Toronto observations: The idea of weekend doubleheaders worked really well at that venue. I like the concept. NBC Sports Network did another fine job for those of us unlucky enough not to be in the great city of Toronto. Both races were compelling in their own ways, and the Ganassi team seems to be on their way back through skill, luck, perseverance and favorable rules calls.
The single most entertaining portion of the entire weekend was the group apoplexy IndyCar critics suffered when Brian Barnhart donned the headset in the control room. It was as if the world had ended. Much of the criticism made little sense (as usual) and the critics generally came off as basement keyboard pounders, but it all made for hearty chortling.
The somewhat intangible aspect that makes many North American legacy fans jittery is the continuing push of IndyCar toward a more Formula One-like approach. After all, IndyCar essentially invented all the American motor racing traditions including rolling starts, ‘gentlemen start your engines,’ etc. The urgency of the push those enamored of road racing seem to desire for IndyCar has never been fully understood by many. That type of class difference has been at the very heart of IndyCar’s dysfunction since the 1960s. Meantime NASCAR took the IndyCar model and built their own empire. IndyCar direction has always seemed more like a herd of cats let loose in an open field.
That is not to say Formula One is not great. It is, and most racing fans watch or attend religiously. The problem is it has always been a niche in America despite massive worldwide popularity. Like soccer. When comparing the popularity of NASCAR to F1 in the USA does it not make more sense to enhance the business model IndyCar invented for NASCAR? Why would there need to be two versions of F1 instead of one IndyCar?
This conflicted approach was on display all weekend. The angst over standing starts was a main topic of discussion. Personally it appears to be a novelty that might work as a gimmick on a doubleheader weekend. Considering it full time for non-ovals is not optimal. What specific evidence does Derrick Walker have that led him to state ‘the fans want it?’ He failed to ask me or fans I know.
If I were a casual racing fan tuning in to the IndyCar race over the weekend would I believe it was a sport invented in America connected to the 500? After all two of three folks in the booth were F1 announcers with accents. That is not bad in and of itself. Diversity is great, both in the booth and in the paddock. Most of the population here, however, relates a little more to folks who sound like Darrell Waltrip or Larry McReynolds as evidenced by television ratings (favorite mispronounced word of the weekend by Darrell: Peripheral. Pronounced ‘per-if-eee-ul’). IndyCar does not have ‘safety cars.’ They are ‘pace cars.’ The race number is not a ‘round.’ ‘Formation lap!?’ No. When did ‘victory lane’ get replaced by a podium? And how long will it be before they start playing the national anthem of the winner’s country? At least they have not replaced milk with champagne at Indy yet.
My advice to Derrick Walker and IndyCar: Embrace your roots. IndyCar essentially invented the formula in America. Enhance it. Stop trying to copy something that has never really worked in America. And while you are at it get serious about the balance regularly espoused. Ideal scenario is twenty races a season. Ten ovals and ten non-ovals, ideally six natural terrain road courses and four street circuits. Balance is NOT 1/3 oval, 1/3 street and 1/3 road course. That is 67% non-oval. Not balanced. This should be an area of concern because most of the ladder series are road racing series, and the same guy just bought Lights. As we prepare to enter the suicide portion of the schedule (a giant gap right in the heart of the season) be mindful that future schedules should not have holes big enough to allow folks to forget you exist.
Meanwhile, back at the races . . . the most inspired performance of the weekend (other than the Ganassis) was Dragon Racing. Bourdais and his crew did a fine job. I like the positioning of Ryan Hunter-Reay as an All-American Champ, but he seems to whine way too much when the breaks don’t go his way. Would it be oddly funny if at the end of the season if E.J. Viso beat his three teammates in the points? It is a pretty safe bet Carlos Munoz will be in the big cars next season, but where? Hopefully so will J.R. Hildebrand. Mid-Ohio here we come!