IndyCar Toronto postscript
I made mention of this in last week's Iowa Postscript.
However, about midway through the Iowa Corn Indy 300 Presented by DEKALB, I spotted KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser making his way back to the garage area. This, of course, was after both KV cars had fallen retired in quick succession. Of particular disappointment for Vasser and KV was Colombian Sebastian Saavedra had crashed out from third-place after impressively carving his way from the back of the field.
To be clear, I mention this not to criticize Vasser in any way. I don't believe he even saw me and my sighting of the 1996 CART Champion was brief, maybe two seconds. His expression had no hint of pretense whatsoever, just pure, unfiltered human emotion. But if a picture could have told 1000 words, the countenance revealed a man not merely frustrated, nor merely incredulous over what took place. Rather, it was the look of a man thoroughly defeated having witnessed the same horror movie play out over and over and over again.
This brings us to
The history of the organization now known as KV Racing Technology (Now called KVSH) can be described many ways, not all of them flattering. A revolving door of drivers, numerous alphabet-soup branding acronyms, snide Dallara factory overtime jokes, and potential unfulfilled would be a few fair assessments characterizing the team's history.
Briefly, the forerunner of what we now familiarly refer to as KV, PK Racing, was formed by current co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven and Craig Pollock out of the ashes of PacWest Racing in 2003. Vasser joined the ownership group of what would become known as PKV Racing in 2004, and the team scored its first win with Cristiano da Matta behind the wheel at Portland in 2005.
A second win would follow in 2008 with Will Power capturing the final Champ Car race at Long Beach. However, it would be more than 5 years before Tony Kanaan's magical Indy 500 victory a year ago. Further, Kanaanâ€™s victory after numerous near-misses at the Brickyard was viewed largely as deserved redemption for the Brazilian, with KV's role being viewed as secondary.
And while the team has employed numerous talented drivers such as Power, da Matta, Kanaan, Oriol Servia, and F1 refugee Rubens Barrichello, the results have been for the better part of a decade, disappointing. If anything, the team has been more characterized by the mishaps of the Tristan Gommendys, Mario Moraes, E.J. Visos, and Patrick Lemaries of the world, than successes on track which have been few and far between.
For 2014, KV pulled off something of a coup in signing four-time CCWS champ Bourdais to replace Kanaan on the rebranded KVSH Racing side of the garage, which features James Sullivan as co-owner. Saavedra joined the team as well under the KV/AFS Racing banner with Gary Peterson as co-owner. And while the team had a top-level pilot in Bourdais, questions as to whether the team could supply the French-ace with the tools needed to take the fight to Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti were in fairness, legitimate.
Further, such questions were given validation when neither the Frenchman nor Saavedra managed to score a podium finish prior to Sunday. Certainly, one of the season's lowlight was two finishes outside the top-15 in Iowa.
But what a difference a week makes
With the disappointment of Iowa in the rearview mirror, Bourdais would capture pole position Saturday morning before dominating Race 1 Sunday. It was Bourdais' first win since 2007, and KV's first since Kanaan at Indy.
Now, am I proclaiming Saturday's win by Bourdais a breakout performance for KV? Time will tell. However, on a rare Sunday morning Indy car race (don't worry, we're getting to that) KV did remind everyone they employ one of the few drivers in the series who can put the car on pole, check out on the field and score a dominant win. And that look of total defeat from the face of Vasser from last week in Iowa, seems quite a distant memory now.
As for our Race 2 winner€¦
We've been through this before.
The unique Mike Conway (road and street courses)/Ed Carpenter (ovals) twin-billing was always going to play a unique factor in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. With no championship to worry about, the focus at ECR isn't grinding out top-ten finishes to gather points, but collecting trophies and having ample quantities of Fuzzy's Vodka on-hand to celebrate all their victories. Sunday was merely the latest installment.
With the need to stop for fuel with 13 laps remaining, Conway, who had spent the majority of the day running just outside the top-10 rolled the dice and switched to slick tires (I mean, why the heck not?) on a drying track. The call turned out to be golden, as the when-he's-on-he's-really-on Conway carved his way through to the front, picking off drivers on rain tires, to score his second victory of the year, and third for ECR.
Or stated another way: just another race weekend for Ed Carpenter Racing. And again, take note of the ability ECR has to make aggressive calls without the concern of an overall championship.
Also, keep in mind
All three times ECR has won (Long Beach, Texas and now Toronto), Power has finished on the podium. As if Power didn't need more roadblocks in his way, the ECR Victory Tour seems to be making its stops when Power has good weekends.
As for why there were two races Sunday
I'll admit my thoughts regarding Saturday's decision to postpone Race 1 to Sunday morning have evolved somewhat over the past few days.
For some background, I was not on-site last weekend at Toronto, having spent the majority of Saturday at a family function. I was doing the fan thing Saturday; DVRing the race, resisting temptation to look at my phone, and planning to come home, relax and watch the race Saturday evening.
Of course, there was no race to watch.
My first reaction (I emphasize first) when watching drivers lose control at 40 miles-per-hour, the pace car spin out, confusion over the rules, starting, stopping, starting again, stopping again and the whole Bizarroville that Exhibition Place became Saturday was simple: if they had just waved the green flag already, they could have avoided the whole s***show.
This is after all, automobile racing, and a top-level automobile racing series at that. And racers race on bumpy circuits, with limbs not fully attached, and although not in torrential rain a la Surfers Paradise 2002, certainly in the amount of rain I saw on television at Toronto.
Further, when it seemed that Race Control was making decisions based on driver input, and drivers losing control of cars at minimal speeds, my thought was the drivers are employees, not decision makers. Why is the series listening to them? They need to shut up and race.
And when Mario Andretti, Robin Miller and others expressed disappointment and outrage IndyCar did not race, let the record show: I was right there with them. And to a certain degree, I still am.
To a certain degree?
Having looked at everything over the past few days, consulted numerous people, and thought about Saturday from a variety of possible angles, I've reached a few conclusions.
One, there was compelling and legitimate evidence to suggest that postponing the race was wise and prudent. Most notably, the fact the spray on Lake Shore Boulevard was creating near zero-visibility for the drivers.
Yes, I'm all for racing in less-than-ideal conditions, but not for blasting down a straight away into a heavy braking zone at 175 miles per hour with next-to-zero visibility. In such a scenario, yes caution is probably the better part of valor.
To make a long story short, after much thought and consultation, I don't like the decision to not race Saturday, but I do understand the decision to not race Saturday.
As for the reason I don't like it
In hindsight, frustration over Saturday was rooted not so much the fact INDYCAR did not race, rather, the fact the series looked so woefully unprepared for the conditions.
Whether it was too little water-removal equipment to uncertainty surrounding red flag/non-red flag rules, and a pace car that seemed ill-equipped for the conditions, INDYCAR was not prepared properly for what happened Saturday. While I can elaborate on a variety of subjects, let's talk about the pace car.
The Honda pace war was shod with Hoosier Tire D.O.T. Drag Radials commonly known as drag slicks. Interestingly, from this Tire Rack website, the tires they are described as such:
Drag racing radials have softer sidewalls and tread compounds in order to maximize grip in straight-line acceleration that's typical when launching a car from a stop at a drag racing strip. ... Note that while drag racing radials are street legal, the soft sidewalls they feature often result in reduced cornering grip and stability in street driving (emphasis, mine).
Yes, the way I read the above is that the tires on the pace car were not sufficient for the notoriously, slippery Toronto street course with its varying surfaces IN THE DRY, much less the wet.
In short, the pace car example tells you all you need to know. The issue is not that INDYCAR didn't run Saturday, rather that they were completely and totally unprepared for the conditions that were presented.
Sadly, yet ironically, it is here one can find the wisdom in the decision to not race.
There were lots of red flags at Toronto. For clarification purposes let me call your attention to the final one in Race 2 Sunday.
To begin, I am 100% for the use of red flags in the manner INDYCAR employed them Sunday at Toronto, earlier this year at Indy, and in the 2012 series-finale at Fontana. If a red flag can be thrown to stop a race, and improve the chances of a green flag finish, I am all for it.
Further, I distinguish between the red flag and green-white-checkered NASCAR format, which fundamentally alters something inherent to the race itself: the pre-determined distance.
Now, in fairness to NASCAR, they do have something INDYCAR does not: a clear stated procedure for how the GWC will be implemented. INDYCAR's policy with the red flag is by the seat of its pants.
To complicate matters, Sunday's race was a timed one. Doesn't a timed-race mean that it goes to a certain predetermined time? Or can the pause button be pushed on that time in the case of a red flag? If so, what is the time frame when a red will be thrown?
While I agree INDYCAR's intent is a good one in issuing these red flags, going forward, a little more clarity is necessary.
Brian Carroccio is a columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com
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