The White Elephant…A common way of stating that there really is something we don’t want to acknowledge. Like a kid walking around the baseball field with a booger hanging out of his nose. (Yes this just happened and I think it is also the first time I actually typed the word booger.) Or the really, really hot waitress at the restaurant you can’t keep your eyes off of while your wife keeps asking, “What are you looking at?” Uhhh, really love those boomerangs on the wall…Yeah, that’s it!

However, the White Elephant I am referring to is in the IZOD IndyCar Series and the entry list for the Indianapolis 500. We have been reveling the past few weeks in the joy of receiving breaking news of new rides and return of drivers to the 500 that we all have wanted for some time. Names like Pippa Mann, Buddy Rice, Bruno Junquiera, Alex Lloyd, and Scott Speed have obtained seats for the “month” of May. Part Timers and newcomers such as Tomas Scheckter, Townsend Bell, Dan Wheldon, and Ho Pin Tung add to the mix of drivers looking for those elusive 33 starting spots.

But, if you start doing the math, there are either 40 or 41 drivers, depending on the Sarah Fisher Racing 2nd Car, that will be fighting for those 33 spots over the next week.  Some folks are going home. Some may be our favorites. Some, and this could be the worst scenario, may be full time participants in the Series.  That my Friends, is the White Elephant.

We know this is going to happen. Bump day is going to be incredible. But there will be some big names that won’t be racing on this last Sunday in May.  Crazy things seem to happen at the Speedway. It’s part of the allure of the place and why I think we love it so. One just needs to think back to 1995 when Penske Racing didn’t put a car on the grid. Personally, I still can’t believe this one, and I bet if you ask the Captain, he’ll tell you the same.

My biggest concerns are for the one-offers. They have all worked SO hard to get sponsorship  to even get into the race. What happens if they don’t make the race? Does this damage their career for the future? Guys like Davey Hamilton and Dan Wheldon have a pretty good reputation so if they don’t make it, they’ll be back.

Folks like Ho-Pin Tung, Pippa Mann, and Buddy Rice can’t afford to not make the race. I know that Pippa and Buddy want more races this year. Does not qualifying taking them out of getting a ride the rest of the year? We in the Twitterverse know how hard Pippa has worked to get to this point. She is one of the most fan friendly drivers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. But if for some reason she doesn’t make it, do future sponsors just look at this and say, you missed the 500, what are you going to do for me in August?  Those of us who attended the original Winter Indy Tweetup have a soft spot for Pippa since she showed up at Fast Times Karting Track to meet a bunch of folks who were absolute strangers. We’ve followed her career and know what she can do on an oval with her Pole at Indy last year and a victory at Kentucky. She belongs in this series and I hope she can prove that this week.

But that Elephant is still lurking…isn’t it….I hate Elephants…

I’ve been thinking about the title of this weeks blog to coincide with the Sao Paolo IZOD IndyCar race in Brazil all week.  What I really wanted to know from the drivers and the teams was…Can you get caught looking past an event?  Being that this is the Month of May (Finally!) can the thoughts of those in the IndyCar business begin to swing toward the Circle City?

We hear in stick and ball sports the typical excuse, well that team was looking ahead to such and such and that’s why they lost. Chaminade over Virginia. Appalachian State over Michigan. The Pirates against….well, anybody? Me on any Monday through Thursday, looking toward Friday? I’m sure there are many other examples. But does it happen in IndyCars?

I don’t think anyone would publicly admit to looking past the final race before the Indianapolis 500. I’m also betting that once the drivers and crews get on the race track, that they aren’t thinking about anything else than the job at hand. It’s too dangerous of a sport to not think about anything else.  However, after today’s inundated start in Sao Paolo, I wonder if they might just be thinking a bit about what the rest of the month has in store for them.

As most of you know, the Itaipava Sao Paolo Indy 300 was postponed due to torrential rain that made the temporary street circuit undriveable and inherently unsafe. They did complete 14 laps mostly under yellow as there were numerous incidents at the beginning of the race. Most were due to the track conditions. Some were due to bad decisions. One was due to an equipment failure (Vitor Meira and a busted brake line.) Unfortunately, bad decisions and the name Helio Castroneves seem to be following each other very closely this season. Coming out of Turn 1, he got beside Dario Franchitti in the Kelloggs Dallara where it appeared that Dario got a little loose and slammed into Helio’s right front pushing him into the wall. While Helio may not have directly caused this incident, the question has to be asked…What was he doing there in the first place? Second turn and a soaked race course.  It borders on idiocy. I still love the guy a ton, but I’m wondering if something has changed. The end of May HAS to be better for him. An Indy win will erase these first four events.

In that first incident, Simona DeSilvestro, Danica Patrick, and Tony Kanaan were also taken out of the race. So two of the more popular Brazilians and two of its shining female stars were lining up DNF’s. I started thinking about some of the old Formula 1 races in Italy where when the Ferraris would leave the race early, so would the fans. Kudos to the Brazilian fans for sticking around especially through horrid weather conditions…and the ultimate cancellation of the race.

The Sao Paolo course is one of the best designed temporary courses in the world from a racer’s perspective. It’s just too bad that they are in an area that can frequently experience tropical, monsoon like weather. Last year the race was red flagged by rain. This year the weather system was more insistent. The rain tires help, but if you take a close look at those tires the grooves in the Firestone Firehawks are not that deep. It doesn’t take much standing water to turn an Indy Car into an Unlimited Hydroplane.

Now, the logistical nightmare of delaying the race begins. Supposedly, 30,000 vehicles a day use portions of the race course during a normal work day. This may be a test of how much the people and government of Sao Paolo really loves this race. Also,what about hotel rooms, plane flights, clothing, for all the teams, support personnel, and IndyCar officials. There really are a lot of things that need to be taken care of in this situation. Being off continent doesn’t make it any easier.

Unless you have been in charge of an organization, you really have no idea how much people look to you for guidance, solutions, and definitive direction. I’ve been lucky to run 2 great charitable organizations, so I have a bit of sympathy for what Indy Car is going through. I’ve also been involved in making decisions where other people’s safety was involved. That comes first no other discussion is needed. The Red Flag was the correct decision. That track was just too dangerous.

I was a bit shocked when I jumped on Twitter to see the “outcry” about how IndyCar messed up and what a “debacle” this turned out to be.  There is so much going on that we don’t know about, I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and see what happens. IndyCar originally stated on their Twitter account that the race was not postponed and to hold on after they originally said that the race would be run tomorrow at 1PM EST as announced on Versus TV. I would be willing to bet that some underling in the Sao Paolo government said “No way…we need our streets back. You need to run today.”  Hearing that, someone in IndyCar probably said, “Hey, maybe we better try to get this run.”  That’s a simple miscommunication. It happens. If you don’t think it does, Google how the U.S. once flew a plane full of nuclear weapons across the country without anyone knowing they were in the plane.

Bottom line, it rained and a change of plans was needed. There’s nothing we the fan can do. We look past this, hopefully get a race tomorrow, and then get ready for Indianapolis. None of these problems were aimed personally at you. Unless you have a hate/hate relationship with Mother Nature. Then I have no answers for you…

The 3rd stop on the IZOD IndyCar World Series was at the beautiful, and historic Long Beach Street Course in, stunningly, Long Beach California. Long Beach is rich in history starting with the inaugural F5000 race and then transitioned into Formula 1, CART, Champ Car, and now the IndyCar Series.  It is the undisputed champion of Street Races in the United States. (Sorry, nothing beats Monaco. Racing sucks, but it is gorgeous.)

Long Beach has typically been a parade led by the first row cars. This year saw several lead changes, passing within the pack, and unfortunately, more problems with the double file restart.  In the end, it was the 2nd feelgood story of the year, as Mike Conway piloted his #27 Window World Cares Dallara to his first career victory and the first for a non-Penske/Ganassi car since former Andretti Autosport driver Tony Kanaan won at Iowa in 2010. Conway passed Ryan Briscoe like he was standing still near the end of the race and powered on to a very popular victory.

The focus again of the race fell on a mistake by Helio Castroneves as he piloted his AAA liveried car after a restart right into the back of Will Power’s Verizon Dallara in Turn 1. The incident damaged Scott Dixon and forced Oriol Servia to do a big 360 before returning to action. Luckily, Power’s car was not damaged enough to drop out and he soldiered onto a 10th place finish. He is now 7 points behind Dario Franchitti in the point standings.

If Power was not able to continue, it would have been interesting to see how Roger Penske would have handled the incident. Helio was visibly upset that he took his teammate out. That’s something that doesn’t happen at Penske Racing….Period. Most of you know my feelings about Helio, but it is really tough to cut him any slack here. He missed his braking point by at least 60 feet. I understand the need to get by someone on a track that has limited passing areas. I think this is the major reason we’ve been having such problems during restarts, especially at these three tracks.  I expect the same at Mid-Ohio in August.

But this is the 2nd time that Castroneves made the exact same mistake. It’s not typical of his driving. He better adjust his ways or he will be drawing penalties from Race Control if he decides to get into the car from the right sidepod instead of the left. Helio also shouldn’t be in big trouble with The Captain. Helio still is the man at Indianapolis and that is Roger’s focus. He also has a lot of history with him since he started driving for him in 2000. However, a bad May, a few more brain fades, and will he be running one of those new cars in 2012.

Next race is the Sao Paolo 300 from Brazil. This is a track that has several passing zones, but a still tight Turn 1. Last year we saw Mario Moraes try to decapitate Marco Andretti. Hopefully…there’s that word again…the driver’s will have learned that these restarts must get better and Turn 1 will not win the race, unless it is the last lap.

When the IZOD IndyCar Series went to Barber Motorsports Park in 2010 the overwhelming concern was the lack of defined passing areas due to the width of the track and the lack of a high speed straightaway transitioning to a slow corner. Unfortunately, last year’s race did have a certain lack of passing and excitement. However, this year’s version in my opinion was much more exciting.

Although the predictable outcome of Will Power winning his first race of the 2011 Season in dominating, robotic-like manner occurred, the race behind him was quite eventful.  A product of the double file restarts, there was plenty of action in Turn1 and especially Turn 5.  There were numerous “incidents” involving the normal cast of characters. KV Racing, KV Racing, and KV Racing…Ugh. I really like these guys and they are going through a rough patch not seen before in professional sports. $3 Million in crash damage last year and now they’ve had 6 incidents in 2 races. Patience has to be wearing thin with E.J. Viso. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but there’s no control there. Racing is about speed, but controlled aggression is required. He’s just not showing it.

However, a spirited run from the back of the pack by Tony Kanaan continued his fairy tale beginning of the season with KV Racing giving Mssrs Kalkoven and Vasser some reason to not pack everything in. TK is in 3rd place in points which is about as shocking as not seeing Power’s Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe in the Top 10.  Another poor race by Castroneves, by his standards, has left him in deep points hole. He really needs the ovals (Did I just type that?!?!?!) to get his season straightened out.  Ryan Briscoe was running a strong race and was keeping pace with Will Power but was caught out on the Firestone prime tires and a questionable move by Ryan Hunter Reay. RHR had a great run on Briscoe and looked like a pass was going to happen. It surely would have happened later in that lap or the next. But Hunter-Reay pushed the issue and bounced off the inside curbing and rocketed into Briscoe’s car pitching him into a sand trap with a broken right rear suspension.  The Ryan’s disagreed with the way the incident went down. I’ll side with Briscoe this time.

One of the biggest surprises was the performance of Simon Pagenaud who was filling in for an injured Ana Beatriz who broke her wrist at St. Petersburg.  Simon is a regular driver in the HPD LMP-1 for Highcroft Racing in the American LeMans Series. Highcroft may be coming to IndyCar at Indianapolis and most likely in 2012. So this was a great chance for Simon to get back into an open wheel car. Something he hasn’t done since 2007 when he teamed with Derek Walker’s Team Australia in the Champ Car World Series. Simon drove his Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara to an 8th place finish by staying out of trouble early and making some safe, smart passes near the end of the race. Hopefully this will lead to more open wheel performances for Simon but definitely not at the cost of races for Ana Beatriz.

Next up is Long Beach where I’m sure the double file restarts will continue to be a topic which shouldn’t be a topic. Moving the restart zone back a little, not as much as I’d like to see, did help in Turn 1 at Barber. However, on the long run down Shoreline Drive into the tight left hander we may see some more problems. Here’s hoping that the IndyCar drivers do continue to play nice and give us a great street race at one of the most fabulous venues on the schedule.

Like most of you I was anticipating yesterday’s start of the IZOD IndyCar Season since last year’s season finale at Homestead. Racing season was back! Unfortunately, what we all got to see during the first 13 laps of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was a display of amateurish driving by what are supposed to be the best drivers in the world. Though there were many incidents during those first 13 laps, I continue to focus on the Lap 1, Turn 1.  Let me say that again…Lap 1, Turn 1.  Everyone has been waiting and working hard for the start of the season, that I am sure. Why would a couple of drivers think the race or the championship, can be won in Turn 1? Amateur and Professional drivers are taught that races are not won in Turn 1, but they sure can be lost.  The drivers are in “control” of their cars so for their choices, or decisions, only they are responsible.  What Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti were thinking yesterday befuddles me. Marco made a bonzai move to the inside of Turn 1 and even though he said that he would have had the car “whoa-ed” down before hitting Ryan Briscoe, a statement that I consider absolutely ridiculous when you see the video, he did get hit by Castroneves who was making the same stupid move.

Maybe Marco’s move can be attributed to youthful exuberance. Of course, he’s had a history of these moves, so we can hope that he will eventually learn. Helio’s move though, I’m having a bit more trouble excusing. The experience that Helio has should have taught him better than to try and follow Marco’s line into Turn 1. He definitely hit Marco when he braked entirely too late and lifted the Venom Dallara into the air and eventually over a bewildered Scott Dixon.

I truly believe that this was Helio’s best chance to grab that Championship that he has been wanting all these years. But stupid moves like yesterday continues to show that he needs to control his emotions or there will always be that one or two races that take the Championship away. Even though it was only the first race of the year his hopes for the Championship took a strong punch to the solar plexus.

Now that my criticism of the drivers is completed, let’s look at the start and re-starts that IndyCar were responsible for.  I am all in favor for the new starting procedures that allow more cars to get on the main straight before the green flag is unfurled.  However, waiting until almost the Start/Finish line itself to show the green is entirely too long. If the greens during the starts and restarts yesterday were shown about 150 yards earlier, we would have had better starts and hopefully less incidents. Ryan Hunter-Reay had it right when he talked about the speed of these cars and their braking ability.  You cannot turn these beasts loose that close to Turn 1. There needs to be some natural separation of the cars based on the driver’s reaction times. IndyCar made a major mistake with their restart zone and here’s hoping they change it before Barber Motorsports Park. A change to this system is not waffling as some pundits have accused IndyCar and Randy Bernard of lately. This is a change that is for the better and we should accept it as such and not degrade what is trying to be done. Make this sport better.

Oh, yeah, Dario Franchitti won the race. Kind of lost that in the shuffle. The Target team is back on track and the rest of the Series should be concerned. There may be a lot of Red and White bullseye logos in Victory Lane this year.

Major kudos to Tony Kanaan and Simona DeSilvestro for their 3rd and 4th place finishes. Those of us in the Twitterverse know of the trials and tribulations that TK has gone through to get his ride at KV. And to pull this all together and get a 3rd place in the first race…Unbelievable! Tony should help KV Racing reach their potential this year.  And Simona put on a spirited run to 4th place after starting in 17th. After losing her engineer to KV Racing and Tony Kanaan, the Swiss Miss went out and showed that she is truly a driver to be reckoned with in this Series. She’s not just another pretty face. She can drive these cars.

Well, the season has started. Here’s hoping that in the next 2 weeks before the lovely Barber Motorsports Park that all of the drivers and IndyCar LEARN from the mistakes of St. Pete and return to being the “Best Drivers in the World”

The end of a VERY long winter is upon is as is the start of the IZOD IndyCar Season in St. Petersburg, Florida next weekend.  This off-season has been a literal festival of information. After many years of teeth gnashing about 18 car grids and who wasn’t going to be racing, we’ve gotten a lot more positive news this off-season than in years past.  Two new cars at Target Chip Ganassi Racing for Graham Rahal with Service Central and Charlie Kimball with Novo Nordisk. New sponsorship at Penske Racing with IZOD, Shell/Pennzoil, Guidepoint, AAA, and PPG. (Remember, other than Will Power last year with Verizon, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves did not have a primary sponsor.) Sam Schmidt Racing acquiring FAZZT racing. The return of Mike Conway after a vicious accident at Indianapolis with Andretti Autosport. (!) J.R. Hildebrand at Panther Racing after an impressive test at Phoenix. A partial season for Wade Cunningham which is LONG overdue.  Testing for Sebastian Bourdais with Dale Coyne and the possibility of a road course only program. And Pippa Mann for Conquest looking at an oval only contract.

Of course, to keep the karma of racing on an even keel, there has been some bad news that have kept us on an emotional roller coaster. Huge fan favorite Tony Kanaan was out at Andretti Autosport, then in at DeFerran Dragon, then out again, with no ride in sight. However, recently there is news that he will have a full season at KV Racing this year. With that news, it probably means the end for Paul Tracy finding a full time ride. Paul is definitely a polarizing character in the Series and many feel he is needed just based on personality.  Unfortunately, personality does not bring in sponsorship checks. No one has worked harder than PT and Tony Kanaan for rides this year. It will be disappointing if Paul is not in a ride, but unfortunately, it may be time to move on. Also, Dan Wheldon is not in a full time ride either. Dan has been very quiet about his plans and that should be very scary for his fans.

One of the worst roller coaster rides we were taken on was the Firestone Racing tire situation. Firestone announced they were pulling out of the series as the sole tire supplier for the series after 2011. With a new car coming and the significant amount of testing that would be needed to assure a safe platform, this was the worst news that IndyCar could have received. Magically, or so it seemed, Firestone came back to the series through 2013 giving IndyCar the stability through the new chassis growing pains that will occur.  Reportedly, it was the IndyCar owners who brought Firestone back, with I’m sure a bit of the best incentive…Cash.

Then, there was the changes in rules for the 2011 Season that would implement double file restarts and perhaps the “Lucky Dog” concept. The outcry against the Lucky Dog was, to put it mildly, LOUD. In the end, Head Honcho Randy Bernard has stepped back a bit on the Lucky Dog, or the Pressdog™ Passaround as we called it on Twitter. The double file restarts will be a success in my opinion. CART used them in the 1990’s and they were great.

The concept of moving the lapped cars out of the normal queue when a yellow came out also raised the ire of the fans. I won’t say much on this other than I ABSOLUTELY HATE THE IDEA. So much for journalistic objectivity.

So in the end, a lot of things have happened this off season and some folks have taken sides. Bottom line, we’ve got a stronger IndyCar series and racing starts on Sunday. Time to stop the complaining and get to the watching of our favorite series.

Here’s what I see for the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Season:

Season Champion – Helio Castroneves – Team Penske – This is the year that Penske gains back the Season Championship from Target Chip Ganassi Racing. But which driver will win the “trophy”. Will Power is an alien on the Road and Street Courses and is getting better on the ovals. However, I think that Helio Castroneves will FINALLY get his first championship. He just appears more focused this year. I attribute that to the pressure he gets from Will and Ryan Briscoe

Indianapolis 500 Winner – Team Penske – Helio Castroneves - Helio wanted his 4th last year and just didn’t get the breaks he needed. This year, it will be a Dario Franchitti like dominance of the race.

Mario Andretti Trophy (Road Racing) – Team Penske – Will Power

A.J. Foyt Trophy (Ovals) – Team Penske – Helio Castroneves

Rookie of The Year – J.R. Hildebrand – Panther Racing

Now, some of you may be saying, “What, no Target Chip Ganassi Racing in any of these?” The Chipster had an AMAZING year in 2010 in IndyCar, GrandAm, and NASCAR. There is NO way that luck continues, right?  If it does, then his team passes, and I mean completely passes Penske, or even Hendrick Racing in NASCAR, as the BEST racing organization in North America. Though Chip says his 2 new cars will not affect the operation of the #9 and #10 cars, I just can’t see how it won’t.

This is going to be a great season as we say good bye to the Dallara chassis that has been around for 8 years now. Say what you will about the way it looks, or how it performs, it has kept our heroes and heroines safe. Also, say a big thanks to Honda and Firestone for sticking with the series as it appears we are headed into a period of growth.

Here’s hoping you have a great season. See you at the track.

Tom Carnegie – The name itself evokes memories of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that those of us who love the place and the man will never forget.  His booming voice echoing off of the aluminum grandstands throughout the entire IMS facility.  “And Heeeeeeees On It” or “It’s a New Track Record” have become part and parcel of the vocabulary at IMS.

Tom passed away today at age 91 at a hospice in Indianapolis. He was the public address announcer for 61 years at the Speedway. For most of us, his voice was the only one we associated with the hallowed oval. In the 70’s his voice did not resonate with me as a young child. But, as I started to understand the mystique of IMS in the 80’s, I realized how much a part of the Speedway he truly was.  In 2000, my son got to hear his voice for the first time at the inaugural Formula 1 Race. I recall him saying, “Wow Dad, he DOES have a BIG voice.”  My son and I also got to meet him under the Paddock Grandstands at a refreshment stand in 2007 during Carb Day. He gave each fan that spoke to him a moment of his time and thanked them for saying hello to him or sharing a favorite memory. I remember being terrified to say anything to him. I often do that when I am face to face with greatness.

As can be seen on the Twitter Stream today, there are a lot of Indy Car fans expressing their grief over the passing of Mr. Carnegie.  Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the entire Carnegie family during this tough time. But rest assured, we the fans of IMS and the Man, will never forget him.

Godspeed, Tom Carnegie. Thank you for touching our lives in such a magnificent way.

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