Monday, May 6, 2013

Through the Field: 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500

It's been about a year and a half since I took a leave of absence from blogging about the IZOD Indycar Series following the tragedy in Las Vegas.  I've recently rediscovered that flame to get back into writing and analyzing the sport, so without further ado, a new addition to the Across The Bricks publications, I give you Through The Field, a brief look at who's 'hot' and who's 'not' going into this year's edition of the Indianapolis 500.

- Dario Franchitti: Can't ever rule this guy out at Indy. Ever since his '07 win, he has been constantly at or near the front, and I don't expect this year to be any different.

- Ed Carpenter: With his hard charge at the end of the 500 and his MAVTV 500 win in SoCal last year, his mastery of oval skills seem to be coming to fruition. Ed's got to be in the conversation for the Borg-Warner this time around.

- Marco Andretti: As consistently strong and confident as he's been this year, and as dominantly quick as he was last year, if he can qualify near the front, I think he'll be hard to beat in the closing laps. Especially since he's found almost every way to lose this race in his 7 prior starts.

- Tony Kanaan: He loves Indy, and Indy loves him. Luckless in 11 prior starts though. He's shown a lot of brilliance at Indy and a lot of resilience, but he's getting old, and running out of time to notch a victory in this race before he starts looking seriously at retirement.

- James Hinchcliffe: Riding the wave of two victories in four attempts this season, Hinchcliffe is arguably the hottest driver in the series coming into Indianapolis. He had a good month of May last year, but fell a little short in the race. Given that Andretti has upped their game since last year and Penske and Ganassi seem to be caught in some kind of rut, a cold bottle of Milk might not be out of the question for Hinchcliffe, especially with wingman support from Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti.

- Scott Dixon: Indy is as much a race about handling and agility as it is about mental fortitude, and Dixon is arguably the coolest driver under pressure that the series has seen. He was in the mix at every oval the series raced at last year but bad luck, bad timing, and mistakes kept him from capitalizing. He's won this race before so he knows what it takes to get the job done, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him up there again this year too.

- Takuma Sato: Last year's bridesmaid at this race.. Takuma's "No Attack, No Chance" attitude is what kept him from winning this race last year, but this time around, he's riding the wave of consecutive top-two finishes, and the Foyt team is notorious for saving their good stuff for Indianapolis. This team has been slightly lacking in the speed department at Indy the past few years, but this time around I genuinely think they might have an outside shot at taking the crown jewel back to Texas with them.

- Graham Rahal: Graham's historically been pretty quick at Indianapolis, and the last time that he and his dad paired up for this race in 2010, they were one of only a few cars that could hang with Dario Franchitti. The Rahal team was fast when it counted last year with Takuma Sato, and with a year of development and massaging in their cars now, it's not unreasonable to suggest that Graham might be able to capitalize this time around.

- Oriol Servia: This time last year, Dreyer and Reinbold was switching Oriol's cars over to accept a Chevy powerplant, and with very little experience engineering on the Chevy engine, Oriol drove from a lap down to finish 4th. This time around, it's Dreyer and Reinbold's swansong for the immediate future, and the last serious chance Servia may have to record a solid result for a long time before going back into free agency. They say that you're only as good as your last race, and if Oriol is going to try and impress future employers, he needs to go out there and show the world what he's made of.

- Will Power: Will's miserable run of fortune thus far in 2013 has the deck stacked against him, and historically, he has been way below the "Penske Standard" on ovals. He is either routinely outclassed by his teammates or is taken out of contention through mistakes or accidents not of his own doing. Especially given the Penske team's apparent struggles at Indianapolis in race trim for the past few years, it wouldn't surprise me to see Power on the outside looking in once again.

- Alex Tagliani:  Fan-favorite Alex Tagliani, who sat on the pole for this race just two years ago, has been out to lunch with his Bryan Herta Autosport team for the past four races and is mired back in 19th in the points standings. The Herta-led team isn't known for giving up though, and if they're going to be contenders they need to right the ship and put the hammer down. Where better of a place to do it than Indianapolis?

- Sebastien Bourdais:  For a driver who is renowned for his skill on street/road courses, in four starts this season with the Dragon Racing team he has failed to produce any noteworthy results. Bourdais has seen limited success at Indianapolis in the past, most notably running in the top 5 back in 2005 before cutting a tire on lap 199. Either Bourdais or his team needs to step up their game, because Indianapolis isn't a place where you can win if you're suffering from deficiencies on either side of the pit wall.

- J.R. Hildebrand: Hildebrand and the Panther team showed a lot of promise the last time they raced this aerodynamic configuration at Fontana in September, but come into the Indianapolis at a rather stagnant point of their season; they haven't been setting the world on fire but they haven't been backmarkers either. The Panther team has shown they have the potential to get it done around Indianapolis in the past, and with a year of development on their chassis now, it's not unreasonable to suggest that this might be J.R.'s best chance at the Borg-Warner yet.

- Charlie Kimball: To this point in the season, Kimball has had just one noteworthy result, a 4th place result coming at Barber Motorsports Park, which he followed up with his best impression of a pinball the following weekend at Long Beach. To his credit, he had a regular presence in the top-10 during last year's 500, and can be a frontrunner-caliber driver when he works at it, but his lack of consistency keeps him from earning 'Hot' status on this one.

- A.J. Allmendinger: Allmendinger comes into this year's Indianapolis 500 moonlighting from the Sprint Cup Series in Roger Penske's #2 entry vacated by last year's Indianapolis 500 polesitter Ryan Briscoe. The only things keeping the 'Dinger from 'Hot' status on this one have been his lack of results in his prior two starts this season, but his strong runs in Sprint Cup with the underfunded Phoenix Racing team have shown that he can wheel a car against the best of them. Looking at the facts, there's really no way that A.J. can't enter the month of May as anything less than a very serious darkhorse contender for the Indianapolis 500 win. Penske cars have won the Indianapolis 500 fifteen times previously, and Penske has never gone more than 3 years without taking home a Baby Borg. Do the math.

- Helio Castroneves: The Penske organization in general has been slightly off-kilter since their failure to secure the Series Championship at Fontana last September, and this includes Castroneves. For whatever reason, Castroneves started the season looking like a stud and has gradually slipped further and further back in the field with each proceeding race. He isn't in the 'Not' category for the sheer fact that he's posted 3 top-10 results in 4 races, but after his most recent showing in Brazil where he hit everything but the pace car, the most I can give him is 'lukewarm'. Helio typically starts turning his seasons around starting with Indianapolis, and hopefully that's the case this year as he chases down his fourth 500-mile-race victory.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 Indycar Season Predictions

This is strictly a just-for-fun type post. I have done these kinds of things for the past few years and it's fun to see how the season progressed and how spot-on I may or may not have been.

I predict that the season will begin with much flux as teams dial in their newly-decorated Dallara DW12 racecars. While theearly spoils will go to the two teams that perennially prepare their cars the best (Penske and Ganassi) other teams will begin to break through as early as Long Beach. The points battle will go back and forth between Penske's, Ganassi's, and KV's Brazilian drivers and shift mainly between Chevy and Honda for the manufacturers' title, but I have a strong feeling that Will power shakes off the monkey, and avoids the engine problems that have thus far been nagging at the Honda powerplants. Rubens Barrichello impresses with three victories, all on road course, and strong runs on the ovals, but in the end loses the title in the last race to Will Power. Dario finishes third in the points, having strong races throughout the year but succumbing to engine manufacturer woes.

1 – St. Petersburg                 Pole: Dixon                 Most Laps: Dixon                 Win: Power
2 – Barber                 Pole: Power                 Most Laps: Power                 Win: Dixon
3 – Long Beach                 Pole: Power                 Most Laps: Hunter-Reay                 Win: Hunter-Reay
4 – Sao Paulo                 Pole: Power                 Most Laps: Barrichello                 Win: Barrichello
5 – Indianapolis                 Pole: Franchitti                 Most Laps: Kanaan                 Win: Kanaan
6 – Belle Isle                 Pole: Dixon                 Most Laps: Castroneves                 Win: Castroneves
7 – Texas                 Pole: Briscoe                 Most Laps: Andretti                 Win: Andretti
8 – Milwaukee                 Pole: Dixon                 Most Laps: Kanaan                 Win: Kanaan
9 – Iowa                 Pole: Kanaan                 Most Laps: Franchitti                 Win: Franchitti
10 – Toronto                 Pole: Wilson                 Most Laps: Hinchcliffe                 Win: Hinchcliffe
11 – Edmonton                 Pole: Power                 Most Laps: Power                 Win: Power
12 – Mid-Ohio                 Pole: Power                 Most Laps: Barrichello                 Win: Barrichello
13 – Qingdao                 Pole: Barrichello                 Most Laps: Barrichello                 Win: Barrichello
14 – Infineon                 Pole: Franchitti                 Most Laps: Franchitti                 Win: Franchitti
15 – Baltimore                 Pole: Power                 Most Laps: Castroneves                 Win: Rahal
16 – Fontana                 Pole: Carpenter                 Most Laps: Kanaan                 Win: Power

Mario Andretti Road Course Champion: Rubens Barrichello
AJ Foyt Oval Champion: Tony Kanaan
2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Champion: Will Power over Rubens Barrichello

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The 13th Lap : Dan Wheldon (1978 - 2011)

Editor's note: The following is a contribution to AcrossTheBricks from our good friend Adrian Rickard, who was in attendance of the IZOD IndyCar World Championships in Las Vegas as well. I found it to be a very moving piece, and I have the utmost gratitude and respect for Adrian (@rkid84) allowing me to share this tremendous piece of writing.
This is something new to me, I have never put pen to paper, or finger to button to reflect on a life lost in such tragic circumstances, nor do I think do I want to again.  I have been a motorsport fan for over 15 years, and in my time I have seen serious crashes on television, sadly some fatal.  But last Sunday brought my worst fear in life to a horrid reality.
I am talking about Dan Wheldon dying in a crash at the Indy Car World Championship race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  I don’t intend for this to be an obituary, there are far more talented wordsmiths who can tell you everything you need to know about Dan’s career, those who knew him both professionally and personally, many I have read in a beautiful manner from fellow competitors and those in the media.
I was sat in the grandstands towards the pit exit watched the first twelve laps unfold, good progress, Dan had made up a few spots, but as any fan of oval racing knows, 200 laps is a long time, until the thirteenth lap started, I saw one car lose its grip hit another and a pendulum effect that took out more cars than I could see.  My most vivid memories are about four or five cars catching fire, the instant flashes as contact was made with barriers, other cars, and more seriously, the fencing.  Clouds of white smoke bellowed into the clear skies, quickly turning black, this is when sudden realisation hit me that this was not just a few cars ‘coming together’ to coin a Murray (Walker) phrase, I could see that there was barely over half the cars still running the lap as the red flag came out.   The jaw dropped, eyes gapped wide open, I think I muttered ‘oh shit’ to the people sat around me.  Trying to work out the cars, who was in the pit lane, who was on the leader board, my mind wasn’t working.
Slowly (understandably), news came through on track PA who was involved, who had got out ok, and gone to the medical centre, and who we were waiting news on.   Still no news on Dan Wheldon, my phone buzzed, a text from back home in the UK, “that was a mess, Mann hurt, Wheldon trapped”.  Many drivers have spoken of the surreal nature of the events and how it looked, the same was in the stands a couple hundred meters away.
Then came the ninety minutes of waiting... there is something of a British saying, “no news is good news”, not in motorsport, drivers crash, they get out, wave to the crowd move on.  Every minute that ticked by fear overtook hope, mumblings and speculation grew, the car was tarped up (covered in a tarpaulin), others compared it to when Greg Moore was killed in the last CART race in the 1999 season with the lack of news.  Natural gut feeling took over, everyone knew it before it was announced.  A drivers meeting was called, that passed, stories of drivers breaking down crying.  I think we all knew then.
A press conference had been called, the Indycar CEO, Randy Bernard's voice came over the tannoy. I didn’t see the screens at first, the only word I heard was ‘passed’ and something about a parade, I then found out the race had been called off, this was inconsequential, I didn’t want to be there now.
Without pushing the patriotic side, there were seven British drivers in the race, I bought myself a union (jack) flag, with the intention of getting the British drivers to sign it, was going slow gave up so went for the whole field.  I had this draped over myself, just shocked, I never thought I would see a fatality at a race, let alone someone who I was a fan of and had a massive amount of respect as a person for.  Suddenly it hits you, I was gone head down, lost the battle with holding it together. A number of people, none of whom I have met before, and likely never will again came up to me consoling with me shaking hands, although the American public had taken him to heart, Dan was still a Brit.
The parade of the drivers who were still able to drive their cars around commence, to the sound of Amazing Grace and Danny Boy, it was such a heart wrenching moment, beautifully observed by all watching, twin checkers waved at the fifth and final lap.
Being parked infield I knew it was going to take a while to get out, needed to do something to keep going, I went down to the pits and paddock still draped in the flag, just as I walked in turned towards the Indycar garages I saw Martin Plowman (who drove in three races this year), who I had met earlier in the pit line prior to the start of the race in happier times, we looked at each other, eyes covered by sunglasses, but we knew what lay beneath, he grabbed my hand and we hugged, just not knowing really what to say, he checked I was ok and able to get back, which took me aback, I had just lost a favourite driver, he had lost a friend. 
For about an hour I walked around the paddock area, waiting to go back to the hotel, I managed to speak briefly with a few other drivers, expressing my sympathies and best wishes.  I was able to chat with one driver who said what the meeting was like, I won’t give details but it was hard to listen to, but understood why the decisions were made about the race.
One thing that this tragedy confirmed is what a close community Indycar is, like no other high level competition I can think of, between the drivers, their crew, teams and fans.  I was lucky to meet with other fans over the days leading up to the race, had arranged to go out to a benefit concert that Sunday night, but with events happening, I dint feel like going, so messaged them and got them together at the hotel for a drink to remember Dan and just get us through the night, 6 of us were there from all corners of the country (and world), apart from those who were related, none of us had met before this race weekend.
So a few personal recollections about Dan Wheldon, like I said before there are plenty more who can offer a more personal look at his career but I can add that I the 3 times I have met him this year he has always been great to talk to, interested and appreciated the support of someone flying across the Atlantic to support the series.  He had a great charisma and love of Indycar and beloved in what the series was doing and where it was heading (only just discussing this at the Fan Village at Mandalay Bay during a webcast), not forgetting his ability on the race track either, a series champion, rookie champion, and a two time Indianapolis 500 winner.  Most of all a caring father, son and husband, something that hits home the most having seen some great pictures of him and his family after his Indy 500 win this year.
He will be sorely missed by all those who knew him on and off the track.
A final note, the flag, I had all bar three drivers signatures on it, but I did get Dan Wheldon’s, which I got when walking around the paddock on Friday morning near his garage.  I approached him asked him if he didn’t mind, as per usual, not at all, we had a brief chat about the race when we heard a large bang, we both looked up, and back towards the back of the track, there was a brief flicker of flames from a car travelling from turn 2. He apologised that he had to go check on who it was and if they were ok, running off towards the pit area and his crew.  Little did we both know 48 hours later our attention would be focused again on turn 2.
“People ask me why, when I sign off I say 'until we meet again'. Because goodbye is so final. Goodbye Dan Wheldon.”  - Marty Reid, ABC / ESPN Commentator
Adrian Rickard

Thursday, October 20, 2011

IZOD IndyCar Series: Goodbye, Dan Wheldon.

Author's Note: This is a verbatim cut-and-paste from my tumblr account, and contains several graphic images of the crash as well as a mental backtracking of events as I interpreted them from the grandstands on Sunday afternoon, videos of the accident, and a clip of the ensuing 5-lap tribute. I would also like to add that this is a brief departure from my usual statistic analysis, which will return following the Talladega Sprint Cup Chase Race. I do not under any circumstances intend for this entry to be in poor taste. Being that I am very new to MotorBlogging, I would appreciate some patience and guidance. If it is felt by some that the content of this post is out of taste, please send me an email at and I will edit it down, no questions asked. 

I thank you for your time and readership, and I hope that you enjoy my farewell note to Dan Wheldon. 

This weekend in Las Vegas, the world of motorsports lost one of its brightest and most promising stars, and I lost one of my long time heroes. Dan Wheldon, 2005 IndyCar Series Champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 Champion, husband to Susie Wheldon and father to 2-year old Sebastian and 7-month old Oliver, was killed at just age 33 in a harrowing crash, the likes of which I hope to never witness again.

I would like to start by saying that I am very close to IndyCar Racing. I have been following it for many years, and I've grown from being a single-driver appreciating fan (when I started, it was Helio Castroneves) to a passionate follower with a love of the sport, and love, respect, and admiration for all drivers. Sure, we harp and push humor on some of them, but the fact of the matter is that in the end, they are the ones who are out there putting their lives on the line for the sake of their sport and they are the ones who have been blessed enough to be granted an opportunity to follow their dreams, and for that, I have only admiration and the utmost respect, for they are far braver than you or I could ever hope to be.

It all started with two cars making contact at 225 miles per hour just below me in turn 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I had been recording audio at the time, and I picked up the crowd pointing and going "OHH!" At the time, I thought it was going to be "just another" typical IndyCar speedway crash, where the two involved cars and other minor casualties hit the wall, stop, get out and wave to the fans to show that they're alright, and the race continues.

For 14 of the drivers involved, they all got out of their cars, some helping other drivers exit their mangled and in some cases burning vehicles. For Dan Wheldon, that moment tragically never came.

The crash continued past the threshold of "what's normal", as cars behind the accident on track attempted to slow quickly from 225 to a safe speed to avoid the accident at, but as the cars in front drastically and unpredictably changed rates of speed, the other cars log-jammed in the pack behind them were still hauling the mail and as such had even less time to react, and had even less room to safely navigate themselves past harm's way. The end result was drivers upon drivers, fifteen in all, driving into, through, over, and under each other at full speed, with several acting as a twisted, horrifying form of a launch ramp for the trailing competitors. I could do nothing but watch and scream in horror.


As the cars continued to pile into the cloud of fire, debris, and smoke, I prayed that the carnage would stop. It seemed to go on forever, as cars that hit the wall in turn 1 didn't stop spinning or crashing until a quarter mile later on down the track. Cars that were in the back continued to drive into the mess, with nowhere to go and out of options and escape routes. Only a select few of the drivers behind 12th place at the time of the accident were able to navigate through the chaos.

I was forced to helplessly watch in horror as I knew all of those drivers - my heroes - propelled themselves forward into the chaos, frantically trying to avoid peril, and could do nothing except keep a close eye on my twitter feed and do something I've not done in a long time: Pray.

I was nauseous and in tears before the cars came to a stop. There are so many words that come to mind in an attempt to describe what I saw: horrifying, frightening, terrible.. but I think it is most accurately described when I say that it was the single most horrible thing I've ever witnessed in my entire  life. In a puff of smoke, a crash of such magnitude was sparked that made those rollovers on the freeway look like a 5-mph fender bender. Fifteen cars were involved. Fifteen. Of a 34-car field. Count 'em, that's 40%. 5 of which at least, got airborne. Of those 15 cars and drivers, 4 were transferred to the UMC Medical and Trauma Center in Las Vegas, with Dan Wheldon being transferred by air.

We sat in the grandstands for 2 hours, receiving little or no news, hoping for the best but bracing for the worst.. the most we heard was that they had flown Dan to the hospital and that all of the drivers were to report to a private room in the media center. The drivers heading up the unofficial drivers' safety coalition were called to race control.

Speculation came down from those around us. Strangers comforted strangers. People around us comforted my father and I, both shaken to the core and deeply concerned being that we are both Wheldon supporters. Others tried to distract themselves so as not to dwell too deeply on the situation at hand.
I could do nothing but sit in the stands, and wait, and weep for what I had just witnessed. Good news travels fast, and we had heard nothing on Dan's condition.

10 minutes later, my twitter feed popped up froma report through KV Racing saying that they were preparing to grid the cars 3-wide for a 5 lap salute. Although it had yet to be announced, the drivers' reactions on the jumbotrons and the mere usage of the word "salute" confirmed it. 

After cheating death 133 times prior, Dan Wheldon was gone.

As the announcement came down, my Dad missed the beginning of it due to a phone call and couldn't piece together what had been said. I had started to cry long before the confirmation came down, but actually hearing it out loud from the mouth of the Series' president really did me in.. my heart broke.

Dad: "What? What did Randy just say?"
Me (Tearfully): "He's gone, Dad.."
Dad (eyes beginning to well up): "No.. what do you mean 'he's gone'?"
Me (borderline sobbing): "He's.. gone."

My father and I have never held each other in consolation quite like that.

It was determined that, in memorial of Dan Wheldon, the drivers would return to the racetrack not in competition, but in tribute. 5 parade laps in 3-wide formation akin to the style of lineup used at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Dan enjoyed so much success would be completed, and then the cars parked. The remaining 188 laps of the event were cancelled.

The lone scoring pylon at the facility was reprogrammed to show only one car number, the #77 of Wheldon.

As the cars pulled away, every single indycar employee that was working behind pit wall came out to stand along pit road in emotional salute. I've never seen this before in racing, ever.

The crowd was completely silent with the exception of respectful clapping and cheering when the 7 rows of 3 passed us on each of their 5 tribute laps.

While the cars circulated the track in memory of our lost friend, the track PA system began to play "Amazing Grace" through the loudspeakers, performed by a bagpiper who had happened to still be on location from pre-race events earlier in the day. It resonated the loudest towards the waning stages of the tribute, starting from a dim, mournful tone to a loud, prideful, triumphant tone very much reflective of the type of person Dan was. In between the crews lining up along pit road in unity, the drivers doing their 5 laps in solidarity, and the respectful silence given by the crowd, it was by far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and experienced in twenty years on this Earth.

The cars then pulled into their pit stalls for the final time, shut down, never to be restarted again.
Dan was a special kind of person. Though he was a very busy man in between sponsor and team obligations, he always took time for his fans, and always recognized my father and I, fans of his for several years, and long time race attendees. I've only ever taken two pictures with him, including one the day before he died (although he didn't pose in it), but this one from 2008 is by far the better of the two.

Dan Wheldon meant a LOT to me both as a driver and a human being. He was a very special person who touched everyone around him in one way or another. I learned a lot of very important lessons from Dan, and I think the most important lesson of them all is to live life to the fullest no matter the circumstances. Dan is a two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, and although he boasts a very impressive resume, spent this season unemployed due to lack of competitive rides out in the field. Though he was upset at not being able to race, Dan was blessed enough to spend the time with his family. The man upstairs has a plan for everyone, and I'd like to think that he did that for Dan so that he and his family could come to truly appreciate each other in their time together. Yes, it's a very cruel way how he was ripped from this world, but when it's your time, it's your time. Dan died doing the one thing he loved the most, and he died doing it the way he did it every time before then: doing it well.

So to Dan, my long-time hero, while it pains me to see you leave this world, and while I grieve for the loss of such a genuinely good person as yourself and for your surviving family, I must admit, I envy you. I envy you, for you are in a better place than all of us. You're not in pain, and you're not suffering, and you're standing guard over all of us. You will forever be an inspiration not just to me, but to the thousands of people, whether they be fans, friends, or family members, that you left behind to cherish your legacy.

I didn't know you personally, and I'll admit that. I knew you as an avid follower of the sport. I knew of your skills, your abilities, and your charm with those around you. I didn't know Dan "the close reliable friend" Wheldon, I knew Dan "the fan-favorite racecar driver with a heart of gold" Wheldon. If I could talk to you now, as corny as this is going to sound, I'd tell you that even in my karting efforts, I based a lot of what I did on things I had learned from watching you. You were truly an inspiration, and I was proud to wear your No. 10 during all of my sports (karting, sailing, basketball) while you raced with Ganassi. I always told my parents it was because it was the first number in the number line with double digits, but that's not the truth. You were the reason I chose that number. I looked up to you as someone who was always looking for the next challenge, and took it on both bravely and fiercely. You were very admirable like that.

If somewhere up there you can look down and see me writing this, I'd like you know that I am for sure a better man, and we are all better people for having known you. It was an honor to have experienced your bright light in the time you were around, and a pleasure to have met you and experienced your talents one last time before your passing. You were a legend not only on the racetrack, but in life. I will do what I can within my rights to help support your widow and children, as I'm sure many others will as well. I will share your inspiring story for many years to come with my friends and family to come, and most of all, I look forward to seeing you again on the other side, my friend.

As Marty Reid beautifully said at the conclusion of the 5 tribute laps that were run in your honor, "I always sign off with 'til we meet again', because 'goodbye' is so final. Goodbye, Dan Wheldon."

Goodbye, Dan. I will never forget you or the many gifts you unknowingly gave me. You are a true inspiration, and I will always remember you for that.

- Kieran

Friday, October 7, 2011

IZOD IndyCar Series: Carpenter upsets, Power stumbles in Kentucky

Carpenter nips Franchitti at the line by 0.0098 seconds.
Credit: Bret Kelley,

In a stunning photo finish, Sarah Fisher Racing driver Ed Carpenter claimed his first career victory over Dario Franchitti by 0.0098 seconds. The victory came after 113 previous starts and two previous consecutive runner-up finishes at Kentucky Speedway in 2009 and 2010. The victory was the first for a non big-3 (Penske/Ganassi/Andretti) car on a 1.5 mile oval since Scott Sharp won for Fernandez racing at the same track in 2005, and the first for Sarah Fisher's 5-year-old organization.

Ed's victory has been hotly discussed this week as one of the most popular victories in years. What's not to love? A small team, a driver who had yet to get to victory lane, and a hometown story; Sarah Fisher is the current track record holder at Kentucky Speedway, and Ed is from Speedway, Indiana, just a few short hours away. Ed's victory comes as a vindication of sorts, after having finished second to Ryan Briscoe in a photo finish in 2009, and finishing second again in 2010 after winning the pole and leading late in the race just to get snookered by Helio Castroneves' fuel mileage gambit. In a reversal of fortunes, Ed took the victory using the identical methods used by Ryan Briscoe in 2009, only this time Ed took the high side instead of leaving himself vulnerable on the bottom.

While Ed was celebrating, Will Power was trying to gather his thoughts and find out how to proceed forward. He was struck by Ana Beatriz on pit lane on lap 49, leaving a 2-foot gash in his sidepod.

The damage to Power's car.
Credit: Chris Jones,

Due to the damage occurring under green-flag conditions, Power was unable to return to the pits to get the damage surveyed until the lap 80 debris caution. Efforts to repair the sidepod with body tape were fruitless, and due to unique mounting brackets for each dallara chassis's bodywork from car to car, obtaining the spare sidepod cover from Power's backup car was not a viable option. Power admitted he was helpless in the situation, and that there was nothing he could do. Now that he's trailing Dario going into this final race, he says that all he can do is bring his A-game to the table and not worry about what Dario does. If Power can win the pole, lead the most laps, and win the race, Dario must finish 2nd to win the title. A third-place result for Dario will lock himself and Power into a tie at the top of the standings, which Power will win based on the first tiebreaker (victories).  

The other big story going into Las Vegas, and its a 5-million-dollar question, is this: can Dan Wheldon win the race and take home the ginormous payday from 34th place? Wheldon started 28th in Kentucky and recovered to finish 14th. While this admittedly is a poor showing, it is disregarded by many people that Wheldon had to come from the way back not just once, but on two separate occasions due to the caution coming out around the same time he pitted. After pitting under green from 11th on lap 79, Wheldon recovered from 25th to finish 14th. He will officially be in the #77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia Dallara for the chassis' swansong event.

With regard to Wheldon and the Sam Schmidt team, I definitely think he's capable of taking home the prize. Think of it this way: he has three cars to pull data from, his teammate has been fast in every 1.5 mile oval race he's run at, and his other teammate finish top-7 within reach of the leaders. Do I think Wheldon can do it? We'll see!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

IZOD IndyCar Series Kentucky Indy 300: Power wins pole, Series forces Wheldon into DNQ scenario

(Credit, Chris Jones/

As the sun set on the 1.5-mile oval based in Sparta, Kentucky, the big story was Will Power's blistering 219.283-mph pole-sitting qualifying run. In what seemed to be a huge psychological move for Will Power, he laid down a qualifying run a full mile-an-hour ahead of the nearest qualifier to him, Graham Rahal on the ouside pole for the satellite Ganassi effort. Scott Dixon in the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara was an early provisional polesitter but originally fell to JR Hildebrand's #4 National Guard Panther Racing entry before ultimately winding up 6th. 2nd-place points chaser Dario Franchitti lost another valuable championship point to Power in the title chase with a run good enough only for 11th, outqualified by all three of his teammates. Will Power will yet again have little-to-no wingman support at the beginning of the race as his Team Penske teammates failed to match Power's strong pace and ended up 16th and 18th on the board overall.

It's very plainly obvious that at this point in the season compared to last, Will Power is much more confident in himself and his abilities on ovals. Last season this is about the time of year he started getting shaken up, but in all of his media interviews, he seemed calm, cool, and collected. Road-Course Will came to play on the ovals for once, which was a nice surprise. The level of hurt in the whooping he put on the field today in qualifying is usually only felt on road and street courses, and the fact he did it on a 1.5-mile oval sends a serious, serious warning shot across the bow to the Chip Ganassi teams. They need to up their game if they have any hope of succeeding in toppling Power in Vegas. Then again, it's still early to be talking about that. There's a lot of things that could happen in the points (including a clinch scenario for Power should he win and Franchitti finish 25th or worse) so we'll just have to wait and see.

 (Credit: Bret Kelley/
As for this week's controversy (since it seems that the Series is incapable of going a full weekend without one), prior to qualifying, Dan Wheldon's #77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia Dallara "failed" tech inspection due allegedly to "illegal backing plates" (for reference, they're the plates to cover the inner side of the brakes/hubs on the wheels), to which Sam Schmidt proved without a doubt that not only were they fully legal as a part that came with the original car, but that they were in fact the very same backing plates the team had been using all season long. This can only mean that the teams and owners, who were already upset with the fact that Dan was eligible for this prize to begin with, called out to Randy Bernard and Brian Barnhart to do something about Schmidt effectively "gaming the rules" and taking advantage of a loophole to try and improve his shot as winning in Las Vegas. As a result, the Series' bogus technical infraction kept Dan from qualifying and is going to ultimately result in both himself and Alex Tagliani having god-awful pitstalls in Las Vegas to boot. 

Before I launch into this rant, allow me to start by saying that I really don't have a big issue with the Series forcing Dan to start from the back in Kentucky. I don't! But what I do have an issue with however is the series manipulating their rules mid-weekend to suit their own agenda like they have done on far too many occasions this season. Sam Schmidt was very clever to read into the Go-Daddy Challenge rules and see that  A) Dan could, under the language of the Go Daddy IndyCar Challenge, still drive in races prior to Las Vegas, and  B) that the rules state absolutely nothing with regard to which car Wheldon had to drive or where his pit stall for Las Vegas had to be either.

What really bothers me about this manipulative process the Series took with Sam Schmidt though, is that Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi have succeeded in the IndyCar Series for years using that kind of instinct and ability to sniff out gray areas. Say what you will about Sam Schmidt finding and attempting to take advantage of what was apparently a pretty glaring loophole, but I think that in this situation, to see that kind of opportunity on a platter, Schmidt deserves to get the pickle for the instinct. Call it "gaming the rules" or whatever you like, but the fact of the matter is that Sam saw a perfect opportunity to make Dan's life in Vegas a little easier and he went for it, and I respect him for that. Of course, nobody and I mean nobody wants to end up deep in the field with the backmarkers on pit lane (see the Will Power/Charlie Kimball accident on pitlane in Iowa), which is exactly what is now going to end up happening. What a lot of people don't seem to recognize is that what Schmidt intended to do was a ridiculously smart move, and clearly one that the Series didn't think would come to fruition when writing the Go Daddy IndyCar Challenge rules. I feel that the entire situation could have been handled far more professionally by explaining to Schmidt that he would not retain a pit box advantage should Wheldon remain in the #77 for Las Vegas. As it stands the Series has not only punished Schmidt and Wheldon for taking a creative approach to putting themselves in a better place strategically, but it has also punished the season-long efforts of the #77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports team's crew members and Alex Tagliani, who are each competing for a top-ten spot in the drivers'/owners' championship.

As disappointing as the Series' handling of the Dan Wheldon situation is, I will say this much: Dan will most definitely be in shapewhen he takes the green flag to try and take the victory from the back of the 35-car field in Las Vegas. In fact, I'd even wager to say that he's going to have a very keen knowledge of what he'll have to do to come up through the field. If nothing else, he and the Sam Schmidt team are going to be some of the best passers in the field come the end of the season.

Til' next!

- K

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Latest Reports: Wheldon in SSM #77 for Las Vegas as well?

Credit: Jim Haines/

Three days have passed since it was officially announced that Dan Wheldon would be taking over Alex Tagliani's #77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara, but more recent developments have come to light. While the original announcement stated clearly that Dan would only be running the Kentucky Indy 300 in Tagliani's car, multiple sources have been quoted as saying that what was once a 1-race replacement has now become a 2-off deal for Wheldon. 

Since Dan Wheldon will be taking the helm of the #77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara for the rest of the season, Las Vegas has essentially become a "ride-swap" scenario for Dan and Alex. According to a twitter post made IndyStar reporter Curt Cavin, Tagliani will now be behind the wheel of the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport ride for Las Vegas. These facts remain to be officially, definitively confirmed by either organization via release, so until then this can only be taken as very strong rumor.

 If this scenario comes to fruition, it's easy to say that Tagliani is getting the short end of the stick. He's a two-time polesitter this season, he's 11th in the points with a shot at possibly breaking into the top 10 in points, and with two events left in the season, he's being asked to step out of a car that he personally (with the financial assistance of Andre Azzi and Jim Freudenberg) purchase and has been working to develop for 3 years now. That car was at one point a backmarker Roth Racing ride, and in the space of three years, Tagliani has turned that organization completely around, from laughable at best in its previous form into a serious contender. As Graham Rahal pointed out, that car has sat on the pole at both of the racetracks 1.5 miles and longer in length this season, and has been fast almost everywhere else. Tagliani is having a career season in that car and won't get the chance to close it out with a bang. Personally I feel for Alex, to have his efforts rewarded with being replaced. I do understand it though, and regardless of how I feel for Tagliani, racing is a business, and Sam Schmidt would almost be stupid NOT to take advatage of this loophole.
Credit: Jim Haines/

This is hugely advantageous to Dan for a couple of reasons. First of all, let's consider the track record of the #77 on high speed-low downforce ovals this season. Although we are in the middle of a season that exhibits only four such ovals (Indy, Texas, Kentucky, Las Vegas), Tagliani's track record with the car has been something to brag about: two poles in two attempts, 20 laps out front at Indianapolis, and solid top-5 with a lap led in the first Firestone Twin 275 at Texas. The car Dan's going to be stepping into is going to be fast, and coupled with his past recent history at Kentucky (top-3 start with Panther in 2010, podium finish, 93 laps led), it is very reasonable to suggest that Wheldon is going to have a good run on Sunday afternoon. 

Another large advantage for Wheldon swapping to the #77 for Las Vegas as well is the pit strategy involved. As pointed out by TrackForum poster Unser>Andretti, pit stall location is dictated by the qualifying position of the previous oval race. Since Wheldon's original #98 entry for Las Vegas is not being raced in Kentucky, the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport car will be relegated to a pit stall in the "danger zone" on pit road, right at the very end of 35+ cars on pit road. While some might be decrying Sam Schmidt for taking advantage of this loophole, I think it's genius. What this means for Dan (should he actually be in the #77 for both events) is that he, in effect, controls his own destiny for pit stall position in Vegas. With the track record of the #77 and Schmidt's team this season, Wheldon will very likely be qualifying near the sharp end of the field in Kentucky, which translates to a desirable pitstall for Vegas, ultimately meaning one less disadvantage in a race that will be full of challenges for Wheldon as it stands. 

I would like to close by saying that I have been a staunch supporter of Alex Tagliani since he was in Champ Car, and the Sam Schmidt/FAZZT organization since it arose from the ashes of Roth Racing in the late summer/fall of 2009. I absolutely loved seeing him qualify his now-signature #77 car on the outside pole at Brazil right out of the box, as well as solidly qualifying in the top five at Indianapolis for the 94th Indianapolis 500. I felt his emotion when he was helplessly caught out by poor team strategy on bump day in 2009. Tagliani is a supremely skilled racecar driver, and I think he's still got a lot of race left in him before he utters that 6-letter word that many great drivers before him have uttered before. All of this aside though, Dan Wheldon has an extremely solid chance at going into Las Vegas and making himself, his team, and a fan very, very rich. This is the largest purse of the season outside of Indianapolis, and Dan Wheldon is the only driver that can step up to claim it. Looking at the facts, I think it's extremely plausible that Dan could do it big in Vegas, and even if he doesn't, he's going to make the race very very exciting for the fans. 

Hopefully I can make these things shorter as time goes on, thanks for reading!

- K