Obstacle course

Posted by Iannucci | 3/31/2008 | 13 comments »
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Just as expected there were haves (as in speed) and have-nots on the track for this historic season opener, where despite the fact that the outcome was decided by one of the have-nots there was actually quite a bit of racing going on. Whereas last year this was a one-car race, this year there were five or six cars battling until the finish. Moreover, like final race of last season the leader with 5 laps to go was not the winner.

That exuberance is not intended to diminish the fact that the Tony Kanaan should have won the race, but given the fact that two months ago we were looking at a completely different entry list, well, this wasn’t entirely unexpected. We knew going in it was going to be an obstacle course of slower traffic, and racing being the luck-based sport that it is meant that it was highly likely a few contenders were going to get caught up in something not of their doing. And so they did, although thankfully none of the incidents were of the eight-car variety.

And really, as much as anticipation as there was in the hopes of someone, anyone challenging the three-time champion on this track, the exciting race was only marginally more important than simply making sure all of these oval newbies left the track on their feet and not a stretcher. You knew more than a few drivers would find their way into the wall since this track can be unkind to even a veteran driver, but to see so few accidents without any major damage was extremely encouraging.

Oh, and by the way it was indeed sponsored by Gainsco Auto Insurance and not XM as ESPN stated. Oops.

The Good

IndyCars, 25 of them, at night, in HD. I may never erase this from the DVR.

This was the Marco Andretti we were warned about years ago. The young, fearless, talented offspring of the offspring still has yet to win on an oval, but no one will come away with negative comments from his performance on Saturday. Even in his miraculous non-wreck of a pass of Scott Dixon to take the lead, 3.0 was showing some major improvements over last year. Is it too late to amend my “small-pox” comment about the series champion?

Much was made of Dan Wheldon – and rightfully so – for starting near the back and tracking down every driver until he finally gained the lead, but teammate Scott Dixon has now led 8 of the last 9 IndyCar series races, winning 5 of those. Read that again – he’s won 5 of the last 9, and he finished second in 2 others. The Iceman is still on fire.

And talk all you want about Wheldon moving from 22nd to a 3rd place finish, but that’s not too different from Ed Carpenter going from 24th to 5th. The Hammer has finished in the Top 6 only four times in 66 career starts, two those being his last two races at Homestead. So the historical stats say it’s only downhill from here.

Buddy Rice, quietly finished 11th. Shh, don’t tell anyone or he might actually get some sponsorship on the D&R sidepods.

Oriol Servia deserves some congratulations for being the highest finishing refugee in 12th, which in this case means finishing 5 laps back. We’ve just had one race and some testing sessions but so far KV racing and not NHL appears to be the class of the refugees.

Despite looking like the free RaceCast from last year but with the all-important driver-crew audio now added, RaceControl worked pretty well for me. I had some issues with the “telemetry” portion, but Will at Is It May Yet? had that working as well and has a nice little review of the gadget. Memo to MediaZone: can we get Marco next race? Please?

The Bad

"I was having such a great race, it was going the way we wanted it to do and I was taking my time out there, working my way through traffic, it was perfect but it's a shame I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."Ryan Briscoe, on getting collected when Milka duno spun out

"When somebody spins and he's doing 230 miles an hour, you're like, 'Where should I go?' I slowed down, he was on the bottom, so I went to the top. Then, all of a sudden he started to go to the top and I was trying to go to the bottom, so there was nothing I could do about it."Tony Kanaan, on trying in vain to avoid Ernesto Viso

"From where I was, it was green, the leaders were going, and all of a sudden everyone just checked up and I nearly got in the wall. It ruined my race. We go over and over and over it in the drivers' meeting - you can't check up once you've started. This is oval racing, not road course racing. You can't do that type of stuff. I didn't know what was up with Tony's car."Ryan Hunter-Reay, on Tony Kanaan staying out on the final restart.

"The ousted chief executive officer of collapsed brokerage Opes Prime Group, Lirim Emini, has been barred from leaving the country, while up to 1200 clients are still in the dark about what will happen to their frozen accounts." – from The Age, stating that Conquest Racing’s sponsor for Enrique Bernoldi and Franck Perera is somewhere in the neighborhood of US$950M in the red.

The Ugly

About a month ago there was no need for IndyCar fans to be concerned with the likes of Oriol Servia and Justin Wilson, but now the need is there. The race on Saturday night was well-contested throughout much of the event, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of time to squeeze in a couple of 30- or 60-second puff pieces on some of these refugees. And I mean ANY of them.

This isn’t like seasons in the past where there are one or two new faces and they likely aren’t going to be racing near the front anytime soon. Over a third of the field is new, and the only introductions we got were “there’s Graham Rahal standing next to his dad” and a post-incident chit-chat with Will Power. Meanwhile Servia and Franck Perera were moving up near the Top 10 in a race where that actually meant something.

A gentle suggestion for the WorldWide Leader: please profile some of these drivers for us. They might have been embarrassed in the season opener, but starting this Sunday their chances on street and road courses are going to be dramatically better. IndyCar fans are going to be spending a lot of time with drivers like Wilson, Power and Rahal over the next few years, so go ahead and introduce them to us at your earliest convenience. Thank you.


  1. Anonymous // March 31, 2008 12:22 PM  

    im excited about all of this
    granted ESPN could improve but lets face it i doubt they were prepared for having to follow more than 18 drivers. The key thing is 2009 is going to be something amazing

  2. Anonymous // March 31, 2008 12:51 PM  

    May I suggest changing Marco's picture to a more current one? He kinda looks like a little kid...

  3. John in Speedway // March 31, 2008 1:05 PM  

    One thing I didn't like about the start of the race is the fact that ESPN started out with a split cam. I wanted to see the start and the first few laps in widescreen hi-def, rather than a split screen. I forget whose in-car-cam it was. A very minor thing, but since we are discussing, I thought I'd point it out. Don't get me wrong, I loved the overall product. Great race. Beautifual Hi-Def under the lights. Texas is going to be beautiful also. If only they would run the Indy Lights cars first in Kentucky, rather than the IndyCars, that race would be under the lights also.

  4. Tabernerus // March 31, 2008 1:16 PM  

    Yeah, the start of the race was a little weird. I bought a big-screen so I could watch TV on a ... well ... big screen. Not on a third of a big screen. Oh well. They were playing with their new toys (360 in-car cams).

  5. SandWedge // March 31, 2008 1:23 PM  

    I don't think they normally would have done it, the in-car cam they were showing was Wheldon, I think they were going for the lets see how quickly he decimates the field thing.

    I'd still kill for maybe even just 15-20 minutes of coverage before the race spent on interviews with the drivers...

  6. mikebdot // March 31, 2008 1:40 PM  

    I did enjoy the 360 degree cam. That actually added value to the race.

    They had the three screen split screen on there at one point when it was completely unnecessary, then later in the race when there were pits of leaders on different laps, they didn't use it to show Dixon come out in front of Marco, etc. That would have been useful to know and fun to watch...

    ESPN's coverage pretty much sucks all the way around, regardless of the sporting event. I've begun to hate their entire line-up of commentators, their experts, and even the lines given to their female employees "Wheldon likes to come from behind". I'm sure he does. I'm sure he does.

  7. pressdog // March 31, 2008 2:05 PM  

    Buddy Rice, 11th ... 4 laps down. Extremely impressive. Finishing on the lead lap would be a good first step. Race Control telemetry went belly up for me after the first pit stop. Is it too much to expect something you pay $40 for to work the first time?

  8. John in Speedway // March 31, 2008 4:19 PM  

    Yeah, I second the motion from sandwedge. We need more pre-race coverage, and better yet, POST-RACE coverage. I realize our TV contracts aren't the greatest, but hopefully that will change. I'd like to see all the post-race coverage. As for the Race Control, I spent all of 5 minutes checking it out. I sat down, and was like: "Yeah this is pretty cool. OK, back to the TV." Maybe if could set up a laptop in the living room or something.

  9. Zappatista // March 31, 2008 4:20 PM  

    Is it not a good time to bring up the TOL fantasy scores??

  10. Nancy // March 31, 2008 7:19 PM  

    Kudos for calling "the bad" what it is. Those "new" guys were amazing professionals in my opinion. A little "welcome to the party" is in order here, ESPN. I'm actually jealous of all you guys who got to see the race in HD...the whole trip home from Miami we couldn't wait to watch it and when we got there we found that a recording glitch kept the race from recording...yikes! Maybe next week. Thanks for the picture credit Jeff.

  11. Bash // April 01, 2008 6:55 PM  

    XM was TV's title sponsor for the broadcast - local TV listings and DVR cable guide had it that way, as well. Same thing happened at Infineon last year - it was the Motorola Indy 300 at the track, but the title sponsor for the TV broadcast was something else...a make of batteries, I think. I'm guessing a company usually buys the rights to both, and it sure is confusing when they don't...

    I too bought Race Control, and I think it will be cool...when it's all working. Next week, I hope? St. Pete should be WILD!

  12. Jeff Iannucci // April 02, 2008 7:40 AM  

    Thanks for the clarification, Bash.

  13. Tabernerus // April 02, 2008 9:10 AM  

    I love the pic and caption. What IS the deal with no champagne???