FIRST IMPRESSIONS: St. Petersburg

First Impressions, IndyCar — By on March 25, 2012 4:42 pm
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First Impressions is a new feature from More Front Wing for 2012 where Paul and Steph give their off-the-cuff thoughts of each event shortly after its conclusion.

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PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

Welcome to a new era of INDYCAR racing!

For several years we’ve looked forward to this race as we hoped it would truly be the dawning of a new day.  While I won’t say the day was a disappointment, I think it’s fair to say that some people, perhaps myself included, may have hyped this event just a tad too much.  In the end, I really did think it was an enjoyable race but not necessarily a revolution as many had hoped and prophesied.

I think what we saw was that the big teams are still going to be be the big teams, and anyone that wants to win is still going to have to beat Penske and Ganassi.  You can quit telling me about the parity brought about by the DP-01 and how it changed everything in Champ Car.  The simple truth is that Champ Car didn’t have near the horses that INDYCAR does today, and while a couple of other teams did beat Newman/Haas that year, they didn’t beat Penske or Ganassi.  If you don’t believe that, you’re simply naive.  The DW12 will reshuffle the deck, no doubt, but Penske and Ganassi are still playing with a lot more kitty.

So, about the race…

First off, I think it might be a bit tough to judge just how enjoyable this race really was because of the abysmal television coverage.  The only thing I really have good to say about the coverage is that they did a nice job covering the entire field, and at no point did I feel like they were solely focused on a single driver throughout the field (especially the 17th place driver or anything like that).  Sadly, that is about the end of the positive.  Too many passes were missed; too much action was ignored for no apparent reason.  And way too many drivers were suddenly shown out of the race with no mention or explanation from the broadcast crew.  Among the notables here were Sebastien Bourdais, who was having a stellar run, and JR Hildebrand.  Okay, enough lamenting about the TV coverage.  Sadly, we’ve just come to expect that.

The biggest surprise to me was the complete non-factor that Will Power was after the first 15 laps of the race.  Once again, Will showed that he does not seem to be capable of moving back through the field when he falls behind.  Typically I make this statement on ovals, but it holds true on street courses as well.  Obviously, when he is in front, he is blindingly fast and nearly impossible to beat.  Once behind, though, he’s mortal, if not unimpressive.  Likewise, Dario was completely uncompetitive as well.  His troubles were confined solely to the race, though.  I think Franchitti would rather just forget about this weekend and start his title defense in earnest next week at Barber.

My final quick hit is this:  I think a lot of IZOD IndyCar Series fans loved the romanticized idea of mechanical issues before this race.  Sadly, mechanical failures don’t discriminate only against Penske and Ganassi.  In fact, it’s probably fair to say that those with the great resources, i.e. the deepest pockets, are able to effectively foresee such gremlins and engineer their way around them.  In that vein, mechanical reliability is often more devastating for the smaller, less-funded teams.

One more note, just to be fair: ABC/ESPN did a fantastic job with the Dan Wheldon tribute in the pre-race.  As I sat in the same spot on the same couch watching the same TV I was when the announcement of Dan’s passing came down, it was difficult to hold back the tears as so many emotions came flooding back.  I thought ESPN did a very nice job capturing the emotion without being overly dramatic or sensationalistic.  Due credit to the production team for a job well done with that piece.

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STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

It was a great race and a fitting launch to the rebirth of INDYCAR that was marred by subpar television coverage that didn’t come remotely close to doing it justice. The pre-race was phenomenal and the post-race was acceptable, but the in-race analysis showed every key pass as a replay and did nothing to explain all the fascinating storylines to the viewers at home.

Here are the things we should have had explained:

- the differences in cornering between the Chevy and the Honda are going to be a story to watch all season, as most clearly demonstrated by Helio’s outside pass on Dixon (but why was Dixie able to do so much more with his Honda motor than anyone else in spite of this?);

- a bunch of teams miscalculated fuel at the end due to the many new variables in the equation this season (and Helio just scraped by himself as he had to be towed in after his victory laps);

- the pit stops were almost universally flawless despite the many new challenges facing the crews this season;

- Power and Franchitti were non-factors late in the event, which may turn everything we think we know about the championship battle on its head.

I saw a lot of pleas on Twitter for push to pass to be brought back. My opinion is that it’s far too early for that. Push to pass is essentially a gimmick that brought some interest into a fully spec series. I’d far prefer to see the teams go away with their race worth of data and see what they come back with at Barber — and then at Long Beach, and then again for Brazil. By the time we’re getting ready for Indy, we’ll have a much clearer picture of whether external factors need to be brought in. In the meantime, there was enough passing today to make things interesting (though seeing it live instead of on replay would have been nice), and the drivers were respectful and professional out there and took care of their cars and each other. If you look at it that way, there’s plenty to be excited about for now.

The bottom line: With new chassis, new engines, and a bunch of team shake-ups, this race not only looked like a proper INDYCAR race but was an interesting one to boot. I’m a very happy girl, and if we can just get the television crews to step their game way up to match the caliber of the on-track show, I think many others will be happy, too. Let’s see how everyone feels once NBCSN takes a stab at it.

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