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.

Advertisements