Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Signs of Indy Season: Zoomie's Back

Just heard some great news. I think.

Everyone's favorite deadpan open-wheel blogger is bringing his instamatic back to the Brickyard for another month of May! The wittingly naive Englisher announced his return at -- where else? --Trackforum.
"Anyhoo...just finished wheelin' and dealin' with my boss. As I told you, he's a big fan, even though he's a Canadian from Canada somewhere.

"We sat down and figured out a way that I can take the merry month of May off from work and only be shorted 8 hours of pay and still spend an inordinate and alarming amount of time at the Citadel of Speed!

"With some creative banking and budgeting on my dear wife's part, and some clever feet dragging on my part prior to May, I will not suffer any untoward financial setbacks unless I count my looming bronze badge and Instamatic film and beer purchases."
For the uninitiated, have a look at last season's posts at:
And yes, Zoomie merchandise is for sale.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Luczo-Dragon Crew Member Should Be Banned

The story coming out of yesterday's Kansas Indy 300 was not Danica Patrick -- who retired early with a wheel mount problem -- but rather an ugly incident involving a member of Tomas Scheckter's pit crew, resulting in a helmet-smacking incident by a member of Scheckter's crew on another driver during competition.

Trackforum has lit up about this one, with some indignant anger at Scheckter's crew, but oddly there's some saying the ol' bitchslap was "justified" (posts #2, #4). Did Roth have it coming? Let's take a look.

As Marty Roth approached his pit stall, he lost the back end of his car and slid into Scheckter's right front tire changer, Simon Morley, in the pit box behind Roth's. An unfortunate racing incident, but it happens to many drivers. Morley appears unhurt.

Pit workers roll Roth back, and Scheckter's right-rear tire changer steps in front of Roth to ensure that Tomas can exit the pit stall. Morley is standing to the left, apparently ok.

With Tomas gone, the right-rear changer remains in front of Roth to jaw at him, as Brickyard1911 pointed out -- and in the video he appears to give Roth a hand gesture. Warm guy. Note his right foot in front of the tire while Roth's crew is pushing the stalled car.

The car rolls over his foot, sparking his "I've had it!" outburst. For those thinking this was a little tap to the head, notice that he winds up here with his right...

... and connects with Roth's helmet. Notice the angle of Roth's head now, tilted noticeably to the right from the blow. Morley, right, watches the incident.

Look, I like Luczo Dragon and Tomas Scheckter, but I know a hothead when I see one and this guy looks like the type that goes home and kicks the dog. The folks that defend him seem to be Scheckter fans, so their loyalty is understandable; but I can't help but wonder how they would feel about Tomas getting punched the next time he makes a mistake?

Yep, this is what the kids are into now -- headshots to a driver strapped into his car during competition. This thusfar-unnamed crew member *should* be fired immediately and banned from Indycar pits.

Brian Barnhart, the ball's in your court.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

TracksideOnline Fantasy Turns to Nightmare

What's that called, when you keep trying something and keep getting the same negative result, but you keep trying anyway? ("Insanity", my helpful wife shouts from across the room.)

Last year my experience with the Tracksideonline.com Indycar Fantasy game lasted all of about a week: I signed up, set my lineup, then forgot to do it every week thereafter. But this year, oooohhhh yeah baby... 2008 was going to be year that I kicked booty. ("Kick booty" is a term I learned from my 7-year-old, who proudly said he learned it from Alvin And The Chipmunks. It was only after they watched it twice that I realized it is rated PG for a reason.)

Well, I guess I'm discovering that I'm not much of a "check in every week" kind of player.

Wanna know how I discovered that? It's pretty simple, really. I entered my picks for Homestead, a brilliant slate of drivers that placed me solidly in the... well, middle of the league, something like 125 out of 266. But I had everybody right where I wanted them.

I tried to enter my picks for St. Pete right away, but the web page wouldn't let me -- apparently it was too early. No sweat, I thought; the league has a new system this year that will automatically roll my picks from one week to the next, as long as the driver salaries remain below the $1,600,000 limit.

Apparently one of my drivers suddenly became very expensive. Because I had no picks entered for St. Pete. Nothing. Zero points.

Ok, I can recover from this. Just gotta get my picks in for Motegi early. Um, except not yet, because the system won't let me enter them yet. And then once it did let me enter them, I seemed to keep picking drivers that were too expensive, which meant that I still didn't have a slate of drivers selected. No matter, I'll just figure it out Friday.

Friday, though, was not to be. Early deadline, you see.

So, forth time's a charm, right? I'm hopelessly mired near last place, and the season's shot. But I have a trick up my sleeve. We'll see if I can turn lemons into lemonade.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Long Beach GP in Review

We just witnessed the last CCWS Long Beach Grand Prix, or the first Indycar Long Beach Grand Prix -- whichever way you want to look at it -- and I have to say that IMS certainly took a bad situation and achieved a decent race. Some random thoughts:

* I was very impressed to see 20 cars take the green. I figured that with only 9 drivers participating from the Indycar Series, it would be tough to scrounge up another 5 or 6 -- but 11? Great stuff. It raises the question: if there are this many teams and drivers willing to run Long Beach as a one-off in 2008, might we see one-off teams in the 2009 LBGP, just like we do for the Indy 500?

* Very little mention of this race as CCWS's finale, nor any mention of the DP-01 running its swan song. The event was very clearly covered as any other Indycar event. It's probably for the best.

* I will certainly miss some of those sharp liveries, such as Forsythe's InDeck paint scheme. And it's a shame to throw those DP-01's in the scrap heap. Here's hoping that the 2010 Indycar incorporates a single-wing nosecone for road courses and gives Panoz a little input in the overall chassis design.

* Listening to those engines makes we wonder about Cosworth's future with Indycars. They aren't poised to win in F1, and they have a storied history at the Brickyard. Might we see another Ford-badged Cosworth at Indy in 2009?

* Any Indycar fan who thinks street courses are big parades need not worry about Long Beach. There are at least two very nice passing areas, at the end of each straight. Lots of on-track passing today when the field was tight.

... And with that, we bid ChampCar a fond "adieu". We look forward to very bright future as one series.

How Danica Won

Today sportwriters around the globe will be heaping praise on Indycar driver Danica Patrick, and deservedly so. But I'm going to attempt the unpopular; to view this win as a victory for Danica and her team, not for her gender.

Make no mistake, it's an amazing feat: the first victory by a woman in any major sport where women compete openly with men. It's never happened in the top levels of golf, tennis, track, swimming, nor skiing. And prior to today, it's never happened in top-level motor racing. Danica will never again be called the Anna Kournikova of racing, as the ESPN broadcasters pointed out.

But on Sunday many of us who have followed young Danica from her early days were expecting her usual result: a strong run in top-quality equipment, with a 7th place finish, probably behind one or two of her teammates. So when I first learned of the win in the morning headlines (like most of the Western Hemisphere -- see yesterday's post for that bit of broadcast drama), I must admit my first reaction was, "I wonder what chain of events cleared the way for her win?"

Cynical? Perhaps. As I watched today's rebroadcast on ESPN2, I was curious to see how she would do it. I hoped it would be with on-track passing. That would quiet the critics.

The skeptical part of me still expected a fortuitous yellow flag, and sure enough at the midway point the yellow was shown just after she finished a pit stop. But a funny thing happened on my way to the fridge: she gained no position from that pit series.


She held her position at about 8th spot until another yellow at lap 144, and once again I thought "ah, here it is". But once again, she rejoined the pack with no advantage.

I started wondering if she might actually have to pass the 7 or so cars in front of her on the track to take the lead. Might we see her muscle her way past the superstars of the sport? To do so, she'll have to pass Wheldon, Dixon, Castroneves, Briscoe, and Kanaan under green with 56 laps left, a nearly impossible task for any driver who's name is not Hornish.

Or... she'll need to gain the position by strategy.

The opportunity for strategy presented itself as the cleanup under yellow proceeded for longer than usual. We got a clue when Team Andretti was able to run Hideaki Mutoh for the longest run of the day, 51 laps.

And then... it happened. Danica and two other leading cars (Ed Carpenter and Helio Castroneves) were called back into the pits by their teams to top off the fuel, potentially eliminating their need to stop again.

The field took the green and Danica had the fuel dialed back into conservation mode. She was getting passed by everyone on the lead lap; in her own words, she was "taking it easy". With 11 laps to go, Danica was running 8th, and the question became how will she get by Carpenter and Castroneves, who were running 4th and 5th. That question was answered on lap 195 when Carpenter headed to the pits and Castroneves was given the instruction by Tim Cindric to "make fuel".

As Helio and a fast-approaching Patrick passed by the grandstands with 3 to go, the engine note on the Penske car was noticably lower than Danica's -- he was a sitting duck. Danica passed him for the lead and was the last man standing (a cliche which doesn't work in the man sense nor in the standing sense) to take the checked flag.

So it's a fuel-strategy win. It was brilliant team planning, perfectly executed by Danica, and led to a milestone win. As a driver, she deserves all the accolades of any first-time winner; but in the ensuing worldwide conversation about a woman beating a field of men head-to-head, it bears remembering that it was brains, not brawn, that prevailed.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

ESPN Kicks Motegi to the Curb

Due to track moisture, ESPN's broadcast of the Indycar Firestone 300 in Motegi (Japan) has been postponed. And it will air tonight. At 10pm. On ESPN Classic.

Lemme see... hmmm... checking.... and, NOPE, I don't get ESPN Classic.

Isn't this was what ESPN2 was supposed to be for: a channel one step below ESPN on the pecking order but still available on most cable systems which can handle a rescheduled or delayed ESPN event? While this year's race in Japan may turn out to be a classic, ESPN Classic isn't the right place for it.

Especially since I don't get ESPN Classic.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Race Control to Major Kanaan

Acute watchers of the yesterday's St. Petersburgh Grand Prix Indycar race may have noticed that race control seemed to be asking pole-sitter Tony Kanaan about his opinion of the rain-soaked track. Odd? I thought so too.

It's not news that race control chief Brian Barnhardt communicates with the Indycar drivers on pace laps, but usually he's giving instructions to the front row as they approach the green flag or telling someone to hold their line in the corners.

However, as the field took the track in the pouring rain, ESPN patched in the race control radio channel and it sounded as if Barnhart asked Kanaan if the track was dry enough for the green flag, to which Kanaan replied that it needed a few more laps of yellow.

Since when does a competitor get to weigh in on these issues? Barnhart has a small army of track workers in the corners and in the drying trucks, they could certainly tell him about puddling. If I was Kanaan, I'd tell Barnhart that the track was ready only when it reached a dryness that best fit my driving style. Some guys right behind Kanaan may have posed a huge threat in the wet, but they probably didn't get a vote.

This is the first time I've heard of this sort of communication, and it's something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.