Sunday, September 16, 2012

Thoughts And Notes From The MAVTV 500

-Well, really, where do we start after all that? I’m simply amazed that everything that happened transpired as it did. There was Ryan Hunter-Reay, fighting a subpar car on a night where there seemed to be no shortage of strong contenders jockeying up front. There was Penske Racing, doing the impossible in repairing and sending out a battered race car to turn a few more laps to try and make RHR’s job that much harder. There was Ed Carpenter, again besting Dario Franchitti on an oval at the last possible minute. In the end, those of us watching knew we had just seen an instant racing classic. 

-Let’s talk about Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport for just a moment. For a team that had been maligned as “falling off” the last few years, they supported their driver in a tremendous manner, ensured the race wasn’t lost in the pits, and made adjustments to keep him moving forward in as desperate a battle as you’ll see for position. On a night where RHR and Andretti Autosport did not have a race-winning car, they did just enough to bring home a championship-winning one.

-Hunter-Reay will be at Andretti for at least two more years, and has now proven himself as one of the top all-around threats in the Series. He lacks the dominance in any one discipline like Power, but you know he can hang around and win, whether it’s a street course or oval. To have a champion that won on both the ovals and twisties is a fine advertisement for the multi-disciplined nature of IndyCar.

-We always talk about poise under pressure, but I thought Will Power’s composure in his interviews after losing the title for the third straight year was above reproach. He was courteous, honest, and direct with his answers, all the while giving his team all the (rightly deserved) praise in the world. I suspect that a few folks who weren’t Power fans before Saturday night will be pulling for him to get it done next year. That said: Back, meet Monkey.

Victory!
(Photo by Eric Schwarzkopf, TrackSideOnline.com
Used With Permission).
-Now, then, onto Ed Carpenter. We all knew going into this year that this time probably wouldn't be competitive on the road and street course, and that prediction was fully realized. But what this team can--and did--do--is compete on the ovals. Carpenter has been strong at Indianapolis several times, and he and his team simply had a rocketship out there. It was a comprehensive, powerful effort, one that surpassed the best efforts of the Ganassi cars, who were no slouches themselves.

Carpenter’s team would be well-served to add a solid road/street driver, but this was a exemplary accomplishment for a one-car, rookie team to end a rough season. It didn’t hurt that their victory ensured they remained easily in the Top 22 for TEAM money purposes next season.

-Carpenter also had told Bob Jenkins that he would like his last IndyCar broadcast to be one calling a win for Ed. He certainly did so, and with that we mark the end of Bob Jenkins’ IndyCar announcing career. People criticized him at times for his flubs, but Jenkins was One Of Us. He loved IndyCar, loved his job, and that enthusiasm easily flowed through to his announcing. He joins the iconic broadcasters of this series--one with his own approach and style. We’ll miss that in the booth.

-Let’s not overlook Tristan Vautier, who held off teammate Esteban Guerrieri to clinch the Firestone Indy Lights title and resultant scholarship to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Yes, Lights has been weak, but Vautier is a true success story for the Mazda Road to Indy Ladder. He funded his Lights campaign by winning the Star Mazda Series and its scholarship in 2011, then followed it up with the Lights title this year. I expect we’ll see Vautier, Guerrieri, and Saavedra in at least part-time IndyCar roles next season.

-Takuma Sato...I’m not sure what to say at this point. I remain firm in my belief he will win an IndyCar race, but two crashes on the last lap of the two biggest ovals of the year doesn’t precisely give his defenders a lot of ammo for their cause. Sato should either end up remaining with Rahal or gravitating to another decent team next year, but he just needs to show he can finish. In quieter moments, I sometimes doubt that will happen.

-Alex Tagliani left the race late, but Tag and Bryan Herta Autosport deserve a huge nod for the effort and performance they showed after getting a Honda engine. Herta might be one of the smaller teams out there, but they are awfully close to taking the checkered once more. I hope the team stays intact for 2012--if so, I think they can truly compete.

-There are certainly many silly season discussions to be had in the weeks and months to come, but perhaps the most immediate moves we’ll see include Rubens Barrichello with Sam Schmidt’s team, Graham Rahal potentially moving to his dad’s team, and the question of what EJ Viso will do in regards to his future. With Mike Conway’s avoidance of ovals, AJ Foyt’s crew also has some big decision to be made. Of course, we also have to see if Ryan Briscoe is truly finished at Penske, and if that operation will contract back to its natural two cars.

-Congrats to Matthew Brabham on winning the USF2000 title over his teammate Specer Pigot. Pigot looks like he could easily move up to Star Mazda along with Matthew Brabham. The ladder talent is really exciting right now, and it seems fitting we have a Brabham again making his way to IndyCar. So far from what I've seen from Brabham The Younger, talent continues to run deep in that family.

-How about Stefan Wilson bringing the Fan Force United machine home to a nice finish in Firestone Indy Lights? He didn't look to have much rust at all. There's no doubt in my mind that Wilson could be the 2013 Lights champ with a decent full-time ride. Let's not forget we have some good prospects out there that just a need break to get it done.

-I will once again make my plea to sponsors to support Pippa Mann and get her back out on track for IndyCar. Whether it’s giving tours, announcing in the booth, or interacting with fans on Twitter and Facebook, no driver is better at fan outreach. If she isn’t full-time, I’d love to see her expand her role in the broadcast team, and get to run Indy and a few other courses, at the least. IndyCar needs ambassadors of that type.

-The current formula of the DW12, Firestone tires, and the Honda/Chevy engines have proven they can enable some tremendous racing, especially when IndyCar makes the drivers really drive the car. Dan Wheldon’s legacy and time in this car has been well-vindicated.

-Seriously, what wasn’t to love about the MAVTV 500 and season finale? There was drama, strategy, tremendous battles for the lead. If someone--anyone!--with any sort of inclination towards being a racing fan was watching this race, there was plenty to hook them.

Yeah, this sport can drive you crazy sometimes, but the on-track product is tremendous--and I would argue, the best racing going out there right now. We can take great pride in INDYCAR, going into the offseason, and hopefully that excitement will bear itself out as we drag friends and family to the track in 2013. Whether it’s Fontana, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Barber, or Milwaukee, the accessibility, excitement, and speed of this sport can never be in doubt. We shouldn’t ever waver in believing that, and that we can share what this sport is about with others. Whatever issues the Series might have, take comfort: the quality of racing is on our side.

Simply put: IndyCar rocks. And now we have an amazing reminder of that to take with us until the green flag drops once more.

-I need to give a shoutout to Tony Johns of Pop Off Valve, who is giving up the IndyCar blogging game. Tony was a great encouragement to many fledging bloggers (myself including), with features like the Paddock Pulse giving us some hits when we otherwise wouldn't have had any outside our immediate family. Best wishes, Tony, and good luck down the road.

-Well, there will be plenty more to come, I'm sure, but for now, I just want to say thank you for your reading, commentary, and company during this season. It means more than you know. I hope you'll stick with us through the offseason, as we again wait for those most famous words in motorsports. Keep those engines fired!

8 comments:

  1. Great article, I always tune into IndyCar Advocate for accurate and well researched information regarding IndyCar and the ladder series. Keep up the fantastic work can't wait for next season to begin. IndyCar Dominates
    -Wronkle

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  2. That's some high praise! Thank you so much, my friend! :)

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  3. Just found your blog. Great job of summing up the season. I was at the MAVTV 500 and the difference between it and the NASCAR races was night and day. Or was that day and night! Real passing and more than two or three cars dominating the race.

    Thanks for promoting what is a great sport!

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  4. Zach, Knocked it out of the park again! Great Article! After watching all the races from this last season and attending the Indy 500, I just don't understand WHY Indycar isn't as highly rated as NASCAR. This was one of the better seasons overall despite some strange new rules with the new car and engines. You just never knew what would happen next in any given race.
    My biggest dissapointments for this season? Lotus would have to be number one. I had truely hoped that they would have been competative with Chevy & Honda. Seeing that Lotus logo on the cars at the Indy 500 really brought back some good memories. My second dissapointment for the season has to be KV Racing. Of all the teams I thought for sure to win a few races this year it was KV. They came close this year a few times with Tony Kanaan, but even he seemed to 'not be real happy' with his car in other races. It seemed like most of thier effort was focused on TK and Rubens and EJ Viso was often an after thought. I know I would feel like a third wheel after watching the TK & Rubens show all season. KV Racing has great potential and has shown they can put together fast cars, but they really need to work on consistancy from one race to the next and from car to car.
    Enough Ranting for now...
    Thanks again Zach for the excellent articles throughout the season, and I know you'll be helping us endure the 6 months of silly season the best way you know how.

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    1. Ken, I'm right there with you on Lotus. It was a big disappointment. Thanks for reading and commenting as well--I love having the back-and-forth. Stay tuned for what should be a crazy offseason!

      -Zachary

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  5. You summed it up perfectly. Although I'm sure the haters will come out today, what wasn't to like about this race? It had everything you said, and then some. Now, off to what could/should be a very interesting offseason.

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    1. Thanks, George. There's always something for folks to complain about, if they try harder, but that race was simply tremendous.

      Looking forward to an offseason of your articles!

      -Zachary

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