Given lemons and making lemonade

Posted by Iannucci | 4/07/2008 | 13 comments »
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Suppose you had just decided to introduce a friend to IndyCar racing on Sunday. Your friend would have seen a race with a gloomy forecast that started under yellow, featured lots of sliding by otherwise professional drivers, had hardly any recognizable names running near the front, and eventually ended because time was called. That’s not exactly an event anyone would hold up as the great standard of open-wheel racing. In fact, a ridiculous event like that seems like it should be forgotten as quickly as possible.

But one thing happened that made it extremely memorable: Graham Rahal won. A 19-year-old won. The son of a former Indy 500 champion won. The first Champ Car refugee has won. The first non Big Three team win in 38 races. It’s Graham’s first IndyCar series win. In his first IndyCar series race. He won! Holy Flying American Teenagers, Batman!

So yeah, the end result was more than a little significant.

The Good

The streak is OVER! We may see a new streak reborn starting in Motegi (well, not counting Long Beach the same weekend) but for now hope springs eternal once again for all teams not named Penske, Ganassi or Andretti Green. Then again, maybe it’s now the Big Four.

The rivalry has now officially been born. Marco and Graham each have a win (on non-ovals, no less) coming at 19-years of age, and despite the fact they both would rather be driving in F1 for the time being we can all bask in the glow of seeing the offspring of our affection go forth into the world serving as proud testament to our union...sorry, got carried away with the Firestone Ad there for a moment.

Less than a month ago Paul Stoddart said his Minardi team was done, but partner Keith Wiggins managed to pick up the pieces and form the one car HVM racing. On Sunday that team and their driver EJ “Don’t call me Ernesto” Viso raced near the front most of the day, finishing just off the podium in fourth. Somebody find Stoddart and see if he needs a hanky.

Did you know Hideki Mutoh finished sixth? Of course you didn’t, because his name was hardly mentioned during the entire broadcast. ESPN better straighten that out for the next race because he’s going to be HUGE at Motegi no matter where he finishes.

Six of the Top 10 drivers were from refugee teams racing in just their second IndyCar series event. Clearly there is a new set of favorites for the road/street course events this year, which begs the question: Who absorbed whom?

The Bad

Rain sucks, but not racing on a street course because of rain sucks even more. Puddles, schmuddles, next time put the grooved tires on and get on with it so we don’t have this timed race garbage.

He may be telling Brian Barnhart when to start the race, but Tony Kanaan was on the podium but without a win for the fourth straight year at St Pete. Here’s a word for the new Director of Race Operations: Karma.

Even though one of them was not his fault, Ryan Briscoe has now failed to finish in both of his races for Team Penske. You could tell Briscoe was feeling nervous because he was somehow blaming Jay Howard for this week’s crash, even though the reply showed Briscoe smacked two walls all by himself. The line for that ride leads out the door, and he knows it.

It’s been a while since Townsend Bell raced in the IndyCar series, so maybe he’s unfamiliar with the concept of slowing and not passing in an area that has a “local yellow”. Perhaps that should be said in the past tense, because after slamming into a parked Vitor Meira he’s definitely familiar with the concept now.

Finishing on the lead lap for a race like this should be considered respectable, but once again on a non-oval Dan Wheldon was never a threat. If memory serves me correctly this is the last year of his well-compensated contract with TCGR, and if memory serves me correctly again they have already signed Alex Lloyd to drive something. With more road and street courses being added every year, we can all read the writing on the wall here.

The Ugly

This was a fantastic win for both Graham Rahal and the Indy Racing League for numerous reasons stated in the second paragraph of this post. Even in post-race interviews other drivers were praising the Son of ‘Stache for his victory and noting how it’s a good thing for everyone. So why on Earth did Marty Reid feel the need to add absurdity to the warm and fuzzy moment by going on and on about Earl and Tiger Woods?

Rahal's win was a noteworthy victory for a driver with a recognizable name, but let’s all be honest about this: Graham won that race largely because his team had a superior fuel strategy. He drove very well, sure, but he was also the greatest beneficiary of the late yellow flags that allowed him to remain out while other drivers had to pit. That’s largely what won the race for him and his team.

So to compare Graham and his victory in a goofy and random race like this to a guy like Woods who is arguably the greatest ever in his sport is on par with Todd Harris comparing Danica Patrick to Amelia Earhart. I can buy the angle of a father being proud of his son, but that’s more like Michael and Marco Andretti than the Woods family. Tiger? Come on! Maybe if Graham wins six or seven races this year Marty’s words will prove prophetic, but right now they’re simply exaggerated buffoonery.


  1. Anonymous // April 07, 2008 9:37 AM  

    The dismal job by the ABC/ESPN crew coming out of the split screen deserves special my count they totally missed three restarts on a track where 90% of the passing occurs on the first turn. Splitting the screen should not be an excuse for missing race action, especially in a race in which 70% of the broadcast time was run under yellow.

    And at least twice Marty Reid noted there was a "one to go" command before the producer tried to shoehorn in two more minutes of commercials.

    Finally, the entire broadcast crew seemed to miss the fact that RLR ran RHR out of the cornjuice at the end of the race and cost that team a podium. Fire Scott Roembke, as this is the fourth time in the last year that RLR has gambled on fuel and come up snake eyes.

    On the bright side, the Burger King robot commercial was delightfully creepy.

  2. Fred Hurley // April 07, 2008 10:22 AM  

    Leaving aside the ESPN coverage for a moment, the only part of the race that really boggled my mind was starting under yellow. I could understand one lap of yellow, to give everyone a chance for just a little more track recon, but really, ten laps? Seriously? Other than that, I actually really enjoyed the race. You'd never know it from the broadcast, but there was a fair bit of passing - it certainly was nothing like some of the parades people fear. I also like the element of palm-treed glamor that St. Pete adds. Yachts and palm trees always play well on TV.

    As for ESPN, well, yeah. They missed a BUNCH of passing, missed some restarts, and generally did not do a great job of making the race seem smooth and well-produced. I like Marty and Scott, as they seem knowledgeable and committed to the series. But I can't shake the feeling that they're just not that great at building excitement during a race. Paul Page may have gone too far the other way at times, but when Zanardi went into the grass to get around Herta, you KNEW it was a big moment, even if you'd never seen a race.

  3. pressdog // April 07, 2008 10:38 AM  

    I thought the race was awesome. Highly entertaining. Wet, dry strategy all over the place, timed race, yellows, it all played into it. NHL CARVED everyone on the strategy front. What a shocker. Way more entertaining than watching the Big Three bitchslap the field, again, on an oval at Homestead.

  4. Mark // April 07, 2008 11:05 AM  

    Only one thing could have made that race more exciting to watch... PT.

    But believe me, I am not complaining.

  5. Anonymous // April 07, 2008 12:09 PM  

    is it NHL beating the big three or just proving now with one open wheel series its now the big 4

    38 wins straight in IRL and several straight league championships in both IRL and CC.

  6. Anonymous // April 07, 2008 12:09 PM  

    I don't think this was apparent from the TV broadcast, but the rain didn't start until literally 2minutes before the race was supposed to start. I guess they didn't have the sophisticated weather radar here that they had at Indy last year. They really got the race done just in time, too, because about 15 minutes later it started pouring and didn't stop until after midnight.

    I had a great time at the race, but I must admit that I had to come home and watch the ESPN broadcast to see exactly what happened (and yes, they kind of dropped the ball on a lot of things). With all of the pitting and spinning and tire changing and spinning, it was kind of tough to keep track of who was where on the track.

  7. Fred Hurley // April 07, 2008 12:34 PM  

    Even if NHL does improve on the ovals, and becomes another top team, I don't think you can keep complaining about only having a few teams capable of winning if you're talking about four teams, accounting for over a third of the field. And I full expect KVR to improve, and become at least a 1A team, if not an equal competitor to Penske, Ganassi, AGR, and NHL. That'll be five teams, fielding 12 drivers. That's not a bad talent core at the top of the standings.

  8. The American Mutt // April 07, 2008 2:37 PM  

    I don't think it'll remain safe to rule out RLR or Vision either.

  9. John in Speedway // April 07, 2008 7:10 PM  

    Unless Vision was a fluke last week with their strong finishes, despite starting at the back of the field, they should be contenders on the ovals. Hey Jeff: You should could consider changing EJ's new nickname to "Don't Call Me Ernesto"!!

  10. Nancy // April 07, 2008 9:27 PM  

    Everthing jb said and this...
    Even though he's right about the timeing of the rain (and I'm thankful for that), it was a LOT wetter than it looked like when I got home and watched the DVR replay. And as for the ball-dropping, let's start with the lack of a scoreboard. The giant big screens were great, but waiting for the scroll without commentary was meaningless. But the big one was that only the 10% of those who had scanners even knew the race was ending. There was one audible blurb about 2/3 through the race that spoke of a "possibility of a timed race". The big screens showed only the laps to go and NOTHING about time left. I guess I'll pay better attention to the flag stand in future races, but I have to wonder what all of that technology is for if it can't even tell me that the last lap is coming up much less happening...

  11. Anonymous // April 07, 2008 10:40 PM  

    (Yawn)....I'm sorry...I just woke up....must have fallen asleep during another Bo----o----oring road race! And now I see that the owners who tried to destroy Indy car racing as we knew it placed several of their drivers in the top 10, including the winner. Let us not forget the open display of animosity by Mr Newman towards the IRL during most of its life. memory's not that short. Wake me up when we get back to real racing...American style---on ovals!...I'm going to finish my nap.

  12. Anonymous // April 08, 2008 2:04 PM  

    Oh yeah... one more thing-- They have these new TV scanners called "Lvis" by Wise DV that we rented instead of track scan this time around. Word to the wise- don't. These things were total crap. They're a great idea (you can switch between the TV feed and several different track angles or in car cameras), but the implementation was very poor. They would freeze up between 15 seconds and 3 minutes after it was turned on, and then you'd have to pull the battery out to re-set it. Total waste of $35.

  13. Anonymous // April 09, 2008 12:56 AM  

    UGLY : the paint jobs on the NHLR cars and the use of the non existant numbers of 02 and 06 !!!

    also the crash by "Fronkenstein".

    and of course the race being shortened by 17 laps !! That's like a 7 inning rained out baseball game. what was ESPN showing the next hour poker ?? The TV broadcast "partner" needs to vastly improve its coverage !!