Sunday, May 27, 2012

Day of Racing 2012

Memorial Day weekend is always a great weekend for fans of auto racing.  For each meal, there's a race.  Breakfast is the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco, lunch is the Indianapolis 500, and dinner is the Coca-Cola 600.

Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco

The F1 race is kind of a mixed bag, to be honest.  This season has been really interesting with a lot of teams showing that they can compete, instead of just the usual one or two teams that are good and then everyone else.  In the previous five races we've had five different winners and five different winning constructors.  Monaco is one of the oldest F1 tracks on the schedule, and also therefore one of the narrowest, which means passing is incredibly difficult.  The lack of passing is a very easy thing to make fun of, people do like to say that F1 is more of a parade than a race.

The more modern tracks are wider, and with everyone having both KERS and DRS there has been a fair amount of passing on the newer tracks.  KERS uses energy generated from braking to charge a battery on the car, and then each lap the driver has a button they can press for a limited amount of extra horsepower.  DRS uses a movable element on the rear wing to decrease drag and downforce and increase speed.  In combination with a detection area and one or two areas on the track where it can be used, if a driver is within a second of the driver ahead, they can open it up and get around a 10 MPH boost, which can be used in combination with the KERS for even more speed to aid passing.


After Michael Schumacher's 5 grid-spot penalty for his collision with Bruno Senna in the last race dropped him down from pole to 6th place, Mark Webber inherited the pole and drove on to win the race.  There was talk of rain and indeed it did get fairly dark towards the end of the race, but it stayed dry enough that no rain tires were required.  So, we have our sixth different winner in as many races, and the first repeat winning constructor in Red Bull.

I make it sound uneventful, to be honest.  There were some lap 1 turn 1 shenanigans that saw the immediate retirement of Romain Grosjean.  Others would retire due to damage from that incident later on.  Heikki Kovalainen got to his usual going slowly holding everyone behind him up thing which led to him spinning out (and forcing the retirement of) Jenson Button.  He also basically edged Sergio Perez off the track later.  So there were some altercations during the race, but yes, mostly uneventful.  Still, Monaco is F1's "race everyone really wants to win", similar to the Indianapolis 500 for IndyCar.

Indianapolis 500

A few ex-F1 drivers are in the field for the Indy 500.  Reubens Barrichello, formerly F1's most experienced driver, moved over to IndyCar for this season.  Out of the blue, an old name pops up and Jean Alesi enters the race.  Also present are Takuma Sato and Sebastian Bourdais.  IndyCar is an entirely different animal though.  The cars are slower and don't have the extra bits like DRS, and for this season they have massive fenders around the rear wheels to try and minimize wheel-to-wheel contact, which can easily launch a car into the air.

The Indianapolis 500 has a lot of traditions, there's the singing of "Back Home Again in Indiana", the "releasing of the multi-colored balloons", and a lot more stuff that happens both on race day and in the entire month of May before the race.  Fortunately, since I'm not there, I don't have to watch most of it.  My dad and I always go to Subway and grab lunch for everyone before the race anyway.

Overall, it was a pretty decent race.  Lots of passing, in fact, a new record for the number of lead changes.  Nobody got more than about 4.5 seconds into the lead before either being reeled in from behind or someone crashed.  In the end it came down to an incident on the first corner of the last lap.  Takuma Sato tried to go down the inside of Dario Franchitti, went too far down and got below the white line, and spun out.  Yellow flag, race over, Dario Franchitti wins his third Indy 500.  I kinda wanted Tony Kanaan to win to be honest, but he got overhauled on the last restart fairly handily by both Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

The new IndyCar GoDaddy commercials with James Hinchcliffe are pretty funny though.  They have this whole thing going on with him trying to take Danica Patrick's spot on the front page.

Coca-Cola 600

The Coca-Cola 600, run at Charlotte Motor Speedway, is NASCAR's longest race of the season.  Also, it starts in the afternoon and ends at night, meaning the drivers have to contend with the setting sun during the race, as well as the change in track conditions that results.  It's entirely possible to have a car that's good during the day but horrible at night, and vice versa.  The exact setup you want is a matter of team strategy, though, and to some degree can be tweaked during the race.

Greg Biffle dominated while the sun was up, but after night fell, Kasey Kahne was completely untouchable and drove to an easy victory.

All 1262 miles of racing that happened today = watched.  Can't wait for next year.

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