Photo from ap.org
Riveting racing in IndyCar’s return to action Sunday was largely overshadowed by shabby coverage from the Always Being Crass network in hopefully its last year broadcasting the series. Sebastien Bourdais survived the near constant carnage to repeat at St. Pete in a race featuring a whopping 366 on track passes. Fans maybe got to see ten percent of them. Given the sheer frequency of commercial interruptions, one would have thought the local newscaster the victor.
An asinine infomercial ran until ten minutes before the green flag. With so much new this year – gorgeous cars, rookie drivers and fledgling teams – the hyper abbreviated “pre-race” was in reality a slap in fans’ faces. Considering it’s Bestwicke, Goodyear and Cheever in the booth however, perhaps it wasn’t such a great loss.
Photo from espnmediazone.com
Will “Sour Grapes” Power’s first lap spin surprised even those of us predicting early trouble, and boy did it materialize. Even Scott Dixon suffered a rare brain fade worthy of a rookie – or worse, Marco – smacking Sato and instigating one of eight caution flags, five of which came in the early going. Old ‘n in the way TK and rookie Zach Veach made contact before Ragin’ Graham Rahal banged into Spencer Pigot, bringing out yet another yellow.
Away for another ubiquitous break, ABC missed multiple restarts as pole sitting newby Robert Wickens enjoyed a comfortable lead throughout most of the race. In a bit of foreshadowing, Bourdais briefly inherited the lead after the first round of pit stops. Soon after, A.J. Foyt Racing‘s Matheus Leist ran hard into the wall, becoming the first out of the race – exactly as predicted.
After a commercial break, a restart finally came on lap 34 as Bourdais led Pigot and Wickens, who retook the lead after a Bourdais bobble and a Pigot pit. Jack “Pinky” Harvey suffered a cut tire and wrecked, again slowing the race. Wickens, Rossi and Marco took the green flag several laps later as Bourdais dropped back. In the most enlightening commentator statement of the day, Cheever said “pace isn’t the issue this year.” On tracks like St. Pete, it certainly isn’t.
Wickens and Rossi both had slow pit stops but battled back to the front, with Bourdais remaining in the mix. Once Bourdais pitted a final time, Wickens made a pass and retook the lead on lap 79. It sure looked like it was his race to lose. He did. After what seemed like a ten minute commercial break Wickens, Rossi and Bourdais continued to battle as the laps wound down. Then ABC prioritized still more ads. Rossi shadowed Wick for the lead, nine seconds ahead of Bourdais. Then Rossi miscued, running wide into the corner and locking up his breaks in a mistake that cost him dearly.
Photo from indycar.com
As Allen Bestwicke mistakenly called him, “IndyCar’s first Australian,” [sic] Austrian Rene Binder ran into a tire barrier, seemingly giving his pursuers one last shot. It didn’t help, so Max “Paris” Chilton took his turn in the tire barrier, giving Rossi and Bourdais two final laps to catch the crazed Canuck – though not before still more crass commercial messages.
On the final restart of the race, a trailing Rossi – on spent tires – slid into Wickens going into the turn, spinning him out and ruining his race. He also handed Bourdais the win. In the drive of the day, Rahal advanced twenty two positions from last to second, while Rossi still managed a podium. It was a Honda sweep. Finishing in the rear, Wickens presumably was “gutted” – as SeBass said – though most fans’ll never know. ABC quickly cut to commercials and then the NBA, but only after Dale Coyne‘s tearful winner said his piece and fittingly sipped his energy drink.