Article by Jacob Black
When the three biggest motorsports series – at least from a North American view – are competing on a weekend you know it’s going to be a good one. This weekend saw some genuine down-to-the-wire finishes and plenty of wheel-to-wheel battle royale. There was even a healthy smattering of carnage for those who are into that sort of thing.
In NASCAR, Jeff Gordon put one hand on a spot in the postseason Chase for the Sprint Cup with a hard-fought victory in Kansas, narrowly beating Kevin Harvick, who has already sealed his berth in the chase with two wins. The race was a bit of a crash fest, with the hard-compound Goodyears making for a difficult drive on the high-speed 1.5-mile tri-oval. Kurt Busch spun a few times because hey, why not? Marcos Ambrose spun, and A.J. Allmendinger spun too, which caused a monster shunt between Justin Allgaier and David Gilliland behind them. Jamie McMurray blew a tire and hit the fence causing his car to ignite in flames – but it was unrelated to April’s tire issues.
The inaugural IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course erupted in chaos when Sebastian Saavedra stalled off the line. Saavedra lined up on pole and was collected first by Carlos Munoz, who started 19th and then by Mikhail Aleshin who started last of the 25 cars. The impact was enormous and it was a relief to see all the affected drivers climb from their cars. Juan Pablo Montoya also stalled from eighth on the grid but wasn’t impacted.
The race was eventually won by Simon Pagenaud, who used fuel strategy to get to the front, with hard-charging Ryan Hunter-Reay second and fellow fuel gambler Helio Castroneves in third. Pagenaud was lucky to escape a mid-race clash with Justin Wilson that left Canadian James Hinchcliffe with concussion after Wilson’s front wing endplate hit his helmet.
Formula 1 headed to Spain for the first leg of the European season. Red Bull expected to perform well with a mostly new car for the first European grand prix of the year and were definitely closer, but it was still an all-Mercedes show out front. Lewis Hamilton claimed pole and then the race win from Nico Rosberg, who made it interesting as he closed from five seconds back to less than a second in the dying stages. Third went to Australian Daniel Ricciardo, and fourth went to Sebastien Vettel, whose drive from 15th to fourth rebuffed those who claim he’s lost the ability to race in the pack.
Will Mercedes win the constructor's and driver's championships?
Pastor Maldonado finished 18th in the race and only collided with one other car and a kerb – so he is probably very pleased with the result.
All jokes aside, who were the heroes and the losers from the weekend?
That the Mercedes F1 team has had such dominance early this season is amazing; that they kept it heading into the first race of the “European season” even more so. But what made Mercedes so impressive during this race wasn’t just their clear pace, but their continued policy of letting the drivers race hard with each other. In fact, their example is being repeated all the way down the grid with Ferrari, Sauber and McLaren all following suit. Only Red Bull seems to be maintaining the tight leash on their drivers. Lotus’s policy wasn’t tested in Spain as Romain Grosjean was never within eyesight of his crash-prone teammate.
Was Sebastian Saavedra at fault for the start-line crash?
One could give the benefit of the doubt to Sebastian Saavedra, who says he isn’t sure why his car stalled on the start of the inaugural IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It should have been a fairy tale for the Colombian who scored a surprise pole. Loading up the throttle and dropping the hand clutch should have triggered the car’s launch control systems to get the car under way, but it didn’t. The massive wreck that ensued made all the highlight reels, but luckily nobody was hurt. For the chance it might have been an electrical gremlin, Saavedra avoids getting this week’s Black Flag. But for the fact he didn’t react quickly enough to dip the clutch and re-fire, and for the chance it might have been his fault to begin with, he gets the yellow.
The truth is, nobody on-track really did enough to warrant a Black Flag this week. All the penalties were fair, all the drivers’ behaviour was within the limits of acceptability and the racing was largely clean and exciting – if chaotic. And so once again we’re forced to award a Black Flag to officialdom. IndyCar’s new single-file restart rules are rubbish. Simple as that. The same sort of rule caused a massive crash in V8 Supercars in March and has already triggered two virtually identical crashes in IndyCar this year. Graham Rahal was clear and vocal after being shunted out of Saturday’s race.
Should the re-start procedures be changed?
“I got punted. Montoya was a lap down. He almost hit me actually on the restart before,” Rahal is quoted on MoreFrontWing.com.
“I must say though that these starts are pretty stupid. With the restart zone being that late, this is what happens. You can’t see back there because the rear wing is so big. We need to work with the officials to try to change this because there’s going to be a lot of accidents. I said to my dad on the restart before ‘Someone is going to get hurt out here because you can’t see.’ They need to let the leader go earlier.”
V8 Supercars actually ended up changing their restart procedure after just one weekend of quotes like Rahal’s and one massive crash – how much will it take for IndyCar to respond?