View from the Topside
Send F1 far from these shores

   by Rick Benjamin
June 20, 2005

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Still trying to assimilate all the information and spin coming out of the world of F-1, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Michelin after Sunday’s USGP debacle. Undoubtedly it will be days if not weeks before we know all the ramifications of the misguided decision by Michelin-shod F-1 teams to bring their cars onto pit road and into the garages before the start of Sunday’s event at Indy.

While I make no claim to being an expert on the FIA or Formula One, my phone hasn’t stopped buzzing since I left the broadcast booth at Portland International Raceway after our Champ Car telecast on CBS Sports. It appears there’s plenty of blame to go around, since reports from Indy indicate the teams knew well before Sunday’s start that Michelin did not want to risk racing on the tires that had been brought.

I doubt that the Speedway should face much if any criticism here. It’s clear from Joie Chitwood’s remarks that the Hulman family and everyone at IMS is hugely embarrassed at what’s taken place. I suspect that the Speedway will move as quickly as possible to make amends with the fans who were affected. But the F-1 poobahs, from Bernie Ecclestone to Charlie Whiting on down, should be ashamed.

While no one expects drivers, teams, or fans to face undue danger, it surely appears some compromise could have been reached that would have allowed fans to see mostly what they’d paid for. It’s important for any racing series to follow its published rules and procedures. But under these circumstances it seems logical that F-1 should have allowed a chicane to be placed on the short chute between oval turns 1 and 2, that the Michelin teams should have been allowed to use a replacement tire with appropriate penalties against the cars and the manufacturer, or that the Michelin cars be allowed to change tires frequently during the event again with proper penalties.

Ecclestone has repeatedly thumbed his nose at US fans and American racing; Sunday’s debacle was the second time during Indy week Bernie tripped over his money clip and stepped on his ego. His uncalled-for ripping of Danica Patrick should be reason enough for US fans to cross anything Ecclestone-related off their list. One hopes the IMS management and the Hulman family waste little time sending this ridiculous series back where it belongs….far from these shores.

Champ Car, meanwhile, has made a shrewd move by inviting USGP ticket holders to attend this coming Sunday’s CCWS Grand Prix of Cleveland at no charge, just by presenting a ticket stub from IMS. Hopefully a couple thousand race fans will take advantage and get an up-close look at what Champ Car is becoming. Sunday’s successful show at Portland combined gains in attendance and sponsorship with fine weather and a surprise winner in Cristiano da Matta.

While Cristiano would have been expected to win at some point this year, rolling the dice on pit strategy early under the leadership of Jim McGee was a surprise. As with any gamble da Matta could have lost big but the PKV bunch rolled nothing but sevens on their way to Victory Lane. Good medicine, to be sure, for CCWS principal Kevin Kalkhoven who is still on the mend following a second round of shoulder surgery.

For us, it’s off to Syracuse for a World of Outlaws Late Model telecast, then on to Cleveland for Sunday’s Champ Car show in conjunction with Trans Am. See you Sunday afternoon on CBS.

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