Detroit One Race Review: Half Assed Half Race Edition

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After Saturday’s half assed half race, we feel IndyCar owes its fans at least another race this season, if not two. We’ve had a cancelled race and now two rain shortened ones and we’re just halfway through the schedule. Of course the good folks at IMS can’t control the weather – yet – but it does point out how spoiled we’d all become during IndyCar’s years long stretch of good conditions for its races.

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Due to the weather and IndyCar’s recent proclivity to fill up the first half of its tv window, there was no pre race show and cars were already rolling in the rain on ABC at 2:30 Central. Downpours and debris marked Detroit’s first race of 2015 and had it been a complete race there may not have been many cars left to race on Sunday.

For the third race in a row now, a driver committed a first lap pile up. At least this time it was a rookie, Stefano “faster than Andretti” Coletti, though the results were no less discouraging particularly for Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan whose races were ruined. Rahal’s streak of top Honda with two seconds and a fifth the last three races ended as he became the first out of the race. There were an embarrassing three yellows in the first seven laps counting the start which took place under caution in the rain. Rookie Venezuelan “Speedy” Gonzalez  for Coyne had multiple issues early, hitting other cars and the wall.

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For fans of real IndyCar racing, Detroit with all its carnage was as usual difficult to watch. Chip Ganassi had some biting comments for the rookies and their teams when asked about the beginning of the race. “It’s hard to score points when you’re up in the fence,” he said. “Somebody’s gotta sit these young guys down and tell them. We’re trying to start a race here.”

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In a textbook example of poetic justice, Ganassi driver Charlie Kimball soon thereafter smacked the wall extremely hard, moving the concrete barrier and showering the track with debris. He wasn’t the only driver with issues in the event, not by a long shot. The wet conditions brought out the worst in several teams and drivers. Will Power had a problem with his left rear tire during one pit stop, dropping about five positions and never able to recover.

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Starting in the rear and on a different strategy, Marco inherited the lead of the jumbled race. The broadcast featured Michael and Marco Andretti‘s radio communications and made for some enjoyable viewing as the weather improved and the drivers settled down or crashed out. Interestingly, Michael misinformed Marco when he asked what lap they were on. “We’re on lap 21,” Michael said on the radio when in fact they were restarting on lap twenty four. Not sure if this affected Marco’s result, but it was incorrect information.

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With weather approaching on the radar, Michael urged his son to pit for rain tires. Marco said, “I think we can stay out!” Michael told him to “Follow Will!” Power into the pits, but that’s not what happened. Marco ignored the order and stayed out on his slicks, building a huge lead over the field which was mainly on rain tires on a drying track.

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Marco and Michael continued to battle on radio. “Its dry back here!” Marco yelled the next lap. “You make the call then,” Michael said, apparently tired of arguing with his son. Marco stayed out again for another lap in the lead, yelling “Slicks, slicks, slicks!” on the radio ahead of his pit stop. He ultimately waited to pit until low fuel forced him to, while his team mate Carlos Munoz was able to stay out several more laps before pitting. This turned out to be the crucial sequence of the rain shortened race, as luck, er- strategy fell Munoz’s way.

Carlos Munoz of Colombia competes during the first race of the IndyCar Detroit Grand Prix auto racing doubleheader Saturday, May 30, 2015, in Detroit. Munoz has his first career IndyCar victory when the race was called because of rain after 47 laps. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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There was some wild racing on the restarts, with drivers frantically battling for position as more storms approached. At the front Marco lost the lead on a restart when his car briefly stalled. AJ Foyt’s Jack Hawksworth took the lead before having to pit. Alan Bestwick described it as “Marco’s hiccupped. His car has hiccupped!” This happened just after Hinchliffe’s sub Hoosier Conor Daly was contacted by Ryan Hunter-Reay on the restart, forcing Daly into the pits for tires and ruining his fifth place run. Like a great number of others on the day, Hunter-Reay was only warned for avoidable contact by race control.

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Tempers flared all over the track. Pennsylvanian Ganassi driver Sage Karam tangled with Sato and was actually penalized – not warned like many others – by race control for flagrant blocking. The commentators briefly mentioned Karam and Sato had issues at Indy, including a shoving match after an incident there. World War II could break out on track in today’s race.

St. Petersburg, FL - March 30, 2014: Eddie Cheever, Alan Bestwick and Scott Goodyear during the 2014 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

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The broadcast was as comical and disappointing as the race. Bestwick stole our gambling analogy, without so much as a mention of IRR. Thanks, pal. Cheever – who should know better – called Coletti from Monaco an “Italian,” and Goodyear described how “the more it doesn’t rain, the more dry the track will be.” Brilliant stuff from the ABC crew. Cheever’s finest moment might have been when he informed the audience “It’s raining. It’s raining.”

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AA’s Carlos Munoz stormed to the front from twentieth as he’s shown he is capable of doing. In second behind Marco, his fuel saving paid off allowing him to pit later and then beat Marco out of the pits to take the lead. Shortly thereafter the race was red flagged on lap forty eight of seventy, though it was officially a timed race anyway. It was the Colombian Munoz’s first IndyCar win and the sixth different winner in seven races. Newgarden is the other first time winner this year at Barber. Notably, Honda ‘s won both wet races this year, at NOLA and now Detroit 1.

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AJ Foyt Racing’s Sato ended up 11th, while Jack Hawksworth came in seventh after both cars were either in or near the lead for much of the race. The Penskes managed only third, fourth, sixth and tenth in a refreshing change on a street course, with Pags taking his first podium for the Cap’n. After starting early, ABC showed the end of the Indy 500 to fill out its time slot – a real race and one that makes us look forward to Texas next weekend all the more. When the twenty three year old first time race winner describes it as “ok” in victory lane, you know it hasn’t been the best show.

Post Race Quotes

Carlos Munoz [On how it feels to win]: “It feels ok. . . . God was with me and I’m lucky. I wanted to have my first win with all the laps, but . . . ”

Marco Andretti: “Seemed like a no brainer as long as I kept it off the fence. Glad for an AA 1-2 win.”

Michael Andretti [On his thinking before the race]  “That we had a shot at it, especially in these conditions.” [On the pit strategy with Marco] “I’m like screw it, we’re . . . coming in. It ended up helping Carlos.” [On engine struggles] “You start wondering if we’re even gonna get a win this year. Honda’s working hard and we’re gonna get more and more competitive.”

Simon Pagenaud, 3rd place: “Today was all about team effort. Great strategy, great call. We had a few commiunications exchange [sic]. Glad we got some luck in the end.” [On Munoz’s pass of him] “It was ok. . . . It was a smart race on my side today. I’m pretty happy. Is fun. I love these conditions. It’s tricky but fun. . . . I don’t care, I’m just gona take it – it’s my first podium with Team Penske. . . . In Indy we had the best car but didn’t win. I’m happy for him. He’s been knocking at the door.”

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