Less Than Four Weeks and Counting…

As my wife so eloquently revealed last week, I sometimes overdo it watching sports. This past weekend was very cold on Saturday and very rainy on Sunday. Susan was involved in a lot of her cake decorating that she does on the side, so that pretty well gave me carte blanche to watch whatever I wanted.

I wanted to see if anything had been added to the archives on the new IndyCar Pass on the NBC Sports Gold, but all that were there were the highlights. I wanted more. We bought airline tickets to the season-opener at St. Petersburg last week, so we will be attending that event for the first time ever. With it now less than four weeks away, I wanted to watch last year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

I went to the You Tube app on our television and went to the IndyCar channel. There I found the full ABC broadcast of last year’s St. Petersburg race, sans commercials. It made for quite an enjoyable Saturday morning.

It was twenty-two degrees on Saturday morning in Nashville. It has not been the coldest of winters here, but by this time of year – I’m sick of the cold and especially the rain (which we got plenty of yesterday). Watching race cars in a sunny and warm environment sounded appealing. Plus, now that we are going for the first time – I wanted to sort of visually check it out from a fan’s perspective.

We’ve never been to a race on a temporary street circuit. Our non-oval experience has been limited to Barber, NOLA, Road America and Sonoma. Those were all wide-open tracks not cluttered by concrete barriers and fencing. If a driver made a mistake, there was plenty of forgiving runoff space that would do little or no damage to a car. A driver might lose a few spots, but more times than not – they are able to get back on track.

One of the fun things about going to a permanent natural terrain road course facility is checking out all the different vantage points. We rent a golf-cart at Road America just because the four-mile track is so massive. You’d walk yourself to death and have little time to see the actual track. But in a golf cart, we have found that the various vantage points are endless. Some of the best viewpoints are never seen on television. It’s the same at Barber and Sonoma.

Street circuits are different. One slight mistake can cause the car to seemingly brush the wall, but grazing it just hard enough to do enough suspension damage to end a driver’s day. Based on television views, it looks like some areas at St. Petersburg offer poor views, simply because of the concrete barriers and substantial fencing.

It’s obvious that some of the best action is down into Turn One at St. Petersburg. That’s where the cars are coming off of the wide and expansive airport runway, and funneling into a narrow and winding stretch that leads into the city streets of St. Petersburg. That is where the late race incident between Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens took place.

If you recall, Wickens had dominated the entire weekend. He won the pole in his first-ever IndyCar race, then went on to lead sixty-nine laps of the 110-lap event. On the last restart with two laps to go, Wickens was in the lead with Rossi behind him. Rossi got a good jump at the start and seized his only chance to overtake Wickens going into Turn One. Rossi dove to the inside carrying too much speed in the corner. He began to slide to the outside and slid into the helpless car of Wickens. The contact pushed Wickens into the wall, but saved Rossi and allowed him to keep going. Sébastien Bourdais gladly accepted the lead and Graham Rahal drove around the chaos to assume second. Rossi recovered nicely and finished on the podium in third, while a furious Wickens climbed out of the car.

The incident caused more anger among fans than it did between the two drivers. Although Wickens was miffed at the time, I think he and Rossi were playing along with the idea that there was an actual hate-filled rivalry brewing. But fans of the new rookie sensation weren’t playing. They formed an immediate grudge against Rossi and some hold it to this day.

I had already become a fan of Rossi by then. I knew little about Wickens, but had been very impressed with his first IndyCar weekend. I watched the replays as more of a Rossi fan and saw no reason for fans to be overly upset. It was unfortunate that Wickens was taken out, but I didn’t think Rossi did anything egregious.

Fast-forward eleven months. Rossi had a career season to this point and went on to contend for the title going into the season-finale. Wickens flirted with victory all through the season, and had four podium finishes until his frightening cash at Pocono ended his season early and resulted in a spinal cord injury among other severe injuries.

Like most of us, I have gotten caught up in following the progress of Wickens in a rehab clinic in Colorado. Through social media we have all gotten to follow his successes and setbacks, both physical and emotional, for the past six months. Lately we’ve been seeing more success than setbacks. While hopeful, I was wondering at one time if Robert Wickens would ever walk again.

But then he posted a video of him walking with the aid of the exoskeleton and boasting that he was using his right leg unaided. A couple of weeks later, he proudly showed us another video of him making strides with his left leg finally working. It has gotten to the point of anxiously awaiting every next video, wondering what milestone he has hit with each one.

Robert Wickens may or may not drive a race car again. But after watching his progress over where he was just a couple of months ago; I don’t think it is too unrealistic to expect that he will recover to the point where he will walk unaided and lead a normal life. Seeing how hard he has worked these past six months however, it would not surprise me at all to see him get back into a race car some day.

Having said all of that and knowing what we all now know about Robert Wickens, when I watched the replays of the incident in St. Petersburg – I still think it was an innocent racing incident. Wickens did nothing wrong, but neither did Rossi. Drivers win championships by trying to win races, not by settling for second.

Will this year’s race at St. Petersburg hold as much drama as last year’s? It’s hard to say. There were seven rookies in last year’s race. I can think of five right off the bat that will be in this year’s – Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, Marcus Ericsson and Santino Ferrucci – and there is still over three weeks to go before the teams head down for the season-opening race.

Needless to say, we are looking forward to going to our first Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. We’ve never been to any season-opening event and we are really looking forward to embracing a warm climate. But we always like going to new events for the first time. If any of you have been to a race at St. Petersburg, we are open to suggestions about things like viewing locations and places to eat. So please…talk amongst yourselves.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Less Than Four Weeks and Counting…”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I watched that race a couple weekends ago. Well, I tried to, after about halfway I just couldn’t tolerate the ABC crew anymore. It was like bumping into an old ex-girlfriend and I had to eventually walk away.

    I watched a couple documentaries about IMS this past weekend that were enjoyable. YouTube has a wealth of old IndyCar/IMS videos, usually around the beginning of the season I start watching them to get ready for the Month of May. I really enjoy going to IMS with all the history fresh in my head so I can fully appreciate my surroundings.

  2. Glad you’re coming. On Friday check out one practice from the turn 10 stands and one from turn 1. I sit in turn 1 for the race and love the view. Let me know if you have any questions.

  3. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    George…you may be one rookie too high on the rookie count. Patricio O’Ward’s team has been having money trouble and it isn’t a given that he will be on the grid at St. Pete. Let’s hope they find some money.

  4. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    Just on Racer…O’Ward has asked for and been granted his release from HSR.

  5. Congrats on going to a new track this year. I am still trying to decide where to go for my away race. If it is accessible could you or Susan take a photo of the Dan Wheldon memorial at the track? Sorry, I cannot remember just where it is. I was in Tampa Bay a few years ago at a conference, but just could not afford to rent a car and go over there. Thanks!

  6. View from Turn 10 bleachers looking over the fence to the approach to Turn 10. With a “media” card, watch or make photos standing on ground ‘outside’ of Turn 10. You can see ’em coming, riding the curb, and roaring away on Dan Wheldon Way. Incidentally, the memorial is near the southwest corner of the bleachers.
    Outside Mahaffey Theater (site of media center), at its southeast corner, is a patio on which to watch cars coming, passing the yacht basin and the theater, and entering Turn 10.
    Stand ‘outside’ Turn 5, and see cars coming through Turn 4 toward you. then turning past you.
    With a “media” pass and a camera or notebook, enter Al Lang Stadium from the north, go up its ramps and steps, and look down on cars at Turn 9, zooming toward Mahaffey Theater.
    At ground level, view from outside of Turn 1, from north of the bleachers to south of the bleachers (where photographers congregate).
    Last time I was there, Turn 1 grandstand sitters had maybe 20 inches of aluminum bench for their butts, in hot Florida sunlight or rain, and no view of a jumbo video monitor.
    Not-jumbo video monitors were parallel to the front straight. And legions paid to sit in grandstands behind pit lane, where they could see distant video boards across the track, cars zooming left to right, and glimpses of cars on pit lane while having only about 20 inches of seat. Yawn.

  7. Here’s very much looking forward to your coverage of the event.
    Also, is there any chance for a pre-season edition of “One Take Only”?

    • The continuation “One Take Only” is still to be determined. One of the players (I’m not naming names) got very offended last May when he felt he was unnecessarily ridiculed during the taping of our most recent episode for re-painting his authentic IMS green chair. He has apparently cooled off and said he will continue in his role, but so far will not commit to when we reconvene. That news will delight some and disappoint others. Stay tuned.

  8. You did neglect to mention that you officially proposed to me during the St. Pete race in 2012. Men. *sigh*

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