100th Indy 500 Predictions and Prognostications: History Yet To Be Made

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Auto racing’s most important race ever is mere days away, the 100th running of the Indy 500. A fixture at Indianapolis, one thing’s always certain: history will be made come Memorial Day Sunday.

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Photo from heavy.com

Our special 100th Indianapolis 500 prediction is a whole lot of yellow – the angular 100th 500 emblem, countless canary cars, hordes of yellow shirts and yes, also a goodly number of caution flags. In IndyCar, that means lots of twenty minute snack and bathroom breaks for the spectators. With six full fledged rookies, another who barely started the 500, several more Month of May one offs and Takuma Sato in the field there’s bound to be some crashing. As for nearly half the field being yellow liveried, despite the odds we’re predicting a non-yellow car to win.

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There’ll be no track record again this year, far from it. The pole speed won’t hit  Continue reading

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How IndyCar Is Like Bernie: A Study In Socialism

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IndyCar and The Bern share several similarities, surprisingly. They’re extremely popular amongst a certain smallish segment of the population, about a century old and hoping to upset a younger favorite who enjoys better press.

It’s astonishing just how many things IndyCar and Senator Sanders share in common. So much so that perhaps the series should consider renaming them “Bern outs.” You’re probably asking yourself, how can a Socialist from Vermont be anything like a “greedy corporation,” as he’s fond of disparaging? Primarily, both have a demonstrated admiration for socialism. Translated as a central authority (e.g. the federal government or the Board of Directors) exercising vast control over people’s money and freedoms, racing rulers and politicians already do this in spades. Regardless whether it’s government or racing, we the fans pay for it all. “Fairness,” huh?

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Photo from washingtontimes.com

IndyCar’s “Leaders Circle” approach to prize money is, at its base, pure redistributionist socialism. Referred to as “profit sharing,” similar models exist in major league baseball and football as well. Sports’ version of the Marxist principle that we must redistribute wealth, it’s another example of how Bernie’s way has crept into all aspects of modern life, often going unnoticed. Under these strict rules, successful teams are forced to subsidize unsuccessful teams – or the “less fortunate” – to the tune of millions of dollars every year. As every IndyCar fan knows, encouraging more teams like Dale Coyne’s is precisely NOT what’s needed.

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Problem is, there’s no real choice. Owners, sponsors and teams are required (i.e. forced) to share the wealth, or else. In common practice and to most Americans, freedom is all about choices. Under socialism, there just aren’t any. Continue reading

Napoleonic IndyCar Driver Test: Sebastien Bourdais

 

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Images from autosport.com and napoleon-empire.com

KVSH’s Sebastien Bourdais was born on February 28, 1979 in Le Mans, France near the site of the oldest automobile endurance race in the world. His arrival came mere weeks after the first ever running of the Paris to Dakar Rally, the same month Peugeot introduced the turbo-diesel engine and ominously during CART’s revolutionary formation in the U.S. Are all these motorsport-related events in Gallic history occurring within a six week period mere accident? We think not. As Napoleon said, “there is no such thing as accident – it is fate misnamed.” Strangely similar to Napoleon, dethroned Champ Car Emperor Sebastien polarizes people like few others, as fans tend to either love him or despise him due to his past glories and commanding role in the bitterly contested “Indy-onic” wars. The Emperor of the French himself once observed, “there is no place in a fanatic’s head where reason can enter.”

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Photos from usatoday.com and IndyRaceReviewer

Like “meteors intended to burn to light their century,” the stunning successes enjoyed by both deposed Emperors are undeniable even to their most determined detractors. In a hundred thirty one career starts, Bourdais won thirty one races and four straight championships in Champ Car and a thirty second at Toronto last July during his fourth season in IndyCar – his first open wheel victory in seven years. The Frenchman’s wide ranging conquests that propelled him to “the summit of greatness” are inarguable. He’s claimed thirty three poles, sixty two top fives and eighty six top ten major league open wheel finishes as spoils of war around the globe.

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Photo from autosport.com

For comparison, Napoleon won over forty major battles, lost only a handful and ruled western Europe for fifteen years after the French Revolution. Emperor Sebastien ruled Champ Car during IndyCar’s Great Schism taking championships from 2004-2007, paradoxically benefiting from and at the same time being injured by the sport’s revolutionary blood-letting era. After all, “war is the business of barbarians.” A diluted field of drivers became Bourdais’ ally, while a divided sport diminished his accomplishments and served as enemy to all. Although he couldn’t have known it, Bourdais’ career followed precisely the same arc as Bonaparte’s, having peaked relatively early before a very lengthy and public decline.

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Photo from napoleon-empire.com

Adhering to Napoleon’s axiom to “not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war” as ruler of Champ Car, Sebass departed east for new European battlefields of Formula 1 in 2008. Like Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign two centuries before, it was an uncharacteristically fruitless foray resulting in neither wins nor even top fives and several stinging losses. Having failed to conquer F-1, he eventually returned to IndyCar in 2011 defeated and dispirited. Initially his comeback was tepid and only for non-oval races, though he’s raced full time in the series since 2013. Bourdais’ similarity to the exiled Bonaparte is in some ways uncanny, with faded glory rather than triumphalism becoming the primary focus of the latter phases of their respective careers, despite some flashes of former brilliance.

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Photos from dailymail.co.uk and racing.ap.org

The IndyCar driver exam tests drivers’ media and PR skills – “all the drivel which appears in print” – as well as their record in battle, for as Bonaparte said “four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” English speaking rivals and critics led the race to condemn the Emperor as dangerous or worse, and this negative narrative largely stuck. Image is also one of Bourdais’ greatest vulnerabilities, as with other conquerors before him his public persona is neither warm nor endearing and often viewed only through the prism of his fall. When asked recently about his 2014 campaign in an interview on indycar.com, Bourdais unwittingly illustrated just how far he’s fallen. “I think it was a great season. We showed more pace than we showed results, but that’s the way it goes.” Despite the facade of French arrogance, those certainly aren’t the sentiments of an all powerful conqueror at his zenith.

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  Images from autosport.com and napoleon-empire.com

Bourdais continued. “The target of the season was to win a race or a couple. We won one and next year the goal is to fight for the championship. Hopefully, we’ve set the foundation.” These words are more reminiscent of the late-career, returned from exile Napoleon facing an entire continent arrayed against him at Waterloo rather than the victorious Emperor at Austerlitz in his prime. Fact is, Bourdais has never been particularly adept with the media or at connecting with most IndyCar fans. His recent surprise return to the top – two poles, five top fives and seven top tens – hasn’t helped his lack of popularity or enabled him to overcome his controversial reputation. Bourdais may well agree with his Imperial countryman’s comment that “glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

In fairness, Sebass did soften some hearts with his victory lane/belated Bastille Day celebration in July, which featured his adorable towheaded kids and wife. At thirty five, the bespectacled Bourdais is one of the most senior drivers on the circuit, dating back to disco and nearly to De Gaulle. Again similar to Bonaparte, Bourdais has mellowed in middle age and now is only vaguely evocative of his previously prickly public self – or for that matter his former greatness.

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Photo from concordmonitor.com

Tellingly, he now finds himself under the rule of fellow Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, the King Louis XVIII of IndyCar who with the help of powerful outsiders supplanted Emperor Sebastian’s reign over France. Pagenaud certainly comes off as more likeable (for a Frenchman) and less threatening than Bourdais and doesn’t have his carriage train of baggage. Nor does he have the results, although King Pags recently reaped the rewards of victory in signing a compact with Team Penske. Meanwhile Bourdais languishes in IndyCar exile with KVSH, IndyCar’s equivalent of St. Helena, or at least Elba. “Greatness is nothing unless it’s lasting.”

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Due to his short-lived yet historic reign of Champ Car alone Bourdais passes the driver test, but only barely. Just as jealousies, biases and fear – rightly or wrongly – shape Napoleon’s image in people’s minds to the present day, Sebastien’s public perception has been similarly forged. Sadly and also like the middle aged Bonaparte, he leads an imprisoned, exiled existence knowing his best days are behind him. In this confused world, genius is rarely accompanied by warmth or fondness. Fallen rulers always have been difficult to deal with – especially when they insist upon making a comeback. As the faded Frenchman’s fellow famous fallen figure in Franco history frankly divulged, “all celebrated people lose dignity upon a close view.”

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Images from reuters.com and napoleonguide.com

IndyCar’s Great Schism: A Brief Comparative History of the Split, Part 1

In the vast annals of history there have been many highs and lows, glorious as well as regrettable chapters throughout the millennia. Many embarrassing episodes struck civilization, as is to be expected of even long standing institutions of mere mortal men. The chronicles of the Catholic Church make up a significant part of the history of western civilization, stretching back thousands of years. While IndyCar’s history doesn’t encompass a fifteenth of that of the Church nor is it nearly as important in the grand order of things, it does share a similarly destructive controversy with the Church that rocked both institutions to their very foundations – the Great Schism.

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Like the Catholic Church’s Great Schism, IndyCar’s split is now a largely forgotten footnote that represents an embarrassing era in history. These divides weakened and changed both the Church and IndyCar irreversibly.  Like the crisis in the church, IndyCar’s split was in part a power struggle and a battle for control, yet these conflicts went beyond that. As with the Papacy in the Middle Ages, suddenly there were two competing camps vying for control of IndyCar racing which resulted in a bitter and protracted fight, confusion amongst followers, and a period of dangerous decline. Unfortunately all of this was to the vast benefit of critics, unbelievers and rivals.

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During the fourteenth century, the Papacy had grown weak, falling under the control of French Kings and based in Avignon, France rather than Rome. The period was known as the Babylonian Captivity in the Catholic Church, and ended poorly with Pope Gregory XI’s momentous return to Rome in 1377, only to die the next year. Amidst high hopes the Cardinals elected a new Italian Pope, but their relations with the new Urban VI rapidly deteriorated for a variety of petty political reasons. The Cardinals moved against Urban deposing him and swiftly electing a second, more compliant Pope in 1378. Clement VII belonged to or was connected with the most powerful families of Europe and would remain completely loyal to the French monarchy while residing in Avignon, France.

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The Great Schism cleaved the Church, which now stood divided with two heads. England and France, already locked in the Hundred Years’ War, chose opposite sides and France’s Clement became known as the anti-Pope. The embarrassing split lasted for decades until the abdication of the then three Popes and the election of Pope Martin V in 1417. Pope Martin – who did little in the way of reform – ironically assumed the Pontificate exactly one hundred years before Luther’s Protestant Reformation would bring about truly needed reforms.

Almost exactly six centuries later, IndyCar team owners seized control of the sport that long time Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman had headed until his death in 1977. Hulman had been the Pope of IndyCar racing, having resurrected the Speedway after World War II and making Indianapolis into the Rome of motor racing. Like several medieval papacies, the Speedway and IndyCar had become a family affair run for many decades by a single powerful Hulman (and later Hulman-George) clan. Upon Hulman’s demise, IndyCar drifted rudderlessly at sea as people awaited the choice of the next Pontiff.

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Image from bala-lake-railway.co.uk

Announcing the formation of Championship Auto Racing Teams or CART in 1978, owners led by Dan Gurney, Pat Patrick and Roger Penske – the French Cardinals of IndyCar – boldly determined to chart IndyCar’s new course themselves. According to Ed Hinton at espn.com on deadline day for entry in the 1979 Indy 500, CART lawyers delivered paperwork for over forty entrants along with a list of demands that the Speedway must meet if they were to participate, meaning if there were to be a race at all.

The ultimatum had been given. The Speedway rejected the demands and told CART owners they were unwelcome at the 500 that year. CART sued IMS and won the right to race at Indy anyway, thereafter filling the vacuum left by Hulman’s death and controlling IndyCar in much the same way the French monarchy controlled the Church in the late Middle Ages.

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Profits-focused, CART set about radically changing IndyCar, emulating Formula 1 with more road and street circuits and foreign born ride-buying drivers.  Like the Papacy during the Babylonian Captivity – with outside influences playing an increasingly large role in important official matters and governance of the series by committee – IndyCar eventually became diluted, showy and misguided under CART’s dubious stewardship.

Again according to Hinton, once Hulman’s grandson Tony George assumed control of the Speedway at age thirty in accordance with family tradition, the legitimate competing Pope set about regaining control of IndyCar racing for his family. Butting heads with the CART owners, who routinely rejected his ideas like a single series boss and who tended to view him as a “punk” and mere “track promoter,” George resigned from CART’s board and in 1994 announced the formation of the Indy Racing League.

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George’s IRL was to be an all oval series that showcased American talent like Indiana born Tony Stewart and built around the St. Peter’s Basilica of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With two opposite worldviews in place – one based on profit and emulating F-1, the other based on tradition and oval racing – IndyCar’s Great Schism became a full blown battle for American open wheel supremacy. The conflict had been brewing since the owner’s Babylonian Captivity beginning in the late 1970s, and it now became an all out war for the soul of the sport.