Mid-Ohio: Saturday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on August 8, 2010 12:08 am
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Just a quick rapid-fire update tonight — I got held up with trying to figure out how to give Verizon more of my money for providing their excellent service (which I still haven’t managed to do).  I found a down side to the prepaid option: it’s very awkward to refill if you don’t have a zip code!

Anyway, down to business.  It’s funny how different days are easiest to summarize in different ways.  Today, I think, is best summarized chronologically.

- I arrived shortly before FIL practice at 8 AM.  I hope no one involved with FIL takes this personally, but the most notable part of the session for me was that I spent it enjoying one of the best iced caramel lattes I’ve ever had, which I picked up from a great little independent coffee vendor in the paddock area.  (Those who follow me on Twitter will know that I’m a die-hard Starbucks devotee, so this statement is not to be taken lightly!)

- After that was the IICS practice, which is where we saw Will Power catch air with both fronts, lose it when he came back down, and slide across the still-dewy grass and take a hard shunt into the tire barrier.  Penske had the backup car out so quickly that I’m not sure the primary car had even stopped sliding yet.  In all seriousness, though, Will mentioned later that it was such a hard hit that he knocked the dash out and took a knock to the knee and thigh in the process.  It’s good to see that he was none the worse for wear.  Other than that, the second session of the day was also largely uneventful.

- During the last few minutes of practice, it was noted on Twitter that Milka a) was within 107% of the fastest time and b) didn’t have the slowest time of the day (that honor went to Francesco Dracone, who is in the middle of his first IndyCar weekend over at Conquest).  This led a few of us to conclude that she would be allowed to qualify.  After the session was over, I caught up with a friend of mine from DCR and asked him if they’d be running this afternoon — and at that point, at least, he was under the impression that they would.  Clearly, that changed at some stage, but what isn’t clear is why it changed.  Even given the usual reasons, her times truly haven’t been as terrible as usual thus far in the weekend, and today’s first qualifying group wouldn’t have been a bad one to give her a shot with.  If the Series truly wants to give her the opportunity to improve, and if she can manage to post lap times that aren’t several seconds off the next fastest, they need to stick to their own terms and let her run.  (I’m not saying whether it would make a difference.  I’m just saying that if they’re going to give her a chance, then they should — and if they’re going to write her off and park her, then they should.  But today’s actions aren’t consistent with either conclusion.)

- The next notable event of the day (I use the term “notable” loosely here) was the press conference in which Honda HPD announced that they will be supplying twin turbo V6 powerplants to the IICS in 2012.  (They admitted themselves that this was one of the worst-kept secrets going.)  But there were some other interesting points that came out of it.  For one, they noted that they’re very much hoping that they will have competitors to run against at that time, but they are operating under (and budgeting for) the assumption that they will be the sole supplier for a period of time to account for potential complications.  And they mentioned that the lease cost of the new engine will be a maximum of 40% less than the current price, carefully noting that they may not reach that goal.  When asked if allowing teams to buy engines will ever be considered, they brought up a very good point:  a lease allows them to protect their intellectual property (patents, trade secrets, that type of thing), and a racing engine no doubt carries a great deal of it these days.  This revelation does not bode well for the likelihood of us ever again seeing an engine manufacturer willing to sell powerplants to teams for open development — we live in different times than when we last saw such arrangements.

- At the conclusion of the Honda press conference, Brian Barnhart and Randy Bernard appeared in the media center and took some questions.  BB mentioned that the Series has been considering donating Helio’s fine money to charity but that a final decision hasn’t been made.  (On Twitter, @TeamCanada1 quite correctly suggested that Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Racing for Cancer organization would be an excellent recipient for that.)  And RB was asked further questions about the schedule.  He stated that they have around 24 promoters that are interested in taking on IndyCar events right now but that the Series is managing growth in a way that’s financially sustainable for the teams.  His five-year goal is to expand to the 22- to 24-event range.  He also mentioned that while the Series is finding value in keeping the track types grouped into oval and road/street segments and that continuing to do so is the goal, retaining a great event will take precedence should there be a conflict.  Finally, he name-dropped Bruton Smith and SMI as having expressly shown an interest in working with IndyCar to promote expansion.

- FIL qualifying saw Martin Plowman lay down a blistering lap from out of nowhere that was around a half a second faster than James Hinchcliffe’s second-fastest time.

- In IICS qualifying, group 1 failed to produce any surprises.  Group 2 saw the usual players move on plus RHR, JWil and Simona, but the story that was missed from this was that JR, Tag and Moraes all had flyers on their last laps that were very briefly good enough to move them on until they were bumped out by even faster ones, proving that it was an extremely competitive group indeed.  Then, it was at the end of Round 2 that Briscoe and JWil had their bizarre tangle in the esses.  Opinions seem varied on this one.  To my eye, Briscoe took a very odd line, and I can see how Justin would have interpreted it as he did and ended up with contact.  But what was more unusual about it was seeing these two drivers, who both generally manage to maintain relatively cool heads, shouting and shoving each other after the fact.  We’ve seen much more of this sort of thing in the last few races — if it continues to escalate, it’ll be time to wonder if the drivers have been explicitly told not to feel the need to reign in their emotions.  Encouraging them to show some passion and reveal some more personality for fans to connect with seems very much like something RB would do.

- Oh, and Will Power jumped into the backup car after the morning’s incident and put it on pole, which will allow him to secure the inaugural Mario Andretti road course championship with a start in tomorrow’s race.  Just another day at the office for Team Penske.

- The final event of the day was the Mid-Ohio Tweetup, which was organized by yours truly and @the_race_gIRL.  Unfortunately, we learned via Twitter part way through that some people were having a hard time finding us, and there were a few that we never did manage to guide to our location.  But the folks who did come out had a great time meeting new race fan friends and reconnecting with old ones.  It was very kind of Lindy Thackston and Robbie Floyd of Versus to take some time to talk with the tweeps as well (on top of being consummate professionals, they’re both just super people).  We gave away some prizes that were generously donated by Dreyer & Reinbold and FAZZT Racing, and we raised some money through generous donations to the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation.  All in all, the event came off as a success.  Thanks so much to everyone who came by!

I’m heading back to Toronto immediately after the race, but I’ll do my best to get an update posted before I leave (provided there are no further internet access issues at the track)!  More tomorrow.

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