INDYCAR Grand P-review

Back around 2011 and 2012 during the budding days of MoreFrontWing.com, Steph and I were regular prognosticators for IndyCar Nation Fantasy Racing.  It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that I almost always finished last.  No matter if I tried to play the odds or go out on a limb and take some pick chances, I always missed.  Somethings never change…

Let’s look back at my INDYCAR Grand Prix preview that I posted here on Friday.

  • This race really doesn’t produce much exciting racing.
  • The driver that leads after the first turn always wins.
  • Pagenaud continues to struggle.
  • Team Penske will have their cars at the top of the speed charts throughout the weekend.
  • It’s impossible to count Scott Dixon out of this race, especially based on his previous finishing positions.
  • I expect Colton Herta to bounce back and have a strong race.
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan will have a strong race.
  • Neither Power nor Pagenaud will win this race.
  • Alexander Rossi will win this race.  Rest of the Top 5 will be Dixon, Power, Newgarden, and Rahal.

Have you ever in your life seen a list of race predictions ever be more wrong?  Not only did this race produce an amazing amount of action throughout the entire field, Pagenaud found his way to Victory Lane in one of the most exciting and impressive drives we’ve seen in many years.

It seems like rain is a threat at about 75% of all IndyCar road and street courses but only comes to fruition in about 5% of them.  But when it does rain, it almost always makes for exciting racing.  Simon Pagenaud showed what a talented driver he is on Saturday with a display of racing in the rain that I haven’t seen in many, many years.  It was one thing when caught and dispatched an impressive Jack Harvey.  It was quite another when he caught up to Scott Dixon like a backmarker and would not be denied his third win in this race.

But while Pagenaud’s run to the checkered flag was the kind of drive we will be talking about for many years to come, the rest of the weekend for Team Penske was pretty much forgettable.  Much like at Barber Motorsports Park in April, Team Penske was nowhere to be found near the top of the speed charts.  Neither Helio Castroneves nor Josef Newgarden advanced out of their first qualifying rounds.  Pagenaud could only muster enough speed to start eighth, and Will Power was the slowest in the Firestone Fast Six.

In the race, it really didn’t go much better for any of Team Penske until Pagenaud got going and found his groove.  Power somehow came home seventh after running outside the Top 10 for most of the day.  Castroneves wasn’t impressive through any of the race before he spun exiting pit lane, stopping at the edge of the track and bringing out a yellow flag that seemed to last an eternity.  Newgarden had one of his worst days in ages.  He was pretty much out to lunch from the drop of the green flag, but an early decision to take him off pit strategy occasionally put him at the front of the field.  Had the rain come at just the right moment, Newgarden could have been in the cat bird’s seat and gotten back on sequence in the lead.  It didn’t, though, and Newgarden finished a distant 15th.

Just as puzzling as Team Penske’s struggles were those of Andretti Autosport.  My pick to win, Alexander Rossi, got punted and taken out of the race by Pato O’Ward before even getting to the green flag, but the fact he was starting in 17th position was shocking and led to the unfortunate incident.

Having just as miserable of a weekend as Rossi was teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay.  He started 16th and finished 20th after he got taken out on a restart by James Hinchcliffe.  As much as I really enjoy watching Zach Veach, you have a pretty good idea the weekend did not go according to plan for Andretti Autosport when Veach’s 12th place finish, one spot ahead of Marco Andretti’s 13th, was the team’s best performance of the day.

But instead of focusing on the poor performances of race days, sans Pagenaud, let’s highlight some great performances.  And this list has to start with Jack Harvey.  The second-year British driver surprised many people with a strong third-place qualifying effort, and then backed that up with a third-place finish.  This was Harvey’s first IndyCar podium and it comes at its biggest facility.  Harvey came within three laps and a yellow flag of winning the Indianapolis 500 last year, so it would appear Jack has taken a fancy to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ed Carpenter Racing put both Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones in the Top 6, results that were desperately needed for that team.  They have really struggled all year but have always had an eye toward the Indianapolis 500.  With this result, hopefully they can forget some of their early-season struggles and enjoy some confidence as they take to the oval this coming week.

Speaking of teams that were desperate for a good performance, perhaps no other team in the paddoack needed a good performance – hell, even just to see the checkered flag!! – more so than AJ Foyt Racing.  I’m sure the fact that fourth place feels like a win bugs AJ to no end, but given that team’s paltry performances thus far in 2019, it does feel like a win, and that team should be over-the-moon excited by Matheus’s performance.  Hopefully Tony Kanaan’s strong performance in last year’s Indianapolis 500 and Leist’s great run this past weekend will give the team the boost they need for the next couple weeks.

The elephant in the room

Let’s get this out of the way.  The attendance, or at least what I saw of it on TV, was embarrassing.  I realize the crappy weather didn’t help anything, but the optics of the event looked terrible.  We’ll never know what the actual attendance was, but I would be a bit hard pressed to accept anything above 15,000.  The general admission areas looked like they were much less filled than previous years, and the grandstands outside of Turn 1 (those are H and J Grandstands) looked to have almost no one in them.

Whether or not the weather made that much difference, it’s hard to say.  Maybe a beautiful day would have been worth 10,000 people in walk-up tickets, but even then, it would have looked bad.  I suppose it’s still more than a first day of qualifications might have drawn, but it’s hard to even assure that.

Unfortunately, it seems like this event is hampered by weather every year.  I think of the six runnings, there has been one really nice year – the first year.  Every other race has been very cold, very hot, rainy, or some other form of unpleasant.  In my formative years, maybe 1988 through about 2003, it seems like the weather on the traditional Pole Day was undesirable more times than not.  That tradition has carried through to the GP, which has assumed the traditional Pole Day date.  I guess if the weather is going to be bad, it may as well be bad for the GP then for a day on the oval.

NBC Coverage

For the first time in several decades, the NTT IndyCar Series returned to the NBC main network.  Early indications are that the ratings, while not good, were positive.  Overnights were a 0.85, the highest for this race in five years and up 31% from a year ago when it aired on ABC.

Win, lose, or draw, nobody will be able to say that NBC hasn’t thrown its full support behind the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series.  There have been ads all over the NBC family of networks, including very prominent ads during the Kentucky Derby last weekend.  This week, news broke that the Today Show will be airing from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the lead up to the 500 next week and will feature a special segment with Tom Hanks.  ABC certainly never gave the 500 that kind of attention in any recent memory.

But as fantastic as the promotion from NBC has been, the execution during the race is starting to show signs of wear.  Several times during Saturday’s race, the director or producer (I honestly don’t know who controls which camera is on air) would cut away from an exciting battle on track to pick up some other mundane moment with little or no bearing on the race.  I know, for instance, there was a battle shaping up nicely on track (seems like Zach Veach was involved) when a pass was being set up and started, just as the camera switched to showing Marco Andretti (who was probably running about 13th at the time) exiting his pit stall.  Guuuhhhh…   It happened, it seemed, on at least three occasions yesterday.  This was mentioned during the COTA race as well.  Hopefully someone is paying attention and trying to get these switches fixed.

Another issue that is starting to wear a bit thin on me in the number of gaffes Paul Tracy is making during race coverage.  While his technical knowledge and detail is interesting to hear, he seems to be constantly mis-identifying cars, jumping to conclusions that are blatantly wrong to the moderate or advanced IndyCar fans, and not seeming to be fully aware of the race situation when he’s talking.  Townsend Bell seems to be walking a fine line between correcting him on-air or just letting the mistake hang, but the escalation in errors is bring down the broadcast as a whole.  Hopefully PT will snap out of this funk he seems to be in because I have really enjoyed his commentary over the past several years, but it’s becoming harder to overlook on a weekly basis

I thought the rest of the broadcast crew did an excellent job all weekend though.  I still really miss Jon Beekhus and think he would have really added a lot to the broadcast on Saturday, especially with the split strategies and the impending rain strategies.

The pit reporters were on point throughout the weekend, and Leigh Diffey did a really nice job of being the conductor during the race.  I thought this was a very strong effort from the on-air talent overall with the exception of the aforementioned Tracy.

Now what?

Oh right!! It’s Indianapolis 500 time!! INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gave everyone Mother’s Day and today off from work and locked everyone out of the garage.  Tomorrow, though, the work starts in earnest for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Based on this past weekend’s results, one might be ready to throw out everything we thought we knew and look for a jumbled mess during this week leading in qualifications next week.  I really don’t think so, though.  I think order will restore itself, and we’ll see Team Penske and Andretti Autosport return to form.

There will be plenty more content here at Fieldof33.com throughout this week, and, of course, I’ll be at the track all weekend started Fast Friday morning.

Thanks for all the support this month! It has been so much fun bringing this content to you and sharing my passion for the Indianapolis 500.  I still have several more stories to share with you and look forward to more interactions.  Enjoy today’s off day because tomorrow, the trrrrrack is oooopen for prrrrractice!!

One thought on “INDYCAR Grand P-review

  1. Talón de Brea

    Simon certainly reminded us of his talent. It’s not as if he is an underdog, but it has almost felt that way recently, even with his past record and his team’s reputation and resources. And note that he minimized the corporate-racer talk as he expressed his confidence in himself, in his post-race comments — letting the real racer show through. In all the (logical, admirable) efforts to make the drivers seem human and accessible, maybe we sometimes overlook their Type-A exceptionalism.

    Good point about Ed Carpenter Racing. I know they are racing for a win, but this seemed like a really good, if unspectacular, race for them.

    Times change, but it’s strange to see names like Kanaan and Andretti at the wrong end of the grid.

    In the entertainment and TV marketplaces, looks matter. And say what you will about Belle Isle, but at least “Roger’s Weekend” *looks* like there are people there having fun. A barely attended race on a sterile F1-style infield course and portions of a massive oval flanked by empty stands isn’t going to capture too many new imaginations — which is too bad, because racing is racing, Indy (even the roval) is Indy, the driver line-up is impressive, and the race was a really good example of what American Open Wheel Racing has to offer.

    The teams are already in Indianapolis, anyway, so if the race is going to go on, regardless of the paid attendance, maybe “paper” the stands with large groups of students, law enforcement/military members and their families, corporate employees, etc., who get in free, buy t-shirts and concessions, and maybe come away fans?

    The rain was a bad break, but even if the clouds had parted, this thing we love would still have been a tough sell. Sigh …

    Like

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