Brain Dump: Road America 2018

Road America is probably my favorite road course of the Indycar season, because its long (straight-ish?) straightaways are conducive to that essential element of racing, overtaking. Yes, it’s like 4 miles long, but somehow cars are still finding ways to go around each other. And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

(“Now you’re quoting Martha Stewart?” – The Spotter)

If we learned anything this weekend it’s that if Josef Newgarden feels comfortable with his car, he’s pretty much unbeatable on a road course. We can talk about the success of the three drivers ahead of him in the championship standings, and we certainly will, but Newgarden showed at Road America that, much like his run at Barber earlier this season, he’s more than capable of going wire to wire without really being challenged on courses lined with trees. Why? I dunno. Maybe it reminds him of the Smoky Mountains.

And while Newgarden has become the first 3-race winner of the year, note that those three wins are the only time he’s appeared in the Top 5 all season. He’s either on and running on the lead, or he’s significantly off and running mid-pack back in Simon Pagenaud land.

Having the opposite kind of year is Ryan Hunter-Reay, who’s in the midst of a season much like Pagenaud had last year. In 10 starts he’s got only one win, but he’s been in the Top 5 EIGHT times. That’s more than Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, or anyone else not named Ryan Hunter-Reay.

And speaking of Rossi, take a walk down social media lane this week and you’ll see that the biggest subject is whether or not Rossi is a bona fide [expletive]. He was already viewed with a critical eye for his last-lap move in St Petersburg that cost Robert Wickens his first win, or even a podium finish. Rossi has made quite a few aggressive moves since then, but none seemed to sting race fans like the two similar moves he made on Wickens and Takuma Sato this weekend.

To wit: On separate occasions Rossi pulled alongside both competitors heading into turn 6, taking the inside line. As they progressed through the corner Rossi followed the race line which pushed Wickens/Sato off the curbing and onto the grass. Though neither move resulted in a caution both Wickens and Sato were steamed.

“The kid is so fast. . .I think he needs to concede from time to time. He races every corner like it’s the last lap. That’s the way he’s been. That’s the way he’s always been, even when he was in Europe. Honestly, it’s probably what got him to IndyCar. He’s a ruthless guy.

“I thought I gave him enough space for us both to go through the corner. But he releases the brake to try and get ahead, and he takes the corner too quick and the guy’s in the side of you. He did the identical thing with Sato. . .There’s always a common denominator with these incidents, and it’s always Alexander Rossi.” – Robert Wickens

“In high-level professional racing, you shouldn’t really be bumping each other. . .Obviously I gave him room enough (room), and he came inside. He just couldn’t stop and came into me and bumped me. He did exactly the same thing to Wickens at the start, and I’m surprised the stewards didn’t take action. I’m OK with side-by-side, just don’t touch me. “ – Takuma Sato

I see their points about racing hard and contact, but. . .(long pause). . .I don’t mean to sound like a Rossi apologist, but when I watched the replays I didn’t see dirty racing. Was Rossi aggressive? Of course. But it’s an auto race, right? They’re not playing tiddlywinks out there.

I think in the case of both Wickens and Sato the problem stemmed from the presumption they had the better exit line for that turn, because after the apex no one goes to the inside. Everyone’s momentum carries them wide out of the turn. Including Rossi.

And therein lies the solution: don’t ever let Rossi get the inside line. By now you should know what he’s going to do with that. Here is an incontrovertible rule of life: Thou shalt not be surprised when that guy who does that thing he does all the time DOES THAT THING AGAIN. Rossi’s gonna Rossi on the inside. He even says so.

“I’m here to win races and win a championship, and this isn’t a friend competition. This isn’t a buddy-buddy type of thing for me. I’m happy to be friends with them off the track and when we take our helmets off, but once the race starts, man, unless you are a teammate of mine. I’m not here to do anyone any favors.” – Alexander Rossi

Then again, maybe Rossi really is the black hat, the villain, the new Paul Tracy. Maybe he’ll show up in some luchador gear for a race someday. Wishes.

Honorable mention:

Everyone, for a caution free race.

Sato, for his 4th place finish and his 1st place quote of “I’m OK with side-by-side, just don’t touch me”.

Alfonso Celis Jr, for remaining an incident free in his first Indycar race.

Will Power, who’s car died from the front row right as the green flag was unfurled. He never had a chance.

Pagenaud, for that delicious looking French dish he made during the pre-race show. The way his racing gig is going this year, he might end up needing professional culinary skills.

Final Lap: If you ever doubt Indycar drivers are the most accessible and fan-friendly athletes on the planet, let this video of a woman celebrating in Victory Lane disabuse you of such notions.

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