Monday, September 3, 2012

One More: Grand Prix of Baltimore Notes

-You know, we've gone through so much this year--new car, different rules, periods of Will Power dominating, periods of Ryan Hunter-Reay dominating, engine fights, wild competition almost each and every race, owner drama, manufactured drama, drama drama--and again, the season will come down to a single race to decide the IZOD IndyCar Series champion. A 500-miler in two weeks for all the marbles. That's just about perfect, really.

-I was out of town this weekend, and I had some electronics/communication issues, so I was not only quiet on Twitter, but missed the opening of the race. Despite that, I really thought the Baltimore event seemed to build on the promise it had last year. Obviously, going forward, the entire front straight/chicane business needs to re-evaluated and settled once and for all, but there's no doubt this event can work for the series in a big way.

-Michael Andretti should promote more events--his driver (Hunter-Reay) won both Milwaukee and Baltimore this year--both events Andretti Sports Marketing took over.

-While we're discussing Andretti, kudos to Michael Andretti for the gutsy call to have RHR stay out in the rain instead of coming in for rain tires. It could have backfired if the weather got really nasty, but it worked perfectly. That's the sort of great strategy that road/street course fans love to see play out, and it might have been what saved RHR's realistic hopes for a true title fight at Fontana. It was one of those days for the Andretti #28 where pure racing and strategy seemed to work hand in hand for one hell of a result.

-I'm not going to pile on Power, because for 95+ percent of this race weekend he did exactly what he needed to. He won the pole, led the most laps, and looked in line for around a Top 5 finish before not getting it done on that last restart. I don't see this as much as a failing of power as the fact that guys like Pagenaud, Briscoe, Dixon, RHR, and others were fighting hard in a race featuring some big twists. A 17-point lead isn't insurmountable, but Power at least has the advantage heading into the last weekend. Still, it has to be galling to have a chance to cinch the title fall short like that.
Mikey's big call helped win the race.
(Courtesy TrackSideOnline.com
Used with permission).

-It was another rough mechanical day for Takuma Sato, who always seems to find his way to the front when inclement weather is involved. I still have faith this guy can win--sooner rather than later. Much like Charlie Kimball this past weekend, it's a case of a quick glance at the box score not telling the whole story.

-It was great to see Bruno Junqueira on track, and it was a shame his day ended on Lap 64. It sounds as if Josef Newgarden will return for Fontana, so until the next time a substitute driver or second-car program is needed, we'll wish him the best.

-A few weeks ago, I averaged the contender's prior finishes to try to project where they might be heading into the last weekend of the year. It actually had Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves coming in far closer than they actually did, but on Will Power and RHR, it wasn't too far off--the projections said Power would be leading by 7, whereas it's really 17. Still, if you look at how we arrived here, perhaps the lesson is history is great, but can only teach us so much--especially in an era of a new car and engine.

-Most Firestone Indy Lights fans had Tristan Vautier coming in second to Esteban Guerrieri over the stretch for the Lights title (and accompanying IZOD IndyCar Series scholarship), but Vautier had a huge win in Baltimore to take an 11-point lead heading into the Lights finale at Fontana. If you want to talk about a championship battle that has very real and immediate consequences for someone's racing future, the Lights title is it. That's not to say one of these drivers not winning the scholarship is a kiss of death to their prospects, but that championship certainly doesn't hurt when shopping a program next year.

-Sage Karam tried to bounce back from an incident in the first Star Mazda race of the weekend that dropped him to P15, and had a very good run to win the second race of the weekend. But with Jack Hawksworth winning the first and coming in P2 in the second, Karam now trails the English rookie by 61 points with three races remaining--an immensely tough, but not impossible, situation. It's a rough go for everyone not named Hawksworth this year, but Karam can take solace in the fact that he's fighting a very talented field out there, and has put together a great last . Again, I really hope we see several of these Star Mazda prospects get to take their shot in Lights next year. The next rung of the ladder would be much better for it.

-It looks like Matt Brabham is in a very good spot with three races left for the USF2000 title, leading both his teammate Spencer Pigot and Belardi Auto Racing's Scott Anderson pretty definitively in the standings. There's a solid chance we'll see Brabham progress as expected in Star Mazda next year, but I'm excited to see how guys like Pigot, Anderson, Roman Lagudi, and Shelby Blackstock will do in the future. I'm happy to see we're getting guys like this for the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.

-Hindsight, as we always say, is 20/20, but March, hundreds of you filled out this site's INDYCAR preseason survey. While readers were pretty astute with most predictions, almost no one had Ryan Hunter-Reay as this season's champion--in fact, I believe he received rough a half-dozen votes out of around 400 cast. On the other hand, Will Power was chosen as 43% of voters as the likely champ. We'll see who was right shortly.

-Other Notes: I was only able to hear a bit of Pippa Mann's work with IMS Radio this weekend, but as usual, she did a top-notch job. If she isn't full-time in a car next year, "driver analyst" seems like a really good title for her. Let's hope she'll be too busy to accept...Alex Tagliani and Bryan Herta Autosport have finished in the Top 10 of every race since Indianapolis with only a single exception...Great run by Rubens Barrichello this weekend to shut me up and grab his second Top 5 in a row...Ed Carpenter's streak of most consecutive races without a DNF by an active IndyCar driver stopped this past weekend at 13 races. Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves now take over the lead, also at 13...Carpenter's entry is also now only 11 points ahead of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's #67 car for the 22nd and final TEAM Money spot...It's interesting to hear reports of Roger Penske's interest in Ryan Hunter-Reay to replace Ryan Briscoe, but let's not forget, Briscoe has more lives than a cat when it comes to his tenure at Penske. Plus, it's not just  a question of filling a seat--there's the big question of sponsorship. Perhaps Briscoe will be out after this year, but let's not automatically assume Penske Racing will field three cars in 2013...No, I have no idea yet what to make of the ALMS/GRAND-AM merger, and what, if anything, it means for INDYCAR.

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