Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Whiskey or a Pillow?

Holy hell, the first four races of the 2016 Verizon Indycar Series have been so average it's unreal. Let me preface this by saying I have high expectations for Indycar, which has also been a treat in the DW12 era, so average is not okay.

Trying to piece together why the first rounds at St. Petersburg, Phoenix, Long Beach, and Barber have stunk is hard to wrap your head around. St. Petersburg is usually hit or miss; Phoenix had the wrong aero package since Indycar officials didn't know what to expect; Long Beach has had plenty of drama in the past but this year it was as dramatic as a Scott Dixon interview; and Barber was a good start, then 77 laps of nothingness, then a great finish with 10 laps to go (a good finish makes a good race it does not, I'm quoting my inner Yoda so leave me alone).

One thing lacking so far has been drama. Carlos Munoz made a hash of things at St. Petersburg. Graham Rahal single handedly saved Barber from being declared terrible. Other than that, the highlight of the season so far has been Simon Pagenaud cutting a blend line by two inches.

Phoenix Grand Prix
No passing here. Nothing to see. Move along
(Photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images North America)

One thing I fault for this is the aero kits. Now in their second year of circulation, Chevrolet and Honda have had a chance to perfect their kits. While Chevy's are clearly the better option at the moment, Honda is not as far off the pace as the times indicate. With all of the mechanical grip, drivers have had an "easy" time driving this year, in that the grip levels on the car means drivers aren't fighting the cars too often. While they are still incredibly physical to drive (and thus why "easy" is in quotes because they are still incredibly difficult to drive), the cars haven't been too bad on setups this year. One early critique of the kits when they came in last year is that they create too much disturbance in the air, making it damn near impossible to close in on the car in front, thus hampering passing. These lack of closures has decreased passing, decreased risk taking, decreased cautions, and thus decreased drama, which is terrible for Indycar.

The kits also have other bad ramifications. They kits have put an extra burden on teams financially, which is something that shouldn't be happening at this time in Indycar. Teams are struggling to find sponsors and to make it in the black column. Plus, Honda has been putting more of their money into promoting Indycar versus developing their kits. Meanwhile, Chevrolet is reaping the benefits because they aren't promoting Indycar as much and using their money to build superior cars.

Do we scrap aero kits? I like the idea and I like the innovation. I hate that it takes away from the racing and it puts a burden on the teams. There has to be a compromise somewhere. Aero kits can stay, but moving to one aero kit for all teams to use and creating regulations to help prevent air disturbance should be key.

There's been another disturbing trend this year: qualifying success being the key to race success. Sure, qualifying is indicative of how fast you are, but it should not dictate the race. That's an F1 characteristic. One thing I love about Indycar is how anyone has a chance to win. At St. Petersburg and Phoenix, six of the top seven places were occupied by drivers qualifying in the top-ten. At Long Beach and Barber, the top nine spots went to drivers qualifying in the top-ten. When did we become F1?

And this may be an incredibly dumb insinuation, but having someone in the field like Milka Duno, Mary Roth, or Hiro Matsushita spices things up when the leaders catch them. Right now, the field is so good that there really is no weak link anywhere. And when leaders do catch lapped cars, they can't pass them (like we saw at Phoenix and Barber). I love our field and don't want the integrity dropped, but lapped traffic generally livens things a little.

Still nothing to see here (Photo: Chris Jones / Indycar Media)

Honestly, after Long Beach, I wrote off the race as an anomaly and thought the rest of the season would go great. It is a long season, but when I look back on it, the first four races of the season have sucked. In a hyped season with the most anticipated race in Indycar history on the horizons, Indycar has surely squandered the opportunity to 'wow' new eyes coming back to Indycar.

Don't get me wrong, I am pumped for the Indy 500, but if it ends up being a disappointing race, things could go south for Indycar pretty quick. Adding to my worry, the first two races at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis (the next race) have been pretty poor. I am worried we could be in for another bore. Are we going to have to wait until Memorial Day weekend to have a good Indycar race?! I hope not!

Someone help me decide if I should buy whiskey or a pillow when the Grand Prix of Indianapolis comes around. I can either heavily drink in order to trick my mind into thinking the race I'm incoherently watching is good, or I can just sleep through it and watch the highlights after the race. I can't make up my mind.

Let me know what you think.

-Matthew Hickey

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