Stephen Cox: Indy 500 Post-Qualification Report

By Auto News Log • May 21st, 2012

It’s really hard to say whether this is a whopping awesome year for the Indy 500 or an aggravating disappointment.

Every time I think the good ol’ days are back someone does something stupid like raising the turbo boost two days before qualifications… for no reason other than to post a bigger number on the speed charts… in a lame PR effort that manifests the frightening reality that the series is now being run by marketing people instead of racers… and it really bothers me… and it should bother you, too.

So without further adieu, here is today’s bucket load of wisdom from yours truly.

Increasing the boost just before qualifications was a terrible idea that may have cost Ed Carpenter a real shot at this race. Increasing the horsepower added risk for everyone. And since Ed had one of the few available backup cars in the field, his crash removed any possibility that Bump Day might have genuine bumping. He wasn’t inclined to put anyone in his car to begin with, but no way was Carpenter going to risk his backup car after that accident. Can’t blame him.

That means we didn’t see an awesome BFS (Big Freaking Stud) jump into a car at the last minute to turn in a high pressure, mind-numbing drive with only seconds to go to secure a spot in the world’s biggest auto race, like Buddy Lazier in 2008.

For those of you who do not recall, I offer the following BFS story: in May 2008, after failing to make the field on their initial run, Buddy Lazier’s crew stripped the downforce out of his car and sent him out with less than 13 minutes remaining in Bump Day qualifying for one last, desperate effort. Lazier slid all over the track and manhandled the car into the field in the biggest miracle since the water turned to wine. Buddy Lazier is the epitome of a Big Freaking Stud. But then, you knew that. Anybody who wins the 1996 Indy 500 after breaking their back in 40 places (that is not a misprint) has BFS credentials for life.

However, despite the lack of a real Bump Day, we do have a few LBFS candidates this year (Lesser Big Freaking Studs).

Reubens Barrichello wouldn’t know an oval from a toilet bowl. He adapted poorly to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the first week of practice. Then he suddenly finds enough speed to qualify inside Row 4 at over 224 mph. And he’s so fun to watch. I love this guy. He looked more comfortable at 224 than he did while struggling at 212 several days before. Remember, driving your first oval at IMS is like making your first solo flight in an F-18. That’s pretty studly.

Katherine Legge joins the wrong team in the wrong year. Lotus can’t supply engines, meaning she can’t practice. She watches the first week at Indy from the sidelines while her team sues everyone at Lotus including the janitor and his dog. With virtually no seat time and a new, untested Chevy engine, she jumps in the car and qualifies at 221 mph.

Ditto for Ana Beatriz. Inside Row 5 at a tick under 224 mph. Whoa. Where did that come from?

E. J. Viso for ignoring criticism from the press – and everybody else – for constantly crashing last year. That is difficult to overcome. It haunts every move a driver makes. Sometimes the negative perception is more difficult to overcome than reality (ask Kevin Cogan). Now E. J. is a regular top ten car and qualified 9th at Indy. That’s mental toughness.

Have you noticed how far off the wall the cars are this year? If the right front tire was more than 10 inches off the wall exiting Turns 2 and 4 a few years ago, the driver had no chance of making the race. This year, very few drivers are within 2 feet of the wall. The drivers don’t have to do that any longer. Ryan Briscoe won the pole and he’s been driving 4 and 5 feet off the wall on corner exit. The drivers just don’t need the space like they once did because these cars are underpowered. For crying out loud, my Super Cup stock car has more horsepower than a new DW12 Indycar. That can’t be a good thing.

Indycar says it doesn’t want pack racing, but the only way to pass is to draft. That makes the aerodynamic factor more important than the driver. These cars are underpowered.

The real answer is, of course, to abandon the spec racing concept once and for all. Write down a set of limited regulations and allow anyone, anywhere to build an engine and car within those regulations and come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We tried that a few decades ago. It resulted in the Golden Age of American auto racing. Maybe we should try it again. This whole “the series is God” concept hasn’t worked out so well. If we wanted to watch NASCAR we wouldn’t be at Indy. Quick. Somebody call Bobby Unser and make him president of the series before we all lose our minds. Bobby would fix this place in ten minutes.

Go back to the traditional qualifying format. Stop trying to artificially create drama with these fake add-on qualifying sessions. They’re lame. This is not professional wrestling.

I’m sorry Pippa Mann didn’t have her chance at an Indy seat. She wanted it badly. This race should be available to people with a burning desire and respect for Indy. Same for John Andretti and so many others. Spec cars don’t create more opportunities… they create fewer. The sooner Indycar gets that, the sooner this race will regain (the rest of) its former glory.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be happy about this year. The field is full. We have three engine manufacturers, which is at least one small move away from the spec series mentality. The drivers in this year’s field are the best overall racers in the world on a combination of ovals, street and road courses. The true 2012 world driving champion will come from Indycar, not Formula 1. That couldn’t have been said a few years ago. The crowds are back and they’re getting bigger. Sarah Fisher can still light up a room with her smile. Jim Nabors will be here in spirit, singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” via tape due to poor health.

There were some tough days during The Split. The Indy 500 suffered along with all of open wheel racing. It’s not yet fully recovered and there’s more work to be done. But the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, and this era is showing more promise by the day. It’s a fun time to be an Indycar fan.

Stephen Cox
#21 Packs Racing/Boschett Timepieces/McGunegill Engines Chevy
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions

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Photo Credit: Indycar/LAT USA

Source: Global Media/Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions

 

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