Monday, May 18, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Come Monday

IndyCar nearly screwed the pooch. NASCAR ran a race that didn't matter. Audi won a 24-hour endurance race. Johnny O'Connell swept the Pirelli World Challenge races from Mosport and I missed the MotoGP race from France. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

We Need to Talk About Qualifying
It wasn't pretty but it was completed. We could of had a disastrous situation where no cars got on track, fans would have wasted their time and left disappointed and angry and a TV window would have been wasted.

It sucks that IndyCar got way too conservative, forcing teams to race in their qualifying setup and decreasing the boost level from the 140 kPa originally scheduled for qualifying. There were three accidents but each driver walked away and was cleared to get back in the car immediately. IndyCar has to be proactive but this yesterday they acted too much like a first-time parent, panicking over every little thing that happens to their child. IndyCar should have been hands off. The teams and drivers are adults and they should have been treated as such. IndyCar shouldn't have forced every team to run their race setup and with 130 kPa. If a Chevrolet team wanted to run in their race setup and with lower boost, then fine but it shouldn't have impacted everyone.

We want the teams to take risks. That's why we tune in. We want to see the envelope pushed and watch a driver walk the line at over 230 MPH. If a driver blinks, then they will likely find themselves at the back. We don't want to see the drivers coddled. We want to see the drivers protected but at the same time we need to let drivers face the realities of being a driver. They know the risks that come with motorsports and the chance of death has been greatly reduced compared to 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 years ago. We have SAFER barriers, HANS devices, fire suits, chassis built to handle a crash better, better seats and seat belts. It's absolutely absurd to believe this current period is more dangerous than say the 1960s it's not. Once again, Hélio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter all walked away from their accident under their own power and were back in the car as soon as possible. Twenty years ago, those three would have probably been in worse condition.

It's time to realize we can take a few more risks. Yes, IndyCar has to work to make sure the cars don't get lifted each time they hit the wall (develop some type of safety flap). Yes, tracks across the country need to develop better catch fences. Yes, IndyCar and Formula One should look into canopies or screens around the drivers head. There are a few more steps that can be taken to make motorsports safer but realize motorsports will never be as safe as humanly possible. And it shouldn't be. There needs to be some danger in motorsports. I am not saying ban seat belts, helmets and fire suits but allow a team to walk the line and accept the consequences if things go wrong.

With that said, it's better that qualifying was completed than the series having postponed it until Carb Day.

Expanding Qualifying
Why keep qualifying to two days? We will never have two weekends of qualifying again and I am fine with that but why not start qualifying Friday afternoon? I was tweeting over the weekend that if rain postponed both qualifying days IndyCar should have embraced qualifying on Monday seeing as they would have no competition. They could have run a session from noon to 6:00 p.m. ET and owned the day. Other than West Bromwich Albion vs. Chelsea on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET, there is nothing on Monday afternoon. No NBA playoffs, no Stanley Cup playoffs. There might be an MLB game but it wouldn't be on national TV. The whole thing could have been shown on ESPN. After all, it would be better than nine hours of SportsCenter.

But let's think this out. Why not start qualifying on Friday afternoon? Draw for qualifying on Thursday evening. Have practice from 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. ET on Friday. Start "pole day" at 3:00 p.m. ET Friday and go until 6:00 p.m. ET. You could get it on ESPN with little-to-no competition. Continue pole day on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET. Perhaps that could be split between ESPN and ABC. That's six hours of "pole day." From 1:00-6:00 p.m. ET, you have the second day of qualifying and could be broadcasted on ESPNews/ESPN3/WatchESPN. Then you can have bump day on Sunday from 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. ET, with the final two hours on ABC, just like it was scheduled yesterday. That would be 16 hours of qualifying over three days, more than enough. The track could then reopen at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday for practice and end at 6:00 p.m. with that just being shown online like Monday through Friday last week.

The bright side to the three days of qualifying would be allowing the teams that qualified on pole day and on the second day to practice on Saturday and/or Sunday and not have to run the Monday, post-qualifying practice session.

I am just throwing it out there. If IndyCar can get a TV time slot that stands out then it might be worth it. There will always be competition on the weekends but Friday afternoon is an open time slot. This might be a change worth doing.

Speaking of Change though...
IndyCar can't keep changing the format for Indianapolis 500 qualifying. This year the format was different because of rain and all the event that went down but IndyCar needs to stick with one way to do it and not keep playing around hoping that each change will draw new fans because those changes won't draw that many new fans, if any at all.

Look at the NASCAR All-Star Race. They changed the format so much that the race is no longer special. It's now a nuisance. They should have just stuck to one format that would stand for a long time. Instead they kept changing, hoping each change would make the event better and it just made it worse.

If anything, IndyCar should consider making qualifying more like it once was. Maybe get rid of the Fast Nine session (although that's not so bad). Maybe bring back the three attempts per car  (they should absolutely do that and the should force teams to withdraw their times if they choose to make second and/or third qualifying attempt). Maybe not give away championship points for qualifying (there should be no bonus points for any race).

Change can be good but you can't just keep changing. You need to give the fans something they can easily know.

Silver Linings
Things didn't go to plan in Indianapolis 500 qualifying but there are some silver linings.

1. You know I am a proponent to IndyCar practices being shown on TV and IndyCar practice was shown on TV as was IndyCar qualifying. Yes, qualifying was moved to ESPNews but it could have been just shown online or not shown at all.

2. We did have some drama wondering if Buddy Lazier will be able to bump his way into the field. He didn't and was a mile per hour off Clauson but he got a lot closer than I thought he would. For years teams showed up to Indianapolis trying to make the race and were well off the pace. Lazier wasn't the furthest off the 33rd-fastest time and he gave it two cracks but just didn't have enough.

3. Qualifying did get it. Like I said before, IndyCar could have decided to not run and screwed out everyone in attendance and watching at home but IndyCar can't afford to screw anyone over at this point. We didn't see the qualifying runs in the 232-233 MPH range like we were hoping for but there is always next year.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon winning the Indianapolis 500 pole and Johnny O'Connell but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won the French Grand Prix, leading a Yamaha 1-2 with Valentino Rossi in second.

The #28 Audi Sport Team WRT of Christopher Mies, Edward Sandstorm, Nico Müller and Laurens Vanthoor won the 24 Hours Nürburgring.

José María López and Yvan Muller split the WTCC races on the Nordschleife.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR All-Star Race. Kasey Kahne won the Truck races from Charlotte but failed post-race tech.

Ford swept the V8 Supercars weekend at Winton. Chaz Mostert and Mark Winterbottom split the Saturday races with Winterbottom winning Sunday's race, putting him in the championship lead.

Thomas Lüthi won in Moto2 from Le Mans. Romano Fenati ended Danny Kent's winning streak in Moto3.

The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Tristan Gommendy, Ludovic Badey and Pierre Thiriet won the ELMS round from Imola. The #7 University of Bolton Ginetta-Nissan of Rob Garofell, Jens Petersen and Morten Dons won in LMP3. Ferrari swept the GT classes as the #56 AT Racing Ferrari of Alexander Talkanitsa, Jr., Alexander Talkanitsa, Jr. and Alessandro Pier Guidi won in GTE while the #62 AF Corse Ferrari of Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr and Stuart Hall won in GTC.

Kurt Rezzetano and Jack Baldwin split the Pirelli World Challenge GTS races from Mosport.

Chris Buescher won the NASCAR second division race from Iowa.

Coming Up This Weekend
The greatest weekend of the motorsports year.
99th Indianapolis 500
Monaco Grand Prix
Coca-Cola 600
Formula E heads to Berlin.
Super Formula runs at Okayama.
Blancpain Endurance Series will compete at Silverstone.
World Superbike heads to the land of its rulers and Donington Park.
World Rally returns to Europe, more specifically, Portugal.
Indy Lights will run the Freedom 100 on Carb Day. The other Road to Indy series will be at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Saturday, the Day Before the 500.