St. Pete- Great Start to the Season

After such along off-season one could only hope that we would be treated to a fun and exciting race when the cars hit the track on the track at St Petersburg. The Verizon IndyCar Series did not disappoint. Practice first got our hopes up when we saw AJ Foyt’s rookie driver, Matheus Leist, topping the charts. Qualifying continued to get our blood pumping when rookie, Robert Wickens grabbed the pole from Will Power in the last seconds of qualifying. Then race day! I don’t even know where to begin. Lots of story lines.

I’m very faithful about my church attendance but I left early to be home in time for the green flag. I changed into my St Pete shirt and sat down to enjoy the pre-show, except there wasn’t one. How do you start the new season and not give us at least ten minutes to introduce us to the new drivers and teams. ABC seriously doesn’t give a crap about IndyCar and it is so obvious. They’ve never been much into extras for IndyCar but I expected something to fill us in on the last six months. Even though I follow the off-season closely, I had never heard of Rene Binder. A little information would have been helpful.

So we went basically straight to the command to start engines. Helio Castroneves was the Grand Marshall and he made the call. He did it from the fence. I Loved It! Helio is going to be missed this season.

The green flag flew and the 2018 season began. The first half of the race was filled with cautions. The new body style and the paint on the course made for some interesting racing and it took quite a few laps for the race to fall into a steady pace. The early yellows were nothing major and didn’t cause any real controversy.

So what did cause controversy? Let’s get into that! Let’s start with ABC

Always Bad Coverage took it to a new high, or rather low. It was so disappointing. I’ve already discussed the lack of a pre-show. Why anyone thinks Eddie Cheever is a good fit in the booth is beyond me. I never noticed a problem years ago. I’m sure I pay much closer attention as I’ve become a bigger fan but I think the problem is just Cheever himself. He has been doing this exact same thing forever without any attempt to grow in his role. He just shows up, spews the same lines over and over. It gets so old. Scott Goodyear doesn’t bother me like Cheever does. I think Scott would be much better if he wasn’t paired with Cheever. I think Scott does a great job for the new fans, reminding them what the red tires mean, push to pass and other racing details people just tuning in might not understand. It might get old for us diehards but it needs to be said. I think Scott and Allen Bestwick would do just fine without Cheever in the booth. It would be much more enjoyable I’m sure. And speaking of Allen, he is great. I enjoy listening to him and feel bad he is stuck in the position he is. One highlight- I loved it when Helio Castroneves stopped in the booth. Even though I should have expected it I was surprised when Allen said see if you can guess his voice. Loved hearing Helio. Let’s kick Cheever out and put Helio in.

Unfortunately, the booth isn’t ABC’s only problem. Twice they were still at commercial break when the race went back to green. How do you miss that? Twice? Well I guess it was because the coverage was all commercials. I swear there were more commercials than before. I usually enjoy the commercial breaks to refill a drink or check Twitter. I didn’t need as many breaks as I was given. It was absolutely ridiculous.

And then the post-show! There was so much to talk about and hash out after the race. I was still stunned by the outcome and processing it all. Well guess next time I better process faster because they didn’t even allow winner Sebastien Bourdais to get out of his car before his interview and as soon as that was done the show was over. No interview with Robert Wickens or Alexander Rossi. As ForTheLoveofIndy @4TheLoveOfIndy said on Twitter

Robert Wickens was the driver of the day and no one who watched this broadcast heard him speak or saw his face. There was no pre-race interview, he had his helmet on and was in the car when the broadcast started and nothing post-race. That is a missed opportunity. #IndyCar

I’m a fan of IndyCar because I love the drivers. Sure the cars and speed are cool but I love the people so when the broadcast doesn’t give us a chance to get to know the drivers it truly is a lost opportunity. Robert Wickens lost a race he dominated all day. Then he lost a chance to really connect with fans by telling his side of the story. I’ve no doubt some new Robert Wickens fans emerged yesterday but I believe even more would have if we got even a small opportunity to get to know the man as someone other that James Hinchcliffle’s lifelong friend.

Ok I think I’ve complained enough about ABC. I saw on George Phillips blog today that there was a story by Adam Stern saying that it does look like the tv coverage is going to NBC. Please, please, please let that be so.

So back to the race. As mentioned in the tweet it was a race dominated by Robert Wickens. He won the pole and led the most laps. With approximately 20 laps to go Alexander Rossi was in second and slowly gaining. He made a move to try and pass but his car slipped a bit and while Rossi recovered it made it doubtful that he would catch up to Wickens and get another chance. Then a yellow came out. Rossi tried to stay close enough to pass when the course went back to green but wasn’t able to. Wickens fans breathed a sigh of relief thinking the race was over but it wasn’t to be, another yellow came out. This time Rossi made sure to line up right on Wickens gearbox. I was afraid he would touch before we went back to green but Rossi was not letting Wickens get the jump on him again. Rossi was close enough to make a pass and went for it on the inside of turn one. What happened next will continue to cause debate but I chalk it up to a racing incident. Rossi ducked on the inside. I believe he had the advantage and every right to make the move he did. Wickens rather than allow Rossi to gain the position squeezed him into the corner (as is his right) neither driver wanted to be second (FYI that is why they are racers) and Rossi slid up from the slick track, he and Wickens touched which spun Wickens and slowed down Rossi. Sebastien Bourdais was in third and took advantage of the mishap to vault into first place, Graham Rahal finished second and Rossi recovered to place third. What? It is still exciting thinking about it. It’s heartbreaking for Robert Wickens, disappointing for Alexander Rossi and absolutely thrilling to see Sebastien Bourdais win for the second time in a row at St. Pete. The emotion of that win was felt as soon as the camera was on Seb and before his helmet was off. Wow what a long way he has come from that horrible crash at Indy. I love that Bourdais won! I love that Dale Coyne won! What a fantastic race!

So let’s wrap this up with a couple thoughts on other teams.

  • Penske Racing. Who? They really never were a threat during the race. Very uncharacteristic of Penske. I expect they will figure things out though.
  • Ganassi Racing. Dixon had multiple mishaps and somehow still finished 6th. He will always be a threat. Ed Jones finished 9th, not bad for his first race with this team.
  • A.J. Foyt Racing. I’m still hoping for great things for AJ’s team. Matheus Leist showed great potential until he had a problem with his car. Maybe if ABC would have interviewed him we would have learned more about him. Tony Kanaan ran mid pack most the day finishing 11th
  • Andretti/Herta. Marco looked impressive early and I was hopeful. He finished 9th. Rossi of course did great.
  • Carlin. A slow start for the Carlin team.
  • Dale Coyne. Winner and championship points leader. Maybe this is Dale’s year.
  • Ed Carpenter. Jordan King looked very competitive.
  • Harding. Gabby Chaves spent most his time mid pack and finished 14th. Not bad.
  • Juncos. Rene Binder? Who? Didn’t hear much about him and expect the team will spend most the year learning.
  • Schmidt Peterson/ Shank. Wickens and Hinchcliffe both looked impressive. Expect podiums and wins from this team. Jack Harvey in the Shank car finished 23rd, hopefully they will make improvements with time.

All in all I loved the race yesterday. I’m excited for the season, just wish we didn’t have to wait four weeks for race 2. Very thankful to IndyCar Radio and the livestream for coverage of practice and qualifying. Anders Krohn is a great addition to their team. Can’t wait for the “post-show” on Trackside this week. Thankfully Curt and Kevin will discuss what was missing from the ABC coverage.

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St Pete Preview- thoughts before the green flag

It’s finally IndyCar season. I just streamed the second practice from St. Pete – so fun! I’m thrilled to watch racing again and am so excited to see how this season turns out. Here is what I want to share before the green flag waves.

In past years I’ve kept up more on social media and podcasts. This year I think I feel a bit overwhelmed by how many people there are offering opinions or even just facts. I found myself just glancing at a lot of it (with a few exceptions). Somehow even with all the information at my fingertips I missed who was driving for Juncos Racing. I was watching the second practice and for the life of me couldn’t figure out who almost hit the wall. It was Rene Binder- who? I had never heard of him. I pride myself on being a serious fan. How did I let this one get past me? Guess I’m going to have to do some research and figure out who this guy is. The St. Pete race is broadcast on ABC so it’s a safe bet that they won’t fill me in.

Speaking of ABC we should be getting news soon about who will have the broadcast rights in 2019 and possibly beyond. I seriously might cry if it’s not NBC. IndyCar is one of the few sports whose fan base and TV numbers are growing. Hopefully the powers that be realize that the numbers are growing in part because NBCSN does an amazing job covering and promoting races. ABC could care less with the exception on the Indianapolis 500. Even then ABC has poor coverage but they like bragging about their coverage of the 500 for so many years. For me there is no contest, NBC needs to be the TV provider. They do a far better job and that is how you grow the sport. Even the rich can only attend a limited number of races, for the rest of us it’s even less. IndyCar needs good TV coverage. NBCSN supplies that. They make every effort to show qualifying and practice. They offer specials on drivers and deliver a much better product that ABC. My fingers are crossed that NBC wins and IndyCar will be the real winner with the great coverage they supply.

I saw the spotter guide for the race. I am a diehard fan and with the exception of Rene Binder I know every driver in the field. That said I’m going to struggle greatly on Sunday. So many drivers have changed teams and new sponsors have been added. I hardly recognized any of the cars. I’m so excited to have Tony Kanaan in the ABC supply no 14 car but honestly even after Carlos Munoz was in it I still think of Takuma Sato in that car. We have multiple new teams so new numbers and new drivers, it’s going to be hard to keep track. Here is a list of those I recognize quickly-

  • Hinchcliffe
  • Power
  • Rahal (although Steak n Shake would be better)
  • Pagenaud
  • Rossi
  • Hunter-Reay
  • Chilton (new number but Gallagher is familiar)

Andretti (barely he also has a new number but has had Ruoff as a sponsor)

That leaves 16 cars that I will struggle to know who is driving. The Foyt cars will be recognizable but I just need to remember that they are driven by TK and Matheus Leist. We’ve seen Jack Harvey in the pink car before so that helps. Josef Newgarden is fairly recognizable but the Penske’s all blend together sometimes. The rest I might need to keep my spotters guide handy for. I can’t imagine how someone unfamiliar with IndyCar will keep track when I’m struggling. So thankful for new teams and new sponsors but it’s not helpful when you can’t keep track of the cars.

AJ Foyt Racing- I’ve said this before but hopefully saying it multiple times will make it true, I think this will be a great year for Foyt’s team. I’m so excited to have Tony Kanaan (my favorite driver) in my favorite car. Matheus Leist was fastest in the first practice and while that doesn’t mean too much it’s got to be an ego boost for him. I’m really hoping AJ’s team can make a turn around and start winning races. TK winning the 500 in the 14 car would be a dream. Love to see that this year but even better next year (2019) when I am at the race.

I am also hoping that this new aerokit is to Marco Andrettis liking. I’m a Marco fan and believe he is a good driver, I’m hoping this year is his year. I’m so sick of all the Marco haters.

I’m also excited about Danica’s return to the 500. She was Zach’s favorite and I hope she does well.

Okay let’s wind this up. What do I predict about this year?

  • Josef Newgarden will win the championship again.
  • AJ Foyt’s team will be more competitive and win a race.
  • Marco Andretti will win a race.

Ok maybe the last two are wishful thinking but…

  • Alexander Rossi will win the 500.
  • TV ratings will continue to rise
  • It will be a great season

I plan to attend the GP of Indy with my boys, we haven’t missed a race. I also plan to attend qualifying for the 500, Road America and Gateway. My cousin, Randy, and my friend, Kristen, both are wanting to join me for races this year again- that’s how you grow fans. It’s going to be a fun year! What do you think? Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments. Hope to to you at a race soon.