Friday, July 29, 2011

Personality Is King

This week, I thought we’d can the Friday Fifteen for the week (not a ton of movement after Edmonton, really), and instead focus on another subject.

Around a week ago, somewhere between someone arguing against the SAFER barrier and the normal talk about schedules and seats, I asked members at Track forum to answer a survey about the #1 reason they cheered for a driver. They could vote for one and only one top reason for cheering for a particular driver:

Here were the results as of the time I’m posting this:

Personality: 49.57%
Talent: 19.66%
Other: 14.54%
Nationality: 9.40%
Team Affiliation: 5.98%
Sponsorship: 0.85%

What I think is interesting is that for all the debate about whether or not a driver belongs on the series on “talent” or wanting more Americans in open wheel, it seems that just about half the respondents saw personality as most important. I think in a lot of ways, it mirrors how the fan/driver relationship has really evolved in the past few years. It’s not that these other things are important, but that we have a chance to hear from our drivers and see a bit more of what they choose to share with us on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media. We can catch up with Pippa Mann, Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe, Martin Plowman, or any one of the multitude of other drivers that have elected to use that medium. It gives us a sense of connection, and I think a greater sense of the human aspect of each driver.

Pippa has been an expert at showcasing personality online.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Of course, some would argue, online personas can be a fa├žade, which is quite true. But with IndyCar being one of the most fan-friendly sports out there in terms of access, I can go to a race and have a pretty good shot at meeting at least a couple of drivers.

As an example, as regular readers know, my daughter has been able to meet Pippa Mann a couple of times and thinks the world of her, because she took a few minutes to talk to her and feel special. She was happy she made the Indy 500, and always wants to know what’s going on with her. When Alex Tagliani took a few moments to compliment her and take a few pics with her, that was a fan connection well made.

TK, Hinch, Pippa—all these drivers have distinct personalities, and moreover, they feel real to us. They feel like authentic people, if that makes sense, not some cipher mumbling into the mic after another finish. I don’t even think “personality” has to mean a particularly pleasant personality at times—AJ Foyt was idolized all through his rampages through the years, and with Scott Dixon calling drivers out and dropping some curse bombs here and there, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the attention he’s been receiving.

I do think there has to be a balance—you can’t have 100% personality and 0% talent, nor the other way around. As an example, Nigel Mansell had all the talent in the world, but I never liked his attitude, and couldn’t cheer for him. Conversely, Milka Duno was an absolute sweetheart and wonderful with fans, but a total embarrassment on the road courses.

One of the great things about IndyCar is that you can find a valid reason to cheer for talent, nationality, team, or any one of a dozen other descriptors. But it seems like for many fans, personality is #1, even if talent and these other items still factor. Personality might be king, but it doesn’t reign alone.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Couple Of Thoughts On Versus IndyCar Coverage

Dear Versus,

Here’s a few thoughts from a pretty loyal viewer of the Versus IZOD IndyCar Series coverage:

-I love the fact that I can tune in early on a Sunday and watch the Lights race, as well as a comprehensive pre-race show. An IndyCar race should be an “event”—not a two-hour contractual obligation that barely joins the race before the green flag. If I tune in a half-hour before the flag drops, I want to see Tony Kanaan being interviewed or last week’s race being recapped—not an infomercial for a Veg-O-Matic or Miracle Bra.

-I know a lot of folks are down on Robin Miller, but he’s been insightful and well-behaved on the broadcasts. He adds a deep knowledge base, an insider/familiar feel with many of the drivers, and a bit of humor besides.

-In fact, I really think your entire broadcast team right now, from Kevin Lee to Lindy Thackston, is really doing a great job. I love it when Dan Wheldon jumps in there—he’s an absolute natural.

-If Wheldon isn’t available, it was sort of neat when you brought Graham Rahal in after his early crash to do some commentary. I know you can’t always do that, but it is nice hearing that driver point of view.

-The “Professor B” segments are excellent, and I hope you keep them around.

-Speaking of Miller, I love the Grid Walk/Grid Run, but it needs more time, and the back-and-forth of two hosts. Allot a solid 4-5 minutes for it, and work on going back and forth between Miller and Wheldon or another individual.

-I think the series is doing a pretty good job of just not focusing on the same 4-5 cars, but it would be nice to see 1-2 backmarkers highlighted or interviewed a bit more now and again. It is time for sponsors, helps show the diversity of the series, and can create some underdogs for folks to cheer for.

-I hear that some new graphics are perhaps in the works, but I’d like to see the segment times in qualifying, F1-style. I’d also like the graphic of when Race Control is looking at an incident. I’m no big F1 fan, but it’s two things they do quite well.

-Don’t shy away from showing the IndyCar legends. We got to hear from A.J. Foyt this past Sunday, which was cool. Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Johnny Rutherford, and other legends have a place in or around the series. They might be occupied with their other jobs, but it’s nice to make that link to the glorious past and the present/future.

All in all, I appreciate the job you’re doing—there’s still kinks and some production snafus, but I think things are on the right track. I know that people look at .39 ratings and scoff, but the point is, INDYCAR has a dedicated broadcast partner, and one that’s doing a bang-up job overall. Best of all, the ratings are going up. Now they just need to keep doing so.

Bottom line? I love IndyCar, and love that it feels like your broadcast team does, too.

Keep up the good work, Versus.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Edmonton Indy Recap

That's the Will Power we expected.

After his nearest competitor Ryan Hunter-Reay had to serve a penalty, Power blew ahead of the field at the Edmonton Indy race on Sunday. However, Helio Castroneves stalked him the entire last third of the race, making Power work for this one. But when the checkered flag waved, it was Helio in second, and Will Power atop the podium once more.

It was a relatively clean, well-officiated race, which most folks were ready for after the headaches of Toronto.

Let's take a look at some of the other big stories from the weekend:

A Penske Sort Of Weekend: Penske swept 1-2 at Edmonton, and even though Ryan Briscoe had to make a splash n' go fuel stop on the last lap, trading P4 for P10, they looked strong all weekend. We also saw some tremendous pit stops from the team. Better still for Penske, Dario Franchitti dropped back after avoiding an accident to P13, but he did recover very well to finish on the podium in third. Scott Dixon was out of contention early. The Penskes were up this week, and the Ganassis somewhat down overall. All in all, it was the sort of weekend the Penske team desperately needed.

Dixon's Drama: We watched Scott Dixon sit in the cockpit after contact with EJ Viso, waiting for his team to fix his destroyed radiator. When he emerged, it was 5 laps down, finishing in P23. He took a nasty hit in the points, but still managed to maintain P3 in the standings overall, albeit over 100 points behind his teammate. He had threatened to take out Viso in his return to the track, but there was no retribution.

Power closed the gap on Dario, but needs to keep it going.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
PT's Early Day: Another early out for Paul Tracy, who had a run-in with Graham Rahal right off the bat. This was a terrible Canadian swing for PT, and you have to wonder how many more chances he'll see in this series. The thing of it is, this one was not his fault; it was a chain-reaction, initiated by Tagliani, who ran into Rahal, who went off, came back on, and collected Tracy. It was a shame for a crowd that definitely wanted to see PT do well.

Broadcast: There were some unfortunate early track PA issues, but overall, it was good coverage once again. The Grid Walk/Grid Run needs to not be a 2-minute afterthought; allot a solid 5-7 minutes for it. Additionally, Versus did a nice job getting of getting Graham Rahal in the booth for driver analysis after his early out.

(Interestingly, I couldn't help but notice Danica Patrick was not discussed that much during the broadcast, except when relevant on-track. What a change from just a year or so ago!).

Penalties Galore: We definitely saw some black-flagging Sunday. Mike Conway and Alex Tagliani each served penalties for avoidable contact. RHR was Will Power's closest competition early, but after colliding with Sato, had a penalty of his own. All in all, it was a less messy race than Toronto, and was especially clean in the last half.

Dale Coyne's Upward Trend: Despite a brief off-road jaunt, Dale Coyne's Sebastien Bourdais managed to finish P6, his second Top 10 of the day. James Jakes started and finished P18, but had a clean race. If Coyne can keep it up, the second half of their season is promising to be a much happier one than the first.

Good Days Overall: Tony Kanaan and Justin Wilson finished P4 and P5, respectively, and had a couple of nice mentions in the broadcasts as they moved their way through the field. It was a display of two professionals racing clean and hard--may we continue to see that. Ryan Hunter-Reay recovered from his penalty to finish P7, and teammates Mike Conway and Danica Patrick seemingly came from nowhere to grab P8 and P9.

Viso/Sato: EJ Viso ended up tearing out the side of Scott Dixon's car, and Takuma Sato was a victim of RHR's aggressive moves. It was a rough result for KV Racing's two junior drivers, but that seems to be the story of their season.

Lights Update: The Edmonton doubleheader for Firestone Indy Lights was a blast, with Esteban Guerrieri beating out Joseph Newgarden in the first race for his first series victory. However Guerrieri had to come in for damage in the second race, and lost ground to Newgarden overall (-63 points behind in the standings). Meanwhile, Peter Dempsey (along with teammate Stefan Wilson) picked up another podium on the weekend for Andretti Autosport. We'll have to see if it's enough for him to continue with the team.

Meanwhile: If you didn't hear about Star Mazda this weekend, JV Horto picked up his first series victory. Tristan Vautier kept his points lead, but Connor de Phillippi is only six points behind him, and his teammate Nick Andries is only eight behind de Phillippi. Horto and Sage Karam are one and two points behind Andries, making for a championship chase that just keeps getting closer and more exciting.

Next up, the IZOD IndyCar Series takes a week off before heading Mid-Ohio.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Edmonton Indy Preview

The second round of IndyCar’s Canadian tour kicks off, and it promises to be an interesting stop. A new course layout, uneasy tempers, and some drivers fighting to regain lost points should guarantee plenty of action. Here's a few of the storylines we'll be following this weekend:

A 2-For-1 Sale: Indy Lights are making it twice as nice this weekend, with a pair of races scheduled instead of the usual one. Canadian Daniel Morad steps in at Team Moore for race winner Victor Garcia, who is apparently a victim of a poor Spanish economy. Daniel Herrington is subbing again for Conor Daly in the SSM #77 car, and Peter Dempsey competes once again with Andretti Autosport in the #26. Keep on the slightly mysterious Goree Motorsports, who will be running Canadian Tyler Dueck in series debut. This will also mark the Lights debut of 18 year-old Stefan Rzadzinski, whom has a tremendous story I urge everyone to check out.

Haters Gonna Hate: For all the talk about hatred and anger after the Great Toronto Snafu of ’11, some folks might be disappointed if this is a milquetoast affair. For what it’s worth, I think we’ll see a bit more acrimony this week, and possibly talk of “payback” if certain drivers find themselves spun at some point.

Rivalry: Will Power is now the last hope for any anti-Ganassi IndyCar fans. Will he be able to outduel Dario this week, or is this the week Franchitti runs away with yet another championship. Meanwhile, Scott Dixon remains less than a fan of Ganassi teams that don’t start with “Target Chip”. Will someone get a leg up on someone else this week, and how will the rivals react?

New Course, New Hope: The Cotman redesign of Edmonton should offer some good speed, and it looks like some nice passing zones as well. It’ll be exciting to see how it pans out, with everyone racing on this configuration for the first time. It could be an equalizer among the top teams that are already pretty closely bunched together in terms of twisty course performance.

O Canada: Paul Tracy, James Hinchcliffe, and Alex Tagliani all had setbacks at Toronto. Will one of them answer the call at Edmonton to give Canada a winner in IndyCar this year? One thing’s for sure: all of them need a cleaner race than we saw at Toronto to make it happen.


Do it for the fans, Hinch.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
 More Tracy Fallout: The entire business in regards to Paul Tracy’s Trackforum account being hacked and the comments made on that account in regards to Randy Bernard continues. Will we hear anything further this weekend? I think it’s got to be explained or at least covered during the broadcast, which will just add another chapter in the latest incident for open wheel’s most contentious driver.

Powering Up: I usually just expect Will Power to win on the road/street courses, but obviously that’s not how Toronto played out. Will needs to maximize his victories on the twisties if he’s going to have a chance of catching Franchitti in the points battle. Let’s see if a return to dominance is in the cards.

Andretti’s Next Chance: Andretti Autosport has been perceived as being in a downturn for some time, but outside their struggles at Indy, this year really hasn’t been that awful overall. Marco Andretti and Mike Conway have each won a race already, matching the team’s win total from last year. If Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti, or Conway can grab a win or more podium results this weekend, it’ll be another sign that this team is running with the big dogs.

Enjoy the race, and we’ll meet back here Monday to discuss!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Excited For Edmonton

Why am I so excited for Edmonton, you ask? Aside from the potential for Will Power to put the Aussie Sleeper Hold on Dario if there's another "racing incident", check out the track preview:



That Turn 11/12, followed by the straight, followed by the hairpin, is going to be all sorts of fun.

And....there's this:

New Track Plays To Newman/Haas Strengths.

You could probably throw SSM in there, as well. Either way, I think we're for some underdog action, some emotion, some drama, and a good bit of speed and passing with this track layout. Tony Cotman, it's looking good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

BATracer and Tempers

I'm what most people call a "slow fuse" (admittedly, some just call me "slow", but let's not dwell on that right now). I handle most things pretty good-naturedly, but when I really get upset, I blow up.

I just started playing BATracer, that fun online racing management sim, and it's been a good time so far. I picked a slow team and have been learning my way, but I usually nab a few points each race.

Yesterday evening, while washing dishes, I got the email notifying me my BATracer session had advanced, and that I could view the race results. As I clicked through the lap-by-lap rundown, I was actually up to P3 about halfway through when--BANG--another driver crashed into me and ended my day. Finished in the 20s, no points.

Alone in my kitchen, I let out a singularly unpleasant epithet.

This was an online game.

My car crashed by a relatively random computer algorithm.

Yet here I was, genuinely ticked off for that some clown had crashed into me.

I had just about nothing invested in it, and it still provoked an irritated (albeit exceedinly short-lived) reaction.

30 seconds later, I was over it. But it did make me think: here am I, getting irate over a collision in an online racing game. How much more irritable would someone be if they were taken out in something that meant the world to them?

Suddenly, Will Power calling Dario Franchitti "princess" and a legion of folks "wankers" didn't seem all that unreasonable, if indeed it ever had.

I'm betting the sting on that one lasts a lot more than 30 seconds. It should be a very interesting week leading up to the Edmonton race. Bring the popcorn.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Friday 15: Mid-Canadian Stint Edition

As usual, with Fridays that aren’t part of an IndyCar race weekend (boo!), it’s time to take a look at the Top 15 drivers in the IndyCar points standings. Points behind is noted, with +/- position change since the last installment in red. Things are definitely a little more static towards the top this week, so you'll probably start to see more gradual changes to the point standings. You may well note some minor snark, but we won’t be calling anyone a wanker. We’ll leave that to the pros.

1) Dario Franchitti, 353 points, (Unchanged)
There aren’t a metric ton of hardcore IndyCar fans at my work (something I keeping working to change), but two of them came up unsolicited and said less than flattering things about their irritation with Dario and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Could it be…we have a “heel” (in wrestling terms) for IndyCar? Some of the attitudes I’m hearing from fans remind me of when folks were cheering against the “almost perfect” 2008 New England Patriots.

2) Will Power, -55 points (Unchanged)
Will’s tirade against Dario and Race Control will not soon be forgotten, but neither should be the fact that he’s a couple more bad finishes away from being realistically out of the overall championship hunt. With Edmonton looking more and more like it’ll be a crash-filled grudge match, managing to stay clean there will be a must.

3) Scott Dixon, -83 points (Unchanged)
Scott Dixon’s comments last weekend give us the idea that Target Chip Ganassi and Service Central Chip Ganassi aren’t exactly buddy-buddy. He still doesn’t have a win on the year, but he’s a threat every week. Apparently, he’s also a threat if Graham Rahal gets in his way.

4) Oriol Servia, -121 points (Unchanged)
Simply put, Servia is not getting enough airtime on Versus or ABC given the fact he’s a contender each week and is P4 in the standings. Let’s see some more of those Telemundo sidepods, if you please.

5) Tony Kanaan, -132 points (Unchanged)
It was a rough week for Tony and KV, but you don’t get the feeling it hurt the lightning in the bottle they’ve seemed to catch so far this year. When TK is a threat to win most weeks, I think the series is better and more interesting for it.

6) Ryan Briscoe, -134 points (Unchanged)
Briscoe was the lone bright spot for Penske in Toronto. The last two races have seen better results for him, but this team still just seems off this year, if not downright snakebit at times.

7) Marco Andretti, -137 points (+1)
Marco didn’t endear himself to many of his fellow drivers with a late incident, but he manned up and took the blame for it. It partially obscured a great drive all the way to 4th place for Marco, after starting well towards the back. Who else loved the Dr. Pepper livery, by the way?

8) Graham Rahal, -145 points (-1)
Graham’s late tangle with Scott Dixon at Toronto cost him a spot in the standings and probably another podium finish. Despite that, he’s really coming into form lately. It should be an exciting rest of the season to see if he can make that jump.

9) JR Hildebrand, -160 points (Unchanged)
Hildebrand kept it relatively clean and finished well in Toronto, something many of the veterans couldn’t claim. He also extended his Rookie lead over James Hinchcliffe. When Hildebrand is on his game, he really does look like a seasoned vet out there.

10) Alex Tagliani, -180 points (Unchanged)
It’s sounding better and better that Tag has a secured seat for this year and beyond, but we still don’t have “official official” confirmation on any sort of a deal. In other news, apparently Tag and Will Power are still buddies, despite Tag being the first entry on Will’s “wanker” list.

11) Danica Patrick, -180 points (Unchanged)
Danica’s No-DNF finish streak looked to be in jeopardy late last Sunday, but apparently someone found a wing for her car and so she got back in and finished. Does anyone else think she just doesn’t look like she’s enjoying life right now?

12) Helio Castroneves, -181 points (Unchanged)
The year Helio would just as soon forget continues. Two steps forwards, one step back.

13) Vitor Meira, -182 points (+3)
Vitor jumped up three spots thanks to a P5 last weekend. It was made all the more impressive by the fact he had early contact, but the way the Toronto went, who didn’t have contact?

14) Takuma Sato, -186 points (-1)
Taku’s ramming of Danica Patrick is going to be lumped in under KV Racing’s pretty awful outing at Toronto Sunday. Lapses are frustrating when you know a driver can be fast, but this season is beginning to resemble the horrors of 2010 again.

15) James Hinchcliffe, -195 (Unchanged)
Like many other drivers at Toronto, Hinch found a potentially very good finish taken away by a late incident. He actually lost a bit of ground to JR Hildebrand in the Rookie of the Year fight, but he’s still right in the thick of it.

Dropping out of the Top 15? That’d be Mike Conway, down 2 spots to P16. Meanwhile, outside the Top 15, our big gainer among the full-time drivers was Ryan Hunter-Reay—after his Toronto podium finish, he’s up 2 spots to P18. Both of those Andretti drivers are capable of winning or podium finishes in the next few races, so keep an eye out for them to jump up if they can just stay clear of the chaos.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Star Mazda's Still Rocking It: The Top 5

If you haven't been following the Star Mazda Championship this year, you've missed some great racing. With Sage Karam fresh off two consecutive victories, the championship has been knotted up tighter than ever. With 6 races left, it's still anyone's championship, and with a Firestone Indy Lights scholarship on the line, it matters more than ever.

Star Mazda's not back on track until July 21, so I thought this would be a good time to check out the Top 5 championship contenders so far this year:

1) Tristan Vautier, 185 points
Victories: 1
Podiums: 2
Poles: 1

Vautier was the only driver aside from Conor Daly to win more than single round of Stat Mazda last year, and he's been even better this year. Inconsistency doomed him last year; this year, after his win at Barber he's finished P4 in the last three races. Consistency's great, but he'll need to start finishing a little higher if he wants to stay on top.

2) Sage Karam, 177 points
Victories: 2
Podiums: 3
Poles: 1

After starting the season with two races he'd love to have back, Karam has won the last two races in excellent form, including a dominant performance at Iowa. He continues to look stronger in every race, and if that keeps up, he's going to be tough to stop.

3) Connor De Phillipi, 171 points
Victories: 2
Podiums:2
Poles: 1

It's been feast or famine for CDP, but he was ridiculously fast at Lucas Oil this May. If he doesn't find his way up to the top, his tire issue with 5 laps to go at Iowa is going to be a key moment. He still has to be a favorite to take home the championship, but the battle between CDP, Vautier, and a surging Karam should be epic.

4) Nick Andries, 168 points
Victories: 0
Podiums: 3
Poles: 1

Andries hasn't taken the trip to the top of the podium this year, but he's been right in the thick of it, week in and week out. He started last at Iowa, but worked his way up to 7th with a determined drive. The podiums are great, but poles and wins are what's going to move him up to the very top. You get the feeling any week now might be his week.

5) Martin Scuncio, 160 points
Victories: 0
Podiums: 2
Poles: 1

The young Chilean won the first pole of the season, but it's been an inconsistent year after that. Poor finishes at Barber and Iowa are the largely the difference between him and the drivers in front of him. He's not out of the running yet, but he'll need some consistent podiums and some luck to make it to the top.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

NASCAR’s Loss Could Be IndyCar’s Gain

By now, most race fans have heard of the debacle at Kentucky Speedway this past weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. Hours of traffic, sitting on the interstates and exits. Possibly pwards of 20,000 ticket-holding fans missing the race due to lines stretching back for miles. I can only imagine how angry some of those fans had to be.

Fortunately, SMI is offering Kentucky fans who were stuck in traffic the chance to redeem their NASCAR ticket for one for the IZOD IndyCar and Firestone Indy Lights events in October. What's more, they can still redeem their IndyCar admission ticket at Kentucky for a ticket to the Las Vegas season finale.

I know not all of them will come back out to Kentucky, but I hope a nice number of them do. Not just because I want the race to do well, because I want them to see what a friendly, fan-accessible series with great racing can be like. Kentucky is usually a pretty good show, so hopefully they'll see some of the best INDYCAR has to offer that weekend. Let's hope the series pulls out all the stops. After sitting on the highway for half a day for a race they didn’t even get to see, they deserve that much.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dear IndyCar: A Toronto Recap

In the closing laps of the Toronto Honda Indy 200, I asked the question on Twitter, "are you happy with the results of this race?"

Here's a sampling of responses from IndyCar fans:

"Not here...league protecting TCGR and losing fans at the same time"


"Not sure. Wouldn't be an issue if a penalty was really never called".


"I don't see how anyone can... Unless you are Brian France and want to see @IndyCar go away".


"OH HELL NO"!


"NO!!!! I seriously have such a hatred growing for Dario and CGR. Makes me not even want to watch rest of season".


"Chip?"


"that would be a hell to the no"


"no"

Then, there was Tony Kanaan's response:

"And race control is starting with their excuses. WHAT A JOKE ."

Now, Al Unser, Jr. said there was never a penalty assessed on Dario Franchitti, but that's not what was originally announced (nor did Al exactly inspire confidence with his somewhat confused post-race interview, as well as Dixon's post-race admission he heard about the penalty over his radio). More to the point, that's not what the majority of online IndyCar fans seemed to think was appropriate.

After later being taken out by Tagliani after an earlier incident of being spun by Dario Franchitti, Will Power went off, saying  "I always race him clean, he always races me dirty", and, "does anyone ever penalize this guy"?

I love you to death, IndyCar, but a lot of your fans are asking the same thing Will did. You'd better think on that one. In the meantime, it's looking more and more like Dario's going to get his championship repeat.

Target Chip Ganassi is officially the Cobra Kai Dojo of IndyCar for the rest of this season. The series need black hats, too, though. We'll all calm down. Honest. Let's go to some of the non-Ganassi highlights of the weekend:

Wilson The Younger: Stefan Wilson took advantage of Esteban Guerrieri's spin to take his first Firestone Indy Lights win. Wilson is now up to third in the overall points standings. Guerrieri recovered to is only __ points behind Josef Newgarden. Wilson's teammate, Peter Dempsey, really made the most of his race with Andretti, finishing P2.

That's The RHR We Know: Ryan Hunter-Reay was looking good to be in a position to win this race, but obviously with the non-penalty on Franchitti, things were different at the end. However, a P3 and podium is a nice step back to RHR, who will hopefully continue to be back in form for the second half. (Oh, and Marco Andretti just missed another podium, finishing P4. Not too shabby for Andretti Autosport!).

I couldn't think of anything that wouldn't make people
angrier, so I just posted this pic of the Lights race.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Newman/Haas Woes: Newman/Haas' James Hinchcliffe and Oriol Servia looked great most of the day, but after a late incident, they had to settle for P14 and P12.

Rookie Update: Speaking of Hinch, he lost some ground to JR Hildebrand, who finished a very solid P8 on the day. Hildebrand is now 35 points up on Hinch, with Charlie Kimball losing some ground to be 29 behind him. Ana Beatriz manages to gain 7 points on Charlie, and is 18 back. Sebastian Saavedra falls to 5 points behind Bia, whom he previously led. James Jakes weathered a few spins to finish the race, and is now only 4 points behind Saavedra.Until that late incident, Hinch was probably going to make up a little ground on JR, but not now. He'll have to push at Edmonton and hope for good things there to catch up.

Viso Resilence: After Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan had incidents, EJ Viso was KV Racing's last hope. He got as high as P2, but a cut tire sent him backwards. He recovered enough to finish P9, and avoid the carnage on a day that saw plenty of it. We fans bust his chops a lot, but he did a good job out there today.

HVM Happy On The Twisties: Simona de Silvestro and HVM Racing grabbed their first Top 10 finish since the second race of the season. Honestly, this was the most comfortable Simona had looked out on track in some time. Let's hope it's the start of good things again at HVM.

Vitor's Sneaky, Isn't He?: I don't think Vitor Meira was mentioned three times all day, but he weaved his way through the crashes to finish 5th, his highest of the year. Because I can't say it enough, this guy really deserves his first series win soon. I hope it happens for him.

Rageaholics Anonymous: Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the sheer amount of rage this race seemed to incite. Everyone was angry with someone. Michael Andretti angry with Ganassi's cars for not lining up on restarts to allegedly save fuel. Will Power was angry with Dario for what he termed "dirty racing". Danica Patrick was seen yelling at her crew after her last crash. Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay tangled on the track. Paul Tracy and James Hinchcliffe had some nudges that probably resulted in some warm words. Charlie Kimball, Mike Conway, Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, Tracy, Saavedra, Kanaan, Wilson, Bourdais, Power, Tagliani, Rahal....it might be shorter to list the drivers not involved in incidents.

OK, enough of that. On to happier things. As a reminder, INDYCAR Nation members, don't miss my Q&A with the series' newest rookie, Martin Plowman!

The series continues their Canadian odyssey with a trip to Edmonton in two weeks. It might take tempers that long to cool after this sort of a race!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Honda Indy Toronto Preview

This week, the IZOD IndyCar Series begins its swing through Canada by going to the Honda Indy Toronto. It’s the first of three twisty races in a row, and should mean big things in Will Power’s battle to topple Dario Franchitti from the top of the points standings. Plus, it’s a chance for the Canadian drivers to bask in the adoring glow of their countrymen! Here’s just a few of the stories to follow this weekend:

Indy Lights Update: That Sam Schmidt #77 entry this weekend will be driven by Daniel Herrington. Peter Demspey will be in a one-off ride with Andretti Autosport. Bruno Andrade will join Duarte Ferreira with Bryan Herta Autosport. Josef Newgarden’s opened up a 46-point lead over Esteban Guerrieri, but he’ll can’t afford a slipup. Don’t count out Victor Garcia (looking for his second win) or Stefan Wilson (looking for his first), either.

Welcome Back, Paul!: For the first time since Indy, we get to see Paul Tracy back on the track. This time, he’s with Dragon Racing, who we last saw missing qualifying with both cars in the Indy 500. Frankly, the team has looked lost at times this year, but you can bet PT will get every ounce he can out of this car—especially on a Canadian course!

Andretti Resurgent?: Fresh off Marco’s win at Iowa, Andretti Autosport would seem to be in a prime position for a strong rebound from some of their earlier woes. Marco has the potential to be strong at any track, Conway’s a wiz on the road and street courses, and Ryan Hunter-Reay has finally shown some signs of life. We’ll see if any of them can get in the front this weekend.

Not Helio’s Track: As I mentioned over at INDYCAR Nation, Toronto has never been kind to Helio Castroneves. As I wrote over at IndyCar Nation, Helio crashed out in 2010 (P24), and finished P18 in 2009. What's more, going back to when he ran here in CART, he only finished one out of four races. If he gets his first win of the season here, he’ll be bucking history.


Helio's record at Toronto is pretty rough.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Paging Justin Wilson: This has been a relatively poor season for Wilson, but Toronto has always been one of his best courses. If he’s going to get his next IndyCar win this year, a dark horse run this weekend might be his best bet.

Rookie Time: The battle for Rookie of the Year swings back to the ovals, where James Hinchcliffe has so far held an advantage over JR Hildebrand. If Charlie Kimball wants to be a part of that fight, he needs to show than he has so far, starting this weekend. Meanwhile, Ana Beatriz, James Jakes, and Sebastian Saavedra having to just be hoping for some sustained, incident-free finishes right now.

Pole Position: Will Power. Should we just rename it Power Position for the non-ovals?

Winner: I just missed with a KV car winning last race, so I’m going to keep the underdog picks a’comin’. I say one of the Newman/Haas drivers finally gets it done this week. And there will be much rejoicing.

Quick Note: I saw yesterday that Patrick Carpentier is calling it a career. He never really seemed to make it all click after Champ Car, but it was great to see him at Indy once again this year as he tried to get Dragon Racing’s car up to speed. I wish the result had been different, but he’s walking away in his own time, which I greatly respect. Godspeed, Patrick, and I hope your last race next one sees you go out on a winning note.

Have an awesome IndyCar-filled weekend! We'll see you back here on Monday!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Peter Dempsey's Chance With Andretti

I was really happy to see Peter Dempsey get another shot at driving in the Firestone Indy Lights Series this year. With the withdrawal and subsequent suspension of O2 Racing Technology, I was worried that might be it. And while I’d like to see the other folks who’ve been hurt by this back in gainful employment as well, it’s good to see Peter in for at least one race with Andretti Autosport.

(Speaking of AA, have you seen the Toronto Spotter’s Guide yet? Love the Twitter handle on Mike Conway’s car. But I digress…)

I had Peter pegged to win early on this year, though the results on the track haven’t quite followed along yet. Yes, he has two podiums, but this is a guy who totally dominated Formula Ford and had multiple wins in Star Mazda. He’s also already a well-regarded driving coach for younger racers. I really believe the young Irish driver has what it takes to compete and win in Lights.

There’s been a lot of drama in Lights this year, but I’m happy we’re getting at least one more shot to see some good talent get a chance.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Unanswered Questions, New Winners

With the first half of the season in the books and the 4th of July downtime over, we look towards the rest of the schedule. Sebastian Bourdais returns for more twisty tracks, Pippa Mann and Wade Cunningham join us for more ovals, and we just might see Bertrand Baguette once more this year.

But the big question outside of the championship duel between Power and Franchitti has to be what does everyone else have? Oriol Servia, Tony Kanaan, Alex Tagliani, and yes, Takuma Sato, have looked poised to threaten Ganassi/Penske dominance. Mike Conway, Dan Wheldon, and Marco Andretti have found their way into victory lane. Kanaan has had more near misses than a loaded slot machine. Ryan Hunter-Reay's bad luck can't last forever. And JR Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe have both showed enough at times to make you think we could have a rookie winner.

The thing is, I really don't think you can count anyone out. Yes, Penske and Ganassi are going to get theirs, and there will be weeks where we all grouse that it's the Red Car Show once again. But the other weeks...that's when it gets crazy. Because I could reel off over half the normal entry list in IndyCar, and you'd be crazy to bet the house that they couldn't get the win. Oh sure, perhaps they won't, but they could. And that's why we'll watch.

Here's just a few questions on my mind as we pick back up heading into Toronto:

-Are Mike Conway and Marco Andretti one-trick ponies, or will they give Andretti Autosport another win?

-Likewise, can Tony Kanaan or Takuma Sato finally put together a win for Jimmy Vasser and KV Racing?

-Will Helio Castroneves find Victory Lane at all this year?

-Can Newman/Haas Racing finish their revival with a win? Servia and Hinchcliffe might be the ones to do it!

-Can Charlie Kimball kick it into gear and get back in the Rookie of the Year competition?

-On that note, who was more in the second half: Hinch or Hildebrand?

-Will Graham Rahal's team solve their qualifying issues and give him an optimal shot to win?

-Can Dale Coyne turn around their road and street woes with Bourdais?

-Can Sebastian Saavedra or James Jakes show more inspired performances than we saw in the first half of the season?

-Will Alex Tagliani and Sam Schmidt find their way to victory (as well as funding for the rest of the year?)

-Does Danica Patrick have another win in her before heading off to NASCAR in 2012 (if she does in fact go)?

-Will we see Dan Wheldon for a race such as the Las Vegas finale?

-Will drivers such as Martin Plowman or Logan Gomez finally get a shot in an IndyCar? What about Bryan Clauson or Conor Daly? When it comes down to those last few races with the old Dallara, we might see some interesting fields, especially for Las Vegas...

Welcome to the second half. It's going to be fun.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th!

Have a very happy Independence Day, America. Love ya. Back to IndyCar goodness for tomorrow!

This might be an IndyCar blog, but there's always
going to be room for Captain America punching Hitler.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Friday 15: Mid-Season Edition!

It’s halftime of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series, and we’ve seen winners from 4 different teams, 4 drivers earning Pole Position (plus TK drawing it at Texas-2) , and some really excellent racing. Again, it’s time for the Friday 15, where we look at the Top 15 drivers in terms of championship series points. Their number of points behind is listed parentheses, and as always, their position change from last race is listed in red. Comments below each entry offer snark in moderation only:

1) Dario Franchitti (303 points), +1
Dario’s had a great year, but that car seems to really lose some handling when he’s in traffic. It’s a good thing for him he’s running in front so often. While he’s done his share of complaining, he’s also done his share of running up front, which pretty much means we can all go fly a kite, I guess.

2) Will Power (-20), -1
Power gets another chance to get some Pole Position bonus points and return to his winning ways with three twisty courses in a row. The points just might look much different by the time we get to New Hampshire. Also, Concussion Will Power was sorta funny, but I don’t want to see him again anytime soon. Or ever.

3) Scott Dixon (-92), +1
It’s been a pretty quiet year for Dixon, but that doesn’t mean his results aren’t solid. He’ll get his victory for the year at some point. He’s another one in New Zealand’s long, illustrious line of silent ninjas.

4) Oriol Servia (-89), -1
Servia’s made this a half-season to remember for Newman/Haas. If you can’t root for him and this team to win sometime this year, you have no soul. They may not have the budget of a Penske or Ganassi, but they’ve got talent and heart by the truckload.

5) Tony Kanaan (-92), +1
Fact: When Tony Kanaan is competitive, this series is just a whole lot more fun. What isn’t fun is having my heart stop for about 10 seconds every race because I momentarily mistake Viso or Sato’s wreck for his. Either way, TK is creeping ever closer to giving KV Racing that first win.

6) Ryan Briscoe, (-110), +1
Briscoe has slowly returned to expected form, but this still has been a rough season. We haven’t heard much from him, but he’s still probably going to get his turn in the spotlight sometime soon.

7) Graham Rahal, (-112), -2
A disappointing Iowa finish after a couple of good races for Graham, but the pressure is still going to be for him to make it in the win column this year. If they could figure out their qualifying woes, they’d have a really good shot at making it happen.

8) Marco Andretti (-119), +4
Marco’s our big mover of the week, jumping up 4 spots in the standings. He gets a lot of grief from fans, but no one can deny he gave us all a race to remember. That’s the big talent his supporters always reference. I don’t think he’s done this year, either.

Can Conway, Marco, or AA grab another win this year?

9) JR Hildebrand (-134), +2
Hildebrand was a little scary at times at Iowa, but was also very racy. Panther’s going to have to hit the road and street courses with more success if he wants to keep his lead over Hinchcliffe for Rookie of the Year. It definitely seems like the series is putting him out there in the public eye as one of their new generation of stars, which is a very cool bit of business.

10) Alex Tagliani (-142), -2
The only driver to have more than one Pole Position this year, there’s been rumors that Tag and Sam Schmidt Motorsports might have some funding issues in finishing out the season. Let’s hope not, because this team has been seriously impressive, and is really, really close to upsetting some of the bigger teams in a race this year.

11) Danica Patrick (-142), -1
It continues to be a very quiet year for Danica; it seems like IndyCar has been featuring more and more other drivers. Balance is good for the series, but if Danica gets back in contention, the fireworks will come back out quickly. With the Motegi oval gone, you have to wonder which track will give her the best chance (I’m going with New Hampshire).

12) Helio Castroneves (-144), +1
Helio’s been showing more and more flashes of life, but until he wins this year, the season has to be considered a great disappointment. I’m thinking right now he wouldn’t mind a late-race pass of Dario to grab the checkered, after Dario’s post-Milwaukee comments.

13) Takuma Sato (-148) -4
Sato is still inconsistent, though he’s also clearly very, very fast. It’s making him the most unpredictable and mercurial driver to watch right now. Top 5 or crash after Lap 5? Only Sato knows for sure. He’s still way ahead of where he was last year, but he can’t afford to slow down on his pace of improvement.

14) Mike Conway (-159), (Unchanged)
Mike Conway will be extremely pleased to see any other shape than an oval the next few races. He could possibly be poised to move up the most of any driver if he can match some of his earlier finishes. Oh, and I know it’s not good to have a car without sidepod sponsors, but I sort of dug the basic black Andretti Autosport car he was driving. Classy.

15) James Hinchcliffe (-161), +1
Hinch is about to have some key opportunities to close the gap with JR Hildebrand if he continues charging hard. Could that first missed race be the difference in the Rookie of the Year battle? It’s looking more and more possible. IndyCar’s Funniest Driver? He’s about got that one locked up. It’s great to see him be a part of the Newman/Haas Renaissance.

Dropping out of the Top 15? That'd be Vitor Meira (P16) after an unlucky night in Iowa. The only other mover lower than that is Ryan Hunter-Reay (+1 to P20), who finally got a nice, confidence-boosting Top 10 under the belt going into the next three twisties. Really, everyone still has work to do, as it get a bit harder to move the needle with mid-pack results the further into the season we go.