Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Oval Gauntlet Necessary/Mandatory In Verizon IndyCar Series

Iowa Corn Indy 300 Podium: L to R - Josef Newgarden P2, Ryan Hunter-Reay P1, Tony Kanaan P3. Andretti Autosport made the call to put on a new set of tires on Ryan Hunter-Reay's car and with 10 laps left, sitting at P10, passed everyone in front of him to win. Image Credit: Andretti Autosport

 Oval Gauntlet Necessary/Mandatory In Verizon IndyCar Series

To many fans of American open-wheel racing, the entertaining draw of a street course event weekend is the venue that had been created converting an everyday urban environment into a racetrack, followed by a weekend festival of cultural events (motor and otherwise), and consistency on the timing on an annual basis that adds to the cultural experience. Everyone enjoys something to look forward to on a "same time next year" basis.

In Los Angeles, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has been a success for 40 years and it has done so observing and deepening the above formula elements regardless of which sanctioned racing series was to headline the actual Grand Prix competition test that was to take place on Sunday afternoon.

What American open-wheel racing has yet to perfect is to answer the event draw question, how does one replicate the success of a Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach event weekend at an established oval racing venue and assure fan interest while being able to fill the stands that are a permanent part of the established track experience?

If the question could be answered through the nature of the racing competition itself, the races held at Texas Motor Speedway, Pocono, and last weekend's small and tight oval race in Newton, Iowa ... the problem would be already solved. The competition could not be any more unpredictable or professional. The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series is even attracting drivers/rookies that have beat some of the best drivers in European professional racing of F1 and DTM on the way to perfecting their craft.

This still does not explain, then, why the attendance for these type of racing venues (outside of the Indy 500) is down from their pinnacle of standing-room only to a mere fraction - ranging from 30% to 60% fall off.

American open-wheel racing needs to be able to showcase all forms of racing from all of the venues it has performed through the decades because, besides racing that includes Yellow Flag caution periods and planned pitstops, it is the breadth of racing venue experience (road/temporary street courses, super-speedway oval/tri-oval, banked oval, small bullring oval) that separates the American experience from all other series of open-wheel racing.

Iowa Speedway during the Verizon IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 300. Image Credit: Iowa Corn

This excerpted and edited from Racer -

Why IndyCar must make ovals work
By Robin Miller - Racer - Sunday, 13 July 2014

The dichotomy was front and center Saturday night at Iowa Speedway: great racing with another disappointing fan turnout.

That's the sad but true tale of oval tracks in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Once the pillar of the most popular form of motorsports in this country when USAC and CART were on top, ovals have become an endangered species. Other than Indianapolis, it's tough to draw anything resembling a crowd.

Texas Motor Speedway, once a stronghold that put 75,000-80,000 people in the stands to watch the Indy Racing League's version of Russian Roulette, has been sliding recently and withered down to 25,000 (at best) last month. After an encouraging return of an estimated 25,000 in 2013 following a 24-year absence, Pocono slumped to maybe 15,000 a couple weeks ago. Iowa, which packed the grandstands the first few races for IndyCar, looked about half full last Saturday evening. Fontana, a big ticket back in the late '90s when CART was cooking, went away after embarrassing crowd numbers for its IRL races and has struggled since returning to the schedule three years ago. Ticket sales are supposedly down for next month's finale.
And the conundrum for Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles and IndyCar is that it needs ovals to retain its heritage, maintain its status as the most diverse series in the world and remind people why many of them fell for Indy car racing.
Michael Andretti, who stepped in to rescue The Milwaukee Mile, echoes The Captain's thoughts. "We can't ever stop running ovals," said the former CART champion who was a badass on the short ones as well as superspeedways. "It's what sets us apart from everybody else."

So what's happened to the culture that thrilled us with A.J., Parnelli, Mario, Ruby, Rutherford, Johncock, Mears and the Unsers? Why doesn't anybody care to attend anymore? What needs to change?

First and foremost, the oval-track model for IndyCar isn't working and hasn't for quite some time. Two-day shows are a waste of time and money for teams and promoters alike.
Other than Indy, every oval needs to be one day – practice, qualify and race just like the old days and besides saving money, it ramps up the intensity and maybe draws more interest. Pocono's Brandon Igdalsky, for instance, said he had no problem with that concept.

Secondly, ovals have got to change their approach. Texas, Pocono and Iowa had nothing on track except the Honda 2-seater and pace car rides prior to their IndyCar races. They've got to start giving the paying customers a lot more for their money – a la street races and road courses. There is always something going on at Long Beach, Detroit, Barber, Mid-Ohio, St. Pete and Toronto, be it Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000, drifting, TUDOR sports cars, Pirelli World Challenge or Robby Gordon's truck series.
You can't start a race at 3 p.m. and give the fans NOTHING beforehand. That's ignorant and arrogant.

Scheduling also needs a makeover and some common sense. You can't run Fontana on Labor Day when it's 100 degrees at 6 p.m., Pocono wants off July 4th if it sticks around and Milwaukee needs to be re-instated to the week after the Indianapolis 500.
But there is one oval interested in giving IndyCar another shot. Curtis Francois, who owns Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., wants to talk to Miles about a date and maybe a potential partnership. And that may be the key and answer to keeping ovals on the schedule. Instead of charging a sanction fee that scares potential tracks away or puts them instantly in the red, IndyCar might need to be partners with the five ovals still in play. Share expenses and promotion and tap into Verizon's wealth of available assets to control your destiny and take the message to the people.
A good example: there wasn't ONE LINE about the IndyCar race in last Thursday's Des Moines Register – 48 hours before the green flag (and that paper does a nice job of covering the race). Last April, nothing in Thursday's editions of the Los Angeles Times about the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and only one TV station mentioned the race on Saturday night...with polesitter Ryan Hunter REEAHAY. Fans from Philadelphia swore there was nothing about the Pocono 500 in their market.

Of course the tracks have to help shoulder the load but if IndyCar was 50-50 partners in selling tickets, marketing and promoting the event it could make a difference – especially with Verizon on board. IndyCar needs to go Barnum & Bailey and pull out all the stops to try and save the ovals.

Watching the non-stop wheel-to-wheel action at Iowa and listening to the excitement in Paul Tracy's voice in the NBCSN booth reinforced how vibrant a short track IndyCar race can be and how vital that little oval in the Corn Belt is to this series.

"Before I passed all those cars at the end, it had been a helluva night of racing people all over the track," said 2014 Indy 500 winner RHR following his 10th-to-first miracle Saturday night. "It's fast, it's close and it's what IndyCar racing is all about. We can't ever lose places like this."
[Reference Here]

Improve the formula which services established oval track venues by offering MORE in a shorter period of time for each event capitalizes on what is common to most motor culture events (racing, or otherwise) ... overload.

Just as with Autoweek in mid-August held at the mouth of the Salinas Valley in California ... Concours de Elegance, Pebble Beach and the Rolex Motorsports Reunion, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca ... expand the  points of interest of fan draw at the venue to where no one person could take in all of the event. No excuse to NOT attend should be available to the motor culture fan.

... notes from The EDJE

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Two Race Weekend At Grand Prix Of Houston Delivers High Octane Fan Results

Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Tony Kanaan, driving the No. 10 DW12 car that Dario Franchitti drove to injury last year, leads a large group of cars at the beginning of Race 2/Round 10 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. Image Credit: Richard Dowdy via (2014)

Two Race Weekend At Grand Prix Of Houston Delivers High Octane Fan Results

The assumption in most high-level professional exotic open-wheel automobile racing is that one has to qualify their car faster than anyone in order to achieve a good result. The well funded multiple car super teams always are able to out perform and dominate because once the favorable top order starting positions are filled, the race can feature great control with little passing and the wins and points all go to the best qualifiers.

At the 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston this template was thrown out of the window save the points garnered for the season's championship race.

The two race weekend highlighted everything that is great about American open-wheel racing and did this under all weather conditions. Rookies, relatives, and relocation drivers were the stars while drivers of the so-called super teams of Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti were pushed aside (figuratively and literally) of the limelight at race's end of Race 1/Round 9 on Saturday and Race 2/Round 10 on Sunday to deliver the most entertaining weekend of any racing series in this world in recent memory.

Penske Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya - P2, Dale Coyne Racing's Carlos Huertas - P1, and Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz - P3 celebrate a first time all Colombian driver IndyCar podium achieved on Race 1/Round 9at the Grand Prix of Houston. Image Credit: Andretti Autosport (2014)

Race 1/Round 9 - Three Drivers From Colombia On Podium

At the halfway point in the Verizon IndyCar Season, one would like a bit of clarity from season points leaders after the strength of the last three races shown by Penske Racing, but none was coming at the 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston [Twitter idents: @MtrsprtsJournal @TheEDJE #IndyCar #GPHOU].

Through the previous practice sessions, Will Power showed that he had the stuff to tame the track. He ended up with the second fastest lap time just behind Schmidt Peterson Motorsports standout Simon Pagenaud.

When it came to the three dry weather knock-out qualification sessions for the Firestone Fast 6, however, season points leader Power could not advance out of Group 2 to the top 12. As for Simon Pagenaud, he was able to grab his first ever pole award in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Power, starting from deep in the field at P18 of 23 cars, stated the blame was his fault on the dictated set up of the car ... “Definitely not starting where we would like to be but we just have to go out there and see what happens and hope the Chevy can make its way to the front,” Power said. "It's a much more difficult track to come from the back, but in IndyCar races anything can happen."

When it came to race time, rain had Race Control declare a Wet Start ... and soon after the Dallara DW12's roll out on the improved temporary parking lot/street track to warm-up for the planned standing start, the race was further declared a timed event at one-hour and fifty minutes (1:50.000).

Temporary street course (mostly parking lot and run counter-clockwise) layout for the 2014 Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. Image Credit: Pensky Racing (2014)

This excerpted and edited from For The Love Of Indy -

First Impressions: Houston 2014 Race One
Saturday, June 28, 2014

1. I thought I was more likely to win an IndyCar race this season than Carlos Huertas. Nine races and he is an IndyCar winner. A guy who's lone victory in Formula Renault 3.5 came in a monsoon. A guy who was rumored to be the sugar daddy savior for Panther Racing over the winter and now he was more wins this season than the four Ganassi drivers combined. It may takes me six months to wrap my head around this victory.

2. And Colombians finished 1-2-3 with Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Muñoz rounding out the podium. They used strategy to perfection in this timed race. They stopped at the right time when they knew they could make it to the end while the leaders stayed out. Not to mention Colombia advancing to the quarterfinals in the World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Uruguay. They will play Brazil on the 4th of July while these three go at it again tomorrow.

3. Graham Rahal had a day that started out from hell, appeared to made it out alive, only to be dragged right back down after getting into the back of Tony Kanaan before going green. What else could go wrong for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing? Luca Filippi was running well before slapping the wall on a restart due to cold tires. They can make it all up tomorrow but it will be difficult to recover from the way today ended.

4. Any other day and Sébastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Hélio Castroneves are the top six. Andretti of all people probably had the race of the day. From being spun by his teammate Muñoz to being black flagged for running competitive laps to then leader Takuma Sato and the Japanese driver failing to get by the American to recovering and being one of the half dozen caught out on pit strategy. Keep your eyes on all six tomorrow.

5. Justin Wilson finished tenth (at least I think he will after Graham Rahal and Ryan Briscoe are assessed their penalties) and did 46 laps on one stint. Huertas did 39 laps to make it to the checkered flag. I don't know what Dale Coyne Racing did to their cars over the break but it appears to have worked. Great job by the whole team.

6. This was a day that appeared to be one where Castroneves, Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud could catch up on Will Power as he started eighteenth and was a non-factor all day before sliding into the tires, ending his run of completing every lap in 2014. But, with the likes of Pagenaud, Mike Conway, Charlie Kimball, Scott Dixon, Luca Filippi and Takuma Sato having problems, Power finished fourteenth and only lost six points over Castroneves in the standings. Things are falling Power's way in 2014.

7. I hate to think that this race could have ended better. It was a timed race and I enjoyed it. They did the hour and fifty minutes like they said and I should take that. But after being so close to a green flag finish and having the Rahal-Kanaan contact deflate the balloon stinks. Who knows? Maybe Huertas would have won anyway but what could have been?

8. Tomorrow's race will be nothing like today's but what a race it was. My jaw is still on the floor. Everyone get some rest, rehydrate and we will dance again tomorrow. By the way, there are no Dutch, Mexican, Costa Rican or Greek drivers in the race, so no IndyCar/World Cup double like today.
[Reference Here]

Caution flag is out due to a spin and stall after catching a puddle by Will Power - Time Remaining in Race: 27:080. Power was the only driver to complete every lap in 8 races but with this spin, no more drivers will have "perfect attendance" in 2014.

Best Television Broadcast Quote:
With 11 minutes remaining, an Englishman (Justin Wilson) was being chased by four angry Colombians - Huertas, JPM, Kanaan and Munoz!

Note - Justin Wilson had to pit on Lap 74 for fuel ... so much for anger.

Car 8 - Ganassi's Ryan Briscoe and 15 - Rahal Letterman Lanigan's Graham Rahal received 30-second penalties for avoidable contact with Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan respectively.

Season Points leader Will Power escapes two very poor qualification sessions and two poor race finishes by leaving Races 9 and 10 of an 18 race season with the same points lead as he entered the weekend. Image Credit: Steve Swope via Penske Racing (2014)

Race 2/Round 10 - Non-Super Teams Sweep Podium (rookies secure 2 of 3 positions)

On Sunday, in a two session of Group A and Group B qualifications process where the drivers go out on track and pray for at least one clear lap in a few short minutes - about enough time for three laps after one out-lap - times posted are fanned into each other, every other position, starting from the fastest time from the group that this time was posted.

Example: Say Group B had the fastest overall time, so, P1=B, P2=A, P3=next fastest B, P4=next fastest A ... and so on, and so on.

Penske Racing's Helio Castroneves gained a point by winning the pole for today's race (3:45 p.m., NBCSN). Castroneves gained only six points on Power on Saturday when he finished ninth as Power finished 14th.

The pole is the 40th of the Brazilian's career, tying him with Penske Racing's team manager Rick Mears as being only five drivers to achieve or surpass this mark on IndyCar's all-time list.

Penske Racing team-mate Will Power, again qualified poorly and ended up with the same starting position as Race 1 - P18. His lead over Castroneves at the season's halfway point is 32 points.

 This excerpted and edited from Miami Hearld -

Pagenaud wins Race 2 in Houston
By via Miami Hearld Open Wheel

In this 90-lap race, run in hot and humid conditions at Houston's NRG Park, Helio Castroneves from Team Penske started on the pole and led 47 of the first 48 laps, but Pagenaud overtook Castroneves for the top spot on lap 49. Pagenaud had led one circuit earlier during a round of green-flag pit stops.

Later on that same lap, Castroneves tried to catch Pagenaud but bumped into Sebastien Bourdais and then made contact with the wall near turn 6, ending his race.
Castroneves wound up finishing 21st, as he lost an opportunity to narrow the points gap between him and leader Will Power, his teammate.

"When I lost the lead with Pagenaud, I was trying to pass him, but I had no idea [Bourdais] was there," Castroneves said. "When I'm attacking, I can't have eyes in the back of my head. It's absolutely ridiculous when the guy has to put the car over there. But anyway it's the rules of traffic...I'm upset because we had a great car. There were [42] laps to go, and I wasn't panicking. It is what it is, and I'll move on and see what happens."

Power started 18th for the second day in a row but had moved up to third before he sustained a broken rear suspension in the closing laps. He limped across the line in 11th. Power's point advantage over Castroneves is now 39, the same margin between the two entering the Houston doubleheader.

"We were in position for a good day, considering where we had qualified," Power said. "We were going to maximize our points, but we had a parts malfunction with two laps to go. We fought really hard all day with nothing to show for it."

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan finished sixth through 10th, respectively.

One day after scoring his first career victory in IndyCar, rookie Carlos Huertas completed just two laps before he experienced an electrical issue, as he stalled on the track. Huertas finished last.
Pagenaud went on to lead the final 42 laps and crossed the finish line 7.2622 seconds ahead of Aleshin. The Frenchman scored his first win of the season in the May 10 inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, held on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course.

In Saturday's rain-soaked Race 1 in Houston, Pagenaud started on the pole but ended up finishing six laps behind in 16th after he struggled with brake issues in the early going and then was involved in a multi-car crash during the mid-stages.

Simon Pagenaud owns the curb as he tracks around the parking lot temporary circuit during Race 2/Round 10 at the Grand Prix of Houston. Image Credit: (2014)

"Awesome race," said Pagenaud, who won for the fourth time in his IndyCar career. "The car was just beautiful. Awesome braking. Awesome traction. Awesome grip. What else could you expect as a driver. That's why I was so disappointed yesterday."

Aleshin's race on Saturday ended on lap 33 when he made contact with Takuma Sato and crashed into the turn 6 barrier. The Russian finished last in the 23- car field.

"I can't really explain my feeling. I just have so much emotion," Aleshin said after his runner-up finish in Race 2. "I had a flat tire on my car in the last few laps. I was really lucky to finish, actually. I'm very happy. The team did am amazing job. I don't have enough English words to thank the team for that."
Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports claimed its first ever 1-2 finish in the IndyCar Series in Sunday's Race 2 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend doubleheader.

Simon Pagenaud captured his second win of the season, while his rookie teammate, Mikhail Aleshin, finished a career-best second.
Rookie Jack Hawksworth earned his first career podium finish in IndyCar with a third-place run, while Charlie Kimball took the fourth spot. Bourdais suffered a broken front wing during his incident with Castroneves but rebounded for a fifth-place result.

[Reference Here]

Fan reaction to the weekend's action was over the top (sample tweets):

As stated before ... probably the best and most entertaining weekend of any racing series, in this world, in recent memory.

... notes from The EDJE