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.


  1. The SpeedGeek // December 31, 2008 7:24 AM  

    Slight correction, Jeff. Your caption under the Youtube imbed says "Watkins Glen #2", though you do correctly say in the next paragraph that the race in question was Mid-Ohio #2.

    A decent pick here, too, though I might put up the St. Pete #2 Lights race for consideration as well. Tons of passing, including some for the lead (even one including the real "It Girl" of the IRL, Ana Beatriz, where she went from 3rd to 1st in one corner), spins aplenty, a little Paul Tracy-style argy bargy by Richard Antinucci. What's not to love there?

  2. Iannucci // December 31, 2008 7:57 AM  

    Aargh...corrected that. Thanks.

    That St Pete race you mention was indeed memorable, mostly because Antinucci punted his teammate for the win. In a note of karma, he did not win the series title.

    Of course Bia almost impaled Pablo Donoso attempting to rejoin the racing after being slighted. Not to argue your point but after that I don't remember the final laps being too interesting.

    Thanks, SpeedGeek.

  3. Ryan // January 04, 2009 8:56 PM  

    I remember the whole "supposed winner pulls in under caution before the checkered flag waves handing the victory to 2nd" happening in a Busch race sometime in the mid-1990s. The beneficiary that day was David Green.