Monday, June 29, 2015

Embarrassment And Riches Color Rahal's #MAVTv500 Win In Fontana

Graham Rahal survives a record setting race (83 lead changes) to win for Honda power and aerodynamics. Race winners at Auto Club Speedway, participate in a recently implemented tradition (2009) while in Gatorade Victory Lane: the ringing of "Mobell" ... a full-scale replica of the hundreds of bells that line California's El Camino Real. The 700-mile-long El Camino Real linked California’s 21 Franciscan missions, which were founded by Father Junipero Serra in the late 18th century. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

Embarrassment And Riches Color Rahal's #MAVTv500 Win In Fontana

If one were just talking about the level of professionalism and talent found throughout the paddocks and race track of the teams that had come to compete in the 4th MAVTv 500 at the record holding superspeedway, Auto Club Speedway, we would be saying "Embarrassment Of Riches."

But we cannot ignore the embarrassment bestowed upon the riches that were on display for a record-setting 500 miles for 250 laps that recorded 80 lead changes, four and five wide lane competition for the lead where a driver was able to breakthrough a seven year, 124-race winless drought to take the trophy for a Honda-powered and aerodynamically-wrapped Dallara, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal.

Three of the four Dallara IndyCars in this image from the beginning of the MAVTv 500 will not complete all 250 Laps. From L-R, #14 Takuma Sato led for 8 times for 31 laps but got squirrely and took out #1 Will Power, #5 Ryan Briscoe led 5 times for 7 Laps collided with #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay and flipped on Lap 249 of 250,  #15 Graham Rahal goes on to win (third car from the left - Red), and #67 Josef Newgarden was taken out as his teammate #20 Ed Carpenter slide up to the outer lane of the track. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

The embarrassment was that this monumental display of automobile racing talent put on by the teams and drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series was only physically witnessed by (depending on who one listens to) 3,000 / 5,000 / well under 10,000 people who had come out to watch the race in the Fontana, California afternoon sun at Auto Club Speedway (ACS). A racing facility as large as ACS routinely hosts and supports crowds as large as 70,000 to 80,000 for its annual NASCAR stock car race in Southern California, where the market has 15 million people, is no problem.

This shortfall in attendance can most legitimately be placed on the racing series management.

The first point-of-order to consider is the movement of the date and the change in the importance of the scheduling of the race at Auto Club Speedway, itself. Over the previous three years, IndyCar had chopped the schedule to end before the beginning of Professional Football season for it was perceived by management that this kind of direct competition for entertainment dollars was not good for gate and television receipts. The season had to end by late August or early September to accommodate this view.

Helio Castroneves comes in hot for a pitstop and locks up his tires in order to get to 60mph pit speed. The first half of the race was caution-free with 43 lead changes and heading for a record for all-time average speed. The first yellow came out on Lap 136 when the cars driven by Castroneves and Briscoe made light contact on the backstretch. Five other caution periods followed, including two for debris. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

As to the change of importance of the MAVTv 500, during the previous three years this race was the last race of the season, and in each case, since the points race was so tight, the race decided who would be crowned the champion of the season.

Lastly, the MAVTv 500 was a race ... again, for three years ... that started in the late afternoon sun and transitioned into the evening giving the race on a high-speed oval some additional mystery due to changes in the light, temperature, and strategy employed by the teams in order to finish on top.

In 2015, it was decided that the MAVTv 500 was to be moved to an all-afternoon race at the end of June when the summertime heat was beginning to get its legs in the desert climate Los Angeles is known for.

Normally, temperatures are in the mid-eighties but the weather pattern became humid and hotter just before the race was to be run where two days before practice took place on Friday, June 26, 2015, the temperature broke through the 100 degree mark. On raceday, however, the track was blessed with a little monsoonal cloud cover reducing the near 100 degree predicted temperature to be only about 90 degrees.

The MAVTv 500 was just race number 11 in a shortened 16 race season for points and the championship. The way the season was planned by management was 17 races for points to decide the championship, but just before the season was to start, the race to begin the season in Sao Paulo, Brazil was cancelled. No make up race for points was ever scheduled.

The MAVTv 500's previous significance as Season Finale, with the pomp and circumstance of evolving day-part change -- to "just another" oval race to begin a stretch of oval races at The Milwaukee Mile on July 12 - Iowa Speedway on July 18 - & Pocono's Tri-Oval on August 23 over the summer months was just too big a change for the public to handle.

Further, with very little promotion to bring awareness to these changes in the months leading up to the race date by IndyCar management, there was very little that the racing venue could do to unbake this cake ... and evidence suggests that everyone at Auto Club Speedway did their best against these scheduling change odds placed upon them by IndyCar.

Graham Rahal, driving the No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (center), won under caution as the cars driven by Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay made contact in a pack battling for position coming to the white flag. Tony Kanaan finished second in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (left) and Marco Andretti placed third in the No. 27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda (right). Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

The riches were enjoyed by those who were there or watched on television. On the web, most all of the comments were in support of the MAVTv 500 being one of the most entertaining races held in years where full crowd attention appeared to be focused on the track for all of the 250 laps of competition. Cheers could even be heard throughout Auto Club Speedway by the (depending on who one listens to) 3,000 / 5,000 / well under 10,000 people at the track when a RED Flag was displayed in order to preserve the final four laps to competition as opposed to having the race cars circle the track to end the race under a YELLOW Flag. This could be pointed to as the best decision Race Control and series management made in support of the MAVTv 500 ... save a non-penalty call for the race winner Graham Rahal.

The No. 15 entry driven by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal will face a post-race review for potential penalty because of a Lap 187 pit stop in which the gravity-fed fuel coupling broke off still attached to the car as Rahal sped away. It dislodged, forcing a caution for debris.

Big Race-Control-By-Committee meeting takes place in pitlane between Derrick Walker and Brian Barnhart while one car qualifies and Sebastien Bourdais waits for the signal to go out on his qualifying run. Wasn't the main purpose during this timeframe qualifications for the MAVTv 500 as opposed to sorting out the finer points of Race Control ... or was this just a social call? Where's the decorum? Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

To be blunt, this has been nothing but an embarrassment of series management - and things need to change from a culture that believes:

** It is perfectly ok to plan a series for 17 races that ends before there can be the threat of any competition for the entertainment dollar by Pro Football.

** Plans a race that happens on the West coast over the same weekend as a major NASCAR road race in wine country (and this is not calculated as competition for the entertainment dollar)

** Loses a race to cancellation at the beginning of the season, and is just fine to not schedule a make-up points race. If Series management isn't serious against the plan how does one expect the fan to be serious?

** Race-Control-By-Committee without having one race car driver with real racing competition under his/her belt on the committee - let alone that experience tells us that too many cooks spoil the broth.

** With a country that has a population of over 300 million people, bringing back, and adding, Brian Barnhart to the Race-Control-By-Committee.

** Increased use of post-competition penalty assessment when many infractions cited in this way were clearly visible as on-track infractions.

** Lack of clear understanding of the discretionary usage of YELLOW, RED, and BLACK Flag track condition employment.

** Series Management through the reliance on information from outside consultants - do they also have as clients ... Pro Football?

** Guts the importance of "Bump-Day" at Indianapolis 500 on the premise the only thing that matters is the Month of May in Indianapolis - because outside of two races, the rest of the season is window dressing and ultimately does not really matter against plan. After all, "our country club is the only country club."

... add your own perceived professional racing series embarrassment here.

The MAVTv 500 at Auto Club Speedway was heralded by some as one of the most exciting races in the sport's history, which was reflected by a more than 100 percent increase in overnight television ratings. The 250-lap event at Fontana, drew a 0.37 overnight rating as reported by Nielsen - up from a 0.18 rating in 2014. It was exhilarating to watch these incredible drivers race each other so closely, so fast, for so long, without putting a wheel wrong, and we all were enjoying the thrills. The most common word used to describe the action was “insane.” Image Credit: Timo Hulett - TRACTALK Pulications (2015)

This template of thinking must change to a corporate and racing competition culture:

** That adheres to a full race season points schedule (and 20 races would be nice).

** Where the season championship points race is of prime importance over the course of seven to eight months.

** The absolute fear of competition of other sports, especially Pro Football, be damned.

** Automobile craft and innovation is fostered.

** The development and recruitment of talent is paramount.

... add your own perceived culture improvement here.

Robin Miller, of Racer Magazine and the NBCSN broadcast team, had been somewhat quiet until race end at the MAVTv 500 where he placed out a challenge to all of the team owners to wrest control of the management, and thereby the culture, of professional open-wheel racing from Mark Miles and the country club crowd that calls Indianapolis their home.

The riches shown by the drivers and teams this season has been something to behold. The last 20 laps of racing at the INDY 500 were probably some of the most exciting and professional on display - ever ... as could be said for the MAVTv 500.

Those who have the greatest investment in the outcomes need to begin the process of inculcating a culture of determination and competency as opposed to a culture of control, dictate, and fear of  entertainment competition.

We need to honor the talent and efforts of these drivers and teams.

... notes from The EDJE

TAGS: Verizon IndyCar Series, MAVTv 500, #MAVTv500, Auto Club Speedway, @ACSUpdates, Race Control, INDY 500, Robin Miller, Mark Miles, Brian Barnhart, Derrick Walker, Country Club, The EDJE, Milwaukee Mile, Iowa Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Tri-Oval, Bullring, Banked, IndyCar,

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