Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rahal the Rainmeister at IRL St. Pete

Not surprisingly, the Champ Car guys showed their mettle at St. Petersburg on the street/airport circuit and really spiced up the soggy show in the process. What was surprising was that Graham Rahal survived an early spin to splash his way to his first Indycar win in his very first start, especially after crashing in Miami testing and missing the first race of the season. I expected Justin Wilson to be the stronger of the two Newman Haas Lanigan team members, and he showed the way for a number of laps. But Rahal was clearly the fastest at the end.

So now we've seen the tale of the series played out dramatically in the first two races. The more experienced oval track teams fared best at Miami and the road racers overcame unfamiliarity with equipment with driver savvy to run at the front at St. Pete. Everyone now gets time to go their separate ways, with the traditional IRL teams heading for Motegi Japan and the Champ Car brigade having their final fling in the Panoz chassis at Long Beach the weekend of April 19th. Then everyone gets back together for Kansas and Indianapolis opens the following week.

I was really glad to see the increased competition level, which is what I think everyone was hoping for with the merger complete. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats, and I can see that in effect now in the IRL. The backmarkers are going to be shown up more quickly now than ever before, as the top teams are more numerous and the caliber and depth of driver talent has definitely risen. With reports of as many as 39 car-driver combinations being available for Indy, the month of May should be truly spectacular. I might even have to spend more time out there for the first few days of rookie orientation when the new teams and drivers get dedicated track time. By the time bump day rolls around, we could be looking at the closest and most competitive field in Indy 500 history. I sure hope so.

I go to Salem this weekend for the ARCA show and the weather could be the greatest challenge with typical early spring variation at play in Indiana: warm and sunny one day, cold and snowy/rainy the next. The forecast calls for the latter this weekend so we'll have to make the trip and see what happens. The drivers will have the warmest seats in the house!

Is it May yet?

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