Monday, June 27, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: A Lot On My Mind

IndyCar had a great weekend. Rain turned Assen upside down. A decade-long winning streak was snapped. NBC can revive the "will he make the top 30?" narrative when they take over broadcasting NASCAR next weekend. A Le Mans winner followed up his success on Circuit de la Sarthe by winning the Race to the Clouds. There was another endurance race in France. A Portuguese driver won in Portugal. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

A Lot On My Mind
After a heartwarming weekend at Road America, there was a lot on my mind and nothing that was thought out completely.

First, is our perception of what IndyCar was built on lies? This weekend reportedly was the largest attended event in the history of Road America but track president George Bruggenthies came out and said the race drew around 50,000 and past attendance figures were exaggerated. On the race broadcast, Robin Miller said the 1993 Road America race was the largest attended sporting event in the history of the state of Wisconsin. There is a problem with that. If this year set the Road America record and 50,000 showed up on race day, then there is no way 1993 holds that Wisconsin state record. Consider that the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers football get well over 50,000 nearly 20 times between them each autumn.

Maybe if you take the three-day attendance into account, which reportedly was over 100,000 this year, then maybe you have the record but that is very misleading considering not many other events are spread over three days. I am sure if you took the best three-game series hosted by the Milwaukee Brewers the attendance would be over 100,000 but no one would do that. We all think IndyCar was the biggest deal in American motorsports 25 years ago and that might be so but how big was it really? And is it fair to hold the present to inflated numbers that were never actually achieved?

Second, the length of this race didn't really allow for alternative strategies. With 50 laps, it was pretty much three stops unless you ran super aggressive, which made no sense. There is nothing wrong with that but some suggested either lengthening the race by a few laps or shortening it by a few laps so teams wouldn't be as conservative. However, when you look at how long the race took, maybe neither should be done. It took an hour and 39 minutes to complete this race and that was after a caution for four laps. Had that caution not occurred, this race could have been completed in less than 90 minutes but had another caution occurred this race could have taken an extra ten minutes to complete. The right race distance is a fine line and IndyCar is perfectly on it for Road America.

Instead of tinkering with the amount of laps, maybe IndyCar allows a slightly larger fuel cell for Road America. I am not sure if a half gallon or gallon more of fuel would have made a difference but it would I think it would be an easier fix and one that could be reversed if it doesn't work out.

Finally, I want to talk about the Road to Indy. All three series were at Road America and all three series had good races but there are a few off the track things that caught my eye. RC Enerson was not at Road America and will not run the remainder of the Indy Lights season to focus on getting an IndyCar ride in 2017. Enerson has made 24 Indy Lights starts and has a victory, six podiums, 13 top five finishes and finished fourth last year in the championship. He has been pretty good but his exit shows a slight problem with the current ladder system. Because so many drivers depend on there own funding, it makes more sense for some to take a season off than to continue to race. Enerson could continue to run this year and he could win a race or two but then he has screwed himself for 2017, especially if he wants to move up.

Enerson is a essentially doing what many think the top sophomore or redshirt freshman in college football should do and take their third year in college football off but instead of taking a year off to avoid injury and risk losing millions in the NFL, Enerson is taking a year off to save a couple hundred thousand dollars and maybe be able to make it to IndyCar. That's not a good thing. Enerson is only 19 years old. He should be gaining more experience and the only way to do that is by being on track. Indy Lights now has one fewer full-time competitor and that is a terrible loss for the series. It's a difficult situation. While the Road to Indy does a great job of making sure each champion moves up to the next rung, it leaves the rest of the drivers in the championship with little help to also move up or keep their career going at that level. It is not an easy fix but something needs to be done to keep drivers in the series and not make the sidelines a better career option.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Power but did you know...

Jack Miller won a spectacular Dutch TT for his first career MotoGP victory. Takaaki Nakagami scored his first career victory in a rain-shortened Moto2 race. Francesco Bagnaia scored his first career victory in Moto3.

Zach Veach and Santiago Urrutia won the Indy Lights races from Road America. Wisconsinite Aaron Telitz swept the Pro Mazda races and Anthony Martin swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Ryan Eversley won both Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Road America. Derek DeBoer and Brett Sandberg won in GTS.

Edoardo Mortara and Nico Müller split the DTM races from the Norisring but it was a sweep for Audi. Audi hadn't won at the Norisring in 14 years and Mercedes-Benz had been unbeaten at the track since 2003. It was Müller first career DTM victory.

Tony Stewart won the NASCAR Cup race at Sonoma. Christopher Bell won the Truck race at Gateway.

A week after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Romain Dumas won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

The #58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 of Rob Bell, Côme Ledogar and Shane Van Gisbergen won the Blancpain Endurance Series Paul Ricard 1000km.

Tom Coronel and Tiago Monteiro split the World Touring Car Championship races form Vila Real, Portugal.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula E crowns a champion after a doubleheader in London.
Formula One will be in Austria.
NASCAR races under the lights at Daytona.
IMSA runs six hours around Watkins Glen.
The Blancpain Sprint Series heads to Nürburgring.
World Rally Championship runs Rally Poland.