Hopefulness sprang out of the months (and, in truth, years) of waiting for a new and exciting Indycar to hit the track. One that justly rewards driver skill and management and also manages to entice a viewer with classically attractive aesthetics.
Eagerness began in earnest with news of testing in January and February. Positive and even glowing reports on the new chassis “raciness” and the good initial function of the potential safety/windscreen flushed my racing cheeks with positivity heading into the new season. Dare I dream to believe that Indycar once again could be the amazingly entertaining (and even sexy) racing product so many fans knew it could? Could spring signal a rebirth of positivity, excitement, and optimism for one of my favorite sports?
With the twist of fate brought about by moisture on the track during qualifying for the first race of the new season, nothing but surprise could describe most fans’ reactions to the qualifying results. The final six in the Firestone Fast Six shootout contained three rookies, three veterans, and for the first time that I could recall in many years, six different teams in the top six spots. One of those rookies – Jordan King, driving for Ed Carpenter Racing – even set a new track record in the first round of qualifying.
Surprise gave way to the anxious feelings when the green flag is about to fall at St. Pete and especially when there are three rookies up front leading this burgeoning pack of hungry Indycar racers, all eager for those first true racing laps of the new season. Safe to say that I always fear turn one at St. Pete because the symbolism of the long-runway-straight reminds me of the stark off-season, long and slow to build in momentum until the green reminds us we’re full-throttle into a hard and opportunistic right-hand 90 degree turn, begging for the most aggressive of lines, before the tires are even warmed. What happens in that first turn of the first race of the new season often signals what to expect. Especially after the abysmally long wait, to finally have an Indycar that this fan could proudly hold up as the exemplary essence of this type of racing, I still remained anxious for the possible carnage of turn one at the Alfred Whitted Airport race circuit.
With some tenuous and unsurprisingly eventful laps in the book, the race never failed to hold my attention. I was able to eagerly concentrate on as much racing as the TV coverage would show, despite the expected drone of uninspired and anemic commentary. I would add the caveat that Allen Bestwick gets a pass from me for his work because his job as ringleader of the clownlike coverage is subject to so many things beyond his control, including the bland color commentary. Expecting as much, I tried to focus all of my attention on the visual information we were given and I was liking what I was seeing, especially with the new and revised camera views which added a great deal of excitement to the broadcast. This feeling that had come over me, I hadn’t felt in far too long a time. I was giddy with excitement that the racing had given us.
|(nose-camera image via Indycar YouTube screen capture)|
With the movements of drivers up and down the scoring due to mostly all racing-related variables, I was amazed at the skill of the driving and the passing we were seeing. All except at the front, where rookie Robert Wickens had shown us why he was so highly rated by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He was building a lead over several veteran drivers. How could you not like the fortitude on display? I was genuinely amazed at how this race was playing out and especially for this driver, so new to Indycars, scarcely putting a wheel wrong all day, deservedly leading in a manner that only exemplified his considerable skill and his team’s preparation. This guy, and this team deserved to win.
As we watched the late-race dramas unfold, a race fan of any seasoning would’ve known we were in for a seriously tense finish. It did not fail in that regard and unfortunately Mr. Wickens was the recipient of a ‘racing incident’ that in my view could’ve been avoided and not sent him spinning into the wall after completing, what was to that point, as near-perfect a race as one could have. I would consider myself a fan of Alexander Rossi, but I certainly empathized more with Wickens. He deserved to be on the top step of the podium without question but, as we know so well, racing doesn’t always reward the best on that day. So too could I empathize with Sebastien Bourdais’s victory as it emotionally and fully closed a circle of high and low events he experienced in the previous 365 days. From his race win here a year ago, to the horrific crash at Indy qualifying, to the rehabilitation of his mind and body, and now a return to victory circle at his adoptive hometown and site of his previous Indycar win, it was a result worthy of celebration.
|(c) 2018, Luis Santana, Tampa Bay Times|
In all, yesterday’s race was one of the best races I can recall at St. Pete and I am beyond impatient to see the next race. I think that’s a sign of the hopefulness I am feeling about each practice session, each qualifying day, and each race this season.