Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Told Ya..."neener neener" :)

Finally, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar season has begun. I spent the better part of this weekend geeking out over YouTube videos and trying my hardest to get the radio feed to stream using various devices and various browsers. Although the race was somewhat uneventful, it was still exciting for me, even if my excitement was based more on it being “Opening Day” than the race itself.

Here are few notes from my experience this weekend.

1.      ABC’s Coverage: ABC took a dramatic leap in the quality of their coverage from horrific and dull, to just below “meh,” so with that I say nice improvement. Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever are the ones that really bring the coverage down. As always, I find their insight to be unenthusiastic, overly opinionated and delivered at the same pace as a terminal cancer diagnosis.  ABC’s lead announcer whose name totally escapes me and Google is failing me was the one responsible for the dramatic increase in presentation. I found his attitude exciting and contagious.  Hopefully ABC ditches Cheever and Goodyear for drivers with pulses who are actually excited to be alive.

2.       Pippa! Pippa! Pippa! It was a real shame there were streaming issues with the radio broadcast because that was much more enjoyable. I found Pippa Mann’s commentary to be spot on, and her insight into each of the drivers she discussed was quite illuminating and delivered with excitement and energy. I’m happy to see her having success in IndyCar since her driving career isn’t necessarily going the way she would like. She obviously loves this sport and continually represents it with sheer class, intelligence and charm. I enjoyed the Twitter pics of her setting up the live Twitter feeds for their use on the air. This level of fan involvement really is Pippa’s strong suit, and IndyCar needs to capitalize on what she brings to every event.

3.       Mike Conway: Holy mackerel who didn’t see that coming. It was a real shame on the penalty and the pit stop, but you know what, those are just bad breaks. Sure, they cost Conway a chance at a podium, but those lessons should be quickly chalked up to “bad breaks” and ensured they will never be repeated again.  Mr. Carpenter should be all smiles if this quickness keeps up, because Ed Carpenter Racing is about to become very competitive.  

4.       Josef Newgarden: What a great race for the young kid from Tennessee. People have been saying all off season that Josef may very well find the winners circle this year. I didn’t see that opinion until St. Petersburg. In my very humble opinion, I feel like Mr. Newgarden and in turn Charlie Kimball are both in critical places with their current teams. They need to start being very competitive in almost every race if they want their careers to continue. Josef did that very well on Sunday, so now let’s see what the rest of the year holds.

5.       Verizon: This is going to be an exciting season once we start to see what Verizon has in store for us. Just little blurbs on the internet, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere showed that Verizon is taking this partnership very seriously. I can only imagine what’s next.

6.       The controversial restart: Call it how you want, the leader controls the pace of the field. I realize Will Power is one of the more loved/hated drivers out there, but I fail to see the argument that he did something wrong. Now, I’m quite sure there was some gamesmanship in the pacing, because Power has routinely questioned Race Control because P2 always seems to get such a big jump on restarts. However, this incident has to be inspected with logic, therein you will find your answer. Don’t you think it’s funny that none of the drivers are complaining?

Q: Why do you think Power should be penalized for the restart?
A: He didn’t go, and everyone stacked up.
Q: Oh, so the second restart was correct then?
A: Yes, it was perfect.

Q: Then why was Power warned for the second restart?

For something to be, the inverse must also be true. In this case, the questionable start was actually the second.

A well timed push to pass, and very late breaking
gives Power the position, but Sato is still
on the inside and still very aggressive.
7.       Will Power: Prepare yourself for a Will Power season because this dude is on fire. Three races in a row, and we’re headed into Long Beach, Barber and an Indy Road Course. Not to mention he’s managing to be quite competitive on ovals. Last year was all bad luck for Power, so what happens if he has a year where things go his way?
Sato pulls ahead and seems to have taken the
position back, but it only "seems" that way.

      Additionally, I have to give him credit for a fantastic pass of Sato in Turn 1. What many people failed to see was that it wasn’t super brave to pass him on the outside, it was super smart. Look at the course, Turn 2 is a tight left which would force Sato to have to yield even if Power wasn’t in the best position coming out of 1. Super brave, no; super smart.

Boom! Now Sato is on the outside, and has to yield
and come off the power, thus giving way to Power.

      All in all the race was a tad boring which can happen with such a dominant performance mixed with very few incidents. Long Beach cannot get here fast enough.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Razzle Dazzle, Drop the Hammer, Here we GO!

I’m the type of guy who calls it like I see it, especially in sports. I remember a trip to Nashville and a night out with extended family at a Nashville Sounds minor league baseball game. A Nashville player hit a deep shot into the gap in right center that would surely lead to extra bases. The opposing outfielder, from Memphis perhaps, came flying in and made a fantastic diving catch for the out. I clapped. People sitting around me turned and looked at me with that “how dare you cheer for the other team” look. It was a fantastic play; I can definitely appreciate it, so why not give the young man his credit.

Transition into racing, those who know me know I pretty much think Will Power is the best out there. A few years ago, at an oval, Power led with TK charging with just a few laps to go. Power chopped TK, and I screamed at the television “NOOOOOO! You knucklehead!” A few laps later Race Control rightfully sent Power to the pits for a drive-through penalty. After the race you could see TK and Power talking, Tony was obviously hot, I think the chop may have cost him a front wing and in turn the race. You could tell Will knew he was wrong just by his body language, and although there was no audio in my mind I saw Power apologizing to Tony.

I would have penalized my favorite driver too, had I been in Race Control.  I wanted Power to win, but he’d committed a penalty. So with that lengthy setup/sidebar now established I’d like to talk about what I think is going to happen this year.

Simon will contend for the Championship

I’m honestly not much of a fan of Mr. Pagenaud, but he’s really coming along. I enjoyed the battle between him and Charlie Kimball last year that resulted in the gingers first victory. He quietly battled in every race, and slipped under people’s radar being moderately mild mannered and driving for one of the smaller teams. Last year taught me that Simon is no joke, so I look for this year to potentially be a big change in what we’re used to seeing.

Bro is like ice. 
I certainly have no reason to dislike the man personally, and I don’t dislike him, but his style has never really been one I was attracted to. I know there is a lot of talk that he will contend this year, and make a real run at being the Champ, and I for one am in that boat. I think he will probably have a great year. However, I will offer that everyone now knows what he brings to the table. The Kansas City Chiefs got a new coach and new quarterback this year and found their way into the playoffs for the first time since I can remember, but next year everyone will know they’re decent, so next year is the key.

The same holds true for Pagenaud. This is his year to shine or fall. He has a very good chance of being our Champion at the end of the year, and if he does win it, it will be because he flat out beat everyone else, and that’s no small task. I plan on watching him with great interest this year, because he needs to show the field that last year wasn’t just good driving with great luck.

Prediction: At Fontana, Simon Pagenaud will be in first or second in points.

Marco may become a god.

A few years ago, that punk kid with a famous name ranked quite high on my “People to get into a fight with” list. 2013 showed a mature Marco Andretti, who’d taken the time in the off season to not only focus on road and street courses, but also with a Sports Psychologist to help him better visualize the direction he wanted in his racing career. We saw it immediately at St. Pete, gone was the little boy who complained about everyone else as he, only in his mind, walked on water. He raced last year’s season opener hard, and pushed past Simona de Silvestro when her tires finally gave way to all that Chevy power.

He composed himself with class all season long. When there were mistakes he owned his part. He expressed his frustration to the camera and to the press in a way where you genuinely felt that he was a frustrated driver, but personally I never wanted to jump through the television and smack him. It also became very obvious that Marco isn’t just racing for himself anymore. There appears to be a genuine friendship between he, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchliffe. More than anything Marco seems to be a big supporter of Andretti Racing. I’m really becoming a Marco fan, which a few years ago I might have laughed in your face had you said that to me.

Let’s also not forget that he was really competitive last year, especially on ovals which we now know carry double points this year. Marco had a string of bad luck closing the deal between equipment and engine issues to just plain bad luck in the fuel strategy department.

Marco will win at least one race this year, of that I am certain. However, to become a god, there’s one race and one race only, Indianapolis. This will be the year that Marco moves to a higher level. This will be his superhero year.

Prediction: 2014 Indianapolis 500 Winner: Marco Andretti

Farewell Ed Carpenter

Simply because I haven’t already made enough outlandish predictions, let’s talk about Ed Carpenter Racing and the move to sign road and street course stud, Mike Conway. Folks, this is the beginning of the end for Mr. Carpenter, but not like you think.

Carpenter/Conway will end up Top 10 in entrant points this year, and I’d bet it might even be top five. This will mean a huge paycheck to Ed Carpenter Racing above and beyond the winnings their respective driving will bring in. ECR, after this season, I don’t think will ever hurt for money or sponsorship. I think their success will allow ECR to put a second full time car into the field for 2015 with a pretty solid driver to boot. This will lead to more wins and more funds.

I may completely miss the boat on this entire ECR prediction but I like it anyway. As long as Mike Conway continues to want to race in IndyCar full time (minus ovals) he and Ed will make a fantastic team. I predict they will each win a race this year, and that this partnership will last for several years.

More than anything, this one move; recognizing that this is both a business and a sport means that Ed Carpenter Racing will be around for a very long time, and will probably be quite competitive. The end of Ed Carpenter is the end of the driver, as he will slowly begin working himself out of the cockpit.

Prediction: Ed Carpenter Racing will win twice this year.

Smooth is FAST

This is going to be Will Power’s year. There I said it, you all knew it was coming, so why disappoint, but I can back it up with more than “because he’s my favorite!”

Last year was all bad luck, he was still very, very fast. Between J.R. Hildebrand driving over him, or his run-ins with Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti nothing seemed to go Will Power’s way. I will offer that there was definitely some questionable driving there in the middle of the season, and some questionable actions which without defending anyone, come from a position of frustration and desperation. Neither of those feelings are very conducive to being competitive. Will managed to settle down, once he realized finally that he was out of the championship hunt. Once he did that, the driving got a bit smoother and less desperate, and the wins started rolling in. He definitely finished the season with a bang!

The man has conquered his issues with ovals. He was fast at Indy, I saw with my own eyes, and nearly took the pole. The other ovals he was competitive and even a winner. So that should strike fear in the hearts of many of you out there, here this road and street course master, has now exercised his oval demons. Be afraid, be very afraid.

I think we’re going to see it this year, and if what I think might happen, may mean we at last lose Mr. Power to Formula 1. I don’t think he’s going to be stopped this year. Being teammates with Helio last year, the Penske Team has learned about consistency.

I think this year will start out differently for Power than last year; which will lead to less pressure, and faster lap times. I think the last thing IndyCar needs is a driver so dominant it makes for boring racing, similar to Dan Wheldon’s famous championship run. If I am the weatherman, I’m not telling you a tornado is going to hit your house, all I’m telling you is that the conditions exist where that might just happen.

Sunday cannot get here fast enough.

Prediction: Will Power may win six races this year.

2014 Here we….GOOOOOO!!!!!!!

This has been an awful winter, especially for folks in the North. So much snow, I swear if my employer offered to transfer me to Botswana I’d seriously consider it. However, the weather is slowly turning warm, and Spring has begrudgingly arrived.

There have been lots of exciting changes to IndyCar in this off-season; I’d like to take a few paragraphs to comment on some of the bigger news flashes. As you will find with me, I will always give credit where credit is due:

Farewell, Dario. You’ll be missed.

I guess you could say I’m a partial Dario fan. I certainly don’t hate the guy; he was a fine driver, great ambassador of our sport, and of course a four-time series champ and three-time Indy 500 champion. Big time props to you, sir.

My heart broke at the news of his retirement. I watched every second of that wreck live, and although the medical person in me knew his life was not in jeopardy based on how the safety crews were working on him, I could tell he was really hurt. Love him or hate him, he’s a human being, and personally I’m glad he’s okay.

Concussions are no joke in today’s modern sports, so for his career to be completely over based on a concussion tells me the magnitude of his injuries. We hear stories from the past of drivers driving with all sorts of injuries; I guess I’m glad we’re beyond such risk. Dario will continue to represent IndyCar from outside the cockpit and his life will not be at risk.

I wish you the very best, Mr. Franchitti.

The Carpenter-Conway Connection.

This partnership blew me away. I’m not in the paddock, everything I learn about IndyCar comes off the internet, so I had no idea this was coming. Talk about brilliant. Mr. Road Course teams up with Mr. Oval, because they’re both rubbish at the other.  I think there’s a slim possibility this could be one of those partnerships that we look back on years from now and are still just as amazed. Regardless, this will get much needed points and funding for Mr. Carpenter’s team, and will allow them to move forward more aggressively. Carpenter is always competitive on ovals and we saw what Conway did in his few events last year.

Briscoe to Ganassi

I remember having dinner with my cousin when the news that Ryan Briscoe had signed with Ganassi. She’s an avid fan like me, and we’d been discussing what Chip was going to do with the sudden retirement of Dario, TK, etc. We talked about Tagliani, and even dreamed foolishly about Pippa Mann getting a shot with a smaller team because Bourdais, Savaadra, Simon, whomever sneaked into the Target team.
And then the announcement. We were stunned, simply because we had both forgotten about Ryan Briscoe being a free-agent. Yeah, Tagliani is decent, as are the other drivers mentioned, but really, Ryan Briscoe is in another category. Hell, he won the Indianapolis 500 pole. He won with Penske, hell, he drove for Penske. I remember saying it was a shame Penske had to let Briscoe go after 2012, when he won two races and claimed a 500 pole.

This is a fantastic pickup for Ganassi. He’ll be solid, and really knows what it takes to be on an upper echelon team.

And then Verizon

What can I say about the new title sponsor. This is a phenomenal deal. Verizon is pretty much the biggest cellular carrier in the United States, not to mention their FiOS product for fiber optic home internet and television is on its own planet. I’m certain Verizon wouldn't put their name on a product that was garbage and what both parties can do for one another will be amazing to watch. I look forward to more connectivity, and more access.

So here comes the start of our season. I’m ready, and I hope the racing is fast, entertaining, competitive and above all else, safe. IndyCar almost died, but now it looks like the pieces are in the right place to really make a jump in the number of events and the number of fans.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I bleed Ethanol

Please forgive the melodramatic title, but it's true.  This is my first of many posts, so I must start out with some background information to help validate my opinion.

I was born in Indiana but moved away as a child.  All of my childhood, I was the only Hoosier I knew (aside from relatives), and aside from the classic movie Hoosiers, there was little to my home state that was special aside from the Indianapolis 500.  I attended my first race in 1988 with my now-estranged father.  We sat in Turn 1 (Legacy tickets long since abandoned) and I screamed my head off as the only driver I knew, Rick Mears, won.  I was hooked.

My parents divorced, or were probably divorcing at the time, and my father became estranged.  Still, I held on the 500 in my heart.  A reminder of better times, in my Uncle Lou's backyard, with my cousin Andy, running through what is known as the "Garage-mahal" (Lou's three car garage dedicated to all things Indy 500)... while, somewhere in the background, some aspect of the month of May was playing softly on a two dollar radio.

Growing up in Kansas, the Indy 500 was mine.  Well, that was my opinion.  My mother, a graduate of Purdue, had plenty of love for the 500, having attended several races herself with my father.  My mother is a great many things, most of them great, and deep down inside, at her core, mixed in with her love for her children, grandchildren, family, God and everything else special, is a deep seeded love for the Indy 500 and most things Indiana.  I think for her, living in Indiana, was a very challenging yet very rewarding time.  One she looks back on with a smile.

This was roughly the model of TV I smuggled into Church as a kid.
As an obnoxious teen, with a ghost for a father, and a mother working her knuckles to the bone, I held on that the Indy 500 was mine alone.  Yes, I was once thrown out of church because of the 500.  Yes, I did smuggle a television into church.  I managed to see the opening lap before being yanked out of the pew and nearly crowned by some woman who was clearly overreacting.  Oh, this was no hand held, discrete TV -- it was a four inch screen and the whole thing was about the size of a case of beer.  I slipped in unnoticed with it in a small duffel bag.  I propped it up on its end, on the floor, placed it between my knees and put my face in between my palms as if sleeping (to hide the earphones).  I'm not sure why I thought pretending to be asleep in church was good camouflage; nevertheless, it's what I did.

This was no traditional church.  No stand-up, sit down, kneel aerobic exercise like being Catholic.  This was full contact religion, the stuff that makes the news, and never for a good thing.  So there I was standing in the stairwell, as some woman scolded my mother because, as this was news to her, I slipped a television into church.  I watched my favorite driver Mears, the pole sitter, get passed on the opening lap (as he always did, LOL), and then it was gone.  20 bucks in D-Cell batteries wasted.  My mother stood there, upset, giving me the pretty standard "disappointed" look I have seen consistently through my life.  However, when she found out I was watching the 500, well, for some reason I remember there being little punishment for that crime.

Mr. Rick Mears following the victory I missed in church.
For the next 20 years, I watched every race I could.  The television coverage outside of Indiana is pretty pathetic, and has gotten worse over the years.  I became an adult, joined the military, and still I found time to catch almost every 500 I could.  Sometimes, well, the Army had other plans, but in my heart I was always a fan.

In 2010, I moved back to Indiana.  For the 2010 race, my father's family (oh, he's still estranged, but they're not) were all at the race.  I was driving through Indianapolis in a U-Haul packed with all my things while Dario was blazing towards his second win.  I screamed at the radio begging for one last caution as I was still 50 miles south of the city, heading north towards Lafayette, and I wanted to miss the traffic.  Dario won, I made it home, and I decided then, at that moment, I would become a Hoosier again.  I feel in love with this state, with the race, and I knew right then, I would attend every race for the rest of my life.

In 2011, I held my four tickets.  My first time back at the track in 22 years, I had covered seats in C-Stand and I could only think of one person on this entire planet I wanted to go with me:  my mother.  My Aunt Linda and Uncle Don also joined, as back in the 1970s, it was my father, mother, Linda and Don who went to the race every year.

I had the pleasure of taking my mother back to the IMS, where she had not been in over 30 years.  And what a race we witnessed.  Although we had no idea the drama at the time, the late Dan Wheldon won in amazing fashion.  I will never forget that day.  As the day wound down, I was back in Lafayette in time to watch the race in High Definition on TV.

I shared that day with my mother and knew I was a fan for life once again.  As the season wore on, I figured it was quite foolish to call myself a fan if I really only followed the 500, so I began to catch up on other races and the history of the series.

I was pretty shocked to learn what I did:  that this league is failing, and NASCAR, and their brilliant marketing strategy, is sucking the life right out of IndyCar.  As I conclude this post, this will be the end of my rose-colored opinion.

"They'll never cancel the Indy 500," says some ignorant Hoosier.  Well, if there's no league, and no series, let alone no interest, there will be no reason to compete in the 500. It's time to bring the fans back.

Immortal IndyCar is a fan based blog providing an honest assessment of the Verizon IndyCar Series from someone who wants nothing for than the series to succeed. You can follow me on Twitter @ImmortalIndycar. Thanks for reading!