Random Thoughts On Sonoma

There is actually a benefit to negative thinking. If you are expecting something to be about as fun as a trip to the proctologist, and it turns out much better than expected, you come away very happy. That’s sort of the way it was with yesterday’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. I’ve always considered this one of my least favorite tracks and I was not looking forward to the race very much. Therefore, I had very low expectations going in. Instead, I found the race more entertaining than most of the other parades we’ve witnessed from Sonoma.

Things looked very predictable. Will Power had won the pole and looked set up to take his third win in a row at Sonoma before bad luck in the pits allowed Ryan Briscoe to wind up in front of Power and get his first win in over twenty-six months.

There was controversy from the start as Helio Castroneves barely clipped Scott Dixon on the opening lap. Race Control viewed it as unavoidable contact and enforced a drive-through penalty on Helio, dropping him from fourth to twenty-first. As a matter of full-disclosure, I’ll confess to being an Helio fan and I’m pulling for him to win the championship. So you can understand why I thought that this was a questionable call. I realize some will see it as a blatant penalty, but I did not. I was even more confused when I saw Oriol Servia turn James Hinchcliffe around in an almost identical move, yet Servia wasn’t punished. Maybe if the infraction involves two drivers that have no realistic shot, Race Control looks the other way. I normally don’t whine about officiating in any sport. I just want consistency and I didn’t see it when comparing those two incidents.

It looked as if the streak of no caution period was going to continue for the third straight race until Sebastién Bourdais and Josef Newgarden tangled in a frightening crash on Lap 64. Although the crash was started when Bourdais couldn’t get his car to turn, it was Newgarden who got the worst of it. Newgarden hit the tire barrier head-on and then was hit again by Bourdais. Both cars were badly damaged and Newgarden suffered an injury to his left index finger, which was to be evaluated after the team returned to Indianapolis.

Then there was another yellow on Lap 75 when Alex Tagliani was trying to pass Rubens Barrichello, but instead got into the back of Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay spun around and eventually lost a lap in the process. Hunter-Reay stormed down to Tagliani’s pit after the race to let him know exactly what he thought about his driving techniques.

Dario Franchitti seemingly came out of nowhere as the top three of Briscoe, Power and Franchitti all drove away from the rest of the field in the final laps. Somehow, Helio Castroneves was able to claw his way back up to sixth by the end of the race.

TV Coverage: As usual, I thought NBC Sports Network did an excellent job, with both the race broadcast as well as the qualifying show. The shame of it is wondering if anyone actually saw it. Sure there were a few gaffes along the way. You’ll get that with anyone. But the guys in the booth and the pit reporters have all seemed to gel into a cohesive unit. You sense good chemistry among them. Kudos to Jon Beekhuis for being on top of the happenings and pointing out that Ryan Briscoe would be in the lead as he exited the pits.

Nice win for Briscoe:  From what I gather and read, this was a popular win throughout the paddock, if not with fans. It seems fans have always complained about Briscoe being boring or simply lacking in talent. I think neither is correct. If you follow Ryan Briscoe on Twitter or hear what other drivers have to say, he has a very good sense of humor and is extremely well-liked throughout the garages. He is obviously talented, but sometimes suffers from inexplicable brain-fades. He had not had a good season up until yesterday and the naysayers were already trying to pencil other drivers into his seat for next season.

It’s no secret that this win helped Briscoe, but I think he was going to be back with Team Penske for next season regardless – but this sure helped.

Was anyone happy? I know all drivers want to win, but other than race winner Ryan Briscoe, it was probably the most miserable group of drivers I’ve ever seen interviewed after a race. Second-place Will Power was in the doldrums, even though he was the beneficiary of a huge swing in the points. Franchitti looked fairly content with third, but Marco Andretti, Bourdais and Hinchcliffe came across as absolutely distraught over their weekends. But they were all smiles and giggles compared to Ryan Hunter-Reay after his run-in with Tagliani. Hunter-Reay is a good representative for this sport when things are going his way, but if he’s having a bad weekend, his whining can take on legendary status. It really makes it tough to be a fan of his at times.

Tough day for contenders: Of the four title contenders going into Sonoma, three had terrible days. Will Power had the best day finishing second. Helio Castroneves looked like his day was done after serving a drive-through penalty early in the race. He remained stuck in the back of the field for most of the day, but somehow managed to salvage sixth place. Ryan Hunter-Reay looked to be in line to collect decent points before Tagliani got into the back of him. Then there was Scott Dixon, whose day went from bad to worse, before settling for a thirteenth place finish. Going into the weekend, only twenty-eight points separated first place and fourth. After the race, Will Power had a thirty-six point lead over Hunter-Reay in second place.

Nice paint job: I’m not a huge fan of the San Francisco Forty-Niners (although Joe Montana was one of my favorites); but you had to love the paint job on JR Hildebrand’s car this weekend. It was painted in Forty-Niners livery to honor Niners coach John Harbaugh, who also happens to be a co-owner in Panther Racing for which Hildebrand drives. The red and gold really seemed to jump out even on television. That gold reminded me of Danny Sullivan’s Miller liveried cars in the late eighties.

Remembering Neil Armstrong: Those that have followed this site for a while know that I am almost as passionate about the early days of the US Space Program as I am about IndyCar racing. I talk a lot about drivers such as AJ Foyt, Lloyd Ruby and Jim Hurtubise being some of my childhood heroes. Hero status should actually be reserved for those that risk their own lives for the good of mankind. I grew up idolizing the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. I was almost eleven when man first landed on the moon. Like almost everyone back then, I was enthralled with the whole aspect of space travel and I still consider the moon landing as man’s greatest achievement and the greatest event of my lifetime.

We lost the first of the three Apollo 11 astronauts, when Neil Armstrong passed away over the weekend. In all, there were only twelve men to ever walk on the surface of the moon but Armstrong was the first. Armstrong did not have a dynamic personality full of charisma. He was pretty much all business. But most kids my age back then idolized him and so did I. America and the world lost a true hero this weekend.

All in all: It was a much better and more entertaining race than I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting a lot. Although there wasn’t a lot of movement at the front, there was a lot of passing mid-pack – but then, it seems like we always say that about non-ovals.

The points battle cleared itself up with two races to go. There are now only eight drivers with a mathematical shot to win the championship, while in reality – I think only three have a real shot. Power has a comfortable lead, but he can’t coast. He’s seen comfortable leads evaporate the last two seasons. If he wins at Baltimore next week, he should be in good shape heading into Fontana. Should he stumble at the Inner Harbor, then it’s game on!

George Phillips

27 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Sonoma”

  1. Nice recap as usual, G-man.

  2. RHR sure has the Andretti Whine perfected. Does he think his own penalty for contact is completely excused because he was the victim earlier?

    Robin Miller is a jackass.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Justin Wilson and Simona De Silvestro are possibly the only two drivers ever who wouldn’t “whine” after being taken out of contention for a race win and a championship. Hunter-Reay crossed no lines and his antics were about as justified as they’ll ever be.

      • Justin Wilson? Are we talking about the guy who cheated in Texas? He better not whine.

      • After one of Tags patented boneheaded tags that may have take RHR out of contention for the championship I think Ryan was entitled to whine if that is what you prefer to call it. At least he didn’t throw his helmet in Tag’s direction like Tony Stewart might have done.

        • Remind me again, who took out ‘King Sato at the end of Long Beach. Took away a 3rd place finish from him.

          I’ll hang up and listen.

          • Hmmm. Tricky one for me here. On the one hand, I’m a tad tired of RHR’s routine of somebody doing something that displeases him on track and then either running the offender off the track or marching down to the other guys’ pit stall, Danica-style (I can remember at least 2-3 other times that he’s done that). Yeah, this one was prety egregious, but it’s pretty clear that Tag didn’t do it on purpose. Mind you, this is coming from an actual RHR fan (I have an American Spirit Team Johansson hat with his name on it, after all), but it’d be nice if he’d take things a little bit more in stride instead of throwing a hissy when things go in the toilet.

            On the other hand, Justin Wilson is a big, fat cheater now? Becaus his team left a part on his car that gave him something between 10-20 lbs of downforce (I base those numbers on Dario’s quote of “every one or two or three pounds [of downforce] was key and that was multiples of that” [credit to pressdog on the quote] which tells me that the acutal number was somewhere in the very, very low double digits)? Wow. I will prepare for some serious judgement after I drive 72 MPH on a 70 MPH highway on the way to work tomorrow.

          • billytheskink Says:

            Now I’m sorry for bringing Wilson up. He was intended to be an example of an exception to the rule, a race car driver who does not generally wear his frustration on his sleeve.

            ALL drivers get upset when they get taken out, even in unintentional or flukey situations. MOST drivers will express their frustrations in the immediate aftermath of an incident, and with all the cameras and microphones around we get to see more of it than ever before. They’ve also ALL caused an incident at one point or another, begging the question… can any one of them really be a hypocrite if they are all hypocrites?

          • The Speedgeek Says:

            Hey, Billy, I totally agree with you. Justin’s been in major league racing for, what, 12 years now (F1, ChampCar, IRL, IndyCar) and have we heard him say more than 5 cross words that entire time? He and Briscoe got in that one shoving match at Mid Ohio a few years ago, but that beef got squashed almost before the two if them were back in the paddock. You’re 100% right. There’s a classy way to handle yourself when things go poorly. I wish more drivers went that route, but I know that not everybody feels the way I do. To each his own.

  3. Seemed to me that Dixon popped out to try and block Helio on that opening lap, and ended up getting spun because of it. RHR deserved to whine. Tagliani deflated the end of that race and most likely the season with that boneheaded move.

  4. Classic Tagliani move. I feel bad for RHR, but you’re absolutely right. He’s got to put on a better face for the camera’s when things don’t go his way.

  5. I don’t blame RHR for being pissed. Tagliani punted him from any chance at winning the championship by being wreckless. I thought the talking to he gave Tag was great and I think a flying fist would have been awesome. Foyt would have brought a hammer. Bristlol was aewsome the night before and Smoke’s flying helmet was what will keep people coming back.

    By the way, George, Sonoma was a dust bowl yesterday. If there is any beauty there then it does not come across on the wide-screen.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Pretty good race for Sonoma, but not a good race for Indycar with the significant extension of Power’s point lead. Having at least two drivers with a realistic shot at the championship going to Fontana would be good for the series, and Power will probably have to DNF at Baltimore for that to be likely.

    I also initially thought the penalty on Castoneves was a bit much, but Barfield and Co. were consistent with “avoidable contact” for the remainder of the race (other than Servia-Hinch).

  7. Carburetor Says:

    I am not a big RHR fan, but I thought he showed considerable restraint in talking to Tagliani after the race. I was hoping he’d knock some sense into him. Tagliani has finally succeeded in eclipsing EJ Viso as the total numbskull of the bunch. RHR is trying to challenge for a championship; seems like he has a right to be upset when an idiot just plows into him…

    George–when has Marco ever looked happy? Talk about someone who seems totally miserable at his job….

    I thought this race was entertaining aside from the fact you almost knew Power was going to be the winner after the initial lap. The late race yellows caused some added interest at the front but the mid-pack racing was pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to Baltimore.

  8. Yawn. Between the MotoGP at Bruno, Nationwide and Cup at Bristol, and Superbikes in Russia, Infineon was by far the worst race of the weekend.

  9. Maybe Tagliani has poor judgement on the race track, but not on his women. His wife is a knockout!

  10. The only way I see Power losing this lead is if he doesnt start his engine. He officially clinches when he starts his car in Fontana.

  11. Bobby Big Nuts Says:

    Willy P won the championship when the sport decided to run all of 5 ovals this year. If anyone didn’t think he was going to win it, they haven’t been paying attention the past few years. The ONLY thing that kept him from winning it the past few years, were the additional ovals on the schedule. Once the sport pissed them away, Will is a champion.

    Will Power…Champion of the Indy Car Road and Temporary Tracks Series (with a few ovals sprinkled in for the hell of it).

    Now, get ready for his gay-ass “leap” after he clinches the championship next weekend.

    • Dear Mr. Nuts: In your judgement, what exactly would you consider to be a manly leap as opposed to a gay-ass leap? Just curious.

    • Delightful. Thanks for stopping by to bless us with your profound thoughts, Mr. Nuts. Now, if you’d kindly go take a leap of your own. Your choice on what type of leap.

  12. Sorry for the comment vomit tonight, George, but I had a couple of things to say to other comments here. As to my thoughts on the race, I’d give Sonoma about a C-minus. On my fandom sliding scale that’s right about “worth my three hours of leisure time” but falls well short of “I’ll bounce my grandkids on my knee and tell them stories about it”. That’s fine. I’d prefer they were all barn burners, but if running Sonoma means that we have 3-4 extra sponsors involved with the sport that might not be without copious amounts of Napa Valley’s best flowing in the hospitality tents, then I’ll sit through a subpar race once or twice a season.

  13. It’s possible to be whiny without whining (my kids are masters and we all dip in now and then). It’s just how RHR expresses negative emotions — whiny presentation of legitimate grievances. And, as others have mentioned, it’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle black. RHR did spear Sato this year and was penalized for punting Briscoe and Sato last year.

  14. I was thrilled with a Briscoe win at Sonoma. Woot! Woot! Sorry I am not going to expound on technical issues here. I did think Hunter-Reay was a tad bit too whiney, I agree that they have all taken someone out accidentally at one time, it sort of reminded me of a Danica move and I like RHR and was disappointed that he stormed down there. I could clearly read Tags lips as he apologized. Whether Tags did a bone headed move or not, at least he admitted it–I have seen so many drivers do bone-headed moves and blame everyone but themselves. RHR’s time will come, maybe it is Power’s time finally after coming so close.

  15. john of sparta Says:

    **The shame of it is wondering if anyone actually saw it.**
    well, did the ratings reach single digits?

  16. john of sparta Says:

    ok. my bad. had time to research.
    Spelling Bee got 4x ratings vs. IndyCar.
    0.8 and 00.200. and the answer is:
    NO. never reached a whole number.

  17. Hunter-Reay wound up 18th, a 23-point swing in the standings. He goes into Sunday’s race trailing leader Will Power by 36 points with two events remaining to decide the champion.

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