when she started.

Really though, from Alex Tagliani to James Jakes, you have to give credit each driver on the 500 entry list. Whether they made it or not, they put it all on the line, and helped make this one of the most memorable Indy 500 qualification weekends in recent memory. Cheers to you all.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fast Friday: Trending Review

Happy Fast Friday! I'm headed out to the track today with my oldest daughter, but there's so much to discuss, I thought it was time for a little trending review. Below is a look at whose stock is rising, whose is falling, and who could go either way.

Of course, there's still plenty of time for teams to turn it all around (or lose it all), but here's how things stand before cars take the track for Fast Friday:

Way Up

Sam Schmidt Motorsports: The Schmidt Syndicate is doing well, with main drivers Alex Tagliani and Townsend Bell right at the top of the speed charts. Their "extended network" of drivers, such as Bertrand Baguette and Jay Howard, seem to be finding speed, too. Ally Dragon Racing remains a bit of a concern, but all in all, SSM is showing Penske and Ganassi they don't necessarily have the front to themselves.

Penske Racing: At the end of Thursday's session, Penske gave us a peek at what they could do, as Will Power went to session P1, Ryan Briscoe hit P3, and Helio Castroneves snagged P4. Yeah, I'd say they'll be ready for Pole Day.

Panther Racing: JR Hildebrand does not look like a rookie out there. Panther's team of Rice and Hildebrand could be one of the most potent combos this weekend and the next. Hildebrand has the 6th-fastest practice lap of the month so far, and that puts him in pretty good company. Rice has had a solid return thus far, and is looking like a Pole Day qualifier.

Sarah Fisher Racing: Ed Carpenter continues to look fast without a tow, which is great news for this team. A number of folks in Gasoline Alley seem impressed with this team, a perpetual underdog that's looking for their best-ever start at Indy. Let's see if they can keep this rolling and grab it.

Trending Upwards

Dan Wheldon: Wheldon didn't seem all that fast earlier in the week, but Thursday really seemed to show the Lionheart and BHA finding a bit of a groove. If the 2005 Indy 500 winner can keep this up, he and Bryan Herta should have a little bit of breathing room after Saturday.

Danica Patrick & John Andretti: The two Andretti Autosport drivers have both looked extremely comfortable so far this month. Danica's only put in 64 laps in the 7 car, but seems fast and at ease. The runs today that looked like a qualification simulation also seemed quick, which is a good sign. John Andretti also seems very comfortable and at ease this year, and I wonder if we won't see his best qualifying effort in some time.

In Limbo

Conquest Racing: On one hand, Pippa Mann broke 225 mph to land at P21 on Thursday, and seems to be continually showing progress. On the other hand, we've seen next to nothing out of Sebastian Saavedra so far, who's near the bottom . Right now, I'd be exceptionally skeptical of Conquest putting both cars in the show. We know Conquest wasn't bad at Indy last year, but this isn't last year, is it? 40-41 drivers changes things in a hurry.

Alex Lloyd: Reading Lloyd's comments and Twitter account, he seems a bit frustrated at the difficulty in finding the speed needing in the #19 BSA Coyne car. He did manage a 224.5 on the day, which is great progress over what he was running earlier, but only good for 28th-quickest on a day where 21 drivers hit 225 mph or more. Lloyd and the Dale Coyne crew have some work to do before quals, but if I had to have someone in that car working on it, it'd be Alex. He's going to be one of the most interesting drivers to watch today.

Trending Downwards

Mike Conway: Mike just can't seem to get anything out of that 27 car. He's turned over 130 laps in it, and it just doesn't seem to have much going for it. As with Tony Kanaan's struggles last year, Andretti Autosport is going to try like crazy to find a combo or solution to work, but even if Conway isn't sweating it, I am just a bit. Nothing's written in stone yet, but neither are the speeds in that car keeping pace with the field's progress.

AFS Racing: Rafa Matos has turned 146 laps, and his speeds are still only good for 40th on the combined practice standings. Rafa's quick at Indy, and AFS Racing has some good people on their crew, but it's going to be a fight for this team. I do think they have more in the tank than we've seen--don't write them off yet.

Way Down

HVM Racing: Brand-new car, gone. Driver, injured. Any chance of putting it in the field on Pole Day, finished. HVM has a lot to figure out after Simona de Silvestro's accident on Thursday. Their T-car is not exactly considered a speed demon, and the team has a lot of work to do. The big question: do they wait until Bump Day and go with Simona, or do they try to have a replacement driver qualify the car for her and then step aside for the race. If that T-car doesn't shape up,

Things aren't completely dire for HVM: they have one of the toughest drivers in the series in de Silvestro. If anyone can shake this one off and come back to put it in the field, she can. It's a tall order, but nothing's impossible when it comes to the Indy 500.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday Morning Indy 500 Thoughts

So far, it’s been pretty quiet for the week leading up to Qualifying Weekend out at the Speedway. Of course, the Ganassi cars have been impressive, but so has Alex Tagliani, both Panther drivers, and yes, Ed Carpenter. Other teams, like Coyne and Conquest, haven’t yet found the speed they’re looking for.

It’s so odd to think that 7 of these drivers are going home after Sunday, isn’t it? Right now, they’re all practicing, the livery is bright, the teams are pushing as hard as they can, and then after Sunday—boom. It’s over. It’s strange and a bit sad when you really think about it, but that’s Indy. Hopes and dreams will be realized at the same time others are dashed. It’s the reason I’m going to simultaneously love and hate Bump Day at about 6pm on Sunday.

Honestly, though, it’s still too early to see who’s really dialed-in. “Getting it” or “losing it” at Indy can happen quickly, and not always for any apparent reason. It’s common to make a snap judgment, especially out of impatience. But as I’ve said before, Indy’s going to make anyone who tries to predict just how things will go look foolish at least once during the month.

Wheldon and BHA are still ramping up, but look good doing it.
(IndyCar Media)

One important factor we need to consider is that both Pole Day and Bump Day might be at least 20 degrees hotter than most of practice so far. Of all the days this week, it’s looking like Fast Friday is going to be the closest temperature-wise to what we’ll see this weekend, but we’ll also have to see about cloud cover and rain.

As the temperatures warm in the next couple days, we might get a better idea of where some of these teams truly are. You’d expect the Penske and Target Ganassi drivers in the Top 9, but outside of that, it’s a crap shoot. Honestly, right now, Tagliani, Hildebrand, Rice, Carpenter, Servia, Baguette, Rahal, and several others have to be at least considered candidates, based on the limited amount we’ve seen so far. I also won't be surprised if Marco Andretti is the fastest Andretti Autosport qualifier--though where he lands in the pecking order is still a bit more hazy.

Hopefully the temps will rise, the sun will peek out, and the next few days will give us a bit more to talk about. A well-known fact to all IndyCar fans is that the work weeks before quals and the race itself are the longest ones of the year. You're not alone; hang in there!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lessons Learned: Indy 500 Opening Weekend

It was a soggy time of it for the Indy 500's Opening Day and Weekend, but we still got to see a bit of on-track action on Saturday before the rains came. Here's some lessons learned and observations from this weekend's experience:

-Ed Carpenter's got this place figured out like few drivers do. This could be an important year in the development of Sarah Fisher's team. Of course, the question we're all asking, if Ed can keep up the speed for Pole Day, does that #57 entry come into clearer focus?

-While we're talking about having a knack for Indy, what about Panther Racing? They looked solid early, and JR Hildebrand seemed more at home than I've seen him at any point this season. Buddy Rice also looked comfortable right out of the gate, good enough for 16th-fastest on a rain-shortened day. This team is going to be so much fun to watch the rest of this month.

-The Celebration of Automobiles was amazing, with both production and race cars represented from all eras of 1911-1961.  I'd love to see them do something this big each year; the hundreds of cars on display were nothing short of mind-blowing in some cases.

Too many cool cars to count!
-The Hot Wheels "Fearless at the 500" ramp is still under construction, but doesn't look like it should obstruct any views from the stands. It looks like H Stand through North Vista are all going to have a great view of the proceedings.

-A lot of teams were shaking down their T-cars on Opening Day. The final count included Dixon, Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Patrick, Hunter-Reay, Conway, Jakes, Hildebrand, de Silvestro, and all 3 Penske cars.

-Drivers like Tony Kanaan and John Andretti still get big cheers from the crowd. Ed Carpenter seems to have a lot of goodwill going for him as well. Of course, AJ Foyt is greeted as a legend should be.

-I went to Day 3 of Qualifying two years ago, and this crowd seemed much better than that one. No, it wasn't 50,000 people, but it was a pretty good-sized crowd for an Opening Day. We'll never get official statistics, but hopefully all the special Centennial events are playing into a healthy month for IMS.

Indy's Favorite.
-The Greatest 33 list came out this weekend. There's too many great drivers out there for me to argue too much about the choices, but it seems like in hearing the feedback, some folks picked their drivers on stats, some on soul. Personally, I believe Eddie Sachs is one of the drivers who has added to love and lore of Indy as much as any other, and I was disappointed to see him left off. There's more to Indy than just the Borg-Warner. The struggle and story in trying to get there is the biggest piece of it all for me.

-The Window World car of John Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay's Sun Drop/DHL car both really show well on the track. The colors absolutely pop on them both. Bruno Junqueira's "Coyote Red" scheme also looks really great out there, in a classic-design sort of way.

-The "cool factor" of the Speedway can't be overestimated. I took my younger daughter for the first time ever, and you could tell she was impressed with all the different cars and just how fast they made it around the track. Indy is just an amazing place, and I treasure every minute I get to spend there. That electric feeling never goes away. They definitely are doing their best to make the Centennial Anniversary even more special, and if there's any way for you to make it to the track for even a single day, do it. You won't be sorry, and you'll have the sort of memory that'll stick with you forever.

Ultimately, it's too early to glean many long-lasting insights about what the on-track action we've seen thus far. Nevertheless, an interesting opening weekend promises that much, much more is in store for us for the Centennial Anniversary Indy 500.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Preparing For Indy

Normally, living in the suburbs on the northeast side of Indianapolis as I do, I’m a commuter when it comes to the Indy 500. I drive back and forth for all the days I’m out at the track, including race weekend. This year, with gas prices higher and the schedule of activities larger than ever, I’m camping out for race weekend, having secured a spot in one of the yards in Speedway to call home base for the weekend.

There’s a few things I want to do this year that I normally don’t get to do. That said, I didn’t want to make my regimen too strict. Aside from attending the Firestone Freedom 100 and Pit Stop Competition on Carb Day and checking out the autographs and memorabilia show on AJ Foyt Day Saturday, I’ve left the weekend before the race open a bit. Here’s the things I hope I find a chance to do:

-Have at least one meal from Mug n’ Bun. It’s been far too long.

-Visit the good folks at Camp and Brew. I’ve never been able to go before, and it’d be nice to see some online pals in person.

-Walk Georgetown Road the night before the race, and observe the general madness.

-Listen to the Centennial Celebration series from WIBC on my mp3 player the evening before the race.

-Hit up a big breakfast the morning before the race. I hear good things about the American Legion by the track.

-Pray for no rain, or at least a window over Terre Haute.

-Scrounge up a shower at some point.

-Take pictures like there’s no tomorrow.

-Visit the IMS Museum again. With the special 500 Winner collection only there through this May, I’ll take every chance I can to see this once-in-lifetime opportunity.

-See if I can find something (affordable) pertaining to Eddie Sachs at the memorabilia show. Even though he was before my time, he’s become one of my favorite drivers, and probably the one I most wish I could have met.

-Get as many autographs of the legends and also-rans alike at the “World’s Largest Autograph Session” Saturday. Whether someone was a champion or whether they barely qualified in Row 11, they did something amazing, and I’d be pleased to meet them.

-Reread Al Bloemker’s 500 Miles To Go.

Honestly, though, my dream would be to be able to walk out on the track in the middle of the night before the race, just listening and thinking. I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to do so, but for me, with what a sacred and amazing place the Speedway is, I’d remember that for life.

It should be an amazing weekend of fun, but with it being the Centennial Anniversary, it’s also going to be a time for a little more thought and reflection. I should be far enough away from some of the craziness that hopefully only a small amount of my reflection won’t come when I’m trying to dodge projectile vomiting and cornhole beanbags (though playing some of the latter is definitely on my to-do list).

I think it’s important to make your traditions at Indy; whether you’re there one day or all month, whether you’re camping or commuting, whether you’re with friends in J-Stand or doing a driver pool with friends 1000 miles away, we can take the best of Indy and create our own stories around it.

Once Race Day arrives, I’ll be at my seat early as always. But for this year at Indy, I’m looking forward to incorporating my own new traditions with the old.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Six Quick Questions With Connor De Phillippi

Connor De Phillippi is one of the brightest young stars of the Star Mazda Championship. He's already won this season (at St. Pete), and adds that to a list of impressive accomplishments that include another win and 3 podiums in his rookie Star Mazda campaign in 2010. Going back further, this young American prospect won 21 karting titles by the age of 14, and later absolutely demolished the competition in the Skip Barber National Series, winning 7 of 14 races in 2009!

Today, Connor joins us for Six Quick Questions, where we discuss his current season, his friendship and rivalry with Conor Daly, and much more! I think you're going to really enjoy this one!

Thanks for joining us, Connor! Reflecting on your season so far, how would you grade it, and why?

CDP: Thank you for having me! This season has been relatively good so far. We are a new team, but going into this season we all had the same expectations. And those expectations were to win. As a team we've worked extremely hard in the pre-season and are continuing to do so through out this season. At the opening round in St. Pete my teammate and I came up a bit short in qualifying landing us in the p.2 and p.3 positions, but when it came to race time we performed well and pulled off the win. It was absolutely a picture perfect way to start the season. For the second race weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, we had been behind in our development of the car for that track so we struggled in pure speed, but when it came to the race we had a second place car. Unfortunately as I was coming through the field to pass for fourth, there was contact that required a pit stop and we ended up finishing in 10th position. So overall I'd rate our season thus far between a B and B+. We have performed but we need to continue to hone in on being focused and approach this championship race by race.

Image Courtesy Star Mazda
This is your second year in Star Mazda. Looking back to a year ago, do you see any areas where you've especially improved as a driver?

CDP: Truly I've developed so much over the past year. Going from a Skip Barber car to a Star Mazda car was a massive jump for me and there was a lot to be learned. From 2010 to 2011, I have definitely improved in two main areas. The first area that I've most improved in would be my understanding of the race car, and becoming really good at letting my engineer know what I feel the car needs. In 2010, I could communicate where the car may be understeering and going loose, but I could not distinguish whether it was an aerodynamic or mechanical understeer. Now for this 2011 season, I've become very knowledgeable with my understanding of each change on the car which has allowed me to develop the race car much better. The other area I feel I've become much better in would be the skill of managing a race. All the car racing I had done prior, it was pretty much drive at 100% for 30 minutes and try to win. When I moved up to Star Mazda, tire management was a very important skill I had to become superior at if I wanted to win races. So far in 2011, tire management has been one skill that has been a major improvement over the course of one season, and has also been a large contributor to our success so far this season.

The Star Mazda Championship seems very tightly contested this year, with a lot of quality prospects (with you definitely in the mix!). Do you think the reward of an Indy Lights scholarship to the Star Mazda Championship is stoking the fires of competition?

CDP: The Indy Lights scholarship has absolutely fueled the fire for competition! For any driver pursuing a career towards Indy Car, Star Mazda is one of the most competitive open wheel series' in North American. Yes, you can say the series has been very competitive for quite a while now, but now with the great amounts of foreign drivers coming here for that free Indy Lights ride, it has become even more intense. Although.... just because there are more foreign drivers does not mean us American drivers have no chance. They aren't superheros by any means ;)

Who are your favorite active drivers in INDYCAR overall, and why?

CDP: My favorite full time driver would have to be Will Power. He comes into each weekend and gets the job done. No excuses, no mistakes and doesn't complain. Exactly my kind of driver. I feel we relate in how race weekends are approached from the driving side and he is definitely a driver I look up to. He is also a driver I hope to get the chance to race against! Or shall I say get the chance to put him in my mirrors?

In an interview with us, Star Mazda Champ and Indy Lights driver Conor Daly said the battling you on the track is always "epic". Are you guys friends off the track, and to try yo get you in trouble here, which one of you is the better driver?

CDP: Well epic is one way to put it!--Haha. Conor and myself are very good friends and fierce competitors on the track. Last year he kicked me around quite a bit with his experience, but when I figured out the car towards the end of the season we were back to our old ways. Picking each other apart by tenths of a second!! It would of been a much more difficult season for him last year if I had the full year of experience like I do this year, but then again any driver can make up excuses all day. How about an Indy Car team owner puts us in two of there cars for a season and we can find out who is better?!

Where would you like to see yourself in terms of racing in the next 2-3 years

CDP: In 2-3 years a lot can happen, but my long term plans as of now would put me in IndyCar 3 years from now. Anything can happen, but ideally I'd like to be in Indy Lights for 2 years and then make a more experienced transfer to the IZOD IndyCar series. These next 2 years are very important to the driver development side of my career and will have a big effect on my future. First I have to get the job done in Star Mazda this season and then hopefully I'll have some exciting plans I can unveil later this year. Sounds like we will just have to do another interview later in the season to let you know more of the details!

Follow Connor De Phillippi this season and beyond via his website and on Twitter! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Indy 500 Quals: Prepare For War

It wasn’t too long ago having even one car imperiled on Bump Day was about all the drama we could manage. Now? Now we’re looking at 40 serious entries, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while.

Over and over, I’m struck at the overall quality of this field. Really, you can make a case for any entrants making the field, even among the rookies. Do they have a tougher hill to climb? Yes, but I wouldn’t count a single one out going into practice.

Honestly, is there not a plausible scenario for each driver in which they make this race? Scott Speed could do it, with his experience at high speed and long distances. Pippa Mann could do it, in a Conquest car that surprised us all last year. James Jakes could do it, ably assisted by a great teammate in Alex Lloyd.

I’m worried on Bump Day that some good drivers, drivers I respect and admire, are going home. And that’s exactly how Bump Day should be. We are in for an amazing round of qualifications this year. Hearts are going to be broken, plans upset, and even the best of us with our projected fields in tatters. The first three rows in quals won’t be what you’re expecting. Neither will Row 11.

Not having “The Unexpected” is the enemy of drama in racing. 40 drivers doing their damnedest to make the Centennial Anniversary 500, a stage like no other in this sport, and the whims and punishments of our historic cathedral of speed should ensure predictability won’t be in anyone’s vocabulary late afternoon on Bump Day.

We tend to gripe just a bit in this sport at times, and we all have things we wish were different or the way we’d prefer. When it comes to Indy, though, all that stuff seems to dwindle when in the scope of what we’re going to witness. There’s the drama of Indy, the joy of a once-in-a-lifetime celebration, and the excitement that we’re about to see the biggest knock-down, drag-out, brutal, no-holds-barred fight to make the field that we’ve seen in a long time. Prepare for all-out war, because that's what we fans are about to get.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Indy 500: Nothing Is Certain

This week, IndyCars will be on the track at Indy! You're going to have all manner of experts, prognosticators, and self-professed gurus telling you what's going to happen this month as 40+ drivers attempt to qualify and race at Indy.

Here's the thing: we have no freaking idea what's going to happen.

OK, not specifically. We know a Ganassi or Penske car will likely be on the pole--that's a gimme. But there aren't many drivers in this field you can look at and definitively state they have no chance in hell of making this race. Because they do, whether it's a rookie, veteran, big team, or Indy one-off. As Robin Miller would put it, we're not looking at many "wankers" in this field.

We all make picks and make our choices for our field of 33 because it's human nature and it's fun. But we're all going to be surprised at least a couple times this month. Indy is notorious for not giving a crap what you or I have as our "locks" when it comes to Pole Day, Bump Day, or the race itself.

That said, we know a few things that will probably happen, we just don't know the names. Here are my three main expectations I try to keep in mind when working on my own prognostications for this 500:

Someone You Expect To Struggle, Won't: There are plenty of rookies to go around this year, and many of them are expected to have at least some difficulty getting into the race itself. You can say the same for several of the smaller teams and their efforts to make the race. Yet 10 minutes after the final gun on Bump Day, we'll be scratching our heads, thinking, "How did they manage"?

2010 Example: Mario Romancini, Bertrand Baguette. Many folks figured 1 Conquest car would qualify at best. As it turns out, neither Romancini or the Breadman had much to worry about on Bump Day. Of course, there's also Sebastian Saavedra, who by an insane series of events found himself bumped in, back out, in, out, and finally in again.

Someone You Don't Expect To Struggle, Will: A good driver, possibly even a series regular, is going home. Crashes. Changing track conditions. The wrong setup. With 40+ drivers, the margin for error is much, much thinner than in previous years.

2010 Example: Paul Tracy. Most people had him safely in on Pole Day. After the team withdrew a time that would have seen him in the field, he couldn't find what he needed on his last run, and shockingly sat out the biggest race on the schedule. Tony Kanaan was also an absolute question mark until the very last minute, but squeaked in.

Someone's Finished Early: Even the most solid drivers can face catastrophe early at Indy. You have 33 drivers taking their IndyCars as fast as they can around an extremely unforgiving race track. It doesn't take much to see an early favorite out--even if it isn't entirely their fault.

2010 Example: Davey Hamilton, Lap 1. He qualified easily on Pole Day, but tangled with Tomas Scheckter before most of the crowd had even sat down. Bruno Junqueira would also be an unfortunate example--burning fast on Bump Day, but out of the race seven laps in.

Time for Indy. Enjoy the surprises. The Speedway's going to make most of us look like jackasses at some point this month; might as well enjoy it.

It's Indy: Expect the Unexpected
(Image Courtesy of IndyCar Media)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hot Sauce, Hot Contest For The 500

I'm an absolute gringo, a total lightweight, when it comes to my hot sauce. But in one of the most novel contests for this year's Indy 500, Cholula Hot Sauce is giving fans a chance to win a 2-foot tall bottle of hot sauce, t-shirts, and more.

This contest is easy to win--simply be at the track, and be passionate and crazy for the 500! If the Cholula reps single you out, you could be their fan of the day, featured on their website and on Facebook.

This is just one of the many contests going on all month for Indy, but if you're coming to the track, it might be one of the easiest to win!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Friday 15: Month of May Edition!

Again, on Fridays between races we’ll be taking a closer look at the Top 15 drivers in terms of points. Some we expected to see, like Ryan Hunter-Reay (23rd), are still fighting to find their way. On the other hand, there are still some great stories and competitors who are a lot higher in the standings than most of us anticipated just a few months ago. Let’s see who our Top 15 in IZOD IndyCar Series championship points are going into The Greatest Spectacle In Racing (man, does it feel good to type that!):

(As always, drivers are listed with points behind leader, followed by position change from the last update in red)

1) Will Power, 168 points (+1)
Everything is gravy for Power on the twisties, whether he wins by speed or strategy. If he can master a couple of ovals this year, he’s going to be in great shape. He’ll be fast at Indy—and if you need to win on some ovals, that’d be a great one to have as your first.

2) Dario Franchitti, -14 (-1)
I swear, I remember Dario going into the tires at one point during this race, I really do. How did he come back to finish 4th? I think it might have ties to the JFK Assassination, The Mothman Prophecies, and (of course), the Loch Ness Monster. I really do.

3) Oriol Servia, -58 (+1)
The series missed out on a great driver in not having Servia in the series last year. He’s more than making up for it this year, though. In a year where almost no one in showing any kind of consistently, Servia is showing them how it’s done.

4) Mike Conway, -66 (+1)
The first four races of the year have been night and day for Conway. He’s been golden the last two, with a win and a crazy charge back to towards the front of the field after starting 20th on the restart. It looks like the promise he showed before his crash last year didn’t go anywhere, and is now being fulfilled.

5) Ryan Briscoe, -67 (+3)
This wasn’t the start to the season Briscoe wanted, but much like Conway, he’s picked it up the last couple of races. A good Month of May could help close the gap and bump him back up on the verge of championship competition.

6) Tony Kanaan, -69 (-3)
Brazil didn’t go as Kanaan hoped, but he’s still in pretty good shape heading into Indy. (Incidentally, did you know the #82 decal is now available through the IndyCar and IMS store? I do, because I grabbed one for the back of my car. Now that I have done so, I promptly expect my bad luck to follow him to Indy. Sorry, TK).

Brazil: Less fun for some than others.
7) Alex Tagliani, -83 (-1)
Before the season started, Tag promised his team would be a “headache” for the bigger teams. With Sam Schmidt Motorsports, he’s making good on that promise. He got knocked around a bit in Brazil, but he’s shown he’s going to be a charger on any road/street course on the schedule.

8) Scott Dixon, -84 (-1)
Dixon’s been more vocal than previous years in speaking out on what he sees on the track, but his performance has perhaps been the quietest of any driver in the Top 10. He’s got some serious work to do if he wants another series championship.

9) Graham Rahal, -86 (+12)
That’s more like what many of us hoped to see from Young Rahal this year. I’m pretty sure Graham would be fine if the series raced in the rain every week.

10) Takuma Sato, -88 (+3)
Man, I thought he had it.

11) Simona de Silvestro, -90 (-2)
Simona’s bad luck early on destroyed what might have been an intriguing race for her. Remember, she had the fastest lap of the Sao Paulo race. Is this team improved on the ovals? We’re about to find out.

12) Vitor Meira, -91 (-2)
Vitor’s string of good finishes came to an end, but how awesome was it to see AJ Foyt working on this car, trying to get him ready to go back out during the red flag? A disappointing finish for the team, who couldn’t duplicate their success in Brazil from a year ago.

13) Marco Andretti ,-98 (+2)
This is at least the third race I can think of in the last two years where the wrong call on strategy spoiled a potential podium or even victory for Marco. Apparently, the ol’ Andretti Luck is not an easy thing to shake.

14) Justin Wilson, -98 (+4)
Right now, Justin Wilson must be feeling like Helio Castroneves has made it his mission in life to jack up his season. Wilson recovered nicely from that pit incident to net a Top 10, but Dreyer and Reinbold still aren’t having what you’d call a dream season.

15) Danica Patrick, -99 (-4)
Danica seemed none too eager to head back out in the conditions during the Sao Paulo race. But, she finished, keeping her streak of not having a DNF alive. Still, she’ll be happy to be back on more terra firma for her with a visit to Indy.

Out of the Top 15 this week? Helio Castroneves (17th from 14th) and Raphael Matos (18th from 12th). Brazil was not kind to Brazilians.

Have a great weekend, and remember, next week we WILL have IndyCars on the track in Speedway!

(Image courtesy of IndyCar Media)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

So Whom Should Replace Trump?

EDIT: It sounds like 4-time Indy 500 winner AJ Foyt will be the pace car driver this year!I wrote this piece before the news broke.

By now, the news is spreading like wildfire that Donald Trump has been removed as pace car driver for this year’s Indy 500. Given the pressure by fans to do so, it’s not surprising to see it happen.

So now the question is, who should be in that pace car when it leads the field to the flag on May 29?

There’s definitely a sentiment to have Rick Mears, Al Unser, or AJ Foyt in that car. They’re the great 4-time champions of Indy. Other legends, such as Mario Andretti, have also been discussed. Certainly putting one of our 500 legends in the track is not a bad idea at all.

On the other hand, others want a star in the car. Someone famous, possibly a TV or movie star of some variety. I don’t mind this as much, though I think Indy has already received more than their share of media attention over their Trump choice.

Honestly, my choice would be one of our servicemen, possibly one that has won our one of our nation’s highest honors, such as the Medal of Honor itself.

We’ve had our controversy, we’ve had our stars. I think for the Centennial Anniversary, putting a veteran in the car would be a proper tribute and reminder that this a Memorial Day race. Let’s put one of our nation’s finest front-and-center. We can’t ever thank our veterans enough for their service, but having a hero in the pace car would be a fine start.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The IndyCar Aerokit Debate (In Summation)

The owners do not want differing aero kits in 2012.

Most fans, it seems, do.

As I type this, the sentiment is running about 90/10 (or higher) in favor of allowing differing aero kits in 2012.We're hearing the same from drivers, and I have to think the 2012 engine manufacturers will want the same. I personally think we need to keep this open; if the owners don’t want to diverge from the Dallara aero kit, that’s fine. But if Foyt Racing or Ganassi wants to run a different aero kit, nothing should stop them from having to do so. While I don’t want Randy Bernard to disregard owner input entirely, he has to understand fans want (some would say "need") this. The IZOD IndyCar Series needs these kits, not only for the hardcore fan, but for the casual racing fan as well. More variables, more strategies, more aesthetic factors mean more interest, more depth.

That said, I’m not an owner. I can’t tell them how to spend their money. But neither do I want them dictating to the series how others can spend theirs.

I’m eager for new engine manufacturers in 2012. But as a fan, I’m also excited to see different aero kits come into play. I hope that happens by May of next year at the latest. We can't be afraid of failure; we have to be excited for progress and innovation.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Unpredictability Of It All

If there’s one thing the Indianapolis 500 teaches us, it’s to never take any victory or success for granted.

-Ralph DePalma, in command of the race in 1912 when his car broke down, and he attempted to push it home to the finish as Joe Dawson sped by for the victory.

-Parnelli Jones, blowing the field away in 1967 when an inexpensive, $6 part broke, ensuring AJ Foyt would win his third 500.
Ralph knew a thing or two about Mercurial Indy.

-Buddy Lazier, qualifying an outclassed tub in 2008, ragged edge all the way.

-Last year’s Bump Day madness, with Sebastian Saavedra crashing his car, getting bumped out repeatedly, only to learn in the hospital he improbably made it in when Paul Tracy and Jay Howard fell short in the waning minutes.

Right now, there’s a lot of discussion over who’s going to make this field, and who’s going home outside the 33. If I were to ask a normal 500 fan last year which drivers would be on the outside looking in after Bump Day, plenty of lists would have looked a lot like this:

Mario Romancini
Bertrand Baguette
Sebastian Saavedra
Milka Duno

So Duno was a pretty safe bet, but the other 3 made it in the race, Romancini and Baguette in relative comfort.

This year’s list for a lot of people probably includes plenty of rookies, one or two of the backmarker teams; the usual suspects, as it were. It’s easy to pick the drivers that perhaps shouldn’t make it, based on what we know of the odds.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway doesn’t care about odds.

The only thing for certain for this year 500 quals, as the needle moves ever closer to 40 entries, is that some good teams are going home disappointed, some improbable entries are going to make the field, and the field of 33 that takes the flag this year will be nothing like the one we first envisioned.

I’m thrilled it’s May, ecstatic I have an entire month of Talk of Gasoline Alley on air, and am so very ready for Indy to throw us all another curveball.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rain Delay

Normally this morning would see an article full of recapping the weekend's race, but the Itaipava Sao Paulo 300 yesterday ran afoul of mother nature, and was rescheduled for today. This won't in any way be good for the ratings, but it happens in racing.

What puzzled me yesterday as I followed along online (Facebook and Twitter) was the absolute anger that many people seemed to have for the red-flagging and postponement of the race. Some of that, I think, is natural disappointment and wanting to lash out at something, but seriously, a lot of the racefan rage was totally misguided.

Of course, it didn't help that there was confusion regarding the postponement of the race. But the anger started well before that.

It seems silly to even have to say, but IndyCar has no control over it raining. Raining happens in racing. Sometimes it's a drizzle and you can race, other times it's a monsoon and you can't. It's not anyone's fault, and anyone who's attended Indy in the Month of May knows rain is a part of racing life. It isn't a personal affront to you, it's not a generally manageable thing, and it's something you just have to learn to accept. Races. Get. Wet. 

Every true racing fan hates raining; IndyCar was no happier yesterday than any fan out there. But it isn't a cause for doom and gloom, it doesn't signify the end of the series, and we'll have plenty more great races ahead. Shake it off, put it behind you, and move on.

Relax. It's the Month of May, of the year of the Centennial Anniversary of the Indy 500. Enjoy the great stuff that's to come. And don't let a bit of cruddy weather in Brazil make you lash out at a lot of folks who were just as bummed yesterday as you were.

As James Hinchcliffe said yesterday, "We can control many things, Mother Nature isn't one of them".

And I believe for many of us the news event of last night perhaps reminded us how little and small some of our issues and problems are. We're lucky to be alive, be able to support a wonderful sport and hobby, whatever speed bumps we encounter along the way. Perspective can be an awesome thing. Now let's celebrate the hell out of what this month and this sport has to  offer.
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