Reactions seem split on RLR’s recent decision to oh-so-suddenly replace Jeff Simmons. There is some sympathy for Rahal and even more excitement at what Ryan Hunter-Reay might be able to do in an IndyCar, but mostly there is outrage due largely to the timing. To change drivers for a fulltime ride in the middle of a season is mighty rare, and although Simmons has had trouble the last few races he hasn’t been the worst driver by any stretch.
And besides: fellow wreckmate Kosuke Matsuura still has a ride but Simmons doesn't? Go figure.
On the one hand, Simmons seemed to be a solid driver most of the time. He had a really good showing at Indy this year, and he did a fine job of claiming a position in the middle of the pack on any type of track with what was widely considered a middle of the pack car. You couldn’t put Tony Kanaan in that car and expect much better results…OK, maybe you could, but no one ever said Simmons was Kanaan.
On the other hand, Simmons was prone to mistakes in bunches. Most of his accidents came in consecutive races, and making mistakes in a league where most races feature only a handful of cautions will magnify the errors. This is probably what Bobby Rahal was focusing on, especially since there has never been anything written to indicate that The Bob was highly enthusiastic at employing Simmons in the first place.
Complicating all of this is the fact that driving the Ethanol-sponsored #17 is one of the most involved rides in all of motorsports, since the brief but significant legacy of Paul Dana is that the driver of that car needs to be able to help spread the word about Ethanol on behalf of an entire industry. Scott Sharp isn’t called upon to discuss the manufacturing process of Patron Tequila and Marco Andretti doesn’t have to express his opinions on stocks changing hands at the NYSE, but from the day he took the ride Simmons immersed himself to the point he could intelligibly discuss anything related to Ethanol production. For goodness sakes, he was even giving speeches on the subject!
But now all that has been lost, and Simmons is left to shop his reflexes, big brain and Vulcan-looking mug elsewhere. When he was in the IPS (22 Top 5s in 34 starts) he drove briefly for AJ Foyt, so maybe there’s an opportunity there. Heck, he may even find a ride next year in the merry-go-round of personnel that currently comprises Champ Car. Regardless of where he goes from here, it needed to be said that despite his inability to reach the Top 5 in 25 ICS races there’s still empathy here for a guy who took a tough job under dire circumstances and was then shown the door on bad terms.
If it’s at all possible, hopefully his next job will be just about the racing.
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