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Observations on the Inaguaral Baltimore Grand Prix

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This go around, I’m taking a different approach to my post on the Baltimore ALMS and IndyCar races by looking at both in one post. While some of my observations apply only to one race or the other, I do have several that apply to both races and the weekend in general.

The crowd, based on what I saw on TV for the IndyCar race and on ESPN3 for the ALMS race looked huge!  The grandstands around the track were packed full, the announcers mentioned a lot of standing room tickets were sold, and there were a lot of folks watching from the high-rise building surrounding the track.  Tweets from folks who attended the race also indicated the crowd was large.  It’s obvious that the promoters did a good job.  A bonus is that those who attended the race seemed to really enjoy what they saw, there haven’t been a lot of negative comments to be seen from the fans.

The course seemed to be a good one.  One of the best aspects of the Baltimore layout is that, unlike many other street courses, it is wide.  There were several passing zones available whereas as on some street courses you’re lucky to get one.  There are some improvements to be made though:

  1. Turn 5 needs to be redesigned. The cars come at speed and the dodge a wall.  It reminds me of Monaco where the cars exit the tunnel and immediately have to flick left to dodge a wall.  Sergio Perez had a terrible accident there this year and Ryan Briscoe had a scary crash in Baltimore’s Turn 5.  I’m not so sure about Turn 9 though, it could be left alone; even though I fully expected someone to destroy a car on the outside wall of the Turn 9 exit, it never happened.  It seems to keep the drivers honest.
  2. Even though it’s likely this is just a result of a first year event, it looked like the manhole covers needed to be better secured.  Apparently there were at least two instances of manhole covers coming up.  There was definitely one in the ALMS race; an LMPC car sucked up the manhole cover and there was an extended full course yellow as they re-welded it down.  At least two cars following struck the manhole cover as it came up and although apparently it didn’t cause race ending damage, it certainly could have.
  3. I understand why they installed the chicane between Turn 12 and the start/finish line (the railroad tracks) but I wish they would have tried to test the track without it.  I would like to see it go for next year and see if doesn’t improve the starts and restarts; it just doesn’t leave the cars much room to form up for the restarts.

ALMS

  • Congratulations to the Oryx Dyson team of Steven Kane and Humaid Al-Masaood on their LMP win at Baltimore.  I think it’s safe to say that they were a surprise winner.  Some might say they lucked into it because of the Muscle Milk AMR’s weekend full of troubles and the pit stall of their team car but both drivers did a great job.  They had the lap times and speed to stay ahead after they got the lead and had the speed to be there when the Smith/Dyson car had troubles in the pit.
  • It was a very un-Corvette like performance at Baltimore.  They made contact in the first turn of the first lap, spinning the 3 car and things just went downhill from there.  Beretta over drove the car at times and then Milner simply got over optimistic and took himself and the 55 BMW out of contention later in the race (although both cars probably had to pit for fuel before the checkered flag and would have lost P1 and P2 anyway).
  • I thought the ALMS race was better than the IndyCar race, but that usually seems to be the case on street courses.  The multi-class nature of sports car racing just lends itself to a more exciting race because of the traffic the faster cars have to work through.

IndyCar

  • What can you say other than that it was another dominant road/street performance by Will Power.  Although  Graham Rahal was able to pass him on the start, it was clear throughout the race that Power was the dominant force and that Rahal was simply the one that could stay closest to him.
  • Tony Kanaan is one of my racing heroes.  What he did on Sunday was simply unbelievable. In the warmup he lost his brakes, struck Castroneves’ car and went airborn into a tire barrier in a crash that could have been tragic.  He walked away from it and ended up going from the back at the start to P3 at the checkered flag even.
  • The start needs to be investigated.  When Power and Rahal went in to the first turn of the first lap, they encountered a safety truck going counter-race back into it’s stand by position.  A lot of folks immediately blamed this on race control, but I’m not going to jump to that conclusion.  It could have been race control’s error, it could also have been the safety truck not following orders, or it could have been the result of poor communication.  IndyCar needs to figure out what happened, and if necessary, discipline those at fault.  Luckily there was no crash, but this incident could also have turned into a tragic crash.
  • I will blame Race Control for what happened when the track was blocked at the hairpin.  Instead of allowing those who were able to pass the stopped cars to keep their positions, Race Control took it upon themselves to be “fair” and reorder the field.  First, things in sport aren’t always fair; sometimes incidents work in your favor and sometimes they don’t.  As well intentioned as the attempt was, Race Control shouldn’t try to legislate that out of the sport.  Second, when they decided to reorder the field, it shouldn’t have taken 6 laps to figure out where to place everyone.  If it’s going to take that long to figure things out, red flag the race and figure it out.  They spent almost 10% of the race trying to sort out the field order when they shouldn’t have been trying to do it in the first place.

Unfortunately those two incidents made Baltimore yet another race where Race Control was just as much a story as the race itself and the winner of the race.  IndyCar may claim that there are no problems with Race Control, but if you have the perception of a problem you then in fact have a problem.  I hate to keep beating a dead horse but this is something that, for the future of the series, IndyCar has to do something about sooner rather than later.


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