Random Thoughts On Edmonton

Those that tuned in to yesterday’s Edmonton Indy expecting another round of the fireworks like we saw in Toronto, probably came away a little disappointed. Instead of a bunch of cars involved in something that resembled a WWE Smackdown, they actually witnessed a race on Sunday. It didn’t have the trash-talking that followed the race in Toronto, nor did it have the controversy of last year’s race at Edmonton. Still, there were enough bone-headed moves by drivers to keep things somewhat interesting.

Other than sequencing through the pit stops, there was only one pass for the lead. When pole-sitter Takuma Sato bobbled for an instant on Lap Nineteen, Will Power seized the opportunity to take the lead. For the most part, that pretty much decided the race as Power did all he could do to rectify his perceived injustice from Toronto. He pretty well dominated on his way to his fourth victory of the season.

First of all, I was glad to see that the IZOD IndyCar Series officials decided to get serious about enforcing penalties. There weren’t a lot of tough calls to make on behalf of the officials. Things were pretty well cut & dried without a lot of gray area. Alex Tagliani started things off with a bold, but idiotic move going into Turn One. His actions indirectly ended the day early for Graham Rahal and Paul Tracy, yet he continued on to actually finish the race. It was the same for Mike Conway, who attempted a ridiculous move on Oriol Servia. Servia went into the tire-barrier, while Conway went on to lead the race before serving his penalty. Conway finished eighth, while Servia was relegated to finishing twenty-second.

Turn Five was the scene of the two dumbest moves of the race. EJ Viso went barreling into the turn to see just how many cars he could make get out of his way. He ended up spearing Scott Dixon’s radiator. What looked like a promising day for Dixon, turned into a twenty-third place finish due to Viso’s foolish move. Viso wasn’t penalized because he lost two laps in the melee before he was able to rejoin the race. Later, Ryan Hunter-Reay attempted what was obviously an impossible pass on pole-sitter Takuma Sato, who was running fifth at the time. Sato was turned around and stalled the car while Hunter-Reay kept going. Sato finished twenty-first, while RHR went on to finish seventh.

Although all of the guilty drivers mentioned were penalized for their indiscretions, every one of them finished higher than the driver they hit – even after serving their penalty. Something about that just doesn’t seem right. In other sports, a penalty erases whatever resulted from the infraction. There are too many moving pieces in a race to make that possible, but there needs to be something implemented to correct this. Yesterday’s race had several situations where a driver makes an obviously stupid move, punts an innocent car out of the way, serves a penalty, yet is able to have a good finish while the other car is either out of the race or put several laps down.

Do they penalize with points? Should drivers be fined or put on double-secret probation? I don’t know, but for Conway and Hunter-Reay to finish eighth and seventh while their respective victims finished in the twenties after having good races – something’s just not right about that.

If you were a fan of Team Penske, it was a bittersweet day. At one point, the three Penske cars occupied the top three spots, while Dario Franchitti was the only Ganassi car out of four entries to be in the top-ten – and he seemed to be hanging around between seventh and tenth. Helio Castroneves had his best race of the season, finishing second behind Will Power, but Ryan Briscoe was forced to give up a fourth place finish when he had to come in for a splash of fuel, with one lap remaining. A miscalculation like that is very un-Penske like and it’s those uncharacteristic blunders that have plagued this team all year.

Added to that misery for Team Penske was the fact Dario Franchitti carved his way up to third by the finish. Just like in Brazil, when Franchitti had a miserable day but still finished fourth – some would call it a season of destiny when a seemingly bad day still finds a driver in third. For the near-perfect race that Will Power drove, he only whittled seventeen points off of Franchitti’s lead and still trails the two-time defending series champion by thirty-eight points.

TV Coverage: Overall, I thought this was one of the better efforts of the season for Versus. They lost the sound on the Canadian National Anthem and we never heard the command to start engines, but other than that – I can’t recall any major gaffes. I missed Dan Wheldon being in the booth. Although he tended to be a little chatty, I thought he brought a fresh and current perspective to the audience. If they can somehow get him back, they should do it.

Although he was cut off early by a commercial break, I really enjoyed Robin Miller’s Grid Run. His rapport with the drivers and team owners is obvious and his spontaneous one-liners are priceless. And he does move pretty well for some one even older than me.

I thought Lindy Thackston did a great job interviewing Scott Dixon in the pre-race show. She pinned him down and asked him the hard questions on his relationship with quasi-teammate Graham Rahal and how he perceived the “second Ganassi team”. Lindy is very good at asking pointed questions without being so “in your face” about it.

KV Woes: If it wasn’t for EJ Viso, we would be talking about the bad luck for KV Racing Technologies, instead of poor decision making. Tony Kanaan drove a solid race and finished a quiet fourth. He has now moved back to fourth in points. Sato had his second pole in three races and led for the first eighteen laps. He was driving a good race and seemed headed for a decent finish when he fell victim to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s poor decision. But Viso pulled yet another brain-fade and took out Scott Dixon, who was running third at the time. I’m sure there is a nice check from Venezuela to run Viso, but if I were to have a say-so in the running of that team – I think I would let Mr. Viso take his services to another team next year.

Team Penske Liveries: I know I’ve griped about this before, but it is frustrating to try and guess which cars Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe will be driving from week to week. Briscoe drove the yellow Penske Truck Rental car a couple of times early this season. Helio drove it last week at Toronto. Yesterday, they both drove it.

So far this season, Briscoe has driven liveries for IZOD, Penske Truck Rental, GuidePoint, and PPG. Helio has been seen in colors for GuidePoint, AAA, Shell/Pennzoil and Penske Truck Rental. With the swapping back and forth of the same sponsorships, it is almost impossible to build a brand for a driver. I understand the economics of rotating sponsorships, but surely they can come up with more consistency than what we’ve seen. For a team that kept the same distinctive Marlboro livery for twenty years, this is a culture shock to fans of this team.

All in all: Racing snobs will tell you that this was a great race. They will say it was filled with various pit-strategies and it was run on a very technically difficult course. They will also tell you that if you didn’t like it, you simply don’t know how to appreciate pure racing. I consider myself a pretty hard-core IndyCar fan, but to be perfectly honest – I found this race to be pretty boring. Take out the aforementioned incidents and there was just not a lot to get overly excited about. There was one genuine pass for the lead. Helio and Dario closed up behind Will Power in the closing laps, but neither looked real serious in forcing the issue. They both seemed content with decent finishes and Will Power ran virtually uncontested all day long.

The drivers seemed to prefer the old Edmonton layout that featured many high-speed corners. This layout had some long straightaways, but I think three hairpin turns is a little much. Still there was some passing in the middle of the pack, but the front of the field was pretty much static throughout the day.

But this is what makes the IZOD IndyCar Series so challenging and so diverse. One race, you’re dodging bullets left and right like we saw at Toronto. Other races, you may be your own worst enemy as one mistake can ruin your day – as we saw when Sato gave up the lead. That’s why I think an IndyCar championship is so coveted. Dario Franchitti may be well on his way to winning his fourth championship in five years. The only reason he didn’t win it in 2008 is he was not in the series. Regardless of how he won the Toronto race, I’m learning to appreciate watching his race right now. Whoever wins the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series championship – they will have earned it.

George Phillips

28 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Edmonton”

  1. What was up with Anna Beatriz’s wing sitting in the middle of the back stretch for more than one-half of the race? After watching the beauty and raciness of the Nürburgring, Edmonton left a lot to be desired.

  2. I liked the track, but have to admit I was hoping for a couple more yellows towards the end to tighten up the pack a bit. I don’t like the multi-sponsor cars either, but I understand the economic necessity–maybe there’s a way to keep drivers at least in the same color or something? (I still like the idea of the champ. driver earning number 1 for the following season, but I guess I’m alone in that.) I think Servia and RHR may have had something for the red cars if not for the wreck and the penalty. Dario seems to live a charmed life, but Power is just so much faster than anytone else in a car.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I miss the #1 as well. I think teams still have the right to use the #1 following a championship, they just don’t do it. I don’t really understand why, since even the teams that try to brand their drivers’ numbers seem to do so only half-heartedly.
      Newman-Haas was the last team to use the #1 (in ChampCar), so if they win a championship then perhaps they will bring it back. Of course, there’s no guarentees… both Penske and Ganassi used the #1 in past decade, only to abandon it.

      RHR’s dumb move was particularly galling because he was running speeds that would have had him passing Sato later that lap or the next. Power can’t afford to have cars taking themselves out of Dario’s way.

  3. Here is an idea for a penalty to a driver who is too aggressive an messes up another’s race.
    The guilty driver must assume a position behind the offended driver, physically and in the scoring. The guilty driver must hold that position unless/until to offended driver attains full racing speed again.

    • Br!an McKay Says:

      Interesting —
      I had only thought of ‘stop for 30 seconds then go’ rather than ‘stop for 1 second’ or ‘drive through’ penalties.

  4. Steve K Says:

    Ana’s front wing piece was off the racing line and I believe no cautions flew after it appeared so it stayed. F1 would have done the same.

  5. I enjoyed Edmonton far more than Toronto. I’m not sure how you can say “Take out the aforementioned incidents and there was just not a lot to get overly excited about.” But the aforementioned incidents WERE part of the race, right? I respect your opinion, but to me that statement is like saying “take out the home runs, and the baseball game was blah.”

    • Oilpressure Says:

      I had originally worded that paragraph differently, but it sounded like the only reason I watched the race was to see the crashes. Perhaps I could have/should have come up with a different statement but it was getting late at night. – GP

      • Pitching strategy, the hit and run and base stealing are also dramatic and can be very breathtaking in a 1-run game to this long-time baseball fan.

  6. I pretty much agree with your take here George,

    The SINGLE chance we had for drama at the front after the final pit stop had gone out the window earlier when RHR had his brain fade on Sato. He was the only guy who might have had something for Will.

    • Br!an McKay Says:

      And if Dixon hadn’t been speared by crashmaster Viso, he could’ve challenged Power. I do not know how Viso stays in that team and that racing series.

  7. Let’s not overthink this. Most sports issue penalties and they go on. Maybe you consider a 2nd level of penalties that include lost laps. What do you people want, do you want the victim’s crew of the incident to get 15 seconds with a sledgehammer on the guilty party’s racecar?

    As for the Briscoe strategy it was the correct call at the time, unless there is something I don’t know about it they executed it properly, they didn’t miscalculate, they just didn’t get the expected yellow. Tags suffered the same fate.

  8. carburetor Says:

    Something really needs to be done about the stupid driving of some of these drivers. For repeat offenders, I suggest making them sit out a race might be worthwhile. If the sponsors cry, they can work to get a more competent driver exhibit their brand. The last 1/3rd of this race was mostly a parade, although there seemed to be a lot more racing going on in positions 6-12 than up front.

    • Br!an McKay Says:

      “Something really needs to be done about the stupid driving of some” I agree!
      As George wrote, “for Conway and Hunter-Reay to finish eighth and seventh while their respective victims finished in the twenties after having good races – something’s just not right”
      Outside of IndyCar racing we have a concept of justice. But here, feel free to SMASH competitors and motor away, drive through pit lane (at 45mph?), then resume bumper-car racing! yee-haw! How about stopping a maniac in pit lane for 30 or 60 seconds?

  9. Ron Ford Says:

    Mmmmmmmm…………….”15 seconds with a sledgehammer on the guilty party’s race car”. (Thank you JB:) Now there’s your TV ratings booster!

  10. I have been kind of the mind that the infracting driver serves his penalty, then is free to continue. If the guy he hit finishes worse, well, that’s unfortunate, but it’s life. To do otherwise gets into the “eye for an eye” theory of justice-which society seems to have abadoned.
    I’ve been thinking, though, that maybe the standard “drive-through” penalty needs to be revisited. Keep it for incidents slightly worse than “racing luck”, but maybe dumb-ass moves like Tagliani and Viso pulled should be rewarded with a one- or two-lap sit on pit road.

  11. George, I would prefer that the black-flag penalties include a 10-15 secs pit hold and then release the car. You cannot simply let others make bone-headed moves and get away with it at the final box score. It is simply not right!!!

    • The Lapper Says:

      I agree. In a lot of cases with INDYCAR I don’t think a simple drive-through is punishment enough. A hold of even 5 seconds should be considered.

      • A drive-thru or drive-thru with a hold would totally depend on which track they were racing on. A drive-thru at Iowa would be a harsher sentence than a drive-thru at Sonoma.

  12. Redcar,
    Absolutely. Maybe the “drive-thru” penalty should be the base punishment, with a hold or parking to be added at the official’s discretion. The factors used would include not only the infraction itself, but the track configuration and the impact of the penalty.

    • Agree 100% with this idea. Word the rule just vaguely enough that Race Control can levy a penalty that has enough teeth to make it hurt, if the driver does something stupid enough (as I think Tag, EJ and RHR all did).

  13. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    A decent race, new track design is probably just slightly above average, but with the as per usual outcome, Clingons win again, but nothing to write home about. As stated much more interesting racing taking place in rear 80% of the field. Not as many yellows as I might have anticipated, but more than enough bone headed moves by many of the usual suspects. There is no question in my mind that bone headed moves i.e. Tags, Conway, Viso, Hunter-Reay et-al, deserve a much harsher penalty, perhaps a drive thru and park for a minute or two in their pit box, such as others have proffered would work wonders I think.
    A bitter sweet day for Penske OMG…??? George you are starting to sound like the folks over at the Ferrari scuderia, who feel like they should win 1-2 every F1 event (or Dario I am not sure). Regarding Briscoe and what has turned out to be an abysmal season for him, the only miscalculation was that a final yellow never materialzed, if it had Roger/TP would have been a genius, instead TP got caught with their fuel load depleted.
    And this whole thing over the Penske weekly changes in livery has got to stop…

    • I liked what George has written more than once about Penske Racing’s IndyCar liveries going from one extreme of predictability and likability to another. And Dario will likely be in a Downy- or Suave- or Huggies-labeled car again. He should’ve negotiated such OUT of his contract.

  14. I thought the race was pretty dull. Honestly, I did not like Toronto, but it was at least more interesting. Just too narrow and too many penalties scared the drivers and they stopped passing. Can’t wait until… we reach a track were passing is possible.

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