News Update and The Greatest 33 Revisited – 2017

Firstly, I’ll address the post-Pole Day Monday news which is in various parts disturbing, sad, and hopeful. Following those notable items, I’ll forward the lesser, pithy bits I had already planned for this space today.

From the “Sad is the news from Italy” department, Kentucky native son and racer at IMS during the Moto GP days, succumbed to his injuries received after automobile collided with him in Italy as he was physically training on a bicycle. He was noted by racers of all types as a great racer and equally good person. My only witness to his skills was a demonstration lap at the Indy 500 in 2008 and I will never forget the sensation of seeing and hearing what moved and sounded much like an Indycar, but terrified to see it was only a diminutive man on a motorcycle absolutely flying by us in a colorful flash on the main straight. I’d never seen anything so fast and so exposed in my life. Here’s a video of that demonstration shot by a person nearly directly across from our seats. Thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time. 

In a hopeful bit of news, a reported successful surgery to repair multiple fractures of Seb Bourdais’ pelvis and a hip bone sustained in one of the most violent collisions with the Turn 2 wall ever seen at IMS, see the driver already beginning the long healing process which will keep him out of the rest of the Indycar and Sports Car seasons this year. Blessings to Seb, his family, and friends for the prognosis.

And finally from the “I guess we’ll say they’re fortunate but this is really disturbing” department, yesterday’s 101st Indy 500 Pole Winner Scott Dixon, his wife Emma Dixon, and pal Dario Franchitti were the victims of an armed robbery while attempting to secure some delicious trappings from the West 16th Street Taco Bell Sunday evening. Thankfully, they weren’t physically harmed and the suspected culprits are in custody.

And now, the post, that post was meant to be today…

(drum roll, regal trumpet fanfare)

The Greatest 33, Revisited – 2017 Pre-race Edition!

If you recall, back in 2011 IMS produced a Greatest 33 feature on their website , allowing fans to review over 100 drivers of the Indy 500 and create their very own Greatest 33. Eager to create my own, I spend many an hour developing a format and formulae for scoring and ranking drivers. Even made a blogpost or two or three about it for which you can still read today. I enjoy updating this list after qualifying and after the race each year to see how it changes.

One thing that is abundantly clear to me, and as I’ve noted before, is how we’re in a second golden age of Indycar driving talent. Not quite the immense shadow cast of the original Golden Generation of Indycar racing, but still, a very stout and talented bunch whose depth of skills encompass a variety not matched by any other driving series on the planet.  They are also those whose time before us in a car sadly grows shorter all the time.

Listed here is my spreadsheet which processes for me, my vision (a blend of longevity, skill, and consistent performance) of what my Greatest at Indy requires. Of course wins count heavily and their value is of greatest importance, however I reserve the last row (11) of my Greatest 33 for the three best drivers to never have won, at the expense of some 1-time winners but those lacking other major accomplishments in comparison.

Following the results of yesterday’s Pole Day qualifying, Here are the current rankings: 

Currently, 7 Indy 500 winners are actively in play for the 101st Indy 500, and 9 active drivers rank in the Top 80 here. Most notably perhaps are the greats of this era who have steadily risen in this ranking and have certainly made their mark on the Speedway in the last 20 years. Helio, 
Dario, Iceman, TK, and Montoya, Solidly in the Top 25 all-time for me and all of which spent (except the 1999 race of Montoya) their Indy 500 careers racing against each other. Should Hunter-Reay add a second 500 to his legacy, he would join the other 5 in the Top 25 at Indy. That’s a pretty strong representation of this era through the lens of statistics at Indy.

Not only are those greats closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, but there is an excellent crop of young talent ready to make their permanent mark as well.

Largely graduates from the assorted ladder series both domestic and foreign, the young guns enrich the overall talent, making the depth of fields quite impressive.
Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Newgarden, Hildebrand, Kimball, Munoz, Carpenter, Daly, and Marco Andretti, all came up through the modern ladder and their notable longevity is also a testament to the good work being done in developing talent for Indycar. Often drivers who arrive from another major series are looked at as outsiders, but I find they truly add nothing but spice to the simmering recipe of American Open-Wheel Racing and I’m grateful for their added flavor. Bourdais, Sato, Rossi, and now Alonso are excellent drivers and only add to the depth of greatness that we see today.

So while you sit back and take in the 101st Indy 500 this coming Sunday, don’t forget that no matter the outcome, no matter who becomes the latest to add their likeness to the Borg-Warner, be they young or old, you’re witnessing true racing titans of our era, comparable in many ways to the Golden Era of the 1960s and 70s. 

Appreciate it, because it sure doesn’t come around very often.

Gordon Moore’s Law and Indycar

It’s been over 50 years since those heady days of the 1960s science and technology boom in the US. Electronic (vacuum) tubes were soon to be replaced by an interesting, solid-state device, known as an integrated circuit board. (What was it about the 1960s that made it so damned amazing anyway?)

Gordon Moore was one of three scientists and partners who came to be known as the founders of the company Intel.  They developed their ideas, leading also to the development of solid-state memory devices (i.e RAM chips) and many other advances, which in turn, also begat the rapid advancement of not only computing machines, but also the manufacturing processes that were developed to create these amazing technological tools. April 19th, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of a paper released by Gordon Moore which later became more widely know at Moore’s Law.

Still not ringing any bells? 

Don’t worry, I didn’t hear any bells either until I read this Economist article today regarding the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law. Moore realized in 1965 that the microchip with all the capabilities of it’s solid-state integrated circuitry stated that the technology to produce microchip and to continually shrink the transistors would then allow for a doubling of transistors per unit of space in regular intervals (he settled on every 18 months or so), leading to an exponential increase in the ability of those circuit boards in addition to the decrease in cost to produce them. Largely his prediction held true, not for the 10 years as he foresaw, but nearly 50 years, longer than most ever agreed his “Law” would last.  

Eventually the increasing limitations of physical space lead to what is now being seen – a reversal of the decreasing per unit cost to produce to achieve that same or declining rate per area of microchip. (This is where the Indycar light bulb went on for me). 

In fall 2011, (maybe you were one of my tens of readers then) I wondered out-loud about the limitations and diminishing returns from increasing costs related to producing a leading-edge Indycar. Indycars (always in search of that next big idea to win the Indianapolis 500) were the working experiments in the laboratory of auto-racing which included design, manufacturing processes, and performance technology. From the early 1960s, steadily increased performance came with astounding regularity (and increasing budgets) until the early-1990s when it became no longer economically viable to build these amazing machines.  

The cost to produce a winner was becoming highly prohibitive to all but those who could be counted only on a bad-shop-teacher’s handful of fingers. Even the “unlimited” strata of F1 has hit a ceiling where costs and technology are outrunning those who would put resources to them.

So when considering how Indycars could be much better, don’t forget that at some point, power, speed, efficiency, technology, AND economic input per unit ALL reach a point that simply cannot be overcome. We found it in Indycars much sooner than with microchips. 

There was a time when the automobile was still new, out of the ordinary, looked upon with fascination and reverie. I grew up in the era when computers, for all their lack of personality, were also these amazing, cantankerous boxes that did increasingly amazing and streamlined tasks. 

So in better understanding that these are the times in which we reside, the current Indycar is quite serviceable for me, adequately and fairly delivering a racing product of enjoyment for those who partake. Short of blowing up the whole paradigm and having a totally unlimited format (including budgets), this is our Indycar, post-Boomer world.

Four generations since the automobile saw rapid development, and two since the computer did the same, the luxurious showroom shine is well and truly off the ‘Apple’ and we’ll likely see neither automobile nor computer with quite such fascination again. 

I can’t even imagine what the next big thing will be. 

Please just don’t let it be artificially intelligent android/robots. 

They’re simply WAY too creepy for me.