If there’s one race that’s gotten people talking about the regular season of IndyCar, it’s last weekend’s controversial outing at Auto Club Speedway. Whether your loved it or hated it, the onboards are certainly fascinating to watch. If you think passing one or two cars is nuts, watch these guys go four-wide.
Welcome to Onboard of the Week, a feature where we spend that pesky time between races looking at awesome footage from inside the car.
What’s great about this onboard compilation is that it includes all the team radio messages back and forth between racers and crew. You can really empathize with the moment at 8:46, where teammates Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden collide.
“I hit the wall,” radioed in Ed Carpenter, “and our teammate. God damn it.”
There’s nothing more frustrating than colliding with your own teammate, especially for a guy like Carpenter who co-owns his team.
Ryan Briscoe’s now-infamous flip happens around 11:56, and you can see exactly how jarring it is to go airborne in one of these cars. Fortunately, he lands shiny-side-up and while he appears dazed for a moment, he was fine afterwards.
To some, this race was everything the series had been missing, but others felt as if the packs that formed were unnecessarily dangerous, and too close to the style of racing that was going on when Dan Weldon lost his life. When packs go wrong in IndyCar, flips like Briscoe’s are a major risk.
Many fans of the Auto Club Speedway race feel as if the race demonstrated the kind of excitement IndyCar’s been lacking. It was high-speed oval action with a ton of passing and gutsy moves. Racer’s Robin Miller even went to far as to say that it’s the danger that fans have been missing, which prompted editor David Malsher to print his own opinion on the race, countering Miller’s editorial.
“What we saw last Saturday was about balls and a lack of imagination,” wrote Malsher. Critics agree that the pucker-factor was there all right, but didn’t require the skill that many of Indy’s greatest drivers displayed in the past.
Ex-driver Bobby Unser was one of the critics Malsher quoted in Racer, as he passionately explained the “too little skill required” argument against last weekend’s race:
They’re ruining oval racing all over again. I didn’t see any talent on show there. Just because you have a record number of lead changes shared between more than half the drivers, so what? That just means it’s too easy. You can’t run racecars like slot cars. You can’t run races so everyone’s got a chance to win because they can just draft. All those passes – they were because the driver had to pull out of the slipstream to stop himself running into the car in front! That does not prove a damn thing about the driver or his skills at working the car to make it better. That race was about surviving until the last shootout.
Since then, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles has admitted that they got the rules package wrong for the race, which factored into how the race was driven. Miles told the Associated Press:
Our folks believe that there are two primary reasons that the racing was so tight: One was that we probably did go a step too far with the downforce that we allowed. The other was that it ended up being a much cooler race than expected and obviously temperature has something to do with it.
Less downforce would have translated into less grip, which would have made the drivers work harder to control the cars.
Still, the barrage of criticism has led some, such as Ed Carpenter, to wish critics would keep it to themselves.
It’s no secret that IndyCar keeps struggling to find an audience, and many are concerned that folks will only see the haters’ hatin’ and not bother to notice that the series has put on some incredible racing this year.
To me, while there’s something to be said for tact, that’s a dangerous line of thinking when much of the criticism and concern centers upon the possible safety issues of pack racing. If Dario Franchitti’s Tweet on the matter is right, drivers who have safety concerns don’t feel as if they’re being listened to in private—hence their very public remarks.
Unfortunately, Miles told the Associated Press after the race that criticism of the series by its teams and drivers will no longer be tolerated as it is now. He called the discussion that was happening “damaging,” and explained:
I do think we need to be more forceful in ensuring that no one individual or individuals are really damaging the value. I’m not pleased with some of (the comments). I’m not naming any names, and I’ve said it’s incumbent upon us to be a responsible, responsive, intelligent sanctioning body. I will change this culture to some extent going forward by being more activist, and whether we’re pounding our chests about that or not, you can be sure it’s going to happen if it needs to.
If public criticism will lead to punishment from IndyCar, it’s disappointing, but also means that the concern raised by Franchitti must be less of an issue in the future.
“We’ve got to be the kind of sanctioning body that the drivers feel comfortable coming to and believe that smart people listen and make the best judgments possible,” Miles told the Associated Press.
Critics such as Malsher compared the packs that formed at Fontana to those at a NASCAR race, alleging that too much of the race relies on staying on the lead lap and making good use of the draft. Here’s hoping IndyCar’s attitude towards criticism doesn’t draw the same series comparison from here on out.
Huge race debate aside, the onboards from Fontana are still a fascinating watch. It’s incredible how much drivers on an oval course rely on spotters to let them know where the cars around them are, and interesting to hear how radio chatter varies from one car to the next. Oh, and it’s hard not to be ecstatic when Graham Rahal starts flailing his arms around when he realizes he’s won for the first time since 2008—125 races ago.
[H/T Marshall Pruett]
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