Saturday, May 26, 2012

Late Night Prognosticating...

Some guestimates on the impending collosus...

Mrs JPIndyCar:

Winner: Marco Andretti

And she's asleep so I can't bug her on other issues...Overheard the marco comment earlier...


Winner:  I called JRHildebrand at the start of the season so I need to stick with that, but I also called this "The Year of Ryan Hunter Reay" and Based on what I have seen so far this month, RHR may be more probable but the heart goes with JR.

Rookie of Year: Simon Pagenauld - It seems that with the extra boost taken off the cars, the Honda's are back in play and Simon is just one hell of a driver - first roundy round rodeo or not...

Eye Opening Run of the Year: Ana Beatriz

Off to bed...A Stand here we come!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Toyed with blowing some of these up into stand alone blog posts…just not enough energy so you get the cliff notes…

The Fear Has Returned…

Felt a strange feeling today as I watched the Freedom 100 – Fear. 

It has never been lost on me that racing is a dangerous vocation, through my years of watching racing as a TV spectator I can recall the crashes or the broadcast discussion for the tragedies that took the lives of Scott Brayton, Jeff Krosnoff, Roland Ratzenburger, Ayrton Senna and Paul Dana. (For those of you asking – I had turned off racing due to the split when Greg Moore had his accident in Fontana)  Yet understanding the potential for danger but anticipating it as a real risk, a tragedy with a non zero probability of occurrence had slipped from my psyche.  Only the tragedy of Paul Dana, whose passing was more of a press release than a tragedy witnessed in live action, has occurred since I returned to racing from my “Screw ‘em both” hiatus.  To me, racing had become “Safe”.  Perhaps a source of unfortunate, but survivable injuries, but not a heart in your throat, fear inducing, turn your head away event.

We were in the Vegas stands the day when Dan passed.  I knew I was affected at the time, but time can be a soothing influence and by March, the gut punch and sorrow of that October day was drifting away.  In the opening races of the year, it was back to normal.  Sitting on the green hill at Barber returned the thrill and enjoyment of racing with a sense of comfort for the participant’s well being.  Racing had returned to being sanitized again.

That all went away today while watching the Freedom 100.  Before the race I leaned over to Jenny and said “expect some carnage” as if all that was at risk were some pricey and soon to be obsolete junior formula cars.  That changed as soon as the green flag dropped and the scream of normally aspirated  engines roared into turn 1 three wide for three separate sections of the field.  The sub conscious imprint Vegas left in me was opened up again, a raw nerve waiting for the poke.  As the opening laps progressed, each one crazier than the previous, it was hard to watch and I know that I was not alone with that feeling.  I became very worried for the safety of a set of drivers whom I share no particular attachment too.

Then the big accident happened, the noise from the crowd rose in that gasping way it does in that moment, just like at Vegas six months earlier.  I sat in the seat and started checking twitter for news about drivers out of cars, thinking back to the big accident that Ana Beatriz had in 2010, realizing just how lucky I will be on Sunday to see her race again.  Everybody, was Ok, the cars and the Safer barrier the greatest casualties.  Then the race went green again, and the craziness wound back up.

Freedom 100’s tend to end under yellow, as did this one, and fortunately this one ended in a single car incident without driver harm being done.  A sense of relief washed over me.

I wasn’t expecting this today.  It was unpleasant.  I realize again that Vegas has changed things.  Packs of cars on ovals is more a source of dread than thrill of excitement.  Can Milwaukee get here soon enough?  Not sure how I will feel come Sunday.  But I pray my memories on Monday will be that of a great race featuring an outstanding finish and a series of drivers will me chatting up the race in jovial terms a week from now in Detroit.

Ok so that turned into a full fledged post…My other thought subjects are somewhat evergreen and will roll out after the race.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A View From the Pressbox

I’ve been pretty lucky in my career.  I get paid out of proportion to what my contribution to society probably is.  On good days I am better than most at what I do and as a result I am often in demand.  In demand to go speak to our clients, to travel to the main office and train members of the company on products I help create and on occasion speak at conferences to a wider audience in the profession about cool things we have done.

But for all of this to happen, I have to travel…at times a lot.  Despite how sexy and cool it sounds when you’re young, as frequently as not business travel when you are older can be a pain in the….  Take this week for example, cars on track all week at the speedway and I am in Connecticut for internal meetings and training sessions.  On top of that, my flight home Thursday night didn’t get me home in time to use my tickets of the Pacers beatdown of the Heat.

But in reality, weeks like this one are nothing compared to the opportunities that either arise with travel I must do or from the various airline and hotel points I gather from that travel.  I have been to Europe Five times and will be again next summer taking nephews as a graduation present.  Though trapped in Victoria, BC for 9/11, I took my rental car and drove home through Washington, Montana and South Dakota…Falling in love with the Northern Rockies and Great Plains along the way.  Through that journey and in that time discovering deep inside a pride in America that I did not have before.  I have been to 11 national Parks and seen some of the most beautiful places in the world. 
This past October we cashed a boatload of Miles and Hotel points and took Mrs JP’s agingnparents on a trip like they have never been on before.  We did a Canyon Country tour starting off by flying into Vegas (and was in attendance at LVMS on that unfortunate day).  From there we drove into Utah: Kollob Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon, each step along the way more awe inspiring in its grandeur and scope.  I took bunches of pictures along the way (if for some reason you really want to see them, go here). 
Then south into Arizona for the Painted Dessert and the final stop…The Grand Canyon… our schedule only allowed for a single day at the canyon.  I put the camera away …this was a place that deserved more than I could do with a single afternoon.  For all the things I have seen, no single place had ever left me dumbfounded quite like this.  It was too large to comprehend, staggering and immense beyond description.  I have had instances and tastes of this feeling before: Descending from the Rockies onto the Great Plains for the first time, gazing at the gardens from the back “Porch” of Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich, traversing an Icy path six inches wide, staring down a 1000 ft steep slide to the bottom, on a Glacier in the national park bearing the same name. 
Why am I talking about all this stuff?  I am not trying to brag, but bring some perspective to something.  If you have read this blog long enough, you know that a couple years ago, I swore off using the blog as justification for getting press credentials to any race or event.  I thought I’d lose touch with what it meant to be a fan, that I would owe one to the man for eating from his table.  Not sure why, but last year at Iowa, I decided to request credentials and got them.  Part of it was to use the new camera that I was falling in love with and part of it curiosity.  Very few things in life have given me the rush that shooting from pit lane gave me that weekend, I was hooked. 
So for this year’s 500, I decided to request credentials for the 500 as well.  It didn’t quite work out like I imagined it might.  No Silver Badge to get on pit road, just the bronze I would have purchased anyway.  I also was granted access to the media centre and buffet.  Eating at the buffet means no track tenderloin so that privilege is a mixed bag.  Frankly at the Iowa media centre, I could not have felt more out of place.  An interloper in a place I did not belong.  I could just see the thought bubble from Curt Cavin as he stared at us “Who the hell are they?”
But today after taking a day of PTO, sleeping off the two nights of hotel induced lack of sleep and the sinus cold I get everytime I fly, I headed to the speedway and I used my credential to get into the media centre.  I took the elevator up to the fourth floor and the massive media room.  The place was perhaps 10% filled, Kevin Lee was voicing over track updates at his desk, Robin Miller was wandering around calling out other old timers.  I sat next to Paul Dalbey and James Black, familiar faces from the blogging ranks.   I didn’t do much, just watched lap times update on the screen above. 
Before I decided to pack it up and head home for the evening I grabbed the camera and headed out to the media cente terrace.  I walked to the front of the terrace and on my right, I could see down the main straight all the way into turn four.  On my left could see down the front straightaway until the Pagoda blocked the view of turn 1.  I then walked to the back of the terrace, I looked to the left and saw the all the way to the north Vista, panning to the right the NW vista came into view, to my right, the South and South west visas.  In my mind, the front straightaway and the stands that accompany it were behind me.
For the first time it really hit me, just how big of a place IMS really is.  For all my visits, I have just been looking at little isolated sections, never forming the complete gestalt in my mind.  But on the terrace today it struck me and it had a familiar flavor.  Not quite the strength of the Grand Canyon back in October, but the same feeling of smallness relative to something of massive grandeur.  I can only imagine how a rookie driver is going to feel a week from Sunday as they do parade laps through the massive tunnel of humanity.  I have been an IndyCar and 500 fan for a long time, but on the terrace this evening I finally felt for the first time, just how grand IMS, the world’s greatest race course, actually is.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Indianapolis 2012 - Opening Day in Pictures

I spent this opening day at the speedway trying to capture as many faces as I could.  Here’s what I learned:

·         Takuma Sato digs his new scooter.  JRHildebrand really, really likes his Chevelle.  Meanwhile, Ryan Hunter Reay seems to be giving Doug Patterson (@xorpheous) an interview while riding a bicycle.

·         James Hinchcliffe is a man of many faces, and he seems to be up to something silly involving phones.  Despite the fancy shades, Wade Cunningham is this year’s “most anonymous driver”

·         Pippa seems really happy to see me!! (someone get that girl a car!!) AND I am really, really certain Bia wants me to call her…FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, does anyone know her number!!

·         Someone call Meryll Streep, we found her baby…

·         It appears to be “drive your employees to work” day at Dale Coyne Racing.  Meanwhile, No such nonsense at Team Penske and Micheal Andretti just hopes it sticks round turn 1.

·         Tony George seems upset with the picture he ended up with on his credentials…

·         Jean Alesi seems somewhat out of sorts that this gig involves socializing with random Yahoos.  But fortunately, Paula Deen joined Team Simona and everyone seems really happy with that.  Despite the fancy home spun cuisine, Curt Cavin seems to be trying really hard to get Keith Wiggins to confess that his Lotus powered effort has no chance for success…

·         Meanwhile, the Team Dragon Garage is a lonely, desolate place…

Click HERE to see the complete gallery.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

One of Them Racin' Deals????

Editor's note: on occasion I wander into the technical areas of the sport where I do feel less informed than others might be.  If I make a mistake, I apologise beforehand.  If I have muffed anything: Andy - help a brother out on the facts!

Most of us are well aware of the term, two drivers go for the same gap, neither having an advantage nor acting irresponsibly, but both wind up with a bad outcome.  In abstract Game Theoretic terms, it is an outcome that is achieved when players in the Game are acting within their self interests and behaving responsibly relative to the terms of the game achieve an outcome that is optimal for none.

As the #EngineforShank saga nears a resolution, it is becoming clear that the outcome will satisfy no one, but neither do the currently known facts point to devious doings.  Simply put, it may be One of Them Racin’ Deals.

Many pet conspiracy theories are popping up regarding the inability of Shank to secure a deal:  He runs a Ford in Grand Am so no one will touch him;  Chevy is getting back at the league for TurboGate;  Penske and Ganassi are pulling strings cuz theyre ‘fraid.  None of this is supported by fact and the unfortunate thing is that some who are putting this crap out there are media members from whom the fan base expects diligence in reporting standards.  As a result, many might take these paranoid fabrications as fact which ultimately damages the image of the companies involved and the league in general.

I don’t know the details of what really is happening – let me state that up front, but I know what I know and based on the string of what I assume is true, the likely outcome is not scandalous, just a misfortunate outcome from a situation where all the players are acting within their self interest and more importantly withing the confines the rules.

First thing I want to address: You cannot simply get an IndyCar engine off the shelf and go racing. 

An IndyCar engine is a stressed component of the chassis.  Meaning that it is part of the car's load bearing architecture.  The engine screws onto the driver tub, and the rear suspension screws into the engine. 

In other forms of racing, the frame or chassis is a complete unit and the engine drops in and bolts in.  So theoretically if you wanted to pull the juiced flat four boxer out of your Subaru STI, fabricate some mounting assembly, you can go racing.  I recall that the 24 hours of Daytona was won a few years back by a privateer effort that pulled and juiced the Engine from a Porsche Cayenne and dropped it into an existing Grand Am chassis. 

In nascar, the engine blocks are commonly available pieces of equipment.  Don’t recall details exactly, but the engines in nascar are essentially the blocks from a school bus or dump truck with all sorts of fancy bits put on to make it go fast. 

IndyCar engine blocks must be created to power the car and connect the back of the car to the front.  They are very custom pieces of metal that will never serve another purpose - ever.  It is worth noting that the concept of a non stressed engine was part of the Delta Wing platform, perhaps if a different decision had been made…

Since they are such custom creations, IndyCar engines from previous eras will not screw into the current Dallara.  It's a NEW CAR and everything is different.  The Block/Stock for all engines running today did not exist six months ago.

With that as a context, if Chevy and Honda were told to expect to be able to supply X engines at the beginning of the season, and they begin production months ahead of time with that # as a target and a week before the season starts some one says “Hey Sarah needs one too” can we really be surprised when they say there’s no more to be had?  The situation is similar here with Shank. 

In reality are there more than enough blocks for the race?  Probably.  Something to keep in mind, for all of practice, teams will be running one engine.  Then the week between quals and Carb day they will switch those engines out for fresh ones for race weekend.  Honda and Chevy will have at least 58 blocks in play for the 500.  Want to ask them to do 2 more with 2 weeks notice?  Really?

Are there spares above and beyond the 58? Yes, but those are for fire mishaps, engine failures or broken engines from practice wrecks (remember TK’s block cracking hit from a few years ago?).  They are planned for and budgeted.  Pulling from that reservoir to supply Shank threatens existing teams that might have practice mishaps.

So is it conceivable that neither Chevy nor Honda truly have excess capacity??  I think it is credible, and going back to our excursion into Game Theory (Dr Chakrabart has to be so proud right now) they would be acting in their best interest and within the rules.

So now the microscope turns to Lotus, much maligned for their poor effort thus far.  But in reality no one should have expected all three manufacturers to be equally competitive out of the box.  Two words “Alfa Romero”.

Could they supply an Engine?  Certainly, they have supplied more for the first three races than they are slated to provide for the 500 (5 compared to 3).  But here is where Shank's self interest comes into play.  The Lotus has proven to be an under engineered failure this far into the experiment.  Even if he was guaranteed a spot in the 33, he believes it to be detrimental to his team and brand to enter a car that has no hope of a reasonably good finish. 

So in theory, there is an engine available.  But in reality he does not want to look the fool and is choosing to not run as opposed to running as a glorified start n park.  Again, a player acting in his best interest within the scope of the rules lain out. 

No conspiracy theories needed to get to this unwanted outcome, and I do think this sucks for Shank.

So what now?  What of the 33?  Here’s my THEORY. 

NHL in pulling out is probably taking the same stance as Shank here.  We are at 32.  Lotus has extra engines.  Jean Alesi or representatives for him are again suggesting that after recently backing off of the idea of entering, there may be news  relating to the 500 this week.  To save the league from embarrassment stemming from their shortcomings as a participant thus far, Lotus ponies up enough cash (liberated in the separation from DRR and or Herta) to one of their two remaining teams to run an extra car for someone.  Perhaps Alesi, hopefully someone a little more relevant. 

The field is filled and the show goes on. 

Is it the best case scenario?  Nope, Just one of them Racin’ Deals.

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