Random Thoughts On St. Petersburg

What started out looking like an embarrassing crash-fest for the first sixteen laps, ended up being a relatively clean race for the remainder of the event. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg got the season off to a wild start with a melee in the first turn of the opening lap. Last year, Marco Andretti began the season with the car of Mario Moraes landing on top of him at the first turn in Brazil. This year, Marco found himself upside-down before making it past the first turn of the opening lap. Most people are blaming Helio Castroneves for triggering the mishap. I’m an admitted Helio fan and agree that he shares some of the blame, but I think there is plenty of blame to go around for everyone.

On Twitter, the naysayers were blaming it on the new double-file re-starts. For those keeping score at home, the start of a race has always been double-file. What was to blame was six months of pent up frustration with no racing, and drivers looking for an easy way to kick-start their season without thinking of the consequences. Marco was plenty ambitious on the start. Helio’s mistake was that he followed him. It’s one of the oldest rules in racing – you can’t win a race on the first lap, but you can certainly lose it on the first lap.

With all of the talk about patience for the last several weeks, you would think that the “fastest drivers in the world” would try to not look like the dumbest drivers in the world. The innocent victim in all of this was Marco’s teammate – Mike Conway. Conway had been spectacular all weekend in his first outing with his new team and his first appearance since his devastating crash last May. He had qualified fourth and appeared to have gotten through the corner cleanly, when Marco’s airborne car nailed him. His day was effectively over at that point.

All in all, six cars were involved. They included names like Castroneves, Briscoe, Dixon, Andretti & Conway. Once the carnage was cleaned up, the season’s first double-file re-start took place. The cars made it through the first turn, but Graham Rahal and Danica Patrick had wing damage in separate incidents. Cue another re-start. Then a few laps later, another. By lap sixteen, there had been four yellows. Not good. Paul Tracy posted on Twitter that he was ashamed to be an IndyCar driver. Nice.

Two cars that benefited from the ragged starts belonged to Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro. Kanaan moved up from his eighth starting spot to run second by lap 11, while Simona advanced all the way from seventeenth to second by lap 17. Simona didn’t just inherit spots – she took them. On the fourth re-start, she sort of forced the issue by squeezing in between Will Power and Justin Wilson. She hit Wilson first, and then bounced off him and into Power. The resulting brush with Power straightened her up while she continued to surge forward; while Power and Wilson had to slow down to collect themselves. As they tend to say in other forms of Motorsports – “…that was just one of them racin’ deals”.

The fact that Simona was able to stay up front for the remaining 83 laps is a testament to her driving ability. While other female drivers may draw more attention off the track, Simona de Silvestro is quickly earning the reputation as an excellent driver. Most importantly, she is earning the respect and adulation of her fellow drivers.

The rest of the day was comparatively uneventful. Dario Franchitti took the lead from pole-sitter Will Power on lap 5 and was never really threatened from there. Power briefly led again when Franchitti pitted in lap 70, but Dario reassumed the lead when the stops all sorted out. The best battle of the day was between Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro for third and fourth respectively. The announcers tried to stir things up by claiming blocking tactics on Kanaan’s part, but I don’t think so. Even though it pains me to defend EJ Viso, I don’t think he was guilty of blocking Simona as she was lapping him. After the race, Simona was her usual upbeat self.

TV Coverage: I’ve felt pretty comfortable beating up ABC/ESPN in the past, mainly because I thought it was deserved. To be fair, I’ll give credit when credit is due. I thought their coverage was greatly improved yesterday over what we have gotten in the past few years.

Their opening montage that jumped between clips of yesterday and the present was outstanding. It had the feel of a major production rather than something they put together in a Saturday morning production meeting. Vince Welch was on top of his game, as usual. I don’t recall any memorable gaffes involving the other pit reporters, Jamie Little or Rick DeBruhl.

There was the usual worship of Danicamania we’ve come to expect, but the booth announcers did nothing terribly objectionable. There were some fresh, new commercials which had a more professional feel to them. They had a thirty minute pre-race show and best of all…they didn’t cut away as soon as the race was over. They actually went fifteen minutes over their allotted time. Like Randy Bernard, it seemed as if they had finally listened to the fans and were actually trying to serve the fans instead of simply living up to contractual obligations.

It wasn’t perfect. There were some blown camera shots and some technical glitches, but so long as I feel like they’re trying to improve – I’m more inclined to overlook some things and give them the benefit of the doubt. That’s the way I felt yesterday – not that my opinion means a thing to the powers that be at ESPN.

Foyt Ailing: It was a bittersweet day at AJ Foyt Racing. On the plus side, Vitor Meira gave the ABC Supply car a strong run. At times, Meira was running as high as fifth, after starting in the thirteenth spot. He brought the car home in eighth with little fanfare. He did this with AJ Foyt sidelined. After doctors discovered a 95% blockage in an artery, he had a stent inserted on Friday. It takes a lot to keep Foyt away from the track. Here’s hoping he’s up on the pit box for Barber.

KV Highs & Lows: After a record number of crashes last season (35), KV Racing Technology-Lotus got off to a rough start this weekend as EJ Viso had varying degrees of contact this weekend. On Sunday, he spun in the race, but didn’t hit anything. For maybe the first time in over a season, KV made it back to the shop with all three cars in one piece after a race.

Hats off to Tony Kanaan for his spirited drive on Sunday. I thought he worked wonders to qualify eighth, considering he just signed with the team on Monday and first sat in the car on Tuesday. In the early stages of the race, he looked like a threat to Franchitti to take the victory. Still, to get a podium finish in his first outing with a team he signed with six days earlier is nothing short of remarkable. I’m glad to see him get the last laugh after Marco had blogged that Andretti Autosport was going to be much stronger this year without TK. The highest finish for an Andretti car was Danica Patrick in twelfth. Marco finished twenty-fourth while on his head.

Shameless Plug: In case my morbidly verbose postings (Pressdog’s words) weren’t enough, you may now catch my wordiness on a podcast over at Crimson Cast – a site mostly devoted to IU basketball, but in the spring and summer they follow the IZOD IndyCar Series. I was so wordy there; they had to break it up into two parts. You may catch both podcasts here and here.

All in all: I was a little worried at first. The first fifteen or so laps looked like the Ted Mack Amateur Hour (look it up). The world’s fastest drivers certainly looked like they needed to knock off the rust. But after things settled down, it was a fairly intriguing race. The crowd looked great on television and there seemed to be a lot of energy in the crowd.

Although the top two finishers were from the usual Penske and Ganassi camps – there are some fresh names near the top of the standings after the first race due to the early attrition among the usual front runners. Remarkably, twelve of the top thirteen finishers hail from different teams.

It won’t take long for the usual names to rise to the top, but this sort of evens the playing field early on. Either that or it gives Dario Franchitti and Will Power a huge lead over everyone else. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in two weeks at Barber Motorsports Park. Since I’m going to it, I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

George Phillips

17 Responses to “Random Thoughts On St. Petersburg”

  1. Good one, George. It will interesting to see if driver’s learn anything by the next race, or if they’ll continue to make the same mistake and expect a different outcome. Simona lives up to her billing. As does Kanaan. Unfortunately, so does Viso.

    The Simona-Kanaan battle made the end interesting–but I wanted a yellow just to see how a street course race looks with an actual race for the lead.

    ABC was better, I guess, but Reid and Goodyear are just boring. Looking forward to Barber and Versus coverage.

  2. George,

    Agreed. ABC looked like they were actually covering a race yesterday. Let’s hope its a sign of things to come.

    I know that the Indycar faithful were up in arms over the ridiculous driving at the start, wringing their hands that “this isn’t going to help viewership”. I think they overestimate the casual Joe six pack TV viewer. Carnage and cars flipping over will probably help the TV numbers, and get Indycar more Sportscenter replays than anything else.

    Yes that’s sad, and no I am not advocating flipping Marco onto his head at the start of every race. Just sayin’ it was a decent race, with decent coverage, and I see no reason for people to fret.

  3. I agree with a lot of what you said, George. I was disappointed in the first few laps of crashing, but hopefully the drivers will have a better understanding now and show each other a bit more respect from here on in-I serioulsy doubt it, but that’s what I hope.

    Kudos to Dario Franchitti on his win. According to the broadcast, that win-his 27th-tied him with Johnny Rutherford for 10th on the all time INDYCAR wins list; I believe that’s the combined list counting all of the various sanctioning bodies.

    Will Power ran strong as expected. Yes, he might have been a factor for the win if Simona hadn’t hit him, but that was the only foot she put wrong yesterday. If Will gets his oval track stuff squared away, he could be the biggest threat to Dario for the overall title.

    Big shock of the weekend, part 1. KVRT with two cars in the top 5! Keep in mind Tony Kanaan had only signed with this team two weeks ago and his engineer, Michael Cannon, only joined the team this week. And Takuma Sato came home fifth. Do not be surprised if KVRT breaks their duck-a British expression meaning to find success after a long period of struggle-on a street/road course this season.

    Big surprise #2, although it shouldn’t be, Simona De Silvestro. I hope Robin Miller isn’t true when he reported that Bernie Ecclestone wants her in F1. She is such an asset here. Think about her performance yesterday. She just met her new engineer on Thursday, and goes out and puts her car in the top 4!

    There’s only one person who I don’t imagine was impressed by Simona’s work yesterday, and that would be the one who finished 12th. The one who is slowly realizing that you can purport the Big Lie-with the help of your media enablers-off the track, but on the track Simona has gained more respect and admiration than she has ever had.

    P.S. Don’t look over your shoulder, princess. There are more coming. Ana Beatriz is already there, Pippa Mann is in negotiations with Conquest to possibly fill a second car for Eric Bachelaert, and others like Tatiana Calderon and Shannon McIntosh are bubbling under the surface in the “Mazda Road to Indy” ladder system. I imagine she who finished 12th is seething right about now, and that’s a good thing.

  4. Hold on there, Captain. I think I called MY posts “morbidly verbose,” hence anyone thing I was casting aspersions on you. I only aspersion-ize myself.

  5. The double file restarts should work great on ovals. There still will be carnage, but at least they will be able to line up. The back of the field was always a mess. I imagine the same at long beach. Hopfully we get standing starts next year on road/street courses. It may end up being better to restart single file but slow them down on the R/S tracks. I hope they keep them for the rest of the year just to see if the drivers improve. That PT tweet made me glad he wasn’t out there. What an idiot.

  6. Jim Will Key Says:

    The crowd looked great on TV?

    What race were you watching? The helicam shots showed lots and lots of empty seats. And they have already taken out grandstands that were there in previous years.

    If there were anymore then 20,000 people there, I’d be shocked.

    20,000 at a street course=good
    20,000 at a oval=bad

  7. jerrycruz Says:

    The Series should keep the double-file restarts. This makes for intriguing races and drama. I’m a Penske fan and would be angry do to the results yesterday but I actually liked that 12 different teams were in the mix.

    About Paul Tracy…now you can really be certain why sponsors don’t want him…i would not provide him with my sponsorship to be such an idiot!!!

  8. Double-file restarts will work if drivers are forced to leave 50 feet between rows. If they don’t do that, Barber and Long Beach will be even more crazy.

  9. Mike Rice Says:

    The drivers will (hopefully) eventually figure it out about the 2-wide restarts. They seemed to start to regain their senses about them as they did them yesterday the second and third times. Not perfect, but better. I think George’s summary of the pent up frustration was pretty spot-on.

  10. The Lapper Says:

    I couldn’t have been happier about the season’s first race. St. Pete comes off well on TV and I understand that the ratings for the race improved very much over last year’s broadcast. This was an excellent beffort and I have missed Jamie Little working the pits. In my studied opinion, she is the best and the prettiest. But, of course, I am The Lapper.

  11. Marco has been on his head more than “Ralphie The Racer” ever was in a dirt car. Not sure the kid will ever get it. What is the definition of “insanity”, doing the same thing over and over again.
    Great race by Simona, she clearly is the best of the female drivers on Street & Road Courses, and with style I might add.
    As for Helio, he can’t start a race from the pole without getting a jump on everyone, but it was great to know he was running such fast lap times several laps off the pace.

  12. I would like to see 3 car lengths between rows when starting or restarting in two columns! You would think that PT and Sebas were banging wheels at turn 1. SO MANY racers got raw deals in the bumper-car race on Sunday. See my photos. I felt bad for Justin & R.H-R. Loved to see TK on the podium in his first race (“third day on the job”) with KVRT. Should’ve left A.A. years ago when he had the chance.

  13. SkipinSC Says:

    Like you, George, I’ve rarely spared ABC/ESPN for their coverage shortfalls in the past, and as to the booth talent, I have to concur. They were better, although Scott Goodyear seemed to get a little snarky when he refuted Danica’s view of moving between the two series.

    My issue with this telecast this time is production-related, in that there were just too many things we didn’t see. (As P’dog would put it, “None of your business.”)

    The booth guys can only call what they get from the truck. Usually, ABC’s production is first rate, but this was NOT the case this time. I cannot recall a race where so many significant happenings were just flat not shown. How did Simona get from mid pack to 2nd? We don’t know and we certainly didn’t see.

    The later-lap coverage tells me they had plenty of cameras in place, but where were the pictures???

  14. bentwickerbill Says:

    A great season opener sans the first 15 laps or so… Marco and Helio need to enrioll and attend a situational awareness and physics 101 class… AA stronger without TK, I think not….!!!! Many more than 20K people there for sure, possibly the most well attended/jamming crowded race I have been to since its inception in 2005…. Paul Tracy ashamed to be an IRL driver….HAH!!!! What he should be ashamed of is, all of the real race car drivers he unneccessarily speered, spun out and put into the wall in his clumsy attempt to show everyone what a great driver he really was….(when he had a ride that is) …

  15. I felt sorry for victimized racers such as Wilson, but I enjoyed watching the race before and after cleanups. I didn’t count the crowd, and I don’t care. That’s Green & Savoree’s problem. What’s more important is worldwide following of IndyCar via TV & Internet.
    Marco was like the pot calling the kettle black. One the first lap (not the last!) instead of being sane & prudential, turning right, two by two by two by two, Marco & Helio had to dive-bomb. And Helio’s braking was a bit longer than Marco’s.
    The shame is that Marco and Helio weren’t the only victims! I felt sorry for Conway. T.K. must be glad that he left Daddy Day Care.

  16. Good report George. I thought that St. Pete was a blast and I was very impressed with ABC/ESPN as well. By the way, I agree with The Lapper about Jamie Little. Besides being a fox, Jamie is one of the best pit reporters in the business.

  17. 100% with what wickerbill said up there. It’s hilarious to think of PT shaking his head and thinking to himself “what a bunch of amateurs” as he watched those starts when you could go back and find a dozen or more similar incidents that he was the catalyst for (I can remember him doing something dumb at the start at Montreal at least once, and that’s right off the top of my head; YouTube would probably turn up many more).

    Decent race, good effort by ABC, good suspense around the restarts. Could everything have been better? Sure, but everything sure looks a lot better than it did this time two years ago. We’re in for a good season.

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