IndyCar Interrupted At Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix
Just as in the 1999 Hollywood film named, "Girl Interrupted", this last chapter in a 17 race/chapter season can be titled "IndyCar Interrupted" because of the less than entertaining display that was allowed to take place for the 250 laps that were scheduled. The folks making the competition decisions should be checked into a disorder establishment.
The previous three races/chapters were held at twisty and winding Temporary Street/Dedicated Road courses/tracks. All three races had passing and strategy that left the fan with a fulfilling story of events upon which their entertainment satisfaction was rewarded ... not so with the first oval race of the 2017 season.
Cars moving along at fast speeds, nose-to-tail, without any chance at these drivers using their skills to pass for position is pretty much a parade for the better part of two hours. Kind of like attending a historic race car event where the cars are worth more than any random fifty cars that are parked in the spectator parking lot.
Until the race/competition management makes a commitment to the "Mushroom Busting" aerodynamics - a concept first introduced by Swift Engineering and used by Dallara in the DW12 - that brought everyone 80 passes for the lead at the MAVTv500 - Auto Club Speedway's last race - open wheel oval races are boring to witness ... even at 50 mph faster than NASCAR.
No truer thoughts have been expressed in opposition to Hulman & Co. managed racing, especially when everyone knew better, than what's articulated in this piece by Robin Miller.
|Fan favorite Robin Miller (L) with friend, Jimi Lehner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Image Credit: Jimi Lehner|
This excerpted and edited from Racer Magazine -
MILLER: IndyCar's desert debacle
By Robin Miller, Racer Magazine - Monday, 01 May 2017
If the IndyCar paddock could send a message to the few thousand souls who showed up at Phoenix International Raceway or the people trying to watch Saturday night's race on NBCSN, it would be brief and heartfelt:
"They should refund everyone's money," one prominent driver said afterward.
Because the first oval-track show of 2017 was a 250-lap dud – 90 minutes of running in place where the leader couldn't lap last place because they were both running the same speed.
The only lead changes came on pit stops, and other than Josef Newgarden early and J.R. Hildebrand late, passing was passé. And an untimely caution removed any chance of drama, scrambled the front-runners and gave Simon Pagenaud a stress-free run to the checkered flag.
But the real downer is that it probably didn't have to be a snoozer.
Following IndyCar's return in 2016 after an 11-year absence, it was obvious something needed to be done about the aero package for this legendary, one-mile track that was built for Indy cars in 1964.
Last year's race was a carbon copy of what transpired on Saturday night so IndyCar staged a test last October to come up with a possible solution.
And Ryan Hunter-Reay felt like it was a success. "We tested different downforce configurations while running together and we found a solution," the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner said.
The eye of the storm, according to the drivers and teams, was the undertray on the Dallara DW12. Running one without a hole in it allowed the cars to get closer and make passing possible. (And the hole in the under tray is to keep the cars on the ground if they spin and go backward on a superspeedway).
Hunter-Reay lobbied hard for IndyCar to change, but because all of the teams would have had to spend money to fill in the hole, it was decided to remain with the status quo until the new aero kits arrive in 2018.
After last February's open test at PIR, most of the veteran drivers correctly predicted that Saturday night's Desert Diamond Grand Prix of Phoenix would be a stinker without making that change.
"It doesn't make any sense to come back and put on the same show," said Hunter-Reay.
To be fair, Jay Frye and his staff at IndyCar have been great at listening to the paddock, using common sense, thinking ahead and being proactive. Plus, car owners are always bitching about spending extra money with sponsorship dollars hard to secure, so maybe there wasn't a real push to make a change (except by the drivers).
But, looking at the big picture, IndyCar couldn't afford another stinker in Phoenix, and Saturday night could be the death knell to a destination that IndyCar needs to see succeed.
There were fewer people in attendance this year, and the ones who came were put off by 22 laps of caution (why not throw the red flag?) following a first-lap, five-car pileup and then by the drudgery of watching cars run in place. USAC’s Silver Crown prelim on Saturday afternoon was five times more entertaining.
Rookie Ed Jones is good racer doing a damn good job for Dale Coyne, but in his first-ever oval race he managed to keep Dixon, Tony Kanaan and three-fourths of the Team Penske armada behind him for 20 laps.
The magic of a mile oval is traffic and how the leaders deal with it. But that was non-existent again on Saturday night, and Firestone's tires seemed to be too good and too consistent, so there was no major grip loss.
There is one year left on the Phoenix contract. PIR's Bryan Sperber has embraced IndyCar like few ISC tracks ever have, and his relationship with Frye is a big reason why IndyCar is back in the desert where it belongs.
Talk of trying to run Long Beach and Phoenix back-to-back like the old days or possibly even make PIR the season finale is all good. And there's little doubt that next year's aero package will make the racing much better. It couldn't be any worse.
But the worry is, how do you get anybody who paid for Saturday night's abysmal show to come back in 2018?
"I think the fans deserve a better show than we gave them," said Tony Kanaan. "I hope they give us another chance."
|The Sun pierces through the empty grand stands to splash Graham Rahal with a shaft of afternoon light during a warm-up run before qualifications at Phoenix International Raceway. Image Credit: Chris Jones via IndyCar (2017)|
Plus these edited and excerpted additional thoughts by Turnology's Thomas Stahler -
Tom’s Take: Is IndyCar Done with Ovals? They should be.
By Tom Stahler - Tuesday, 02 May 2017
In case you missed it over the weekend — and based on TV Ratings and the two thousand people in the stands: you did — there was IndyCar’s triumphant return of the series to Phoenix International Raceway — which was left wanting for a crowd and a race. Aside from the annual pilgrimage to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, perhaps it is very sadly time to put the ovals to sleep like a cancerous dog. Put a fork in them. They are done — perhaps even overcooked! For the promoters at PIR who really did all they could to boost the event, I am heartbroken.
A first lap crash, then 22 laps behind a safety car followed by a single file high speed parade, with little or no dicing for the lead, made what could have been an event win for promoters, a total wash. But, chew on this: IndyCar may have a way of redeeming itself by eradicating the oval races. Easily, and for many, this could be seen as a statement of blaspheme as USAC and Champ Cars cut their teeth and have a deeply embedded history on the ovals. Unfortunately, this is not where the sweet spot for the series has maintained.
I have been to the last races at the Milwaukee Mile and Auto Club (California) Speedway, both ovals, in the last three years and can tell you, it has changed — and not for the better. The racing is usually great. The super speedways produce monstrous speed and three wide wheel to wheel racing. A one mile oval can produce some intense cat and mouse fights through traffic… For the 2017 Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, this was not to be.
Consider also, ovals — including the triangle shaped Pocono has produced the last two fatalities in the series: Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson.
IndyCar has been the most embattled series in racing, going back almost 30 years. The politics and numerous bad choices have destroyed what was perhaps the best and most competitive series in the history of racing — and that includes Formula One and NASCAR!
By 1991 Tony George, grandson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hullman, pulled the Speedway away from the CART series and started his own “Indy Racing League” in an effort to bring IndyCar racing back to its roots — while still a controversial topic, most enthusiasts still see this as the moment open wheel racing was destroyed in North America. NASCAR, who had only had their first nationally telecast race in 1979, flew to the front as the preeminent North American racing series in the 1990’s — on ovals!
By 2003, CART had gone bankrupt and the Indy Racing League, completely subsidized by the Hullman Family and strictly running on ovals, moved ahead with competing race teams — but sadly not in spectators.
With the exception of last year’s 100th running, even the Indy 500 has had to flail to get 33 starters for the legendary race in the last two and a half decades. But the series has made strides in the last several years to become more like the racing varietals of its most popular era, where the cars ran on ovals, road and street circuits. But the cache of ovals seems to be dying — even at NASCAR, who has seen their attendance down nearly 50% in the last several years.
The road courses, however, are working — as are the street circuits. A visit to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, three weeks ago, saw an enormous crowd, bolstered by being in a metropolitan city center with tons of excitement and activity. The racing and the show is still viable.
Sadly, oval racing has lost its luster despite what potentially produces great speed and maneuvering.
The teams voted on it and decided they did not want to spend the money on the aero “fix”, opting instead to change this feature for next year when the new IndyCar is produced. This led to the 20-car field, which lost five cars in a first lap incident, being a long line, where the leaders couldn’t even catch the back markers. Bo-ring!
The real losers in this deal are the promoters of 2017 Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, who find the sponsors, put up the prize money and sell the tickets and hot dogs. Saturday night at the short track is still an American phenomenon, but IndyCars on any oval beyond the Indy 500 is just a dud. An unnamed driver suggested that the sub-5000 tickets that were sold should be refunded. That is just criminal!
There is much criticism out there for IndyCar, but in essence, the series has done much in the last several years to “work with what they have” and perpetuate the show. But if empty stands and a “Formula Sleeping Pill” parade is any indication, the series may want to rethink where it races. I have been told many years in business: “Know your customer.” Perhaps it is time for Indy car to go where the customers are and reach them properly.
Track Improvement Video Here >>>
Best Comment - Philippe de Lespinay
There is nothing wrong with IndyCars racing on oval circuits, even one-mile jobs such as Phoenix. There is EVERYTHING WRONG with the CARS, that are built in exactly the opposite format of what they should be like. The IMS and IRL mantra of more down force, less power (to provide "close" racing, no doubt) is STUPID, just as in F1, also dying of lack of interest.
The true solution is LESS down force and MORE power. Designing better looking cars similar to the (old but gorgeous) Reynards and Lolas from the 1990s would also not hurt much. The mistake was made by Mr. George, that pathetic heir to what used to be great, by selecting HIS car builder (AKA Dallara of Italy) instead of the American Panoz chassis that was not only far better looking but also a far better and far less expensive option.
This confirms the other bone-headed attitudes that led to the demise of the most exciting oval venue, also owned by ICS, formally on the VICS schedule - Auto Club Speedway. Never placing a date equity and an insistence on ending the season before NFL Pro Football gets its declining popularity of a season in full gear (Hulman & Co. love and follow the Colts and do not wish to have this devotion interrupted by managing the closing the season of a racing series). These folks just love to do things that are counter to clear logic in the pursuit of personal interests.
Why are they even in the business of entertainment, on the large multi-venue scale, when everyone knows the only venue that matters to them is the one that consumes the Month Of May? We should probably count ourselves as lucky as fans, just to be able to have a dedicated road course event and the Indy 500 in May so as not to become bored with the whole thing that has become overly managed formula racing.
It's IndyCar Interrupted, and as with the 1999 movie ... management needs to be checked-in.
... notes from The EDJE
TAGS: Phoenix International Raceway, Auto Club Speedway, Hulman & Co., Month Of May, Mushroom Busting, Aerodynamics, Oval Racing, Temporary Street Courses, Dedicated Road Courses, Owners, Drivers, Jay Frye, Attendance, The EDJE