IndyCar Predictions for 2018: Shiny New Edition

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The eagerly anticipated follow up to our hugely successful 2017 predictions.

IndyCar’s extremely iffy schedule will seem like a strange, Groundhog Day like replay of last year’s, with merely the single alteration of swapping Watkins Glen for Portland. It’s a bit like exchanging that ugly Christmas sweater for a slightly less ugly – though smellier – hemp sweater. Frankly, we wouldn’t be caught dead in either.

Unfortunately, the static schedule means that once again only a third of the races will be held on oval tracks. Ovals being the fastest, most exhilaratingly entertaining form of motor racing on the planet, that’s just plain wrong. As long time readers know, our laments on this topic are nothing new.

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Photo from indycar.com

The new cars, which ironically and happily look an awful lot like the old cars, will impress – aesthetically, at least. Three cheers for the end of the awful aero kit era. Don’t expect speed records to fall at Indy or the other ovals any time soon, though – or a smooth, seamless transition. It’s still IndyCar, after all. The lower downforce levels of the new cars will add some excitement to the racing, as well as to the repair bills for many teams.

Get ready to hear and read lots about brakes and braking as a result of the introduction of new bodies. Translation: massive amounts of front and rear end damage due to near constant contact in the corners on street courses. Also expect electrical gremlins to make aggravating appearances, especially early on in the season.

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Of the new teams, Continue reading

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Long Beach Grand Prix Predictions and Prognostications: Cautionary Edition

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With a dry California track in the forecast and two awful aero kit era races already in the books, IndyCar’s due for a classic duel on the beach, or at least a watchable show. A third consecutive clunker of a race following Brazil’s jilting of the series would be devastating, but happily won’t occur. IRR’s soothsaying  division has been on a hot buttery roll with our predictions as of late – that is, if you discount that farce last week in the swamps of NOLA – so let’s get right to the prognostications.

The specialty prediction of this week’s as sunny as the California coastline. Fortunately for fans there’ll be no flying debris showering the grandstands or smacking innocent, paying spectators upside the head at Long Beach. That shouldn’t happen again until at least the Indy GP; however, since Sebastian Saavedra‘s now back in the series we strongly recommend helmets for fans in the first twenty five rows, as a precaution.

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Photo from foxsports.com

That leads us to our initial weekly prediction, who’ll be first out of the race. Continue reading

Sonoma Recap: Rockin’ Race Review

To our pleasant surprise, Sonoma provided glimpses of real IndyCar magic on Sunday afternoon. Even a blind racetrack can find a decent race once in a while. Racing broke out after an earthquake jolted the area overnight, Will Power inexplicably remained un-institutionalized and Sebastian Saavedra somehow received another series start. Hats off to Scottie Dixon who stealthily stalked the leaders most of the afternoon to take the win. It’s only his and Target’s second win of the year, but thirty-fifth of “the ice man’s” impressive career.

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It threatened to be another Power-from-the-pole snoozer like we’ve become accustomed to at Bored to Tears Point, but acts of God have a funny way of changing things up. The race was very much like a six foot long sub sandwich – good at first, then there’s the long middle part but boy is it exciting to finish.

It started with a first lap pile up that saw Hinch spin for about the eighth time of the weekend and collisions involving Helio, Sato and others receiving damage in the corner. The accident was precipitated by Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais who like the others continued on until the wild finish. A skittish Bourdais later tangled with his teammate (two Sebastians come together!) and finally with Will Power on the last lap ending up in the wall. Helio’s race would be at the rear of the field and he’d soon be joined by teammate and championship leader Mad Will Power, a massive mistake adding some unexpected drama to Bored to Tears Point.

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Power controlled the race and pulled away under largely green though dusty dry conditions. Nearly halfway through the race however, he uncharacteristically spun coming off of a corner in traffic, losing the lead and the race and dropping to twentieth. Like Helio he continued on for points sake, but wouldn’t be a factor in the outcome. This put the race up for grabs and led to an extremely entertaining though jarring finish. Less Power means more drama at tracks like Sonoma.

As they dashed to the finish line behind leader Scott Dixon, cars raced all over the track, bumping and grinding and several even running out of gas. It proved to be a finish worthy of the quake rattled weekend, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud filling out the podium in fairly close fashion. Conway who led the race for Ed Carpenter Racing ran out of gas and coasted across the line before stopping on course.

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Bourdais was driven into the wall as they came banging three wide to the line with Power finishing tenth despite some controversy with his final placement. Sato comported himself well finishing fourth and Montoya charged back coca crazed style to a fifth place finish after also starting in the back. There was another brief yellow brought out during the middle portion of the race by Coyne’s Carlos Huertas who stopped on course. We predicted Huertas as first out, as well as Power on pole but missed with winners RHR & Montoya who fell just short.

The race sets up a grand finale for the championship as usual in IndyCar. With no contrived chase system like other series, IndyCar consistently has championship drama through the final race of the season. The double points Fontana offers as a 500 miler makes it a three way battle between the Penske duo Power and Helio and remarkably Frenchman Pagenaud for Sam Schmidt. Fontana will make for a thrilling conclusion to what’s been an entertaining season.

The coverage of the race by NBCSN although with the B team was colorful and competent, as usual. We just wonder how much they get paid to call the area “beautiful,” as unless you really like dusty brown, Sonoma just doesn’t do it aesthetically. Sam – you know – did all right as a new announcer, Townsend’s tolerable and PT’s ok for a Canuck. Leigh Diffy is preferred over his stand in, though. We particularly loved finally getting to see Courtney Force on camera. Damn, Graham needs to lead more races.  


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Earthquake Quotes –  

“Man I thought it was all over. I didn’t think we’d have the race. Oh my God – such a shock. I thought I was gonna die-uh.” – Will Power

“Not what you want. Man, it was amazing. I never knew we had that. Man, wow, that was the scariest thing of my life.” – Helio Castro Neves

“It was exciting – first earthquake ever.” –  Simon Pagenaud

“Yeah it was crashing and banging and stuff flying across the room.”  – Mike Conway

“The building was swaying so much. It was pretty big.” – Graham Rahal

“It was weird, man, I’d never been through an earthquake.” – James Hinchcliffe

“Awful, like awful. Like my shit- my, the bed was shaking. Anything in the bathroom went to the floor. It was bad.” – Juan Pablo Montoya

Sonoma Predictions – Coca Crazed Charge to Cartagena Edition “You Know”

We predict a fruity bouquet of tedium during the ‘race’ accompanied by dry, earthy background blandness finally followed by dreaded, widespread wine hangovers. For the uninitiated, these are amongst the worst of all hangovers and are surpassed only by very cheap wine hangovers, which are in fact the worst. Very much like the on track action at Sonoma – the worst.

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As for the racing – what little there is – we thought it’d be nice to spice the predictions up a little, salsa style. IRR boldly predicts JPM will win in spite of Bored to Tears Point Raceway cartel style by forcing Mad Will Power off the track. He’ll then go on to win the championship by winning Fontana. Wrap your minds around Montoya’s epic and forceful return to IndyCar dominance race fans, ‘cuz it’s a comin’. All hail el Presidente Montoya! That’s right and you heard it here first – and it’s so madcap, quite probably here alone.

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Montoya’s currently sixth but still has a long shot at it, assuming his teammates oblige by running into walls and gravel pits. The way JPM’s been going, the possibility of him banging Mad Will Power out of his way again ala Pocono isn’t out of the question. Plus this way we get to root actively against that Aussie lunatic, as if we needed a reason. The Colombian’s been on a coca crazed charge to Cartagena lately, one unseen since circa 2001. To quote JPM, he’s been “you know” fun to watch most of the year. By the way, how rigid is IndyCar’s drug testing program anyway?

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Apart from Penske, Kalkoven and Vasser’s team has been either very good or more typically very bad this season with the two Sebastians. They’ll be some of both this weekend again, while having nothing to do with the championship battle. How on Jimmy’s green earth does the non-French one hold on to his ride next year? Or next race?

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Sato also needs a strong finish, which at Sonoma means a top six start for Foyt else he faces losing his ride. While we’re at it, how long does Briscoe stick with Ganassi this time? You know the Chipster’s always itching to axe someone. Remember too race fans that Josef Newkid’s keeping his options open for next year and remains uncommitted as of this writing.

Finally, there’s the ravenous AA, rumored to be considering both a 7th and 8th car for next year while they’ve been utterly lost lately with four. RHR admitted his points race chances “went up in smoke” at the Mile and the other Andretti Autosport-sters chances had disappeared long ago. RHR won Barber earlier this year, so he could pull it off at this equally exciting track with some breaks and better luck than at Milwaukee. Then his championship hopes suddenly would materialize again, as if from a puff of smoke – like magic.

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Marco’s first win came at Sonoma – with a little help from his team mates, wink wink, nudge nudge – way back in 2006 (see “Marco, Where Have You Gone?”). That was eight years ago and he’s had only one win since. Can all AA’s IndyCar men put Marco’s race game back together again? Doubtful, though an un-assisted second win in wine country would assuage many doubts, most of them seemingly ours.

We’re definitely looking to improve the statistical averages of our predictions this week, so without further infuriating IndyCar’s elites here’s the latest stomp of the ol’ grapes –

% correct in previous 4 races

Pole Winner – Will Power or Juan Pablo Montoya                                                0%

  Race Winner – Juan Pablo Montoya or Ryan Hunter-Reay                                  25%

First Out of Race – Sebastian Saavedra or Carlos Huertas                                    0%

Biggest Surprise of Race – Marco Andretti or Jack Hawksworth                             0%

 

Race Day Rattlings

Eleven Race Day Rattlings & Ruminations:

Sarah Fisher (O’Gara) Hartman Racing plus Ed Carpenter Racing equals a whole lot a racing. Will the combined CFHR remain the underdogs we enjoy rooting for?

What’s next we can only imagine. Ever heard a’ Herta Foyt Racing?! We’d take the sharp looking black 14 car back on track.

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Photo from espn.go.com

Our pole predictions were extremely close, missing it by that much. Right team, wrong Penske and 2nd choice TK starts 2nd. Our picks to win? Starting 19th & 20th. Ouch.

How about that pole speed? 169.262 mph – over a mile per hour slower than Marco’s record last year.

Perhaps Penske’s perpetually perturbed Power prevails from pole?

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Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au

Does JPM’s resurgence continue, increasing the pressure on Will and Helio?

Will AA’s surprising recent struggles at the Mile persist? Marco’s their top qualifier – in 9th.

Is Tony Target’s best shot at victory at the Mile? Or is it Briscoe? What an off year for Dixie and the whole Ganassi team.

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Do either of the newly paired Newkid or Carpenter have a shot at victory circle? It’d complete a big weekend for them. 

Can Sato turn in a strong showing and actually finish in front of his sponsor’s home crowd? We’re dubious but hopefully wrong. 

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We’re high on Munoz, but which rookie makes the most of his maiden Milwaukee Mile?

Milwaukee IndyFest Eve Edition – Wildcards for the Race

Our friends in the business of guessing the weather have divined a potential wildcard for this weekend’s IndyCar festivities – rain. Don’t fret, as the rain’s forecast for Saturday night while race day Sunday actually looks clear. IRR’s guaranteed prediction of our full money’s and mile’s worth for the race still stands. Nevertheless rain Saturday night still will affect Sunday’s race. To counter rocker Steve Miller’s line from “Jungle Love,” in IndyCar not everything’s better when wet.

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Rain washes the surface of a track, removing the rubber build-up from the racing line that’s been laid down during practice and qualifying. In the strange, through the looking glass land of auto racing – and only there – buildup is considered good and desirable by the drivers and teams. A downpour results in what is called a “green” track surface, which is very slippery with little to no grip.

IndyCars’ hundreds of horsepower combined with high performance racing slick tires make them hard enough to control on a track that’s been “rubbered in.” Beginning a race on a green track makes it tricky indeed for the drivers, especially the handful of rookies who haven’t raced at the Methuselah Mile at all. A sketchy start on a green track is our first wild card of the weekend, and the concrete walls of Milwaukee stand at the ready to perform the function for which they were built.

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Which leads us to the second wild card of Milwaukee – the rookies in the race. The Mile’s a difficult oval to drive under ideal conditions, especially with an ill-handling car. Struggling cars then are quickly lapped by the leaders and become dreaded “traffic.” This will likely give a couple of the rookies and other drivers multiple challenges, although happily the beer glass is half full on the second wildcard, as well.

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A couple of the rookies are exceptionally talented and may well excel at the track. In fact one of our predictions to win the race is rookie AA driver Carlos Munoz, who’s leading the ROY honors comfortably and has shown flashes of brilliance on the ovals dating back to last year’s 500. The young Colombian’s one to watch in these final three races of the season. Just a couple of things to consider for tomorrow’s race, which should be an exciting one to behold.

Predictions for Milwaukee – The Good News! Edition

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The good news this week is that IndyCar association of states motors to Milwaukee for the Andretti Autosport promoted Indyfest. Yippieee! We fans have AA to thank for resuscitating the Methuselah Mile from certain death due to old age, indifference and mismanagement. AA helped save a good ol’ track – bully for them!

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Don’t think AA was being purely magnanimous though, as they’ve tended to dominate races at the Mile lately. Specifically American Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay who’s won the last two straight at the Mile and three in his career. He’s also still luke-hot, winning the last oval race at the 7/8s mile Iowa bull ring in mid-July. Can he make it three straight in neighboring Wisconsin?

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Photo from Getty Images

There’s more good news too, as Milwaukee is not only an oval, but an historic one dating back to 1903 when cars were a model year newer than horseless carriages. That makes it the oldest still-used racetrack in the world. With little banking, the Mile drives like a roval and presents a challenge to many teams and drivers, while others seemingly have it figured out.

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The good news keeps on coming as unlike certain street affairs it will not be a timed race. We fans get our full  money’s and mile’s worth, all 250 thank you. As an oval track race it’ll be much more watchable than Mid-Ohio, too. That’s guaranteed. Finally and perhaps best of all – and another guarantee – it won’t result in Target winning its sixth of the last eight races held there. Huzzah!

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IRR’s been on a hot, buttery roll with our prognostications lately, so without further delay here are our Milwaukee Indyfest Race Predictions with supporting data.

 

%  correct in previous three races

Pole Winner – Tony Kanaan or Helio Castro-Neves                                        0%

Race Winner – Ryan Hunter-Reay or Carlos Munoz                                      33%

First Out of Race – Takuma Sato or Sebastian Saavedra                               0%

Biggest Surprise of Race – Ryan Briscoe or James Hinchcliffe                      0%

 

Mad Cap Mid-Ohio Recap: We’ve Seen This Race Before

Although missing by a mile with some of our Mid-Ohio predictions IRR did accurately and unfortunately foresee the results of race winner and in runaway fashion. Foresight as they say is a terrible burden. Haven’t we all seen this race before? about five times now?

The results led to bummed feelings as it was a predictably boring race due to an inferior race course (Down with Mid-Ohio) but also less than bummed feelings as Dixon’s dominance at least partially vindicated our shaky prognostication abilities (and practically everyone else’s). It feels like coming in 5th in a lights race.

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Before the green flag on this beauty at the camp grounds even flew, trouble struck Helio who pitted with a stuck throttle. His early troubles added a drop of drama to a race that needs an ocean and cost Helio mightily – 4 laps and the championship lead. He took it in characteristic style, exclaiming “Man that sucked!” before flashing his famous smile in post race.

The beginning of the race was more interesting than all last year’s strung-out strategy-showcase with a first turn, first lap melee begun by NewKid and TK banging together. TK spun doing a 180 and Marco plowed directly into him. Unfazed, NewGarden sped away as others including Hinch ran wide or off course to avoid them. Sato was caught up in the carnage and continued, becoming even more of a non-factor than usual. More importantly the Marco mash-up knocked the third place starter and funny man Kanaan out of the race, eliminating a top contender though saving viewers a headache from his unusually ugly paint scheme.

Quickly enough the field strung out and it became the sort of race we hate about Mid-Ohio. What kind of track starts and restarts on the backstretch, anyway? Surprisingly like a celebrity stumbling into the wrong party some actual racing briefly appeared as Briscoe and Pags battled fiercely in mid-pack. Hunter-Reay had an eventful but disappointing day moving up from 5th, then spinning off course and stalling after incurring a penalty for speeding on pit lane. He finished 10th and let an opportunity to gain large in the points against the Penskes slip away as Mad King Power finished where he started in 6th.

NewKid started and ran second for much of the first half, eventually taking the lead from the pole sitting Frenchman Bourdais before being called to pit lane for service. Upon entry to his box the #67 car ran over an air hose carelessly left lying in its path by the crew. The right rear changer whose hose got caught on the car was dragged violently to the ground.

The crewman’s mistake and resulting disastrous pit stop cost Newgarden a shot at his first win, leaving him 12th at the checkers. That’s the same crew Sarah Fisher had just effusively praised as “a good group” from her pit box mere minutes before. Wonder if NewKid would agree.

It was then for the fifth time Dixon’s race at Mid-Ohio to lose once he passed the early leader Bourdais. The finish was remarkable only in the sense Dixon had started dead last after a spin in qualifying before cruising away, but it’s wacky Mid-OH so anything can happen except an entertaining race. The only question that remained was fuel and Dixie’s the master of saving it – and therefore of Mid-Ohio. Again.

cropped-100_3199.jpgBest Post Race Quote – “We kept our guns.”  a distraught but composed Joseph Newgarden

2nd best Post Race Quote – “Man, that sucked!” Helio Castro-Neves on “what’s it like out there”

Predictions, Pomposity and even a (Recycled) Preview

IRR is getting these out early this week for a variety of reasons, including the fact that in the fascinatingly unique universe of IndyCar absolutely nothing can possibly change or affect these predictions between now and Friday practice. Short of another transporter fire, that is.

We’re also getting the jump on the competition – it’s already afternoon in England! – and winning the race as it were. An early post also ensures plenty of time for our loyal readers to dissect, deride and belittle these predictions and to rip’em to shreds, like forty lap old tires on Nashville Speedway [bring back the concrete jungle!].

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We’re not going to blow our own horn here at IRR too much, but our inaugural edition of predictions made for the two in TO weren’t half bad. That is, if you reverse the races (it was a scrambled weekend, wasn’t it?).  And ignore certain other portions of the rather bold and wide ranging picks. Oh, and the pole sitters too, unless they can be counted as winners.

IRR’s crack team of crystal ballers had Conway and TK both having strong weekends, and unlike some other sites we aren’t homers for Penske. Never will be. Really, what’s the point of that? Where’s the fun in picking the favorites all the time? Unless of course you’re gambling. Then it’s kind of important and in which case never bet against the Penske cars.

With our quasi-success at divining the results north of the border, who are we to pick against ECR’s Kentish Mike Conway? He’s hot, IRR’s hot, we say what the hell. There’s even a puff piece story on the Englishman here on this very site. Aware that it’s a road-y and not a street-y at Mid-Ohio and the fact Conway struggled mightily at Barber – seems like months ago, doesn’t it? – we’re staying with the hot hand, or hot rod in this case. Heck, ECR struggled at Toronto the first couple of days and look how that turned out.

Mid-Ohio will be Charlie Kimball’s first race as defending winner, and we’ve been high on him and the whole Target Team. He raced fairly well at Barber finishing 10th in a backup car. The team in general and Dixon in particular have dominated at Mid-Ohio lately. It feels like a Target weekend, but sorry Charlie, the winner will be from the A Team, not the B.

Then there’s the always interesting and chatty Graham Rahal, who’s certainly not lacking in confidence. “You’ll see us on the top step of the podium soon,” he matter of factly told reporters after Toronto.

This is Graham’s home vicinity race and perhaps – in what would be a serious upgrade in scenery – young Miss Force will be in his pit rooting him on. We at IRR sure hope so. Even with all these things in Graham’s favor, RLL has been plagued by reliability issues with the Honda all season and suffered some bad luck. That’s set to continue on Sunday. Sorry Courtney.

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We predict Scott Dixon, winner of four of the last seven at Mid-Ohio, has the best shot to take the Target colors to the top of the field this weekend, in what would be his and Target’s first win of the year. Chip “the Hut” as we affectionately refer to him at IRR will explode leaving little bits of red and white blubber all over the paddock if they don’t win soon. If the winner’s not from Ganassi’s stable and Chip does become whale confetti on pit lane, then it’s thanks to the little team that could and Kentish Mike Conway.

The Hut as whale confetti

Pole Winner – Power or Castro Neves

Race Winner – Dixon or Conway

1st out of the race – Rahal or Aleshin

Biggest Surprise – Andretti or Wilson

 

Race Preview : Or, Murdering Mid-Ohio

Last year’s race at Mid-OH was memorable, barely, only because it was Charlie Kimball’s first series victory. He’s a likeable enough chap, an American, and someone who has an inspiring story to tell as a racer with Diabetes. Good for him.

Otherwise, the race was typical Mid-Ohio. It was unremarkable and even downright boring, featuring heavy doses of “strategy.” That means teams focus on fuel and tire saving while hoping to get lucky on pit stop timing. Or, the polar opposite of racing.

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is among the worst of all the many venues, past and present, on the IndyCar Series schedule. Our intrepid reporters even attended a race at Gateway Speedway, just outside of lovely East St. Louis with stunning views of landfills in every direction, and preferred it to Mid-Ohio. It’s just not an appropriate track for the artistry on wheels that is IndyCar.

A rural road course, it has neither the pretty flowers and trees of Barber, nor the high desert baked-out brownness of Sonoma. More importantly, Mid-Ohio provides less passing and on track action than it does destination dining.

As a racecourse, it’s simply there in the middle of nowhere begging to be used for something other than the odd motorbike race. Not surprisingly, Mid-Ohio is apparently available for cheap to host the ICS’s annual single file parade and camping jamboree. Seriously, you and a few friends can rent the whole joint out for a weekend, it’s that classy. The racing product is consistently un-compelling. No wonder television ratings will be down this week – again.

The track is old and out of date enough to be too narrow for modern IndyCars, but new enough to lack any history or gravitas, like Milwaukee or Long Beach. It’s kinda like a (nicer) part of Oakland plunked down in Buckeyeland, with “no there there.” Our primary hope is that it’s not a total runaway race controlled flag to flag by a large red and white Hut led team. But it’s a distinct possibility.