By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer
After taking a few days to digest all the reactions coming out of the Texas Motor Speedway, where the Verizon IndyCar Series ran on Saturday Night, it is obvious that there are a lot of divided opinions. One person that is certainly happy with the event is Team Penske’s Will Power, who survived the carnage by staying out front and taking the win. Let’s attempt to dissect the rest of the reactions.
1 ) That’s adorable
The reaction of the weekend undoubtedly belongs to James Hinchcliffe. After being checked and released from the infield care center following an eight car wreck, the Canadian driver was informed that Chip Ganassi was pinning the blame on him.
“That’s adorable,” Hinch replied.
And it was, considering the fact that Ganassi’s own driver, Tony Kanaan, appeared to have the most culpability for starting the chain reaction crash. Chip’s reasoning was that since Hinch had spun in the pits earlier in the event, he must have been trying to get into a wreck. I heard the same logic from a few other sources, which leads me to believe they must be drinking Chip’s Kool Aid.
Linking unrelated instances and calling it ’cause and effect’ makes no sense, but it is in fact, adorable. As far as Tony Kanaan was concerned, he manned up and accepted responsibility after viewing the television footage. IndyCar penalized TK with a 20 second penalty, but he still managed a second place finish.
That’s pretty damn adorable as well.
2 ) More adorable reactions
IndyCar drivers, for the most part, are fairly diplomatic when discussing one another. We have seen some heated reactions in the past, with guys like Takuma Sato or Charlie Kimball at the center of the attention. Kimball was able to sit the name calling out, dropping out with a mechanical issue early on after starting from pole for the first time in his career.
The blame game was in full force Saturday night and into Sunday morning after only nine cars made it to the finish. The racing was frenetic as drivers proved again and again that three-wide doesn’t work, much to the chagrin of the mechanics who are in the midst of a busy schedule that saw the series in action five consecutive weekends, and a test day coming up at Road America on Wednesday.
Maybe it was the full moon, maybe it was the pack racing effect, or maybe some guys felt they had something to prove. Either way, what we saw were a number of bonehead moves from drivers that should know better.
Listening to drivers, owners, and engineers during and after the race I was reminded of the old George Carlin comedy routine where he describes driving on the Freeway as being “surrounded by idiots and maniacs.”
We saw Dale Coyne approach Tony Kanaan during the Red Flag to exchange some choice words, we’ve already mentioned Chip Ganassi’s misplaced anger, Marco Andretti described it as “complete mayhem” while Graham Rahal made the comment, “drivers need to have to take a deep breath and realize that this is dangerous stuff.”
Even the spouses got in on the game as Emma Dixon took to Twitter to call Takuma Sato a ‘Clown’ after he got it too low and hit the grass, taking out her husband, Scott, in the process. There is no doubt that Sato was 100% to blame on that one.
However, her tweet generated a ton of responses, with many of them reminding her that it was Scott Dixon’s ‘clownish move’ that took Alexander Rossi out earlier in the evening.
With any luck, the weekend off will allow everyone to calm down before arriving at Road America.
3 ) Vautier: Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Tristian Vautier, who had 30 starts in IndyCar between 2013 and 2015, had sat out the 2016 season without a ride, and entered 2017 without an IndyCar ride as well.
He was pressed into service to fill in for the injured Sebastien Bourdais after Esteban Gutiérrez was not cleared by IndyCar to run on an oval without a prior test. Vautier sought to make the most of the opportunity, and qualified the car fifth. Vautier can take some credit for this, but the fact is that engineer Craig Hampson and the Coyne team provided him with a fantastic car for the weekend.
Vautier headed quickly to the front in the early stages, attempting to use the high line of the track to wrestle the lead away from pole-sitter Charlie Kimball. Many heaped praise onto Vautier for his bravado and speed in the car.
I, however, saw things a bit differently. Vautier drove like a man on a mission, because he was. He is desperately trying to show that he belongs in this series, and winning the race was the one thing on his mind. The team would surely want to retain him if he took a win, right?
The problem was that the team repeatedly asked him to dial back his aggression a bit. After all, it is a 600 km race, you can not win it in the opening stages. Vautier chose to ignore the teams recommendations, and gun for the lead. Now, that’s not exactly a way to endear yourself to a potential employer.
Vautier’s aggressive driving in the early stages actually helped set the tone for the race, and the eventual carnage that we saw. Vautier himself was eventually taken out in the ‘big one’ through no fault of his own.
Thumbs up…thumbs down? You be the judge.
4 ) The Red, the Yellow and the Blisters
The 2014 Indianapolis 500 featured a red flag in the closing laps to ensure a green flag finish. We saw a similar red flag in Detroit a week ago. The Rainguard Water Sealers 600 had a red flag to clean up the aforementioned eight-car wreck, but when Sato, Dixon and Chilton wrecked in the final laps, the event ended under caution.
After sitting through what was becoming a long night, some felt robbed of a green-flag finish. Why didn’t race control throw out a red? More importantly, what is the criteria for deciding when to preserve a green flag finish, and when to end under caution? Inquiring minds want to know.
This one seemed simple in my mind. With a dozen cars wrecked already, it was just time to get this one over with, plain and simple. That however, is an objective opinion for what seems to be an objective rule (or lack of a rule).
The blistering problems with the Firestone tires saw another call from race control without precedent. The call for a ‘competition caution’ with a mandatory tire change was met with a collective “WTF?” from the IndyCar faithful.
The so-called caution competition is generally associated with Stock Car racing, and many IndyCar fans prefer to distance themselves from what is sometimes considered manufactured drama. The problems with the tires were, in fact, a legitimate concern. Firestone brought a harder compound to Texas after a test revealed blistering problems on the newly-repaved oval. Without the benefit of another test, the engineers used the data to make an educated guess. They got it wrong, which is uncharacteristic of Firestone. Safety was the only consideration with this call.
5 ) Interesting Championship
With the 2017 season now past the half-way point, the battle for the Championship looks very interesting. Despite being collected at Texas, Scott Dixon brings home a ninth place based on the attrition. With the finish, he maintains the points lead based on consistency. He has yet to bring home a win, but other than Indianapolis, he has not finished outside of the top ten. Based on four podium finishes, and the Pole at Indy, where the qualifying pays points he is in position to continue on to a fifth championship.
Behind him is Simon Pagenaud, who has been a bit off-pace since winning at Phoenix. A third place at Texas keeps him solidly in the fight. Indy 500 winner, Takuma Sato remains third. Despite the mistake at Texas, the Andretti Autosport driver remains a contender each week. Helio Castroneves, also winless on the season, is in fourth withing striking distance, with the only multiple winners thus far, Will Power and Graham Rahal slotted in fifth and sixth.
One year ago, we saw Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud take control of the Championship very early in the season, and hold onto to it all season long, capping it off with a win in at the season-ender. So for, in 2017, nobody has emerged with the strength we saw from the Frenchman last year.
The last eight races are going to tell the tale and decide if someone is going to grab it and run away, or if we have a wide-open battle until Sonoma.