Enough's been said, opined, lamented and written elsewhere about the off-track items that have cropped up in the IZOD IndyCar Series in the last three weeks. The biggest disappointment from a pure racing
standpoint is that Detroit delivered a most inopportune dud a week after an exciting Indianapolis. The less said, the better.
Still, there were some other elements to note despite the frustration – which, along with sarcasm, was flowing like wine on Twitter on Sunday and in the 24 hours thereafter. For more insight of the non-racing related items from Detroit, check out RACER's Q&A with IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield.
FUEL MILEAGE CLOSER OVERALL – For all the “turbogate” rancor that populated the discussion in the run-up to Indianapolis after Brazil, the Chevrolet teams weren't as hamstrung by fuel mileage nearly as bad in Detroit as they had been in Indianapolis. Both Chevrolets and Hondas were much closer in performance.
Two Chevrolet drivers – Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti – went off-sequence to begin with on laps 12 and 13, respectively, in an order to leapfrog up the charts later in the day.
Of the top six drivers after E.J. Viso's pit stop on lap 27, third-placed Simon Pagenaud (Honda) stopped on lap 29, three Chevrolet runners (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves) on laps 30 and 31, before the two leaders – Scott Dixon and Will Power – made it all the way to lap 32.
Dixon and Power's fuel saving abilities seemed to propel them further on the first stint more than either engine (a Honda and a Chevrolet apiece between them), but if anything could be deduced from the only major strategic sequence, as it turned out, it appeared the Chevrolets had a miniscule advantage. With three ovals coming up, fuel mileage hopefully won't be as big a talking point.
THE VISO TRAIN – I've opined on E.J. Viso's improvements this year, and the Venezuelan has done well to post four top-10 qualifying efforts including two trips into the Firestone Fast Six, which, at Detroit especially, is no mean feat. Additionally, Viso is one of only four drivers who has finished all six races this year – and that, too, is an impressive (and some might say surprising) statistic.
Sadly, Viso leaves Detroit as the poster boy for the circuit's profound inability to pass. He's a driver, not an engineer, but on this Sunday, he was pulling the near-dozen car train.
Viso consistently ran anywhere from 1.5-2 seconds off the pace as the initial stint slogged on, falling as much as 22 seconds behind third-placed Simon Pagenaud. One such lap, Viso lost control off Turn 14, caught his car, slid to the inside but still retained his position. Several runs that Ryan Hunter-Reay had to try and pass went for naught, and as the field got backed up, pretty much all their races were jeopardized.
Team co-owner Jimmy Vasser, who calls Viso's races, repeatedly told him to pick up his pace. When Viso emerged from his first pit stop, he had sunk from fourth to 18th, where he eventually finished.
THE NON-LOTUS THREE'S DAY – For Sebastian Bourdais, the day started promising but ended in frustration. For Alex Tagliani, it started horribly and ended strongly. For Oriol Servia, it was business as usual after another one of his classic 2012 “where the hell did he come from, because we certainly didn't see it on TV” performances.
The three veterans were all in their first road and street course race of the year without a Lotus engine. Bourdais' Chevy for Dragon Racing ran as high as seventh before retiring with mechanical issues at lap 24, in what was both team and driver's most competitive showing of the year.
Tagliani had qualified third, but an issue getting the car started – a fate which had also plagued him at Long Beach, except with the Lotus instead of his Team Barracuda-BHA's brand, spanking new Honda – which threatened to sabotage his day. Not so. The Canadian rose from 24th (passing Simona de Silvestro, who's still saddled with the Lotus, LEFT), driving a “bullet” after never losing a lap, to run as high as fifth by the time of the red flag. An eventual 10th-placed finish was lower than deserved, but still just rewards for a stellar effort.
Servia, in the Panther/DRR Chevrolet, had crashed in Saturday morning practice and started 16th. But he'd already gained three spots off the start, was in the top 10 by lap 26, and progressed from ninth to fifth after the red flag. Servia has already cracked the top 10 in points, and at this rate, he could climb even higher.
A FEW TV THOUGHTS – It was always going to be difficult to follow what was an excellent show both in pre-race and race broadcast at Indianapolis for ABC. Perhaps having Detroit as one of the few network shows this year was not the best idea.
The late start of 3:45 p.m. ET didn't help matters, although it was unclear whether that was strictly a TV decision or a series one. Nonetheless, the race was up against the 6:00 p.m. local news on the East Coast to begin with even if it ran without incident, which of course, it didn't. ESPNEWS was the final drop-off point.
In filling the two-hour red flag, there were some disconcerting elements thrown in. One stock package that included a crash montage of prior accidents of these cars, in drivers discussing “the fear,” seemed ill-timed and in poor taste. It was especially surprising given how well ABC handled the Las Vegas broadcast last year, lead broadcaster Marty Reid in particular.
A lack of clarity about what teams could do regarding tire changes was also confusing. Perhaps that was due to the fluidity of the situation, but the most basic of tasks for the announce team is to know what the protocol is regarding changing tires at that moment. As the voice for the fans, if they don't know, how can your audience?
Lastly, again, according to some who were on site – the race may not have been as bad in person as it appeared on TV. Reviews were largely positive for the job Roger Penske and Detroit GP chairman Bud Denker had done in reviving the race, despite the road surface coming apart.
As ever, though, the challenge for ABC remains telling the story of the nuances and subtleties of street course racing, such as explaining what the fuel numbers mean, and focusing on the few passing opportunities (the Viso train focus meant Tagliani and Servia's charges forward were missed). The presentation of the race on TV is as important, if not more so, than the product presented at-track, and it's hard to call the Detroit TV broadcast a success by comparison.
SOME OTHER STATS OF NOTE – The new year has brought on new equipment, but still only winners from the two power teams – Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The year is actually shaping up very similar to 2009 – Penske and Ganassi teams won the first eight races that year, through the month of June before Justin Wilson's win for Dale Coyne snapped the streak in Watkins Glen. In the first six races of both 2009 and 2012, six different teams have scored podium finishes.
Dario Franchitti's charge from 14th to second was particularly impressive, and it didn't hurt he had on Firestone's alternate reds post the red flag to aid his progress from sixth to second.
In the “Ganassi 2” squad, Charlie Kimball has now scored three straight top-10 results, all in eighth place, for a total of four this year. Teammate Graham Rahal has just one all season.
Simona de Silvestro ‘s 13th place result equals the third-best for a Lotus engine this year, behind Bourdais' ninth at Barber and Servia's 11th (Brazil) and 13th (Barber).
There's no rest for the weary, as the series heads to Texas this Saturday night, this time back on NBC Sports Network.