Race Weekend Central

Open-Wheel Wednesday: Wrapping Up IndyCar’s Last Month

Toni Montgomery: Can we have a quick refresh – what races have they run since our last chat? Toronto and Texas. Did we chat after Detroit last?  Wait – it was before Indy, wasn’t it? OK, that helps – got my bearings.

Huston Ladner: I thought we hit upon Indy, but perhaps not. I’d say go with the last few.

Toni: We talked about it going in and the safety concerns, which turned out to be much ado about nothing thankfully as the race went off clean. Can I just say, though, on that note, for the fact that they insisted the airborne cars had nothing to do with the aero kits… isn’t it funny that they chose to close off the back pieces before Texas?

Huston: Yeah, they kind of wussed out on Texas, and it’s possible that hurt the racing there.

Aaron Bearden: It was a bit peculiar. “Oh, this isn’t the issue. But you know? We better fix it just in case…” I think it did hurt the racing a bit. Texas wasn’t nearly as exciting as last year from my vantage point.

Toni: Texas is just such a pickle. It’s either a white-knuckle, hope no one gets hurt affair or it’s a snoozer if they try to do things to make it safer. They never seem to get that right.

Huston: Which is important because Fontana is next up – another high-speed oval.

Aaron: IndyCar just wasn’t made for cookie-cutter tracks. Keep them on road courses and large ovals. Leave 1.5-milers for NASCAR.

Toni: Texas really is not an open-wheel friendly configuration, no.

Huston: I get what you’re saying Aaron, but I’m not sure I agree. There’s nothing wrong with some fast ovals but the right ones need be on the schedule – something that makes them lift.

Toni: Fontana is tailor-made for them, though. I just hope we can get a break from weather

Huston: Ha, no one is getting a break from the weather recently – F1 included.

Toni: I know they can run road courses in the rain, but still… how many rain races have we had this year? Although credit to them – they hit that just about right for Toronto at least.

Huston: OK, hitting both comments. IndyCar got lucky with Toronto because it ended up being one of the better races. But as for the series on 1.5 milers, I don’t think it is something to be excluded. The series continues to try and figure out what works and it shouldn’t eliminate any ideas at current tracks.

Toni: And the other down side to automatically crossing off all 1.5-mile ovals is that the series could use more ovals and the options are limited, because everyone built cookie-cutters.

Huston: Not to mention the need to hit different regions in the country.

Toni: Speaking of which, I really wish there was something in the southeast closer than Alabama.

Aaron: There’s a wealth of tracks in the southeast, but how many would work for IndyCar?

Toni: We have road courses in the south, not to mention streets if all else fails. Yeah Huston. You know that old clip where the stock car flies right out of the track?

Huston: Fascinating idea. How about Indy running Darlington?

Aaron: Streets sound appealing to me, though Detroit’s citizens don’t sound too happy with their race anymore. Did you see all of the complaints about the park?

Huston: Do tell Aaron.

Aaron: I’d have to see the article to remember, but there were rampant complaints of destruction of Belle Isle from IndyCar’s trip to town, as well as complaints about how long the course takes to set up and remove.

Huston: Interesting… hadn’t seen any of the negative commentary – other than the racing being questionable.

Toni: I hadn’t seen that either.

Aaron: I believe the cause of the questionable racing played into the destruction. The rain made conditions interesting to say the least, both for fans and drivers. Of course, the same issue plagued NASCAR in Michigan just a couple weeks later. The Midwest has just been hit hard by storms this summer.

Toni: Yeah, that whole weekend was just messy weather.

Huston: Right; kind of makes the championship picture a bit confounding.

Toni: I know IndyCar CAN race in the rain but I’m not a fan.  Funny because it does not bother me as much when F1 does it.

Aaron: The weather was messy, and the racing was all over the place, but at least we saw some surprise winners in Muñoz and Bourdais.

Toni: Maybe F1 is just better at it.

Aaron: As for the championship battle, it shook things up, but Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power still have a pretty strong grip on it. Scott Dixon‘s trying to work his way into the fight, but it won’t be easy.

Huston: I think the difference is that F1 drivers are well prepared for it, yet when Indy does it there still seems to be a bit of an amateur aspect to it. Notice how well Takuma Sato runs in the rain.

Toni: I think that’s exactly it Huston.

Aaron: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Huston. F1 drivers seem much more prepared.

Toni: I used to love watching Giancarlo Fisichella run in the rain. He was fantastic on a wet track.

Huston: So does that mean that Indy should put more emphasis toward running in the wet or that they should scrap it altogether?

Toni: Nothing to write home about on a dry track, but let it rain and you could watch him work. Fascinating!

Aaron: Fisichella was masterful. I didn’t watch F1 back then, but I’ve seen some races on Youtube and he’s stellar to follow.

Toni: I feel like we’ve had this debate before. It’s interesting.

Aaron: I think IndyCar hits a niche in the U.S. with the ability to run in the rain. Only they and United SportsCar really touch on it. They just need to educate the drivers on running in the rain, because they seem to make too many errors when they attempt it.

Toni: Not about rain – but about other things Indy drivers don’t do well at and should they scrap it. It seems like they should put more emphasis or work into it – be it the drivers or the cars – if they want to say they are some of the best drivers in the world. Seriously, NXS drivers do it better.

Aaron: Well, to be fair, NXS drivers can also beat on each other a little more and keep driving. I mean, did you watch Alex Tagliani at Road America?

Huston: Yeah, there’s something about the level of practice/skill the drivers have in the rain that just saddens me. If it’s raining, you just know the racing is going to be lamentable.

Toni: I love when Tag gets in those NASCAR road races. Always amusing.

Aaron: I find rain races interesting, but the racing is nearly always better in the dry.

Toni: Well yeah – because the drivers are good in the dry.

Matt Stallknecht: Hey! (late arrival)

Aaron: By the way, since I mentioned Road America, what do I have to do to get an IndyCar race at that track? It seems almost criminal that they race at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, but don’t venture to that lovely road course.

Huston: Word is that Indy is in negotiations with RA.

Matt: Aaron, you may get your wish soon. the rumor mill is saying RA will be returning to IndyCar in either ’16 or ’17.

Toni: Are we sure this time?

Matt: Both parties want to make it happen. It’s just going to come down to dollars and cents.

Toni: We’ve had rumors before only to be disappointed.

Aaron: That would make my day, week, month, and year. I’m DYING to see that race.

Toni: Hope it works out this time.

Matt: Now, we just need to get Watkins Glen back.

Huston: Thank you. How WGI is not on the schedule is an embarrassment

Aaron: I’ll agree to that. WGI has great fans, and incredible racing.

Matt: It really is. The Glen is, in my humble opinion, the best road course on planet Earth.

Huston: That’s cause you’re a homer.

Aaron: I’m from Indiana. Care to guess my favorite track?

Matt: That is entirely true. I’m more than a little biased with it being my home track but I’ll shamelessly dub it that honor anyway.

Toni: We all have soft spots for our home tracks. I and a whole bunch of other Pennsylvanians love Pocono no matter what the rest of you think.

Matt: Pocono IS great. Don’t let the foolish haters get to you.

Toni: But I do agree that Glen is a great road course.

Huston: I’d like to see Indy hit the track in Austin just to be able to have the ability to compare it with F1.

Matt: COTA is a pretty cool facility. Eddie Gossage won’t let that one happen though.

Toni: I’ve been secretly hoping for the same Huston.

Aaron: COTA? I’d be alright with trying it. It’s not my favorite course, but it’s certainly a beautiful place.

Matt: It’s still a Tilke-drome, after all.

Huston: So after three races in a row, the series is heading to Fontana… any takeaways from the last stretch?

Toni: Still think Montoya is the man to beat.

Matt: Lots of great racetracks coming up. Most of them favor Penske.

Toni: And Dixon is going to give it his all.

Matt: I think this is where Montoya starts to pull away.

Aaron: Josef Newgarden is the real deal.

Matt: And you have to be impressed with what Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal have done with those godforsaken Hondas.

Toni: Newgarden has been very sporty this year. I’m impressed with him.

Matt: Newgarden… that one was only a matter of time.

Huston: I’m not sure that I’ll ever really be impressed by Marco at this point. Rahal, however, imagine how good he’d be in a bowtie.

Matt: It won’t be long before Newgarden gets scooped up by Penske/Ganassi/Andretti.

Toni: Graham in particular has been driving the wheels off that thing.

Aaron: Marco’s had excellent strategy plays, but Graham’s just downright fast. If he was in a Chevy, I think he’d be right in the championship battle.

Matt: If Simon Pagenaud continues to struggle at Penske, I could see Newgarden replacing him before 2017.

Toni: On the Honda front – do you guys remember the huge Chevy penalty at the start of the year and how far behind Honda they ended up? Yeah. So much for that. Chevy still caught and passed them.

Aaron: Now that would be interesting! Did anyone expect more from Pagenaud this season?

Huston: Good point, Matt. Who’d have thought that Pagenaud would be so, well, off?

Matt: All told, lots of great young American talents are in IndyCar right now.

Huston: The Honda – Chevy aspect is one that will be worth monitoring as there has been rumblings that Honda may split.

Matt: I’ve never been blown away by Pagenaud. He definitely did a lot with a little at Schmidt-Peterson, but he just never “wowed” me. He’s been especially underwhelming his whole career on ovals.

Aaron: IndyCar needs to find a way to get Honda to stay and make them competitive. A one-manufacturer series is no bueno.

Toni: I don’t know, Pagenaud is new to the team and the team is new itself so I’d expect some bumps.

Aaron: As for Pagenaud, I drank the Kool-Aid a little bit when he won the GP of Indy last year, but he’s been very underwhelming this season. A few of the issues he’s faced haven’t been his fault, but he’s been responsible for a lot of his team’s struggles.

Huston: Right, even Montoya struggled last year. Though that’s completely different, coming back to open wheel, etc, looking to stick it to Chip.

Toni: Agreed Aaron – that would be a huge blow if Honda left.

Huston: Trick with Honda is wondering how much effort they’re putting into Indy vs. F1 – especially with how bad they are doing in their return to F1.

Toni: Or maybe it’s a theme – their racing technology division as a whole is just not that good.

Matt: Pagenaud is experiencing the Jamie McMurray effect. Can’t find his place once he jumps to a big team

Huston: Aww, had to go the NASCAR route, couldn’t say something like the Kvyat effect or something?  Ha.

Matt: Danil Kvyat never really blew me away though.

Huston: He’s so young, how could he?

Aaron: We’ve slipped in quite a bit of stock car talk tonight… Meh.  Is anyone going to watch the Formula E finale this weekend?

Huston: Aaron, you gotta keep Matt in check with that.

Aaron: I’ll have to keep an eye on him.

Matt: (Runs and hides)

Huston: heh heh. Heading to fontana, any thoughts? Are you going to say that Kyle Busch is going to win, Matt?

Matt: Look for lots of exciting mini-packs with slingshot passes and quite a few comers and goers.

Aaron: No, no, he’ll probably say Kyle Larson.

Matt: I also expect this to be a Penske/Ganssi schlacking.

Toni: I always look forward to Fontana. It’s always a good race.

Aaron: I just hope fans show up this weekend. The racing should be fun to watch, though fuel mileage could play a factor.

Toni: That being said, I agree with Matt. I expect it will be all Penske and Ganassi.

Aaron: My eye’s on Montoya to claim another 500-mile win.

Toni: Would be the second jewel in his potential Triple Crown if he des.

Matt: Spoiler alert: those stands are going to look mighty empty. So it goes for Indy these days.

Huston: Wasn’t even going to touch that one. Hell, the stands for the U.S. women’s match today were empty today.  I’m starting to believe that fan attendance is a thing of the past.

Aaron: It’s so easy to follow races on tv/social media/everything else, and the economy’s been so rough in the past decade that people just can’t justify spending the money anymore.

Matt: That’s an accurate statement Mr. Ladner.

Aaron: Shoot, even I’ve only paid to go to a couple races this year. I’ve been credentialed for most of them.

Matt: These sports are necessarily less popular. Fans just choose to consume them differently.

Huston: Pretty much hits it. Why deal with the hassles of traffic, parking, concessions, bench seating when you can stay home and enjoy HD surround sound comfort?

Toni: I don’t go to sporting events, concerts, other events as much as I once did – for all the above reasons. Why pay a small fortune to deal with all those headaches?

Aaron: Not to mention, you can follow it so much better at home. For some series you can have leaderboards, radio, in-car audio, and lightning-fast social media updates all from your computer. You don’t even have to WATCH the race anymore!

Huston: Thanks, Aaron. It’s confirmed, I’ve been wasting my time.

Toni: NHRA fans know this well – given the tape delayed broadcasts.

Huston: My brother loves NHRA and he can’t bitch enough about how that series gets on. My only comment on that series for the night.

Aaron: Not open-wheel, but Red Bull Global Rallycross is the same way.

Toni: Yeah I found out that is a hot button issue. LOL

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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