FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Detroit

First Impressions, IndyCar — By on June 3, 2012 9:45 pm
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STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

It’s fair to book a sub-par event to serve a strong partner of INDYCAR, but this is ridiculous.

Even months before going into this weekend, it could be stated with some confidence that the race was going to be a parade at best. Knowing that and putting it on network television in an awkward time slot on the weekend immediately following the Indianapolis 500 was highly irresponsible and was never going to be positive for anyone involved.

But the insanity didn’t stop there. Nope — instead, a way was found to run half a parade interrupted by a disintegrating track surface (wonder where the blame will land on that one), a red flag that closed out the network coverage in many markets, and then a resumption that saw that parade turned into INDYCAR On Ice by rain (to mostly empty grandstands, mercifully).

I was willing to give credit where due at the start of the day when the stands were full and the sponsors were being well-served, but when all was said and done there was very little about this event for anyone to be happy about.

(Except Scott Dixon. But it’s fair to say the only thing that kept him out of trouble was being at the front of the field and therefore away from the mayhem. The fact that the points race is now a little more interesting — due more to happenstance than anything else — is the only redeeming quality of this event.)

GM and Roger Penske absolutely deserve to have a race at which they can wine and dine their executives and VIPs — we go to Mid-Ohio and Sonoma every year for the same reasons, after all. But there’s got to be a better way than this. Maybe something can be worked out with Michigan International Speedway, or maybe a completely different track layout can be properly paved onto Belle Isle somehow. (I understand there aren’t very many people using the park these days anyway.)

If INDYCAR returns to Detroit without making any attempts to improve this event, though, they deserve the abyssmal ratings and empty grandstands they’ll have coming to them. Enough is enough.

*

PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

Well, I’d say today’s event on Belle Isle confirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt that even Roger Penske can’t polish a turd and make it into gold.  The only good thing I can even think of to say about this race is that the fans who stuck around to the end should be congratulated.  Everything else was pretty weak at best.

Without even getting into the embarrassment of the track situation that caused a two-hour red flag, the race was about as poor an exhibition of INDYCAR racing as I’ve ever seen.  I understand Roger Penske has taken on this race as his pet project as an effort to help revitalize the city of Detroit and the event has major corporate sponsorship that makes it happen.  However, if I’m in charge of marketing for a major Detroit corporation and I read all the negative reviews from INDYCAR fans following this race and I know there is a superspeedway 40 miles away that puts on thrilling shows every time Indy cars race there (that, oh by the way, was built by Roger Penske himself almost 45 years ago), I can’t help but wonder if the same resources couldn’t put on a much better show there.

From the outset, this event was destined to be everything many INDYCAR fans hate about street-course racing.  Not only does the track offer few, if any, real passing opportunities, it’s so difficult to pass on that when EJ Viso held up most of the field through the first 30 laps, the 10-car line of traffic behind him couldn’t even pass him when he hit the wall.  Four years ago, drivers apologized at Richmond when the leaders couldn’t pass a backmarker.  Today, all seems to be forgiven because the road course guys got to turn left and right.  I’m sure they had fun.  I didn’t.  As a matter of fact, it was actually much more exciting to watch my two kids enjoy themselves at the petting zoo that we visited when the red flag came out.

It’s hard to imagine a much bigger letdown after a thrilling Indianapolis 500 than the show witnessed today.  If INDYCAR must return to Belle Isle — and I don’t think anyone would really be sad if they didn’t except Roger Penske and Scott Dixon — then please don’t make it happen immediately after Indianapolis.  Perhaps this would be a good race to put in the fall when competing against opening weekend of the NFL season but not immediately following the event with more eyeballs than the rest of the season combined.

And please don’t burn one of the valuable network TV slots for this travesty.  Let’s use those races to highlight the exciting parts of the Series, not this.  Then again, with the way Scott Goodyear tried to convince the viewers all race long that this actually was an exciting race, maybe a few of the new converts actually believed it.

Okay, I hate to be 100% negative, so I’ll try to find one positive from today’s event:  Nice move by Josef Newgarden to sneak pass JR Hildebrand near the end of the race.  Perhaps if that’s the only passing zone, reconfiguring the track to be about a half-mile long and just going through turn 8 a couple hundred times would add some excitement to this race.  Maybe.

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