Thoughts on the 2014 Season thus far

There’s no denying it’s been an extremely entertaining season of IndyCar racing thus far. In these parts, it’d be described as “better’n three day rodeo.” In fact, the last several years of racing in the ICS have been excellent, with a few exceptions which we’ll excuse, going back to the last year with the old Dallaras. The death of Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas was obviously tragic, but the strides made in car safety and race-ability with the current cars he helped develop are remarkable. Take for example Jack Hawksworth’s recent injurious hit into the wall at Pocono practice. Reports were that in his two brief but impactful encounters with the safer-barrier (thank you Tony George and the U. of Nebraska), the g-force ratings on his body were 100 and 75 g-forces, respectively. Stop and think about that for a second – that’s 100 times his body weight sustained during the crash, followed by 75 times his weight in the second impact. If young Jack, a svelt Englishman, weighs 23 stone, er, sorry – let’s say 160 pounds – then that’s a force of eight tons absorbed by his body, mitigated only by his Dallara DW and the aforementioned energy absorbing steel and foam safer barrier. It’s an incredible stress on the body and in young Jack’s case, it led to a bruised heart, a hospital stay and a missed start at the 500 miler. Take THAT, Robert Plant!  It’s safe to say that a mere few years ago, the young Brit would have been in much worse shape, if in any shape at all after that one.

It was a practice accident that tragically cost Paul Dana his life several years ago, and another that cost Sam Schmidt the use of his legs in 2000. In one of the best instances of perseverance, toughness and gritty love for the sport ever, Sam now confined to a wheelchair is a successful IndyCar team owner who recently drove a lap with some computer assistance around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Technology continues to take leaps and bounds forward, particularly in IndyCar racing, as Dallara and others continuously work to improve their platforms. As fans and admirers, we should all be thankful for that.

It’s been a reasonably safe year otherwise, although Dario’s retirement-inducing crash at Houston late last year mustn’t be forgotten. Arguably the fencing was again a major culprit in this one, as with Wheldon’s crash, but it certainly could have turned out much worse for those involved. It seems as though Target Chip Ganassi Racing is still reeling from his loss; it certainly hasn’t been the new Chevy power plant that’s let the team down this year. But your humble author is never one to count this team out, and expects them to be up front again at Toronto this year. Kanaan has struggled to adjust to his new team and some rotten luck, while Dixon’s been oddly quiet all year long. We’ll see if a trip back to Toronto – where incredibly he swept both races last year – has the desired affect. It’s been reported that the team has done some recent testing on road/street courses at Sebring. It will be interesting to see if it pays off for the red cars. Your humble narrator continues to be impressed with both Kimball and Briscoe as of late, in Ganassi’s non-red cars. This is especially so considering the “first team’s” struggles all season long.

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s emotional victory at Indy, along with two other wins (the most recent coming in stunning fashion last Saturday night in Iowa) has him firmly established as a contender, while the rest of his team has been struggling. Marco and Hinch have both been lack-luster at best and have been out-shined by their rookie teammate, Carlos Munoz. This kid’s fun to watch and is fearless on the ovals. He’s very likely to be ROY, and both of his performances at the Indianapolis 500 have been outstanding. Another rookie who’s been fun to watch is the “mad Russian,” Aleshin. For a driver with no oval experience, and little experience at all in the major league, he’s been solid for Schmidt’s team since the drop of the green flag in St. Pete.

Perennial powerhouse Team Penske has had an odd year, at least from the Captain’s perspective. Power’s incessant penalties and brain-fades have been puzzling and perhaps show the pressure he’s feeling with the addition of JPM, whose past brilliance – see the 2000 Indy 500, for example; he dominated the race in his rookie outing – has reignited, and more quickly than many thought possible. Of course Helio’s a consummate veteran who remains a threat to win every race. He’s had a bit of poor luck this year, as well, but remains near the points lead along with Power. And now they’re both looking over their shoulders at their teammate, among others.

It’s been a compelling and riveting season so far, with more edge of your seat action to come. Expect some high drama at Toronto, doubly so with the twin bill this weekend. Can Pagenaud make a statement for Schmidt? Will one of the usual suspects prevail? Or will another relative newcomer/unknown surprise us all again, ala Carlos Huertas for Dale Coyne Racing? Newgarden, Conway, or even Sato could pull off a dramatic surprise, particularly the way this season’s been going. It should be fun!

 

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