Racing and Baseball- Finding the Balance

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One sport is fast and furious. The other is leisurely with quick short bursts of action.  I really enjoy weekends when I can combine a baseball game with a race. While the sports are different in presentation, they have some similarities. The strategists have to think ahead to the end and decide what changes to make and when.  Bringing in a certain relief pitcher is akin to deciding whether the next stint will be on black or red tires; or scuffed or sticker tires for an oval. A pinch hitter or runner  is like adjusting downforce.

The best recent example of the similarity of racing and baseball is the 2016 Indianapolis 500. The strategy calls by Bryan Herta were the same thought process a baseball manager would use. A friend told me the day after the race he didn’t like the 500. I replied if you didn’t like that race, you must not like baseball.  He confirmed that he did not.

I seek balance in life, and a baseball/racing weekend is a way to find that equilibrium. I get the same thrill from a well played ball game as I do from a race won with a great strategy call. It’s really the same thing. In baseball the fan has a lot of time to think ahead. At a race, it’s more difficult to do, unless there is a late yellow.  I like the challenge of trying to figure out race strategy as a race goes on. I really like when a road or street race has some rain and the teams have to decide how soon to switch tires. I think watching baseball most of my life has helped me learn strategy which I have applied to racing.

When a race is near a city with a major league team, I always check their schedule to see if there is a home game that weekend. I usually go to a race weekend the day before the track opens, usually a Thursday. I can usually catch the final game of a home stand.

I highly recommend doing this on your next race weekend. It may give you a new perspective on the race you see that weekend. At the very least you should go into the weekend a bit more relaxed and enjoy your track time more.

 

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Parnelli Jones (L) passes Ebb Rose during the 1963 500. (Photo from 1964 500 Mile Race program)

 

 

 

Book Review- Kiss the Bricks by Tammy Kaehler

Kate Reilly- full time race driver, part time sleuth, hopes for a drama free May as she prepares for her second Indianapolis 500. As usual, drama finds her. She sets fast time on the first day of practice, duplicating the accomplishment of another female driver thirty years ago.  That driver, P.J Rodriguez, died before Pole Day in a mysterious fall from the roof of her downtown hotel. Rodrigueaz’s family asks Kate to help them  find out if her death was  suicide or  murder?

Kiss the Bricks is the fifth book in Tammy Kaehler’s Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series. Usually Reilly drives sports cars, but moves to the Indycar series for this adventure.

The first third of the book alternates between the present day and May of 1987. We learn of the events that lead to P. J.’s death and how Kate gets involved in attempting to find out what happened.  P. J.’s family tells Kate their suspicions and asks for Kate’s help. Her reputation as an amateur sleuth precedes her.

With the help of her grandfather and her PR rep, Kate sets about identifying suspects and motives. They come to the chilling conclusion the culprit may be someone very close to her own race team. The answer becomes clear after the race as activity at the track slowly winds down.

Another complication for Kate is an envelope her grandfather gives her early in the month. He explains it makes clear some family issues that Kate needs to know. He requests she not open it until after the race, so she can focus on the most important event of the year. She resists the temptation to open a few times.

I found this book fun to read. It presents a great look at what a driver’s May is like off the track as well as on it. May seems incredibly busy with media appearances, sponsor meet and greets, and oh yeah, prepping for the 500. I was most impressed by the author’s portrayal of how isolated the drivers are while in the car. Each driver is focused on his/her  car and his/her performance, and only mentions others when they do something that might interfere with the team’s plan.  Drivers rely on their spotters and crew chiefs to know what is happening in the race.

This is only the second Kate Reilly book I’ve read, and I will be reading the others. Kaehler writes great racing stories with a murder mystery thrown in. Her books are available on Amazon.

Mid Ohio Musings- Title Scramble, New Looks, Silliest Season

There was a dramatic pass for the lead by Josef Newgarden to get by Will Power. There was a good battle for third between Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal in which Rahal prevailed. That was the race. The bad news, it was only lap 16. The field pretty much stayed single file with little change in order the last 74 laps. The only caution for Ed Jones came after the last pit stops, so we lost the opportunity for a position scramble.

Qualifying results landed the top seven in points in the first seven spots, which held promise for a great race. It didn’t materialize for several reasons. The lack of cautions was one. Newgarden had a clearly superior car. Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, first and second in points coming into the race, had cars that weren’t very strong. Dixon’s problems were compounded by an issue on his last pit stop.

The most dramatic thing about the race was how the championship standings shuffled. Newgarden now leads Castroneves by seven and Dixon by eight. Power and Rahal are closer to first than they were before the race. Simon Pagenaud is still lurking in fourth. he has had a quietly good season. They still have a shot.  Sato, 72 points behind now, may have dropped from contention.

Newgarden is the first driver to win 3 times this year and only the second to win two straight.  Rahal won both races at Belle Isle. We could see a series champion with fewer wins than another driver this year.

Notes

The crowd was the largest I have seen at Mid-Ohio. I understand there was a huge Sunday walk up crowd.

It was great to Sebastien Bourdais walking through the paddock on race morning. It’s amazing that he actually got back in a race car on Monday, just 72 days after his crash during 500 qualifying.

Saturday morning there was a lot of excitement among the fans who go to most events at the track when IMSA announced it was returning next year the first weekend in May.  That event will be well attended. I really enjoyed the sportscar race at Mid-Ohio and wish they were still paired with with Indycar here and at a couple other tracks.

The new road course aerokit received lots of positive attention throughout the weekend. It was great PR for the series to have the cars in garages where fans could watch them being put together for the test today. Here is the completed kit on the Honda powered car:

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I went to the speedway aerokit test at IMS last week, so I  have seen both kits on the cars.  I really like the sleek look.  On the other hand, when the cars hit the track for the first practice Friday, I was astounded by how big and bulky the current package looks.

Was Sunday Mikhail Aleshin’s last ride at Schmidt? He didn’t help his case over the weekend with a crash and starting last. Marotti Racing will be in charge of the car for three of the last four races.  Will they bring their own driver?

I understand Coyne’s intent on keeping Esteban Guttierez behind Newgarden and wanting to get their lap back. I didn’t understand why they kept at it when it was obvious he wasn’t able to get past him. He should have let Power and Rahal by to fight for the lead. His finishing position wasn’t going to change.

I heard many Silly Season rumors swirling this weekend, some very much out there, some that are realistic, and some that would be great to see. Here’s the home version of the Silly Season game. Put team names in a bowl and driver names in another bowl then draw a team name. Decide how many cars the team drawn will have next year. Draw that number of driver names from the driver bowl. Put the team and driver names in a stack. Feel free to add some drivers not in the series right now to the driver bowl. Maybe a couple teams to the team bowl too. You might turn out to be more accurate than you could imagine.

 

The Future is Retro: Indycar’s New Aero Design

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Top photo: Chevy; Bottom photo: Honda

I was at IMS yesterday to see the new look aero kit debut.  The car’s new look is a beautiful combination of retro style and modern technology. My first impression was that it was smaller than the current look. The lack of the rear bumper makes it appear smaller. I got a closer than anticipated look when the Honda had a gearbox issue and came to a stop on the pit exit lane in turn 2.  This design looks more like a proper race car. I never was a fan of the rear bumper. It gave the cars more of a sports car look.

This iteration is going to be fast. Oriol Servia was turning laps around 220 mph in less than ideal conditions. The track still had Goodyear rubber on it from the Brickyard 400, there was no cloud cover, and the car was not completely seamed together.  It looks racy.

I was hoping both cars would be on the track together to test drafting and passing ability, but each engine manufacturer did separate runs. Both drivers, Servia and Juan Pablo Montoya, praised the new design.  I think Indycar has hit on a great looking car that will also race well.

The road course version will get its first test next Tuesday at Mid-Ohio. That test is also open to the public. It is tempting to stay over for the test, but I don’t think I’ll be able to. I hope to catch the road course version in winter testing at Sebring.

One consequence of seeing the new design is going to the remainder of the races this year and watching the current cars. I think it will be harder to appreciate their look knowing what is coming. But, it is still Indycar and I will enjoy the races anyway.

Back tomorrow with my Mid-Ohio preview. We still have a wild championship fight to decide.

 

Cindric Wins 2nd Straight at Toronto

Before you predict the winner of next year’s Honda Indy Toronto, see who Tim Cindric is calling the race for. Then place a large bet on that guy.  For the second straight year, Cindric called his driver in for a pit stop just a tad early, which happened just as or just before a full course caution came out, vaulting his driver to the lead and pinning the leaders at the time to the back. The order remained that way the rest of the race.  Last year, Will Power benefited. This year, it was Josef Newgarden.

In a rather processional race marked by a few good battles,  Newgarden took the lead with his early stop and cruised to victory..  It was a typical Toronto race with bumping and banging in the turns and very little change in the order except for the caution that pushed the early leaders to the back.

The only drama after the caution caused by Tony Kanaan sliding into the tires was when or if it would rain. The skies threatened but never let loose.  Rain would have definitely helped make the race better.  I don’t think Indycar has run a race in the rain since Firestone introduced the new rain tire in 2015.  Maybe that was the secret to preventing rain all along.

Alexander Rossi’s 2nd place finish was his best finish since winning the Indianapolis 500 last year. His podium was the highlight of a pretty good day for Andretti Autosport.  Marco Andretti finished 4th and Ryan Hunter-Reay hung on for 6th. It looks like Honda has solved the engine reliability issues that have been so costly to this team this year.

Scott Dixon turned what could have been a disastrous day into one where he was able to hold on to his point lead, although it has shrunk to just 3 points. A first turn incident with Will Power, which put Power out of the race cut Dixon’s left rear tire, forcing him to pit on lap one. Miraculously, he didn’t lose a lap and fought back to a 10th place finish.  This is the second weekend in a row where Dixon has been able to salvage something from a bad start.  In 2 weeks, the series moves to one of his and Ganassi’s strongest tracks, Mid-Ohio. I expect him to strengthen his points lead there.

News and Notes:

Two rumors were squashed this weekend:

  1. Marco Andretti will return to Indycar next year. He was emphatic about it talking to Indycar Radio Saturday and Bryan Herta sent out a tweet backing up what Marco said.
  2. Fernando Alonso looks set to stay in F1 according to a Saturday announcement. McLaren celebrated the news with another engine failure in the British GP Sunday. Stay tuned?

 

It looks more definite that Helio Castroneves will be driving for the new Penske DPi team next year.

Newgarden has won 5 Indycar races at only 3 different tracks- Toronto, Barber, and Iowa.

NBC coverage seems to be falling into the more run of the mill coverage of other networks. The pre-race was 90% retrospectives and very little about the current race. Then during live green action, they showed several little features taking away from live viewing of the race. Save that stuff for yellows, red flags, and delays.

Mikhail Aleshin was on a 1 race “reset,” according to the team. he is expected back at Mid-Ohio.

Dale Coyne must be relieved that there was no crash damage to either car during the race. Ed Jones had an oil line let go late in the race, but there was no structural damage to the chassis.

I don’t recall going this far into a season with only 3 drivers winning more than once and no one having won more than twice. Unless one of the contenders has a 3 race winning streak, the championship will be in doubt going into the last race at Sonoma.  A season like this is a good argument why a double points finale isn’t necessary.

Spencer Pigot can’t seem to get a  break. Pigot has probably passed more cars than anyone else this year, but he has little to show for it. He was moving quickly through the field early before mechanical issues bit him again. I hope his car will hold together for a race or two soon. He should have had a couple of top 5s already this year.  Pigot needs a full time ride.

 

 

 

Toronto Preview: Home Win for Hinch or Dixon Rebound?

The Toronto Honda Indy marks the official beginning of Indycar’s home stretch. It’s the first of the final 6 races and the last street race of the year.  This is a great event. I was fortunate to attend the races in 2013. I felt like I was at Indy.  The atmosphere and the buzz was that tremendous. This is a treasured event in Canada. I hope in the future Indycar can have as many as 2 more races in Canada.

I was surprised to see that this is the 50th anniversary of Indycar’s first venture north of the border. In 1967 Mosport (now Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) hosted two 100 mile races, both won by Bobby Unser.   I knew there had been races in Canada for a while but hadn’t realized it had been that long. This is the 33rd race at Exhibition Place.

The track at Exhibiton place has changed over the years as new construction forced alterations to the layout. It is a tight track with one good passing zone. Pit strategy is key here, as is usually the case with street races. There is a possibility of rain Sunday afternoon, which could really scramble the order.

Honda cars have swept the street races so far and there is no reason to believe this weekend will be different. James Hinchcliffe, from nearby Oakville, Ontario, is the sentimental favorite. He has one street course win this year at Long Beach. This is the race Hinch would love to win. his record here is not great. He has just one podium finish at his home track. This weekend could be a good one for him.

Graham Rahal swept both races in Detroit although Penske cars of Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden challenged him. Can he win his third straight street race? Rahal has driven well this season and should probably be at least two spots higher in the points. When he finishes a race, he is usually in the top ten, but DNFs have cost him points.

Scott Dixon was the last driver to win both parts of a doubleheader before Rahal’s Detroit twin wins. Dixon won both Toronto races in 2013. He did not have a great weekend at Iowa and his lead in the championship is down to eight points. Dixon and his team know how to win on street circuits and I look for him to bounce back from last week’s showing. In fact, Scott Dixon is my pick to win this weekend and extend his point lead.

News and Notes:

Sebastian Saavedra will replace Mikhail Aleshin in the #7 Schmidt Peterson entry this weekend. The car will carry sponsorship from AFS, a long time Saavedra sponsor. I suspect a funding issue is the reason for this switch, mainly due to Aleshin using up his crash repair budget. Aleshin will be at the track this weekend, so he apparently hasn’t completely lost the ride yet.

Sebastian Bourdais will make his first appearance at a racetrack since his crash during qualifying at Indianapolis. Bourdais has recovered incredibly fast. He plans to race again at Watkins Glen and Sonoma this year. I continue to marvel at how quickly drivers return from horrific debilitating injuries.  They are wired differently than I am.

Team Penske’s entry into sportscars next year with the new Honda DPi car appears to signal the end of Castroneves’ full time Indycar career. He will team with Juan Pablo Montoya running the IMSA circuit full time and both drivers will have one-off rides for the 500. Penske is expected to field just three cars in Indycar next season.  Drivers of all talent levels enter and leave the series constantly. Castroneves has had a great Indycar career. It is sad when one of the most popular drivers leaves.

Ganassi is also likely to have three entries next year, as Tony Kanaan’s ride is in doubt. NTT Data will switch full time to Dixon, leaving TK without a sponsor.

Tonight I’m seeing that Andretti is thinking of a sportscar program with Marco Andretti as one of the drivers. I am skeptical about this one. It’s difficult to imagine an Indycar season without an Andretti in it. Also, how much thinner can Michael spread his resources?  Are they planning on dropping to three cars as well?  There are also whispers about AA switching to Chevy power in 2018, which would mean Takuma Sato would be the car dropping off.

It’s been a wild, unpredictable season so far, and the offseason is shaping up to continue the same way.  We may not know what next year’s grid looks like until the cars get on track March 9 in St. Pete.

 

 

Iowa Recap: An Indycar Icorn Snaps a Losing Streak

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It wasn’t the longest winless streak among active Indycar drivers but it was the one that had the most attention. Helio Castroneves hadn’t won a race since Race 2 at Belle Isle in 2014, 55 races ago.  I did not think he would ever win again because of his age, his penchant for getting in-race penalties, and the sometimes strange strategy his team used. Sunday, however, he put it all together for a dominating win, beating J. R. Hildebrand. Hildebrand pitted early on his last stop hoping to cycle to the front when everyone else stopped on schedule. He may have pitted a couple laps too early. His older tires were no match for Castroneveves’ fresh rubber once Helio passed him. J. R. had trouble lapping Alexander Rossi, allowing Castroneves to zip past.

This was the cleanest oval race of the year. Mikhail Aleshin’s single car spin was the only hard hit of the day.  The other cautions were for wall scrapes by the Foyt cars and for rain, which eventually led to a brief red flag.  The long green stints had the leaders in constant traffic which made for a fun race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay had  his best drive of the year, finishing third from his 15th starting spot.  Points leader Scott Dixon, on the other hand, had a difficult weekend, starting 17th and struggling to an 8th place finish.   He leads Castroneves by 8 points heading to Toronto next weekend. Honda should have a better time there than they did in Iowa. It was a decent race, processional at times, with several on track passes for the lead. There were some great battles all day, especially the one between Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal, who finished fifth.

Notes:

Iowa is great track and the racing is a lot of fun.The race needs to be on a Saturday night. Temperatures will be cooler, the cars look so much better, and the racing is so much better. Iowa was a night race before nascar went to Kentucky. Nascar should move their date. I know that won’t happen, so Iowa and Indycar should mutually find a different Saturday. This race works better after dark.

The crowd, while somewhat better this year than last, was still meager. I heard ticket sales were 10% better this year. There is still a long way to go to get the attendance back to the first few years.  I have several friends from Indy who can’t go to this race because they have to be at work Monday morning. Driving straight home from Iowa will get most people back to Indianapolis around 2 am. If it has to be on Sunday afternoon, have the race began  around noon. That time works great for Road America.   But a Saturday night race is the best option.

The red flag for moisture was appropriate. However, at that  late point in the race  I thought the yellow was out too long. Even under caution at Iowa laps go quickly. With less than 100 to go, the red flag should have come out sooner.

Saturday morning there was a lot of confusion at the ticket window. Fans didn’t notice the schedule said the grandstands didn’t open until 1 pm. Most, like me, assumed they would be open for the first Indycar practice at 10.  Fans were allowed to go to the infield and view practice from the fan walk for free. usually there is a charge for the fan walk. Last year I watched the first practice from the grandstand. It seems Iowa Speedway changes their policies every year. they need more transparency about their policies.  On a positive note, they solved my ticket issue smoothly.

I was happy to read that Indycar will conduct a test at the newly repaved Gateway Motorsport Park August 3. Each team is allowed one car and one driver. I’m glad they are attempting to avoid another debacle like the race in Texas. Now about those downforce levels…

Silly season officially began this weekend with Robin Miller’s story about Castroneves running sportscars full time for Penske plus a one-off for the 500. Team Penske stated no decision has been made. Media was requested not to ask Helio about his future at the winner’s press conference last night. I don’t know why they couldn’t ask and get a non-answer.

I’m very excited to hear that Phoenix and Long Beach will be on back to back weekends next year. That is a road trip I would definitely consider. One set of flights, time to go to Vegas and maybe the Grand Canyon make this something to really think about doing.

Back later this week with thoughts on Toronto.