A Season for All Fans

Two thousand and eighteen.

A year in which I imagine, in the long history of the sport of Indycar racing, will be seen as a bright point in a long history of ups and downs. Perhaps seen as one of the finest in terms of the sanctioning body meeting the challenges presented by attempting to satisfy such divergent factions as fans, teams, manufacturers, drivers, venues, sponsors, and media – all with whom the desire to see something “special” exists. “Special”, however, in Indycar is often defined as many different ways as the number of people you ask. It’s never more evidenced than by the oft-tossed opinions that splatter the walls of Twitter.

Of course it takes a team to make any endeavour successful, but the one person that many attribute a majority of the wider success of the 2018 season is Indycar’s President of Competition and Operations, Jay Frye. Jeff Gluck’s recent interview with Mr. Frye is a must-read/listen for Indycar fans who care to know more about this man, whose efforts are widely regarded by those diverse factions of the Indycar environment.


A Season That Satisfies:
As to the entirety of the 2018 season, I cannot recall in my 40-plus years of following the sport, a season where this level of equipment parity has also allowed such a variety of strategies, outcomes, and winners in both drivers and teams. Here is a brief overview of some statistics of this highly competitive season, through 16 of 17 rounds:

Number of different winning drivers = 8

  Bourdais (1), Newgarden (3), Rossi (3), Power (3), Dixon (3), 
  Hunter-Reay (1), Hinchcliffe (1), Sato (1).

Number of different winning teams = 6
  Coyne (1), Penske (6), Andretti (4), Ganassi (3), Schmidt-Peterson (1), 

  Rahal Letterman Lanigan (1).

Number of different pole-sitters = 7
  Bourdais (1), Newgarden (4), Rossi (3), Power (4), Carpenter (1),
  Wickens (1), Andretti (1).

Number of different podium-placing drivers = 14
  All listed winners above plus Wickens (4), Pagenaud (3), Jones (2), Pigot (1), 

  Rahal (1), Carpenter (1).

Number of different podium-placing teams = 7
 All listed winning teams above plus Ed Carpenter Racing (2).

Manufacturer wins and points
  Honda 10 (from 5 different teams), Chevrolet 6 (only with Penske).


A Summer To Remember:
To me, all of the above statistics support my general feeling of satisfaction from the competition of this season’s races. 

I think my overall enjoyment of the season was amplified because I attended more races than I ever have prior. I hadn’t planned on anything more than the Indy Grand Prix (weather permitting), Indy 500 (come hell or high water), and maybe one other race (fingers crossed) as with several of recent years past.

For whatever reason, my summer schedule freed at all the right times to allow not only a return to Gateway, but also unplanned runs to Iowa and Mid-Ohio, all of which were great racing weekends to my good fortune. I was treated to a nice variety of courses and now I don’t want to imagine not going back to those venues in addition to adding Road America for which I haven’t yet attended.  


An Incident To Forget:
Despite satiating my hunger for great Indycar action over an entire season, I cannot go without saying that once again, enjoyment has been sobered with the incident of Robert Wickens at Pocono. Perhaps there can be no perfect season but as a fan, I was feeling better than I have in decades about this sport I cherish. Sadly, Robert Wickens’ crash and resulting injuries is a reminder that no matter the level of thrill and enjoyment, I cannot and will not forget that these brave drivers ante their very being in trade for the seemingly disproportionate reward of racing thrills, money, glory, and for our entertainment. 

I simply can’t get beyond feeling partially responsible when supporting this sport which can all too quickly create the most painful of voids where none should be. As I age, it gets harder to deal with each time. Of course we can take a slight measure of hope for Robert’s outcome not being worse that it is. We also continue to wish for his total recovery, and for wisdom and advancement in the ongoing battle for protection of all involved. 


The Championship Round:

(c) 2015 Indycar Twitter

Heading into the final round of 2018, I think the odds are with latter-day legend, Scott Dixon, not only as the leader but with a fair bit of margin to maintain over his nearest rival and hot-shoe, Alexander Rossi.  It’s quite literally all in Dixon’s hands this weekend as a Top 3 finish (plus 3 bonus points) will see him Champion regardless of what any other drivers do. 

Four drivers are in play for the Championship and here’s a brief rundown of some of the most basic Championship scenarios, with a maximum total of 104 points available to the winner.

Current Standings: Dixon = 598, Rossi = 569, Power 511, Newgarden 511. 
1. Dixon finishes 2nd or better + 0 bonus points = Dixon Champ.
2. Dixon 3rd or better + 3 bonus points = Dixon Champ.
3. Rossi win + 2 or more bonus points + Dixon 3rd or worse = Rossi Champ.
4. Rossi win + 1 bonus point + Dixon 3rd + Dixon 1 bonus point or less = Rossi Champ.
5. Newgarden or Power win + 4 bonus points + Dixon 22nd or worse + Rossi 9th or worse = Newgarden or Power Champ.
6. Rossi outpoints Dixon by 30 or more in any combination of place and bonus points + not being outpointed by either Newgarden or Power by 59 points = Rossi Champ.

The Finishing Position points available for Sonoma are as follows (double a standard race):
1st  100,
2nd   90,

3rd   70, 
4th   64,
5th   60, 
6th   56, 
7th   52,
8th   48, 
9th   44
10th 40
11th 38
12th 36
13th 34
14th 32
15th 30
16th 28
17th 26
18th 24
19th 22
20th 20
21st 18
22nd 16
23rd 14
24th 12
25th or worse 10

The Bonus Points available for the finale are as follows:
Pole = 1, Lead any lap = 1, Lead most laps = 2.


Epilogue:
Regardless of whether we crown Newgarden or Power, Rossi or Dixon, I will leave this season satisfied as a Indycar fan and especially as an attendee. My experience with Indycar this summer has been unparalleled thanks to the ongoing work Indycar does to provide a highly competitive and versatile form of auto-racing, to the venues that worked to provide a great event experience for fans, and to the fates which allowed me to see more live races in a season than ever before.

May we have a safe and entertaining conclusion to this, a season for all fans. 




Adjectively Speaking

During ABC’s TV Broadcast of the Indycar race at St. Pete yesterday, Eddie Cheever made his beloved and dramatic ‘one-word’ prognostication for the day’s event – “chaos”. In hindsight, one cannot really argue much with that as the definition accounts for some of the action on track yesterday. 

I had several adjectives that described how I was feeling leading up to, during, and after the very racy 2018 Indycar season opener; hopeful, eager, surprised, anxious, giddy, amazed, empathetic, and hopeful.

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.