Mini 2008: Driver of the Year

Posted by Iannucci | 12/31/2008 | 5 comments »
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Well, here we are, the grand finale of the longest running awards show since the 1998 Academy Awards, which I think are still going on. Oh wait, you said that's over? ... "Saving Private Ryan" didn't win? Well what did? ... "Shakespeare In Bed"??? You gotta be kidding me!

OK, with that in mind we now get to the "Driver of the Year" award, for which whe have many worthy candidates from which to choose. Will it be Danica Patrick, who finally won and got to use the word "finally" a lot? How about the youthful Graham Rahal, the well-shaved and youngest winner in series history? Perhaps it was Ryan-Hunter Reay, who with his comprehensive ethanol training helped the beleaguered RLR team return to the winners circle?

Nope, nope and nope. This is a tough category, people, and winning alone won't get you nominated. A driver has to do something special get into this elite group, and by special I mean in some cases not winning (although the totally un-winning Vitor Meira isn't in here either.) Here are the happy few, the nominees for 2008.

Scott Dixon - Winning a race won't get you nominated, but winning SIX will. Sure he had the best car and the best pit stall for most of the season, but the fact is he took care of business and won Indy as well as his second series title. Now if he'd just start doing something attention-grabbing like climbing fences are riding a unicycle we'd be getting somewhere.

Paul Tracy - It may seem ridiculous to nominate a guy who raced in just one event all year, but even without having a ride Tracy was talked about as much as any other driver. For crying out loud, they called a press conference just to announce the one ride he got. He later advanced from 15th to 4th in that event, garnering more air time for his efforts than the entire Dale Coyne Racing team did all season.

Oriol Servia - There are no flashy stats to back this up, as Oriol only had 6 Top 10 finishes in 16 starts. But since I'm doing the nominating I'm picking the guy, because it seems every time I looked up Servia was highest among the "transition" drivers as well as a few other IRL regulars. If a guy can go all year and make just one mistake at Texas, well that man deserves this nod. Oh, and the groovy helmet design didn't hurt either.

AJ Foyt IV - The 24-year-old Texan had some unspectacular results on the track (although he did somehow lead a road race for a few laps), but this acknowledgment isn't for the racing. It's for surviving a team that lit him on fire TWICE at Indy, which is more than all other teams combined. It's also for giving the best interview of the year.

And the winner is...

Helio Castroneves - Thanks to the banana suit above, for the first time ever the Indy Racing League had two drivers your friends and neighbors actually knew. The difference between the drivers is that one of them actually won lots of things, like races and dancing competitions.

On the track Helio tried valiantly to do what no other driver could, and that was to keep up with the juggernaut that was Scott Dixon. In July all hope of a series championship seemed gone as Helio trailed Iceman by a staggering 8,549,176,230 points our dancing champion did not buckle. Instead he responded by finishing 1st or 2nd in every one of the remaining six races.

Let me say that again: 1st or 2nd in 6 consecutive races. That's clutch.

As a result Helio ended the season having led 13 of the 17 points-related races, something even Dixon could not claim. This year Helio did not win the IndyCar series championship, did not win the Indianapolis 500, and actually won less races than his teammate, but he did win over a bunch of new fans who even though they probably don't watch IndyCar races can recognize him for what he is.

A dancing champion and a race car driver, and a man who may or may not be deported for felonies related to tax evasion. Congratulations to Helio, who fortunately has to declare absolutely nothing to the I.R.S. for receiving this award.

Moonlighting at the Silent Pagoda

Posted by Iannucci | 12/31/2008 | 4 comments »
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The year was 1981, and Mario Andretti was clearly in possession of one of the fastest cars for the upcoming Indianapolis 500. However, rain on the first two days of qualification and an obligation to race overseas rudely prevented Mario from putting his own car in the show, so Wally Dallenbach (yes, THAT Wally Dallenbach) had to come out of retirement and get the car qualified.

And as a result, Mario started in the back row from the 32nd position.

So on race day Mario had to reconcile not only how he had a spectacular car with a spectacular opportunity to win a this spectacular race but also that he had to start this annual quest sucking exhaust and avoiding the lesser drivers ahead. He had what it took to get to the front, but he had to make his way through a lot of traffic to get there.

This, dear reader, is exactly where The Silent Pagoda is right now. has done many things right over the years, but they’ve treated Silent Pagoda like some kind of backmarker of their site. Last year Roy Hobbson was denied the very basics of the medium – graphics, links, italics – but he still managed to diligently plod through the racing season despite having the site existing where it could only be found by some kind of magical “Easter Egg” combination of clicking and keystrokes.

Meanwhile the lovely but tone-deaf Lauren Bohlander gets a staff, a video camera and catered brunch from Square Donuts just to help her warble out the “12 Days of Christmas” on the front page. Talk about social injustice.

Well, Roy has had enough. He’s not only brought in the finest Eastern European HTML gnomes that beer money can buy, but he’s also managed to encourage others like myself to come aboard and help get this sleek and shiny set of zeroes and ones up to front where it belongs. Are we doing it for the money? Pffft, there’s no money to be made in IndyCars. Are we doing it for the fame? As if. Then what are we doing it for? Because, quite frankly, it needs to be done.

Henceforth I’ll not only be contributing to The Silent Pagoda under the banner of "The Velvet Terrace" but I’ll also be linking it on the sidebar, where hopefully you and tens of your friends will eagerly click, reading every post during every waking moment of your day. I’m just one small part of the equation, friends, but if we can save just one reader from accidentally clicking on yet another mind-numbing article about ethanol production it will be entirely worth the collective effort.

(Fear not, I’m still going to be here at My Name Is IRL. I haven’t spread myself so thin that I've kicked myself off my own site. Not yet, at least.)

Mini 2008: Race of the Year

Posted by Iannucci | 12/30/2008 | 3 comments »
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The ironic thing about the 2008 season is that much of the excitement was in the early months. Unification made Homestead that much more interesting, if only to see which of the refugees from Champ Car would be able to successfully last the entirety of that first high-speed oval. St Pete and Motegi brought unexpected maiden victories for Graham Rahal and Danica Patrick, and even Indy was pretty exciting since the race didn't get rained out.

Later though as the season wore on we had to suffer through some less than inspiring events. Infineon was, as always, a total snooze. Belle Isle was known for a pass that didn't occur and the black flag that followed. The single-lane oval at Nashville was decided when Scott Dixon missed a pit stop and inadvertently won.

But this isn't an about the races best forgotten, it's about the ones worth remembering. We had plenty to choose from, although it should be noted Indy is always excluded from this category because it is inherently awesome - rain or shine. So here are the 2008 nominees for Race of the Year.

Milwaukee - Ryan Briscoe's win under yellow resulted in a bunch of folks getting all hysterical by demanding green-white-checkered finishes, but even that couldn't diminish this fine race. Townsend Bell jumped (figuratively) 11 spots on the opening lap, Vitor jumped (literally) over Marco, and for once the broadcast team actually paid attention to other cars on the track.

Watkins Glen - Ryan Hunter-Reay and Darren Manning give Rahal-Letterman and Foyt a 1-2 finish, sending the Penske, Ganassi and Andretti-Green owners into violent convulsions. Danica nearly took out some Target guys on a pit exit, Viso hip-checked Vitor, and the otherwise invisible Bruno Junqueira was getting major airtime by hanging around the front. That alone makes it a memorable race.

Kentucky - The classic case of tortoise v. hare, as Helio Castroneves fuel mapped his way to nearly 4 miles per gallon and tried to skip a pit stop while Scott Dixon was burning ethanol with little regard for CAFE standards. The result was a win for the hare as Helio ran out of gas on the final lap, just as Dixon had in the '07 season finale. Bonus: Danica and Sarah Fisher "touched".

Chicagoland - There are two things this track is known for: three-wide racing and photo finishes. This year was no different as the side-by-side racing concluded when the two drivers racing for the championship literally went down to the wire in a finish that took several minutes and an improperly installed transponder to figure out. Scott Dixon deserves credit for actually racing here, since he had nothing to gain and everything to lose by going wheel-to-wheel with Helio.

And the winner is...

Firestone Indy Lights, Mid Ohio #2 - "What just happened...?"

There are good races, there are bad races, and there are memorable races. This year there was one race that was so freaking bizarre it will live indelibly etched - no scarred - in the memories of the 14 of us who actually saw it.

For the last few years the Indy Pro Lights series has doubled up races at the road courses in an attempt to get some extra experience for up-and-coming ride buyers on circuits where crash damage is generally limited. However, if a flash flood rolls in soaking a course to the point it effectively renders drivers blind and the cars absent of any grip, well, what kind of "experience" that results in is anyone's guess.

Case in point the second race at Mid Ohio this year, an event that looked more like a hydroplane race in slow motion than anything someone would call "Indy". With the surface splashed and slick, even driving at a plodding pace could not prevent nearly every car from sliding off course at some point. And with drivers blinded from the rooster tails of those ahead of them most accidents featured at least 3 or 4 cars bumping, gliding, splashing and stalling. Crash after crash after crash meant this race required a looped tape of pressdog's circus music.

But what made this festival of yellow flags so unforgettable was that astounding finish. With the final lap under caution all Jonny Reid had to do was drive slowly around the track, which he did right until the point where he inexplicably pulled off the course and into the pits. With about 100 yards or so to go to the finish line James Davison, who could have won the week before had he not collided with Reid's car in Nashville, inherited the lead and was gifted his first win in the series.

And that is something that James, Jonny, and the rest of us will never forget.

She's not speeding, she's qualifying.

Posted by Iannucci | 12/30/2008 | 3 comments »
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No, this is not a repeat of a story from earlier this year. TMZ reports that AGAIN Scottsdale's Finest have brought the law to the little brunette with the lead foot.

Indy race car driver Danica Patrick has yet to learn that the funny little pedal on the left is the brake.

Cops confirm Patrick was busted earlier this month in Scottsdale, Ariz. for driving 54 in a 35 -- 19 over the speed limit -- which bested her last run-in with the fuzz where she was going 57 in a 40 -- only 17 over.

Danica received a citation and is due in court at the beginning of January.
Can't blame a girl for trying to get in a little off-season testing, given that the highest street course finish for Danica! this year was 10th at St Pete. Practice makes perfect.

Mini 2008: Comeback of the Year

Posted by Iannucci | 12/29/2008 | 4 comments »
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Earlier this evening your humble host was perusing the 2008 Oreo Awards when suddenly a petrifying thought occurred: Holy Cannoli, there were still Mini Awards that had yet to be handed out! Gadzooks, what kind of crappy award is this? I mean, this series is taking longer to complete than the first OJ Simpson trial.

And with but three days left in 2008 there are still three awards remaining to be handed out. Already winners have been announced for Rookie of the Year, Achievement in Televised Reporting, and Moment of the Year, but we still have Most Improved Driver, Race of the Year and Driver of the Year to be awarded. So without further ado we now embark on a fast and furious three-day odyssey to wrap-up the longest cliffhanger since the span between "Rocky IV" and "Rocky Balboa". (Come on, that "Rocky V" mess never EVER happened.)

That brings us to today's category: Most Improved Driver. I know this category is going to possibly tweak some of the former Champ Car Fanatics out there, but really, getting tweaked is what they do beast, right? Anyhow, because I followed the CCWS with only slightly more enthusiasm then competitive eating, I have no idea if anyone from that series suddenly went from being a horrendous metal bender to a super duper respectable driver. Mea culpa, but this category like all others will be based only on performance in IRL-sanctioned events.

That doesn't mean me and the family wouldn't invite Justin Wilson over for dinner though. At any rate, here are the nominees.

Danica Patrick - The tantrum thing is rather petty unless you can win a few races here and there, but this year she finally took the checkers. I don't care if she led less laps than Milka Duno this year, Danica! won. Finally. Ah ah ah - shut up with that "fuel strategy" crap. A win is a win is a win, and after being a flash in the pan at Indy in '05 it's been a long road back for the GoDaddy Girl.

Ryan Hunter-Reay - After posting results in his first dozen or so races for Rahal Letterman Racing that weren't substantially different than predecessor Jeff Simmons, "Babe" hit New York and struck gold. You might pooh-pooh his win at Watkins Glen as aided a brain freeze by the Iceman, you might even pooh-pooh the use of the term "pooh-pooh", but you can't deny the arrival of an IndyCar driver when there's an 80-foot billboard of said gentleman in NYC. He's HUGE.

Marco Andretti - His win at Infineon two years ago was "spin-aided" and last year he flipped over twice and seemed to take a step back in the IndyCar series, but if you were paying attention '08 was actually a much improved year for the young Jedi. You do know that Marco led 8 different races this year, tying him for third among all drivers, right? You also know he led 330 laps, which is fourth among all drivers, right? Oh you don't? Hater.

Buddy Lazier - Call me sentimental. The addition of circuits with right turns seemed to lead to the end of the road for former IRL stalwart Buddy Lazier since Buddy hasn't had a Top 10 finish since '05 or a win since *gulp* '01. But there is one track where he's looked solid and that track is IMS. This year it looked bleak for Hemelgarn Johnson team on Bump Day with Buddy needing to find 2 MPH to qualify, but they pulled the wick, trimmed it out and let Buddy be Buddy, and the '96 winner not only qualified but managed to get that magnificent purple pig up to 17th. Full disclosure: I almost wept a little there just typing that.

And the winner is...

Ryan Briscoe - As recently as May there were still folks who thought Ryan Briscoe was in over his head, that Roger Penske had gone mental in picking him, and that the Briscoe Inferno would be downsized before the end of the season. Sure, the guy had a nice finish at The Glen in '06 and was solid at Indy in '07, but everything else was forgettable. Everything but the bursting into flames deal at Chicagoland in '05.

Briscoe started the 2008 season at Homestead with a wreck, followed it up with another wreck at St Pete, and then after a couple of low Top 10s he infamously took out Danica Patrick at Indy in one of the two most-watched clips of Danica's year (the other of course involving a towel).

But immediately after the accident Team Penske told Ryan to just "stay in the car". Mostly that was to avoid the wrath of a 100 lb woman, but it also symbolized the team's commitment to Ryan. So he stayed in the car, and what followed was not only an immediate win at Milwaukee, but victories at Mid-Ohio and Surfer's Paradise, as well as podium finishes at Texas, Infineon and perhaps most redeeming at Chicagoland.

Congratulations to Ryan, who this year went from being the driver known largely for surviving a ball of fire to simply being, in the immortal words of Marv Albert, "on fire!"

Here we go again

Posted by Iannucci | 12/29/2008 | 5 comments »
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Whenever his stock car career concludes, Sam Hornish Jr should probably resign himself to the fact that between now and then he's always ALWAYS going to get asked if he's going back to the Indy Racing League. In fact, he doesn't even need to be asked to be speculated upon. Case in point Lee Spencer at FOXSports, talking about Elliot Sadler.

Sadler's possibilities are rumored to include the No. 41 Chevrolet at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing or the No. 77 Dodge at Penske Racing should Sam Hornish Jr. replace Helio Castroneves in the IRL IndyCar Series.
Did you catch that? Very sly there, no? No one under employment from The Captain has given so much of a hint that Sam's coming back to open-wheel racing, but that didn't stop Spencer from dropping a little off-the-cuff possibility that Sam could replace Helio.

Of course, by posting this I'm sure blogger boy over here will get blamed for fueling the rumor. So be it.

In the interest of equal time I'd like to hand the keyboard over to Sam for a moment. Actually, he's not here right now, and since I'm typing from my bedroom it would be really creepy and awkward if he was. For both of us, I'm sure. However I do have the current issue of Racer with me, and in it Sam mentions that he's still pretty happy with his career path despite topping the crash list for 2008 to the tune of 20 accidents and spins in 34 stock car starts.

"I achieved more in Indy cars than I ever thought was possible, than I ever could have imagined when I was a kid. I got three championships, and I won the Indy 500. So I then thought it was time I tried something different, but I didn't want to just play at NASCAR. I always knew that getting good and getting quick in stock cars was going to be more than a one-year process. Here, I'm learning something new all the time and I'm constantly challenged.

"I'm in NASCAR for the long haul and I want to keep working at it. I'd be letting myself down if I just walked back to Indy cars."

OK then.

It's worth noting that Sam may be talking about being "constantly challenged", which no one would argue at this point, but one thing that isn't challenged has been his bank account. A quick check of the N-Word site shows that Sam, who without registering a single Top 10 in 2008 finished 38th in the Cup standings, still managed to earn $4,547,370 this year. Four-point-five big ones, people. That’s more than Clint Bowyer, who finished in 5th (don't ask me how), and it’s definitely more than Scott Dixon made from racing in the IndyCar series this year.

In fact, it's like over $225K per crash. Why would anyone walk away from that?

Merry Christmas to all

Posted by Iannucci | 12/24/2008 | 1 comments »
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Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the yard-a
Not a creature was stirring
Except the guy in this Dallara

Looks like the Jolly Ol' Elf has taken Marty Roth's number. And rightfully so.

Christmas is on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas.

Who wants to catch a SeaBass?

Posted by Iannucci | 12/19/2008 | 4 comments »
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Since he's currently unemployed (please take a number behind Justin Wilson, Oriol Servia, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, AJ Foyt IV, et al) this isn't exactly breaking news, but it's still fun to see Sebastien Bourdais telling Autosport that he's putting his name out there for an IndyCar ride.

Sebastien Bourdais revealed exclusively to Autosport magazine this week that he is considering a return to racing in North America if he is left without a drive in Formula One next season.

"I'm pretty open," he told Autosport. "Right now I need a good programme and America would be an interesting option.

"I have been looking at alternatives (to F1) because that's my job. I need to find a way to make a living, but that's not easy right now - everybody is not willing to commit to any programmes."
Bimergification just doesn't feel complete without him.

Quote of the day

Posted by Iannucci | 12/19/2008 | 0 comments »
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"I just don't see how you are ever going to have a very interesting race at Detroit. Sonoma is a little bit easier to pass, but a place like Detroit is always follow the leader." - Dan Wheldon, chatting up pressdog about his least favorite parades.

The schedule gets downsized

Posted by Iannucci | 12/18/2008 | 14 comments »
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Nashville is gone. Surfers Paradise, after one exhibition race, is also gone. And now, Belle Isle has been removed from the 2009 schedule. Yes friends, Roger Penske took his baby and, well he didn't exactly shoot it but he certainly put it in a voluntarily-induced coma.

Roger Penske, organizer of the Detroit Grand Prix, said today he couldn’t in good business sense continue the event with so many of his area businesses struggling.

Also key was the loss of the factory Porsche and Audi programs in the American LeMans Series, the sports car series which was to share the spotlight with the Indy cars in the Sept. 5-6 event at Belle Isle.

“This is a real economic time of distress for everyone,” said Penske, who labeled the decision a postponement. “We couldn’t sit here and count on a lot of things happening (from a sponsorship standpoint) that we knew weren’t going to happen knowing that (Detroit) is so distressed with unemployment and all the things going on.”

(MORE from IndyStar)
From an entertainment standpoint this isn't a huge loss, because despite the recent overhaul the Belle Isle circuit is still so narrow the race has to be decided by a judiciously awarded black flag. Racing without passing is like decaffeinated coffee - what exactly is the point?

But from a larger perspective this is disparaging. It's not quite Morrissey bad, but it's definitely in the Mellencamp to Springsteen range of rough times because if Roger Penske can't field an event then you know we're in uncharted waters. And not only that but the end of the schedule just went limp.

Here were the previously scheduled final four races of '09.
8/29 Chicagoland
9/06 Belle Isle
9/19 Motegi
10/10 Homestead

So now after Chicagoland we have two races in the final six weeks, and only one of those will be televised live while you are awake. Ugh! OK, maybe now we're moving down to the Depeche Mode level of despair.

Mario Andretti bails out GM

Posted by Iannucci | 12/17/2008 | 8 comments »
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Recently the racing legend recently did his part to help save the US automaker.

Mario Andretti visited Bowling Green and the Corvette Assembly Plant today, to pick up his specially-ordered Corvette ZR1.

"Well, I've had many Corvettes," Andretti said.

"The last one was a Z06 and so, with the ZR1, I couldn't pass it up. It's clearly the best Corvette ever. It stacks up to the best supercars in the world. It's the best bang for the buck as well."

Andretti says he just had to have this Corvette, and he's excited to try out his early Christmas present.

(MORE from WBKO)
It's great to see Mario still has money saved up and still enjoys a fine American ride, but Mario, come on, you don't have to prove anything to anyone anymore. Get yourself a nice Cadillac or Hummer instead and roll around in spacious comfort, because we've seen that getting behind the wheel of a super-beast like that 'Vette can only lead to bad things.

Like say this.

Enjoy the ZR1 but please, for goodness sakes, go easy on the gas and be sure to leave that flipping upside-down stuff to your grandson, 'kay?

(Thanks to longtime reader Jennifer for the alert.)

Quote of the day

Posted by Iannucci | 12/16/2008 | 8 comments »
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"I don't think he's as good as what everyone rants and raves about him, and I just wanted to prove a point that he wasn't as good as everyone says he was." - Former Roth Racing detainee Jay Howard on SpeedFreaks, expounding upon his recent PRI Kart Classic victory over Scott Speed. Howard also bested the likes of Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta, Vitor Meira, Ed Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Townsend Bell, Alex Tagliani, Will Power and AJ Allmendinger, although he didn't feel the need to comment on any of their skills.

(Thanks to Tomaso at No Fenders for bringing this to our attention.)

More of the same

Posted by Iannucci | 12/14/2008 | 1 comments »
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It would appear that while every other form of motorsport is undergoing ch-ch-changes (my apologies if that cultural reference has expired), the latest news from the IRL is all status quo.

For staters, any driver looking for relief from EJ Viso will get nothing and like it. Viso will return with HVM Racing in 2009, setting up another nervous season for every other driver of the the league. Rumors persist that HVM will pair Viso with Robert Doornbos in what would be the most devastating tag team since the Iron Sheik partnered with Nikolai Volkoff.

Also back where he's always been is Marco Andretti, who was finally confirmed as both a driver and participant in various impromptu closed-door team meetings with AGR. Whether or not you care for the team, the owner, or the driver, you have to admit that the in-race drama of the team without orders will once again be second to none.

And lastly, Al Unser Jr has the police blotter. Try to act shocked. OK, this time he's not been indicted for anything, but his name did come up in a story involving prostitution and extortion. KOB-TV Reports:

The District Attorney's Office said the head of a prostitution ring extorted money from racing legend Al Unser Jr. with claims of a compromising video tape.

Unser was named as one of two extortion victims in a 137-count indictment against the suspected Albuquerque pimp.

The suspect, 47-year-old Bobby McMullin, was arrested last May. Police say he ran an internet escort service that was actually a prostitution ring. McMullin also ran a Downtown strip club.

Unser is mentioned in counts 72 and 73 of the indictment. The DA's office said McMullin told Unser he had video of the racing legend in a "compromising position." McMullin allegedly asked Unser for $750,000, or he would release the tape to the public.
750 Grand? Please. No offense, but we're talking about a 47-year-old guy, not one of the Desperate Housewives. Mr Pimp would have been lucky to scare up $75 dollars in "releasing it to the public."

Now, if you'd be so kind as to please pass the brain bleach.

I want each of you to write a theme

Posted by Iannucci | 12/11/2008 | 19 comments »
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You humble host has often mocked the STOMP-STOMP-CLAP-STOMP-STOMP theme song the IRL has beaten into the ground featured in recent years, concluding as others have that the song sounds as if it’s proclaiming “I Am Mindy”. But mockery is no substitute for constructive criticism, and since we have both news free days and a new broadcast partner it seems like as good a time as any to garner suggestions for a replacement.

A while back over at YAUMB a reasonable suggestion was put forth: “Ready To Roll” by Jet Black Stare.

It’s not exactly an historic rock anthem, the video is unmemorable, and it’s lyrically generic, but that being said it is exceptionally catchy and it’s all about driving a car really fast. If nothing else it would make for good highlight music, which is more than I can say for the Mindy Song (although the version en espanol is marginally better since they aren't saying "Mindy").

But enough about my thoughts - how about you? Thumbs up or down on "Ready To Roll"? Does anyone in the peanut gallery have a better suggestion for a theme song?

Quote of the day

Posted by Iannucci | 12/10/2008 | 1 comments »
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"IndyCar in the U.S. market is a very important series. Very historic and classic, Roger (Penske) is competing (in it) for a long time, we are good friends with Roger, we are also quite interested in IndyCar. But we've defined very closely our motorsport pyramid in the past and (we) try to shake out what is for our customer base the most important series to be in and we found that the (American Le Mans Series) with the prototypes is better suited to the demands of our customers. I think that it is not very likely that we are going into IndyCar. There is no open question (about entering the series) on the table right now." - Wolfgang Durheimer, Porsche research and development board member throwing giant buckets of ice water on the idea of seeing "Porsche, there is no substitute" racing in The 500 anytime soon.

Then again maybe we will, just under the name "Audi" or, ahem, "Volkswagen".

Stick some love on the wall

Posted by Iannucci | 12/10/2008 | 0 comments »
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It’s the giving time of the year, and even though the economy is in the crapper you’re still feeling like you want to get a little something for those special IndyCar fans in your life. You’re trying to decide if you should go rummaging through the Chip Ganassi Racing store (all Dan Wheldon merchandise is half off!), or peruse the newest new new store at, or maybe even try to score a Sarah Fisher bobblehead on eBay.

Your best bet might be to simply get the Indy Wall Calendar, the gift that gives all year. For less than the price of Danica t-shirt you can help your IndyCar fan can show the world their naked love of super duper, bimergified, open-wheel racing for the entirety of 2009. Best of all, all proceeds from the sale of this calendar benefit the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, which means you’re actually giving two gifts at once. One to an Indy fan, and one to a reputable organization that helps fund research, treatment and rehabilitation for those with spinal cord injuries. That’s right – double your Santa quotient in one fell swoop.

In the unfortunate event that you don’t actually have any IndyCar friends there still a few that you can adopt. Here are some possible recipients of your calendar gift, closet IRL fans who could use a little IndyCar love this holiday season.

Sebastien Bourdais – Americans don’t hate all Frenchmen and we don’t hate all guys with funny glasses. We do however loathe Frenchmen with funny glasses who whine during the 50% of races they DON’T win and who pick fights while still wearing their helmets. And I mean “loathe” in a good way, because it would be fan-freaking-tastic to be cheering against SeaBass in IndyCar races. Let him know you’d rather be lovingly throwing plastic bottles at him in the USA than watching him backmark his way around the world in F1.

Gerry Forsythe – After taking a buyout check for his portion of Champ Car, Gerry has sat on the bench unwilling to jump into the IRL pool. Somewhere though in the darkest reaches of his two sizes too small heart you just know he’s keeping an eye on his old buddies Carl Haas and Kevin Kalkhoven, who both have drivers featured in this calendar.

Sam Hornish Jr – Even though he remains in the N-Word where Top 20 is somehow a reasonable goal, Sam’s greatest racing memories occurred at speeds much faster than he’s been traveling in 2008. There’s no better way to remind him of the fun and excitement he left behind than this calendar hanging in his motorcoach.

Marty Roth – Poor Marty loves IndyCars, but after hearing back-handed compliments about what a great owner he would make Marty took his Dallaras and went home to Canada. Just think of the joy he would feel opening up this on Christmas Day, reminding him that even without his team IndyCar races are still a whole lot of fun to watch.

Scott Speed – I’m no Star Wars geek but even I remember how Darth Vader told Luke Skywalker “It is your destiny; join me and together we can rule the galaxy.” So it is that one day eventually High Fashion Scotty will come around to realizing that his greatness as a driver can only be written in one place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Let this calendar serve as a friendly daily reminder of that you can keep running, Scott, but you can’t escape your destiny.

Viso competes, does not win

Posted by Iannucci | 12/10/2008 | 3 comments »
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I must report that Formula One’s Sebastian Vettel has won the Autosport 2008 Rookie of the Year award. This of course means that despite your heroic voting efforts to the contrary, EJ Viso did not win. Not unlike his rookie season, I suppose.

Vettel is a supremely talented driver, and this year at just 19 years of age he became the youngest winner ever of an F1 race, but after this slight God help him if he ever crosses path with Viso on the track. Just ask Tony Kanaan.

UPDATE: I am reminded that EJ wasn't entirely winless this year since he successfully defeated mumps. Take that, Mr Vettel.

Yet another podcast

Posted by Iannucci | 12/08/2008 | 3 comments »
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This time the I Am Mindy Show features Johnny from Live Fast Racing, who graciously provides us all with a lesson in motorsports education.

Please note that I fixed the audio level problem from the debut podcast. The good news is I don't sound like I'm in a wooden box. The bad news is you can now hear me breathing all over the place. Oh well, work in progress, right?

Here is the podcast. Enjoy!

Something about Dario has changed

Posted by Iannucci | 12/07/2008 | 3 comments »
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You remember Mr Judd has returned to being an IndyCar driver, right? He'll be back, and he'll be driving one of those super duper Target entries, but even with that ahead of him we'll never know what kind of lasting psychological damage he has from his trying year in stock car racing. I'm not talking about his leg injury, I'm referring to...well, what's with the Elvis look? Is this an attempt to reconnect with his inner Sam Hornish Jr or what?

And yes, sadly this interviewer has "Dare-ee-oh, rhymes with stereo" syndrome.

The sky is not falling. Not here. Not yet.

Posted by Iannucci | 12/06/2008 | 4 comments »
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I guess this is what the good guys at Jalopnik would say is further fallout from the "Carpocalypse". Let's recap the announcments from the last day or so in case you missed any of them.

Over in F1 the good folks at Honda have decided that spending hundreds of millions of dollars to win one race in the last three years is probably not an effective investment. They announced they are pulling the plug on their Formula One team, reducing the curent grid count for the worlds premier open-wheel racing series (ahem) to 18 cars - and that's amid talk that fellow Japanese manufacturer Toyota may soon follow Honda's departure.

Meanwhile in the N-Word, news is develpong that Richard Petty's team may soon be merging with Ray Evenham's team. Please note that both teams sold major portions of their ownership in recent months, right before the world markets decided to nosedive. While consolidation isn't a sign of impending doom, it once again raises the question of whether the Cup series will be able to field 43 cars per race. Maybe if they just went back to the old models that are currently floating around ARCA they could reduce the costs for ownerships.

Not as significant dollarwise but noteworthy nonetheless is the sudden departure of Audi from ALMS. Audi has won like a zillion races over ther, including every LMP1 class championship since 2000. This follows the departures of IndyCar ownerships Andretti Green and Team Penske from the series as well, indicating reduced involvement from Acura and Porsche. So needless to say things are tough all over.

What does this have to do with IndyCar series? Directly nothing but indirectly a lot. The ICS is still staring at post unification car counts shrinking to pre-unification levels, what with 14-19 cars currently spoken for. But Honda representatives are saying their IRL commitment is sound, and word is that league representatives are in Germany speaking with the parent comapany of Audi (and Porsche) about joining the series in the coming years. So as bad as the Carpocalypse is looking, right now the IRL looks no worse than anyone else.

UPDATE: The briantrust at TrackSide Online expounds.

In some perverse way, the IRL is lucky that it is not heavily dependent on manufacturers, as they are obviously pulling back and that is rippling through various series. They are also lucky that the one manufacturer they have is on solid financial ground.

The question we ask ourselves is thus. Is it better to have several manufacturers (and teams highly dependent on them), or to be relatively underfunded, but have the teams a little more "self-sufficient". Can't say we have the answer - but it appears we are about to find out by watching what happens in quite a few series around the world.

Interestingly, when we talk to people in the series (officials, team owners, team managers), we just aren't getting the degree of negativity we would expect. Again, perhaps some are just resigned to working in a tough environment and they have low expectations for anything beyond survival, but it is surprising to us that we don't hear more negativity - though it is certainly out there.

At least one team is expanding

Posted by Iannucci | 12/01/2008 | 1 comments »
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Recently Curt Cavin noted on his Q&A that he an EJ Viso exchange emails. This is strange because I've never seen any of EJ's questions posted on Curt's "Ask the Expert" blog. I mean you'd think by now he'd have at least answered one of EJ's may pleas for expertise.

Question: Why does everyone hate me? (EJ, Caracas, Venezuela)

Regardless, Curt was kind enough to pass along the content of one of EJ's messages, which indicated that not only is Viso ready to return to HVM Racing for 2009, but that he's likely to have Robort Doornbos as a teammate. If you don't know much about Doornbos here are the key points:

1. He's Dutch.
2. He's raced F1 and Champ Car, among other series.
3. His driving style is reflected in the nickname "Bad Bobby D" (think Viso, before Viso.)
4. He once made Sebastien Bourdais get all snippy on an open mic, leading to a festival of Canadian booing.

Outrageous outrage

Posted by Iannucci | 12/01/2008 | 5 comments »
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This morning on the way to work I noticed the big sign in front of the shopping center across the street. “SHAME ON MACY’S”. There were three people standing by the sign, all wearing walkmans, protesting a company that doesn’t employ them. I know this because I’ve seen these same happy few standing behind a “SHAME ON (some construction company)” sign on the opposite corner a few weeks ago, and countless other previous to that. Nice work if you can get it I suppose.

In recent days I’m told there is a similar “SHAME ON THE IRL” type of campaign going on the airwaves of Indianapolis. It seems the people involved with the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) have taken offense that the Indy Racing League has decided to take sponsorship money from APEX-Brasil, a Brazilian-based ethanol production firm. Well, maybe not EPIC per se, but at least someone under the name “American Future Fund”.

"Unbelievable. The Brickyard will be fueled by foreign energy." As if all of the gasoline used years ago was pumped exclusively from American soil. Right.

It’s important to note here that there are other groups in various stages of wigging out. There is the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) which is also urging people to contact that league with their outrage, as well as the Iowa Corn Growers Association, who are responsible for sponsoring the race at Iowa Speedway. It’s also important to note that EPIC is dissolving, due in part to the consolidation in the industry. And by consolidation I mean this (courtesy of TrackSide Online):

The main backers of EPIC were POET, ICM and Fagen. These companies design and build ethanol plants and it appears they are now moving at least some of their backing to a new group called Growth Energy. It is also our understanding that to some degree EPIC itself is being absorbed by the Growth Energy coalition - who is planning to focus a lot of their attention at the legislative level. (On the internet, we found the following listing of companies supporting Growth Energy: POET, ICM, Western Plains Energy, Amaizing Energy, Hawkeye Renewables, Green Plains Renewable Energy.)
Did ya get all of that? Good, me neither. I know I’m going to read it about 10 more times just in case I get quizzed.

Soon after this ad started airing the IRL released a statement regarding how EPIC was paying the league for promotion rights just like any other sponsor, and now they aren’t so they took the next check.

The ethanol producers recently notified the IndyCar Series that it would not be renewing the agreement for 2009 and beyond and EPIC is ceasing operation. No one from any other part of the American-based ethanol community stepped forward with a substantial proposal. Soon after, the IndyCar Series and APEX-Brasil reached a preliminary agreement. As part of that agreement, we plan on starting our 2009 season with American-produced ethanol. Opportunities still exist for American ethanol companies and organizations to continue involvement in the IndyCar Series.

It’s true that EPIC helped support the IRL while other companies were leaving the series, but it’s not like they saved the series in any way. If anything they gave the IndyCar series a chance to make a technological claim, which is supposed to be a hallmark of this type of racing. Since everyone is running spec cars with the same engines, chassis and tires, the concept of innovation has been blunted. There haven’t been any turbines engines or six-wheeled cars or dual-motor vehicles lately, but check out these awesome SAFER barriers!

But even as a technological spin ethanol isn’t exactly a strong idea. In an effort to reduce the usual brown cloud over downtown Phoenix we’ve been running on state-mandated E10 here in Arizona for a while now. I can’t see much of a difference in the sky – maybe the cloud is beige or taupe – but I also haven’t noticed any difference in the way it affects my vehicle. (Full disclosure: your humble host is currently powered by Nissan.)

And speaking of the spec issue, as our buddy pressdog noted this entire issue has some built-in bad feelings for some since there isn’t a lot of domestic partnership currently in the series’ hardware. The Dallara chassis is Italian, the Honda motor is produced by England’s Ilmor, and the tires are by Firestone – a subsidiary of Japanese-owned Bridgestone. So if the fuel is supplied by Brazil, well, try to act surprised.

However, his point leads me to ask: Was anyone here outraged when American-made Panoz chassis were not longer used in the series? Saddened, disappointed, concerned – sure, all of those. But “outraged” to the point of calling Tony George and demanding a reversal of action? Come on. We all want to see American companies succeed, but this call to action is over the top. It’s not like US ethanol industry is going to collapse simply because the IRL isn’t actively promoting them in 2009. Besides, as Chris Estrada at Indy Racing Revolution finds in the original press release from the IRL, it appears that in spite of this animosity (or perhaps because of it) the league is trying to help American firms in some capacity.

"The multi-year deal includes cooperation from UNICA (the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association) to identify those interested in supplying ethanol to the series. Initially, UNICA will look to partner with a U.S.-based ethanol company to supply the IndyCar Series with corn-based ethanol."
I’m sure the AFF, RFA, ICGA and a few other acronyms are going to continue to grind this axe, mostly because as promotional groups it’s their jobs, but unless I’m missing something here it sounds to me like the expectation is that the IRL would keep powering it’s cars with US corn-based ethanol even though EPIC isn’t going to be sponsoring anything. Why would that be expected? Unless there’s some backroom deal here this is, as the kids today like to say, strictly bid-ness, and since the IRL is a bid-ness I would expect them to take the only check that was offered.

Maybe there are a few folks sitting with walkmans behind a big “SHAME ON THE IRL” sign on Georgetown right now, but if there are I wouldn’t pay them much attention. At least no more additionally to that which I just did.