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Observations on Indianapolis 500 Qualifying

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I missed the first day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 but watched most of yesterday’s “Bump Day” activity on NBC Sports Network in between the Australian V8 Supercar races on Speed TV (Thanks to Speed, by the way for covering the Sunday races live).  I was primarily able to keep up with the goings on at Indianapolis through Steve Wittich‘s posts at Open Wheel World, Chad Smith‘s posts at More Front Wing, and Marshall Pruett‘s articles at Speed.  I’m going to make no attempt to tell what happened at qualifying here when it was done so much better elsewhere; I’m just going to offer some of my observations:

  • Ed Carpenter and Ed Carpenter Racing taking pole for the Indianapolis 500 is not a surprise.  A “Feel Good” story sure, but a surprise?  No.  If this was 2010 I’d say Carpenter was a surprise, but not after 2011 and 2012.  Carpenter and his team have become legitimate contenders and threats to the big teams on ovals.  His pole is also potentially good for the series if ABC’s TV coverage of the race plays it right; highlighting the small team, “local boy done good” angle could possibly draw more American fans into the sport.
  • Is Honda in trouble?  Based on practice and qualifying I’d say they are behind the 8-ball.  Chevrolet has dominated the top of the time sheets and the first 3 rows of the starting grid.  The first Honda is Tagliani in 11th place.  I would have expected Target Chip Ganassi Racing in particular to do better but perhaps not all is as it seems.
  • I wouldn’t say that the Target Chip Ganassi cars of Dixon and Franchitti are sandbagging, but perhaps they didn’t concentrate on qualifying either.  I can’t help but wonder if they didn’t realize quickly that their Honda engines didn’t have the speed for pole so they concentrated throughout practice on race setups and race pace.  I wouldn’t be the first bit surprised to see them perform much better during the race.
  • My two good surprises of the week are Carlos Munoz and A.J. Allmendinger.  Both are rookies (Munoz in IndyCar and Allmendinger at Indianapolis) and have done very well in practice in qualifying.  Sure they are driving for great teams in Andretti Autosport and Penske Racing but to put their cars in 2nd and 5th places respectively requires talent as well as a good car.  Munoz in particular could be exciting to watch during the race, he certainly has been during practice.  As far as Allmendinger goes, I’ve maintained since he switched to NASCAR that his talent and skill are better placed in IndyCar.  If he can do well in his limited rides this year perhaps Penske finds a full time ride for him in 2014?
  • My bad surprise of the week is Michel Jourdain.  He was not at the top of my list to be the one not to make the field.  He’s an experienced driver and the Rahal team has plenty of experience.  They threw a lot of changes at that car yesterday and none of them worked, both Jourdain and Graham Rahal found it undriveable.  The only thing I can think of is that there was a problem with the chassis itself.  I saw it suggested on Twitter that it was the chassis that Sato ran and crashed last year; if so perhaps the chassis is damaged to the extent where nothing you throw at it is going to make it competitive.

I enjoyed the television coverage I saw on Sunday.  I wasn’t around for what happened on Saturday as a result of the rain delay and the horse race coverage but I didn’t have a problem with Sunday’s coverage starting late because of overtime in a hockey game.  It was an international bronze medal game featuring the US team, so why not finish the game coverage? I particularly enjoyed Gil de Ferran in the commentary booth with Leigh Diffey and Jon Beekhuis.  De Ferran was always one of my favorite drivers; I place a lot in his observations and opinions and I think he added a lot to the broadcast.  Will Buxton, NBC Sports Network’s F1 pit reporter, was also a welcome addition to the broadcast team.  His obvious excitement and enthusiasm for the event (it was his first time working it) was something that could possibly bring new fans to the sport.  Nothing against the other reporters working qualifying but it was nice to get the view of someone who hadn’t been there before.  Robin Miller also deserves mention for the interview he did with Parnelli Jones and the segment where he presented Dario Franchitti (yesterday was his 40th birthday) with a large framed photo of Dan Gurney and Jim Clark signed by Dan Gurney.  I thought both added to the historic context of the Indianapolis 500.

While I’m on the subject of Robin Miller, he wrote an article on the Speed website that I’m sure rankled many Indianapolis 500 traditionalists.  In “Indy Needs To Become The Week Of May” he makes the argument that with the “month of May” cut down to two weeks, perhaps it’s time to further cut the Indianapolis 500 down to one week of activity.  Citing attendance, lack of buzz, and lack of bumping he makes the argument for condensing practice, qualifying, Carb Day, and the race into one week.  He also makes financial and economic arguments for condensing the schedule. Miller makes a persuasive argument and if you look at it from an objective standpoint his idea has merit.  Perhaps it’s something the Speedway needs to consider; as long as they’re racing the current formula I think it would work.

Anyway, I’ll be working next weekend but I should be able to catch the Indianapolis 500 TV broadcast.  Another project for the week is logging W9IMS, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Amateur Radio Club’s special event station for the Indy 500.  Unfortunately I’ll miss the Monaco GP that morning but I plan to DVR it and watch it later.  This coming weekend is my second favorite motor sport weekend of the year (the first being 24 Hours of Le Mans weekend).


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