MMR Blog

Indy 500:Sunday in Indianapolis

Posted on June 10, 2010 Comments (0)

There is more to the Indy story than Dario and Danica.

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94th Indianapolis 500 Trophy Presentation

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 31:  Dario Franchitti of Scotland, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, poses with his wife Ashley Judd and their dogs on the yard of bricks during the 94th Indianapolis 500 Trophy Presentation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 31, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The Indy 500 was run on Sunday and the packed grandstands and pre-race pomp puts lie to the oft expressed feeling that the event is now only a shadow of its former self.

This is still apple pie and the homeland. Never mind that only 9 of the 33 competitors for the huge payday are American.  As to the field, an argument could be made that in the history of the race, the number of real contenders in the 33 car starting field has not really changed.  What may have changed are the number of inexperienced  drivers who qualified for this year’s race, and the nature of the race itself.

Indy has always been a huge payday for oval racers.  In days past, journeymen and winning racers would attempt to qualify whatever they had in order to make the field and a decent payday. Today, competitive equipment is available to all, but the number properly funded teams and drivers qualified to win is still limited.

There are two kinds of drivers in any race. Both are talented but one is a racer by nature, a competitive person who can make his way to the front by driving aggressively, taking chances and seemingly willing his way past other drivers. They only race to win. The others may be equally talented, but for any number of reasons, they are less willing to take chances and are more inclined to wait for things to happen rather than making them happen. People in the pits know who the racers are before they get to the track.

Five rookies made the field. Four women also made the race, including, of course, the talented, but at times difficult, Danica Patrick. She finished seventh and proclaimed herself pleased with her car and her performance. Danica had a tough PR month and it’s hard to believe she was pleased with anything.

carsinindypit

Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30:  Will Power of Australia, driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara Honda, makes a pit stop during the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Only 14 cars completed the 200 laps, but another 6 talented and competitive drivers completed as many as 198 laps, including Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway, who’s dramatic crash brought the racing to an end for the day. Looking down the list of finishers, there is no shortage of participating talent, yet one third of the starting field crashed.

In part, this is due to the fact that while quick enough to qualify, a number of the drivers are too inexperienced to be racing with the big boys all day long. The Indy 500 is a tough place to be getting experience.

Another reason is plainly the nature of modern racing. Modern racing tires shed rubber as they wear. This rubber collects in small chunks on the outside of the preferred racing line and narrows the actual racing surface of the track. Going off-line with hot tires picks up these cast off pieces of rubber, unbalances the wheel and makes the car difficult to drive and uncompetitive, necessitating a pit stop and loss of position to change tires. Going off-line can also mean a loss of grip and a crash.

Before this phenomena, faster drivers drove around slower cars or slower cars were expected to move off-line to let them by. Because moving off-line is so dangerous now, leaders will not move around to pass and expect the slower cars to move onto the dirty surface and get out of the way. Imagine Graham Rahal’s surprise and chagrin when race officials black-flagged him for not moving off- line to let the race leader by. He qualified 7th and finished 12th, but his drive-thru penalty arguably cost him a chance at the win. It could also be argued that this decision would never have been an issue before soft compound tires. Uncompetitive drivers place a heavy burden on race officials because they are charged with getting them out of the way by drivers who are racing for a win.

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Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30:  Dario Franchitti of Scotland, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, celebrates in victory circle after winning the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

500 miles at Indy generally separates the drivers from the racers and the racers did well today. Marco Andretti started 16th and finished 3rd. Dan Weldon started 18th and finished 2nd. Tony Kanaan charged from 33rd and at one point was 2nd. Those are the racers fans pay to see and despite the fact that one of the great all-times chargers, Paul Tracy, didn’t make the show, the fans got their money’s worth.

In the end, a well funded team with an experienced crew and racer started 3rd and won the race. Isn’t that what racing is all about today?

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