Monday, June 5, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: About Those Kits/You May Be Disappointed

Graham Rahal had a great weekend. Italians had a great weekend in Italy. Belgians had a great weekend in Belgium. You can probably guess who won the IMSA race at Belle Isle. Two women stood on the podium and one manufacture got its first victory. You can probably also guess who won the NASCAR race a Dover and guess what absurd rule pissed off all of its fans this week. Toyota went 1-2-3 at the Le Mans test day. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

About Those Kits
In honor of IndyCar's doubleheader at Belle Isle I am giving you two topics this Monday to ponder.

We entered this year's IndyCar season doubtful over it being an exciting season as it was a lame-duck year for aero kits. There had been a development freeze placed on the aero kits and Chevrolet was coming off winning 14 of the 16 races in 2016 and Team Penske finished 1-2-3 in the championship and had just signed the fourth place finisher from the 2016 championship to join the team for 2017. It felt like it was a four-horse race. It has been anything but a four-horse race.

Honda has won five of eight races. It has won all four street course races and it won the Indianapolis 500 for the second consecutive year. Through eight races, Honda has taken 13 of 24 podium positions. Scott Dixon leads the championship. Takuma Sato is third. Honda has six of the top ten in the championship. The four Chevrolets are the four Penske drivers. Honda hasn't just won the street course races, it has dominated them having led 299 of the 335 laps. Honda even swept the two pole positions at Belle Isle after having not won a pole position on a street circuit is almost three years.

The first eight races of this season have made me realize it was never Chevrolet vs. Honda. It was Penske vs. the field. Ganassi left to Honda and the team did have a fair amount of success while running Chevrolet engines but Chevrolet was always going to be fine if it had Penske. All three of Chevrolets victories this year have been by Team Penske. Ten of Chevrolet's 11 podium finishes have come at the hands of Team Penske. Team Penske is responsible for 459 of Chevrolet's 466 laps led this season or another way to put it is 98.4%.

Ed Carpenter Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing didn't pick up where Ganassi left off. ECR had a really good race at Phoenix with J.R. Hildebrand and had a decent run at Indianapolis until Ed Carpenter had to pit after contact with Pippa Mann and Hildebrand was penalized for jumping a restart. Foyt is still where it was when it was a Honda team.

We worried about another beat down in the year before the introduction of universal aero kits. Now we have to ask if universal aero kits are needed at all? We are too far down that road to go back but IndyCar has reached the point it had to have been hoping for with aero kits and now they will be going away from them. IndyCar had to have wanted this kind of balance where one kit was superior at one type of track and the other kit was superior at another. It is an organic balance not brought on by balance of performance but by the manufactures developing it on their own.

Now all the teams will be spending more money for more parts and a bunch of pieces will be deemed obsolete even though those pieces are less than three years old. IndyCar isn't going to drop the universal aero kit but after watching this season I hope the series at least considers grandfathering those bits into the new formula to allow teams to save some money.

You May Be Disappointed
We are one week removed from Fernando Alonso's IndyCar debut and that race was more than just a Spaniard running on an oval. That Spaniard attracted more people to the broadcast in Europe than any other IndyCar race in recent memory. The ratings in the United Kingdom were up from 12,000 average and 31,000 peak audience in 2016 to a 129,000 average and 203,000 peak audience this year. In Spain, this year's Indianapolis 500 had double the TV rating of the Monaco Grand Prix earlier in the day. For many, it seemed to be not only the first IndyCar race they had ever seen but the first oval they had ever seen and it appears some loved it and couldn't believed they had missed this for so long.

Steve Fowler, editor-in-chief of the UK publication Auto Express, said he not only wants to watch more IndyCar but also wants to go to a race. This is just one guy and I don't know how many will follow his lead and keep turning on IndyCar races but he can't be the only one but I have to warn Mr. Fowler and all other people who got hook after watching this year's Indianapolis 500: You may be disappointed from time to time.

Not ever IndyCar race is the Indianapolis 500 as you probably saw with Belle Isle this weekend. IndyCar has boring races too. The two Belle Isle races weren't that bad but thankfully Phoenix didn't follow Indianapolis otherwise it would have killed any international momentum IndyCar had made. IndyCar road and street courses can be just as big of duds as Formula One races. I am sure some turned on Belle Isle off the high of Indianapolis and were let down a bit because a street race rarely can hold a candle to the action of a big oval race like Indianapolis, Pocono or Texas and unfortunately, those are the only big ovals on the IndyCar schedule.

This should not cause IndyCar to have an identity crisis but it should cause the series to consider what makes it special and what it has that no other series can provide. No other series puts on the kind of races that IndyCar does at Indianapolis, Pocono and Texas. Hell, the 2015 Fontana race might be one of the top ten greatest IndyCar races of all-time and Fontana is no longer on the schedule.

Many, especially non-Americans, may have fallen in love with Indianapolis and it might be tough to get them to love Belle Isle, Toronto and Mid-Ohio because they already have enough road course racing for their heart's desire and IndyCar road and street course racing isn't that much different. But the one thing European-based series don't have is the thrill of a 220 MPH roller coaster ride and IndyCar is where they get their fix for that balls-to-the-wall action.

IndyCar must consider beefing up the oval portion of the schedule because it is what makes IndyCar the series it is and makes it different from the rest of the series around the world. That doesn't mean adding eight more oval races. There can be too much of a good thing but simply adding Fontana and Michigan could provide enough of a fix for the oval junkies IndyCar just got hooked.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Graham Rahal sweeping the weekend at Belle Isle but did you know...

Andrea Dovizioso won MotoGP's Italian Grand Prix from Mugello. Mattia Pasini won in Moto2, his first victory since the 250cc race at Mugello in 2009. Andrea Migno won in Moto3, his first career victory.

The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Jordan and Ricky Taylor won at Belle Isle, their five consecutive IMSA victory. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French and Pato O'Ward won in Prototype Challenge and they are four-for-four this season. Acura picked up its maiden win the GT Daytona with the #93 Michael Shank Racing Acura of Andy Lally and Katherine Legge taking the victory.

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup race from Dover, his 83rd career victory, and it was his 11th Dover victory. Kyle Larson won the Grand National Series race. Johnny Sauter won the Truck race.

The #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Will Stevens and Markus Winkelhock won the Blancpain Sprint Series race from Zolder. The #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Stuart Leonard and Robin Frijns won the qualifying race on Saturday.

Coming Up This Weekend
Texas heads to Texas and hopes to get this race in before the end of June this year.
Lance Stroll gets to race in his home country for the first time in his Formula One career at Montreal.
NASCAR makes its way slightly north to Pocono.
MotoGP makes its second trip to Spain, this time to Barcelona.
World Rally Championship will contest Rally d'Italia Sardegna.
The TCR International Series will be at the Salzburgring.