The one lingering question

Posted by Iannucci | 10/12/2009 | , | 8 comments »
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(I don't get as much mail as Curt Cavin, but I got a few of these yesterday.)

Q: Was it me or was that race fugly and super disappointing? I was completely put off by it. I'm not quite as pissed today, and nobody else seems to be enraged, so it might just be me.

A: Of course it was an exciting race, featuring lead changes among the very three drivers who were contending for the championship. There was strategy, we had to keep an eye on who led the most laps, and it had an intensity throughout the entire race. It was even noteworthy as the first ever caution-free race in the IRL.

Except...this was a three car race. Literally. Everyone else was lapped - at one point in multiples - rendering the entire field a bunch of obstacles. If you had no interest in those three drivers then this was the pinnacle of ambivalence for you as a fan.

Except...how different was this (at least for TV viewers) from the US Grand Prix debacle that left six cars on the track? There were 20 other cars out there - they were just completely irrelevant. And for the most part it's been like that the entire year. Two teams won all but one race in 2009, for crying out loud!

Except...the entire event was also weighed down by the six week drumbeat to the final. No slam on Motegi, but it's almost not a race since many folks don't stay up to see it, and if you didn't watch that then you had a month and a half to stir with Dixon, Dario, Briscoe and not much else. And that's exactly what the race ended up being. Exciting, yes, but ultimately unsatisfying to fans of other drivers who know their driver has literally no shot to win.

Except...what happened to the aero changes that were supposed to make everyone race more evenly? Chicagoland is virtually the same track as Homestead, but six weeks was all it took for Penske and Ganassi to re-open the ridiculous margin of competition. If this is what it takes to separate the field so widely, perhaps the IRL should change the aero configurations for each race, or have "competition cautions", or have Firestone design tires to randomly blow out. (That's full-rich sarcasm, dear reader.)

Except...having the entire field other than the Top 3 completely disincentivizes any prospective race participant from attempting to compete in this series, because not only do you have no shot at winning (except possibly on a few road courses) but you're not going to get jack squat of broadcast time if there's a close race at the front. That's not VERSUS fault - they were covering this race properly. That's just the fact that when you have three drivers with a shot at winning and those three drivers are battling for the win then the airtime will get sucked faster than (insert lewd Courtney Love reference).

But yes, dear reader, it WAS an exciting race. You just have to look at it a little differently.

8 comments

  1. Tabernerus // October 12, 2009 7:22 AM  

    A couple of thoughts:

    1.) Chicagoland and Homestead are very different. Homestead is far more handling-dependent that Chicagoland, which is a giant aero test.

    2.) Those other driver were certainly racing for something. Graham Rahal was trying to race his way to a top 5 points finish for the season, and he almost did it. Justin Wilson was trying to keep Coyne in the top 10 in points. Sure that's a little less cool than being the champion, but I'm sure NHLR's mechanics and fans cared. As did Coyne's. I have really enjoyed Versus' coverage this year, but one thing they could take away from the Fox NASCAR broadcasts is how to show the dicing going on through the field. There was side by side racing and passing back and forth behind the leaders. They do need to get better about showing it.

  2. pressdog // October 12, 2009 7:24 AM  

    Genius. I have nothing more to add or subtract.

  3. oilpressure // October 12, 2009 7:50 AM  

    I completely agree. For this particular race, I had no problem with Versus focusing on the top three cars. I'm still a little perplexed that everyone is griping about this race. I thought it was a suspenseful nail-biter, and a good send-off into the off-season. Everyone is trying to cheapen Dario's championship by complaining about a fuel-mileage race, but he won plenty of races by sheer domination this season. Give him his due - he did what he had to do to win.

  4. Steve Simpson // October 12, 2009 8:23 AM  

    My buddy, our wives and I watched this race Sunday on tape. We knew who the winner was going to be...by mistake (Des Moines Register actually had a headline on the front of the sports section Sunday). Blah? No way! Even knowing Dario would take the (pink) checkers, we were still riveted to the broadcast, even watching the commercials for the side-by-ad show.

    Dario won by counting on a strategy that was a huge long-shot. A yellow-flagless race?! C'mon, folks, cheer the champs! You don't watch the Superbowl to see eliminated teams play, do ya?

  5. Declan // October 12, 2009 8:51 AM  

    golf clap

  6. Filipe Furtado // October 12, 2009 12:25 PM  

    Tabernerus is right that Homestead and Chicagoland are far from similar. Chicago is together with Texas the most perfect D-shaped cookie cutter on the schedule, Homestead turns aren't design for perfect full thortle runs, it takes much more specific aero tweaks for optimum performance, so the two teams with the best engineers are more likely to hit it.

    I also disagree with the Indy F1 debacle comparision. The match for that would be a race with the 2 NHL and HVM cars plus Milka and Lazier in which Haas told Lloyd he was not allowed to put any pressure on Graham. Saturday we actually got a real race that happens to only feature 3 cars, that F1 was an exhbition with 2 good but not great cars plus 4 dogs in which the second driver of the good team was under orders to just parade behind the lead one.

  7. Drewblank21 // October 14, 2009 12:41 AM  

    I'll tell you what, the more I read, the more ignorant I feel. Researching everything I can locate, I now have a handle on about 1% of what makes these cars, and this Series, lay down rubber.

    It's also finally dawned on me that all of the bloggers are simply recycling the same information, no matter how incomplete or inaccurate, and not doing a thing to increase their own knowledge or enlighten their readers. This is about opinions, dammit, and we're entitled! Fine.

    Ed Carpenter qualified fourth, and was charging hard in third when he started moving backwards. Aero changes my ass, what do you think, his wings were flapping? The rear wing angle is fixed. You can't even change the wicker. That severly limits the range of front wing adjustment as well, since you have to maintain aero balance.

    So Graham says his car was loose in traffic, Sarah's crew says her car was loose everywhere, other drivers complain they couldn't get the push out.

    Virtually identical cars, same tires, virtually identical aero. When your car is set up wrong, you look like a rube. Shocks, springs, ride height, rake, tire pressures, alignment angles, etc.

    Who got it right? The smart guys. Dario got a little more front wing on his first stop, and he was fine after that. Everybody else drove with setups that were varying degrees of wrong. They all deserved to get lapped.

    So did a lot of cars in 1989 at Indy, when Emmo beat little Al. And '82, when Johncock beat Mears. Those races sucked too, didn't they.

    The AGR cars and Helio had some nice dices at Homestead. Sorry you missed it. Even watching the leaders slice through the backmarkers was great fun.

    Motegi was a good race, and the post-race interviews with Dixon and Franchitti were enlightening in their discussion of driving style and setup differences. Sorry you missed all that, too.

    To Roggespierre, since I now realize he's reading here and knows I have left his little party: you didn't retract your libel until I called you on it. You didn't commence a dialogue on constructive criticism until I called you on it. You didn't remember how to apply the four P's of marketing until I stuck them back in your eye. Looks like you have someone else to parrot.

    I'm not sure how much Homestead differs from Chicagoland. They're both highbanked 1.5 ovals, and you drive them flat if your car is set up right. You just end up looking really bad when you don't do your homework. Kinda like what happens when you write opinions on your blog without knowing the facts.

  8. Drewblank21 // October 14, 2009 12:50 AM  

    I'll tell you what, the more I read, the more ignorant I feel. Researching everything I can locate, I now have a handle on about 1% of what makes these cars, and this Series, lay down rubber.

    It's also finally dawned on me that all of the bloggers are simply recycling the same information, no matter how incomplete or inaccurate, and not doing a thing to increase their own knowledge or enlighten their readers. This is about opinions, dammit, and we're entitled! Fine.

    Ed Carpenter qualified fourth, and was charging hard in third when he started moving backwards. Aero changes my ass, what do you think, his wings were flapping? The rear wing angle is fixed. You can't even change the wicker. That severly limits the range of front wing adjustment as well, since you have to maintain aero balance.

    So Graham says his car was loose in traffic, Sarah's crew says her car was loose everywhere, other drivers complain they couldn't get the push out.

    Virtually identical cars, same tires, virtually identical aero. When your car is set up wrong, you look like a rube. Shocks, springs, ride height, rake, tire pressures, alignment angles, etc.

    Who got it right? The smart guys. Dario got a little more front wing on his first stop, and he was fine after that. Everybody else drove with setups that were varying degrees of wrong. They all deserved to get lapped.

    So did a lot of cars in 1989 at Indy, when Emmo beat little Al. And '82, when Johncock beat Mears. Those races sucked too, didn't they.

    The AGR cars and Helio had some nice dices at Homestead. Sorry you missed it. Even watching the leaders slice through the backmarkers was great fun, especially when Dixon was reeling in Briscoe with about 25 to go.

    Motegi was a good race, and the post-race interviews with Dixon and Franchitti were enlightening in their discussion of driving style and setup differences. Sorry you missed all that, too.

    To Roggespierre, since I now realize he's reading here and knows I have left his little party: you didn't retract your libel until I called you on it. You didn't commence a dialogue on constructive criticism until I called you on it. You didn't remember how to apply the four P's of marketing until I stuck them back in your eye. Looks like you have someone else to parrot.

    I'm not sure how much Homestead differs from Chicagoland. They're both highbanked 1.5 ovals, and you drive them flat if your car is set up right. You just end up looking really bad when you don't do your homework. Kinda like what happens when you write opinions on your blog without knowing the facts.