|The MAVTV 500 was the greatest race in the history of IndyCar. If the series wants to put on a breathtaking but dangerous show like that all the time, then they are going to have to build in canopies on the new 2018 car to further protect the drivers. What they shouldn't do is rob the fans of the greatest racing on the planet.|
Will Power was fire-eyed and striding quickly through the garage at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday afternoon. His ruined car had been deposited in front of a garage bay, his race over after a wreck with Takuma Sato with nine laps left in the MAVTV 500.
The rumble beyond the infield suites indicated that a red-flag period had been lifted and the defending series champion threw himself onto a motor scooter to tear off to pit road to watch the final laps, drawn to the spectacle he dreaded would ensue.
"Someone is going to die. This is the Las Vegas situation all over again, but 500 miles," Power told USA TODAY Sports. "Someone or multiple people need to lose their jobs over this, because this is an absolute disgrace."
The day was rich in contradiction for IndyCar.
A series struggling to acquire new fans – on an afternoon where perhaps 10,000 attended in person – the series used the NASCAR-equivalent of restrictor-plate racing to produce a show that was breathlessly broadcast and feted on social media. It titillated and entertained, unnerved and enraged. It will generate publicity from which IndyCar will benefit. But open wheel too often requires morbid story lines, or the threat of them, to stir broader interest.
Minutes later, after a last-lap crash between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe ended the race under caution with Graham Rahal as winner, one of Power's Team Penske teammates stood on pit road and more coolly assessed the aftermath. Juan Pablo Montoya had predicted Friday that the endurance race would evolve into the bane/boon of open wheel: a pack race.
New aerodynamic body kits in their first use at the track had increased downforce by as much as 30 percent over last season, setting up the situation, Montoya said, where cars would struggle to separate themselves from each other.
Cars traveling in excess of 210 mph, sometimes inches apart. Sometimes an absurd four-wide through the corners, as was the case Saturday on the broad expanses of the two-mile speedway. Dangerous. Riveting. Controversial, when equated with the last race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011, when a pack race that drivers long forewarned of ended with the death of 2005 series champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon.
"Was I right?" Montoya posited Saturday. "Oh, wow, that people were about to get hurt? Yeah. Were we lucky that no one got hurt? Yeah, we were lucky that no one got hurt. But they don't hear me."
In this case, it is not IndyCar that Montoya is speaking of, but the peers of Montoya and Power, who broke his back in that Las Vegas crash.
|4-wide and 5-wide. It was prenominal. Hat's off to the IndyCar drivers. Made F1 look like a Macy's Day parade.|
"It's hard because IndyCar did ask the other drivers," Montoya said. "IndyCar did their homework. IndyCar went to the other guys and said, 'What do you think? And everybody said, 'Oh, it's ok.' And it's hard because if (Team) Penske says something, it's because we've got an agenda. The agenda, to be honest with you, is to not race like this. Let's not race all the time wide open and it be who's braver every time into a corner.
"It's stupid. It's a shame because we have great cars and we can put on a hell of a show without doing this."
The question is whether drivers should begrudge the series. Even there, no consensus.
Some drivers and teams were aghast that pack racing could exist. Many contended that what unfolded Saturday wasn't even vintage Indy Racing League-style pack racing.
"We were packed up for 8-to-10 laps," said veteran Ed Carpenter, driver/owner at Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing. "That is not pack racing to me. It's not like Vegas was. It's not like Daytona or Talladega is for NASCAR. Guys would spread out enough. We've got to have some responsibility for all of it."
Montoya said after the race that third-place finisher Marco Andretti, "Says, 'Man, I'm sorry I didn't back you up. This is stupid.' "
Andretti, though, was one of several drivers who later conceded that they pull on helmets and gloves out of their own free will. It's part of the bargain.
Carpenter was therefore disgusted that the first reaction of several drivers was to lambast the series immediately after a race so well-received. With this style of racing shelved for at least a year with no similar ovals remaining on the schedule, there will be much time to assess the impact and the value.
"I hear a lot of fans cheering and having a good time watching the race and a lot of talk about IndyCar and I just hate that the first thing that guys do is get out and slam the sport we're a part of," Carpenter told USA TODAY Sports. "I don't think it does us any good. I'm not advocating pack racing. I'm not advocating anything other than support of this series.
"If you don't want to do it, go somewhere else. There's plenty of other guys who want to be here."
Montoya, a two-time and now defending Indianapolis 500-winner and the series points leader, clearly wants to be here. But he asserted his prerogative numerous times Saturday not to involve himself in what was unfolding around him, at very high speeds.
"I backed out of probably 20 situations where I gave up three, four positions because there (was) no point," he said. "I don't race harder because there's no point. I'm not interested in getting hurt."
But if fans were interested in what they saw Saturday, he might have more decisions to make. Brant James/USA Today