IndyCar – GP of St. Petersburg: Restarts Optional

indycar-2014-st-pete-power-victoryHe may not have had the best first three-quarters of the 2013 IndyCar season but Will Power closed out last season going from 11th in points to 4th. To start the 2014 campaign, he’s picking up where he left off with a win to open up the season by taking the checkered flag in St. Pete.

It wasn’t Power who led the whole way but it was Takuma Sato, the subject of a profile piece on his relationship with owner AJ Foyt, who was on the pole. Alongside was one of Chip Ganassi’s new boys, Tony Kanaan, who is replacing Dario Franchitti in the #10 entry.

The start was an exciting one that saw Graham Rahal belt by a bunch of cars and make up nine spots on the first lap. Conversely, last year’s St. Pete winner, James Hinchcliffe, had an electronics problem that left him the slowest runner in the field.

indycar-2014-st-pete-power-satoThe race went caution-free for the first 75 laps but it wasn’t pass free. It wasn’t until Lap 30 that Takuma Sato was passed on-track for the lead as Will Power repaid two years of missing out on the season opening win by going outside in Turn One and inside in Turn Two to take the lead.

The race wasn’t without controversy, though. On Lap 82, Will Power made a slow approach to the restart zone and bunched the field up. Some cars weren’t expecting that and rookie Jack Hawksworth, driving Bryan Herta’s #98, spun and collected Marco Andretti, taking both out of the race. IndyCar officials said that Power approached the restart zone at pace car speed and did not slow or accelerate too early so he didn’t earn a warning. In fact, his second restart on Lap 87, which the ABC commentary team loved, was ruled too early and earned Power a warning.

After the restart, it was all Will Power as he cruised home to his third-straight series win and his fourth in six races. His nemesis in the 2012 championship chase, Ryan Hunter-Reay, showed that the #1 is a curse and finished 2nd for his first podium in nine months. 2012 race winner Helio Castroneves rounded out the podium for Penske.

Last year’s champion, Scott Dixon, crossed the line in 4th. Simon Pagenaud showed that he’s a threat, even without HP sponsorship, and finished 5th. Tony Kanaan had a respectable day in his first Ganassi outing in 6th. Takuma Sato lost six spots from the pole to finish 7th. Justin Wilson started back in 16th due to changing conditions but climbed up to 8th. Josef Newgarden won’t let you forget about him after finishing 9th. Ryan Briscoe was the lowest running of the finishing Ganassi cars but he still managed to round out the top ten.

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You probably noticed a big change on the ABC broadcast this weekend. Marty Reid was turfed by ESPN/ABC last fall after utterly botching the call of the end of a Nationwide Series race by calling the race one lap early. The fact that ESPN was out of NASCAR after 2014 and wouldn’t need multiple play-by-play announcers after that point in time made Reid expendable. The latest gaffe in an unspectacular career gave ESPN a tailor-made excuse to dump him.

indycar-2014-bestwickIn Reid’s place is Allen Bestwick, ESPN’s lead NASCAR announcer who was re-signed by ESPN to a multi-year deal despite the network losing NASCAR. Bestwick might be a NASCAR guy, rather than an open-wheel guy, like Brian Till or Rick DeBruhl, but he’s a pro’s pro so I’m not worried about him being lost or boring like a certain other guy he’s replacing.

Unfortunately, Scott Goodyear is still with ABC. He and Reid were a one-two punch of terrible and boring. My first call would have been to Dario Franchitti. Seeing as he’s only a driver coach for Ganassi and how great Jackie Stewart was on the call on American TV, Franchitti would have been perfect for the job as Bestwick’s sidekick. Instead… Well, there’s still the mute button.

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While I’m talking about broadcasters, Canada’s IndyCar broadcaster, Sportsnet, has three channels to broadcast on. One channel was showing basketball during the race. Another was showing an AHL (minor league hockey, for those outside Canada) game featuring the Toronto Marlies. The main Sportsnet channel was showing a replay of a darts match, a UFC clip show and an MLB season preview.

Rather than show the IndyCar season opener live, Sportsnet showed it on tape delay in prime time. Whether the time slot is a good thing or not is beside the point because sports should be shown live and Sportsnet had no good reason not to show it live.

Sportsnet spent all of last season promoting the sport and their broadcasts on the network and tied the IndyCar brand around Canadian hero James Hinchcliffe. So far, I haven’t seen that same investment in IndyCar from Sportsnet this season as I did last year. It’s frighteningly close to TSN levels of concern for IndyCar and the last thing the sport needs is a broadcast partner that doesn’t care about it.

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indycar-2013-long-beach-trackRound two of the 2014 IndyCar Series is in two weeks’ time as the series makes the trek from one coast to the other. It’s the annual Long Beach Grand Prix on the iconic street course. Sure, the layout has changed over the years but Long Beach is one of the most prestigious races in America. If it meant nothing, would Bernie Ecclestone want to add it as a round of the Formula One World Championship.

The thing about Long Beach over the last few years is that you can’t predict what’s going to happen. There have been five different winners in each of the last five races and two first-time winners during that stretch. While I don’t think we’ll see a first-time winner, we may just see someone picking up his first win in Long Beach. Simon Pagenaud had a good run in St. Pete and is a street circuit ace. If you want an out of left-field pick, Josef Newgarden runs well on street circuits and is due for a win before too long.

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