HEAT RACES CLEAN, BUT “MEH” – The trial run of IndyCar's new heat race system went off to mixed-to-positive reviews, with the most commonly held sentiment that with little incentive, there was little to race for. While I preferred it to setting the grid rather than just single-car runs, it still wasn't overly interesting.
It didn't help matters much that two of the three winners – Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan – would drop 10 places anyway due to unapproved engine changes. The same, fortunately, didn't need to be said about Franchitti, except his then went “kablammo” at an unexpected and inopportune moment.
With three heat races down and no wrecked machinery to begin with, IndyCar can count itself fortunate that the first try at something went off safely and cleanly, without much drama. A couple suggestions to improve: Perhaps a point to each winner of the preliminary heat races as well as a transfer spot into the main, and a cash and points bonus (say maybe 3-2-1 or 5-3-1) for the top-three finishers on the final heat race.
NEWGARDEN'S RESULTS CONUNDRUM – With Marco Andretti finishing second, the black cloud of “when will they get their first top-10?” now falls squarely on Newgarden. It's a dilemma because of both the promise and he his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team has shown, but also compared to the results achieved by everyone else.
In nine races, Newgarden has qualified in the top 10 five times, but has yet to get a representative result. It's an ignominious statistic that only he, Katherine Legge and Simona de Silvestro are yet to end a race among the top-10 finishers, and correspondingly have the three worst average finishes in the field. For most of the year, the female drivers have been saddled with the Lotus engine while Newgarden and SFHR got a reprieve with a Honda lease at the 11th hour.
While some may look at this as sincere disappointment – not least Newgarden himself, who has particularly high standards for himself – the expectations, realistically, shouldn't have been that high for this group to begin with. Everything about the team has been an underdog effort, tight knit as they are, but stacked with a total rookie driver in an unsponsored car (save for Indianapolis), in the team's first full season, in what's one of the deepest fields in years.
If anything Newgarden overachieved from a results standpoint with 11th on debut at St. Petersburg, and showed his mettle with his passing attempt on Franchitti in Long Beach and qualifying run at Indy. I'd put his contact with Briscoe in the “mistakes” column thus far, and with the first half-plus of the season out of the way, it would not surprise me to see a couple breaks and results come his way on one or two of the road/street course races the rest of the way.
And, to be fair to him, Franchitti's first nine starts in IndyCar weren't much better; his 1997 season produced only one top 10 and three accidents in the first nine events. The 2011 rookie class featured Hinchcliffe with four top 10s, Hildebrand two and Charlie Kimball one through nine races. Is the pressure on him to improve? Yes, but he knows it better than anyone.
OF NOTE – Props to Ed Carpenter on a second successive eighth-place finish, again fairly quietly, after getting back on the lead lap midrace and then driving forward from another poor starting position. Carpenter reckoned he had to work “too hard” for the result and could have conceivably finished in the top five with a better grid spot.
Takuma Sato finished a race for only the second time this season (P12), and Viso's contact meant he failed to finish for only the second time this year. Go figure.
Under-the-radar series sophomores Charlie Kimball and James Jakes are, naturally, quietly improving their finishing records. Kimball's 11th gives him five top-11 results out of six finishes in the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing car, while Jakes' 13th keeps his streak alive of finishing no worse than 16th the six races he's seen the flag for Dale Coyne Racing. Jakes only once finished better than 15th in 2011.
Franchitti earned full points for his 25th-place finish as his car was running at the time of the official start, before his engine failed. By contrast, Rubens Barrichello and Simona de Silvestro were not active at the official start at Texas, and therefore received only half points, as confirmed to RACER.com by IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield.
The series takes a well-earned and much needed off week this weekend before resuming July 6-8 on the streets of Toronto.