Sunday, May 24, 2015

99th Indianapolis 500: First Impressions

1. That was a beautiful race as Juan Pablo Montoya won his second Indianapolis 500. He led only nine laps and had to make a comeback, twice. First, after Simona de Silvestro tapped his rear-wheel guard, causing damage. The second after running over his air hose when he slid through his pit stall. Montoya is the greatest driver of his generation. He is greater than Michael Schumacher. He is greater than Sebastian Bourdais. He is greater than Jimmie Johnson. He is greater than Lewis Hamilton. If his name was Jack Moore and from South Carolina, the mainstream media would mention him with A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti daily. He has won two Indianapolis 500s, seven Formula One Grands Prix including wins at Monaco and Monza, he won in NASCAR, he has won the 24 Hours of Daytona three times and he has an IndyCar title and is in prime position for a second. What driver in the last 25 years has had that type of success across as many disciplines? Nobody. He is our generations Foyt. He is our generations Andretti. Folks, we are witnessing something special and we don't know when it will ever happen again.

2. Will Power had a good day but came home second. It has to suck for him. Defending champion and that Indianapolis 500 victory is the last thing he needs on his résumé. As long as he keeps winning races for Penske he will have many more opportunities to win at Indianapolis.

3. The top Ganassi car was Charlie Kimball. He had a pit stop go his way. He came in, the caution came out as his teammate Tony Kanaan hit the wall and he exited the pit lane just ahead of the leaders after running at the back end of the top ten most of the race up to that point. This was a good day for him. We know he is competent but he isn't Power, he isn't Montoya, he isn't someone who dominates but he can hold his own.

4. Scott Dixon really looked in position for his second victory. He dominated the first half, trading the lead with Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud. He was rarely outside the top five. In fact, outside of during pit cycles, Dixon was in the top five all day. I think Power is the only other driver who can say that.

5. Graham Rahal finished fifth in what was another tough day for Honda. It was Penske and Ganassi domination. Honda has to be frustrated. They weren't a factor all day and now they head to Chevrolet's backyard with only one victory to Chevrolet's five. Rahal has been the top Honda driver, which is surprising considering Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was the worst team last year. Rahal could win a race this year but he will either need Honda making a great leap or catch Chevrolet sleeping.

6. Marco Andretti finished sixth. Another year, another top ten in the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti. Ten starts and six top tens with three consecutive top tens. He's only 28 and has a lot of time to get that elusive Indianapolis 500 victory for his family.

7. Hélio Castroneves faded late. At one point he fell all the way to 13th but made a late charge to 7th. He was up in the top five for the first 165 laps but perhaps made the wrong adjustment on the final restart and it cost him.

8. Another year and another result J.R. Hildebrand can super-glue to John Barnes' front door. Eighth after finish tenth last year. If only Hildebrand can get a break and a full-time ride. He had a good race on the IMS road course before a mechanical failure. He is only 27. Plenty of time left for him.

9. Josef Newgarden quietly finished ninth despite starting ninth. He went up and down a few times but made a late charge and made it five Americans in the top ten. That's not bad. Sure, it would have been nice to see an American win but five of the top ten isn't that bad.

10. Simon Pagenaud nearly ran over Justin Wilson, lost a lot of time, fell to 21st and came back to finish 10th all in the final 30 laps. He led the second-most laps today behind only Scott Dixon. If it wasn't for nearly running over Wilson, Pagenaud might have been in contention for the victory.

11. Sébastien Bourdais finished 11th. He, like Newgarden, went from the back half of the top ten to just outside the top 20 at one point but recovered and got a solid finish.

12. Hats off to Ryan Briscoe finishing 12th on short notice and overcoming being run into by James Davison in turn one, lap one, causing him to spin and stall and nearly falling one lap down. How he doesn't have a full-time ride is beyond me. Will he be the replacement until James Hinchcliffe returns? He has the Le Mans test day next week as IndyCar goes to Belle Isle for a doubleheader. He is free for Texas and has to run the 24 Hours of Le Mans the weekend IndyCar goes to Toronto. Maybe he get a few more starts this season but we will have to wait and see. He surely deserves a full-time ride.

13. Takuma Sato finished 13th but if IndyCar is consistent he will take only 9 points from this race. He made a bonehead move in turn one, lap one and it ended Sage Karam's day. Sato went three laps down but ended up on the lead lap. He gets 34 points for finishing 13th since this race was worth double points while Karam gets only 10. At NOLA, Ryan Hunter-Reay took out Simon Pagenaud and he was deducted three points so he scored one point fewer than the Frenchman. Castroneves took out Dixon in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Brazilian deducted nine points so he had one fewer than Dixon. If IndyCar is consistent, Sato should have a 25-point deduction waiting for him.

14. Good day for Townsend Bell finishing in 14th. I am sure he wanted better. He was in the top ten at one point. Today was just a good outing for him and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. We need Bell to run a few more IndyCar races each year and we need Dreyer & Reinbold back as a full-time team.

15. Ryan Hunter-Reay wasn't a factor all day but he tried to go off strategy to get him into contention but it didn't pan out. It's been a frustrating season for him so far. Fifteenth at Indianapolis isn't great but it's not terrible. He just needs to put it behind him.

16. The top-rookie finisher was Gabby Chaves in 16th. He will likely win Rookie of the Year honors and he had a good month in general. At one point he was in the top ten!

17. Alex Tagliani nearly didn't make the start as he struggled to get the car fired. It did and he did lead a few laps after Kanaan's accident because of the pit cycle. Second consecutive year for him leading laps in the Indianapolis 500.

18. James Jakes quietly finished 18th and other than when she got into Montoya's rear, Simona de Silvestro had a quiet race and finished 19th.

20. Carlos Muñoz finished 20th. When the leaders made their final stops with just under 30 to go, Muñoz stayed out and lead a few laps and those were the first laps led by an Andretti Autosport car this season. Justin Wilson also stayed out and he led at least one lap as well. Both ended up pitting with two to go. They each must have done close to 40 laps on their final stints. Yes they had cautions play into their favor but they nearly made it and both nearly had top ten finishes. Muñoz was the final car on the lead lap while Wilson came home in 21st.

21. Pippa Mann finished three laps down in 22nd but it was a rough day for Dale Coyne Racing. James Davison charged into the top 20 early in the race but he was released too soon from a pit stop, made contact with Mann, which send Davison into a few of Coyne's third driver, Tristan Vautier's pit crew. Two crew members were one. One was checked and released; the other had to go to the hospital. Truly unfortunate for that team. Davison and Vautier finished 27th and 28th respectively, both retiring after the pit lane incident.

22. Sebastián Saavedra, Jack Hawksworth and Stefano Coletti all got together late in the race as the field checked up in turn four, causing Hawksworth into the back of Saavedra, spinning the Colombian into the path of Coletti and the Monegasque driver just had nowhere to go. Saavedra has a left foot contusion and will need to be cleared before getting back into the car.

23. Tony Kanaan finished 26th after his accident. He had a really good car but got caught out on cold tires after a pit stop. Last year it was Dixon who had an accident while in contention. This year it was Kanaan. He will be back.

24. Oriol Servià and Ed Carpenter took each other out in turn one. Both were just outside the top ten for the 112 laps they were in the race. All three CFH cars went up and down like a yo-yo and when Carpenter got into Servià he had just fallen to about 15th after being in the top ten. Both are good drivers and it's a shame they didn't get to see this race to the finish.

25. Bryan Clauson had an accident end his day. He was the slowest qualifier and he just needs more seat time. It was nice seeing the Jonathan Byrd name back in the Indianapolis 500 but if they want Clauson to be their driver and be in the race, they are going to need to get him more seat time because next year there might be 35 or 36 cars entered and it won't just take beating Buddy Lazier to make the race.

26. Sage Karam. He has to be angry seeing Sato finish 13th while he second Indianapolis 500 end after one corner. Seeing how all the Ganassi cars raced, it would have been interesting to see if he could have worked his way to the front. He needs a break. He is only 20. He has a lot of career ahead of him. Ganassi just needs to be patient.

27. Then there was Conor Daly. He had a fuel cell leak end his race before he could even take the green flag. He spent a year putting this deal together with Smithfield's and they didn't even get to see their car take the green flag. How can Daly and Schmidt Peterson defend that? Shit happens but that doesn't mean sponsors will stick around. Daly has been working so hard to break into a professional series full-time and it has yet to come. If Briscoe isn't able to race at Belle Isle due to the Le Mans test day, Daly might get to drive the #5 for a handful of races but that isn't guaranteed as Daly isn't the only driver on the outside who should be full-time. Not only is Daly fighting with Briscoe for the #5 but also Wilson, Servià, Tagliani and who knows whom else.

28. I thought Straight No Chaser did really well with "(Back Home Again In) Indiana." We had a weird moment with the command to start with Mari Hulman George. She is getting up there is age. Does she decide to step down from doing it or does she do it until her final day? And who succeeds her? One of her daughters? Tony George? We can worry about that later.

29. I liked how after the finish the ABC booth let the moment breathe. They let the natural sound of the scene take over. Allen Bestwick let it breathe. Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear didn't add a stupid comment. It was nice. To be honest, this wasn't a bad race for the ABC booth. Was much better than the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but they are streaky. Next week will likely be a step back. Pit road guys did great. ABC has the right trio in Jon Beekhuis, Dr. Jerry Punch and Rick DeBruhl.

30. On another note, ABC has to update their graphics. Look at their side-by-side compared to NBC's side-by-side for Formula One and IndyCar. ABC wastes space while NBC makes the most of it. The ABC graphics haven't been updated since at least 2008. With the 100th Indianapolis 500 up next, it would be nice if the graphic were improved for next year.

31. I thought the racing was great. Surprised there were 38 lead changes. I thought we would see around 25 lead changes today but we got more than that. Passes didn't appear to be as easy as previous years but they could still be made. I don't think IndyCar should revert to the 2014 aero package for the remaining ovals this year. They should stick with the 2015 aero package. It was actually pretty good today.

32. I want to end by saying thank you to everyone for a great month of May. To all the drivers and team owners. To IndyCar brass and Indianapolis Motor Speedway brass. I am going to single out IMS president Doug Boles because he just seems like a cool guy who loves motorsports and cares about the fans. IndyCar needs more people like Doug Boles. To Kevin Lee, Curt Cavin and Donald Davidson for spending each night in the background. To Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett for keeping everyone updated on To everyone who had discussions with on Twitter about everything under the blue moon about IndyCar and other forms of motorsports. Just thank you to you all and I look forward to the rest of this season.

33. 371 days until the 100th Indianapolis 500.