Welcome to the IndyCar Round Table! Several times throughout the season, your favorite writers will get together to discuss the latest IndyCar news, rumors and so much more!
*This Week’s Participants*:
Toni Montgomery (Frontstretch IndyCar Editor / Michael Annett Driver Diary)
Danny Peters (The Yellow Stripe / IndyCar Writer)
Matt Stallknecht (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer)
Huston Ladner (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer)
*The push to pass feature has returned. What are your thoughts on it–happy to see it, didn’t miss it? And also do you like the way they have been doing it this time around, giving a total number of seconds a driver can use?*
Toni: I actually got on my soap box on this a few weeks ago. I don’t like it. I think it’s too gimmicky and didn’t really miss it when we didn’t have it. It also particularly annoyed me when I was watching the end of the Edmonton race and it came down to who had more push to pass left, Castroneves or Sato. I also thought it was kind of pointless; so they would both lay on the button and it renders itself useless.
Huston: Ha. You used my word, gimmicky. I thought it was too much like a video-game feature. Kind of like getting added powers or the like, but I’ve changed my stance on this one. After watching the F1 races, and their DRS (drag reduction system), I think it adds a different element of strategy.
Danny: I agree, Toni. I certainly haven’t missed it. The total number of seconds is easy to understand though.
Toni: I do think the total number of seconds is easier to understand. Video game like–yes, that’s how I felt too.
Matt: I have mixed thoughts on it. Quite frankly, I’m not even sure it does anything to improve the racing. Usually one guy uses it to try to make a move and the other guy uses it to defend his spot. I do like that they have a limited amount of time / use so they have to conserve it more. I don’t necessarily think it’s gimmicky though, it’s just not effective enough to really be the game changer it was intended to be.
Huston: I’ll agree with Matt, I’m just not sure it’s been able to do what the full intention behind it is supposed to do.
Toni: I’m not even sure it really adds much strategy. You will want to conserve as much as possible for the end to hold off or catch someone for a spot late in the going. And if they all do that, again, it’s kind of useless and won’t change anything that would have happened with just plain racing like they did the first half of the season.
Matt: I think there are better ways to facilitate passing. I think a Drag Reduction System similar to what is used in F1 would be a fair more effective, more exciting, and seemingly “more organic” way to add the desired “speed boost” element to the sport.
Huston: As for whether or not seconds v. the total number of times it can be used is important, it seems like a non-issue. Not to keep using F1 as some kind of measuring stick, but their DRS relies on the cars’ proximity and being able to be used in specific sectors. The push-to-pass seems like it hasn’t been thought out thoroughly
Toni: Seems none of us are fans of push to pass really.
Matt: Would have to agree with Huston. Indy has been fiddling with Push-to-Pass for awhile now, and it just doesn’t seem like they really know what they want to do with it. If they can hit on some type of Push-To-Pass feature which actually brings more passing and strategy to the game then I am all for it. But if it’s not going to be well thought out then don’t bother with it.
Huston: Maybe the bigger issue I have is that it was re-introduced during the middle/late stages of the season. Perhaps the better idea would have been to think it through and introduce it next year.
Matt: Exactly. It felt decidedly “tacked on” this season.
*We’ve had both kinds of tracks now, oval and road / street courses. Fans say they want more ovals yet you can’t help but notice that the stands, other than Indy, were a bit sparse while they are packed at the road/street tracks. So what is the issue here? Why is attendance better at the tracks people say they don’t like as much?*
Toni: Realizing of course that it makes series officials less likely to want to add more oval tracks that lose money…
Danny: I think the overall mix is the best thing – ovals, street and road courses. It’s a point of differentiation for the sport and given what we’ve seen on all those three types of tracks this year it’s working…Variety works, I think, to simplify.
Toni: I definitely like the variety. I want there to be both kinds of tracks. But I do think they need to figure out what is with the attendance issue at the ovals. It’s a little disheartening to tune in and see all those empty seats.
Huston: Interesting question. I’m going to go with, first, of all, I think it’s a specious conclusion. Long Beach and St. Pete have always tended to draw well. And Barber put together a good show. But I think that a place like Texas Motor Speedway probably had a good crowd, but when the grandstands seat over 100k, it’s tough to recognize that aspect.
Matt: I kind of touched on this issue in Open Wheel Wednesday last week, and it is one that I feel very strongly about. The road and street circuits often look like they have better attendance, but it’s a matter of perspective, since 25,000 people at Texas looks vastly sparse compared to 25,000 at St. Pete. And yes, the road/street courses do outsell the ovals by a little bit, but I think that is simply because they have more to offer the casual fan than a traditional oval does in terms of the whole “Fan Village” experience.
Toni: I’d be really interested to see the numbers–both at track attendance and TV ratings–all on one page for all the races. I’d be interested to see what kind of story it’s telling.
Huston: I am on the proponent side of believing that some more ovals need to be on the schedule — and yes, I realize that Milwaukee does not necessarily support this perspective. But Iowa does. Why not get back to Richmond and some other tracks that are a mile and under?
Matt: Now, having said that, there needs to be a balance of oval/street/road circuits. There just has to, and right now we don’t have that. This sport was built on oval tracks, and it is a travesty that there are only 4 left on the circuit. If IndyCar wants to even start to regain its lost fans, it needs to get to a 50/50 balance ASAP.
Toni: I’m curious to see how Auto Club does. They have been lagging on their NASCAR crowd so I’m curious to see how IndyCar does there.
Matt: Iowa is a perfect example of why Indy needs more ovals. The racing simply speaks for itself. Both INDYCAR and the tracks need to put aside their egos for a bit and settle on some type of deal that benefits both parties. Attendance will be slow to start at a new oval venue, but with how good the oval product is right now, I am rather confident that attendance at those tracks will trend upward if the Series and the track promoters simply give oval events time to mature a bit.
Toni: Michael Andretti is banking on the same thing Matt.
Huston: I’m also going to say that the Canadian fans are great. They pack a race no matter what it is, F1, Nationwide, Indy. If they had an oval up there, I’m sure it’d be packed as well.
Toni: I was thinking the same thing about the Brazilian fans too Huston. So of course Sao Paulo is packed.
Huston: Well, I wonder if part of this bifurcation is the dreaded TV vs. race-going-fan issue. That being that TV fans want to see the ovals, due to the possibility of passing and wrecks and the gladiatorial aspect of ovals, but some race fans might just enjoy being in certain cities for a weekend.
Matt: All I know is, if Indy thinks they can get by with force feeding fans street race after street race, they are sadly mistaken. Ovals are what fans are looking for, and if you put enough of them on the schedule and give each event the nurturing it needs, then the attendance and TV Ratings will take care of themselves. That’s how good the oval product is right now. It’s just a shame that fans can’t see more than five per year.
Huston: I concur Matt.
*At the risk of making this the gimmick discussion, green flag finishes have been the topic of discussion and the consideration of doing something like the green / white /checkered finishes in NASCAR. What are your thoughts or suggestions on this subject?*
Toni: I have to confess I had some race confusion recently. I was watching the Toronto race and when that yellow came out I got confused and expected the GWC. I’m just so used to it in NASCAR.
Danny: I’m against GWC in INDYCAR. I think the race length should be what it’s scheduled to be. You always want a race to end under green but it can’t always happen as any racing fan knows.
Huston: Yes! You’ve hit on something that continues to bug me. First, I’m not a fan of the GWC in NASCAR. What I want to see is that caution laps do not count in the final 10 laps of a race. But I’d rather have a yellow finish than a GWC.
Toni: I am kind of mixed. Again, I don’t think they need to add more gimmicks and I’d rather they not do it which is odd because I’m completely OK with it in NASCAR and was in favor of it there before they made it rule across all three big series. But I don’t really want it in IndyCar.
Matt: I am sure I will get blasted for saying this, but IndyCar desperately needs GWCs. I have always been a firm believer that fans deserve to see a race finish under green, that’s what they pay to see. GWCs are generally very exciting in NASCAR, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t be in IndyCar. As a fan who has watched racing for 15 years, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing a potentially great race finish ruined by a caution flag. Fans deserve to see a green flag finish, and drivers deserve to duke it out under green conditions.
Toni: It’s like to me IndyCar is a more pure form of racing and I don’t want it corrupted. NASCAR is already so far from that it didn’t really make much difference to me, but let’s keep IndyCar the real thing. And like Danny said, people just have to accept not all races end under green. We cater to the ADD public too much trying to generate fake excitement.
Huston: A GWC can take away the efforts of a great afternoon by a team (see: Martinsville, spring 2012) and allow for a seemingly undeserved winner. I’m still a fan that the final ten laps be run green. I agree with Matt, fans love seeing a race under green and ultimately, the fans are who decide that the money rolls in.
Matt: I’ve always thought the argument that GWCs rob teams of finishes to be weak at best. Using NASCAR as an example, unless there is a wreck (which is just a part of racing), it’s very rare and very difficult for a driver to lose copious amounts of track position in 2 laps, so I don’t see how it completely voids all the work they put into the race. It’s not like the field is being inverted on a GWC restart, the leader still is in the most advantageous position, as are 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on. In fact, in most NASCAR GWCs, the finishing order remains fairly close to what it would have been anyway. So I say bring on GWCs, they are good for racing.
Huston: To add to Matt’s comment — one of the things I have a problem with, in regards to the GWC, is that it’s one lap too short
Matt: Completely agree with Huston there, they should make it 3 full green flag laps instead of 2. Oftentimes the cars aren’t even up to full speed before the race ends.
Danny: And while we’re on the subject of caution flags, can’t believe there weren’t any on Sunday. When was the last time that happened? (Hoping one of you knows.)
Toni: I think Matt knows–pretty sure he had that in his recap.
Huston: Loved not seeing any caution flags on Sunday!
Toni: I’d like to note we had no caution flags and still had an exciting race for those who think cautions make races more exciting…
Huston: Texas, 2011 was the last race without a caution, I believe they stated it in the broadcast, but I could be way off.
*Let’s talk about the championship picture because this is getting pretty good. Predictions for what we’ll see?*
Danny: I think it goes down to the last laps at Fontana.
Toni: I think it does too. And I want to point out the guy who is shaping up to be the fly in everyone’s ointment, Castroneves. He’s lingering there in the thick of it.
Danny: And frankly, I can’t wait to see what happens. Helio would be a popular champion. And he is right in the picture.
Toni: I confess I wasn’t really paying attention, I kind of thought he’d fallen farther back. I was surprised to see him get back in the hunt
Huston: First, even though they’re both 20-odd points back, the Penske team is where it is.
Matt: It will absolutely go down to the last lap in Fontana, that is for sure. I think it comes down to RHR and Power, and RHR will take the championship due to being a better oval driver than Will.
Huston: Helio would be an excellent champion. Talk about a media guy.
Danny: It was funny to see him shake Marty Snider in Victory Lane. Excited for him. He’s a great driver and a great guy – a genuine racer.
Toni: He would be a popular champion. He’s come up just short so many times and most people, self included, thought his best days were behind him after last year.
Huston: The curious thing for me will be to see if Power is able to dominate the next three races, like he was able to do on road/street courses earlier.
Matt: As for Helio, he has a tendency to fade late in seasons, and thus is never a true championship contender. If he is still within striking distance going into Fontana I might give him a second look, but I really think this championship comes down to the two best drivers on the year, RHR and Power.
Danny: Power had a tremendous drive on Sunday from 17th to a podium finish. He’s won the last two at Sonoma and of course Baltimore. If he makes up points on both Helio/RHR at Mid Ohio too, I like his chances.
Huston: Power giving the double birds as a champion would be picturesque. But the reason that I think it comes down to Power and Castroneves is that they’ve both been in the championship battle before.
Toni: Power’s been in such a slump lately and it was almost like you could just see him pull it out and turn it around with that run on Sunday, like sheer determination kicked in.
Huston: Yeah, p17 to p3 with no cautions — that’s skill and effort. And, of course, having stellar equipment.
Matt: Will was diggin’ on Sunday. One of the best drives of the year. It should also be noted that Fontana will have the same aero package that was featured at Indy, and we all know how strong Andretti Autosport was in Indy.
Toni: I don’t know about anyone else but I think this is exciting. And there aren’t any gimmicks. It’s just exciting all on its own and shaping up to be a great battle that is going to come down to the last race. A little odd thought that there isn’t a Ganassi driver in this discussion…
Matt: Ganassi just hasn’t had the consistency this season to truly contend for a championship. I would even go as far as to say that the only reason they’ve been even remotely competitive is due to the sheer skill of their drivers. IndyCar’s point system lends itself to great championship battles. Probably the best point system in auto racing at the moment.
Huston: The question I have about that last race is whether it will meet the expectations. I thought Texas was great, it seemed like, and this may be cliche, that the drivers had to drive. I’m hoping that will be the case at Cali. The points system in Indy has certainly helped. I have Indy and F1 as a toss-up on that one. Don’t get me started on the NASCAR points.
Matt: RHR wins the Fontana race and the championship in thrilling fashion. And Will is left to wonder what could have been.
Danny: I’m sticking with Power. He’ll get it done this year but it won’t be without plenty of drama at Fontana.
Huston: Ha. I got Power finishing podium the next three races and needing only an 8th place or something to take the crown.
Toni: I think it comes down to who finishes higher at Fontana and that’s a bad spot for Power to be in, so if he wants to win it he has to step it up on that oval.
Matt: Power has a very elitist and dismissive attitude towards oval racing. That will need to change fast if he wants a shot at this championship.