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Searching long and hard for positives to report about yesterday’s embarrassment of a race, NOLA featured the only Ferris wheel in the world located in a swamp. On Sunday IndyCar ran half a race that consisted of over half caution periods with half the field going off course and called it good. The race was so slow that Canuck funnyman James Hinchcliffe won it for Sam Schmidt on one pit stop. Summing up the entire weekend the winner tellingly said afterward, “I feel bad for the fans.” We agree and say one stop is enough for NOLA. Surprisingly we also concur with Michael Andretti who referred to it all as “a nightmare,” and even with Chip Ganassi who apologized to the fans for the fiasco.
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The IndyCar season so far has seen the first race cancelled and the next two filled with crashes and cautions. At NOLA when the debris was finally cleared and ten plus minutes had passed during the many lengthy yellows, restarts on the wet track invariably led to more crashes and cautions in a cycle that became hard to watch. The entire day felt off kilter again due in large part to stormy conditions. They rushed to start the race early foregoing driver intros, a pre-race show and even Robin Miller’s grid run. Ticket buying fans surely felt shorted by the rather unprofessional and hurried rush to start the race, though not nearly as much as they would when it ended early and under caution.
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The race began with a wet start and stayed green with Montoya and the Penskes up front, interrupted only by the TCGR car of Tony Kanaan. For the second race in a row the Ganassi crew let their drivers down as Kanaan’s fueler had issues with the fuel probe, costing TK time and positions. We immediately called for a probe of the probe by the Chipster, and also for a full investigation of the air jack that failed on Dixie‘s car at St. Pete.
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Like many others, Kanaan went off course for some swamp sledding as it just wasn’t his or Ganassi’s day. Rookie TCGR driver Sage Karam banged into team mate Charlie Kimball, destroying another of Chip’s expensive front wings and ruining his race. He’d later spin off into a gravel trap causing another caution. As we predicted, Team Penske dominated the race early. When the cautions began it turned out not to be their day either, but rather a day for the underdogs. The trouble began soon after Curt Cavin wrongly Tweeted about there being no front wing damage after the first dozen or so laps. That’s when the long string of yellows started.
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Rookie Colombian Gabby “Pat” Chavez brought out the initial caution of the race spinning off the rain soaked track in the Bryan Herta Autosport machine. Stuck, Gabby was unable to get it going in the swamp grass when in an unusual scene a corner worker bravely ran out to the car, disregarded the rules and gave Gabby a freeing push onto the track. He’d eventually finish 15th.
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There were some interesting battles between countrymen on track during the brief green flag periods, including French on French crime as Pags and Bourdais went at it and then again later when prodigal Englishman James Jakes spun and crashed fellow Brit Jack Hawksworth on a restart ending his day. AJ Foyt Racing’s Hawksworth was upset – and rightfully so – but needs to take some speech lessons as his northern accent is nearly unintelligible, particularly when he’s peeved. After being out of the series all last year, Jakes incredibly recovered to finish third for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Rookie Stefano “faster than Andretti” Coletti was having a good day advancing through the field and at one point passing Hinchcliffe before going off course and then onto pit road. He was again faster than Marco until on a restart his car snapped sideways in the water, narrowly missing competitors and slamming backwards hard into a guard rail. Amazingly the KV team repaired the heavily damaged car and the fearless Monacan returned to finish 17th.
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Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay was the top Honda much of the race and battled with Bourdais and Pags until the three of them had a scary crash into a tire barrier bringing out yet another yellow. Pags went off course starting the incident and Bourdais hit the barrier hard, narrowly missing being hit in the head by RHR’s flying rear wing. After the race Bourdais said it missed him by two inches and the impact broke his car’s tub just over his right shoulder. AA’s Simona de Silvestro persevered to finish a strong 4th in an important result for her future in the series.
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So Honda, Hinch and Schmidt somehow prevailed in the partial race in the swamp. Fittingly, his car ran out of fuel on the way to victory lane. Hinchliffe’s Firestone winner’s hat read “NOLA 2016” on the side as the push for the series to return has already begun. We’d much prefer an oval track alternative next year, for as Hinch proved one stop in NOLA’s enough.