Sonoma Season Finale Race Review: S&M Edition

Racing at Sonoma through the years has often been painful to watch, and the season finale was no different. Admittedly, there were a few moments of pleasure along with hours of punishment.

Scott Dixon clinched his fifth championship Sunday in dominant fashion, totally overshadowing Ryan Hunter-Reay who abused the competition from pole in IndyCar’s final race at the dungeon like track. In a curious move by the series’ sole broadcast partner, NBCSN viewers missed an eventful start due to preemption by a NASCAR crash and delay at Vegas. Of course it proved to be one of few interesting segments of the day, and for fans it really hurt.

As Hunter-Reay led the field to the green his teammate Alexander Rossi suffered a brain fade typical of his youth and inexperience. Entering turn 1 the championship contender inexplicably ran into the back of teammate Marco Andretti, damaging his front wing and right front tire and all but eliminating his title hopes. Rossi would battle back and almost make it interesting by the end, but couldn’t surpass Dixon’s maturity and experience.

Cars quickly strung out single file as normalcy returned to Sonoma. Continue reading

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Sonoma Season Finale Predictions & Prognostications: A Frenchman, A Kiwi & A Mexican Walk Into A Wine Bar . . .

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With season’s end in sight, so too are the soon to be crowned champ, race winner, first to exit and – thanks to IRR’s amazing powers of prognostication – various other hilarity inducing outcomes.

The special prediction not only for the season finale but also for the last IndyCar race at Sonoma – at least for a while, considering this series’ schizophrenic schedule one never says never – is that the place won’t be missed. At all. Rather, the so-called racing there‘ll be about as sorely missed as a severe wine hangover.

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

Our pick for pole is Will “not so super” Power, again. It’ll be his fifth of the season and fifty fifth pole of his career. He trails only Mario Andretti’s mark of 67 poles on the all-time list and could well break it in the future – especially if his competition continues their joke like qualifying efforts. Power topping Mario, A.J., or any of the other greats in IndyCar annals strikes us as being in incredibly bad taste.

First out of the finale will be one of Harding Racing’s multiple rookie entries. Our pick is Indy Lights champ Patricio O’Ward in what will be his first career start for the upstart outfit. The 19 year old Mexican impressed in the junior series, winning over half the races and poles he contested and finishing every one. With struggling Harding however, expect that run to come to a halt Sunday – quicker than a south of the border street burrito races through whomever’s dense enough to eat it.

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Photo from fabwags.com

Biggest surprise to IndyCar fans Continue reading

Portland Race Review: Cluster Edition

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Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing had quite the day at the Portland Grand Prix, with one driver in victory lane and the other ripping the racing, the stewards and the series. Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato scored another victory, while his teammate Ragin’ Graham Rahal was along with several others caught up in another frightening first lap pileup that for once was no fault of his own. However, his scathing criticisms of blatant incompetence in race control had us grinning from ear to ear.

After qualifications but prior to the race, two Andretti Autosport teammates who factored largely in the outcome poignantly diverged in their assessment of the place. And after eleven years away, why not? Ryan Hunter-Reay praised the braking zones as portending engaging racing, while his teammate Alexander Rossi said flatly, “we all know it’s hard to pass here.” In the long run, Rossi was the more correct – though less lucky – on the day.

Photo from indycar.com

Once the green flag flew, Rossi sped around Josef Newgarden for second, with RHR gaining too, until trouble struck. In the back Simon Pagenaud initially encountered problems going off track, followed by fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais. Then the latest frightening first lap crash occurred due to contact between rookie phenom Zach Veach and James Hinchcliffe in turn 3. Hinch spun, causing a trailing Marco Andretti to spin and roll backwards over Hinch’s car, flipping upside down in the process. After Pocono, it was the last thing anyone wanted to see, although Portland’s configuration – specifically the chicane – invites it. Remarkably, and once he was turned right side up, Marco jumped out of the car unscathed, though covered in dirt. He spoke of being “really lucky,” and of his head being “on the ground,” thanks to Rahal hitting him from behind.

Ganassi’s potentially soon to be ex Ed Jones was victimized in the incident and out of the race, his helmet scarred from the crash. Hinch’s car was repaired and he was able to get back out, though many laps down. Another victim of course was the aforementioned Rahal, who made his feelings on the accident crystal clear. “It was a cluster. . . . Oh yeah, Veach – I mean come on now, give him some room. There’s no room there at all … So it’s just wrong, and then the officials take no action, which is typical of our officiating crew. It’s disappointing.”

Driver Marco Andretti was involved in a four-car crash Sunday at the start of the Portland Grand Prix at Portland International Raceway.

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Included in the carnage was championship leader Scott Dixon, who Continue reading

Barber Preview: Broken Record Edition

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More records are likely to be broken as IndyCar screeches into Alabama this weekend, the series’ third consecutive race since inexplicably skipping an entire month after the St. Pete opener. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but Team Penske’s success at Barber is nearly as unblemished as a mint condition Beatles vinyl still in the original packaging.

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Josef “new American hero” Newgarden (according to Robin Miller) has swiped two of the last three at the deep south’s premier motorbike track, an undeniably impressive album of work. Continue reading

More Oval Tracks, Please!

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IRR renews its call for more rich, riveting oval track sweetness, as road races truly are the skim milk of IndyCar.

Why must the home of the world’s most famous sip of milk be in a distinct minority of race tracks? Considering two thirds of IndyCar’s races now take place on road courses – several of which are utterly unwatchable, like Mid-Ohio – the old Ovaltine ads suddenly leapt to mind, inspiring our call for ‘More oval tracks, please!’

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Longtime readers are no doubt accustomed to our overt oval track preferences. It’s significant to note however that recent seasons more than bear this out. Take last year, for example. Indy, Pocono, Texas and even East St. Louis (of all places) were easily the most entertaining races of the season.

By contrast, St. PeteToronto and Watkins Glen were terrible. Happily the latter’s no longer with us – one down, two to go. It’s really no surprise as high speed, circuitous venues routinely outshine their plodding, winding yet more numerous counterparts. That is unless your idea of compelling competition is Sonoma last September – talk about sour!

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Image of A Christmas Story from the web

As poltroonish politicians are always saying, ‘Think of the children!’ An entire generation of young race fans now exists to whom exquisite oval races are all but alien. Two hundred mile per hour plus thrills have become waaaay too few and far between, even if you get NBC Sports. Continue reading

The Why Of IRR, Or: The Answer To A Rather Impertinent Question

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For the first time a fervent though flawed follower inspires IRR to provide even more real world racing answers.

IndyCar’s snoozer of a season finale at Sonoma had just concluded and our work – reviewing the regrettable race – had just begun. Having formulated a concept, we dutifully sent out the usual “coming soon” Tweet announcing our forthcoming Race Review, titled “Ho-hum Edition.” That’s when the impertinent reply from – let’s just call him “Deplorable Paganator” – arrived through the vagaries of cyberspace with a distinct thud. “Do you actually like IndyCar or not?”

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In spite of the innate insolence, it is an interesting question. The answer’s a complicated one, but Continue reading

2017 IndyCar Season Review

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The series’ recently concluded campaign proved predictable – at least to us – and lacked both a sense of rhythm and any real rivalries. While having its moments, overall 2017 missed out on the excitement and drama of previous years.

This season’s highlights included breathtaking oval racing at Pocono and – to a lesser extent, thank you Tony Kanaan – Texas. Even the racing at Gateway was much improved over the last time they visited a decade ago and an additional oval on the schedule – no matter how inadequate its layout – is welcome change.

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Photo from twitter.com

Lowlights involved beyond tedious racing at the usual suspects like Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen and the season finale at Sonoma. Even St. Pete was a stinker this year and as usual the Indy Grand Prix was nearly unwatchable. Iowa‘s daytime race – as opposed to the superior night races of years past – earned the biggest flop award, with Phoenix a close second in the balloting. Iowa Speedway already announced a Sunday date in early July, meaning it’ll be another day race next year.

Easily the most absurd moment of the year was f-ing F1 invader Fernando Alonso being gifted the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award over Ed Jones, or “The Great Hardware Robbery,” as we termed it. This was closely followed by Alo’s team owner Michael Andretti’s brief flirtation with Chevy after winning the last two 500s with Honda and Sam Schmidt beginning to mimic Andretti’s dumb Indy 500 decisions.

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Photo from indycar.com

The most shocking moment by far Continue reading

IndyCar Sonoma Season Finale Predictions and Prognostications: Adios, Aero Kits!

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IRR sets forth its final predictions of the 2017 season – including a surprise champion – while bidding adieu to a crime against racing aesthetics.

Our special prediction for the GoPro Grand Prix is while Sonoma may not feature much passing on its twisted, narrow confines, at least it’s the last time we’ll ever have to watch those hideously fugly, dangerous aero kits in action. Their departure alone will make this nearly unwatchable finale held in a dustbowl almost palatable, raising our spirits markedly in the process. That, and the wine.

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Photo from racesonoma.com

Incidentally, since the cars become obsolete Sunday night – it’s about time – we’d love to see a non-points demolition derby held immediately following the podium celebrations. Charlie “pinball” Kimball, J.R. “hair today, gone next year” Hildebrand and Taku Sato would battle for an Andretti Winery gift certificate and Conor Daly’s domestic duties for a day. Which leads us to . . .

Saturday’s fight for pole position will take on special significance at the infamously tedious track, with the championship contenders – Team Penske and Ganassi’s Scott Dixon – vying for the extra point and tremendous advantage starting up front at Sonoma brings. Four of the last five Grands Prix have been won by drivers starting in the top 3, including fickle Frenchman Simon Pagenaud from pole last year and Dixon’s win in 2014 (his win in 2015 came from 9th).

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Photo from indycar.com

Saying goodbye to all that, Continue reading

IndyCar Sonoma Season Finale Preview: Bouquet Edition

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Not prone to flowery descriptions, a sometimes acidic tongued IRR stopped in Sonoma wine country to smell the season finale roses – or rosé, as it were. Instead we found a big, fat turd bouquet. Northern California wines may be fine, but unfortunately for fans of fast the racing there’s regularly near the bottom of IndyCar’s barrel.

“In vino, veritas” as the Romans said, but even from a clear-eyed, sober view of things the racing at Sonoma honestly stinks. Like other regrettable road courses on the schedule – Watkins Glen, Barber, Mid-Ohio – the twisted track’s an affront to the olfactory senses. Bouquet, indeed!

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

Sonoma’s simply not suited to IndyCars and fails to provide anything approaching intoxicating action. In fact, the lack of passing, speeds and thrills is all rather dry and pedestrian. The series’ choice of venue for the season finale tends to leave an unpleasant, vinegary aftertaste.

Like the local produce, reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud comes across as fruity, often with a hint of bitterness. This was especially the case following his spicy encounter with Penske teammate Josef Newgarden at Gateway. Let it suffice to say Pags was less than vintage during the podium celebration.

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Photo from indycar.com

But the earthy Frenchman suddenly vaulted back into the title hunt after Newkid’s disastrous stumble at Watkins Glen, Continue reading

IndyCar Watkins Glen Preview: Wit’s End Edition

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With the season’s end in sight, there’s still plenty of IRR wittiness left in the tank.

Sadly, summertime’s over and with it – even more unfortunately – the rousing oval portion of IndyCar’s schedule. Two wine region, cheesy road courses remain, Watkins Glen in upstate New York and the Sonoma finale in California. In the Glen’s case, the most memorable parts of last year’s race were the ubiquitous paid Verizon plugs. Expect neither venue to excite nearly as much as Pocono or Texas regularly do, as the season slinks toward a less than satisfactory conclusion. It all has us feeling at wit’s end.

Josef “teammate terminator” Newgarden has the championship all but wrapped up thanks to Power and Helio’s witlessness at Gateway. There’s no end to his predictable success this season, taking three of the last four races and holding a 31 point championship lead. Making it worse, Team Penske’s won the last five in row. This marks the first time in many years the IndyCar finale probably won’t hold any title significance whatsoever, even with the gimmicky double points paid in the NoCal conclusion.

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Similarly, the rookie of the year award has been settled for some time with only a single candidate and therefore no competition. The fact than Alonso was gifted the Indy 500 ROY remains a travesty, truly “The Great Hardware Robbery,” as we termed it. Ed Jones deserved the award finishing third to Fernando’s 24th, just as he deserves the season ROY. Lack of other contenders aside, Jones has been the most impressive newcomer to the series in recent memory. Thankfully a better ROY resolution’s in the offing.

Happily, the end of the awful aero kit era is also in sight. It’ll be good riddance to bad chassis soon, perhaps the most compelling reason to look forward to next season. Continue reading