Monday, May 14, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Why There Needs to be Bumping

Will Power gave Team Penske its 200th IndyCar victory and for those keeping track at home, Team Penske is 12 victories away form 500 as an organization. Fog stopped the 24 Hours Nürburgring. Rain cancelled the Super Formula race from Autopolis. Kenan Sofuoglu ended his World Supersport career and unfortunately his final race ended before he could complete a lap. Carl Fogarty's day as the most successful rider in World Superbike history are coming to an end. Barcelona, great city, not so great racetrack. Monza hosted a sports car race and NASCAR heads into its not-an-All-Star break. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Why There Needs to be Bumping?
We have reached the middle of May. The only things between us on the Indianapolis 500 are five practice days, two qualifying days and Carb Day. For the first time since 2015 we are oversubscribed and bumping will occur during qualifying. If Dale Coyne Racing can find a replacement for the injured Pietro Fittipaldi we will have at least two cars bumped for the first time since 2011.

Bumping is the cruelest thing in motorsports and it gets the best of them. It doesn't care if you are the defending champion or the defending Indianapolis 500 winner. It doesn't care if you have 300,000 fans screaming your name or if the only person who knows who you is your mother.

Bump day was the worst day to quit smoking and even with the format change I think we are looking at a tense session with teams struggling and rolling the dice trying to trim out enough rear wing to get the car in the field but not send the driver rotating into the barrier.

There has been a slight change in the fan base. It is hard to tell how large it is but it makes a hum. Some are fearful of bumping. They think everybody should race that way all the sponsors are happy and no team risks losing funding and having to close its doors. While grids larger than 33 cars have occurred in Indianapolis 500 history that does not give us precedent for change.

Nobody wants to see team's fold especially after IndyCar has seen growth this season. There are a handful of developing teams that are not stable yet. Carlin is trying to make two cars work. Harding Racing is holding its own. Juncos Racing is piecing together this season with multiple drivers. Meyer Shank Racing has a good partial season laid out as it looks to a full-time future. It would be a big blow for any team to have a car miss the race but for these four teams we are worried it could be fatal.

It is a concern but this isn't a charity. This is competition. You want to race the Indianapolis 500, be faster than two other cars. And IndyCar needs this. Bump Day has been a loss. It is better than Pole Day. Pole position is great but give me the elation of survival and the gut-punching disappointment. There is nothing better than seeing teams forcing each other to give their best. You want the bottom of the field keeping each other honest. The last few years have lacked that and all you had to do to make the Indianapolis 500 was... well after last year you could make the race without completing a qualifying run but if everything went right all you had to do was complete four laps. You could lift in all four corners on all four qualifying laps and you would still be in the field.

That will not be the case this year. This year a driver will have to dig deep and go somewhere he or she has never been before in hopes of making the race. If a driver thought last year was grueling despite not having the threat of bumping this year will be 100 times worse. A driver should feel like he or she is going to throw up for seven and a half hours.

People love the ecstasy of success but we love defeat as well. We love heartbreak. We love seeing the thousand-mile stares looking for what went wrong. We love seeing heads in hands. We love seeing tears. And if you say you don't you are lying.

There is a reason why we love MLB one-game playoffs, game sevens and those obscure NCAA conference championship games for the NCAA tournament. Someone is going live to fight another day but someone else is going to leave with nothing.

We have seen a change in emphasis over qualifying weekend and IndyCar has pushed that pole position is the most important thing of qualifying weekend and it should be the final thing decided. That's nice but it is bullshit. IndyCar had something great with two-day qualifying. You got Pole Day on Saturday and you got to see the driver rewarded for pushing the limits the most and the next day you had Bump Day and drivers once again pushing their limits but with deeper consequences of overstepping the line. We know that getting more than 33 cars has been difficult for IndyCar but IndyCar can have its cake and eat it too when it has more than 33 cars. Instead of having one day to promote it could have two. It can have the big dogs raising the stakes with each run for pole position one day and then the next have a handful of teams biting their fingernails knowing their Indianapolis 500 dream might not even make it to race day.

I hope IndyCar reverts to the Pole Day/Bump Day qualifying format next year. We can still have the Fast Nine session on Saturday evening but let's get back to Bump Day being what it was with teams pulling times, teams thinking they are safe only to slowly fall to the bubble as the day goes on. Let's have the drama of the 6:00 p.m. qualifying gun. We love urgency. We love watching the clock. We love the feeling of a deadline.

Hopefully we have 35 cars this year and hopefully we can get to 36 or 37 cars entered for the Indianapolis 500. The more cars fighting for it the better and maybe the drama of Bump Day draws a crowd not only at the track but around televisions, tablets and computer screens across the country. Sponsors always find a way onto a race car in the race but we have seen Indianapolis 500 qualifying days draw ratings comparable to races on network television. If that is a case then while a team and a sponsor could be devastated in missing the race it could take a silver lining out of it that it had just as much exposure as any other race on the schedule and if anything it received more exposure because it was the only car on track for its qualifying runs while during a race it might briefly be shown once on screen and never be shown again.

Not making the Indianapolis 500 is a brutal reality to face but I don't think failing to qualify will kill off any teams. The health of a team should not come down to one race and it gives IndyCar even more of a reason to make sure the rest of the championship is financially viable.

We need bumping. We want bumping. We want drivers to have to give it their all and sometimes their all not be enough. That is what makes sports beautiful and at the same time cold.

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

Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix.

George Russell and Jack Aitken split the Formula Two races from Barcelona. Nikita Mazepin and Giuliano Alesi split the GP3 Series races.

The #912 Manthey Racing Porsche of Frédéric Makowiecki, Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet won the 24 Hours Nürburgring.

Yvan Muller, Esteban Guerrieri and Thed Björk split the World Touring Car Cup races on the Nordschleife.

Colton Herta swept the Indy Lights races on the IMS road course. Harrison Scott and Parker Thompson split the Pro Mazda races. Alexandre Baron and Kyle Kirkwood split the U.S. F2000 races.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Kansas. Noah Gragson won the Truck race.

Jonathan Rea swept the World Superbike races from Imola and he now has 59 World Superbike victories, tied for the most in series history with Carl Fogarty. Jules Cluzel won the World Supersport race.

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson of Jean-Éric Vergne, Romain Rusinov and and Andrea Pizzitola won the European Le Mans Series race at Monza. The #11 Eurointernational Ligier-Nissan of Giorgio Mondini and Kay Van Berlo won in LMP3. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott won in GTE.

Coming Up This Weekend
Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
NASCAR has its All-Star Race.
MotoGP will be at Le Mans.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters head to Lausitzring.
Pirelli World Challenge spends a Victoria Day weekend at Mosport.
Formula E returns to Berlin.
Supercars hosts Winton Motor Raceway.
The World Rally Championship heads to Portugal.
Blancpain Endurance Series has a round at Silverstone.
Super GT will be at Suzuka.
World Touring Car Cup races on a Monday at Zandvoort.