Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Now, Stay Tuned For the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing'

Hey folks! Just after getting my blog going in late Fall of 2013, my life became extremely busy with work and school. I won't go into details, but needless to say, I am back for the summer. Since May is in full force and we are less than a week away from 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing' (although I still believe it is the Greatest Spectacle in Sports'), I thought I would make my 5 bold predictions for this years 500 Mile Race.

Number 1: This year's Indianapolis 500 will earn JR Hildebrand a full ride with Ed Carpenter Racing. That's right, I believe that if JR has a solid showing this month, which he has thus far, Ed Carpenter will most likely sign this kid full time. Ed's team has seen some success in its first few years so, the addition of a second car would be a huge gain for the Indianapolis based team. JR seems to have a confidence back that we have not seen for quite sometime. After being one corner away from victory in 2011, to smacking wall after 3 laps in 2013, watch for 2014 to be the year of redemption for JR Hildebrand, at IMS.

Hildebrand hits the wall on lap 4 of the 97th Indy 500
Photo: LAT Photography 

Number 2: Indianapolis will see an American winner for the first time since 2006, breaking the longest drought in race history without an American winner (8 years). All American's in Indy Car are over due for a victory at the speedway. I believe that 2014 is America's best chance to add another winners face to the Borg Warner, since the days of Sam Hornish Jr and Buddy Rice. Andretti Autosport looks very strong with Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ed Carpenter racing put two Americans in the top 9, with JR Hildebrand and Ed Carpenter. Also starting in the top 9 is Josef Newgarden, who has the opportunity to add his likeness to the Borg Warner in only his third start. Rahal Letterman Racing has always been good at IMS, so this could be the chance for Graham Rahal to resurrect his career. Young Charlie Kimball, and the veteran Townsend Bell also have the opportunity to move through the field on Sunday.  But of course, I would be remiss to not mention Kurt Busch as an American to watch on race day. So, with a field packed full of Brazilian, French, Canadian, and Colombian talent, watch for an American to be sitting atop the scoring pylon after 200 laps.

In 2006, Sam Hornish Jr. was the last American to drink the milk.
Photo: IMS 

Number 3: Last year's record of 68 lead changes will not be broken. 2013 was quite the obnoxious year, when it came to passing, and part of me hopes that we see less passes for the lead. Wow, I never thought I'd say that.. Mainly, I just want every single pass to be meaningful. There were times last year where I felt like cars we passing each other when they knew the next lap would see a different leader. I absolutely LOVE lead changes, but somewhere between 34 and 68 would be OK with me. I think with the hp boost this year, cars might pull away a bit quicker, so they are not passed immediately after they take the lead.  However, these cars do produce a lot of drafting, so still expect to see plenty passing throughout the entire 500.

Number 4: TV ratings will be up from the dismal 3.7 that last years race earned. The race has gotten much more exposure on ABC, with the fantastic Grand Prix of Indy, and some exciting qualifying sessions. Pole day actually earned a 1.2 TV rating, which is better than almost every race broadcast on NBCSN, and is up from the 0.2 that pole day earned on NBCSN in 2013. The Grand Prix earned a 0.9 nationally, but did earn a 9.1 in Indianapolis, and a 1.6 in Tampa Bay. Again , those numbers are up from a typical NBCSN Indy Car broadcast. Additionally, Pole qualifications led into the Pacer/Heat playoff game, so that should have been a very nice boost in national exposure. Lets hope that America turns their tubes to ABC this Memorial Day weekend, so they can all see that the Indianapolis 500 is still a must see event.

Number 5: We will see a first time winner of Indianapolis. Of the Americans I listed above, I believe Ed Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Josef Newgarden will be the three who have the best opportunity to win for the first time. If Andretti or Rahal could pull out a victory, that would do huge things for IndyCar in this nation. However, there are plenty of non-American drivers who have a great chance to kiss the bricks for the first time. Will Power seems to be a favorite to join the winners club. After that race in Fontana last fall, this Wanker is on charge to capture the championship, and Indianapolis. The Mayor of Hinchtown, James Hinchcliffe will also be a driver who seems to have that first win at Indy in his sights. Hinch would also be a great story line winner of this race. Imagine him on the media tour after the race, now that would be fun! Lastly, who can forget Carlos Munoz? After that stellar run last May at IMS, it is hard to count out the young Colombian from scoring his first win at the Brickyard. 

Whether or not any of my predictions come true, one thing is for certain. This Sunday, when I am sitting in the South West Vista, Jim Nabors will sing 'Back Home Agian in Indiana', balloons will fly, Mary Hulman George will give the commend, Dario will lead 33 cars to the green flag, and all will seem right in the world for the next 500 miles.

Photo: indianamotorsports.org


Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Tribute to Dario

Dario Franchitti, another champion has come and gone. However, the legacy that Dario leaves behind is so much more than just another champion. Dario leaves IndyCar racing as one of the sports brightest and most talented drivers. His passion for racing was contagious, and that passion shined through every time he climbed into the cockpit. I wanted to take the time today to reflect on some of my favorite Dario moments.

Growing up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, my family made it a tradition to attend each IndyCar race at Road America and the Milwaukee Mile. I started going to Road America in 1994, the year I was born, so I don't remember much about those early years at the track. However, the one year that I vividly remember was 1998. This was the race when Bryan Herta spun in turn 5 and Alex Barron literally drove on top of Bryan's car. Although that portion of the race sticks out in my mind, I also remember I certain someone getting their first win on that race day. A young Scotsman, named Dario Franchitti, pulled into victory lane for the first time. From here on out, dad was a Dario fan.

                                     Dario in his Team Kool Green Honda (Photo Credit: autoracing1.com)

In 2002, I believe it was, Dario was featured on a Milwaukee News Radio Station (AM 620wtmj) during the days leading up to the race. I will never forget, dad and I were riding in his work van listening to the interview and the radio host said, "And we now welcome to the show, CART Driver, Dario FRAN-CHET-EE." (verses Fran-key-tee). From this day on, we always referred to Dario as "Dario Franchettee." I still chuckle about that, to this day.

Robin Miller is a household name in the IndyCar paddock. He is known for his brutally honest columns, and his love for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, I also find Robin to be a great interviewer. One of my favorite interviewees of Robin's was always Dario. Something about these to having a chat was always extremely entertaining. On of my favorites, however, would be when Robin Miller presented Dario with a signed painting from a racing legend. Robin presented him with this gift during practice for the Indy 500, as Dario's birthday is on May 19th.  I don't quite remember who the painting was signed by, but Dario was beyond excited. This moment really showed Dario's love and appreciation for the great racers who came before him. My second favorite interview that Dario did with Robin Miller also took place at IMS. Although, this one took place during a September 2013 tire test. Robin interviewed TK and Dario, in what, I believe, is one of the most entertaining IndyCar interviews I have seen in a long time. There is great chemistry between those two racers, and it's a shame we won't have the chance to see them as teammates once again in 2014.

Here is a link to the Dario and TK interview: http://www.racer.com/video-robin-miller-dario-franchitti-and-tony-kanaan-at-ims-tire-test/article/311113/

The Milwaukee Mile, 2004. The first time that the IRL would be visiting the Milwaukee Mile. This would also be the first IRL race I ever attended. It was pretty cool to finally see some of my favorite drivers again, as I had only be attending Champ Car races, and only go to see Paul Tracy. From the start of the weekend, Dad and I had our eyes on Dario, TK, and Helio. I remember watching Sam Hornish Jr and Dario battle in the closing laps, only to give the win to Dario. So up to this point, I have seen Dario's first career CART win, and now his first career IRL win. Not too bad!

                  Dario crosses the finish line, ahead of Buddy Rice at Milwaukee in 2004 (photo credit: world.honda.com)

This next memory brings us to Indianapolis, 2012. The very first Indianapolis 500 that I got to attend. I think we all know where this one is going... I remember Dario having a pit incident during the first round of pit stops, and I thought to myself, there is no way that he is going to move through the entire field. Boy, was I wrong. Last 10 laps and I cannot believe it, Dario is in contention for the win!Everybody knows what happens next. White flag comes out and Takuma Sato tries passing Dario way down low in turn one. I remember seeing those two, from my seat just at the exit of turn one, come flying through the corner. When I saw how close those two were, I knew one, if not both, would end up in the short chute wall. Turns out that Taku can't make it stick, and he is the one who ends up in the wall. Franchitti ends up taking the Borg Warner for the 3rd time.

I consider myself an extremely lucky race fan. I had the opportunity to watch Dario win his very first CART race, win his very first IRL race, and win his 3rd Indy 500. Even though Dario was never my all time favorite drive, I always respected that man more than anybody else in the paddock. It will be a stranfe sight, seeing the 2014 season kick-off without Dario in the field.

                          Dario and close friend Greg Moore, joke around in the pits (photo credit: motorsportretro.com)

Thank you Dario Franchitti. You had the opportunity to stop racing, when you lost not one but two of your best friends, Greg Moore (1999) and Dan Wheldon (2011), in motorsports accidents. However, you stayed behind the wheel, and I think you made those men two of the proudest people, as they would have insisted that you continue racing.  You have shown us fans, your fellow competitors, and the media the upmost respect and class. Dario, you epitomized how all future champions should carry themselves. You had a swagger about yourself, but you respected the sports history more than anyone else on the grid.
"See you up front" -Greg Moore

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013 Awards

Driver of the Year:  Justin Wilson 
Although he did not win a race all season, Justin ran strong week in and week out. If it weren't for a few tough breaks, Justin is easily a race winner and Championship contender. Wilson was a front runner on every type of circuit. At Indy, Justin was the highest finishing Honda, moving up from 14th on the grid to 5th. If it weren't for the late yellow that gave the win to TK, Justin may very well have been in contention for the victory.
Justin Wilson qualifying for the 2012 Indy 500 (Photo Credit: David Leiting)

Best New Comer: Carlos Munoz 
Since we only had one full time rookie, and I didn't think that Rookie was deserving of the Rookie of the Year award, I decided to take into consideration all of the rookies. When looking at all the drivers who made their Indy Car debut this season, without question, Carlos Munoz was the most impressive. Carlos could have easily won at Indy if the last 3 laps were all green. Carlos also did a great job filling in with such short notice, multiple times.

Best Race: Fontana/Brazil 
For me, this was a tough winner to pick. I had it narrowed down to Brazil and Fontana, but I still couldn't pick just one.

-Brazil was a good race until the last 10 laps, then this race turned to unforgettable. Josef Newgarden, Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe, just to name a few, were all contenders in the final few laps. Three-wide out of the final hairpin at one point..WOW! Then there was Hinchtown's last lap, last corner pass on Taku, absolutely stunning.

-Fontana was one of the best oval races, outside of Indy, that I have seen in a long time. The car control some of the drivers had when they sliced through the field was outstanding. The tire wear had cars all over the track. There was those nasty seams in the corner that forced the drivers to hold a steady line all the way through the corner. It was amazing to watch the cars dance around with each other, just searching for a line around the 2 mile oval. This race had high attrition rate written all over it, and that is exactly what happened. This race resembled the CART 500 milers from the late 90's and early 2000's

Best Pass: Hinchcliffe on Sato in Sao Paulo. 
If this pass didn't have you on your feet yelling, then you aren't wired right. Taku goes to block Hinch, and James pulls the old over-under, on the final corner of the race! Words cannot explain how awesome this finish was, so here is the link to the final 5 laps! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVl2PuojmJg

Feel Good Moment of the Year: Tony Kanaan
Anyone who has followed IndyCar racing over the past 10 years knows what this victory meant to Tony and the speedway. For someone who has attended the 500 the last two season's, I truly saw what this victory meant to the fans of Tony Kanaan. Those grandstands went absolutely insane. Thousands of fans rushed him on his victory lap to congratulate him. Just as many stuck around for the post race interviews back by the media center, just to see the man of the hour.
TK takes a victory ride at Indy (Photo Credit David Leiting)

Biggest Face Palm of the Year: JR Hildebrand Runs Into Will Power Under Yellow
This was another close one. It was between Takuma Sato hitting RHR in the pits at Pocono and JR going up and over Will Power under caution at St. Pete. Well at least Taku was just trying to make up time, JR just wasn't paying attention. I know it's happened before to others, but you'd think these drivers would learn to be a little more careful under yellow flag conditions.

Biggest Surprise of the Season: Juan Montoya Signs With Penske 
While this was not a season defining moment, the news was released in the latter stages of the season. I think this news had most of our jaws on the floor. Montoya seemed as though he was headed back to the Cup series, after him and Andretti could not work our a deal. Just days later, it was released that JPM would be signing with the Captain. This is a move that will definitely shake up the 2014 season.

Biggest Disappointment of the Season: Graham Rahal 
Sadly, this seems to be a reoccurring theme. The young American showed so much promise in his first two seasons with Newman/Hass, but ever since then, it seems like he is going backwards more than forwards. This year looked to be a re-energizer, after being partnered with his dad, but Rahal struggled to finish races or even crack the top 10. As a fan of his, I hope with new engineer Bill Pappas, Rahal can start running up front again. That would be wonderful for the series.
Graham Rahal in the Pits at Milwaukee (Photo Credit David Leiting)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What The 2013 Season Taught Us

Sadly, the 2013 Indycar season has come to a close and we must wait a long 5 months for the next season. This provides us a perfect time to reflect on what we've learned the past few months about the current state of the series and it's drivers.

- Let's start with the obvious. Scott Dixon is just as good as he's ever been. One of the gutsiest second half's of a season we have ever seen. After a rough start to the season, Dixie came storming back, winning 4 of the last 9 races. Scott also overcame back to back devastating weekends during the heart of the championship race to pull out his 3 series title. Dixon will go down as one of the greatest drives that American Open Wheel racing has ever seen.

Scott Dixon qualifying for the 2012 Indy 500 (Credit: David Leiting)

- Helio Castroneves has become the poster child of what conservative driving can do for a championship battle. Sure, HC finished every lap this season outside of Houston and, a lot of this can be contributed to his passive driving style all season. But look at Dixon, although he had a few DNF's, his go for it driving style paid huge dividends. At Fontana, when Helio went all out, he was passing cars left and right and contended for the lead all race long. I believe at races such as Baltimore and Sonoma, Helio could have gained many more championship points and capitalized off of Scott Dixon's misfortune.

- Takuma Sato has yet to harness his wild driving style. Throughout the first few races of the season, Taku did a good job of managing races and taking what was given to him. I mean hell, he was the points leader headed into the Indy 500. However, it did not take to long for Taku to start running into issues. Sato didn't even finish half of  the races this season. There was that inexplicable pit incident with RHR at Pocono and, many other DNFs due to driving in too deep. Being unable to rein in his driving style may cost Taku a ride in the future.

- Indycar racing has some amazing future talent. Rahal and Andretti have sputtered in their first few seasons but, they have proven that they have it in them to be consistent race winners.  Then you have a driver like Josef Newgarden, who is going to win his first race any day now. Charlie Kimball, Simon Pagenaud, and James Hinchcliffe all won their first race this season and I am positive they will all win many more. If JR Hildebrand can catch a break with a decent program, I predict he will break through with a race win. Lastly, we cannot forget about Carlos Munoz. Watch out for this kid, I have a feeling he can be a future series champion.
Josef Newgarden pulls out for a qualifying run at Indianapolis (Credit David Leiting)

- Indycar needs more ovals. I have said it before and, I will say it again. I am not one to complain about the Indycar schedule because I am just happy to have the Indycar series. (although, there are plenty of tracks I'd love to see added)  However, after that show put on at Fontana to finish off the season, how can you ignore the fact that more races like that would be absolutely amazing. But hey, you can't go where they don't want ya!

- 2014 might be Will Power's year, finally.. After three straight seasons of being the championship runner up, Will started 2013 in a very unfamiliar fashion. Despite the rough start, Power finished off the season by winning 3 of the final 5 races. Will's biggest win came in the final race of the season where he finally proved he can win a full length oval race/ However, it was not just an oval race but a 500 mile race. Add together his confidence of finally finishing a season strong, the addition of another full time teammate in Juan Montoya, and his ability to get it done on ovals as well as road/street courses, 2014 looks to be the season for Power.

Will Power pulls out of his pits stall at Milwaukee (Credit: David Leiting)

- The DW12 produces some of the most amazing racing on the planet. Although, I am among those who don't think this is the most aesthetically eye pleasing car, I cannot overlook the amazing racing the car has put on for us fans.  2013 had the most amazing racing that I have seen in sometime. The best part, this racing occurred on all styles of tracks.

- We have the best drivers in the world. Whether it's on or off the track, Indycar drivers are second to none. We have drivers up and down the grid who can win any given race, on any given track. Every weekend I can think of 15 or so drivers that have a legitimate chance to take the checkered. Along with being great race car drivers, the stars of the Indycar Series are wonderful people. All of them enjoy being around the fans and are extremely personable. From TK and Dixon visiting the injured fan in Houston, to all the charity work that our drivers do, I believe these are some of the best individuals in sports.

Kanaan and Dixon visit injured fan in Houston Hospital (credit: Tony Kanaan)

- Last but not least, the 2013 season showed us exactly why Indycar is the best racing series worldwide. 10 different race winners, a title comeback for the ages, most passes in Indy 500 history , some amazing finishes, team/driver rivalries, and the deepest series since the mid 90's. How anyone can dispute that Indycar is the best racing on the planet it beyond me!

- Dave Jr