Texas Motor Speedway is, technically, my “home” track. It is also the track that cemented my fandom of IndyCar many years ago. To me, IndyCar drivers were gladiators at Texas. I recall watching in awe the intense, close racing the track produced for years. I was watching in 2003 when Tomas Scheckter and Kenny Brack made contact sending Brack hurtling into the turn 3 fence. It was a moment of shock, but also of respect. IndyCar drivers had to be the toughest racers around to race so close at 220+ mph with their face as the windshield. However, the grave reality of such racing finally took it’s toll in Las Vegas last year claiming the life of Dan Wheldon. I was almost ashamed to have felt like I had all those years loving the close oval racing so much. And, with all 1.5 mile ovals off of the schedule except for Texas, I approached this years race with less enthusiasm and more apprehension. I couldn’t bear to have a repeat of Las Vegas happen again.
To help thwart the possible issue of pack racing, IndyCar settled on a package for the new car that had less downforce. This helped put the cars back in the drivers hands. In the past, the cars were loaded with downforce and speed was determined by mechanical means. The fastest “car” would win, but the driver was a smaller part of the outcome. With less downforce, the drivers were now lifting in the corners and fighting loose cars. It was obvious during the first practice session that the best handling car, and the best driver, would win.
First things first, Alex Tagliani, driving for Bryan Herta Autosport, qualified P1 for the 2nd year in a row. The BHA team was fast at Indy, fast at Detroit, and were now on the pole for Texas. All that they needed was to ditch the Lotus engine. It’s amazing what a decent power plant can do. Also of note , I noticed at the BHA tweet-up that Tagliani has very nice legs.
I was so nervous at the drop of the green flag, I think I could’ve stuck a lump of coal between my cheeks and made a diamond. Starts and restarts are always close, but the main question was if the cars would stay grouped together or spread out. Luckily, the cars began to spread out. However, the beautiful thing was the drivers having to actually drive the cars. It was obvious that EJ Viso was struggling with the handling of his car and was getting passed fairly quickly. But, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves were working the high groove and moving up through the field. The racing was close, but it wasn’t a pack, it was real racing. Dario Franchitti’s car was so bad he had to pit early to try and correct his handling issues. It was shocking to see the Indy 500 winner struggling so mightily with his car so early in the race.
On lap 31 Charlie Kimball smacked the turn 4 wall. Fighting an ill-handling car, Kimball lost control by himself. If you recall, last year Kimball also crashed out of the first race at Texas when he made contact with Wade Cunningham. Maybe turn 4 at Texas doesn’t like diabetics?
After the pit stops, on lap 65, Takuma Sato crashes in turn 3. Actually, he crashed almost in the middle of the back stretch. Sadly, Sato is living up to his usual expectations. He can be lightening quick, but can never complete the job. His kamikaze style of driving is definitely hit or miss. I’m sure Bobby Rahal, his team owner, can’t be too happy about having to repair his car so much. Kevin Kalkhoven from KV Racing could write Bobby a book and probably has a stack of spare parts receipts a mile long from Sato crashes.
Other than a dominate performance by Scott Dixon, it was easy to see the cars that were been handling well. Tony Kanaan worked his way through the field twice after poor pit stops, and Justin Wilson picked his way from 17th to the front of the pack. And, when watching the race replay, it was great to see the engineers trying different setups on the cars. They earned their money just as much as the drivers did.
So, you would expect to Dixon to run away with the race, right? Oh, but no. Dixon spins and hits the turn 4 wall on lap 174. It was shocking to see someone with the skill-set of Dixon to lose control. I think half of the field ran over my jaw as it dropped to the ground on seeing Dixon completely lose control of his car. Stunned. You expect a Sato crash, but you don’t expect a Dixon crash not caused by someone else.
On the final restart, it seemed there were 6 guys that could challenge for the win: Rahal, Kanaan, Wilson, Power, Briscoe, and Castroneves. The Penske teammates were making moves on the high side and looked to be the ones to beat. Kanaan was blocked by Power which broke his front wing. Power was served a drive-thru penalty for blocking, and Kanaan had to change his front wing which took both drivers out of contention. Castroneves’ car fell off during the final stint, and Wilson passed Briscoe for 2nd place. With 3 laps to go it seemed Rahal would run away with the win. But, come to the line with 2 to go, Rahal brushes the turn 4 wall and is passed by Wilson. In a shocking turn of events, Justin Wilson driving for Dale Coyne Racing, wins the race.
Although a Rahal win would’ve been big news, it was great to see Justin Wilson win with Dale Coyne Racing. Until Texas, the Penske and Ganassi teams had won every pole and every race. But, at Texas Bryan Herta Autosport won the pole and Dale Coyne Racing won the race. It was a great turn of events for the small teams. I think for IndyCar to thrive, the small teams have to have a fighting chance.
The race was amazing in person, and I think it was better than the race telecast. That said, the telecast was great, but in person it was even better. It is hard to watch such an amazing race and see the stands less than 1/2 full. The oval race at Indy was great as well, and it just makes me wish more ovals were on the schedule. Following the track disintegration issues and processional racing at Belle Isle, Texas serves as a stark contrast to that street course. For the love of IndyCar, can we have more ovals? Please! Belle Isle made me want to bang my head against a concrete wall, but Texas was amazing. And to all the Texas residents that fill TMS for NASCAR races and don’t attend the IndyCar race…GO TO THE INDYCAR RACE! The NASCAR race at TMS was as interesting as the IndyCar race at Belle Isle. IndyCar’s at Texas are amazing. Buy a ticket and GO (if there is a next time).
I was quite surprised with the struggles of Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. The team was fast at Indy and is known for being fast at ovals, but it seemed they never hit on anything at Texas. You can say what you want, and there has been a lot of hype around Newgarden, but this season has been a disappointment so far. His rookie colors have shown just as brightly as his promise. I still argue that Newgarden needs a veteran teammate in a bad way.
I continue to be impressed with James Hinchcliffe and Oriol Servia. Watching both guys this year with their respective teams, it is easy to see why they were such a great combination at Newman/Haas Racing last year. Both guys are class acts and it is hard to not root for them. I will be shocked if Servia is not on the podium soon and Hinchcliffe doesn’t win a race this year.
Other than that, it was my boyfriends first IndyCar race. To my surprise, he was more impressed than I anticipated he would be. It has been interesting to see the sport from an outsiders perspective. I guess I have never realized how difficult it is to understand racing at times for those that didn’t grow up around it. The various strategies can be quite confusing and it is difficult to keep track of who is leading, who is a lap down, etc. when the field has a long green-flag run. It was also nice to see him take notice of some drivers during the race. We went to the BHA tweet-up and later ran into the BHA guys post-race at In-N-Out (and had a chance to talk with their PR girl Monica Hilton), chatted with Nicole Briscoe (Ryan Briscoe’s wife) over tacos before the race, and I bought him a Tony Kanaan Dri-Fit t-shirt (mainly because it was the only non-black Dri-Fit shirt and it was hot). So, during the race he was keen on keeping an eye out for Alex Tagliani, Ryan Briscoe, and Tony Kanaan. If he’s going to be a fan of anyone, those are 3 good ones to start. Now, if I can just get him to Indy next year…
This week, IndyCar returns to the Milwaukee Mile for a Saturday race. After a dismal turnout last year, hopes are high for this years event. Michael Andretti’s sports marketing team is the promoter for the event has has tabbed the event as “Milwaukee IndyFest”. Anyone familiar with Milwaukee knows that they love their festivals. Expectations are high for and the weather should be great for the race on Saturday. Television coverage will be live on ABC Saturday at 1:00 ET. Both oval races so far this year have been outstanding, so don’t miss this weekends race or the Milwaukee Mile may disappear forever.