Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Best of the Month: May 2023

It was May. There was an Indianapolis 500, a Monaco Grand Prix, a 600-mile race and plenty of other events. May is kind of the mountaintop of the motorsports calendar. There are plenty of other massive events that happened and a few more to come, but May is the first month you feel tired once it is over. 

Like, Love, Hate
This was a busy month. To cut to the chase I am going to list things that I liked, loved and hated from this month with a short reasoning. 

Like: Three-Stop IndyCar road/street course races
The last two road course races for IndyCar have been won with three-stop strategies, mostly because it is quicker. The time lost saving fuel on a two-stopper is too much to the time gained going faster on three. With a race being three stops, the windows are much larger. Cars can start pitting within the first ten laps and have a strategy work until the end. Simultaneously, cars can go 25 laps and still have a winning strategy. I hope the trend we have seen at Barber and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis continues this season. 

Love: Kevin Lee and James Hinchcliffe in the broadcast booth
Over the practice days leading up to Indianapolis 500 qualification, Lee and Hinchcliffe held down the booth in the opening days and they were great. Informative and engaging. The viewer benefitted from those two and could end a day knowing more than when they started. 

Like: Non-stop Indianapolis 500 practice
It comes with the times and format, but with Indianapolis 500 practice only being a week, cars are on track all the time. There aren't two qualifying weekends with some teams knowing its best chances will be on the second qualifying weekend. It is 34 cars going all out for three or four days leading up to qualifying. There is so much less downtime than 15 or 20 years ago. There is always someone on track worth watching and once that driver is done there is another to focus on. The days fly by and it is consuming, but far from boring.

Hate: Deleting qualifying times once a car is bumped out of the top 30
This irked me in 2021 and the fact IndyCar didn't correct it over the last two years is infuriating. On the first qualifying day, once a team is knocked out of the top 30, that qualifying speed disappears. If a car in the top 30 withdraws a time and is unable to complete a rin due to an accident or mechanical issue or chooses to wave off an attempt, the car in 31st doesn't move into the top 30, a spot just remains open. That 31st time is deleted. 

I hate it. If a time is posted, it should remain on the board until a team withdraws it or the end of the day. In 2021, it allowed Dalton Kellett to be one of the final qualifiers on day one despite being 30th. All Kellett had to do was complete the qualifying run to be in the field. He could have gone as slow as he desired. It was a free attempt, no risk of missing, all he had to do was see the checkered flag. Kellett could have lifted at the end of each straightaway and still made it because there was no time to beat, only a time to set. 

That is ridiculous. IndyCar had a chance to correct it prior to 2022 though there was no bumping last year and the last chance qualifying session didn't take place. Instead, IndyCar kept it inexplicably for another year. Let's fix this. All times stand, 30th doesn't get this safety net and can pull a fast one on the field. This regulation benefits no one. Fix it for 2024.

Love: Scott McLaughlin responding "good morning Marshall Pruett"
For years, Racer Magazine writer Marshall Pruett will arrive at a racetrack and tweet a photo of the facility saying, "Good Morning (insert racetrack here)." Pruett will also do the same when leaving, tweeting a photo saying, "Good night." During May, it is Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pruett does it pretty consistently. What has always annoyed me is none of these racetracks that he is tagging in the post ever respond with a "good morning" in reply. Is it that hard for the social media operator just to say, "Good morning” in reply? My goodness. The answer is no. 

Enter Scott McLaughlin, and this year, nearly without fail, McLaughlin would respond with a "Good Morning" of his own to Pruett. More proof we do not deserve McLaughlin. He is better than all of his. We must appreciate his presence for as long as he is in IndyCar.

Love: MotoGP sprint races
I mentioned this last month and here we are. MotoGP sprint races have proven its worth. It is different and it will likely cause more wear on the riders and eventually will make a championship a blow out, but the competition is fantastic and they do not always go the same way as the grand prix. The riders can win from anywhere in MotoGP. One rider can nail the tire combination for the short race and not necessarily be as rosy in the grand prix. It is worth your time. It isn't a Formula One sprint race where you feel like you are watching a preamble for the grand prix and what you see on Saturday will be the same on Sunday. It is a worthy addition for MotoGP.

Like: Aerial shots at Monaco
This year was the first time Formula One Management was in charge of the production of the Monaco Grand Prix after Télé Monte-Carlo had been responsible despite every other race being under FOM control for quite some time. There were notable differences in this year's broadcast, the greatest of them all was the aerial shots.

It is amazing the the things you do not notice are there until they are missing. The aerial at Monaco is stunning. It doesn't help that the race is underwhelming, but it is at least a nice view.

Hate: NASCAR doing any type of heat races
This was done to set the grid for the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro, but when has any heat race in the Cup Series been interesting? It is nine or ten cars on track, they eventually get spread out, the races aren't long enough for tire wear or a pit stop to come into play. There might be one good pass the entire time. It is understandable for the Bristol dirt race, but those have passing points and winning the heat race doesn't even matter. Even for the Clash the heat races are mostly forgettable. I think we have seen enough. For the All-Star Race, that could have been reduced to a two-show with the pit stop competition setting the entire grid on Saturday and then we could have gone into the Open and All-Star Race on Sunday. 

Hate: How often "consistent" is used during an Indianapolis 500 qualifying day
It is overblown. A car runs a 232.948 mph first lap. The second lap is 232.345 mph. What is the first thing the broadcast says about the qualifying run. "Consistent." Consistent? It has been two laps. We have no clue what the rest of this run will be. If lap three drops to a 231.002 and lap four inexplicably shoots up to 235.223 mph that is as inconsistent as you can imagine! Can we let all four laps run before we label the attempt? 

It is also lazy. About 99% of the completed qualifying runs are deemed as "consistent." Come up with a different word. 

Love: 100 Days to Indy
For all the trepidation of IndyCar's docuseries, it has delivered in terms of showcasing the drivers and telling their stories while also highlighting the events of the season. It is tough to do this show because there are 27 full-time IndyCar drivers and the producers don't know who will be on top at each race and who to follow. It is a roll of the dice. 

To make it tougher, these episodes are being turned around in a tight timeframe. The first three episodes had a little bit of a runway, but the final three episodes were in a crunch. Nobody can with certainty say how the heck they will squeeze Indianapolis 500 qualifying and the race into the final one-hour episode. They both should get their own dedicated episode. 

I think everyone got a great sense of who Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin and Patricio O'Ward are. The producers did a great job following the stories of Romain Grosjean and Kyle Kirkwood early in the season. The show also went deeper than I think any of us would have expected. 

Liz Power's health struggle is one of the main focuses of the Will Power episode. Julia Wilson, Justin Wilson's widow, was interviewed during the Stefan Wilson section of the penultimate episode about Justin and his accident, and it was all done in a respectable and informative manner. 

I was thrilled to see there was an episode dedicated to the Indianapolis 500 one-offs because their stories are as much apart of the "500" as the full-timers. I think that was the best episode even though Stefan Wilson and Katherine Legge were not competing in a race. 

The conclusion aside, this show has been really good. I know the ratings haven't been spectacular, and it likely isn't drawing anyone new to IndyCar, at least not now. It was really season two of Drive to Survive (combined with the global pandemic) that sparked the Formula One boom. I am not saying the second season of 100 Days to Indy or a spin-off that focuses on the second half of the 2023 season or the entire 2024 season will be what starts drawing flies, but the show isn't struggling due its production quality. 

I hope it continues. It sounds promising that something else will come related to the rest of this season. We can only hope.

June Preview
There is obviously the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That will get its own dedicated preview. The rest of the month is rather pedestrian. There are plenty of fine events, but none are Le Mans, and after a month that saw Indianapolis and Monaco (a week really), Detroit and Barcelona don't have the same ring. 

Let's look at June a different way. Who needs to have a positive month heading into summer? We will list one team, driver, etc. from a variety of series. 

IMSA: #60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura
MSR won the 24 Hours of Daytona, was found to have manipulated the tire air pressure data, lost 200 points, and has finished sixth in all three races since. IMSA has only one race in June, the 6 Hours of the Glen, but MSR needs something better than sixth. 

IndyCar: Meyer Shank Racing
January is a long time ago in the MSR shop. Its two IndyCar teams are 21st and 25th in the championship. In ten combined starts, the team's best finish is tenth. It has seven combined finishes outside the top twenty. Simon Pagenaud is only ahead of Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb in the championship among full-time drivers. Pagenaud didn't forget how to drive a car. Results must be better. 

MotoGP: Marc Márquez
It is too easy, but Márquez looked surprisingly quick in his two appearances, performing better than the Honda's capability. The problem is he has retired from both races. MotoGP races at Mugello, Sachsenring and Assen. Mugello is historically not one of Márquez's better tracks but Sachsenring and Assen are, and this could be a chance for respectable results and salvaging something out of this already disrupted season. 

Formula One: Every team not named Red Bull
There are two races in June, Barcelona and Montreal. Red Bull is 6-0 this season, and basically everyone has been a blow out. These are two tracks where Red Bull has not had much success but the past isn't predicting anything correctly in 2023. However, you never know what will happen. There have been plenty of surprises in Montreal before. 

Supercars: Shane van Gisbergen
Van Gisbergen has not won in his last five starts. That doesn't sound like a long time, but it is his longest winless streak since he went 19 races without a victory from the 2019 season finale through the first 18 races of 2020. It hasn't been bad for the New Zealander, only unusual considering the last few seasons. Supercars has only one weekend, a triple-header at Hidden Valley Raceway. Van Gisbergen is fourth in the championship, 191 points behind Brodie Kostecki. 

NASCAR: Chase Elliott
I wasn’t sure who it was in NASCAR and then Chase Elliott earned himself a one-race suspension for wrecking Denny Hamlin at Charlotte. Elliott missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident ahead of the Las Vegas race. Significantly hurting his playoff hopes, Elliott returned and was on a good pace to possibly even make the playoffs on points. 

Well, now he is missing another race and only he is to blame. There will still be 11 races left in the regular season when he returns, and let’s face it, we know how this script is written. Elliott is suspended from Gateway and he will return and win in the next race at Sonoma showing it didn’t even matter. That’s probably going to happen. It’s NASCAR. That kind of stuff happens all the time. But if Elliott doesn’t win at Sonoma, he will have an off-week and then ten weeks to get a playoff spot. It sounds easy enough but the clock will start ticking faster each week he doesn’t win. 

Other events of note in June:
NASCAR’s only off week during the season is this month. 
IndyCar goes to Road America.
IMSA returns at Watkins Glen. 
MotoGP has three races before a seven-week break.