I’m back for another edition of Racing Roundup. I took a break last week due to other commitments. This week we have racing by Gulfs, with F1 in the Persian Gulf in Bahrain and IndyCar along the Gulf of Mexico in Florida.
The sandy Sakhir paid host to the third race of the Formula One season. Surprises at the top of the qualifying charts, as BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica finished first, much to the delight of pundits who couldn’t wait to say there was a “Pole on pole”. Kubica’s pole was the first for a driver not racing for Ferrari, McLaren, or Renault since Jenson Button was P1 at Montreal in 2005. Victory wouldn’t be in the cards for Kubica, as he was passed by Felipe Massa at the first turn and Kimi Raikkonen shortly after.
Once past Kubica, Massa was pretty much made in the shade for the majority of the race. The Brazilian only relinquished the lead for pit stop cycling. Even his teammate Kimi Raikkonen wasn’t any trouble, as Massa finally scored points after a disastrous start in Australia and Malaysia result in no points. He has been under pressure for those performances, as being a Ferrari driver demands success.
Although he was no match for Massa, Kubica took his second straight podium with a third place finish. He was followed by his teammate Nick Heidfeld. The duo have pushed BMW Sauber into a surprise first place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of clear favorites Ferrari and McLaren (the only scenario I would have seen this was the latter two teams being disqualified by F1).
As for McLaren, the team had another solid performance for Heikki Kovalainen, finishing 5th. Lewis Hamilton has shown vulnerability so far this season, as a third place qualification collapsed with a horrid start, dropping out of the points positions on the first lap. Any hope of crawling back was dashed when Hamilton seemed to try and pass Fernando Alonso by driving over him, causing the young Brit to lose his front wing and drop back with the Super Aguris. He ultimately finished 13th, a lap down.
- Template:Flagicon Felipe Massa
- Template:Flagicon Kimi Raikkonen
- Template:Flagicon Robert Kubica
- Template:Flagicon Nick Heidfeld
- Template:Flagicon Heikki Kovalainen
- Template:Flagicon Jarno Trulli
- Template:Flagicon Mark Webber
- Template:Flagicon Nico Rosberg
Formula One returns to action at the end of the month when they make their first European stop of the season in Spain.
If you haven’t gotten the chance take a look at Alex Holowczak’s article You’re Only as Good as the Points System Allows. He definitely put a lot of working into thinking about other ways of running IndyCar, even if I’m not 100% behind it (I’d prefer the old CART to F1 – it spreads the points around a little better while still rewarding winners).
The IndyCars travelled 284 miles through Florida from Homestead to St. Petersburg to run at the closest thing we’ve got to Monaco (at least the “watch the race from a yacht” part). Expectations for transitioning Champ Car teams were still fairly low, due to their unfamiliarity with the Dallara chassis. Soon into practices and qualifying, it was clear that there would be newbies towards the front at St. Pete. Will Power started second, Justin Wilson third, and Oriol Servia (who raced here on its only appearance on the CART schedule) fifth. They may be foreign cars, but the fact is these guys have been racing lots of streets the last few years – 6 of the 14 Champ Car ran last year were on dedicated street circuits. Early on the contenders were polesitter Tony Kanaan, Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, Power, and Wilson. After the first caution, Kanaan pitted to change strategy and left a strange top four in which the combined number of starts in last year’s IndyCar season was one (it featured Wilson in front, Briscoe, Power, and Servia).
Mother Nature made the St. Pete race a crapshoot, as for the first time in the IndyCar Series they had to bring out the rain tires (it was the twelfth race on a road or street course for the Series). As any racing fan knows, the wet stuff changes everything. Many cars spun on the slick streets, thankfully though it did not knock any drivers out of contention, since many of the spins were on the wide final straightaway after Turns 13 and 14.
This race became a tactician’s dream halfway through as the rain began to clear and the track dried. Timing when to change into slicks was vital. HVM’s Ernesto Viso and Conquest’s Enrique Bernoldi, and Panther’s Vitor Meira beat everyone else to the punch, and moved up to the front. Viso and Bernoldi can attribute their top 5 finishes to an early change, while Meira looked to finish in the top 10 before being taken out late by Franck Perera.
Someone who snuck his way towards the front after changing early was Graham Rahal, who was spun early in the race by Will Power and fought his way back up. After Ryan Briscoe crashed on lap 56, the majority of the field pitted on the subsequent, except for Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay (who coincidentally, drives for Graham’s father Bobby). Graham passed Ryan on the restart to take the lead on lap 64.
From the outset of the race, I knew thanks to the ESPN crew that this race had a serious chance of reaching the time limit (for once, something good ESPN did – the folks at IMS Radio Network failed to mention it until late in the race). There was now a chance Rahal might win this thing. The two big ifs: Could he make it on fuel, and could he hold of Helio Castroneves, the two-time defending event winner and now second place having also passed Ryan Hunter-Reay? Graham clearly responded yes to those questions, as he kept pulling away from Helio to the point where his crew told him to take it a little easier. The aforementioned tangle up between Perera, Meira and the late arriving Townsend Bell brought out a caution with about 8 laps to spare, giving Rahal the crucial gas mileage to ensure finishing the race. He again pulled away from Castroneves at the restart, and got his first victory in a top-rung open wheel series.
Graham Rahal’s victory at St. Petersburg has a lot of historic overtones:
- He became the series’ youngest winner at 19 years and 93 days old, passing the previous mark set by Marco Andretti two years ago.
- Since he did not race at Homestead last week, he also becomes the fourth driver in series history to win his first IndyCar start. The other three were Buzz Calkins in the inaugural race in 1996, Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999, and Scott Dixon in 2003.
- It also makes sure the first win by a transition team does not come from the “gimme” race at Long Beach, and is the first win in IndyCar for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, historically one of the strongest American open wheel teams.
- It is the first win for a team other than Andretti Green, Ganassi, and Penske since 2005 when Scott Sharp scored a victory at Kentucky for Delphi Fernandez Racing.
- It is a positive step for the league, not only to see success for transition teams, but to also see the cultivation of a young American driver (better yet, one without aspirations towards NASCAR!).
- Template:Flagicon Graham Rahal
- Template:Flagicon Helio Castroneves
- Template:Flagicon Tony Kanaan
- Template:Flagicon Ernesto Viso
- Template:Flagicon Enrique Bernoldi
- Template:Flagicon Hideki Mutoh
- Template:Flagicon Oriol Servia
- Template:Flagicon Will Power
- Template:Flagicon Justin Wilson
- Template:Flagicon Danica Patrick
Congrats to Hideki Mutoh for climbed up to sixth place. I guess you’re starting to earn that great ride now. Also on the Andretti Green front, how exactly did Danica Patrick finish tenth when she was near the bottom of the speed charts the entire weekend and spun out twice during the race (one of her own accord)? I guess good job to her for somehow getting tenth.
The next time we see the drivers in this roundup, they’ll be off at the convoluted mess of the schedule on April 19 and 20. The Champ Car guys will be off to Long Beach to get easy points and send off Champ Car and its chassis, while the IndyCar stalwarts will be flying to Motegi, Japan to make Honda happy, and a happy engine provider when they are the only one at the moment!