Race Weekend Central

Open-Wheel Wednesday: Roundtable Discussion of the Goings-On at Indy

Matt Stallknecht: Can I just say how excited I am to be going to Indy this weekend?!

Huston Ladner: I hope you’re going as a paramedic, looks like you might have work.

Toni Montgomery: I’d be excited though, too.

Aaron Bearden: I’m happy for you! If things don’t get worked out, the race could be tragic, though. It’s been a scary month of May.

Matt: Have any of you ever sat on the hill on the backstretch? My friend’s dad is insisting we sit there and prefers that spot to the grandstand seats.

Toni: I was only there once for Sprint Cup practice, and we sat in turn 1.

Aaron: I’ve been everywhere on that track. The view from that area isn’t the best, but the crowd can be pretty fun. It’s not as good as a good grandstand seat, though.

Toni: All I can really tell you is that all we could really see is the frontstretch and around going into [turn] 1.

Matt: I’m kinda irritated that he is insisting that we sit there. He said you could see turn 2 and 3 though?

Huston: Better than not being there at all, right?

Matt: You can still get a good sense of the race though, right Aaron?

Toni: I would say so Huston.

Aaron: Yeah, you can see a fair bit of the turns, and you should be able to follow what’s going on well enough. If you don’t want it I’ll take your ticket! ;) I’m credentialed for the Little 500 and hoping to go to the Hoosier Hundred, but the 500’s looking like a no-go.

Matt: Well as long as I can get a decent sense of the turns and see passes out of the turns I’m sure I’ll be content lol.

Aaron: You’ll definitely still enjoy it!

Matt: OK, worries alleviated! Let’s dive into some questions.

Toni: Where to start – this time there’s so much to talk about…

Matt: Safety is undoubtedly the major story.

Toni: OK, I’ll throw this out there. I have concerns about the aero kits given what’s been going on. On two fronts: the cars getting lift, of course, but I’m also concerned about what happened with Hinch. At first I hoped it was a fluke part failure, but here’s my train of thought. The wishbone that went through his cockpit did not fold, but stayed rigid because it had been reinforced. It was reinforced because of the added downforce from the aero package. And obviously more reinforcement is NOT the way to go on this.  Reinforced parts nearly killed Hinch.

Aaron: I think everyone has concerns right now. There’ve been consistent accidents. I think the deal with Hinchcliffe was a fluke, but the flips could turn fatal if they continue at other ovals.

Matt: The Hinch accident, based on my understanding, was more of an isolated, freak thing. I’m not quite so worried about another Hinch-esque wreck.

Huston: Actually, I don’t have a problem with reinforcing the part. The issue there was with the suspension failing. Any other track, it’s not the same thing.

Aaron: I’m no expert, so I won’t pretend to be, but the few friends I had in the area believed the accident to be a freak thing. However, if it’s something that could be common, something will have to be done sooner than later.

Matt: However, I am very concerned about cars flipping. Let’s remember that the DW12 has brought draft-intensive racing to Indy, meaning multiple cars will be bunched in single file and sometimes even double-file draft-packs of 5+ cars throughout the race. If a car flips and multiple cars hit it, I really do not want to see the result of that.

Toni: Flipping an open cockpit car is no little deal either.

Aaron: It’s been a strange month of May. I’ve never felt so much fear from all involved. Tony Kanaan spoke out against it, but every driver still has to have the memory of the other crashes in the back of their head.

Toni: From what I have heard on the flips, there is some concern that they never tested the aero package to see what happens if the car gets turned the wrong way.  “When” the car gets turned the wrong way.

Aaron: If someone flips in front of a couple other cars, things could turn fatal quickly. Those wrecks can be fatal with a single-car crash in IndyCar.

Toni: There’s some thinking that air is getting under some of the components when that happens and it’s lifting them up.

Huston: That’s what I considered initially, but the engineers made it seem like it wasn’t the case. I reckon that a smidgen of common sense should come into play and we all should recognize that anything going 200 mph-plus has a good chance of going airborne.

Aaron: True, but three cars in a week? This has been a little insane. I applaud IndyCar for taking action before qualifying, but lowering the speeds a little won’t help come raceday.

Toni: True Huston, but do you think three in a week is just a fluke?

Huston: Two in a week, yes. But three, then there’s something taking shape, right? Begins to look like a trend

Toni: I’d say so. Two, yeah, maybe, just an odd coincidence but three makes it look less like a coincidence and more like something that needs to be investigated. Did anyone get upside down in the DW12 in other years? I don’t recall.

Aaron: I don’t believe so.

Matt: I really don’t know enough about the aero of these cars to make any definitive claims. But I do know IndyCar instituted some changes to the aero of the cars for Sunday’s race. Let’s hope common sense prevailed and that they didn’t green light something that has the potential for disaster on Sunday.

Aaron: Agreed. Even if it worsens the racing (which I doubt), safety needs to be a priority at this moment.

Huston: Matt, you hit upon something there. Did Indy really have enough time to go through all the engineering aspects to ensure the move was a good one?

Toni: Yeah, that is the disclaimer we probably all should make. We are not engineers. I don’t pretend to understand the aero and my theories are just that – the theories of a non-engineer just tossing ideas out there.

Huston: So then, the question that arises… how do we all think the racing will be?

Toni: That’s the funny part – has anyone even been thinking about the racing?

Matt: To be honest, I’m not sure they did Huston. We just have to trust that the teams are confident enough in the cars to race. So far, the drivers and teams sound confident that things will be OK, so I guess we just have to trust them. If they didn’t feel safe, they wouldn’t be racing.

Aaron: I think the racing will be fine. The on-track products been great at IMS. IndyCar officials will probably be nervous until the checkered flag, though.

Toni: I think it will be fine too. I just want it to also be safe.

Huston: Well, you’re morbid if you don’t want it to be safe.  The hope is that it will be.

Aaron: A good, safe race with an exciting finish would go a long way towards reclaiming any lost reputation.

Huston: In truth, Aaron, we had that last year, yet I don’t know what it did to reclaim anything that has been lost.

Matt: Well, if practice is anything to go by, the racing should be absolutely hair-raising. The last few years have had utterly insane racing with tons of draft-assisted slingshot passes at the front of the field. The practices showed a whole lot more of that. If anything, the aero kits may even have made the racing more exciting.

Toni: I think Aaron means from the negative things that have been going on the last couple of weeks.

Aaron: True. I was speaking in regards to recent events than IndyCar as a whole, though.

Toni: Face it, this has not been the month of May IndyCar can have been looking for so far. Practice wrecks, serious ones, serious injuries. Qualifying was not at all what they wanted.

Matt: This is somewhat morbid, but I am quite certain that all of the negative attention that IndyCar has been getting with the crashes will bring a lot of extra eyeballs to the race on Sunday. If they all see a good race like we’ve seen the past few years, those new eyes could become fans

Huston: but other than IndyCar fans, have the casual ones paid enough attention to care, or have they just seen the wrecks and been oohed and ached by them?

Toni: A good race with a good finish is needed to turn that around.

Aaron: I’ve had quite a few of my Hoosier friends ask me about the wrecks, specifically Hinchcliffe’s. I think they’re at least paying attention.

Matt: There is some historical precedent in motorsports when it comes to races which were marred by pre-race controversy. Those races tend to draw in viewers who are curious to see if more controversy will unfold.

Aaron: So you’re saying it’ll beat the Coca-Cola 600 this year?

Matt: Again, kind of morbid, but something to think about.

Toni: Well it wouldn’t be my choice for how to draw in more eyes, but if it does work out that way, I guess it’s a positive rising out of the negative.

Huston: So what you’re saying Matt is that they should have started wrecking BEFORE the Indy Grand Prix? Sarcasm font.

Aaron: I get what you mean, though. A few eyes, even if for the wrong reasons, could help in the long-term.

Matt: Perhaps. Here’s the thing about ratings though: if more people watch the 500, those extra viewers will probably spill over to the 600. Especially if the 500 is especially interesting. People who are on a “racing high” will likely keep watching racing that day. I do think this is the best shot the 500 has had in years of out-rating the 600. I think a 4.3-4.8 rating is very possible.

Toni: I will be watching racing all day but then I’m just weird that way.

Aaron: Only time will tell! I wonder how many will partake in Monaco beforehand.

Toni: Yes sir.  I will. It’s the only Formula 1 race I watch all year.  I get up and start with Monaco and go all day from there.  Cap it off with NHRA for the late night show :)

Matt: Not many. Will definitely be less than 1 million Aaron. F1 races are growing in viewership in America, but they won’t eclipse the million mark on NBCSN for a while.

Aaron: I’m actually driving home to watch F1 and IndyCar without a delay (We get Fort Wayne TV stations from there). There won’t be many with me for F1, though. It’s going to take time and good product to grow.

Huston: F1 isn’t really focusing on the U.S. much. That should start changing with Haas gaining entry, but that’s a whole different topic, etc.

Matt: F1 is the fastest growing motorsport on TV in America, believe it or not. But it still barely even scratches the surface of NASCAR’s viewership.

Aaron: True. Doesn’t F1 sit in the .3-.7 range for ratings?

Huston: Right, nowhere to go but up

Matt: .3-.6ish

Toni: OK, out with it – who do you all think looks good in the 500?

Aaron: My pick from the start has been Scott Dixon for the 500. He proved me right for qualifying, so I’m sticking with him.

Matt: This year looks wide open. With all of the aero changes and the weather issues, no team has really been able to build or display an advantage. Personally, I think this is Marco‘s year. He’s been so, so competitive here the past three years and in my mind has been the best driver at Indy over the past decade to not win.

Toni: He hasn’t won because he’s an Andretti. Good luck to Marco with that!

Matt: I think his Andretti cars will be just competitive enough.

Toni: Dixie came up with the pole but I honestly haven’t seen anyone really dominate in practice so yeah, I do think it’s wide open.

Huston: You’d think that the Penske cars would be the ones to beat, but there’s something that seems lacking.

Aaron: I feel like Ganassi’s got it this year, whether it’s Dixon, Kanaan or maybe even Karam.  But it’s so difficult to tell. Practice has been wide open.

Matt: I think racecraft will be the determining factor. It will be a true driver’s race.

Toni: Karam had a nice run last year. He’s a nice darkhorse pick.

Matt: Whoever has the best feel for the draft will be your winner.

Aaron: JR Hildebrand has also been surprisingly fast, but until they start drafting on race day it’ll be hard to tell.

Matt: It’s just like a NASCAR superspeedway race. Practice is somewhat irrelevant. Draft-intensive races are pure driver. It all comes down to who’s “draft-game” is most on-point.

Toni: That’s why I like Kanaan.

Matt: Last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay had them covered. But, like I said, Marco is excellent in the draft, and I just think he’s due. An Andretti will win on Sunday.

Huston: Dale Jr. King of the draft. Wait, what?!

Aaron: Oh what a story that would be.

Matt: I actually think Junior would do great in this style of racing.

Toni: Ha hahahahahahahahaha. Some brave soul has been saying that for 40 years now.

Matt: His father would have too.

Aaron: Hahahaha! If I had the option of putting a NASCAR driver in, I’d want Kyle Larson or Kyle Busch.

Toni: I’d want Montoya. Oh wait…

Huston: Well, I wanted to go with Dixon, or possibly Kanaan, but with y’all taking them, I’ll go with Will Power.

Toni: I still see Power as the long shot here. I know he’s finally conquered the ovals supposedly but Indy is still something else.

Aaron: I agree. Power’s improving on ovals, but the Brickyard is no ordinary oval.

Matt: Indy just isn’t a Will Power-esque race. Montoya on the other hand will be a serious threat.

Aaron: Don’t forget Helio, either. He came within 200 yards of winning last season.

Toni: I was just thinking if you were going to go with a Penske car, Montoya would be the one. Helio is also going for that elusive fourth win.

Matt: Montoya, Dixon, Kanaan, Andretti, Castroneves, Josef Newgarden (yes, he’ll be a threat), and Hunter-Reay will be the key drivers to watch.

Toni: Helio would be a good story.

Huston: But those are just the drivers that people would expect you to pick. Sometimes being the contrarian is fun. And now Power will wreck on lap 2.

Toni: LOL Huston.

Matt: A win by Andretti or Newgarden would probably be the best outcome for IndyCar.

Toni: I would not leave Ed Carpenter off your list Matt.

Matt: Throw Karam in that mix too. Ah, good point Toni.

Aaron: I’d add Carlos Muñoz.

Matt: Carpenter would be a great story. A win by a young, marketable American driver is what the series would benefit from most.

Toni: Carpenter is always part of the conversation at Indy. And he’s the hometown guy. That would be wildly popular.

Matt: Yup, I totally forgot about Carp. He’s been an absolute monster at this track the past few years.

Huston: Actually, the best story for Indy is Helio, because his name is the one that resonates outside the sport thanks to DWTS.

Aaron: Another American victory would go a long way in terms of PR. Andretti or Carpenter would be huge. As would Helio. Good point, Huston.

Toni: Helio would also be the best story because it would be his fourth. That puts him in very exclusive company.

Matt: As much as Helio is recognizable, I think that would be kind of a “been there, done that” kind of story. The American public knows who he is, but him winning wouldn’t move the needle.

Huston: For hardened fans, yes, for casual fans, which is what the 500 brings in, no.

Toni: OK, I’m going rogue here. The American public is not going to stick around after the 500 in any case.

Matt: Not until more ovals are put on the schedule.

Toni: So a winner that caters to the larger public taste would be a great bump for a week.

Huston: That’s not rogue, that’s expected.

Toni: And that’s about it.

Matt: You’re not wrong, Toni.

Aaron: Everyone acknowledges the truth of that.

Toni: I personally would rather see someone set a mark that is rarely set.

Aaron: Just look at the ratings outside of the 500.

Toni: Be that Castroneves getting his fourth or an Andretti winning for only the second time.

Matt: Realistically, it would have taken a Danica win at Indy to really move the needle. Those days are obviously past us.

Aaron: Those would be the best stories regardless of the audience. None are going to move the needly too far, though.

Toni: Even a Danica win was only going to move the needle for a few days.

Huston: Yeah, she’s going to F1. Ha.

Toni: I guess I’m just asking why we even care about moving the needle so much?

Huston: For the hopeful continued success of the series.

Aaron: Because IndyCar’s fallen a long way down, and it makes my Hoosier heart ache.

Matt: Well for one thing, it would help boost the series financially. Extra attention on the sport is nice.

Toni: We seem to have this conversation every year though. Eagerly hoping the ratings will stay up after Indy. They never do.  The 500 is not broken. It’s the rest of the series that needs the boost. And it does NOT get it from the 500.

Aaron: I wish there was another oval race the weekend after the 500, just to make the transition easier.

Toni: How many people do you know who watched the Kentucky Derby? And how many do you know who watched the Wood Memorial a few weeks before? It’s like that.

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.

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