Marco, Where Have You Gone? Or, What’s in a Name?

IRR’s not asking about Marco Polo, either.

Where’s the Andretti Autosport driver who is actually named Andretti been lately? In the Bahamas? Marco hasn’t won an IndyCar race since Iowa in 2011, now over three years ago. That was only his second career ICS victory, the first a questionable result coming at Sonoma in 2006.

Marco

Hard to believe it’s been almost a decade since that memorable afternoon in NoCal where his teammates – specifically Bryan Herta – helped Marco cross the finish line first under controversial circumstances. With the nineteen year old rookie Andretti leading the field but running dangerously low on fuel, Herta spun out on his own causing a suspiciously beneficial caution period, clearing the way for his first win. Team owner Michael Andretti’s son’s first win.

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It certainly can’t be said in that dubious race that there were no team orders, eh Michael? Besides that, there’s Marco’s ONE other win in an eight plus year career. At Iowa. Can you name another driver with as long of a tenure in the series and so few results?  Well ok, since we’ve been discussing legacies another driver fitting the bill may be obvious to some. So in that case, name two.

Unlike young Rahal’s rides, Andretti Autosport has been one of the most successful teams on the grid for many years now, most recently winning the championship in 2012 as well as this year’s Indy 500 – both with Ryan Hunter-Reay.  Other AA drivers include Canadian James Hinchcliffe and Colombian Carlos Munoz, the former a three time winner (in less than eight years’ time) and the latter a strong rookie of the year candidate already with podium finishes. However, it’s Hinch who’s said to be out of the fold next year.

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On AA’s website, Marco’s stats and info are far more extensive than Hunter-Reay’s, featuring  a long list of accomplishments. We at IRR wonder how and why this could be (wink wink, nudge nudge). In all of those junior league results and podium finishes listed for Mario’s grandson, there are still only two big league wins. That’s in over a hundred and forty starts. He’s only once had better than a tenth place finish in the championship and that was ninth last year, according to ESPN.com. He currently runs ninth in the championship.

So where has Marco gone? It’s obviously not the equipment that’s at issue, else the entire team would be struggling. Team Target has underperformed all year while learning a new engine but they’ve obviously no shortage of talent behind the wheel and are improving.  One could rightly conclude that Marco enjoys the best equipment and the most support his outstanding team can offer, yet he shows no discernible improvement.

Over the years Andretti Autosport has rotated various engineers and strategists in and out of the family portion of the business, all racing regulars who’ve enjoyed big league success elsewhere. The wins for Marco still haven’t come. Young Andretti even went all the way to the UK for work with renowned driving coach Rob Wilson in early 2013. That too has failed to yield the anticipated results. They’ve changed Marco’s number from 26 to 25, changed paint schemes and changed sponsors. The team’s even switched engines again, going from Chevy back to Honda. What else can be changed other than the driver?

Marco 4

Marco said several years ago that because he works for his father he was expected to perform as well as other racers if not better and to consistently compete for wins. He also implied that he felt added pressure as an employee of his family. If a win every couple of years wasn’t good enough then – as he admitted – how is a win every four years good enough now? Or perhaps the question really is, what’s in a name?

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Conway’s Kentish Roots, part 2

Mike Conway resides in Sevenoaks, Kent, which is just southeast of London and not far from Brand’s Hatch Racing Circuit. Brand’s Hatch has hosted famous British racers from Jimmy Clark to Nigel Mansell and Jenson Button. As covered to death in part one Kent is the best part of Britain and boasts a rich legacy of racing going back nearly ninety years. Fittingly and not surprisingly, they honor and cherish their warriors in Kent.

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Warrior’s Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral, Kent

A journeyman driver and racing warrior himself, Conway’s driven for no fewer than five ICS teams going back to 2009. Now in his sixth season driving IndyCars he’s made news with two wins so far this year, repeating at Long Beach and most recently taking the second race in Toronto. He also made news in 2012 when he announced he was walking away from driving ovals only a few months after undergoing a second horrifying wreck at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He was badly injured in his first accident during the 2010 Indianapolis 500. Driving for Dreyer and Reinbold he was lucky to have survived the horrific crash, his blue and gold Dad’s car spinning like a disintegrating top down the speedway’s catch fence.  Conway suffered serious injuries to his lower body as well as his spine but he never gave up, maintained the characteristic British stiff upper lip and after months of excruciating rehabilitation made a miraculous comeback in time for the 2011 season with Andretti Autosport.

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Canterbury Cathedral main spire, Kent

An occupational hazard, he had another encounter with the fence at Indy in 2012 driving for AJ Foyt in what was a scary looking collision with Will Power. Unscathed but jarred, later that year he decided to race only the non-oval circuits on the ICS schedule. Dan Wheldon had been killed in the catch fence at Las Vegas the previous October and Conway has admitted that his fellow countryman’s death weighed heavily on his mind.

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Dan Wheldon at Indianapolis, 2008

This year Conway’s renaissance has resumed. He’s formed a driving partnership with team owner Ed Carpenter and they’ve been formidable as co-drivers of the #20 Fuzzy’s car. Each a specialist in his own right, the tandem approach of Conway and Carpenter sharing the ride has paid dividends. With wins for both drivers and a record year for the gritty little team, they now regularly challenge the Big Three teams for victories. It couldn’t happen to a nicer more deserving bunch of guys.

Who knows? Conway and Carpenter’s platoon success could be the start of a trend in big league motorsports.  It’s certainly working for them. Not surprisingly Carpenter hopes to keep Conway in the fold next season and negotiations to continue as co-pilots are underway. One thing’s crystalline clear – Kent’s own Mike Conway is one helluva driver who’s been through incredible challenges and survived them all, like true warriors do.

Predictions, Pomposity and even a (Recycled) Preview

IRR is getting these out early this week for a variety of reasons, including the fact that in the fascinatingly unique universe of IndyCar absolutely nothing can possibly change or affect these predictions between now and Friday practice. Short of another transporter fire, that is.

We’re also getting the jump on the competition – it’s already afternoon in England! – and winning the race as it were. An early post also ensures plenty of time for our loyal readers to dissect, deride and belittle these predictions and to rip’em to shreds, like forty lap old tires on Nashville Speedway [bring back the concrete jungle!].

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We’re not going to blow our own horn here at IRR too much, but our inaugural edition of predictions made for the two in TO weren’t half bad. That is, if you reverse the races (it was a scrambled weekend, wasn’t it?).  And ignore certain other portions of the rather bold and wide ranging picks. Oh, and the pole sitters too, unless they can be counted as winners.

IRR’s crack team of crystal ballers had Conway and TK both having strong weekends, and unlike some other sites we aren’t homers for Penske. Never will be. Really, what’s the point of that? Where’s the fun in picking the favorites all the time? Unless of course you’re gambling. Then it’s kind of important and in which case never bet against the Penske cars.

With our quasi-success at divining the results north of the border, who are we to pick against ECR’s Kentish Mike Conway? He’s hot, IRR’s hot, we say what the hell. There’s even a puff piece story on the Englishman here on this very site. Aware that it’s a road-y and not a street-y at Mid-Ohio and the fact Conway struggled mightily at Barber – seems like months ago, doesn’t it? – we’re staying with the hot hand, or hot rod in this case. Heck, ECR struggled at Toronto the first couple of days and look how that turned out.

Mid-Ohio will be Charlie Kimball’s first race as defending winner, and we’ve been high on him and the whole Target Team. He raced fairly well at Barber finishing 10th in a backup car. The team in general and Dixon in particular have dominated at Mid-Ohio lately. It feels like a Target weekend, but sorry Charlie, the winner will be from the A Team, not the B.

Then there’s the always interesting and chatty Graham Rahal, who’s certainly not lacking in confidence. “You’ll see us on the top step of the podium soon,” he matter of factly told reporters after Toronto.

This is Graham’s home vicinity race and perhaps – in what would be a serious upgrade in scenery – young Miss Force will be in his pit rooting him on. We at IRR sure hope so. Even with all these things in Graham’s favor, RLL has been plagued by reliability issues with the Honda all season and suffered some bad luck. That’s set to continue on Sunday. Sorry Courtney.

Dixie

We predict Scott Dixon, winner of four of the last seven at Mid-Ohio, has the best shot to take the Target colors to the top of the field this weekend, in what would be his and Target’s first win of the year. Chip “the Hut” as we affectionately refer to him at IRR will explode leaving little bits of red and white blubber all over the paddock if they don’t win soon. If the winner’s not from Ganassi’s stable and Chip does become whale confetti on pit lane, then it’s thanks to the little team that could and Kentish Mike Conway.

The Hut as whale confetti

Pole Winner – Power or Castro Neves

Race Winner – Dixon or Conway

1st out of the race – Rahal or Aleshin

Biggest Surprise – Andretti or Wilson

 

Race Preview : Or, Murdering Mid-Ohio

Last year’s race at Mid-OH was memorable, barely, only because it was Charlie Kimball’s first series victory. He’s a likeable enough chap, an American, and someone who has an inspiring story to tell as a racer with Diabetes. Good for him.

Otherwise, the race was typical Mid-Ohio. It was unremarkable and even downright boring, featuring heavy doses of “strategy.” That means teams focus on fuel and tire saving while hoping to get lucky on pit stop timing. Or, the polar opposite of racing.

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is among the worst of all the many venues, past and present, on the IndyCar Series schedule. Our intrepid reporters even attended a race at Gateway Speedway, just outside of lovely East St. Louis with stunning views of landfills in every direction, and preferred it to Mid-Ohio. It’s just not an appropriate track for the artistry on wheels that is IndyCar.

A rural road course, it has neither the pretty flowers and trees of Barber, nor the high desert baked-out brownness of Sonoma. More importantly, Mid-Ohio provides less passing and on track action than it does destination dining.

As a racecourse, it’s simply there in the middle of nowhere begging to be used for something other than the odd motorbike race. Not surprisingly, Mid-Ohio is apparently available for cheap to host the ICS’s annual single file parade and camping jamboree. Seriously, you and a few friends can rent the whole joint out for a weekend, it’s that classy. The racing product is consistently un-compelling. No wonder television ratings will be down this week – again.

The track is old and out of date enough to be too narrow for modern IndyCars, but new enough to lack any history or gravitas, like Milwaukee or Long Beach. It’s kinda like a (nicer) part of Oakland plunked down in Buckeyeland, with “no there there.” Our primary hope is that it’s not a total runaway race controlled flag to flag by a large red and white Hut led team. But it’s a distinct possibility.

Conway’s Kentish Roots, part 1

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Port of Dover, Kent, UK

Your humble editor in chief of IRR had the distinct privilege to live, teach and love in Canterbury, Kent, UK for one wonderful semester back in the fall of 2007. The city, university and people were all so very kind, welcoming and fun that it’s a town I’ll always cherish. My months there rank up with the very best experiences of my life.

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The Canterbury High Street outside The Weaver’s

Canterbury is famous from Chaucer’s medieval novel Canterbury Tales as well as for being the seat of the Church of England. It boasts no fewer than two universities, the oldest church in England and one damned fine Cathedral, built nearly a millennium ago. A double uni- town, it has countless fine pubs, bars and clubs not to mention the cafes and restaurants, from local delicacies to Starbucks and Pizza Hut.

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White Cliffs of Dover

One of the beauties of Canterbury and of Kent is its location. Near enough to London, close to the coast, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and beyond, it’s as near to Europe as you’ll get, yet still quite English. From the White Cliffs of Dover on a clear day you can see all the way to the French coast.

It’s also the breadbasket of Britain, with much agriculture including orchards and row crop fields. From gorgeous forests to lovely beaches, Kent has it all, including a long and rich history of motor racing going back over eighty years. A very diverse county, Kent also is home to the Church of Scientology HQ, or one of them, in the UK. They’re not alone, as many influential and significant people call the area home.

Kent also happens to be home of Mike Conway, four time winner in the ICS and driver of the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing machine on the road and street circuits this year. His family still lives in Kent, there in the garden spot of England. It’s yet another reason to root for him and his team, as folks in Kent would probably do the same for you.

Down with Mid-Ohio

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Photo from foxsports.com

In IRR’s wet t-shirt clear view, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is among the worst of all the venues past and present on the IndyCar Series schedule. Our intrepid reporters have even attended a race at Gateway Speedway, just outside of lovely East St. Louis with stunning views of landfills in every direction, and preferred it to Mid-Ohio. It’s just not an appropriate track for the artistry on wheels that is IndyCar.

A rural road course/drive through the woods, it has neither the pretty flowers of Barber nor the high desert baked-out brownness of Sonoma. It’s middling. More importantly, Mid-Ohio provides less passing and on track action than it does destination dining.

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As a racecourse, it’s simply there in the middle of nowhere begging to be used for something other than the odd motorbike race. Not surprisingly, Mid-Ohio is available for cheap to host the ICS’s annual single file parade and camping jamboree. Seriously, you and a few friends can rent the whole joint out for a weekend, it’s that classy. The racing product is consistently un-compelling. No wonder television ratings will be down this week – again.

Built in the early sixties, the track is old and out of date enough to be too narrow for modern IndyCars, but new enough to the ICS to completely lack any history or gravitas, like Milwaukee and Long Beach enjoy. “Ohio’s premiere motorsports destination” is their slogan, which speaks volumes doesn’t it? It’s kinda like a (nicer) part of Oakland plunked down in Buckeyeland, with “no there there.”

Last year’s race was memorable, barely, only because it was Charlie Kimball’s first series victory. He’s a likeable enough chap, an American, and someone who has an inspiring story to tell as a racer with Diabetes. Good for him.

Otherwise, the race was typical Mid-Ohio. It was unremarkable and even downright boring, featuring heavy doses of “strategy.” That means teams focus on fuel and tire saving while hoping to get lucky on pit stop timing. Or, the polar opposite of racing.

As lifelong fans of the sport it pains us to write, but it’s true. Down with Mid-Ohio. This series can – and should – do better.

Eleven Key Reasons the Indy 500 is Better than the Brickyard 400

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We here at IRR know from first-hand experience the excitement and exhilaration of race day mornings at IMS. There’s no grander, more magical place to be in the entire racing universe than in Speedway, Indiana on race day (and conversely, no place better avoided every other day of the year).

The sights, sounds and smells are truly unforgettable, leaving their indelible mark upon the memory – and that’s just from the porta-johns outside the Speedway. So in honor of IMS’s profit center – er rather, race – today, here are eleven reasons why the Indy 500 shall always be first in the hearts of our countrymen – and vastly superior to today’s goings on.

Eleven Key Reasons the Indy 500 is Better than the Brickyard 400 –

1. Slightly more intelligible accents amongst the fans (“ya’ll come back, now, ya hear?”)

2. 30+ mph of pure speed, which equals danger

3. Slightly less intelligible accents amongst the drivers (exotic, sophisticated and European)

4. Sexier, sleeker racecars (now, thanks to that bull riding fellow, featuring 100% more bumpers)

5. More Robin Miller

6. Less Daryl Waltrip (“Boogity” on outta town, Daryl)

7. “Title sponsor? We don’t need no stinkin’ title sponsor!”

8. 24/7 AJ Foyt webcam (now with even more napping)

9. Better weather

10. 100 more miles of racing (in a shorter period of time)

11. Wine, cheese AND racing chicken – what a culinary combo!

Proposed Uses Of Gazillions Of Dollars At The Speedway (Beyond The New Scoring Pylon)

Many IndyCar fans grow a bit jealous and bitchy this time of year regarding our beloved damsel, the apple of our eye, IMS.  We get the vague but real feeling that our best gal’s been cavorting about town with another man – a visiting southern gentleman – rather than properly returning our unwavering attention, our utter devotion to her.

So in our uncomfortable but temporary role as jealous, jilted lover we here at IRR have turned our minds instead towards fantasy, leaving cruel reality behind for a brief moment. Fantasy about how the wayward center of our world could – and should – be better to us.

Proposed uses of gazillions of dollars at the Speedway beyond the new scoring pylon –

  • Wine and cheese vendors
  • Cutting out some of those steel posts that obstruct expensive front stretch views
  • More accessible, shinier, deeper men’s room troughs
  • Better video boards that are much larger than two feet wide
  • An actual sports bar and lounge (or three), like every other major sporting venue has
  • Backs for certain selected seats – can even be an airline style pay-for upgrade
  • More varied and numerous concession stands, including schnitzel & sauerkraut
  • Bikini clad beer sellers roaming the grandstands
  • A Jim Nabors clone (or cyborg) to sing “Back Home Again”
  • Bikini clad schnitzel sellers roaming the grandstands
  • 33 gorgeous grid girls dressed as scantily as those in TO handing out money
  • Robin Miller in Danica drag on a “stands run” interviewing fans
  • Zip-lines from the stands across Georgetown Road for speedier egress after the race
  • 24/7 AJ Foyt cam during the month of May
  • Complimentary deviled racing eggs

Ode to the Old Pylon, Or: How I Spent the Off Week

The Jerusalem of motorsports, Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently went all modern, hip and cool on us IRR is sad to note. In fact, what happened is most uncool. The sinister powers that be removed the old scoring pylon that so gracefully and unobtrusively stood watch over the 5/8s of a mile front straight for decades, dating back to the glory days of the early ’90s. It witnessed the likes of Kenny, Eddie, Juan, Helio, Dario, Dan, Tonys and Buddys plural swig the milk in victory lane after their numbers advanced skyward toward its coveted pinnacle. We shall miss ye, old friend.

Pylon, 1994-2014.

The late Pylon, 1994-2014. Rest In Pieces.

The aforementioned villains – traitors to tradition, tools for technology – replaced it with a multi-million dollar monstrosity, an ultra modern LED high definition television masquerading as a scoring pylon. The blowback from this controversial decision has been immense and we can safely report that cracks are beginning to appear at the highest levels of ICS leadership over this unwarranted, unwelcome and unwise miscalculation.

The magnitude of loss felt over the historic pylon’s demise cannot be overstated. To make an already dire situation for fans even worse, apparently it’s being parted out and sold off piecemeal, like some rusting old junkyard Infiniti. Fans across IndyCar association of states took the news hard, but in true die hard fashion they’re trying to cope and continue living their lives, however painful. This magnificent display of bravery inspires, doing so despite the depth of heartfelt  loss.

In breaking news and potential IndyCar blog scoop of the year, we have it on solid second hand background reporting that crowds of dozens have gathered to mourn at the corner of 16th and Georgetown, in what must be a mildly depressing scene, indeed. [Update – turns out folks were just morosely waiting in line for some fast food chicken, so ignore that last little bit.]

The towering ebony landmark that is no more – kaput, late, Python dead parrot-like – adequately marked positions and laps in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for millions of fans in its twenty years of silent service. It did so the old fashioned way, with serviceable Edison light bulbs and simple white, neatly painted numbers. It will be fondly remembered for shining its functional orange dots ’round the world on satellite broadcasts, in grainy photographs and in the boozy, skewed memories of throngs of drunken race fans everywhere.

Described as “bigger, bolder, brighter” by IndyCar’s official PR arm (organ of the powers that be), at the risk of being called Luddites or worse we here at IRR say nuts to the new pylon. What’s wrong with smaller, lesser, duller when it comes to scoreboards, anyways? Hey buddy, ever been to Wrigley field?! It’s a frickin’ shrine and they (generally, until recently) don’t mess with it. Especially not the score board. We race fans are now stuck with the bells and whistles of a Busch Stadium-like ersatz eyesore, a regular red light camera, flashing at us, illuminating interminably, menacingly. Watching.

Who truly needs flashy video capability on a scoring stick at the world’s greatest motorsports shrine? What good are colors, animations, and crass commercial messaging on a two foot wide screen at a two and a half mile, three hundred thousand capacity speedway? Possibly most troubling of all, what about this – the very real danger of this trendy taste of Tokyo distracting beery fans from the five hundred mile race? Make no mistake, if allowed to stand the new pylon’s ostentatiousness will compete for fans’ attention against the sleek and sexy race cars and their death defying drivers hurtling side by side into the famous first turn. Finally, what about the children?!

We big-ly, boldly, brightly predict that this LED fad will soon pass, perhaps as soon as the first spring lightening storms arrive in Speedway next year. Change isn’t always good, and flashy isn’t always better, fellow fans of the 500. Bring back the old pylon. With all the nostalgia for yesteryear and faux outrage we can muster, we demand it.

[Note: If anyone of any importance at IMS is reading this, sees the light (bulbs) and reverses this dreadful decision, we’d be happy to take the new pylon off your hands. It actually looks really cool.]

Red Flags Are Good

In case you missed it – we almost did – one of IndyRaceReviewer’s main emphases is upon irreverence, hence our describing ourselves (precisely, as it turns out) in our first ever post as “this ridiculously irreverent, johnny-come-lately site.” (Don’t believe the hype – ever. The whole post’s worth reading and happens to be archived on this very site. Free.) We all need to laugh more, especially passionate fans of our beloved artistry on wheels that is IndyCar. We can be so uptight!

After perusing other sites and reading the usual wishy washy emoting it occurred to us that despite what you may read, or hear, or tweet, in racing red flags are good. Better than that, they’re great. Red flags are dramatic, add badly needed attention to the sport, and therefore it’s wet t-shirt clear: red flags must be embraced.

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Now before you leap to conclusions or misunderstand or “unfollow,” read me out. Firstly, this is a relatively rare occurrence in IndyCar racing. Multiple factors have to come together – wreckage blocking the racecourse, unsafe conditions, tight tv windows, distracting grid girls (did you see them in TO?!) and the like. It’s not that this cosmic confluence never happens, but it’s about as common as Ed Carpenter’s team winning a street race.

When on those magical occasions the red-tinged stars do align it provides a chance for an actual race to victory (said in Bobby Duvall’s raspy voice in Apocalypse Now – the napalm quote) instead of a yellow flag follow-the-Penske toward a foregone conclusion. [That’ll have to be a future post – “Yellow Flags Are So-So.”] There’s no denying races ending under yellow are very un-Indycar, Dude. It’s just not a fitting ending to the most pure and beautiful form of motor racing on the planet. It’s anti-climactic, unseemly, ugly and wrong.

So IndyCar association of states – embrace the red flag. Lord knows the series needs the attention, the buzz, the hits. Let’s admit it, sometimes the odd race can stand an injection of drama, some real closure. Wrap yourself and swaddle in the crimson cloth. You’ll look good in it. (Unless it’s the former Soviet flag, or something akin, in which case avoid it all costs. But this is a blog about racing. Seriously, it is.)

Indy Race Review – Two in Toronto

The twenty ninth and thirtieth IndyCar races held at Exhibition Place in Canada proved fairly interesting and historic, if a bit discombobulated.  Rain on Saturday led to the first single day full points double header since 1981 on Sunday, back when Russia routinely engaged in aggressive acts and the U.S. economy suffered mightily due to years of big government meddling. The more things change, the more they stay the same, no?

Similarly, a familiar if long lost face won the first of two shortened (sixty five laps instead of the usual eighty five) races held early on Sunday morning. Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais took his forty second IndyCar victory dating back to the CART days when he dominated the fields for years on end. Like those halcyon days of yore, Sebass’s performance was dominant in the first race, taking pole and leading all but a few laps. While he finished third and then second in last year’s two in TO, hilariously dropping and shattering the crystal trophy from the first race, Bourdais hadn’t won an IndyCar race since 2007, so long ago there were still two major open wheel leagues. Sebass repeatedly called that a drought of six years; but by our math here at IndyRaceReviewer, it’s actually seven.

Despite the dry conditions Sunday morning, the race was marred by a huge first lap pileup instigated by rookie Lucca Fillippi and one of IRR’s predicted winners of the weekend, Simon Pagenaud who was running fourth. We here at IRR can’t blame the drivers too much, as it was so early in the a.m. that coffee instead of beer was the beverage of the race – so strange! The race stopping  accident damaged or took several cars out of the race, including Newgarden, Sato, Conway and others, blocking the entire circuit and forcing another red flag to accompany several of the weekend. Once the carnage was cleared, Sebass essentially drove away from the field, making still more coffee a requirement for viewers of the television coverage of the first race. Not surprisingly, Castro Neves finished second for Penske and Tony Kanaan rounded out the podium with a strong performance in the #10 Target car. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much passing and once they settled in the race was largely uneventful.

The three hour pre-race/time filler show on Saturday had its moments amongst the tedium, including the inimitable Robin Miller ribbing the “mad Russian” Mikhail Aleshin about his recent run-ins with AJ Foyt’s driver Takuma Sato. “Not a big drinker,” A.J. dismissively declined Miller’s suggested offer of a bottle of vodka, although not the steak or, as Miller quipped, “the cash.” A.J. provided yet more characteristic color once they tried to commence the race in the pouring rain, leading the criticism of race control which allowed Power’s Penske crew to work on his car after he spun and hit the wall coming to the green flag while disallowing other teams from making repairs to their cars. “Every race I go to I learn something new,” A.J. growled, “taking a lot in and learning new lessons” he muttered ironically in light of his fifty plus year legendary IndyCar career. That’s another reason why we love AJ, the undisputed King of IndyCar. Sarah Fisher, Michael Andretti and other owners complained, too, but in the end it was moot as there would be no racing on the washed-out first day. All of this occurred after Arie Luyendyk spun the pace car off the course, his second spin of the year counting his two seater spin earlier in the year at Long Beach!  This reviewer does not recall ever seeing the pace car spin in all his years of race viewing. Events in Toronto grew curiouser and curiouser until the day was ultimately declared a washout, although this was unbeknownst to the television viewing public, who were inexplicably left wondering.

Before Sunday’s second race, PT’s lap around the streets with troubled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (the disgraced “crack smoking Mayor”) provided some amusing moments, although on a serious note signage ominously warning that “the games are coming” pointed out a potential conflict with next year’s race. The Pan-Am games – a brainchild of Ted Turner (is there a better reason to let these forgettable meets die a dignified death?) – will be held in Toronto next year about the same time as the IndyCar races. While Mayor Ford, a fan of the racing as well as other, less healthy pursuits, assured PT he would do whatever is necessary to hold the races regardless, there remain major problems for next year. Mayor Ford faces a tough re-election contest this fall for obvious reasons, and the city could well have a new regime in charge prior to next summer’s festivities, possibly throwing the IndyCar races, or at least their scheduling, into some doubt.

The second shortened race – which was timed – was more entertaining and eventful for IndyCar fans, with a dry start and then a rainy middle stint before a dry and exciting finish. The changing conditions scrambled the field and the teams’ strategies as one would expect, and led to a surprise winner (although readers of this blog weren’t surprised as street course ace Kentish Mike Conway was a predicted race winner). Starting the race from the inside of row six on entrant points, Conway was amongst the first drivers to bravely return to slicks on a still damp racecourse during his final pit stop, surprising even his team owner and co-driver Ed Carpenter, who wisely deferred to his street/road course driver’s wishes. The move paid off and allowed him to advance from the back through the field to win his second race of the year and fourth of his career. The win was Carpenter’s third of the year for his team, putting the small one car team funded by Fuzzy’s Vodka in rarefied air for the season. Funnily enough, Conway who hails from England, was misidentified as being from “USA” on the NBCSN graphic during his victory lane celebration.

There was one very frightening moment in the second race caused by the rain and slick conditions. Like so many others, JP Montoya slid off course and into a tire barrier in the first half of the race. But his position in the turn became extremely precarious as other cars slid through the narrow opening left to them on track. Rookie Mikhail “mad Russian” Aleshin lost it in the corner and slid directly into the back of and then under Montoya’s Penske Chevy, precipitating Montoya’s car on top of his head. Fortunately he was all right. In the interview afterward Aleshin showed the tire marks across his visor and helmet, illustrating how dangerous the situation was and how fortunate the rookie is to have escaped unscathed. Interestingly, he noted that due to the heat coming off of Montoya’s engine as well as its proximity to his face, the biggest trouble he had from the incident was breathing until the safety crews successfully and rather speedily removed the wreckage.

Kanaan turned in another masterful effort, charging to second, while Power kept it off the wall and rounded out the podium. Charlie Kimball continued to impress with a fourth place finish and A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato, who thrives in the rain, finished fifth for his best showing of the year advancing from second to last at the start. Keep an eye on Kimball, as he’s the defending race winner of Mid-Ohio where the series next visits in a couple of weeks and has passed more cars than anyone in the field this year. It’s Rahal’s home racetrack and he showed some real promise in the National Guard car this weekend until a mechanical failure/gear box problem forced him out of the second race, so he will return to the sports car course as one to watch. Did you notice his highly animated conversation afterward with team principle/father Bobby on the pit stand?

NBCSN’s coverage proved solid as usual, with racers Townsend Bell and local favorite PT providing insightful and enlightening commentary. While Bob Varsha’s race calls were acceptable, we here at IRR prefer Leigh Diffy’s higher energy approach to announcing races on television and will welcome his return to the booth in Ohio. An older track more suited for motorcycles than IndyCars, Mid-Ohio isn’t our favorite venue here at IRR, but as Takuma Sato mentioned in the post race, a “favorite” oval track (and the oldest in the country) is next up on the schedule after Mid-Ohio, the famed Milwaukee Mile. In the meantime, two unexpected winners and their underdog teams will enjoy their success at the scrambled Two in TO, and the IndyCar Series managed to put on an enjoyable couple of races despite rain wreaking havoc on the schedule.