IndyCar News Week in Review

  • Silly Season Dominoes Tumble: Canuck James Hinchcliffe announced Tuesday that he’s signed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport, filling Pag’s vacant seat as he’s now at Team Penske. The Canadian comedian did so in characteristic style, making the announcement at a local brewery in Indianapolis. This after officiating the marriage ceremony of fellow driver Charlie Kimball last week. Beer, change of scenery and honeymooning – what a charmed life IndyCar drivers lead.

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  • The Game of Musical Seats continues: Ryan Briscoe’s now a free agent again with reports linking Sage Karam to Ganassi’s fourth car next year. It seems as though in IndyCar as in life the rich continue to get richer, the poor poorer. Rumors have linked young limey Jack Hawksworth to A.J. Foyt Racing’s famed 14 car. IRR predicted both Briscoe and Sato were in trouble months ago, as both underperformed rather spectacularly in 2014. With Hawksworth a free agent, Bryan Herta Autosport joins the list of teams looking for a fresh pilot, as does Andretti Autosport. Got all that?

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Mr. & Mrs. Briscoe – photo from indystar.com

  • A.J. Foyt Racing Expanding to Speedway: According to reports, A.J. Foyt Racing purchased a large building on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. They plan to renovate, rent out part and use part of it as a satellite base in Indy during the season while maintaining their main base outside of Houston, Texas. A.J. is quoted on his team’s website: “We’re happy to be part of Speedway’s redevelopment.” It’s a positive sign for the team and a plus for Speedway. Plus it’ll be a little bit of A.J. in Indy, where he belongs.

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Photo from usatoday.com

  • Finale at Sonoma? Regrettably, it looks as though one of the dullest and dreariest tracks in the country will host the grand finale in 2015. Curt Cavin’s sidekick and minor television/radio personality Kevin Lee tweeted about “more speculation about #IndyCar schedule” and then Cavin posted his own. It’s now down to a matter of dates, as it’s no secret as to the tracks which will be visited. Happily, all of the ovals from this season return in 2015 and the only subtraction is Houston, which was a dangerous joke of a parking lot track that nearly killed Dario and others last year.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

  • Another possible change is Toronto losing its twin billing, with the date changing due to a conflict with the Goodwill Games or some such obsolete international nonsense. Seen any pro sports lately? We blame Ted Turner for this amongst many other things. Both Brasilia, the planned capital in central Brazil, and New Orleans NOLA Motorsports Park, south of the Big Sleazy will host new races on road courses next season. Yippie. Otherwise, no major changes are forthcoming apart from some date changes which make sense, such as Pocono moving off the weekend of July 4th.

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Photo from economist.com

  • Odds and Ends: IMS upgraded their website, a long overdue move. IndyCar reporter for AutoRacing1.com Brian Carroccio showed IRR a kindness and followed us on Twitter, so a superspeedway sized thanks to him. Be sure to check out his work on the web. Finally, couldn’t resist this take on celubu-tard Gwynnie (a fave of ours to look at) and the recent fundraiser held in her California home for the once popular commander in chief. Wake me to your leader.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

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Danica: More Diva Than Driver, Part 2

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Photo from abcnews.go.com

Danica endured a disappointing 2010 IndyCar season though she remained well lighted under the media klieg lights. The pressure mounted on her to prove that the historic 2008 win at Motegi wasn’t merely a fueling fluke, an accidental outcome as it started to appear. She managed only eight top ten finishes in seventeen races that year, though she did score a couple of podiums at Texas and Homestead along the way. There was nary a win in sight and it’d been nearly three years since her triumph in Japan.

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Photo from washingtonpost.com

The same fans, press and admirers who had helped propel her to such dizzying heights of driver-diva fame now demanded more from her, or else the media machine threatened to move on from “Danica-mania” to the next fabricated folksy focal-point of their choosing, say Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. Undoubtedly, her star had dimmed over the last couple years as the up and down cycles of big league racing took their toll. That glorious Danica glow already had begun to fade amongst the fans, if not yet amongst her dedicated followers in the press corps.

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Photo from dailymail.co.uk

By 2011 it was apparent that Danica would be leaving IndyCar and her on track results showed it. Emotionally she’d already moved on that final year in IndyCar, merely going through the motions and acting interested, all the while secretly looking forward to trading up for obscene riches. In one of her worst years in racing she managed only seven top ten finishes in seventeen starts, not counting the Las Vegas finale, which was canceled after Wheldon was tragically killed. Her best finish was fifth at the Milwaukee Mile, but it was her only top five finish all year with a couple of paltry sixth place results at New Hampshire and Baltimore for good measure. She led ten laps at Indy but finished a disappointing tenth in her final appearance to date in the Greatest Spectacle in racing.

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Photo from si.com

Then in 2012 with the usual amount of hoopla and media fanfare she married into NASCAR and its multi-millions, leaving IndyCar jilted, attention-starved and somewhat stunned at its losses. As Elvis once asked, “Are you lonesome tonight?” The divorce complete, her relationship with suddenly shaky IndyCar was behind her and the desirous diva-driver didn’t look back. Whether or not she actually could drive a hulking stocky behemoth around a racetrack was another matter altogether, as her waifish size and weight were no longer advantageous in her new series.

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Photo from news.softpedia.com

If DP’s record of one win in a hundred sixteen IndyCar starts was poor, then her record in NASCAR has been even worse. She’s currently oh for seventy seven and counting, with a best finish of sixth quite recently in Atlanta. She has three top ten finishes so far this year along with two ninth place finishes last year. That’s it in two-plus lengthy – by which we mean seemingly never ending – NASCAR seasons.

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Photo from examiner.com

The media hype surrounding the driver-diva remains disproportionate to her performance to this very day, and it’s been that way since she made her debut a decade ago. It’d be another matter if she were a consistent or even sporadic winner, but such effusive media coverage starts to become insulting after so many years without results. Just ask her dumped ex-IndyCar colleagues.

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Photo from examiner.com

No other racer with one win in nearly two hundred starts gets a fraction of the attention she does. Clearly, Danica’s far more of a diva than she is a driver. The record – both photographic and otherwise – proves it. The only question is, will the media finally wake up and roll over for a clear eyed, sober morning view of their bodacious bedfellow to acknowledge the obvious fact? We predict no, and that she eventually moves on from NASCAR to fall for her next passionate love interest (media, anyone?), when yet again her utter lack of results will be completely ignored.

Bye-Bye Beaux Barfield

After the thrilling Fontana finale and awards ceremony crowning Will Power Champ, IndyCar again changed the subject and announced that Race Director Beaux Barfield was out and being replaced effective immediately. His tumultuous three year stint with the series brought much criticism and some outrageous calls – as well as non-calls – to the races he officiated. The attention Barfield generated was rarely positive or wanted by the series. Scott Dixon and other drivers received their wish last week, as calls for Barfield’s firing from drivers and others go back several seasons.

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Photo from indystar.com

The move by IndyCar looked a little amateurish but no more than usual, as Barfield only took the position in 2012 under then IndyCar head Randy Bernard. He joined IndyCar after officiating for the American Le Mans Series for four seasons. He’d also had a role in the Champ Car Series before that and therefore caused some concern immediately amongst IRL loyalists. He now returns to whence he came, joining another sports car series for next season. Bye bye Beaux. 

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Photo from indysportscrew.com

Robin Miller cheer-led for Barfield and praised his hiring, asserting that he’d straighten out the superspeedway sized mess his predecessor Brian Barnhart had created in his fifteen years in the role. The infamous restart in the rain at New Hampshire in 2011 that led to Will Power’s very public tantrum proved to be Barnhart’s downfall and eventually led to Barfield’s hiring. Miller was happy and fans anxiously awaited the needed coming change.

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Photo from indycar.com

Controversy is simply a part of the job of race director, who like umpires and referees in other sports makes many judgment calls. As we’ve previously noted here however, officials should not be a large part of the story of any race or series. The flamboyant Barfield seemed to be a story more often than he wasn’t, seemingly confusing his role as ref with the role of star driver. Fans aren’t following IndyCar because of the officiating, even if the officials are hipsters who wear cool shades and facial hair.

Barfield missed the Two in Toronto last year after encountering problems at the Canadian border and being denied entry to the country. Ah, that’s our never-boring Beaux. But his bumbling didn’t end there. One of Beaux’s babies while boss was the Baltimore race and it’s ridiculous chicane and surrounding controversy. The track was such a disaster running the cars over a light rail track after a curbed momentum-killing chicane in the middle of a straightaway that it lasted only three shaky years on the schedule before being cancelled by the city itself.

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Photo from racer.com

He ran race control during the introduction of the new Dallara DW-12 but had little to do with the cars by the time he joined the series as most of the testing and work on them had been done already. Major rule book modifications were implemented during his reign though, with some less than clear rules resulting that caused even more confusion and upset. This is especially true with the new blocking rule, which is still extremely vague and largely up to the race director’s discretion. So both calls and non-calls have continued to inflame drivers from Scott Dixon to Will Power to Marco Andretti and the position of IndyCar race control has remained unstable and at times an embarrassment.

Jan Beekhuis joined the newly formed race control triumvirate late this season and his role remains to be seen. Brian Barnhart wasn’t fired but merely demoted, so what his responsibilities will be going forward also will be interesting to watch. Will another outside person be added to race control or will a promotion from within occur? IndyCar head Derrick Walker has some serious reformation ahead of him this offseason and the decisions he makes will be crucially important for the future of the series. Here’s hoping his wise judgment prevails and we avoid another disastrous director.

Marco, Where Have You Gone? Or, What’s in a Name?

IRR’s not asking about Marco Polo, either.

Where’s the Andretti Autosport driver who is actually named Andretti been lately? In the Bahamas? Marco hasn’t won an IndyCar race since Iowa in 2011, now over three years ago. That was only his second career ICS victory, the first a questionable result coming at Sonoma in 2006.

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Hard to believe it’s been almost a decade since that memorable afternoon in NoCal where his teammates – specifically Bryan Herta – helped Marco cross the finish line first under controversial circumstances. With the nineteen year old rookie Andretti leading the field but running dangerously low on fuel, Herta spun out on his own causing a suspiciously beneficial caution period, clearing the way for his first win. Team owner Michael Andretti’s son’s first win.

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It certainly can’t be said in that dubious race that there were no team orders, eh Michael? Besides that, there’s Marco’s ONE other win in an eight plus year career. At Iowa. Can you name another driver with as long of a tenure in the series and so few results?  Well ok, since we’ve been discussing legacies another driver fitting the bill may be obvious to some. So in that case, name two.

Unlike young Rahal’s rides, Andretti Autosport has been one of the most successful teams on the grid for many years now, most recently winning the championship in 2012 as well as this year’s Indy 500 – both with Ryan Hunter-Reay.  Other AA drivers include Canadian James Hinchcliffe and Colombian Carlos Munoz, the former a three time winner (in less than eight years’ time) and the latter a strong rookie of the year candidate already with podium finishes. However, it’s Hinch who’s said to be out of the fold next year.

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On AA’s website, Marco’s stats and info are far more extensive than Hunter-Reay’s, featuring  a long list of accomplishments. We at IRR wonder how and why this could be (wink wink, nudge nudge). In all of those junior league results and podium finishes listed for Mario’s grandson, there are still only two big league wins. That’s in over a hundred and forty starts. He’s only once had better than a tenth place finish in the championship and that was ninth last year, according to ESPN.com. He currently runs ninth in the championship.

So where has Marco gone? It’s obviously not the equipment that’s at issue, else the entire team would be struggling. Team Target has underperformed all year while learning a new engine but they’ve obviously no shortage of talent behind the wheel and are improving.  One could rightly conclude that Marco enjoys the best equipment and the most support his outstanding team can offer, yet he shows no discernible improvement.

Over the years Andretti Autosport has rotated various engineers and strategists in and out of the family portion of the business, all racing regulars who’ve enjoyed big league success elsewhere. The wins for Marco still haven’t come. Young Andretti even went all the way to the UK for work with renowned driving coach Rob Wilson in early 2013. That too has failed to yield the anticipated results. They’ve changed Marco’s number from 26 to 25, changed paint schemes and changed sponsors. The team’s even switched engines again, going from Chevy back to Honda. What else can be changed other than the driver?

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Marco said several years ago that because he works for his father he was expected to perform as well as other racers if not better and to consistently compete for wins. He also implied that he felt added pressure as an employee of his family. If a win every couple of years wasn’t good enough then – as he admitted – how is a win every four years good enough now? Or perhaps the question really is, what’s in a name?