Monday, May 7, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Four Forgotten Faces

Fernando Alonso won on his FIA World Endurance Championship debut with help from Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 Toyota. Mike Conway did give the Spaniard a good fight for the overall victory. Gustavo Menezes became the second American driver to stand on an FIA WEC overall podium but first to do it in an LMP1 car, as the #3 Rebellion with co-drivers Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche was elevated after the #1 Rebellion was disqualified for skid wear. David Cheng was the first American to score an overall WEC podium finish as Cheng finished third at Le Mans last year in the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. Warm wishes to Pietro Fittipaldi, who suffered a left leg fracture and right ankle fracture in qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps.

In Las Vegas, Jason Anderson won the Supercross championship with a fifth-place finish. Mattias Ekström's DTM career came to a close as a new season opened. Team Penske is already kicking ass in May. IMSA returned to Mid-Ohio. MotoGP returned to Europe. DTM had a great moment in in-car radio and a pretty good race. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Four Forgotten Faces
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a vast history and one that is celebrated by many. We have turned knowledge about the Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 into a hobby. There is even a radio show for the history buffs (By the way, The Talk of Gasoline Alley begins tonight and the show will be on every weeknight at 8:00 p.m. ET until the Indianapolis 500 on WFNI 107.5/1070 the Fan).

However, there is a fair amount of history snobs and we are all guilty of being that guy once or twice.  The Speedway has a legion whose goal is to set the record straight. How many times have you come to the defense of Johnny Aitken for being the most successful driver at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 15 victories?

However, while having this deep affection for history of the place and the event, fans have been telling half-truths, some for over a century.

The Borg-Warner Trophy is not only a trophy for one of the most prestigious races in the world but a monument to the past, one that continual grows each year with another driver honored with each success. There are 104 busts on the Borg-Warner Trophy, one for each winner of the previous 101 Indianapolis 500s including the two years there were co-winners (1924 and 1941) and one for Tony Hulman. There should be 108.

The history buffs know the Borg-Warner Trophy tells a lie but will not admit it. There have not been two races where multiple drivers drove the race-winning car. There have been six. Four are not etched in history. Unfortunately, those four results have become inside secrets but known by enough that they should be rightfully honored.

Ray Harroun has long been honored as the winner of the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. He is the one honored as a pioneer for the rearview window and he was even given a game show appearance 50 years after he won the race. His success, his place in history is not his alone. Harroun vacated the car after 70 laps and Cyrus Pastchke would drive a 32-lap stint and put the #32 Marmon Wasp into the lead after an aggressive drive put pressure on David Bruce-Brown and led to a tire failure for Bruce-Brown. Harroun would return to the car in the lead and take the car to the checkered flag and cement his place in history.

The following year, Joe Dawson would be relieved on lap 108 and Don Herr would drive his #8 National for 36 laps. Ralph DePalma dominated the race, leading 196 laps before breaking down with two laps to go. Dawson would inherit the lead and take the victory.

Tommy Milton is remembered as the first driver to win multiple Indianapolis 500s but his second victory in 1923 came after Howdy Wilcox, the 1919 winner, drove #1 Miller for 43 laps. Two years later, Peter DePaolo won the race but had to be replaced for 22 laps to get his hands bandaged. Norman Batten took over the #12 Duesenberg before DePaolo re-entered the race.

The only difference between those four races and the two where co-winners are acknowledged is who took the checkered flag. In the four races above the driver who started the race finished the race. In 1924, L.L Corum started the race in the #15 Duesenberg but Joe Boyer ran the final 78 laps. Floyd Davis started the 1941 race in the #16 Wetteroth-Offenhauser but Mauri Rose took over the car on lap 72 and took the car to victory.

All these races took place in a different era but sheering timing should not determine who is remember as a winner and who is not. Is all that is keeping Patschke, Herr and Batten from being remembered as Indianapolis 500 winner is when they stepped into the car? Had DePaolo needed his hands to be bandaged and Batten been put in the car for the final 22 laps and taken the car to the finish would he be included as an Indianapolis 500 winner?

We have always been told the race is about the car when it comes to the Indianapolis. Each car was limited to three attempts for the Indianapolis 500, not driver. The car got the position in the field, not the driver. Obviously the driver needs some type of recognition. Without the driver the car cannot win but if it is about the car then shouldn't every driver who drove it be properly acknowledged? If you drove the car you should be recognized as a winner. Without any of these four relief efforts history and whom we view as distinguishable would be different.

Wilcox has his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy for his 1919 victory but the accomplishments of Patschke, Herr and Batten have been relegated to pieces of trivia. It is unfortunate because Harroun, Dawson, Milton and DePaolo would not have their places in history if it were not for the efforts of these drivers. They should all be recognized. Patschke, Herr and Batten should all be considered Indianapolis 500 winners, Wilcox should be recognized as a two-time winner and four more busts should be added to the Borg-Warner Trophy.

People do not take change well. IndyCar fans are stubborn about change, especially about the Indianapolis 500, even if it for the better. Imagine telling them the winners of the first Indianapolis 500 were Ray Harroun AND Cyrus Patschke. Imagine adding another driver to the list of those who won multiple races.

Plenty of old white men could cry revisionist history but it would be a more accurate representation of history. The Indianapolis 500 has had a long and evolving history. It has gone from an endurance race where riding mechanics were required to a sub-three-hour sprint. Part of this race's history is driver changes, some planned, some on a whim. It should be basic knowledge for motorsports fans that these men were Indianapolis 500 winners.

The Speedway is not trying to keep these drivers a secret. There was an article dedicated to them in 2008 Indianapolis 500 program but four pages in a collectible is not good enough. Their skill and achievement deserves to be immortalized in silver and an inscription that can be read for a century.

Winners From the Weekend
You know Toyota's victory and Anderson's title but did you know...

Marc Márquez won the Spanish Grand Prix and retook the championship lead after Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa all took each other out in the same corner. Lorenzo Baldassarri won in Moto2, his first victory in a little under two years. Phillipp Öttl won the Moto3 race, his first career victory in 91 starts.

In LMP2 at the 6 Hours of Spa-Franchorchamps, the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca of Jean-Éric Vergne, Romain Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola took the victory. The #66 Ford GT of Stefan Mücke, Olivier Pla and Billy Johnson won in GTE-Pro. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-Am.

The #7 Team Penske Acura of Ricky Taylor and Hélio Castroneves won the IMSA race from Mid-Ohio, Acura's first win since returning to sports car competition. The #912 Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber won in GTLM. The #14 Team 3GT Racing Lexus of Dominik Baumann and Kyle Marcelli won in GTD, the first victory for the Lexus RCF GT3 in IMSA.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Dover. Justin Allgaier won the Grand National Series race. Johnny Sauter won the Truck race.

Gary Paffett and Timo Glock split the DTM races from Hockenheim.

The #23 NISMO Nissan of Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda won the Super GT race from Fuji on Friday. The #55 ARTA BMW of Sean Walkinshaw and Shinichi Takagi won in GT300.

The #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens won the first Blanpcain Sprint Series race at Brand Hatch. The #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Frédéric Vervisch and Stuart Leonard won the second race.

Scott McLaughlin swept the Supercars races at Barbagallo Raceway and McLaughlin has won four consecutive races.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross season finale at Las Vegas. It was his eighth victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has its Grand Prix of Indianapolis and all three Road to Indy series will be in action.
The 24 Hours Nürburgring starts on Saturday.
The World Touring Car Cup joins the bill on the Nordschleife.
Formula One has the Spanish Grand Prix.
NASCAR will be at Kansas.
World Superbike heads to Imola.
The European Le Mans Series has its second round of the season at Monza.
Super Formula has its second round of the season at Autopolis.