Feature: IndyCar 2012 – On The Road to Recovery?

It is the middle of September and one series has already wrapped up their 2012 season: the IZOD IndyCar Series.

The apparent need to avoid the NFL, and the NASCAR Chase, meant IndyCar finished racing two full months before F1 and NASCAR – admittedly those series may go longer than they really need to. I tend to think mid/late-October is a good time to stop for the winter break. Just feels right.

With the first IndyCar race of 2013 not due until March we are left with a six month off-season!

A Fresh Start

This was always going to be a tricky year.

The introduction of the new chassis and engine package was fraught with difficulties throughout 2011’s development period and the pre-season of 2012. There was not only a new engine formula but also the return of open competition between manufacturers. Add in a new Race Director, then mix up the schedule by removing favourites with low-attendances and replacing them with gambles.

Do all this while trying to satisfy the most divided and demanding of fans, team owners and media anywhere in the sport. Motorsport fans the world over complain endlessly about the smallest things but they’ve got nothing on the hardcore IndyCar ‘fans’ in the US.  Nowhere else will you find such a bunch of complainers and whiners. The team owners aren’t much different. They were always going to be tough to please.

And Pleased They Were!

Happily it turned out to be a classic year. Most fears were unfounded. The many problems which did emerge over the year were, on the whole, tackled well. The racing was excellent, the cars stood up to the test of the variety of tracks, and they withstood some pretty nasty impacts far better than the old car did.

The early trait of the car to lift into the air mid-spin (noticeably more at the higher speeds of an oval) were ironed out as the year progressed until it didn’t seem to happen at all at Fontana. Compare Indy and Fontana and the rear-to-the-wall spins are very different.

The race director proved to be a revelation, as ALMS fans had expected. Beaux Barfield rearranged the existing rulebook rather than rewrite it completely, though there were many rewrites. The main differences were a change in philosophy and interpretation. Decisions from Race Control were now explained post-race to anyone who would ask, they were even broadcast during the race.
Even if you disagree with the reasoning it is there for us to see it. This is a HUGE change on past years. It cannot be overstated how good a change this is. Transparency is key and now we have it.

The crazy ‘draw an imaginary line on the track’ rule has been thrown out. Racers can race again – within good reason. This has worked really well all year. The drivers have responded to being treated as adults by driving more maturely and with respect. It’s been really, really enjoyable to watch.

Great Competition

The racing all season long was phenomenal. Dallara produced some great aerodynamics packages which meant the cars were very racey on all three classes of course (road, street, oval). It opened up new passing lanes at tracks where the old Dallara couldn’t race at all, Barber Motorsports Park being a notable example – the race was transformed from a snoozefest to being one of the best of the year.

If there wasn’t a lot of passing there was drama in other ways – pit strategy, driver errors, mechanical failures. Unlike past years you never felt like you were marking time, wasting time. Something was always about to happen and you couldn’t switch off in case you missed it. In terms of racing, the new car and engine combo was a hit.

Engine competition was a welcome return. It created winners and losers, just as it should. We saw the return of unreliability (in engines and chassis and software), a classic part of racing which had been engineered out of the last formula. Okay so this engine may be lacking a little in outright power – hopefully that’ll change as development progresses both in technology and in regulations. Remember this is only Year 1.

It was great to have Chevy back in the series and they were on full attack, producing a better unit than incumbent supplier Honda. There wasn’t much in it by the mid-season. You have to think Chevy having more of the ‘powerhouse’ teams helped them enormously, both title protaganists at Fontana used Chevy, and hindered the Ganassi team who were Honda’s only big team.

The only question mark is the engine penalties for failures in testing. Failures in a race weekend I understand, those have been commonplace in racing for a while now. To penalise a team for a failure in a test isn’t on – where’s the incentive to test? This could be solved by saying a team can’t use a race engine on a test day or vice versa, remove the link.

The Lotus Position

As I said, it also created losers and the biggest of those was Lotus. Such is life in open competition. I don’t see it as a downer. Sometimes somebody gets beaten by a big margin. That’s racing. Someone’s got to lose. You can either fight with it and hope they get better next year, and there’s real value and interest in seeing the former underdog bounce back, or you can jump ship to something better. As it turned out by Indy most full-season teams had switched to Chevy or Honda, leaving HVM Racing and the Indy-only Fan Force United with Lotus. All credit to HVM and Simona de Silvestro for sticking out the full year without publically complaining about it.

With Danny Bahar being ousted from Lotus and the company changing focus, they will not return for 2013. Perhaps the engines will be redeveloped by their makers, Judd, into LMP sportscar units. Got to feel for Judd who were completely screwed by Lotus, having to start the programme six months behind the others and not being given the resources to go out testing like the others did. They were up against it from the very beginning.

Schedule

It was a reasonable schedule. There weren’t enough races but we must remember two planned events were dropped. Las Vegas was canned for understandable safety reasons in the wake of the accident last year. A Chinese street race was dropped after financing fell through, not really a surprise. It is a shame replacements weren’t found especially after Bernard was quoted as having a backup plan for China. It turned out either he didn’t or the backup fell through too.

Barber, Long Beach, Indy, Texas (for different reasons to usual), Milwaukee, Iowa, Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Baltimore, Fontana. All good races. Great to see.

St Pete wasn’t covered well by TV, and in any case it was the first race with the new car AND the first race back after Dan Wheldon’s accident, and it was held in his adopted home town. Lots of reasons for everyone to take it easy that weekend.

Sonoma was a near-procession but at least they’d tried something to fix it this year with the circuit layout. I’m not sure what else they can try without a fundamental circuit redesign. It clearly isn’t the car. And Belle Isle came back after a break of many years, the race was surprisingly okay but the track surface was not – it caused a red flag and a reduction in laps.

Much better was the return of Fontana, not only that it was a 500-mile race and the season finale! Inspired decisions. The race length gave it drama and allowed storylines to develop naturally, and teams and drivers had to set up their cars for differing conditions and then bring them home. The only complaint from a UK point of view was the 1.50am start time and the 5am finish!

Diversity

The split of ovals to non-ovals plagues IndyCar discussions and has done for many years, decades even. This year was no different and for once I fall into the ‘more ovals’ camp. Five wasn’t enough. Mind you there were fewer road courses than ovals, just the four this year.

The dominant discipline was street races, six of them. I like some street races but I don’t like them taking over the series. My preference is and has always been natural terrain road courses and oval races at the right venues, with 2 or 3 street races. I understand that’s where the people are though, and that’s the way of racing today. Take the racing to the people because people don’t want to go to the racing at traditional venues. If it were my choice I’d move the Sao Paulo race to Interlagos.

TV

The coverage was better this year. The much-maligned ABC/ESPN improved. Sadly the channel which has the better coverage, NBC Sports, is not being rewarded with good viewing figures which are apparently falling. The only saving grace is IndyCar is now apparently highest-rated sport on the channel. The rebrand from Versus was supposed to bring extra cross-promotion and more viewers – what happened?

Here in the UK the races are on Sky Sports. They’re good at sticking with IndyCar if races run long. During the numourous US ad breaks they’re able to stay with the track – by law they can’t take the same number of breaks as the US but at least they don’t cut back to their studio.

That said, the Sky pre-race is far, far, far too dry. Three blokes in a studio, a few interviews/videos, at least one of the two guests with a monotone voice (much like my own – not saying I’d do better!). It’s all very downbeat. It works well during the US ad breaks when we need discussion to fill the air, but as a pre-race it really doesn’t work at all.

I don’t know why races aren’t run live or at least in replay on Sky Sports F1. It seems a perfect fit to build more of an audience for IndyCar, which Sky must surely want? Perhaps there are contractual reasons, perhaps we’ll see more of it next year.

The Future

After years of neglect and mismanagement, the 2008 ‘unification’ gave IndyCar a chance to regrow. It has taken longer than expected but they’ve finally put in place the building blocks to allow that to happen.

I have no doubt the racing in 2013 will be just as good, even when the ‘big teams’ figure out the tricks and pull away again which they will do. The trick now is to sell this racing to the American public, because their TV ratings will determine the future of the series. If they can be built up elsewhere in the world at the same time, including in the UK, then so much the better!

Enjoying A Summer Break

I owe this blog an explanation. As many racing series took (or are still taking) a long summer break, I took the opportunity to do the same thing. Having saved up my work’s holiday allocation for the summer and taking several days off during the warm sunny weather, I could really get used to it!

You can get a bit of burnout just from watching and reading about racing from February to July, let alone blogging about it which I do all too sparsely anyway, lacking anything of note to say. I’ve been more interested in off-the-cuff Tweeting. Mind you, sometimes it is nice to switch Twitter off, put on some music and open the wine and do some writing. I’ve missed that a little.

I had a lovely holiday in the North of Spain (Galicia) especially once it stopped raining. Once home I enjoyed watching the Olympics and going up to Cardiff (women’s football) and then London (3 times!) to enjoy the atmosphere despite not having any tickets for events in London. I did make it to Hyde Park for the men’s triathlon, there were too many people to see through but wow what a crowd.

And what an event the Olympics have been. From that incredible Opening Ceremony, through to the amazing atmosphere of the Games themselves helped in no small part by those amazing volunteers or ‘GamesMakers’, to the party of the ever-so-slightly underwhelming Closing Ceremony. It felt like another holiday, one for the whole country. I don’t know if the rest of the world felt it. I hope so. The entire feeling in the country changed and people who hate sport were found glued to their TV screens.

Will it last? Possibly not, the realities of life have already set in and the post-Games hangover was felt most keenly, but at least we have learned that we can be proud and patriotic without being far-right-wing knuckleheads, without hankering for The Empire, and that we actually can put on the biggest of events without it all going wrong in a cloud of over-spending, incompetence, and ineptitude (security contractors notwithstanding).

Best thing of all: it proved all the doubters wrong. That’s always fun. No gridlock, no tube/train/bus transport meltdowns, a great atmosphere, a friendly London – who’d have imagined!?

I had intended to write about the Games all through the summer on my personal blog, that didn’t happen as I was so wrapped up in the events I couldn’t take my eyes off them! I still plan to write up my thoughts there so check my Twitter feeds for updates, or perhaps if it interests you maybe you could subscribe to that blog. Otherwise I’ll be blogging about racing here again soon.

Is the summer over? Almost. The latter half of August is here so the party is almost over but, in the finest traditions of Columbo, there’s just one more thing.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to Alex Zanardi’s Paralympic handcycle road race. If you weren’t able to get a ticket – and they may still be on sale so do check for the H4 Handcycle Road Race or Time Trial – it turns out you don’t actually need a ticket to attend. The ticket grants access to Brands Hatch Circuit premises but the actual road race course leaves the grounds and uses public roads seemingly open to all spectators. Just get there early. And if you do have a ticket for Brands itself, let me know, we could meet up.

Anyway, aside from my upcoming two-day Paralympic sojourn (I also have ExCel Arena and Stadium tickets for the day before the road race), the break is over and I’m back in business. I plan to write regularly for both this and my personal blog over the next fortnight and beyond.

I’ll also be attending the Silverstone 6 Hours on Sunday and I’ll write a piece tomorrow to tell you why I think you should come along. Are you going?

I hope you’re having a good summer (or winter if you’re upside down), and if you went to any of the Olympic events or are planning to attend the Paralympics do share!

The other things I wanted to share with you were this ad that went up over London toward the end of the Olympics, and this fantastic promo from Channel 4.

The Paralympics are often marginalised. I don’t think that’ll happen this year.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2012 – Photo Diary

After the lengthy delays getting in on Saturday, the first thing I did was go to the sculpture outside the House to see if I could catch anyone still there for the planned meetup. This year’s focus was Lotus and the sculpture was another variation of the now-traditional ‘hanging nearly-priceless racing cars at crazy angles’.

Disclaimer – I must’ve used the wrong setting on my camera because the colour seems to have washed out.

This Year’s Sculpture in Honour of Lotus

It just so happened the sculpture was roped off to put some cars around it, so the mass of people which usually gathers at 1pm to enjoy lunch on the lawn was disrupted, as was our gathering. I did find them fairly easily though. Of course just then Stirling Moss appeared and I rushed off straight away to try and get a photo!

It was difficult but I got a couple of shots albeit obscured by heads, but it was good to see him even though at times he had to be supported by his wife as he walked. He got in a car though! John Surtees and Lord March were also nearby. I stood to watch the cars depart, preferring to enjoy them rather than try and take a photo among the throng, then returned to the group for a chat. It was quickly decided to have some lunch at the new RAC stage the other side of the F1 paddock.

The RAC Stage is a great idea. In past years the area above the main paddock was largely empty with just a few team trucks parked up. After last year (or 2010?) creating a second exit to the Drivers’ Club which emerged in the vicinity, this year they moved the media centre up there and put an interview stage alongside it, complete with raised seating creating a little arena or square.

This was far, far better than having to traipse all the way across to the courtyard near the Supercars if you wanted to hear an interview! I really do hope this arrangement is retained for future years. When we arrived the main screen was playing live video and commentary from the hill. After a little while someone appeared and was introduced as BSB rider Tommy Hill.

Tommy Hill and Louise Goodman

Drivers can leave the private area via the side exit, work the autograph line (which was much longer than last year’s), then pop over to the adjacent stage and media centre. It is a much more fan-friendly way of doing it. The old entrance/exit still exists complete with autograph line, so you if you plan to collar a driver you have to think where they’re likely to be!

It was just Tommy Hill’s luck that his namesake Damon appeared through the wall, followed just a few minutes later by Sebastian Vettel. Cue the crowds, cue me and a couple of others rushing over! Of course with so many people around it was difficult to get a clear photo, I do have a clearer one of Damon but I prefer the fan interaction of this one.

Damon Hill

Sebastian Vettel

It’s great being able to get near to the heroes of racing, especially those from F1 who are usually roped off in the paddock with no access allowed to us plebs. Sadly this does also mean they get mobbed at Goodwood! To their great credit both Hill and Vettel spent a long time working this line of autograph and photo hunters.

When these guys disappeared I felt I’d hung around long enough, it was nice to have a de-stress after the traffic problems but now I was keen to explore the paddock for an hour before the F1 cars appeared on track.

While the current F1 stars get roped off garage areas, everwhere else is a little more accessible. Derek Bell and Andre Lotterer were hanging around the paddock – Bell seemed to be there quite a lot!

 

I always love the mix of historic cars and modern classics. This is just a small selection.

A nice feature was the small collection of F1 six-wheelers, from the famous Tyrrell to the less famous Williams and March.

 

We headed trackside – or tried to. The place was absolutely packed out as the RAF Tornado display was taking place, as it was to be immediately followed by the batch on the hill featuring the modern F1 cars (usually cars from a season or two ago – current enough to be representative).

A word here for the Tornado pilots who crashed in Scotland this week. I believe the pilots from the Goodwood display were also based at RAF Lossiemouth. Thoughts remain with them and their families.

With the main viewing area beyond the paddock full of people we went further up, to the clearing on the inside of the exit of Molecombe corner. A good place to see vehicles up close (you’d struggle to get closer), however the entry was obscured so cars and bikes appeared almost from nowhere, and sadly the protective bales blocked the view a bit. F1 cars are so low they were half hidden. Still, it was good to see them.

Brendan Hartley, Mercedes GP

Gordon Shedden, John Surtees, burnouts!

I’ve never understood why F1 cars run in the same batch as the legends of motorbike racing. Bikes have their place at the Festival and it is great to see them, but they should surely run in their own segment while the modern F1 cars run with some more classic F1 cars. You’re trying to cater to two types of fan here – F1 fans aren’t always into bikes, and bike fans aren’t always into F1. Right now the bikers lose out because the F1 fans clog up the hill, and the F1 fans are sitting around waiting for ages for their cars to appear.

One of my favourite things to do is get back to the paddock in time for the F1 cars to reappear. It is very busy but if you time it right you can get a good spot. This year we didn’t quite get it right as we were shuffled around left to right, and we all got split up. They headed to McLaren to find Jenson Button, I went to the opposite end to see Vettel (since Button is more likely to come back next year). I also thought Heidfeld would be at that end, forgetting he was in a McLaren not a Lotus/Renault.

Sebastian Vettel

Brendan Hartley, Marc Gene, fans flocking to Vettel

After that it was a visit to the bottom end of the site for a look at the Cathedral Paddock featuring more old racers and the Supercars which were forming up ready for a run up the hill.

We stopped at the link road to watch some old cars go out. Suddenly from the other direction a 1960s Brabham approaches. I looked at the driver. It was Jackie Stewart! In a Brabham! Now I was impressed. Naturally we had to head to the paddock to find him!

Along the way we stopped briefly to see Lord March being interviewed by Tim Harvey, but with JYS around we didn’t we didn’t stay – and it was perfect timing as just as we reached the access path for the paddock, striding out purposefully comes Jackie Stewart himself! At this point I’d love to say the four of us were all smart and witty and chatty and got his autograph and a series of photos. What all four of us actually did was stop and stare because it was Jackie Stewart. Four starstruck fans. He gave us the briefest of looks then strode away to a waiting vehicle. Moment lost. Camera fumbled. Here’s a photo of the man’s back, you’ll just have to trust me. Andy Wallace followed him out, Karun Chandhok too but I missed him.

We’d hoped to spy some more famous people in the Supercar Run. As it was I only saw Rupert Grint (from Harry Potter) lining up for a McLaren ride, and Oliver Webb (British driver in Indy Lights). Lacking more famous people I realised it would be good to see these cars moving, so we headed to the exit lane to watch there. As happened earlier the previous batch of cars (that we saw leave here a bit ago) drove back in whilst the supercars were leaving.

We were treated to 1910s-1970s race cars passing yet-to-be-released 21st Century automotive luxury. Only at Goodwood!

Past and Future

These were the last cars of the day. After a quick stop at the exit of the Drivers’ Club to try and see people it was time to go, another day at Goodwood Festival of Speed was over, and for me that was it for another year.

After the trials and tribulations of the morning (read more here) I was glad to have an enjoyable afternoon. It didn’t completely cure me of the blues but it went some way towards it, and I was pleased to get so much done in the shortened space of time, and to do so with good company.

Will I be back next year? I’d like to think so – but perhaps not on the busiest day of the weekend. I think Saturdays are off-limits now. I will happily try the Friday or Sunday again until such time as they also become oversubscribed.

You can see my full album of photos here.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2012 – A Festival of Stopped

I attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed on Saturday, sadly before I can talk about the sights and sounds of a good afternoon I have to first go into the reasons why it was just an afternoon, and why it was only ‘good’ and not the usual ‘amazing’. The morning was an unmitigated disaster and it needs to be addressed.

Logjam

Never have I been stuck in a traffic jam as long-lasting as this one, at Goodwood or anywhere else. This was on a par with all those stories you used to hear from the British GP. Okay so there was that time on the M25, but I got off that pretty quickly..

I left the house at about 8.45am. Not especially early but not too late since Chichester is 1hr 45min from here, and the Festival is open until 7pm anyway. I had planned to get away between 8 and 8.15 but I’d stayed up way too late.. no matter, I’d be in the gate by 11am anyway and I’d still get a solid 8 hours on site. Right? Er, wrong.

Having attended every year since 2009 as well as two earlier events I knew the routine: Arrive at Chichester somewhere between 10.15 and 10.45am, sit in traffic for half an hour before parking up and hustling the long walk to the gate overtaking dawdlers ambling along. This is what I’d prepared for.

What I had not prepared for was a wait of two and a half hours before reaching the car park. An extra two hours above the norm. The event was a sellout that day – okay fine, I could’ve put up with maybe an hour for that. I just can’t understand why it took so much longer.

I realised at best I was covering a mile every ten minutes, sometimes it took much longer. I’m stubborn enough that for £55 I’m damned well going to try to get there but I was close to giving up – after all the race cars do two runs per day on the hill and I had already missed the entire first run. It was disappointing but not surprising to learn of others who did decide to turn back.

I have no idea if there were other problems on the local roads, perhaps there were accidents and road closures for which you couldn’t blame the Festival. However I only saw one minor closure and no accidents or blockages. It leads me to strongly believe it was down to the event management.

Perhaps there was a problem with the main car park, when I eventually got there  it was closed, so it was either full or something had happened there. I had to spend an extra 10-15 minutes being directed along some lanes to another car park – the saving grace being that the walk to the House was much shorter from this place – maybe if I drive again I’ll take some back roads and go to this car park!

Really though, the lesson is that their traffic management can’t be trusted, get one of the frequent trains to Chichester and make use of the free shuttle bus. Thankfully this is an option at this event, unlike Silverstone for the British GP which I have always avoided partly due to the widely reported horrendous traffic levels. Perhaps the other lesson is to go on the quiet Friday until that becomes as popular.

Calming Down

I eventually got in and met up with friends, saw some great cars and drivers – all the good stuff the Festival has to offer. Tomorrow I’ll follow up with a a post about the afternoon in which I’ll include some photos. It was a bit of a rush to get around the paddocks and still find time to see some cars on the hill. And as I said, it was a sellout – sadly there were so many people you could hardly find a space trackside and you had to elbow your way around to see the static cars.

The traffic and the volume of people spoiled the day for me. I ended up missing the entire first run of cars (including F1) which is stupid if you’re only going for one day. Then when we went trackside the only available place was a quiet little clearing where the bales obscured most of the cars.

Goodwood: please restrict the numbers and sort out your traffic management.

I consoled myself with a tiny little sausage in a soft bread roll which fell apart when you tried to eat it, which cost £5.70. Apparently the words ‘Goodwood’ and ‘Organic’ give you the right to charge an extra £1 each.

Photos: Nigel Mansell’s Museum

Way back in March I was very lucky enough to be invited to Woodbury Park near Exeter for some lunch, a round of golf (with mixed results as you can read here) – and to take a look at Nigel Mansell’s collection of memorabilia and cars in the museum which still, for now, resides at the leisure park and hotel complex he used to own. Indeed the Woodbury branding still contains his helmet colours and the golf flags are chequered!

The size of the collection is larger than the size of the musuem despite it filling three rooms and an entrance lobby.

One room barred any photography, the most impressive room –  the trophy room. An amazing collection of silverware both from his Formula 1 and CART/Indycar days, obviously everyone knows how successful he was in F1 and I knew he was successful in Indycar but I had no idea just how much until I saw a whole wall of trophies from the US! It includes his Indy 500 rings.
Mansell had it written into his first F1 contract that he must be given the original trophy for any wins – often the team will keep the original and might permit the driver to have a replica made. Perhaps he wasn’t expected to win so the team agreed.. and then he did win, and he kept the stipulation whenever he changed teams.

Viewing of the museum is by appointment only.

You can see more of my photos in my Picasa album. You can visit the Woodbury Park website here however they seem to have removed any mention of Mansell or his museum.

EDIT – It seems the collection is moving near to Mansell’s home in Jersey by the end of this year, listen to this interview with the BBC.

 

Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500

The over-use of the slogan ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ and that some appear to take it as a pre-ordained fact rather than the marketing slogan it is, instead of looking at each race objectively, has been a personal pet peeve of mine for some time.

That was until this year’s edition started. This year the race very much lived up to the branding and showed me and others just why the place is revered the way it is. I’ll take some more of the same next year, please!

Working the Air

After the race I saw it tweeted that the DW12 is a keeper. Too right. It may not be the most advanced and it may not feature the chassis competition many of us crave, but really, what a car. Nobody cares that it is slower than the old one now. It races so well at Indy, and what’s more, it didn’t come out of the box that way. The teams have had a lot of work to do to solve a lot of problems it had on ovals – problems that have been overcome and resulted in the best Indy 500 I have seen in six years of watching, and some of the far more experienced veterans were saying it was one of the best they’d seen in years.

Even before the exceptional drama of the last 20 laps which really made this race so nail-biting there had been overtaking and lead changes and drafting and all sorts. Okay granted, some of it was ‘fake’ lead changes as the Ganassi pair – and others – fought not to lead in order to save fuel and not end up as a sitting duck on the next restart. I don’t have a problem with such ‘fake’ or ‘scripted’ passes as they are part and parcel of the strategy of oval racing. Ganassi executed this strategy better than anybody else, with some of the Andretti drivers doing pretty well with it in the early stages as well.

Engines

What a turn around by Honda, Ganassi and RLL. Surely some of those teams were sandbagging in free practice! Very cleverly played if that’s the case, nobody had a clue. I suspect this had more to do with work done by Honda for these race engines, perhaps teams were using older less developed units in practice and qualifying knowing they’d get a ‘special’ for the race. Honda do like their specials, the Japanese department always used to bring out an uprated engine for the Suzuka F1 race.

I loved the unexpected dymanic between the two engine manufacturers. Chevy had run all season with engines which were both more powerful and more fuel efficient than those from Honda. The double-whammy. Race day rolls around and suddenly Honda has a significant fuel efficiency advantage (I’m not sure about power, they seemed roughly equal but if one was ahead of the other it was the Honda), enough of an advantage to allow them to pit a lap, two laps, even three laps later than the Chevy teams.  That was the race-winning difference right there.

The third manufacturer had both entries embarrassingly black flagged barely 10 laps into the event, shockingly early and far earlier than I had expected. Alesi and de Silvestro were running lap averages in the 200-205mph bracket while the leaders were up at 215-218. The eventual fastest lap was 220+. By the numbers it was the right decision but I can’t help feeling they should’ve been allowed to run more than ten minutes. Of course the leaders were bearing down on them rapidly and perhaps the sight of two Lotuses trundling around whilst Chevys and Hondas blew by 15mph per lap faster would’ve been even more embarrassing than simply disappearing whilst eyes were elsewhere.

Highs and Lows

Takuma Sato. What a guy, what a drive. He was passing people all day and he’d been working his way up, picking people off, until the one that counted – the pass for the lead. If it hadn’t been the final lap he’d have made it. As it was I suspect the red mist descended as it often does with Taku and he made the instinctive move to pass when the space wasn’t quite there. Probably lulled into it after making it past Dixon last time around, perhaps forgetting Dixon had left more room because Dario had just gone by him too. Still – good on him for trying! It was the final lap, there were no guarantees he’d get a chance at turns 3 or 4, he had to take it. Classified 17th, first of those a lap down.

Tony Kanaan. That cheer when he took the lead! Such a popular driver, I wish he could’ve won it. The place would’ve erupted. I wondered where he was for a while, then he appeared working his way forward. He made the most of the restarts, perhaps unfairly perhaps not. 3rd is a good result but still he chases that elusive Indy win. In a Q&A last week one journalist said to him he was more famous for not winning at Indy than he would’ve been had he won. True words. I really hope he does win before he retires.

Very pleasing to see James Hinchcliffe run so well early on, I felt for him later after he slipped back. Hunter-Reay and Andretti were up there too and an Andretti Autosport win looked a good in-race bet. RHR hit a mechanical problem and Andretti got a hot head (again), leaving Hinch as their remaining bullet. It wasn’t to be this time and I seem to recall that was due to a slow pitstop, but also down to some of the restarts where the midfield swamped those up front.

Oriol Servia somehow made it up to 4th. I still don’t know how – he was well back in the pack and just appeared from nowhere within the last 5-10 laps! There’s a team and driver glad they switched from Lotus to Chevrolet.

Justin Wilson was running up there too and finished 7th, after the awful season he’s had that’s a well-earned result.

Rubens Barrichello. No doubts about him on an oval now. Solid, consistent, aggressive when needed but mostly drove a careful defensive race, the perfect way to approach a debut oval event. 11th is a very respectable performance in a field this stacked.

Townsend Bell. Once again taking a one-off IndyCar entry to a good finish at the 500. Once again we ask why he hasn’t got a full time IndyCar drive.

Ed Carpenter. A great run came to a sad end when he got too low, clipped the paint and the apron/transition and spun. Frustation for the owner/driver.

Every one of the teams and drivers had an interesting story to tell.

Coverage

I usually find a hooky feed of the US broadcast but this year I was able to ditch the dodgy feeds altogether and watch Sky Sports 4. This might have been an error. I didn’t mind that the program started at half past, the race isn’t as big a deal as it is in the US so I can understand not giving it the full hour of pre-race particularly when the other races on the schedule sometimes seemingly don’t get any more than 10-15 minutes.

I did mind that it started 2 or 3 minutes after the scheduled time because they were showing adverts. It looked like the preceding event (rugby) had run very slightly over and they still needed to fit in their commercial allocation. This meant we missed driver introductions – a little annoying but okay.
It soon became clear the UK coverage was going to stick with the London studio discussion rather than show the pre-race festivities, including driver intros, all of the songs and anthems, balloons, flyover, practically everything. Even Dan’s car was shown in replay. By then I thankfully had the dodgy stream up again so I saw what a great tribute that was.
Part of the whole appeal of Indy is the way the pre-race builds – it has taken six years of watching for me to realise this – and Sky just had no idea that it was important at all.

I commend Sky for having Tomas Scheckter in the studio, he brought the much-needed perspective of someone who has raced many times at Indy. Jonny Kane’s input is always worthwhile but ultimately he is an LMP driver not an IndyCar driver so there is only so much he can relate to – I wouldn’t ask Helio to analyse Le Mans!

The other good thing about Sky’s studio was that when the international ESPN feed went to commercials, some of the time Sky would take their own break but other times they’d cut back to the discussion in London. It was a nice way to sum up the action so far. I just wish they’d not talked all the way through pre-race!

On the whole though, Sky’s effort here has been completely shown up by their own coverage of Formula 1. It really could use just 10% of that magic to liven it up a bit.

The ABC/ESPN portion was good, better than usual. They were very late coming back to show restarts on a couple of occasions but at least they didn’t miss them! The commentary was okay, I didn’t find it grating at all which is a good result for Reid & Co for me. Everyone has their own tastes and usually they aren’t mine but I thought the trio did a good job this time. The pit reporting was mostly very good, the glaring omission being that of Will Power and Mike Conway after their clash, it was a long time before we heard from either team let alone drivers.The number of ad breaks didn’t seem anything like as poor as last year, either they were fewer or better timed, or Sky going to the studio masked how many there were. On the whole the US feed was a vastly improved broadcast compared to 2011. I also saw many, many tweets praising their pre-race features which Sky also missed, I intend to look those up later in the week.

Result

1. Franchitti – Ganassi – Honda
2. Dixon – Ganassi – Honda
3. Kanaan – KV – Chevy
4. Servia – Panther/DRR – Chevy
5. Briscoe – Penske – Chevy
6. Hinchcliffe – Andretti – Chevy
7. Wilson – Coyne – Honda
8. Kimball – Ganassi – Honda
9. Bell – Schmidt/Pelfrey – Honda
10. Castroneves – Penske – Chevy
11. Barrichello – KV – Chevy
12. Tagliani – BHA – Honda
13. Rahal – Ganassi – Honda
14. Hildebrand – Panther – Chevy
15. Jakes – Coyne – Honda
16. Pagenaud – Schmidt/Hamilton – Honda
17. Sato – Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda  +1 lap
18. Viso – KV – Chevy  +1 lap
19. Jourdain Jr – Rahal Letterman Lanigan – Honda  +1 lap
20. Bourdais – Dragon – Chevy  +1 lap
21. Carpenter – Carpenter – Chevy  +1 lap
22. Legge – Dragon – Chevy  +1 lap
23. Beatriz – Andretti/Conquest – Chevy  +10 laps
DNF: Andretti, Newgarden, Saavedra, Hunter-Reay, Power, Conway, Clauson, Cunningham, de Silvestro, Alesi

Points

200 – Power (3 wins)
164 – Castroneves (1)
164 – Hinchcliffe
153 – Dixon
143 – Hunter-Reay
136 – Franchitti (1)
136 – Pagenaud
128 – Briscoe
113 – Kanaan
103 – Hildebrand
102 – Barrichello
100 – Sato
99 – Servia
97 – Rahal
96 – Kimball
etc.

Next Race

Sunday June 3rd at 8.30pm BST (GMT+1) – Detroit Belle Isle, a narrow course running through a park with concrete walls and a bumpy street track. It is a bit like Montreal or Melbourne but without usually being as interesting as the track is too narrow and twisty, save for the fast backstraight. It has been a few years since the last race here, I hope the new cars and engines spice things up.

Thoughts on the Monaco Grand Prix

I love the Monaco Grand Prix. Always have.  The history, tradition, colour, spectacle and test of driver challenge are rivalled by no other race on the Formula 1 calendar and that includes the other classics at Monza, Spa and Silverstone. Despite this we all know it can produce processional races. Many people would prefer to drop Monaco completely because of this – I say no to that. I can put up with the odd procession because Monaco can, now and then, produce utter classics. It might have 50 laps of tedium out of the 78 but when something happens in Monaco it happens in a big way. Countless races in the past have taught us this. Not every year can be a classic and that’s why classics are remembered.

At least.. this is the theory I’ve subscribed to for years. With that being the case, why is it then that when a processional race rolled around this year I was so turned off by it? In the first 20-30 laps there was a lot of promise of action caused either by rain or tyre degradation and that held my attention, I was sitting there expectantly waiting the action that would surely follow. Has F1 been so good this year that a ‘traditional’ Monaco isn’t good enough any more?

Even if there wasn’t passing I expected to see attempts at passing, cars darting this way and that as the drivers tried to force their way by. Didn’t happen. Even when the pack condensed in the latter laps and we had six cars covered by just six seconds, none of them ever really seriously looked like trying to overtake the guy in front. That’s why it was boring. If I can see people attempting to pass but failing, that’s fine, that’s still racing, it just means the guy in front did a better job. To seemingly not even try… that’s no fun.

Holding Back

Why did this happen? Tyre preservation. The soft and supersoft tyres brought by Pirelli were being nursed by the drivers. Rather than go balls-to-the-wall in the quest for speed, burning up the tyres in the process, every one of the top runners was content to sit back in order to preserve the rubber to reduce the number of stops they would have to make. In all fairness I hadn’t clocked this until Sergio Perez, delayed after contact, pitted and emerged in 17th place nearly a lap behind the leaders, and with a clear track promptly set a Fastest Lap on yellow soft tyres a clear 1.5 seconds (and I have a feeling nearer 2 seconds) faster than the frontrunners were going – I have in my mind that these guys were on the faster red supersofts by this point but I could be wrong. According to the official FL list he was still 1.2sec faster than the nearest driver all race.

Okay, conservation is a valid way to win a race. We saw later in the day the Ganassi team won the Indy 500 by holding back to save fuel and tyres for the final run. Not a problem. Perhaps I expected this strategy to be run against someone else doing the opposite – running hot, burning up the tyres and pitting. Like the classic Senna v Mansell race here when Senna ran long and Mansell pitted, caught up, tried to pass… drama, intrigue, could he do it before his tyres go off too? We didn’t really see that.

Vettel and Hamilton tried. They went off-sequence with tyres which was interesting, even if it was a bit dull to see Vettel driving around by himself for a while. Perhaps we blame the TV crew here for not showing us more from the field. Once they slotted into the field I expected them to use the reds to fight past the cars around them. Again, it didn’t happen. Seems as though they pitted too early for the reds and had to conserve them – which begs the question, why do it? Surely the point of using that strategy was to make use of the extra grip. Don’t squander it by telling your guy to go slowly to nurse them.

Highs and Lows

Despite the boredom I was pleased Mark Webber took the win. I always like it when Webber wins, he’s a good guy and I’ve been a fan for ages. Good also to see Rosberg hitting form this season.

Alonso was 3rd, since he joined Twitter I’ve taken to him a lot more, he’s showing personality we arguably haven’t seen properly since his days in blue and yellow at Renault when he was the breath of fresh air ending Schumi’s reign. Since he’s effectively fighting the lone fight in a Ferrari which is not the class of the field he’s almost an underdog, which means it is okay to root for him too!

The alternate strategy only netted Vettel and Hamilton 4th and 5th. The result says Massa was 6th but I don’t remember seeing him. Force Indias took 7th and 8th, again largely missing from the screens.

Perhaps the real mystery was the whereabouts of Kimi Räikkönen. After running so well in Spain I really expected Kimi to run well here and even win it. The form was repeated on Thursday practice. Then Kimi started struggling for reasons not explained fully. Romain Grosjean qualified well but was taken out before turn one, frustratingtly as he also looked set for a good run. I still think one of them will win this year.

Bruno Senna took the final point in 10th, largely unseen by us. Perez made it to 11th by the flag but he was helped for three of those places when Button hit Kovalainen and Vergne made a stupid gamble to take intermediate wets (from inside the top 8!) when the track was still dry.

History

You absolutely have to watch this video found from British Pathe at Sidepodcast (via Joe Saward). Precious little footage exists from 1929 of the first ever Monaco Grand Prix, I certainly have never seen any before now. It is just under 2 minutes in length and is a must-see for any fan of the history of racing. You can tell even then it was almost impossible to overtake at this place!

Race Result

1. Webber – Red Bull
2. Rosberg – Mercedes
3. Alonso – Ferrari
4. Vettel – Red Bull
5. Hamilton – McLaren
6. Massa – Ferrari
7. di Resta – Force India
8. Hülkenberg – Force India
9. Räikkönen – Lotus
10. Senna – Williams
11. Perez – Sauber  +1 lap
12. Vergne – Toro Rosso +1 lap
13. Kovalainen – Caterham +1 lap
14. Glock – Marussia +1 lap
15. Karthikeyan – HRT +1 lap
16. Button – McLaren +8 laps
DNF:
Ricciardo, Pic, Schumacher, Petrov, Kobayashi, de la Rosa, Maldonado, Grosjean

Points

76 – Alonso (1 win)
73 – Vettel (1)
73 – Webber (1)
63 – Hamilton
59 – Rosberg (1)
51 – Räikkönen
45 – Button (1)
35 – Grosjean
29 – Maldonado (1)
22 – Perez
etc.

Red Bull drivers tied on points, Vettel breaks the tie on countback. Button is amazingly low in the standings considering the car he is driving.

146 – Red Bull
108 – McLaren
86 – Ferrari
86 – Lotus
61 – Mercedes
44 – Williams
41 – Sauber
28 – Force India
6 – Toro Rosso

Next Race

Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Ille Notre-Dame, Montreal.

Always a race worth watching as the circuit is heavy on brakes, and the walls and bumps catch the drivers out. Expect Safety Cars.