Grand Prix of Indianapolis Postscript

Unfortunately, an accident at the start tainted what was otherwise a successful event for IndyCar.

Apprehension set in pretty quickly after the lights went out signaling the start of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The #17 KV/AFS Racing Chevrolet of Sebastian Saavedra had stalled on the grid. The bombastic 23-year old Colombian with the wild hair, who had scored a surprise pole position the day before, was now a sitting duck on the front straight away of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway with twenty-plus 750 horsepower missiles needing to clear him at speed on their way to turn one.

And most of them did.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and others managed to take evasive action, moving left or right of the motionless pole sitter. Yes, for a brief moment you thought Saavedra may escape unscathed.

Of course, it wasn’t to be.

Fellow Colombian Carlos Munoz, who started on the inside of row 10 hit Saavedra in the rear, as Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin would also do about a second later. Thankfully, everyone walked away with nothing but broken hearts, and expensive crash bills. Still, the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis was off to one auspicious start.

Below, AutoRacing1 will take a look at those headlines and more from yesterday’s race, in our Grand Prix of Indianapolis Postscript.

Standing Starts

It was relatively predictable to hear the cries against standing starts after Saturday’s race. Granted, I understand that rolling starts are an inherent element of the American Open Wheel Racing tradition, and can accept the fact some prefer rolling starts. I also understand the frustration expressed by competitors such as Ed Carpenter Racing owner Ed Carpenter, as the #20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet driver by Mike Conway was damaged by debris in the Saavedra-Munoz-Aleshin coming together.

That said, I do take exception with some of the ignorance conveniently spewed in the aftermath.

First off, the notion that accidents are more likely on standing starts is silly for the simple fact that IndyCar has had countless accidents of rolling starts for years. Heck, there was an accident on a single-file rolling restart Saturday. And while I cannot support this empirically, I’d contend that rolling starts are actually much more dangerous than standing starts. Because drivers start from a standing position, the need to decelerate as heavily into the first turn is mitigated. This prevents against the bunching and crowding under braking we have historically seen at places like Long Beach and Toronto, further preventing the chance of incident.

Also, keep this in mind: numerous racing series all over the world successfully conduct standing starts on a week-to-week basis. Yes, there are accidents, but do I need to remind people, this is automobile racing? And we haven’t even gotten into the visual spectacle that is 25 750-horsepower cars breaking away at once, nor the inherent unfair element of rolling starts, which the series has shown an inability to police for decades.

Now, I will say this. If cars are going to be regularly stalling on the grid (Juan Pablo Montoya also stalled yesterday, as did Saavedra at Long Beach), then the wisdom of standing starts needs to be revisited. The current Dallara DW12 was not built with standing starts in mind, and the wisdom of the practice in light of the current technical package needs to be made by people with greater technical expertise than myself. Simply put, a stall situation as we saw with Saavedra is potentially disastrous, and we can be thankful Saturday was only badly damaged cars and few broken hearts.

Still, numerous racing series with a lot less technology and resources than IndyCar conduct standing starts successfully at race tracks all over the world. So should IndyCar.

I’m just asking

Having never driven a 750-horsepower race car, I am well aware that in this particular case, I am in no position to criticize. For this particular section, let me clear: I am not passing judgment, merely asking questions.

Of course, Bourdais, Hinchcliffe and Andretti all avoided Saavedra by going to driver’s right. Munoz seemed to be following that line, before pulling out at the last second in an attempt to go to driver’s left, and hitting Saavedra.

Was the 2013 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, negligent in not heeding the flagman’s warning? Did Munoz not see the flag waving? Should the flagman have been more vociferous in waving the flag to inform the oncoming pack of Saavedra’s stall? Did the flagman’s somewhat blasé (in my opinion) waving of the flag, contribute to Munoz not being properly warned of danger ahead?

Yes, Saavedra stalled. However, was there a reasonable expectation Munoz could have avoided Saavedra with either more forceful warning or by following other drivers who made it through? Or was Munoz simply a victim of circumstance?
I would very much enjoy hearing from an AR1 reader with some insight on the matter.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Simon Pagenaud

The impressive Frenchman scored his third career victory Saturday. Having run in the top-5 essentially all weekend, avoiding the trouble that befell those around him, carefully managing his fuel towards the end, Pagenaud turned in a complete performance to earn a well-deserved win.

Currently, the driver of the #77 Honda is the only driver to have finished all four races in the top-five, and sits third in the championship, a mere six points behind Will Power. Is Pagenaud a legitimate title contender?

Maybe.

I do think the Frenchman needs to qualify in the top-5 more regularly a la Hunter-Reay, Power, Scott Dixon, etc. Also, given his previous record on ovals, the new system of rewarding more points at the Triple Crown races, would seem to not favor the Frenchman.

Still, I’ve contended the past few years that the Dixon-RHR-Power triumvirate represents the current elite in IndyCar. Right now, no one is making a better case for the triumvirate to add a member than Pagenaud.

RHR

AR1 President Mark Cipolloni said Hunter-Reay would win the title at the beginning of the year. And if you take away what happened in Long Beach, RHR has essentially run first and second all year long.

Also, is it me or does RHR seem to have something of a healthy chip on his shoulder? That, combined with the fact RHR is the unquestioned lead Andretti Autosport driver, de facto lead Honda driver, and has a host of RHR-friendly tracks coming up in the summer months, could very well mean a second title for the Florida native.

RLL

On the other end of the spectrum from Pagenaud and RHR right now, is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. To be fair, Graham Rahal probably had his best run of the season going before being taken out by Juan Pablo Montoya on a restart. However, teammate Oriol Servia unquestionably had his best run of the year going.

Servia came into the pits on lap 53/82 with Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay and others. I use Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay as references because they finished first and second respectively. Also, both like Servia run Honda engines. In essence, Servia and RLL had the same strategy available to them as the top-two finishers.

Of course, Servia passed both Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud after the final restart then inherited the lead when Helio Castroneves, Charlie Kimball and a group of others “off-strategy,â€Â� decided to pit. Servia at one point extended his lead to more than 8 seconds ahead of Pagenaud. He would pit with 5 laps remaining and ultimately finish 12th.

I suppose RLL may have reasonably assumed a yellow flag would have come out? Still, I have to ask. With an 8-second lead, was it reasonable for Servia to dial back the fuel and try to make it to the end without stopping? Why did RLL push so early in the stint, knowing if the race went green they would be a little short? Considering a 48-second pit delta and a driver like Servia known for his ability to save fuel, wouldn’t RLL have been better off saving early to guarantee their ability to go to the end?

And even when the decision was made to pit, why did team owner Bobby Rahal go on television and tell the world Servia would pit? Would he not have been better off playing the “it’s going to be close,â€Â� cat and mouse game, to keep Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay and the others guessing? Would those two have possibly pushed themselves out of fuel thinking Servia might be able to make it?

Nonetheless, when Servia did in fact pit, the team looked woefully unprepared as the fueler kept the fuel hose engaged way too long. When he did finally disengage the fuel hose, the ensuing clumsiness resulted in a stall for Servia. He ultimately finished 12th.

To be fair, I’ll leave these questions open-ended. I’m aware that making decisions in a moment’s notice is not easy and I’ll also leave open the possibility there may be something I am not aware of.

Still, RLL had the same strategy available to Pagenaud and RHR, who managed to make it to the end. And from your average columnist tracking fuel mileage with nothing but a pencil and notepad, RLL’s handling of Servia’s final stint has all the makings of the proverbial monkey-football situation written all over it.

Crowd/Event

I was not on-site this weekend, so am relying on the assistance of Mark C. and AR1 reporter Tim Wohlford, who made the trip to Speedway this weekend.

And all indications are the crowd was very strong in the infield. While many pointed out the empty grandstands on the front stretch the simple truth was that was anticipated from the beginning. In other words, that scenario, and how it would look on television was for better or worse, a reality IMS made its peace with, when they decided to go through with the event.

Although the first lap accident took some wind out of the sails for the crowd, the infield was relatively full and you have to imagine IMS profited off the event. With rumors of a title sponsor next year, one has to imagine the event will only grow. Also, the fact IMS secured greater coverage from ABC should only help the Indy 500.

As for the event itself, I was for it from the beginning. While many decried the stomping on tradition and such, the simple truth is IMS threw tradition out the window with guaranteed starting spots, 35 cars in the 1997 Indy 500, 12 chances to qualify, NASCAR, F1, Moto GP, etc. Further, IndyCar has evolved into a diverse racing formula, and the month of May should be a celebration of IndyCar. The Speedway did a good job in renovating the course, and I imagine can make future tweaks to improve.

No Surprise Here

Again, I wasn’t there. However, I saw numerous reports that don’t surprise me in the least, indicating at least one IMS tradition is alive and well: blatant disregard and lack of consideration for the paying customers courtesy of IMS’ arrogant Yellow Shirts.

While such dismissive, provincial arrogance went somewhat overlooked for many years, let’s be clear: this isn’t 1964, or even 1994, people. The business model of simply unlocking the gates and the masses flocking into IMS is as outdated as the roadster.

Sure, the Speedway remains hallowed racing ground. Yes, IMS remains an iconic American institution, a success story of epic proportions. Clearly, the Speedway deserves a degree of reverential awe distinct from other race tracks.

However, if you go by the simple financial reality of 2014, IMS is a race track like many others, in a town like many others, seeking consumer relevance and trying to remain competitive, like many others. If the sight of race cars turning right and left Saturday didn’t make that clear, during Carb Day next week there will be watching Stadium Super Trucks flying across the Yard of Bricks.

Yes, these are different times. And the sooner IMS President Doug Boles and Hulman & Co. CEO can make that clear to the ignoramuses working at the Speedway, the better.

Brian Carroccio is a columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.

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