Mark Wilkinson looks at this past weekend's IndyCar race and how it sets up what he hopes will be an exciting Month of May.
At times, my WO’s (worthless opinions) can run to sarcasm. Surprising, I know. And the Verizon IndyCar Series always seems to offer snark fodder in abundance.
At previous races this year, the fragile front wings, racing in the rain, and rules interpretations have made it easy for one so inclined. The Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park changed most of that. While not snark free, most of these WO’s celebrate a great race.
1. All-American Finish
Josef Newgarden winning is a big deal for many reasons. A compelling storyline to recent Verizon IndyCar Series seasons is the lack of a marketable American drivers for a North American series.
F1, noted for drivers from around the world, is a truly international series with venues around the world. The IndyCar series is not. The international drivers in IndyCar are outstanding, but without sounding all jingoistic about it, having a young, well-spoken, and telegenic American cannot hurt the marketability of the series. If the series chooses to market him, of course.
They had American Ryan Hunter-Reay as both series champ and Indy 500 winner and it would be hard to say they capitalized on that.
2. The Racing
Newgarden and his Chevy were racy from the start, passing Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power to grab the lead from a fifth place start. It was the kind of start that had fans using body English to help the drivers maneuver through traffic.
Graham Rahal’s run in his Honda to second after a late fuel stop had fans watching two strategies at once: Newgarden’s slow-paced fuel saving in his Chevy versus Rahal’s hanging-it-out after stopping for fuel near the end. Fans could actually see the interval decreasing by seconds per lap.
And while Newgarden’s early passes were scintillating, Rahal’s outside passes throughout the race were equally spectacular. Great stuff.
3. Lack of Idiocy/Penalties/Yellows
It was almost life affirming to not see carbonfiber flotsam and jetsam strewn around the track on the first lap. The racing was tight and, for the most part, clean.
For the second race in a row, yellow flag racing was at a minimum. Of course, the last two races simply balanced out the first two in the green/yellow ratio. We’ll see where it goes from here.
It goes without saying that no Verizon IndyCar Series race is complete without grousing and complaining from drivers and teams about the officiating. Both Sebastien Bourdais and Stefano Colleti took exception to yellow flags causing them personal hardship.
Juan Pablo Montoya took umbrage at Rodolfo Gonzalez slowing him down. James Hinchcliffe was upset with Rahal’s line through the turns. Ryan Hunter-Reay is still upset about NOLA and sees inconsistency everywhere. And of course, everyone complained about Francesco Dracone’s pace.
The reality was that Race Control penalized some, drivers, warned others, and called nothing in other situations. It’s like calling holding in the NFL. An official can do it every play. You can’t call it all in racing, either, no matter how much the drivers whine and complain.
4. Success of CFH Racing and RLL Racing
Back at the top of the podium, the success of Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing over Penske and Ganassi bodes well for the sport and the team.
The same holds true for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, too. The smaller teams in the series need success to bolster their bottom lines when it comes to sponsorship. While Ed Carpenter has Fuzzy’s Vodka for he and Luca Filippi in their ride share, a win can go a long way to help Sarah Fisher land a season-long sponsorship for Josef Newgarden.
Graham Rahal’s second place finish sure put sponsor Steak and Shake in the spotlight. And Rahal, ever the shill for his sponsors, tweeted after the race that he might stop in for a shake on his way home.
5. Big Mo Heading to Indy:
There must be something to momentum in sports. Every announcer, coach, and player in every sport talks about its value. If that’s true, then the month of May in Indy could be interesting.
Chevy certainly has engine and aero kit momentum. They are the class of the field. Penske has some, too. The team has every driver in the top nine in the standings with Montoya and Castroneves running first and second.
The Ganassi boys are coming on, particularly after Long Beach. With Newgarden and Rahal riding their Barber success, this might be the year for an underdog winner at the 500. And don’t forget about the invisible man, Ed Carpenter. He knows Indy.
The greatest beneficiary of momentum has to be the Verizon IndyCar Series. After the aero growing pains of St. Pete and the weather woes of NOLA, the series seems to be finding its groove.
All in all, it was a most excellent race.
Let’s hope it sets the tone for a most excellent month of May in Indy.