Sunday, April 29, 2012

Youngster Alex Bowman Fends off Vet Frank Kimmel for ARCA Win at Salem

Salem Winner Alex Bowman celebrates with the checkered flag
Youth was served once again at Salem Speedway (Salem, Indiana) as the field was full of up and coming young drivers and one of them somehow managed to hold off hard charging ARCA and Salem legend Frank Kimmel to win the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 today. The race included the youngest driver ever in ARCA, 15 year old Erik Jones who wound up 5th ahead of 16 year old Clint King on a perfect day for short track stock car racing. Salem is known for its bumpy high banked surface and fellow young gun Chris Buescher looked strong from the pole early in the race, but it was Bowman who showed experience well beyond his years dealing with traffic as Kimmel was breathing down his neck over the last 50 laps. Another youngster, Chase Elliott, son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, mixed it up all day and finished in fourth after experiencing the banging and bumping at Salem for the first time.

It was a mixed up day full of close calls and hard charging, but the person who had the toughest day was former Indycar driver Milka Duno, who took a hard hit on the driver's side early in the race and was lucky not to be injured in a three car tango in Turn 1. With so many newcomers in the field, it was literally a day where you couldn't tell who was who without a scorecard, as the field of 34 cars had close to 20 drivers who had never run at Salem before. Not surprisingly, there were incidents but no more than seems customary for this fast short track as the top 24 starting cars were within one second of the pole time. This was a quick trip from Indy for me and next weekend I go to Talladega, although I will not be able to get down there in time for Friday's ARCA race. But such is the diversity of this great training ground series, which runs on dirt miles, short tracks like Salem & Winchester, a road course and the big tracks of Talladega and Daytona. Anyone who is a fan of stock car racing must go see an ARCA show as the racing is usually quite spirited and the older NASCAR style equipment is plentiful, so there's always excitement with close quarters action. And you get the chance to see tomorrow's stars today before most anyone knows who they are. Get a pit pass and an autograph while you can still get near these drivers folks. You won't regret it! Here's more pix from today's 200 lap event at The Salem Speedway:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Indycar's Chevy Has Will Power - And Fuel Mileage Too!

Will Power Wins 2nd Straight
The Long Beach Grand Prix IZOD Indycar Series race was again a shot in the arm for Penske's Chevy powered team, with Ryan Briscoe taking pole position for and Will Power hanging on for a second straight road course win from deep in the pack. Willy P grabbed the headlines with a masterful drive from a 12th place starting position after winning from 9th at Barber the previous race. Power winning on a road course is not a shocker, but it was Chevy who really surprised everyone with great fuel economy in its twin turbo engine after every Chevy powered team lost 10 grid spots following wholesale engine changes dictated by the manufacturer were made before the Long Beach weekend.
2012 Indy 500 Entry List

Now the teams head to Brazil following an off weekend to prepare and controversy has begun to swirl around the Indycar paddock. Chevy objected to Honda's turbo modification request to no avail after an Indycar appeal fell on deaf ears. And Lotus has lost two teams heading to Indy (Bryan Herta Autosports and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) who could see the writing on the wall and were fearful of being totally uncompetitive in the 500. Lotus teams have been woefully underpowered and under-supplied so far this season after the engine mark's late start for the 2012 season, and BHA/DRR are the first to jump ship. After winning Indy last year with the late Dan Wheldon at the com, there's no way BHA wanted to show up this year and possibly miss the show.

Simon Pagenaud
With Indycar in Brazil this weekend for the last race before the Indianapolis 500, getting bumped out at the Brickyard is looking like a real possibility after all, with 34 car-driver combinations announced on the entry list and the possibility of two more in the works - one for Michael Shank Racing and one for Newman Haas which would feature former F1 star Jean Alesi. So far this season it's been all Penske all the time with wins for Helio Castroneves and two by Power, and there's no reason to believe this weekend will be any different. The Long Beach race was not without other interesting developments, despite the appearance of Penske dominance. After Graham Rahal jinked over in front of Marco Andretti who was attempting a pass, Marco got airborne after running into the right rear of Rahal's Dallara, so now Rahal is on six weeks of  probation for his subtle maneuver which created "avoidable" contact. No such determination was made when pole starting Dario Franchitti punted aggressive rookie Josef Newgarden in the first corner at Long Beach, but I chalk that one up to cold tires for Dario and a rookie mistake by Josef. It sure would have been nice to see him stick that move and lead the race for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing! That kid is quick and fearless so I am looking forward to seeing how he handles Indy. It was somewhat surprising that the grid penalties for all the Chevy engine changes were overcome at Long Beach, but it made for a thoroughly entertaining race, especially when Simon Pagenaud starting chopping a second per lap off of Power's lead in the last 15 laps. Brazil will likely include more of the same dramatic action as the teams are getting increasingly comfortable with the capabilities of the new DW12 chassis and the engine wars are heating up.

Mr. Mayor, @Hinchtown
Watch out for my man James Hinchcliffe who's the Go Daddy guy and ready to win races after a third place at Long Beach. He said on the post race interview that he would shave his head if he won the Indy 500 this year, and I can't wait to see what the Mayor of Hinchtown has up his sleeve to entertain the fans next! I still think it is going to be hard to unseat Penske at Indianapolis, and Helio is a strong candidate for the pole and race win once again.

Helio at 2012  Indy Test

In two weeks, all the teams come to Indy and practice starts May 12th at the Speedway with Rookie Orientation set for May 10th. After the recent open test at Indy where top speeds were only in the 218 mph range, it will be interesting to see what tricks the teams have come up with, and whether the pole speed will top 220 or not. I am most interested in Carb Day May 25th to find out how quick they will run in a pack to see if the new Dallara may actually run better in groups than by itself as winning the pole at Indy is certainly special, but leading the last lap after 500 miles is the real prize. There are 800 left turns involved, not 799 as J. R. Hildebrand found out last year to Dan Wheldon's benefit, so anything is possible at Indy so stay tuned race fans, for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing!  

Salem Speedway in Salem, Indiana
While my Indycar friends are racing south of the equator Sunday, I am trundling off to "God's Country" in southern Indiana to shoot the ARCA race at Salem Speedway, the fast & bumpy high banked half mile. The two series and locations are indeed world's apart, but I need to shoot a race and no one has offered to pay me to shoot Indycar in Brazil yet. I'm not about to pout over it as my racing schedule gets busier starting now. Next weekend I head to Talladega to shoot NASCAR for Associated Press and the following weekend the real excitement in Indianapolis starts to build as the Speedway opens once again. Now that my schoolwork is done for my teaching license, I am really looking forward to getting my cameras a workout at racetracks this season. Who knows what opportunities await me out there. I will see you at the track!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Will Power Storms Barber - IZOD Indycar Test at Indy

IZOD Indycar Series Points leader Helio Castroneves at IMS Test
Even though track time was limited due to rain and foggy conditions, Will Power found his way to the front despite starting ninth at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday. Helio Castroneves maintains his points lead in the IZOD Indycar Series after finishing third in the race behind perennial Barber bridesmaid Scott Dixon. It was a highly entertaining race on a track with a reputation for being tough to pass, but the Indycar drivers found ways to make moves in sometimes unlikely ways, and also found out how tough their new Dallaras can be with enough wing and wheel banging for two road course races. The best drive of the race was put in by Sebastian Bourdais who put on a show all afternoon in his gorgeous black and gold machine, giving those with Lotus engines a shot in the arm for the engine supplier which is currently short on equipment for the teams it services. But by now you have read all about the race so it's time for something different:  testing at Indy in April!

Oval Track Rear Wing Assembly Seemed Massive
Sadly, however, no Lotus powered cars were at the open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as nine cars hit the track for the first bonafide shakedown of Dallara's new oval track aero package. In a look which reminded me of the "Batmobile" Interscope Records design run by Danny Ongais from the 1980's, the oval version of the Dallara is quite distinctive. A healthy crowd was on hand on the Turn 2 mounds and it was great to see the number of school buses arriving for tours of the track. That's how new fans are going to be created for Indycar - start them young. There was a lot to like at IMS today, although these cars are going to take some getting used to visually. Teams spent the morning running a couple of laps at a time, but my late afternoon, you could see them start to find a groove and run quicker. At times, drivers like Scott Dixon and Justin Wilson seemed to be hitting the rev limiter as their engines gave off a distinctive pop-pop-pop-pop sound that is new at Indy. Tony Kanaan,Takuma Sato, JR Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti  and Mike Conway also took part in the test today.

The Turn 2 Mounds drew a sizable crowd.
I loved the way the cars looked and sounded, and it felt like a practice day in May with the warm weather and the sweet smell of ethanol in the air. I just can't get enough and you know I'd love to be going to Long Beach next weekend, but for now these pictures will have to tide me over until opening day at Indy on May 12th. There was even bagpipe music in the air as two members of the Gordon Pipers displayed their wares for the fans in the handicapped seating section in the south short chute. It doesn't get much better than this for an early spring day in April in Indianapolis!