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 Preview: It’s the Pits

One of my favorite weekends of the year is the Indycar race at Mid-Ohio. Mid-Ohio is the first race I went to outside of Indianapolis, so I have a soft spot for it. I really like the track and its surroundings.  After the 500, this is the race I have attended the most.  There is virtually non-stop track action with all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge in addition to  Indycar.

The Indy Lights races here are always entertaining and something unexpected always happens. I have seen drivers crash into one another, get out of their cars and throw punches. I saw the leader pit a lap too early and lose the race. Something usually happens to scramble the points standings.

For Indycar, the racing is usually not that exciting. The last two years have had some drama, however. Last year Simon Pagenaud made a wheel banging pass on Will Power for the win that virtually assured his title. In 2015 Graham Rahal beat Justin Wilson to turn 4 on a late restart to win his home race. It was a very popular victory.

Most of the time, the race is decided on pit lane.  Since 2013, pit activity has created the winner. Charlie Kimball used off- sequence strategy to get his only series win. Scott Dixon, starting last, took advantage of a first lap caution to pit and eventually win the race. Josef Newgarden lost what was a sure win because of a botched pit stop. Last year Mikhail Aleshin looked to be on the way to his first career win when he left his pit box and collided with an incoming car. Teams have held their drivers out until the end of the pit window and were caught by an untimely yellow.

What happens in the pits will decide this year’s race as well.. Team Penske was very strong here last year with Pagenaud and Power dominating the race. Rahal will be looking for his second win in three years, which would strengthen his chance for the championship.  Right now he on the edge of falling out of contention. Scott Dixon has been very strong at Mid-Ohio, winning four times,  and I think he will increase his points lead over Helio Castroneves  Sunday.

The winner? This is the time of the season when the contenders take over the races and the qualifying.  My pick is Josef Newgarden, who could jump to second in points depending on where teammates Castroneves and Pagenaud finish.  I wouldn’t be surprised, however,  to see the season’s tenth winner on the top step of the podium Sunday. It all depends what happens when the cars are stopped.

Notes:

Mikhail Aleshin is listed on the entry list for the 7 car. Will this be his last drive for Schmidt-Peterson?

Ruoff Mortgage, Takuma Sato’s sponsor on his winning car for the 500, returns to the 27 car this weekend.

After watching the new look aerokit on track Tuesday, it may be difficult to watch the current cars this weekend. I guess I just have to pretend I know what my Christmas present is and I can’t open it until next March.

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.

 

The Race of Gentlemen: Movie Review. Some Indycar Tidbits

Just when I think I’ve crossed most items off my bucket list, another thing to add pops up. Friday afternoon at the Indy Film Fest I saw The Race of Gentlemen, a documentary about a race/vintage car and motorcycle festival in Wildwood, New Jersey. It’s not really a race as much as a festival celebrating the hot rods of the 30’s and 40’s. Remember the street racing scene in Rebel Without A Cause?  That’s what this is, kind of.  This race ison a beach.

Created by Mel Stultz after he became head of The Oilers, a club dedicated to preserving pre-World War II cars and motorcycles.  The idea is to keep racing in its purest form. All parts used on the cars must be either pre-war or early post war vintage.

The car must be a 1934 or older model and American made.  Engines from 1948 or earlier are allowed, along with 1949 and 1953 Ford flatheads. No 1949 overhead valve engines are allowed. The newest running gear allowed is from 1953. Cars run only on gasoline. They are stripped down for racing- no fenders.

There is a competition class and a couple exhibition classes. Cars race two at a time along a strip of beach. The starter waves a flag or sometimes just a cloth.  The New Jersey race is in June, and they have added another race in California in October. The event attracts entrants from across the country.

The film mainly interviews the car owners telling their stories of how they got interested in the hobby and how they obtained the car they brought. Some show up with several vehicles and a team of drivers.  The film opens with Mel Stultz telling the story of how the event was created.  There is footage of race action, some from on board cameras.

The event recreates the atmosphere of  a 1940’s carnival with tents and period details. Racers and spectators dress in period attire. It looks like a fun event to attend.  One racer lamented the growth of the weekend, complaining that the increased number of entries has limited the number of times each car can run.

What came through in the interviews was the owners’ love of the cars of the past, their passion to preserve theses machines, and their joy in being able to race them.  I wish I knew enough about mechanics to do this type of thing. I’ll just admire the work of others.

For those of you who love vintage cars, like me, the film  was great.  It was the best of  the three documentaries I saw at the festival.  I had never heard of this group or this race before. For more information about the event, visit the site http://theraceofgentlemen.com. The group’s history is outlined and there is a great photo gallery. If the film comes to your area, check it out.

Indycar News:

Tuesday is the day. We get the first look at next year’s speedway aerokit at IMS. Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia will test the car for the first time. Viewing is allowed from the turn 2 mounds by the museum.  The first road course test is at Mid-Ohio on August first, two days after the race.

It was great seeing Sebastien Bourdais at Toronto. He is planning to test next month and is hoping to race at Watkins Glen and Sonoma to finish the year.

There is more speculation that Andretti will be a Chevy team next season. That sets all sorts of drivers in motion, particularly Takuma Sato, and likely Alexander Rossi. It may force a Honda team to take Sato instead of a driver they may have had in mind. I certainly hope there are at least two new teams next year, although I’m only optimistic about one.

Marotti racing will again team up Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports for Pocono, Watkins Glen, and Sonoma. They will be supporting the 7 car.  Who will drive for them is unclear, as the Mikhail Aleshin situation is still a bit murky. Aleshin is scheduled to drive at Mid-Ohio next weekend, but after that, we will see what happens. There is no mention of who is driving the car at Gateway.

I’ll be back later this week with a review of Kiss the Bricks and also the mildly anticipated Mid-Ohio preview. I am quickly running out of chances to pick the correct winner.

 

 

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.