Monday, July 9, 2012

A Late Carpocalypse: Toronto Notes

Good morning, INDYCAR friends! We have a lot to go over, so let's get to it:

-I thought the Toronto race was a good reminder that races this year in IndyCar have very rarely gone the way we thought they would this year. Few fans had Charlie Kimball in line for a podium today, and even fewer (including yours truly) thought Mike Conway would do much with his car this weekend. It was a lively day out on the track, and we ALMOST made it the entire race without widespread crack-ups. Almost.

Not every race is going to end under green, and it was an ugly last restart (with all the quick shots between the legion of stalled/crashed cars, I was pretty sure ABC was going to show this clip). Still, that's life. We don't go in for do-overs.

This is my apology, Mike Conway, for doubting you.
(Photo by Eric Schwarzkopf. Courtesy TrackSideOnline.com
Used With Permission).
-I will admit, I did not think Ryan Hunter-Reay would jump into the overall points lead this week. Then again, I didn't expect Scott Dixon's engine to go KERBLAMMO early on in the race. Will Power could still catch him easily enough, and Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan have to feel pretty good that they're continuing to bring home very consistent finishes.With Dario Franchitti over 100 points off the pace for the championship, his chances at yet another Series title are realistically finished. I thought if he was his usual best at Toronto, he'd have a good shot at sneaking back into the hunt, but it just doesn't seem to be in the cards this year.


-It's also pretty great to have five races left in the season and to still have no earthly idea who will be Series champion. Hunter-Reay, Power, Dixie, Pagenaud, Kanaan, Castroneves, and James Hinchcliffe all have to still feel like they can make a run at this. There are no "off" races to be had, and the later we get in the season, the bigger any DNF or poor finish seems to loom. The Top 7 or so aren't just "mathematically" in it, but seem to be real threats to turn the point standings on their ear on any given race weekend.

-Ryan Hunter-Reay, to be momentarily unkind, has not had the reputation as one of this Series' most consistent drivers. Yet after three wins in a row, it just might be time to re-evaluate that criticism. He just seems to be in a good place right now, and it's manifesting itself on the track. There are plenty of drivers that can win in this series: it's winning and finishing consistently that separates the championship contenders from the rest of the field. By the way, the last Andretti driver to win three in a row? That'd be Dan Wheldon.

-The chaos on the last restart was a reminder that although the racing has been excellent this season, every IndyCar driver still maintains the potential to be a massive butthead when circumstances arise.

-Back to Charlie Kimball for a moment; CK has taken some heat from fans as being not quite ready for the show when he debuted in the IZOD IndyCar Series last year. It was an up-and-down rookie season for him last year, but when I interviewed him this past March, he felt like he could reliably make the Top 10 this year, and possibly contend for podiums. With his first podium added to his other four Top 10 finishes so far this year, it appears he was correct. He's still got some work to do, but this was a very good one to build on, especially coming back as he did after his early incident with Graham Rahal. Simply put, it was a great drive for a guy that's very easy to pull for.

-The 11-car field for this past weekend's Firestone Indy Lights race was pretty sad. We have great competition in IndyCar this year, and Star Mazda and USF2000 have some great prospects. However, there's a somewhat weak rung in the middle just now: Indy Lights. It's too expensive for the competitors right now, and quality prospects such as Stefan Wilson, Anders Krohn, and Peter Dempsey (now thankfully with Belardi) have been either out of Lights or bouncing between part-time gigs. When the new car comes in 2014, it needs to address some realistic budgeting for these programs.

The lack of entrants ensures that even poor finishes by the contender do very little overall to the points battle, since you aren't going to finish that much worse than your other competitors, regardless of what happens. Gustavo Yacaman is coming on strong and trying to make it interesting, and Tristan Vautier and Sebastian Saavedra remain game, but the Lights championship seems Esteban Guerrieri's to lose.

-Oriol Servia has gained 98 positions on the year so far. On a related note, HOLY COW, ORIOL SERVIA HAS GAINED 98 POSITIONS ON THE YEAR SO FAR.

Other Notes: Let's give a hand to Alex Tagliani and the Bryan Herta crew, managing a Top 10 despite changing out their nose cone. They've had bad luck almost every weekend, it seems, but keep pushing...Ed Carpenter extended his streak of consecutive races finished to 11, leading all current IndyCar drivers...James Jakes had his 2nd IndyCar Top 10, and his first on a road/street circuit...If 2013 TEAM funds go to the Top 20 entries from this season, right now Ed Carpenter would be the last driver in. Tagliani and Jakes are a single point behind him, tied for 21st...I don't care what anyone says about the DW12 this year; combined with Firestone's tires, it's given us some excellent races. The chassis has grown on me...With Connor De Phillippi's bad luck at Toronto, Jack Hawksworth has jumped back to a 39-point lead in the Star Mazda Series...I was incredibly jealous of the time fans were having in Toronto this weekend, judging by their Twitter and Facebook updates. Honda Indy Toronto has to be on my race list next year...

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