Ingram's Flat Spot On
IndyCar Looking Up Down South
by Jonathan Ingram
It's been an average motor racing week. All hell is breaking loose in every direction. So here's my top ten takes on the breaking news.
1. IndyCar Draws Big Crowd In Alabama -- It's a positively good jolt and a big story when the fans start pouring into a track to see an IndyCar race staged in foreign territory. But track owner George Barber needs to take a few lessons from Bruton Smith, always a master at putting out large crowd figures at his tracks before public ownership handcuffed him with rules and regulations. Smith would invariably regard a crowd at one of his facilities with a veteran eye, then add about one third to arrive at the limits of credibility. In other words, a crowd of roughly 30,000 that showed up at Barber Motorsports Park should be announced as 40,000 if you want to have real some on-the-ground cred and a big number.
I can understand Barber's estimate of 50,000. That implies nearly half as many went to Barber as go to the nearby Talladega Superspeedway to see a NASCAR race. Well, IndyCar appears to be gaining and that's a good thing. But it's not halfway there yet.
2. The Piquets Sue Over Crashgate -- This is not a breaking story but deserves comment. The suit by Nelson Piquet Sr. and Nelson Piquet Jr. goes back to the old adage that if you don't sue, it looks like you're complicit. So, the Piquets have filed a law suit. Best of luck, gentlemen.
3. Kasey Kahne Leaves Richard Petty In 2011 -- This was a good match-up when you consider "The Kid," and "The King." The problem: George Gillett, the owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, is not the kind of team principal any driver with great talent would choose to stake his career on. Gillett, according to an informed source close to the team, borrowed $88 million to buy his team from Ray Evernham. Gillett's current financial restructuring plan for the team amounts to calling the bluff of those holding the debt, i.e. without him in charge there's no value to the entire outfit. Well, without Kahne, a two-time winner last year, one might say the same thing.
4. Audi Beats Peugeot At Paul Ricard -- The duel of the diesels is the motor racing equivalent of Ali vs. Frazier. Audi Sport and Peugeot Sport have different styles, are not fond of each other and love to beat one another. Both bring a strong punch to the track as well and sell a lot of tickets. But it appears that racing at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring followed by an eight-hour Le Mans Series event at Paul Ricard may not be the best preparation for the Le Mans 24-hour, which is the strategy of Peugeot Sport.
Audi Sport boss Wolfgang Ulrich points out that the R15 "plus" has become the fourth Audi to win in its debut race. Long forgotten is the primogenitor of the Audi line, the R8R, a roadster-style prototype which was too hot for drivers, unwieldy and not particularly attractive to look at. Give Ulrich credit for quickly trashing the RSR (after test driving it in the paddock at Sebring) in favor of an all-new car, the mighty R8.
5. Smog Alert -- The Chinese Grand Prix and the Long Beach Grand Prix might be considered mirror images of one another on opposite sides of the Pacific. If you can see either of them. Both are in locations where air quality is a major issue and neither features a car with green power of the sort that significantly reduces smog, i.e. kinetic energy recovery systems. F1 is suggesting committee meetings and IndyCar is looking at small engines with turbos. How boring and retro.
The American Le Mans Series, on the Saturday bill at Long Beach, is likely to feature such cars before the year is out and next season. Led by Peugeot and Porsche, the Le Mans 24-hour will have them by no later than 2012.
6. NASCAR Hall of Fame -- The concept of a Hall of Fame is uniquely American with all the gauche commercialism one can possibly ladle on. In addition, these Halls rarely do justice to fairness, invariably turn into political theatres and have suspect voting methods.
Alas, I digress. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is slated to open early in May and already the readings of history that go with it are turning out to be suspect. NASCAR founder "Big Bill" France had lots of solid competition as a promoter all over the country -- including an F1 race at Sebring the same year the Daytona International Speedway opened -- and figured out how to come out ahead. He didn't just snuff out a few fly-by-night types who left early with the purses.
Allow me to digress further. One of my favorite stories about "Big Bill," heard from the man himself in his office overlooking Turn 4 at Daytona, concerned discussions with Bernie Ecclestone about hosting an F1 race at Daytona through an abbreviated infield circuit. The conversations took place early in Ecclestone's role as the promoter of F1 events. Unfortunately, the discussions came to an end. In a time and place far removed from Twitter, France sent Ecclestone a telegram. It began, "F*** you Bernie... ."
7. Heightened Drama -- The question of ride height and how it may or may not be adjusted has become the "double diffuser" story of 2010 in F1. It seems to me that clever use of suspension components, i.e. dampers, would induce the desired result. It's a concept as old as rising rate suspensions. In this regard, I defer to Gary Anderson, the technical consultant at Autosport magazine. He says the detailing of the dampers or adjusting the pressures in them between qualifying and the race -- both perfectly legal -- would achieve the result of adjusting ride height according to the fuel load.
8. New Indy Qualifying -- Changing formats in motor racing is all the rage. So the Indy 500 is in step with the times by altering its pole qualifying format to a nine-car shootout. Will it work, i.e. produce more excitement? More than likely. Will it turn off purists who want to stay with the old format of choose your four laps of qualifying once and stick with them? More than likely. Is it a made-for-TV format? Ditto. Is it better to change than stay with the standard method? It seems that more fans appreciate an effort to make racing more exciting than worry about tradition.
9. Aero Push Is On -- The dreaded phrase "aero push" can no longer be avoided in the Sprint Cup. The new rear spoilers will get their first test at high speeds this weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway. Either we'll see more passing because drivers will be able to side draft with the spoilers, or we'll see less due to aero push. At least there's reason to believe there might be some change in overtaking in NASCAR.
10. Chip Ganassi Quoted -- I liked Chip Ganassi's response when I asked him if he ever looks ahead on certain race weekends when he has a chance to win in three different series on the same weekend, i.e. the Grand-Am, Sprint Cup and IndyCar.
The reply of the team owner who has already won the Daytona 500 was succinct. "I'm thinking about two big victories in one year."
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com.