Monday, May 8, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: I Was Wrong

There are three certainties in 2017: death, taxes and the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Ricky and Jordan Taylor winning in IMSA as they won their fourth consecutive race of the year in Austin. Spaniards dominated Sunday at Jerez. Penske's plan for world motorsports domination continues to make progress. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season finally got started and the Supercross season closed where dirty moves were the name of the game in Sin City. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

I Was Wrong
We head to the 4th Grand Prix of Indianapolis and I was wrong. I was wrong about the event.

I hated the idea. I hated it when it was first floated out there. I hated it when it was coyly being organized in plain sight. I just hated.

Then the first edition was held. And I warmed to it. And I continued to warm to it. And now here I am. Do I love the race? Love is strong, just as strong as hate and maybe hate was the wrong word to use three or four years ago. I enjoy the race and the race does round out the month of May more than it used to be.

In the 21st century, it makes no senses for the month of May to have Indianapolis 500 practice start on May 1st, two days of qualifying a fortnight prior to the race, two days of qualifying the weekend before the race, three weeks of practice, Carb Day and then the race itself. There aren't enough entries and interested spectators to justify that much time to one race.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis has given people a reason to head out to the track for one of three action-filled weekends. You have the road course race, qualification weekend and Indianapolis 500 weekend. Three weekends and each one is slightly different while progressing and growing to the grand day that is the Indianapolis 500.

Prior to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, opening day at the Speedway was a dud with just Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation and maybe a practice session for all entries. It was just practice laps with rookies trying to get up to speed and veterans shaking off the oval rust. Now you get not just an IndyCar race but doubleheaders for U.S. F2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights and more people have turned out than opening day had drawn in the last two decades prior. You can debate the crowd size for the race and whether it looks good aesthetically but by attracting 20,000 to 25,000 people to the Speedway for a race the track has found a way to make more money on this weekend in May than it previously had been and that is all that matters.

We worried about the race track after having almost a decade of duds when the United States Grand Prix was held at the Speedway but none of the three previous editions have been bad races. The track made alterations to the road course configuration and racing has been respectable because of these changes. Passing isn't non-existent. Drivers take chances and we have seen drivers go from the back to the front. Last year, Graham Rahal went from 24th to fourth and Conor Daly went from 22nd to sixth. The year before that Rahal finished second after starting 17th and Takuma Sato finished ninth from 22nd. Charlie Kimball went from 23rd to fifth in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

I didn't necessarily buy the idea the race would be a commercial for the Indianapolis 500 two weeks later and I still don't when you consider how the Indianapolis 500 television numbers have remained stable for just over a decade and it is hard to judge how many people are watching because the Grand Prix of Indianapolis reminded them about the Indianapolis 500. As we learned last year, the Indianapolis 500 doesn't need a two and a half hour commercial in the form of another race a fortnight prior. Last year's Indianapolis 500 sold out. If anything, the location of Indianapolis Motor Speedway has helped this race. I don't think we would be as excited for a race two weeks before the Indianapolis 500 if it was at Kansas or Kentucky or Chicagoland and I don't think we could get a race on ABC two weeks before the Indianapolis if it was Kansas, Kentucky or Chicagoland.

Is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis a game changer? Is it one of the big three or four or five races on the IndyCar schedule? I don't sense it is. I don't sense more people are tuning in because it is a race at Indianapolis and I don't sense drivers want to win the Grand Prix of Indianapolis more than Long Beach, Watkins Glen, Road America, Iowa, Toronto, Texas or Pocono. It has some cache because it is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but I don't sense it would change a driver's career or it is a race a driver wants to brag about winning. At the same time we are only heading into the fourth edition of the race. I am sure the fourth Indianapolis 500 wasn't a race drivers were dying to win. The meaning wasn't there yet. It was just another race. It takes decades for a race to achieve that level of meaning.

This race has had a few growing pain as we head to year four. The race is without a title sponsor, which is a lost source of revenue for the track. This year's race will be the smallest of the four editions as only 22 cars have entered but the race should continue. It is better than no race at all but it doesn't make up for what is lacking from the Indianapolis 500. It doesn't make up for the lack of bumping and doesn't make up for the difficulty drivers have to put one-off programs together. It is a nice addition but there are still other issues around the month of May that need to be solved.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis should be the kick off for May. Some think the race should be another time of the year, some think it should be the season finale but I think the race would lose attention if it were in August, September or October. It would become another trip to Indianapolis. By leading off the month of May it is the start to something much greater.

Champion From the Weekend
Ryan Dungey won the Supercross championship after finishing fourth in the season finale at Las Vegas.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the Taylor brothers and Ryan Dungey but did you know...

The #38 Lexus Team Zent Cerumo Lexus LC 500 of Hiroaki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa won the Super GT race from Fuji on Thursday. The #51 LM Corsa Lexuc RC F GT3 of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi won in GT300.

Dani Pedrosa won MotoGP's Spanish Grand Prix. Álex Márquez won in Moto2, his first victory in that series. Arón Canet won the Moto3 race, his first career victory.

The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima won the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the team's second consecutive victory. The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca of Romain Rusinov, Alex Lynn and Pierre Thiriet won in LMP2. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird won in GTE-Pro. The #97 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-AM.

Stefano Comini and Jean-Karl Vernay split the TCR International Series races from Spa-Francorchamps.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega, his first career victory. Aric Almirola won the Grand National Series race on Saturday.

The #38 Performance Tech Motorsport Oreca of Pato O'Ward and James French won in PC at the IMSA race from Austin. The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García won in GTLM. The #33 Riley Motorsports - Team AMG of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won in GTD.

The #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart swept the Blancpain Sprint Series races from Brands Hatch.

Lucas Auer and Jamie Green split the DTM season opener from Hockenheim.

Scott McLaughlin swept the Supercars races from Barbagallo Raceway.

Jason Anderson won the Supercross season finale from Las Vegas.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Formula One returns to Spain.
Formula E kicks off the festivities at Monaco.
Italy has a busy weekend with World Superbike at Imola and the European Le Mans Series and TCR International Series at Monza.
NASCAR heads to its first night race of the season at Kansas.
Silverstone hosts the Blancpain Endurance Series.
The World Touring Car Championship will be in Hungary.