Race Report: 2018 Phoenix
As quickly as it started, the first oval of the season is over. So much talk about if the high line would work, then everyone said it wouldn’t and there’d be no passing, and we ended up with a race full of passing including the race winner passing on the outside! Phoenix – let’s go!!!
New Car on Oval
They had a test session at Phoenix back in February and I thought – okay they’ve been on this track before everyone should be cool. Silly me. This car…this car…it’s going to be a handful. In Practice 1 Hinch’s back end got squirely as did RHR’s, on Turn 3 of the track the cars were snapping loose. Bourdais said the car was going back and forth from over steer to under steer while driving it. In Qualifying both ECR cars got loose in their back ends. Scott Dixon, perennial favorite, didn’t have the car set up right and he qualified seventeenth. SEVENTEENTH. To repeat that Scott Dixon’s team did not have his car set up right for a short oval. He qualified seventeenth. I honestly thought the world was ending.
During the race we were able to have in-car communication’s thank to my Verizon Wireless App (and service) and here’s some more information about the cars: Rossi complained about under steer and it was repeated to every driver of Andretti Autosport and Charlie Kimball cried that the car had “no rear grip and no front grip”. Look I know the drivers all wanted the downforce changed on the car, and when they rolled out the new aero kit everyone said the car was going to force the drivers to drive…I guess they didn’t realize how much.
What does this race tell us? That we’re waiting for the teams to get the set up right. Between this race and St. Petersburg and the driver to tame that car. That’s how we’re going to have a winner in this race. Looking right now just at St. Petersburg and Phoenix it’s not been the domination we were used to last year where it was a legit Penske Party. The only real consistency in the past two races has been Andretti Autosport by putting two cars in the Top 5. However, Schmidt Peterson Motorsport also has put a car in the Top 5 in each race. Truthfully (and get off Rossi’s back he even said something at the press conference) at St. Petersburg Wickens should have a podium and then SPM would have put two cars in the Top 5 at the first two races. As a huge fan (#TeamHonda) this only speaks towards Honda finally nailing the set up of the new aero kit. Last year was particularly rough for TeamHonda fans during road courses.
Rossi and Passing
But you know one driver who has appeared in the Top 5 in each of the races and everyone has suddenly seemed to realize he’s going to be a true competitor this year?
Alexander “I’m Starting to Show Emotion” Rossi. Alex Rossi. I’ve been calling that he’s going to be an amazing driver this season since…mid last season. This season he has not disappointed. Wickens came in as a ‘rookie’ and has completely blown everyone away. However, don’t sleep on Alexander Rossi. In two races he’s already podium twice, at the time I write this he is second in points standing, and he has driven the hell out of his car. If clenching the championship requires someone to tame the car, I think Rossi is the driver with the greatest potential of doing this. In this race, the race which people have strangely complained there’s been a lack of pacing, Rossi made 19% of the passes in the race (which doing my math makes it approximately fifty-one passes). Watching him charge through the field as he came back from a pit stop that put him a lap behind was a master class on passing. (also bonus drink for Will Power complaining that Rossi’s clean pass pushed him up into the wall…and I just can’t right now Will please stop)
Speaking of passing – this race was a show of who is good and who is not. Eight drivers ended off the lead lap (out of nineteen drivers who finished the race). The race had a total on 279 passes, which is more than 2016 (229 passes) and 2017 (139). Again, if you complained because there wasn’t any passing in this race – shut it. This after they didn’t have the drivers putting down the high line in practice as they wanted.
Wickens is still awesome
Robert Wickens, I cannot stop saying enough good things about this driver. I’m thoroughly impressed with what I’ve seen so far. He did fantastic on his first road course. He did fantastic on his first oval. I can’t wait for him to be at Indy. Seeing he and Hinch up there leading the race, let’s go #TeamCanada #TeamBFF! I’m bringing back the #TeamBFF hashtag for those two, it needs to happen, and not just because I get to work with my BFF and it’s the greatest thing ever. Hinch needed a teammate who ran well and could work with him, and with Wickens, he got that – and someone who will push him.
Pit Stop Problems
We recently took some time to talk about Pit Stops. We discussed that the crew all have to wear Nomex fire suits, and we’ve all seen that they wear helmets – apparently they need body armor! The pits were a hot mess at Phoenix. First Bourdais slid and knocked his front-inner tire guy over, and it also appears that the guy got tripped up in the air gun line. So Bourdais got a drive-through penalty. At the same time, Rossi’s car locked up and he stopped short of the pit (IndyCar’s unofficial results have called this “hitting personnel” like Bourdais but I don’t believe anyone got hit) so he had to be pushed into his pit and ultimately serve a drive-through penalty. Then there is Leist…who inexplicably drove off without one of his tires attached properly. I have watched and rewatched the video of his pit stop and I’m not sure what happened. The car was dropped before the wheel was attached, his front outside guy stepped back (though he never gave the traditional – get on outta here hand wave), and ultimately Leist just left and his pit crew just started waving their hands like a flock of very unhappy seagulls. Then his unsecured tire split off because that’s what unsecured tires do.
The pitstop from hell should have ended here. Leist is missing a tire, he stops his car, and they get him on back to his pit. Instead, he whips the car around – nearly catching an IndyCar Official (what is the penalty for hitting an IndyCar official? I don’t know but I’m guessing it involves that official reading you the riot act). Leist seemed to be doing a donut of despair. The announcers in practice sessions kept saying how Foyt Racing has really turned themselves around – now they literally have.
Also a special shout out to Ed Carpenter who said “no thank you” to the Pit Stop Practice on Friday night. Daddy only does ovals, and Daddy does what he wants on an Oval.
One final note – everyone says the crowd was down and television viewership was down. Robin Miller has written some piece about ovals dying. I’m not a marketing person, I promote the podcast/blogs on social media as I can while holding down my actual job. I know though, if you want people to come you need to promote the shit out of the event. Also don’t hold it on the same weekend as a big NHRA event in the same state and a huge country music festival.