Huston Ladner · Friday May 31, 2013
What a mouthful the title of this weekend’s races are! With the Indianapolis 500 in the rearview mirror, this weekend kicks off IndyCar’s attempt to gain more interest with points-earning races on both Saturday and Sunday. The whole notion brings a different element of strategy, as one would have to wonder if some drivers might use the first race as way of feeling out the car for Sunday. Throw in the notion that rain could interfere on both Friday and Saturday and the whole weekend could be a mess.
There’s driver news as well. In what seems like an unsurprising move, J.R. Hildebrand is out at Panther Racing. Hildebrand’s crash on lap 4 of the Indy 500 seemed like an omen for this move. Taking over the ride for this weekend is Ryan Briscoe, who drove for Ganassi in the 500, and has won 7 times in the series. It’s also of little surprise that Briscoe is again back in a car. At 31 years of age, Briscoe is a viable commodity to have in a car, and could potentially keep the ride. As for Hildebrand, the 2009 Indy Lights champion, the split is curious – will he get another quality ride or was he never built for the series?
Track Preview: Belle Isle
Last year, the race at Belle Isle was a debacle. Anytime the track disintegrating is the story, then there’s a problem. The powers-that-be (whoever they are, but probably Roger Penske), made sure that the same issue will not arise again. Aside from fixing the surface, re-paving more than 100,000 square feet, the track has also been reconfigured. First IndyCar has extended the circuit, adding a half-mile straightaway between turns 2 and 3, to increase overtaking possibilities. In addition, the curbing at Turns 3 and 4 has been altered in a move that should make things tighter.
What’s the Points (Driver Standings):
With his strong 4th place finish at Indy, Marco Andretti moved into the points lead. Takuma Sato is hanging close, 11 points back, and Helio Castroneves is right there with him in third, 16 points back. Last year’s champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay is in 4th, but 30 points out, and sitting in the 5th place spot is the Mayor himself, James Hinchcliffe, 40 points out of the lead.
What’s the Points (Engine Manufacturers):
Chevrolet pretty much owned Indy and they’ve been strong all year. At this juncture, with Ganassi somewhat off the pace, this aspect of the IndyCar series may already be decided, though Honda is sure to come out with some updated engines in the upcoming weeks.
Featured Moment: Indy Celebration
Did everyone see Tony Kanaan’s interview after the race? The one where he pulled out the good luck charm he had given to a 15 year-old girl who was recovering from brain surgery 9 years earlier? Awesome. And just as good, was seeing Alex Zanardi and Max Papis enjoying the moment for their friend. For all of the ills of the sport, it was absolutely euphoric to see such a positive and touching scene.
The ratings. Viewership for the Indy 500 was down – way down, the lowest they’ve been since 1986. That fact is confounding in light of the record pace and record number of lead changes. Was there just too much racing for the casual fan last weekend, or does the 500 not have the import that is expected? Heck, maybe the weather was just good and people wanted to be outside. Anything is possible, but the lack of viewers must be somewhat disheartening to IndyCar.
With the unusual format it is difficult to forecast potential winners for the races. But hey, why not take some stabs at it. Toni Montgomery is thinking that Andretti and Castroneves will take home trophies, while Matt Stallknect sees Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti winning. Just to mix it up, I’ll go with Will Power and Scott Dixon.
The series keeps things moving by heading to Texas Motor Speedway next week. Though drivers felt more comfortable with the new car there last year, there still tends to be an uneasy feeling when IndyCar visits high-speed ovals.
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