Monday, March 16, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: IndyCar's Pit Bull

We are less than a week away from spring and everyone is out of hibernation. Formula One just got going from Australia, IndyCar teams are testing the new aero kits, NASCAR is four weeks in to their season and sports cars racing has had a plethora of endurance races already. All we are waiting on are MotoGP and Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters but there are plenty of motorsports options available. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Ovals: IndyCar's Pit Bull
Formula E was in Miami this weekend and in an article by's Nick DeGroot drivers Scott Speed and Bruno Senna voiced their hesitation about running IndyCar due to oval races.

They are each entitled to their own opinion but I feel as if they are not properly versed. Senna has never run an oval and Speed's only IndyCar appearance on an oval was when he attempted to qualify for the 2011 Indianapolis 500. I feel they are making generalization on IndyCar running ovals just on a few events that happened in the not so distant past, such as the death of Dan Wheldon and the decision by Mike Conway to walk away from ovals.

While Conway has decided to step away from ovals, he did make 22 oval starts and had a few big accidents, one that ended his 2010 season prematurely. He gave ovals a fair shake and after all that he went through he decided that ovals were for him and I understand that. Plus, it's probably the best decision he has made in his career as it allowed him to focus on road courses, opened the door to a sports car career for him, which has landed him a factory Toyota ride in LMP1 and allowed him to still run IndyCar road/street courses races where he won three races since deciding not to run ovals.

For Senna and Speed, I think they need to give ovals more of an opportunity before they can completely write them off. The death of Dan Wheldon is still fresh in everyone's mind but they have to realize that IndyCar has changed. The "Death Race 2000" type of racing that we saw on mile-and-a-half tracks is gone. The other misconception is that they believe all ovals are the same but they are not. Short tracks run completely different than the bigger ovals. Maybe if they actually drove at Milwaukee or Iowa and got to experience it, they would change their tune.

There are still improvements that need to be made on ovals. Mikhail Aleshin's nasty shunt at Fontana is a reminder that catch fences need to be improved so cars don't get shredded like cheddar on a cheese grater. However, tracks won't change the current catch fences if drivers just decide not to run them anymore. That's likes if people read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and decided just to become vegetarians instead of improving the meatpacking industry in the 1910s.

IndyCars on ovals are like pit bulls. A lot of people will comments about how they would never own one and say that they are bred to fight and are dangerous to humans but that's not entirely true and most are basing their opinion off never having been around a pit bull in real life. If a pit bull isn't trained properly than it could lead to that stereotypical image but if an owner spends their time properly training the dog, a pit bull can be a fine household pet. However, people create their image of pit bulls based off the few bad stories we hear once in a while from the media.

We could easy start painting road and street courses as extremely dangerous just off recent incidents such as Jules Bianchi at Suzuka, Dario Franchitti at Houston and Allan Simonsen at Le Mans but we all know those three incidents aren't an accurate portrayal of all road/street circuit races the same way Aleshin, Conway and Wheldon aren't an accurate portrayal of all oval races. I would really like drivers to give ovals a chance before commenting and, if there are safety concerns, I would rather have drivers unite and work on improving safety measures than just deciding to never run ovals altogether.

Formula One Number Fun
The great thing about Formula One allowing the drivers to pick their numbers is we are seeing numbers that haven't been used in decades on the grid.

For example, Roberto Merhi picked #98. The last time the #98 ran a Formula One race was the 1960 Indianapolis 500 with Lloyd Ruby behind the wheel. In fact, the Indianapolis 500 is the only Formula One race the #98 has appeared in. Should Merhi ever get a chance to drive for Manor this year, it will be the first time the #98 has been used in a Formula One road/street course race and first time the #98 has been used outside the United States.

Max Verstappen chose #33. The #33 has led once in the history of Formula One and like Merhi, it ties back to the Indianapolis 500. The only time the #33 led was the 1958 Indianapolis 500 when Tony Bettenhausen led 24 laps before finishing fourth. By the way, that 1958 Indianapolis 500 was the first of 35 for one Anthony Joseph Foyt from Houston, Texas.

The #33 has finished on the podium twice. Argentine Onofre Marimón finished third in the 1954 British Grand Prix and Mike Hailwood finished third in the 1974 South African Grand Prix.

Verstappen's Scuderia Toro Rosso teammate Carlos Sainz, Jr. chose #55. This past Australian Grand Prix was the tenth time the #55 made a Formula One start, the first since Jean-Pierre Jarier in the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix. Jarier started from pole that day and led 49 laps but retired from the lead. Like the #33, it's the only time the #55 has led a Formula One race.

Sainz, Jr.'s ninth place finish at Melbourne is the first time the #55 has scored points but it's not the best finish for the #55 in a Formula One race. Mario Andretti finished seventh in the 1974 Canadian Grand Prix but only the top six scored points at that time.

To bring this full circle back to Manor, Will Stevens selected #28, which has not made a Formula One start since the 1995 Australian Grand Prix when Gerhard Berger retired in his final race with Ferrari. Berger is the last driver to win using the #28. He won the 1994 German Grand Prix from pole. Other drivers to win in car #28 are Sterling Moss, Tony Brooks, John Watson, Clay Regazzoni, Carlos Reutemann, Didier Pironi and René Arnoux.

Winners From The Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton but did you know...

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Phoenix, his second consecutive victory.

Nicolas Prost won the Formula E round from Miami, the fifth different winner from five races.

Ryan Dungey won the Supercross race from Indianapolis.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Grand National race from Phoenix.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 63rd 12 Hours of Sebring.
NASCAR runs the final race of their western swing at Fontana.
World Superbike makes their Thailand debut.
AMA Supercross heads to Detroit.