Saturday, May 30, 2015

First Impressions: Belle Isle 2015 Race One

1. From wet to dry and back to wet. The changing conditions open the door for anyone to win and today, Carlos Muñoz scored his first career victory from 20th on the grid by playing his cards right. He switched to slicks at the right time, kept his nose clean and switched back to wets at the right time so he could pit and not lose the lead as everyone was crawling due to driving on wets when it was still dry waiting for the rain to come. By the time the heavens opened up, Muñoz was gone and then came the lightning, causing the red flag that ended the race. You will take a win anyway you can get it and Muñoz and Andretti Autosport finally get a monkey off their back that has been there all season.

2. I thought Marco Andretti made the wrong call being the first driver to switch to slicks after remembering what happened at NOLA. Everyone switched to slicks and it clearly wasn't dry enough. When Andretti switched, it was still pretty damp and a dry line wasn't wide enough to get off line for another ten laps but Andretti kept it straight, unlike Charlie Kimball, who was one of the next drivers to switch to slicks and clobbered the turn two wheel. Andretti played it right. Then he had a problem where his car appeared to get stuck on the pit limiter and he fell from leading to fifth but while everyone stopped for wets, he stayed out and opened up a massive gap to the likes of Will Power and Scott Dixon, who stopped for slicks. If it wasn't for Muñoz stopping about a half dozen laps after Andretti initially, Andretti might have won but second isn't so bad.

3. Simon Pagenaud was the lone Chevrolet to stay on slicks when everyone was jumping back to wets. He was up front all race but couldn't challenged Muñoz. He may have been able to challenge Andretti had the race continued but it wasn't meant to be.

4. Will Power finished fourth. He led a few laps after Andretti bogged down on the pit limiter but other than that, he wasn't a factor. He led the opening two laps but Takuma Sato flew by him on lap three in the wet conditions and he came in for wets a lap or two after the likes of Dixon did because the rain at that time was 15 minutes out. He could have stayed out on slicks but he didn't want to get caught out and it backfired.

5. Scott Dixon was the first to switch back to wets and he did it under caution. It benefited him because everyone but Muñoz, Andretti and Pagenaud came in within two laps of Dixon doing it under yellow and he passed them all while they made their stops. However, because the rain didn't come immediately, he lost a lot of time and fifth was the best he was going to get.

6. Hélio Castroneves finished sixth but like Power, he wasn't a factor. He started up from but was passed by Sato on lap one and he just hung around in the top ten.

7. What a nice day for Jack Hawksworth. He switched to slicks a lap or so after Andretti and like Andretti, he was fortunate that it wasn't him to roll snake eyes while Kimball did. However, he switched back to wets right after Dixon did and the best he was going to get was seventh.

8. Josef Newgarden overcame a flat tire after Sato ran into his side and replacing a front wing after making contact with Gabby Chaves to finish eighth. What benefited Newgarden was when he pitted to change his wing; Dixon was pitting to switch back to wets. Newgarden's crew probably saw it and thought "monkey see, monkey do" and it paid off.

9. Luca Filippi switched to slicks the same lap Hawksworth did and he turned a 19th starting spot into a ninth place finish. He was fortunate the race was called under the red flag because right after the red flag was shown he slid into the turn one barriers and he wasn't going to be able to restart. It's a bittersweet top ten for Filippi.

10. Like Power and Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya wasn't a factor. He finished tenth but once pit stops came he fell out of contention.

11. Finally, Takuma Sato. Finished 11th but could have been much better. This is how Sato races. He finds a way to ruin a good day. Today it was running into the side of Newgarden, which damaged his wing. Then he damaged his spare wing and he didn't have a third wing to use. This is how he races. He isn't going to change and it's a shame because we know he has the pace but it just goes for waste.

12. I am going to rip on race control. It seemed like every incident was followed with a quote of "we will review it after the race." And this was on lap two with cars that didn't make contact. Then when James Jakes made contact with the side of Stefano Coletti on lap nine (I think) and spun into Tony Kanaan, who then spun in the path of Graham Rahal, leaving the Ohioan no place to go, they decided to wait to review it until after the race. Why? Especially when it took two and a half minutes for the cars to run a lap under caution. Three caution laps are nearly eight minutes. That is plenty of time to review a call.

If race control is going to wait to review everything until after the race, then why are they at the race at all? They don't have to be there. IndyCar should send Brian Barnhart and company sightseeing around the cities they are visiting during the race and when they comeback at 7:00 p.m., they could be given ice cream and just review the incidents then and make up their minds because that is what they are practically doing now. Race control needs to be able to make calls during a race, not after the fact.

13. With drivers such as Justin Wilson, Simona de Silvestro, Oriol Servià, Alex Tagliani and J.R. Hildebrand all not in full-time rides, why aren't they the assistant stewards? The current field of drivers respect those five names mentioned more than the current cast of characters in control and they are more familiar with what is going on than the current race directors. These are whom race control should bring in. It sucks that they aren't driving but if they can be used to benefit the race from an officiating standpoint than I think everyone would support that.

14. IndyCar needs to adopt virtual safety car, especially for debris cautions. There is no reason why there are four or five caution laps to pit up one little winglet. Virtual safety car would force the cars to slow down but the pits would stay open and once the debris would be picked up it would be back to full speed racing. Hypothetically, you could throw a virtual safety car and be back to full speed racing in less than a lap. This would allow for more racing and that's what fans paid to see and what fans turn their TV on to see, not caution, close the pits, open the pits, another lap of caution, waiting, waiting, waiting, five laps behind the safety car and back to green.

Virtual safety car costs nothing to implement. Just make sure drivers are going slower through sectors. In today's race the fastest lap was a 1:20.0249 by Marco Andretti. Let's just say that averages to 26.667 seconds per sector. With VSC, when it is deployed, race control would just have to watch the drivers and make sure their sector times weren't any faster than let's say 35 seconds. If someone is going faster than the posted time through the sectors than black flag them and sit them for five laps. It is simply and IndyCar needed to implement it prior to St. Petersburg. There is still time for IndyCar to adopt VSC before this season ends but they won't because they are IndyCar and they never make revolutionary steps. They think they do but they don't.

15. I thought today was actually a good races despite race control being useless, Rodolfo González hitting everything but his pit crew (too soon?) and the excessive amount of caution laps for debris. When they actually got to racing, it was very good. Wet to dry and back to wet races are great because you have no idea what is going to happen. You had crews trying to be one step ahead and then you had the crews of Muñoz, Andretti and Pagenaud winging it and today, sticking to the beat of one's own drum turned out to be the right thing to do.

16. And we get to it all again tomorrow. Qualifying at 11:25 a.m. ET with the race scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET and it is going to rain all night and all day tomorrow. I can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store.