Race Weekend Central

Open Wheel Wednesday: Andretti Amiss, Ganassi Strong, Power Prevails

Matt:  So, just to start off, can we all agree that Fontana in its current state is pretty much the perfect IndyCar track?

Toni:  I certainly agree. I think it’s such a great way to end the season too.

A great 500-mile event.

Huston:  Interesting way to begin…but yes, the match between the cars and the track is excellent.  It makes you wonder why they’re toying with the idea of NOT concluding the season in Fontana

Toni:  I don’t know, I thought it was a good way to begin. It’s been on my mind since Saturday.

Matt:  Personally, the Fontana/IndyCar combo reminds me a lot of the Daytona/NASCARcombo back before Daytona got repaved. In each case, the track’s bumpiness made handling and tire wear a huge factor, but the strong draft and speed of each track made the racing extremely tight and exciting and unpredictable.

2014 IndyCar Auto Club Dixon pit road credit Huston Ladner
Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe having a chat before the MAVTV 500 (H. Ladner)

Huston:  It’s amazing that they’re able to drive that track the way they do – side by side, within inches of each other – with how bumpy and rough it is

Matt:  Fontana is one of the best auto racing facilities in America right now.

Toni:   I’d say this year’s event also put to rest the argument that 500 miles there is too grueling on the cars. They did just fine.

Huston:  right, only one retirement and that was for illness

Toni:   The driver, not the car.

Matt:  Fontana is a perfect example of that “balance” thing we always talk about in this column. The racing there is a perfect mix of a bunch of different “exciting aspects” of racing.

Toni:   And not to be indelicate, but it’s bad enough when a NASCAR guy is hurling in the car. We don’t want that in an open cockpit car. The other drivers REALLY don’t want that.

I don’t know if that was his issue, I’m just saying. In all seriousness, if the guy has the flu or something, we don’t want him out there when they race that close together.

Huston:  Good call, Toni.  I’m still in a little bit of shock that there was just one caution.  That’s rather impressive

Toni:   I thought it was extremely impressive. That was some great driving on the part of all drivers.

Matt:  These drivers have a ton of respect for each other. There is a certain cohesion among IndyCar guys that doesn’t seem to exist in other forms of racing. They genuinely care about each other’s safety, especially in the wake of Wheldon’s death.

Huston: Certainly

Toni:  I think there’s a certain benefit to the smaller field and the fact that it’s pretty much the same group every week too. They know each other well.  They know each other’s styles, they know what to expect from whom.

Huston:  But for nothing to fall off a car, or for no one to make an error while driving 200+ (save RHR) for nearly 3 hours…job well done

Matt:  And ultimately, it yields cleaner racing.

Toni:   And even RHR made a nice save and continued on.  Spun it into the grass and didn’t hit anything.

Matt:  Speaking of RHR, man, talk about a guy who’s season just went to hell.

Huston:  I saw him in the garage a few times and he just looked like a guy who wasn’t enjoying himself

Matt:  Odd, considering he just re-upped with Andretti

Toni:   Something maybe amiss at Andretti Autosport? It just was not a great season for the team.

Huston: maybe the off year got to him?

Toni:   RHR made it look good for a bit there, but ultimately as a team it was kind of dismal.

2014 IndyCar Iowa Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay – what happened? (Credit: CIA)

 Huston:  hard to say, but he just didn’t seem to exude a sense of excitement about anything.  As a whole, Andretti didn’t do all that great this year

 Toni:  Speaking of exuding a sense of excitement, it was interesting to me that Will Power was so incredibly relieved to win the championship after what’s happened in the past that it took him awhile to actually celebrate.

Matt:  I get the sense that the team principals care a lot more about Marco’s performance at the expense of the other teams. Michael Andretti made that abundantly clear after the Indianapolis 500 this year.

 Toni:   I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone exhale that deeply…How do I say this about Marco without sounding mean….

 Huston:  Matt, you’re onto something there.  And yet Marco didn’t produce

 Toni:   He’s not Mario. He’s not Michael either.  Just as Kyle Petty was not Richard.

Huston:  And Toni, yes.  In the victory celebration, he just looked like he was relieved

Matt:  I see a lot of potential in Marco, but he just can never seem to finish off a race.  Kyle Petty had a few good years in the early 90s but thats neither here nor there

Toni:   He did. But he was never going to be Richard. And that’s my point. Marco might have potential. He might be decent. But if they are expecting him to run like his father or grandfather, I think they are expecting to much.

Matt:  He’ll never escape his name, and that will be his downfall as a driver. No matter what he manages to accomplish, it will never be enough.

Huston:  The problem there is the naToni: Andretti is a brandname

Matt:  If you remove the Andretti name from Marco, he is simply a solid IndyCar driver, but not a particularly special one. He certainly belongs, but the expectations are over the top.

Huston:  People that don’t follow racing still know Andretti

Toni:   I point blank do not thing he is capable of producing results like the other members of his family. And yes, if he was not an Andretti, the expectations would be different.

Matt:  “Crossover potential”

Toni:   To be totally honest, I think RHR is the more talented driver there.

Huston:  I thought that was rather obvious

Matt:  That is absolutely a fact Huston.  RHR is one of the best American race car drivers on the planet. He is so freaking versatile.  He’s one of the few drivers who I believe could cross over into NASCAR or F1 and be successful.

Huston: Maybe that’s why RHR was bummed, Ganassi and Penske have better stuff

Toni:   Marco is certainly capable of hanging with Hinch. Jury is still out on how good Munoz could ultimately be. But he’s not as talented as RHR. It would be a shame if they spent so much time trying to get what they won’t get out of Marco that they don’t give the time and attention they need to give to where the real potential of their team lies.

Matt:  I’ve never been all that high on Hinch. Decent driver, but I don’t think he’s much better than Marco. I think those two are about equal honestly. Hinch is a little better on road courses, Marco is the better oval racer.

Toni:   Ganassi and Penske have a few older drivers in their cars. Those seats will open up long before RHR is all used up, won’t they?

Huston:  I’ve got Hinch a notch above Marco.  But whatevers.  As for open seats, good question.  How much longer does someone like Castroneves race?  And furthermore, what’s the overall perspective on him now that he’s the Mark Martin of IndyCar? 4 runner-up seasons.  Brutal

Toni:   Is that so bad though? I mean it is, but is it the worst thing to be known as the Mark Martin of anything?  Guy commands a ton of respect, even if he doesn’t have a title.

Matt:  Castroneves is a championship caliber driver who has never sealed the deal. The Mark Martin comparison is apt.

Huston:  Well, I’m not really a Mark Martin fan, so…

Toni:   You’re not a fan, but I bet you still respect what the guy accomplished, don’t you?

Huston:  Sealing the deal is what matters, and it’s funny that he lost to his teammate…who also struggles there

Toni:  — indeed.  The fact that you make the comparison means you acknowledge Martin was certainly good enough to win a championship, even if he never did.

Huston:  But Martin is also a punchline of sorts.  Just like the Buffalo Bills

Matt:  Those Indy 500 wins count for something though….

Toni:   They do.  A lot actually.

Huston: No doubt.  But then again, in the mind of the general public, so does his DWTS trophy.

Toni:   I’m just thinking. out of the big three teams, only one was actually up to standards this year.

Huston:  For the entire year, yes

Toni:   Three of the top four drivers ended up being Penske.

Matt:   Penske was the class of the field, and they took advantage of it.

Huston:  Ganassi came on strong late, but Andretti, as an organization, never seemed like they had it all together

Toni:   So we’ll be back to the Penske Ganassi battle next year it looks like.  And I think Montoya and Kanaan will both be more in the fight.

Huston: Montoya…excellent second half of the season

Matt:   I wouldn’t be shocked to see Andretti bounce back. Ganassi will be strong out of the gate, they came on towards the end of this year in a big way, Dixon will be tough to handle.

Toni:   I think Montoya had just the year he should have.  He’d really been away from open wheel for longer than most people realized. And the cars he came back to were not the same. Once he got them figured out though…..

Matt:   I agree Toni, there was going to be an adjustment period for him.

Toni:   Dixon is always tough to handle.  Guy said he had the worst year of his career and he still finished up third on the season.

Huston:  OK, so I feel we’re avoiding the big topic…thoughts on Power winning the championship?

Matt:   Its about damn time

 Toni:   On a personal level, I was almost relieved. It would have been painful to watch him give that thing away again.

2014 IndyCar Auto Club Will Power and trophy credit Huston Ladner
Will Power posing with the Astor Cup (H. Ladner)

Matt:   He was too good to not win one eventually

Huston: I think you both hit on the key aspects.  Danny Peters in his 5 pnts column, put it pretty well.  Power’s been too damn fast ever since coming to Indy.

Matt:   You just knew that once he figured out the ovals, he was going to be extremely difficult to beat.  His oval proficiency was what threw him over the top this year.

Huston: Yeah, he got that part figured out, and in a significant way

Toni:   And you know what, I really feel like he did the hard work it took to figure out those ovals. So in my mind, he put in the work, became a truly well rounded driver, and he deserved to win the thing.

Matt:   Now he just needs to figure out Indianapolis.

Toni:   He will. He is.

Huston: And how not to speed on pit lane.  Think of all the points he gave away with silly driver errors

Toni:   He’s been doing better there every year.  Ironic that it was a driver error on pit road from his teammate that sealed it for him this time.

Huston: I felt stunned by Helio’s mistake there

Matt:   Indianapolis is a different beast. That place is nearly impossible to ever master.

Toni:   I saw Helio’s mistake as the result of not giving up and trying to do everything he could. He pushed it too far.

Matt:   Much like Daytona in NASCAR, or Monaco in F1, there are some places that are just impossible to ever master.

Huston: True, but becoming more proficient would work

Matt:   Certainly

Huston: And as for Helio, he had to go for broke really.  Power drove an excellent race coming from the back

Toni:   Exactly–and he was going for broke and tried to come in too hot.

Huston:  That Power raced into the top 10 through green flag pit stops was impressive

 Toni:   Power drove an excellent race–just absolutely steady and always moving forward.  Although he about gave me a heart attack on that restart.  I thought he’d gone insane.

Matt:   I loved how Power was going for the win even despite being ahead in points.

 Toni:  I think he did for just a moment because the reserved style he’d been driving with all night was a whole lot more Scott Dixon than Will Power.

Huston: Yeah, his move on that restart: Bonzai.  He must have stopped by Sato’s pits and read the No Attack No Chance sign

Toni:   The guy who went banzai on the restart, that was Will Power.

Toni:   No one has hit on the really big question yet. What are we supposed to do for the next six months?  LOL.  Go to the Bahamas?

Huston: Power will be an interesting driver to watch next year, now that he’s gotten this championship thing taken care of

Matt:   Watch old IndyCar races on YouTube

Huston:  That’s one thing to do

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via