OK, first the obvious mea culpa. Your humble host realizes it’s difficult to be taken seriously when writing about an event like a week after it happens. But we were stuck in traffic trying to get out of the PIR parking lot, and it was getting a bit “Lord of the Flies” after the long delay. For reals, people; twenty thousand fans, one exit. Not living the dream.
Seriously, for all of you who who thought the race was awful, I say “Pffft”. Out loud, and in the air. Which was probably the same sound James Hinchcliffe made after the race.
But about that not passing, the downforce discussion, and the misery about what an awful race this was. I get that, and from what I can tell of comments in social media, this race was the racing equivalent of Crystal Pepsi. Hooray, we’re back in Phoenix, but oh dear lord don’t make me watch that not passing event again. You’ve seen it, I’m sure. To many this was a disappointment, and one that will ruin the event, sending it back to another 11 years or more of Indycar in exile.
And yet. . .this wasn’t the case at the track. Remember, this is a one mile oval, and given that relatively small size, pretty much every fan could see the entire track at any moment. And because of that we could all see there were battles on the track for most of the race. Yes, there was exciting racing action. No, really, I saw it. We all did.
Let me bullet point this out for you. Or better yet, let me use numbers and periods.
1. Turn one, where most of the fans were seated, was where much of the passing was happening. Especially on restarts. As many of you saw on television, it was where the likes of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan were passing to the outside and NOT GIVING A DAMN ABOUT YOUR STUPID DOWNFORCE.
2. As much as those drivers were using the outside of the first turn to their advantage, many drivers were doing everything they could to avoid the outside line. Luca Fillipi and Takuma Sato were among those who were in the same line and lost their grip and OH SWEET LORD I’M HEADING STRAIGHT FOR THAT WALL and somehow managed to keep racing.
3. Looking along the backstretch there were any number of drivers who would get a run and try a pass in turn three, only to have the car ahead chop down and halt the pass attempt. I swear I saw Alexander Rossi do this like a dozen laps in a row to Graham Rahal. It was breathtaking, albeit in the Seinfeld sense.
I’m not a Pollyanna – far from it. I’m like an Indycar Eyeore, and I was terrified this race wouldn’t be well received, and I know the cars looked stuck behind each other. But for most of the race the fans in my immediate vicinity were cheering excitedly at the action and not complaining. And when the final yellow came out the majority of the fans that I could see stood and applauded. I am totally not making that up. I thought with the race ending under yellow they might get showered by boos, and yet instead it was a standing ovation of sorts!
I think the main dissonance here between Indycar fans watching on TV and the fans in the stands is caused from a variance in expectations. I would guess most of you expected to see Chevys lapping Hondas, or at least more passing than there was. (I get that, because that’s what I thought, and I am totally projecting that on to you because that is what writers do.) Seriously though, if nothing else the leaders should have been passing lapped cars, and yet there was Dixon starring at the rear wings of Hinchcliffe and then Sato all night. Stuck.
But here in Phoenix the fans were mostly a mix of tin top aficionados and old-school Indycar. (True story: I was seated a few rows behind a guy in an Arie Luyendyk shirt. Oh, the number of years that shirt had to have been been hanging unworn in that guy’s closet!) And to both of these types of fans think what was amazing was the SPEED. Stock cars go nowhere near this fast, and the Indycars here never did either. To see 22 cars going in excess of 190 MPH, at night, under the lights, on that track was. . .well, it was certainly worth the price of admission.
Don’t get me wrong: I hope they get the aero issues worked out, and by that I mean take the current aero kits and throw them in the garbage. Because if they can get the passing to a level we’ve seen at Indianapolis in recent years, then this can be an exceptional event for years. But for now, for a first time back in 11 years, the fans at the track appeared to have their expectations met.
Until we all got stuck in the parking lot, that is.