Belle Isle drops a clanger

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Belle Isle drops a clanger

Postby meteorite » Sun Jun 03, 2012 11:16 pm

Now this one is tough. I no sooner finish a comment in the general Indy thread about how they are doing things better this year, then along comes a race weekend where everything that could go wrong pretty well did. And it wasn't their fault.

Let's get the result out of the way, since we'll have the full official summary, and race report, later. Essentially Scott Dixon started on pole, led the whole race, and finished first - with teammate Dario Franchitti at least two hands-breadths behind, having climbed up from a 14th position start. Simon Pagenaud ran third most of the race and finished there. Oriol Servia made his usual steadfast climb up through the ranks to gain fourth.

Now the kicker: the race was shortened from 90 to 60 laps. This was done because of a two hour red flag delay when the track fell apart under the racing cars. Unfortunately the driver whose crash precipitated the stop was James Hinchcliffe, who found himself helplessly riding a loose and uprooted chunk of pavement into the tire barrier. Just to complicate things, a few corners earlier on the racetrack Takuma Sato, who had just pitted and was running well back, misjudged a curb and spun to a halt in the middle of the road a corner or two behind Hinchcliffe's crunch. This added to the disappointment of the Canadian fans, as Alex Tagliani with one of his stellar efforts had qualified in third starting position but on the grid his car would not fire so he had to be taken into the pits to have the car restarted, the join the race at the very end from pit lane after everyone else had passed.

The early part of the race quickly became a parade. E.J. Viso qualified fourth and held his place throughout the early-laps scrambles. Then his team switched him to fuel economy mode, hoping the manage to run the race on only two pit stops, figuring any positions he lost by going the little less fast would be regained from faster cars ahead when they made the extra stop. But Belle Isle is a very tight circuit, very Monagasque in its layout, and we soon saw a Monaco-like lineup behind, no one being willing to spend the fuel to offer a challenge to pass. A number of the drivers far back in the train did figure it would be more likely to reward them if they made early pit stops then passed Viso and his trailers in the pits when they stopped in turn. And when he did stop, those drivers gained.

Meanwhile Dixon had simply vanished into the distance, to such an extent that when he finally did make his pit stop around lap 31, he reentered the race in the lead. Meanwhile behind everyone was sorting out their new positions determined by the results of the different pit strategies. Franchitti and Servia were among those who gained in this exchange. Then Hinchcliffe took his ride into the barrier, the full course caution was called, and as the cause of the accident became apparent, the red flag was thrown. Since no work can be done on the cars during a red flag stop, the drivers wandered around talking to their crew chiefs and strategists, swapping lies among themselves, or hanging with their wives in their pit boxes.

This was not a predictable disaster. The course on Belle Isle is a modified public road, like Toronto, Long Beach and Baltimore among others. Like Sao Paulo, it is consistently patched but rarely repaved, and can get irregular, bumpy and rough. And it had been carefully patched in a number of areas since the last race four years ago. It stood up fine during the Izod race practice (somewhat curtailed by rain Friday), the Indy Lights practice and race, and any other supporting events. But when the chips were down it began to deteriorate slowly but inexorably under the pounding of the big cars, until during the red flag the marshals found they could simply tear it out in strips. And the divots left behind left the racecourse undriveable.

Of late, Indycar has been there, done that, - and made plans to cope. Conditions were surveyed by race officials. The safety crews broke out the tools, took up all the strips of paving that were loose or might become so. And they had water and they had quick-setting cement. They cleaned the holes, made sure the sides and ends were trimmed back and safely anchored, mixed the cement and filled in the holes, smoothed them, and called in the track dryer to dry them. and finally sent out the racers to observe and try the repaired track. At this point the race was shortened to 60 laps as building cloud and collapsing TV schedules cut visibility and time. The race over the final 15 laps was no little hairy with a number of cautions and serious reshuffling of the order, but a reasonable show was presented.

There are troubles with city circuits, including too limited passing opportunities. It's too easy for accidents to happen and clearance to take inopportunely long periods of time - and cautions breed cautions. Perhaps Indycar needs to go back to the push-to-pass temporary engine boost system, or adopt some analogue to F1's kinetic energy recovery system (KERS). When cars are intended to be exactly equal, it's hard to get the edge in speed to make a pass before running out of road - especially if drivers are allowed to block. The drawing board needs a bit more work yet.

DETROIT -- A rainbow greeted the podium finishers of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix -- an appropriate sign of (hopefully) brighter races on the challenging street circuit in upcoming years to complement the fan-friendly event.
Race winner Scott Dixon, who held on to finish 1.9628 seconds ahead of Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti, also was joined on the stage by Simon Pagenaud as Honda swept the top three in Chevy's home race.
A week earlier, it was Franchitti leading Dixon across the start-finish line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to win his third Indianapolis 500.
Dixon, the pole sitter, led all 60 laps in the race shortened from 90 laps because of a two-hour red flag for crews to repair three sections of patched asphalt and concrete on the 14-turn course. Dixon earned his 28th Indy car victory, passing Johnny Rutherford for 11th on the all-time list. Rick Mears (29) is next up.
"I am super happy for the team – a 1-2 finish for the Target boys for the second week in a row," Dixon said. "Hats off to the fans who stuck around through something that was totally unexpected. I’d like to give a lot of credit to everyone at INDYCAR and the Detroit staff for getting the track back in shape so we could race. The final 15-lap shootout was exciting for me, so I sure hope the fans liked it. It is great to be back in Detroit and I hope we are here for many years to come – great fans, volunteers and staff. In the end, it was a good week for everyone."
Franchitti, who started 14th, claimed his 28th runner-up finish.
IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Will Power finished fourth and Oriol Servia advanced 12 positions relative to his starting spot to finish fifth. Dixon supplanted Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe in second in the championship standings, closing to 26 of Power with the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on tap on June 9 (NBC Sports Network at 8 p.m. ET).
The red flag was displayed at 4:53 p.m. (ET) -- about 68 minutes after the start of the race -- as INDYCAR Race Director Beaux Barfield called the cars onto pit lane following the first full-course yellow flag of the race on Lap 40 when James Hinchcliffe's No. 27 car struck a slice of asphalt that sent him into the tire barrier in Turn 7. Almost simultaneously, the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car of Takuma Sato slid into the Turn 12 wall.
Mention Belle Isle and Tony Kanaan shakes his head.
“I have great memories from this place when I won here in 2007 and not so great ones from 2000,” said Kanaan, who entered the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix coming off a third-place finish in the Indianapolis 500. “The track is challenging with its tight corners, but hopefully I can have another good result.”
Kanaan, 37, has previously competed twice in CART and twice in the IZOD IndyCar Series on the Belle Isle course. He won under caution in ’07 and was third to winner Justin Wilson in ’08. In 2000, Kanaan suffered a broken arm and ribs and a concussion in a Turn 7 qualifying crash. His car wasn’t on the grid in 2001 either following another crash on the circuit.
It was the last race he didn’t start – a streak that should reach 187 later today.
"I still have the scars to remind me of the accident," said Kanaan, the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion who will join 24 other competitors in qualifications at 11:45 a.m. (ET) June 2. "When you win a race at Belle Isle, you know you've made it. It's such a difficult course, and so many things can happen."
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