Monday, August 6, 2012

After Mid-Ohio: Taking Stock

-I was sorry I wasn't able to make it to Mid-Ohio Sunday to watch the Honda Indy 200 in person, but I was pretty happy with the on-air coverage. Especially in the first half of the race, it seemed like it was a continual stream of information coming from the NBC/ABC broadcast, and there was plenty to keep tabs on. Even as the field became strung out over the duration of the green flag race, I thought it was definitely a step or two above the normal Mid-Ohio race we normally see. Cheers to the drivers and DW12 platform itself for making that happen.

-With NASCAR at Pocono under a rain delay, I saw the normal encouragement online for our NASCAR cousins to switch the channel and check out some IndyCar action. I'd like to think a few did, but I believe for a sizable contingent of the fandom, road racing remains something they aren't precisely interested in. That's not a knock, but perhaps just how it is. It's a shame, because I firmly believe IndyCar has had the best racing in the entire nation this season (and if that doesn't get me at least 1-2 cranky emails, I'm not sure what will).

With that, though, I'd like to send my sympathies and prayers to the family and loved ones of the fans struck by lightning yesterday at Pocono. That's just an awful turn of events, and I know the entire racing community has them in their thoughts.

-So, with a mere triad of races left, we see Will Power again in the lead, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon all following closely behind. There's been no artifice to this championship fight--both Power, Dixon, and Hunter-Reay all with five Top 3 finishes on the year. To me, that's about as even as it gets. Just four top drivers fighting it out, scratching and fighting for every point.

-On that point, it was tough seeing Ryan Hunter-Reay drop like a rock through the field with a sick engine. He did his best with the Andretti boys to keep it out there, but in the end, a promising race turned into the occasion of losing the championship points lead. Still, it was a noble fight.

-Is it just me, or is free-agent-to-be Graham Rahal not pulling any punches when it comes to his dissatisfaction with team performance? I have to think things might be just a little strained between Chip Ganassi's gang and Graham.

RHR fought a valiant, but losing battle with his engine.
(Used with permission. Courtesy
-I wasn't just impressed with the drives of guys like Simon Pagenaud and Tony Kanaan, but also that of Giorgio Pantano, who moved up nicely through the field. It's even more impressive when you consider it was his first experience in the DW12 and his first Mid-Ohio race. It'll be nice to have Charlie Kimball back in the lineup, but I'd sure like to see Pantano get a few more chances now and again.

-I really hope Justin Wilson and engineer Bill Pappas continue their partnership next year. There's no doubt that partnership can produce speedy results. I remain convinced that Dale Coyne's team can contend for wins in this series with that duo.

-A quick survey of points for the all-important TEAM positions show the following:

19th: #14 car (Conway): 203 points
20th: #5 car (Viso): 198 points
21st:: #20 car (Carpenter): 187 points
22nd: #19 car (Jakes): 184 points
23rd: #67 car (Newgarden): 174 points

The rub comes with the Dragon Racing entries, which no one can quite agree how they're being scored. If you score them as two separate entries, they have zero chance of making the Top 20, of course. If you add in Bourdais' 149 points with Kat Legge's 42 from Texas, Iowa, and Milwaukee, then you get 191 points, good enough for P21. That's when things get interesting...

-Now we enter into the Doldrums. We have an interminable three-week delay until the next race, courtesy of the cancelled China venture. That's hurtful in terms of momentum, certainly. When we resume, however, we'll have three races in under a month to decide the IZOD IndyCar Series title. That's going to be a whirlwind, for sure.

-Has qualifying ever meant as much to a championship battle as it will for Sonoma? If there's one track where I want to qual towards the front this year, it's that one.

-It's nice to hear Katherine Legge is in a car for Sonoma, but the deal I'd heard a month or so ago had suggested Baltimore would be in play for her as well. It sounds as if that's not the case, but two races to close out the season are better than none.

-Another race and--you guessed it--Josef Newgarden and Simona De Silvestro are tied with zero Top 10 finishes on the year. Newgarden had a pretty good race to finish P12, but Simona faltered after looking surprisingly strong in the opening laps.

-One more note on Mid-Ohio: this was the first engine company-sponsored race that was actually won by a car affiliated with the sponsored company. Chevy had won all previous Honda-sponsored events, and a Honda won Chevy's Detroit race.

-I've started working on my silly season projections for next year. I don't think we'll lose anything substantial in the way of car count, but I sincerely doubt we'll see a whole host of seats added. It's early on, but my best guess would be 25-27 full-time rides. They'll be plenty more to come on that, for sure.

-How about the Firestone Indy Lights battle? Headlining Trois-Rivieres this past weekend, Lights saw their championship battle tighten greatly. Just a few races ago, it looked as if Esteban Guerrieri would be soon locking up the Firestone Indy Lights title. Now, with Tristan Vautier winning in Quebec, he trails Guerrieri by a mere six points with two races left. Gustavo Yacaman (P2 this weekend) has made it interesting, but along with Sebastian Saavedra (DNF), has no shot remaining at the Lights title this season.

Vautier or Guerrieri...someone's getting a scholarship and a chance in IndyCar for 2013. I can't wait to see this fight when it picks up next month.

-Meanwhile, in the Star Mazda Series, it seems more and more likely Jack Hawksworth will be this year's champion, but Sage Karam isn't making it easy. He's closed to within 41 points of Hawksworth after splitting the weekend's races with him. Realistically, Hawksworth makes so few mistakes, it makes it difficult for anyone to catch him, but Karam has really picked it up this year. Honestly, you could throw the Top 5 in this series into Lights next year, and I'm thinking they'd acquit themselves quite well.

-USF2000 has been dominated by Cape Motorsports With Wayne Taylor Racing this season, but Belardi Auto Racing's Scott Anderson put an end to that in the second race of the ladder series' weekend schedule. I still think Spencer Pigot has a 2013 Star Mazda scholarship with his name on it, but the fact remains there are a number of very sharp drivers on the initial rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy.