As with the end of July, there was plenty of amazing action going on at racetracks across North America and beyond this past weekend. ALMS put on an interesting show at Mosport that flagged when a Porsche nearly vaulted into the forests of Ontario. Grand Am experienced more of the historical domination of Ganassi Racing and the team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. NASCAR's Nationwide Series was turned over to the twisty specialists as Boris Said pipped Max Papis by inches at the line in Montréal. None of that matters, though, because IndyCars took over Joliet, IL, for a fantastic show in what looked to be their final run there, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was open for business for the final time in 2010 with two-wheeled action.
Wrapup: MotoGP Indianapolis Grand Prix
Honestly, there are few things in the world that can be more exciting that motorcycle road racing. Two guys (or girls) dueling wheel-to-wheel with real danger of serious injury (more on that in a moment) is the thing that made motor racing so interesting to spectators in the first place. IndyCar commentators -- myself included -- like to tout how amazing it can be to watch a couple of open-wheel cars bump in the turns at 200 m.p.h., but to have guys go side-by-side at 200 m.p.h. with nothing but a leather suit and some body armor protecting them is just crazy. "Woah" moments in an IndyCar race become "Woah"-followed by a pile of swear words when these bikes get too close for comfort.
One level of MotoGP's championships has got it completely right: Moto2, with 40 entrants riding absolutely identical bikes looking for a spot in the ultra-exclusive upper tier. It's a recipe for pure chaos and plenty of "holy crap" moments, and to watch in person is absurdly thrilling. After eight bikes managed to find themselves occupying the same space on the side of the track in the second turn of this afternoon's Moto2 race, the race got underway and never stopped thrilling. The top three bikes broke away from the rest of the pack and diced for several laps before former MotoGP rider Toni Elias channeled his inner '91 Andretti/Mears and decided to make an outside pass in the road course's sweeping first turn for the winning move. In the meantime, riders behind them were going three-wide and pushing their bikes over the edge; the most notable incident involved one rider being pitched into a high-side accident, followed by the bike's fuel tank splitting and unused fuel turning the infield road course into a brief firestorm.
Unfortunately, though it certainly has the potential to be extremely exciting, the MotoGP World Championship race got strung out a bit early and never did bunch back up. More unfortunately, the only rider in the entire series that I truly dislike, Dani Pedrosa, was the only one who found his way past surprise polesitter Ben Spies (born in Tenessee, raised in Texas) for the victory. Again, Pedrosa and the Repsol Honda Team bosses seemed to do their best to ruin Nicky Hayden's chances for success, even during Hayden's world championship run in 2006, and they eventually got their way as Nicky left on awful terms and had to spend a year trying to figure out the completely different Ducati. Pedrosa used the Honda's brilliant straight-line speed and superior race-craft to beat Spies down the main straight on Lap 8 and he never looked back. Nicky Hayden had a rough start from the third spot, then got a touch too deep into a corner, catching one of his knee sliders (vital equipment for the on-edge cornering these guys do) on a curb and separating it from his suit; he hung on to take 6th. Other notables were were runaway points leader Jorge Lorenzo (3rd), Valentino Rossi (4th), and third American Colin Edwards (DNF, tire issues).
On a low note, condolences go out from everyone in the racing world to the family and friends of Peter Lenz, 13-year-old U.S. Grand Prix Riders' Union rider, who low-sided on the slippery track on that race's warm-up lap and was then struck by another bike, receiving fatal injuries. It's not clear what the exact nature of the injuries were or when he officially passed, but the incident was not pretty -- it was immediately clear that, even had Lenz survived, his life would have been irrevocably changed for the worse. Again, the safety of motor racing will be brought into question, especially with so young a rider taken away; however, it was clear by their reactions that these riders all understand the danger of the profession they've chosen and, most telling, Lenz' parents indicated their understanding and acknowledgement of the dangers in their own statement. It was, by far, the Speedway's youngest fatality, and its first since Tony Renna's 2003 IRL tire test incident in the northeast turn. Rest in peace, Pete...
Now, from the heavy-hearted to the heart-stopping...
Wrapup: Peak Antifreeze Indy 300
It became abundantly clear when NASCAR released the schedules for their top three series that 28 August 2010 would be the final time for a long while that IndyCars would take to Joliet's 1.5-mile superspeedway. I understand that the IndyCar/International Speedway Corp. war has quietly festered in the background as Randy Bernard re-evaluated the series' schedule and began to speak out on the races at Kansas and Homestead for lack of promotion and excitement. The promotion aspect reared its head again last night as maybe 20,000 people showed up for the race, and ISC has essentially scheduled the IndyCar Series out of one of its best events.
From the drop of the green flag, the action only stopped three times: Alex Lloyd brain fart #1 (punted Tomas Scheckter into both the wall and Rafa Matos), a wall brush by Ana Beatriz and several hundred brain farts under the caution, and Alex Lloyd brain fart #2 (oversteered out of turn 4 and mowed the lawn a bit in the tri-oval). On the final caution period, Dario Franchitti's crew did something marginally ridiculous and didn't give Dario fresh tires, putting him out of the pits in first place. When the drivers behind him decided to go two-wide for a while, Dario took his car off the white line and drove between the first and second grooves, which made it essentially impossible for the guys behind him to get by. Bang, Zoom, Victory for Dario.
In the meantime, I'd almost forgotten what the pee-your-pants ovals look like, and Chicagoland Speedway's IndyCar swansong provided a healthy reminder of how it is. There were always cars going two-wide, one of the more thrilling moments was a three-wide battle with Dan Wheldon on the bottom, Marco Andretti on the top, and Will Power fighting desperately to keep his car between the two, and even a four-wide moment or two. Cars were cutting across the track, looking for places to get past, they were doing the inches-apart thing several times per lap, and they all again somehow managed to keep everyone going in a straight line. One's heart almost never beats for the entire two hours and the end makes you realize just how long you've been holding your breath. It's absolutely thrilling...to a point.
The major problem is that, while these guys and gals run side-by-side for what seems like hours, they have trouble passing each other. The issue stems mostly from the fact that the engines are de-tuned, so when a driver catches a draft, there are no extra revs in the motor to really propel the car into the draft. Think on it: the last time we had real draft-and-pass battles at Indianapolis was when Hondas, Toyotas, and Chevys were sharing space on the track and Honda hadn't yet tuned the engines down as a PR stunt. However, if Honda insists on falsely creating reliability, there is still a solution: pop a one-inch-thick piece of metal perpendicular to the ground on the end of the rear wing. CART did this for a couple of years, though to a much greater extent than what I described, and the results were clear: the drag on the lead car mixed with the massive hole in the air created insane amounts of passing on every oval track. CART's strip of metal (the Handford Device) was so big that it became almost ridiculous, but a scaled down version of the same concept might just give the following car just enough advantage to turn some of this two-wide into actual passes.
As it is, we continue on with another insane oval that promises much of the same action as Chicagoland this coming Saturday. Labor Day weekend will kick off in Sparta, KY, and kick the final stretch of three races off in style. Until then, many happy returns!
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