St. Pete: Sunday morning thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on March 27, 2011 10:03 am

The IZOD IndyCar Series has wrapped up their morning warm-up session, and sadly, it was like old times for the crews of Dale Coyne Racing.  Nearly simultaneously, both of that team’s cars found walls and suffered significant damage.

The more significant of the accidents was the #19 Boy Scouts of America car driven by Sebastien Bourdais.  Bourdais clipped the right side of turn 11, broke the steering and slammed hard into the tires lining the right side of turn 12.  Bourdais exited the car immediately, waving frantically for safety workers to extinguish a fire.  Though Sebastien walked away unscathed, his car suffered significant right-side damage.  Dale Coyne has confirmed that Bourdais’s car cannot be repaired in time for this afternoon’s race.  It’s without doubt a disappointing return to IndyCar racing.

Slightly less substantial was the damage done to the #18 car of rookie James Jakes.  Details are a bit sketchy, but it appears that he made contact with the left side of his car exiting turn three, broke the rear suspension, and ended up against the wall near the entry to turn four.  Damage was limited to the left side of the car and the undertray.  Honda has delivered a new engine to that team that is currently being installed.  Coyne has confirmed the 18 car should be ready to run by race time.

The rest of the morning session went according to plan with an interesting mix of drivers up front.  Of course, the drivers from yesterday’s Firestone Fast 6 are all in the top 10, with Scott Dixon being the lowest at ninth.  Ryan Hunter-Reay had a strong run, winding up fourth on the speed chart.  Ryan was disappointed yesterday with not being able to get out of the first qualifying round, but today’s speed shows that he can still be a factor in the race, even starting from the 14th position.

Tony Kanaan continues to run well with his new KV Racing Technology/Lotus team, backing up his eight-place qualifying effort from yesterday with a top-10 speed this morning.  Tony appears to have quickly ascended into a leadership position on that team and should bring invaluable knowledge, experience, and maturity to a team that desperately needs it.  Fourth-year driver EJ Viso has had a tough weekend with three separate incidents, which is an inauspicious start to the season for that team.

Yesterday’s big news was the continued impressive effort of new Andretti Autosport driver Mike Conway.  Mike has been consistently fast this weekend in his return to IndyCar racing after his accident last year at Indianapolis.  His easy-going demeanor has been evident all weekend and may bring peace to the team that last year struggled with internal driver relationships.  Mike has proven to be fast many times since he came to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2009 but has failed to show the patience and consistency needed to finish races.  Mike surely wants to win the race, but bringing the car home in the top five with all four corners on it will be an outstanding day for the young Englishman.

On the other end of the spectrum, many people are disappointed in the results this weekend of rookie JR Hildebrand and the Panther Racing team.  JR has a huge amount of pressure on him to represent both the young American contingent and the Firestone Indy Lights graduates, but the results thus far have been quite disappointing.  JR turned in one of the slowest qualifying times yesterday and could do no better than 21st in the morning warm-up.  It is hoped that JR will be able to salvage a respectable finish today and start over again when the IZOD IndyCar Series visits Barber Motorsports Park in two weeks.

The crowd around the facility today is already very impressive.  Large groups of spectators are everywhere in and around the paddock area, and the grandstands have been filling up nicely.  I expect to see the grandstands nearly filled by race time with a lot of enthusiastic fans.  And if you’re looking for the high-roller fans, you’ll find them on the yachts that sit adjacent to turn 10.  I shudder to think how much money some of them cost, but suffice it to say you could run several Penske- and Ganassi-level IndyCar efforts and still have enough left over to enjoy the race.

One more final random note: INDYCAR is taking time out this weekend to remember the people of Japan following the terrible earthquake suffered there a couple weeks ago.  All the drivers in today’s race posed for a photograph with a Pray for Japan sign following this morning’s drivers’ meeting, and there will be a moment of silence prior to the IICS race.

With that, we’ll wrap up for the morning and enjoy a wonderful race day.  Stay tuned to @MoreFrontWing for breaking news and live updates through the rest of the event.


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