Thursday, August 28, 2008

Indycars go to Detroit: 2 to Go - 2 Man Show

Will Helio and Dixon be on a collision course this weekend?

Will others play a role to preserve the championship race one more week? Will "one of them misfortunate things" (as AJ used to say) befall one or the other? How will team tactics play out? What about an "inadvertent" bump or spin? Don't forget all the furor about the "intentional" spin from last year's race folks. By now, Dixon must be lamenting his St. Pete finish. And his screw up at the Glen. And last week's slow going at Sonoma. So what was a large points lead not all that long ago is now down to less than one race worth of points. And Helio finally got a win to go with his remarkable record of 7 second place finishes this year. I'm sure both teams will pull out all the stops this weekend, and both Dixon and Helio will want to be on the front row since track position will be essential at Belle Isle. That should make Turn 1 interesting!

Back soon. I'm couch racing this weekend but I'll have an opinion anyway and I'll be at the Chicagoland finale next weekend for the third year running. I hope it goes down to the last lap like the last two years.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Indy Racing League Kentucky Follow-up

I am off the road now for a few weeks and have had an awesome weekend at the Indiana Dunes to recharge and get ready for the wrap up of my racing season over the next month. I'll do some of the US Nationals at ORP over Labor Day weekend, then head to Chicago the next weekend for the ARCA/IRL show and I am excited to see they are running the ARCA event at night that weekend. SPEED TV probably dictated that. Then back to Indiana roots at IMS for the MotoGP event wrapped around the ARCA Salem fixture. Then it will be time to edit down my best of the season for American Motor Journal and start thinking about next year. By Christmas, I'm sure I'll be asking the tired old question:

"It it May yet?"

Here's a slideshow with some keepers from my Kentucky IRL work. I love shooting from the outside at that track and I managed to cover everything with a little legwork and sweat. Well, maybe more than a little. See ya next time!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Battistini Takes Kentucky Indy Lights Win

Dillon Battistini held off fierce challenges from James Davison and Arie Luyendyk Jr. to win the Kentucky Indy Lights 100 mile event tonight. Indy winner Battistini controlled the pace of the race from the front, leading every lap except the first one. Lots of drivers had trouble on a night when three and four wide pack racing was the rule rather than the exception. It looked like the race would end under yellow when a backmarker spun with less than two laps to go but he got out of harms way and the Indy Lights officials waved the white flag anyway. After the gift Davison got at Mid Ohio last month, he seemed pleased with a second place finish and was gesturing madly prior to the podium ceremonies about what looked like close calls and wheel banging during the event. These young guys sure can put on a show given the chance.

This is my last post for the evening before I hit the road for Indy. Thanks to Don Hamilton and American Motor Journal again for the opportunity. I'm loving every minute of it. It was a beautiful night for racing. Next year, they need to run the IRL race later so we get the added thrill of the bright lights. Maybe the new contract with Versus will get that changed. I'm sure the Lights guys enjoyed it. They probably felt like they were the feature, even though the stands were half full when they ran.

One last observation: for a race they said was sold out, there were a lot of fans dressed up as empty seats tonight. I wonder what that was all about.

The US Nationals are next up for me. Night qualifying. Awesome. Loud. Earth shaking. Flame throwing. My one night of the year for the straight line brigade. It should be fun!

Dixon Lucky & Good at Kentucky!

Scott Dixon overtook Helio on the last lap tonight after a Penske fuel gamble backfired in a desperate attempt to get the Brazilian into the winner's circle. Marco Andretti ran one of his strongest races in a long time and battled Dixon throughout the race. Late fuel stops scrambled the leader board several times and the outcome was in doubt to the very end. I covered a lot of territory tonight and was in Kanaan's pit for his final splash & go. Too bad for Mutoh that he had mechanical problems as he looked good early. Next up is the Indy Lights race and perhaps Ana Beatriz can pick up another win for the fairer sex. She looked great at Nashville and this should be another good test. Matos is on pole again and he has been tough everywhere in the AGR "junior" team so keep an eye on him too.

Back to work!

Kentucky Speedway IRL Update

I just took my first walk through pit lane and the garage area. I like to walk the pits to see who's pitting where and there hasn't been much mystery this season. It's usually the Target team, Penske and AGR at pit out and today is no exception. Mutoh has the pit closest to pit out of any of the AGR drivers which could be an advantage for him.

Not many drivers out in the garage area yet but the bombs are going off now for the start of pre-race festivities. There's supposed to be an ATV jump in front of the driver intro stage on the front stretch which should be strange. Must be a Bombardier tie-in. I only saw Scott Dixon in the garage are by the team haulers but he was surrounded by autograph seekers. He looked confident and even a little cocky, judging by the look on his face at right. There was the usual crowd around the Danica hauler but she never comes out until the last minute and is always mobbed. I'll get her in driver intros.

Sarah Fisher's car looks gorgeous, with Dollar General sponsorship and a bright yellow paint job. She's back in 16th starting position but after her unfortunate run-in with TK at Indy, I'm sure she's glad to be back on track. She's won pole here at Kentucky before and has run well in the past so it could be a good night for her.

I've got to go out and get ready for the festivities now and go to work so I'll be back later.

Live from Kentucky Speedway: 2 Hours to Pre-Race

A great day for a drive today from Indianapolis down I65 through Madison, Indiana and along the Kentucky side of Ohio River. Right now I'm live from the media center at Kentucky Speedway. When I got to the credential building at 2:30, the line was out into the parking lot and traffic was already backing up with fans getting to the parking lot. I've heard the race sold out yesterday and they started selling some standing room tickets today. The green flag flies at 6:36 tonight and they'll run into the twilight under the lights. I'm loving these Saturday night races!

It should be a great show with 26 cars starting the race behind Scott Dixon on pole with Meira 2nd and Wheldon 3rd. I'm sticking with my darkhorse candidate, Hideki Mutoh, to contend for the win. He will start 4th and has so far this weekend outshone his other AGR teammates, with Kanaan 7th and Marco 9th. Danica is starting shotgun on the field after crashing in practice and missing qualifying, so it will be very interesting to see how she fares coming up through the pack. She may have to play a track position game to make up ground. She'll have to wend her way through a number of the transition team drivers as they did not qualify well. The biggest surprise to me was Marty Roth who will start 11th. Servia and Power with KV are the highest starting transition team drivers in 12th & 13th. The Vision team continues to start well with Carpenter 8th and Foyt 10th. We'll see how well they race, as this is a track where speed and handling both matter. A pole speed of 218+ is plenty fast for a 1.5 mile oval and race laps over 210 should be the norm. Two-wide and three-wide racing is also expected and that should make for an exciting race, and good photo ops.

Everything's a photo op when you get right down to it, so today it will be another challenge with the skies darkening and the Musco light system firing up as the event wears on. Then the Indy Lights take the track so it will be a long night. Back again soon with more.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Indy Racing League Tackles Kentucky Next

With the 2008 season in the home stretch of the final four points-paying races, it seems only fitting that the IRL would be heading to horse racing country this weekend. I am really looking forward to seeing this event since it could make or break the championship hopes of many drivers. Scott Dixon could put some real distance between himself and others if he runs well here like he did last year. Pretenders or contenders will be the question this weekend. I'm sure Wheldon will do whatever he can to aid team tactics if he isn't in a position to win outright.

I do expect Tony Kanaan to rise above the internal furor of the Andretti Green team and challenge for the win.
The Penske duo of Helio and Briscoe can't be counted out though. Helio has been extremely consistent but his winless streak continues so I'm sure he will be highly motivated to get back into the winner's circle. I wouldn't be disappointed to have the chance to shoot some fence climbing this weekend. This was not one of the better tracks for Penske last year as Hronish crashed out and Helio never really was on the pace, even though he and TK had a bit of a run-in as I recall. Those wacky Brazilians!

This could also be a surprise opportunity for Hideki Mutoh to sneak into victory lane since he won here last year in Indy Lights from pole position . He had a great duel with Alex Loyd and he could be pumped up to return to Kentucky Speedway. I don't think Danica's luck will change this weekend and it will be nice to see Sarah Fisher back on track again.

The IRL has announced its TV package for 2009 now so the only outstanding items are a season sponsor and the disposition of a race in Australia. The schedule is set up for the Surfer's event and although it seems odd that the IRL would settle for the Versus network for the majority of its races, having the 500 and three others tbd on ABC will still be a good deal for the league. With ESPN married to NASCAR, I'm not surprised the IRL had to look elsewhere, but if the speculation is true that the IRL is paying for the TV slots, then that would be disconcerting. Perhaps increased sanctioning fees and overall event attendance will make up for that. If Versus can give some more comprehensive coverage without the need to limit starting and ending times, that would be great. No more waiting for golf to be over and still miss the start, like at Mid Ohio this year.

August 09 looks like one of the best months of the schedule for me so I better get my room reservations made! At least Kentucky is close enough to go down and back the same day. I did it in May the night before the Indy 500 so this can't possibly be that bad!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Brickyard Redux - Kentucky Indycars Next

A few final thoughts on the 2008 Brickyard to consider:

Does NASCAR need to look at repositioning the exhaust from its current location? Judging from this photo of Sam Hornish lifting to negotiate Turn 1 at Indy during qualifying, I'm wondering if this wasn't a contributing factor for the right rear tire problems. Certainly looks like it could have been, knowing how much everyone had to lift off the gas to make it through the corners.

Not a bad day for the open wheel guys after all. Nothing torn up except for Juan Pablo's tire failure early in the day. Yeley, Newman, Hornish, McDowell , Allmendinger et al managed to get to the finish which is more than can be said for some of the stock car regulars. And anyone that knows me knows I pull for the open wheel guys first and foremost. Awful day for Stewart though, and I'm glad he left before talking to the media. His radio show comments the next day seemed out of character, but then he had just had a run-in with USAC officials at ORP during the weekend, so maybe he was feeling gracious. Or just being sarcastic, more likely.

I was especially pleased to see Michael McDowell get to the end with his MWR Toyota in one piece.

Saturday morning I had been walking around the team haulers in the garage area annex and got the chance to shake his hand and talk to him briefly to wish him well. After doing some photo work for him last year during his ARCA season, I have a special appreciation for what he is dealing with and always hope he does well. His Texas crash earlier this year was unbelievable and the guy manning the MWR souvenir trailer told me that Mikey almost broke Dale Jarrett's arm punching him while watching the whole thing unfold from the top of their hauler that day. Funny the stories you hear at the race track sometimes. Now I've got a McDowell t-shirt to go with the ARCA stuff from last year so I hope he puts on a charge the rest of this season as he gets back to some tracks he's already run on once.

But enough about NASCAR. The following slide show will let you see some other things I saw.

Now I'm focusing my sights on going to Kentucky Speedway this coming weekend to shoot the Indy Racing League and Firestone Indy Lights races for American Motor Journal. Kentucky is a fun track to shoot and I've been fortunate to get there several times over the last couple of years. I went to the very first IRL race they held at Kentucky several years ago and the access is much improved since then. That race was where I first discovered Sam Hornish Jr. and immediately became a fan as he drove the wheels off an underfunded (as usual) PDM entry and battled Jacques Lazier wheel to wheel for about 30 laps. Kentucky also means there are only four more points races for the IRL season title and anything can happen, even though Dixon would clearly have to be labeled the favorite with 2 ovals and 2 road courses left. I will get to go to Chicagoland in September for the points finale again this year. If the points chase is half as exciting as last year at the Joliet track, IRL fans are in for a real treat once again. Some people don't like the 1.5 mile tracks but they are great for showcasing wheel to wheel racing at its best, especially now that Michigan is no longer on the schedule.

Speaking of schedules, the 2009 IRL schedule is out already. Rumors about the demise of Nashville have proven true, being replaced by the street race in Toronto. No big surprise there, since Andretti is the promoter and Toronto has always been well attended. Other race dates have been shuffled for next season and I still expect Surfer Paradise to slot in between Motegi and Homestead as a points race next year which would give Indycars 19 races, 9 of which would be on road or street courses. I hate to see ovals drop from the schedule, especially ones which have supported the IRL from the early days, but Nashville is essentially a one groove track, and the teams have never really been able to come to terms with the concrete surface to get a second lane worked in for better racing. I will miss the road trip and I sure feel badly for the folks in Tennessee who have supported this event and their home track. But there's more money to be made elsewhere and unification will bring other pressures on the schedule in the future.

Now if the IRL can get a season sponsor and a better TV deal, maybe some of that pressure goes away. It will be interesting to follow over the coming months. It is hard to believe the season is almost over already, as this summer has flown past. It won't be long before I ask "Is It May Yet" and we'll do it all over again in 2009. But Kentucky is next, so Sparta here I come!