California Dreamin’ – Indycar impressions

I’d got my ski pants on but I was still cold. Shivering in the Silverstone pitlane, waiting for Force India’s new car to be unveiled, I got talking to a colleague about the year ahead.

“Anything fun on the agenda?” I asked.

“Yeah, actually,” he smiled. “I’m moving to the States. Indycar. I can’t wait.”

“Oh wow,” I replied. “Say hi to…” I ran through a list of everyone I knew racing in the championship in my mind… “well… say hi to everyone for me.”

Fast forward seven months and the two of us are standing by the side of a track once again. Only this time, it’s not a cold Silverstone. The sun is beating down on the track formerly known as Sears Point, Sonoma, California. There is not a cloud in the sky. Practice for the GoProGP of Sonoma is well underway, and I have a cold beer in my hand.

“Enjoying it, then?” I ask.

“Are you kidding?” he smiles. “It’s immense.”

This past weekend saw my very first attendance of an Indycar race and I’ve got to be honest, I was blown away. From my first impression to my last, there was very little I could find about the experience that I did not completely love.

My decision to attend the race had been fairly last minute. A free weekend without F1, an Indycar race in the heart of California’s wine region, and the potential of seeing my old friend Giorgio Pantano back behind the wheel had been the primary incentives of the trip away. As it turned out, Giorgio was only required to stand in for Charlie Kimball at Mid Ohio, but the Indycar grid is so populated with drivers I’ve worked with through the years, and the paddock so full of people I’ve known or worked with, I was sure I’d have a good time.

Ganassi’s PR guru Kelby Krauss was my first point of contact, and he put me in touch with Amy Konrath, who heads up PR for Indycar itself. The procedure for accreditation was simple enough and in the days before my departure for the race, I’d had emails including a full press conference and PR commitments timetable for all the teams and drivers, a garage and paddock diagram detailing where I could find everyone, a full list of contacts for the championship, the track and the teams, and even which twitter handles and hashtags I should use when talking about the weekend in order to properly promote the event online.

Colour me impressed.

Sonoma itself sits about an hour and a bit (with a clear run…) north of San Francisco. With that in mind, and considering this was to be a bit of a holiday for me, I thought I’d grab a little bit of style and hire a car befitting such a glorious part of the world. A Ford Mustang seemed to fit the bill, convertible of course. With the Bullitt soundtrack in my bag, I was all primed to spend the first few hours of my time in California driving around San Fran, top down, Lalo Schifrin’s music blaring out of my speakers, pretending I was Steve McQueen… or Frank Bullitt to be more precise. So imagine my giddy joy when I pulled out of SFO and found myself following, I kid you not, a Dodge Charger. I couldn’t stop smiling.

And then I hit San Francisco’s infamous traffic. But with the top down, some good tunes and absolutely glorious weather, I cared not one jot.

I was up early on Friday morning, a combination of jet lag and excitement and made my way into the track, a simple 20 minute drive from my hotel in American Canyon, at which the Ed Carpenter team were also staying. Credentials were picked up in 30 seconds from a very cheery lady, and I made my way down to the paddock and into the media centre. I was stood there for all of 30 seconds before I heard, “Will Buxton?”

“Yes,” I said, turning around.

“What are you doing here?”

It was to be a question I was asked hundreds of times over the weekend, and one I never got tired of answering.

“Long time fan, first time attendee,” I confirmed.

“Wow, well it’s a real pleasure to have you here.”

I stood and talked for half an hour, I think. Well, two mugs of coffee at least, chatting about F1, the summer break, and of course the Mustang / Charger situation from the day before.

It’s a funny thing, but I’d never been anywhere where anybody recognised me before. I’ve been on TV in America for the last three years, but at F1 races I’ve never really bumped into too many people who catch the SPEED broadcast. To be recognised was a slightly surreal but incredibly nice experience.

When I finally walked into the media centre, all the seats had the dreaded reserved stickers on them already. Rocking up on a Friday had been a mistake clearly. I should have got there on Thursday, and reserved my seat. Rookie mistake Buxton, rookie mistake. But hello, what’s this? A seat, reserved for me. Sat on the desk a notepad and pen from the track, a bound volume of results for the current season and an inch thick press kit for the IZOD Indycar Series. Sporting regulations, technical regulations, driver biographies, team histories, contact information, complete historical data, track guides. I was one of the first journalists there (thank you jetlag) and it appeared that pre-reserved seats are a matter of course in Indycar.

Colour me very impressed.

I popped down to Ganassi and found Kelby. He gave me a tour of the garage. One long garage. Housing all the teams. No dividing walls, nothing hidden apart from dampers… open. More open than I was expecting. Then into the trucks, through a few doors and into a briefing room at the back.

“Bloody hell mate, what are you doing here?”

“Long time fan, first time attendee,” I grinned.

“Great place for your first race. Hey, have you heard from Tremayne? Has the crazy bastard done his jet car run yet? How did it go?”

“It went well I think. He’s still in one piece. He sends his best.”

Dario Franchitti is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in motorsport. A proper racer and a real gentleman, we sat down and had a good catch up.

Ten minutes go by and in walks Scott Dixon. He sits down and looks over.

“Oh hi,” he smiles as he holds out his hand to shake. “I know you from the TV!”

“I know YOU from the TV!” I laugh.

Much banter is swapped, but I don’t want to outstay my welcome. We say our goodbyes, I wish the boys luck, and Kelby shows me back to the paddock.

“Anything you need, just ask,” he says.

“I will,” I lie. I don’t want to be a burden. Target, Ganassi’s title sponsor, are bringing 400 guests to the race. It’s Kelby’s busiest event of the year. Having me bending his ear is the last thing he needs. And yet, minutes before practice is due to start, a text lands with my phone… from Kelby.

“If you want to put some headphones on and join us in the pits, come down.”

By this point though, I’m already trackside with Mark Glendenning, he of that chilly Silverstone morning at the Force India launch. I’ve known Mark for many years. He’s worked at Autosport for as long as I can remember, covering GP2 for a number of years. We both used to write for Australasian Motorsport News a few years back. The move to America has been good to him.

He looks fresh faced, happy, spirited. There are only two races left in his season after Sonoma and he looks like it has only just started. He and his wife have picked up everything from the UK and moved out to America, soon to be moving once again to be close to Sonoma.

“You’d like it here,” he attests over a beer at the top of Turn 2, sort of a compressed version of Eau Rouge with less run off and no fences. “It’s a bit like GP2, but with even more fan access.”

Speaking of GP2, I bump into EJ Viso after practice. The Venezuelan, who will always be “Ernie” or “The Furry Wombat” to me, never “E.J.”, has become an integral piece in the Indycar puzzle in recent years. A talented racer who has won in every category he’s ever contested, we go back a good eight years. We hang out for a bit, and then shoot off for dinner. He can’t give me an address, so I just follow his car for 40 minutes, deep into the Californian countryside, until we come across a tiny town and a fabulous Italian restaurant.

Ernie, me, and Team VI5O talk and laugh long into the evening, recounting Formula 3 and P1 motorsport, pool parties in F3000, and the day he nearly bought it in GP2 at Magny Cours. I can sense the frustration in him that he’s not regularly challenging at the front in Indycar, but I can see the desire that still burns and the intelligence to know how and what to change.

Saturday is another sweltering day. It starts off cold however, and over a coffee and a Danish I am invited for an audience with Randy Bernard, the Bernie Ecclestone of Indycar. Quiet, understated, I like him immediately. We talk, we laugh, we discuss F1, Indycar, GP2, GP3, Indy Lights, TV, the past, the future, life, love, loss…

And then the wail of cars. I return to the media centre and find Marshall Pruett of SPEED.com, who takes me trackside.

“We can’t stand here, surely?” I scream at him over the noise of the cars.

“Sure we can,” he laughs. “This isn’t Formula 1. But don’t stand too close to the wall. If something hits it, it’ll move back. Give it a foot.”

I give it about 20ft, and walk up a hill.

Imagine, if you will, a sequence of corners similar to Maggotts and Becketts at Silverstone. Then imagine that there is about 4 metres of runoff at either side and that this run off is fairly dry grass. Then imagine a concrete wall at about knee height. Then a small hill, and a fence up to about head height. The photographers stand behind the knee high wall, shooting cars flying straight at them at over 150mph. No catch fencing. Only a certain part of the wall is covered by a tyre wall. This, I think to myself, must be what F1 was like 25 years ago.

It’s completely insane. It’s ludicrously unsafe. Stupid. Absolutely stupid.

But it is incredible. I feel a rush every time a car flies past my face. I think of how much my photographer friends in F1 would love this. No complaining about the placement of holes in catch fencing for them here. There isn’t any bloody catch fencing.

Copyright 2012 Marshall Pruett

I jump the fence back to the grandstands and start to walk back to the paddock.

“Will Buxton? What are you…”

“Long time fan, first time attendee…”

A few photos, a nice chat, Lotus’ new rear wing device, can Schumacher win a race, will Alonso take the title, who is my money on for the Indycar race?

It’s lovely to chat to so many fans, something which is repeated as I walk around the main grandstand, through the fanzone, just soaking it all in.

I’ve been welcomed into the Indycar media centre with open arms by fellow journalists and photographers, but when qualifying comes around, I want to be in the stands. I bump into my friend Ashley, and she and I sit in the main grandstand watching qualifying unfold in front of us. I buy myself another cold beer because… well because I can. I’m on holiday and for the first time in ten years I’m at a race track as a fan and not in a professional capacity.

The Penske’s are fast. Unstoppably fast. At least three tenths to half a second over everyone else. There’s no way they’re not going to have this whole weekend sewn up with pace like that.

Back in the paddock I have a catch up with Achim Hofstadter, Rubens Barrichello’s physio, and Rubens himself as he leaves his truck.

“We miss you in F1,” I tell him.

“I miss it too,” he smiles… “sometimes.”

I guess it’s tough for anyone to settle into new surroundings after 20 years in one environment. And although Rubens has made noises about missing racing in F1, the impression he gives is that he is genuinely enjoying his first season in America. He just wants to be more competitive.

Saturday night comes and goes in a blur of an early evening nap, room service and another 4am wake-up. No point in trying to beat jet-lag when I’ve got to have my game face on for Spa in a few days.

And so to Sunday.

Copyright 2012 Jamey Price

I’d been very lucky over the weekend to have been offered two laps of the track. The first was with Johnny O’Connell in the frankly bonkers Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, and the second had come on Saturday in the Honda Civic pace car. It was while waiting for that very ride that I’d had a poke in the ribs and turned around to see a small tanned person with curly grey hair and funky white sunglasses.

“Hey, I heard a rumour you were here. Good to see you. We should get you a lap in the back of my car. How about tomorrow?”

“Well I… yeah… sure… I mean… if it wouldn’t be too much trouble… Um…Wow…”

“Great, it’s done. You’ll love it. It’s the standard engine. They put a turbo in yesterday but I blew it up. The brakes are too small so you can’t get it slowed down enough, but that’s half the fun, right?”

And that’s how I got to have a lap of Sonoma, this incredible undulating, flowing circuit with elements of Spa, the Nordschlieffe, Istanbul Park and Silverstone, with Mario Andretti in the two seater Honda powered IZOD Indycar.

Let me say that again… Mario. Andretti. One of the greatest drivers of all time. A legend. A proper bona fide legend. This was going to be like getting in the ring with Ali, playing five a side with Pele… jamming on stage with Jimi Hendrix. This sort of thing doesn’t happen everyday.

Jamey Price, a hugely talented young American motorsport photographer who flew himself out to Barcelona for pre-season F1 testing was on hand as I got suited up and he graciously shot some lovely images as I prepared to get into the car with the 1978 Formula 1 World Champion.

One of the organisers took me to the side. You’ll be the fourth person in today. Mario’s told me to keep you until then so that the tyres are up to temperature. He wants to give you a proper run.

Now I’ve had a two seater run in the past, with Alan van der Merwe and Bruno Senna in the F1 two seater and those rides were out of this world. But if there’s one downside to the experience it’s that you can see so little. It’s the nature of the beast. However the indycar two seater was different.

In the Indycar, the passenger sits a little higher, and as is the nature of an Indycar, has a hollow roll hoop to look through. As such, I had a fantastic view of the track, and as I looked straight ahead and angled down just a touch, there was an even better view. That silver helmet resplendent with red stripe going front to back.

Chills. Absolute chills.

Mario gave it full beans, through Turns 1 and 2, the Eau Rouge of Sonoma. Falling away down hill, I turned in with him for the left hander at 3, over the blind crest at 4, leaving our stomachs behind as we turned in for the right at 5. Back on the power you rise up to the entry of 6, a smooth long left falling away downhill before blasting up the straight and getting hard on the brakes at the end. We take way too much speed into the re-profiled Turn 7, running high over the exit curbs and run-off, throwing it into the esses and taking to the old track so we didn’t have to slow at the new chicane, before taking Turn 10 flat out. We slow into 11 and the lap is over.

I am in raptures.

My legs are a little wobbly, but I am buzzing. What an experience. What an honour. I’ll say it again… Mario. Andretti. Wow.

I make my way back into the fanzone and buy myself an Indycar cap as a souvenir. I buy a cold beer and walk around watching the world go by.

“Excuse me, but are you Richard Hammond?”

“No,” I reply. “But I have seen him here this weekend. I think he’s around the paddock.”

“Thanks, I love him!”

I make my way to the NBC stage where Kelby has invited me to join him. We wait for Scott to finish his TV spot, and I meet his lovely wife Emma. We all rush together to the grid, as Scott is late for his intro. Emma’s got a dodgy leg. My offer of a piggy back is graciously turned down, so we slow down and let Scott and Kelby run off.

“What happens now?” I ask.

“Just watch,” Emma, who it turns out is from not too far away from where I grew up in England, smiles.

Out of a huge truck, Scott emerges from the roof, like a boyband member dressed in overalls. Fireworks, BOOM. Flames. Tickertape. It’s like McCartney encoring Live and Let Die!

“That’s mental!” I shout.

“You should have seen it at the start of the season. The flames were too low and it was burning their eyebrows!” Emma giggles.

The pre race is now in full swing. I can’t figure out what part of the track we are on, but it turns out we are not on the grid, but in the pitlane, standing by the cars, surrounded not just by VIPS and celebs, drivers, mechanics and engineers… but mostly by fans.

I stand by the green Go Daddy car of James Hinchcliffe. I get an arm around my back.

“Having a good time mate?”

“This is amazing Hinch. Amazing.”

“Knew you’d like it,” he smiles.

Silence falls across the track. A lone female solider sings the anthem.

Chills. For the second time that day.

Then applause, cheering, fans dispersing the grid, sudden movement.

BOOOOOOM

“WHAT THE FU…”

BOOOOOOM

“HOLY SHIT WHAT THE…”

BOOOOOOM

I turn around to run, covering my head. Hinch’s mechanics are in hysterics as the US Army lets off a canon salute on the grid and I jump with every bang.

“I wasn’t expecting that!” I shout.

BOOOOOOM

“You’d never know!” comes the sarcastic reply.

BOOOOOOM

“Good luck guys!”

I make my way off the grid and back to the grandstand. Once again, I want to watch a race from the stands with the fans. I can sit in a media centre anytime. And besides, I’m already sunburnt. My nose can’t get any redder.

The race goes almost the entire duration without a caution period, and then there are two in the final laps, one of which including Sebastian Bourdais and Josef Newgarden which sees the former GP3 star and Indy Lights champion hit the very wall Marshall and I had stood behind in practice a few days before. Everyone is OK.

The race finishes with a surprise win for Ryan Briscoe ahead of Will Power and Dario Franchitti. A Penske 1-2. I stand to the side of the podium, with fans behind me, the team in front and photographers to the right. Wine is drunk. Champagne is sprayed. Interviews are conducted.

And then it’s all over. The cars are packed away, the drivers give their quotes, and everyone leaves.

It’s been an amazing weekend and I have had an incredible time. I’ve been bowled over by Indycar and the way the championship is run. The staff at Sonoma have been amazing and so friendly, Indycar’s staff, from its CEO down, have been welcoming, personable, kind and helpful. The teams have been amazing, none more than Ganassi and Kelby. The paddock is an open community for fans to meet their heroes, a hub of excitement mixed with the smell of grease and carbon fibre. The Indycar media has been so accommodating of me, that I can’t tell if it’s the fuel or dust in the air or a bit of emotion that as I leave the media centre my right eye won’t stop streaming. The drivers are amazing. I must have stopped and spoken with at least two thirds of the grid at some point of the weekend.

As I leave the track in the Mustang, I have time sat in the inevitable traffic to contemplate and reflect on my weekend. And it’s been an amazing weekend. Did I enjoy myself so much because I wasn’t working and could just let my hair down? Or was it something more, something special about the championship?

Ultimately, I think it’s the latter. Indycar, it seems to me, gets an awful lot right. The way it treats its fans, the set-up, the paddock, the fan zone… it’s like a GP2 paddock but more open, more fan friendly, more… just more! It really feels like a community, not just between the teams, drivers and media, but among the fans too.

Would I change anything? Sure. I’d change the pitch of the engine note to make it scream. An Indycar is doing the same speed as an F1 car, but it looks slower because it sounds slower. Such is the problem with running a turbo, but that’s the first thing I’d rectify. I’d probably take up Will Power’s suggestion of a mandated smaller rear wing, if and when teams are allowed to modify the rest of the aero kit. And on that topic, Randy’s going to have to keep costs from Dallara in check as regards the cars. I’d love to see a few European teams, and a few more international races outside America. And I’d either drop the delay on push to pass or just get rid of the gimmick altogether, just as I’d drop DRS and KERS from F1 in a heartbeat.

But these are details.

The simple fact is, Indycar works. It works because it is fun. It works because it understands how racing should be and what the fans should get for the price of their ticket.

I have come away a convert. Many were the times I spoke with lifers in the Indycar paddock who were thrilled with the way the season was going. To many of them, Indycar is headed along a path that will see it return to the golden age of the early 90s. And I believe them.

Just like the first time I saw an F1 car in the flesh, like the first GP2 test I attended, like the first time I stood trackside at Monaco, my weekend in Sonoma made my heart sing.

I’ll be honest, my weekend in California saw me fall a little bit in love… all over again.

Copyright 2012 Jamey Price

About these ads

65 thoughts on “California Dreamin’ – Indycar impressions

  1. Will – if you loved it now you shoud have seen it in the 70’s and 80’s when there when we weren’t stuck with ugly spec cars. At that time there was innovarion and tire wars; multiple chassis and engine combonations; the drivers spoke there mind and weren’t corporate robots.

    • Personally I like Indycar even more today than I did back then. While there was certainly more variety and I would love to see that come back, I think the racing this season has been better than any season I can remember and I’ve been watching since 1987. The car took a couple races to get used to, but I actually like it now. It might be slightly bulky, but the design makes total sense to me. And personally I don’t think any open wheel car going as fast as these should have exposed rear wheels.

  2. Amazing review of what must have been an amazing time, Will. Your reception by Indycar is a direct reflection of the esteem that motorsports holds for you. You’re doing it right, lad

  3. Being from Indianapolis, I grew up loving Indycar, but reading this blog post made my flame a little brighter…. so wonderfully written that visualizing it was effortless, and it brought plenty of smiles. I’m glad that Indycar and Sonoma represented themselves so well. Thank you, Pippa Mann, for posting it on Facebook for me to find!

  4. Glad you enjoyed your visit to California USA. I’ve been an Indy Car (and F-1) fan since the 70’s. It was great to “re-live” my first Indy experience vicariously through you. I thoroughly enjoyed your well written blog. I also agree with you about the engine sound. I attended the Long Beach event earlier in the year and was disappointed in the engine sound. The turbo engines of the 80’s and 90’s were awesome sounding. It was much better when ear plugs were required.

  5. Brilliant article. Thanks for sharing. I used to go to the Toronto race. You would bump into the most amazing people and pretty much everyone would give you a moment to get an autograph. Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Goodyear, Mansell, Andretti and on and on.

    I remember standing in a crush of people waiting to pick up Andretti’s book and felt a push behind me. It was the man himself trying to get to the booth to sign his own book. Another time I went to the public washroom and Villeneuve ran in in full kit before practice. I was in Bobby Rahal’s car area taking pics of the new at the time Honda engine. I guess I shouldn’t have been taking a picture as I turned to see Bobby R pointing at me and saying, “Nobody told this guy….” but it was all cool. I was there when Christian Fittipaldi climbed into a Penske as a visitor. Another time I was on a pit walk and Nigel’s engineer was talking about how good Nigel was in the car. It’s great to hear Indy Car still has the same atmosphere. Great memories. I just miss those cars from the Andretti/Mansell era.

    As for the current series I have a memory of ‘Hinch’ pushing me while I was racing a shifter kart. Glad to see he’s made it to one of the top racing series

  6. Will, your experience mirrored my own last year as it was the first time I’d been to Mid-Ohio, let alone any race. I got to attend as a guest of the track, and I’m still buzzing! Everything you said about IndyCar, the drivers, the staff, the fans is spot on. They say never meet your heroes, but I came away from my experience much the same way you did. It’s amazing the level of access you have in IndyCar, and I implore anyone that can attend a race do!

  7. Pingback: Joy begets joy – a great IndyCar article! « F1 Vole Blog

  8. Nicely written Will! Was a HUGE fan of CART/Champ Car in the early 90’s when in my opinion, it rivaled F1 in pure racing. Here’s hoping what you heard was correct and Indycar can recapture some of that old glory again.

    On another note, the summer break is finally over, I’m sure we’re all looking forward to Spa.

  9. Thank you Will. I agree, Indycar is doing so much right(finally). I don’t understand why some of the owners want to ruin a good thing?

  10. It was my first visit to an IndyCar race too in Sonoma, and I too was blown away by it. I’ve seen the Singapore GP and the Australian GP, never been so impressed by a race event like the one in Somona!

  11. Interesting, well-written, enjoyable blog ! …… Glad to hear of such a positive, professional welcome for you at Sonoma.
    Looking forward to Spa and maybe more youth on the broadcast team soon…..
    Must do some hi-tech mic filtering to hear you better.
    Thanks and regards,
    doubtingtom37

  12. Will, what a great write up. I mean, I swear you and I are on the same page; about the IndyCar rear wing, the exhaust note, car costs, everything. It really warms my heart that you had such an enjoyable time in Sonoma. This week’s Grand Prix of Baltimore is in my backyard, practically. I’m volunteering (every day except race day, that is) so that this race, this event, becomes something as special as it has the potential to be. I have a feeling that I will be appreciating this race a lil more after reading your blog. IndyCar really is on its way back to the glory days like it was when I started watching back in 1992. And I cannot wait!

    I watch you on SPEED every F1 weekend, and I enjoy you and the entire crew. I hope to see you in Monaco one day soon. Or perhaps Singapore. Have a wonderful second half of the season, and give my best to Lewis Hamilton and McLaren!

    Take care, and be sure to visit us in Baltimore next season!

  13. Being in the UK I grew up with a family keen on F1, (my brother is named after Jody Scheckter) and I worked for David Coulthard for several years. I ventured to Champ Cars as it was then in Toronto 1997, and reading this blog reminds me exactly of how I felt, in fact enjoyed it so much that I came home and went straight from the airport to the travel agent and book a trip to Laguna Seca to see another race. I have been all over Canada, USA and out to Australia since then but have not been back to a F1 race since!

  14. You hit the nail on the head. Indycar is a community that includes the fans in everything. And we the fans are as passionate about the sport as anyone else in the community. We share and deeply feel the triumphs and tragedies and conflicts. I grew up in Indianapolis and have followed the sport my whole life. But I get the same thrill attending a race today that I got at my first when I was ten years old. Indycar fosters my passion and fuels it by keeping me involved. They sponsor fan events throughout the season. You’d be hard pressed to find a sport that cares more about their fans, nor who’s fans care more about their sport.

  15. Will, it was so nice meeting you on Sunday. You told me you were having the time of your life and after reading this you weren’t lying. Please continue to spread the word back in F1 community about how great Indycar can be and try to make it back to America for another race sometime. You think Sonoma was great, waiting until you come to the 500.

  16. Under IRL/IMS/H-G stewardship, “Indy car” racing has completely devolved and continues to slowly destroy itself. All that’s left now is a miniscule fan base (based mostly in Indiana), non-existent television ratings and “street fest” races to try to pay the bills. There’s virtually no sponsorship dollars. It’s pitiful and nothing compared to where the sport was during the CART heyday of the 80’s and ’90’s. The series continues to fade into obscurity. The only way to rescue the sport is to kill it and start over without the H-G family.

    • There is always one of the whiner-brigade appearing in these.

      Here is a novel idea, if you don’t like something -> DON’T WATCH IT. You’ll have a better time, as will us, the people who enjoy Indycar racing.

      So just go away please ;) Nobody cares about your incredibly misinformed opinion.

    • You know what? I wasn’t happy with the Tony George decision to split either. I was DEFINITELY unhappy with their cheapening of the series during the first years of the split, and the painful lack of driver talent during those first few Indianapolis 500’s. And I continue to be distressed at the low ratings and the fact that Indycar races are mostly exiled to a premium channel that has little viewership.

      But you know what? In an experience like Will’s that shows the unapologetic positive side to the series, I’m still happy that Indycar exists. *AND* I wouldn’t normally dream of raining negativity down on such an upbeat post, but for some odd reason you had to be the self-appointed one to bring some gloom into the picture.

      No, those days during the split weren’t good times. But what they are are days in the past. Right now, Indycar is a series with much positive, much room for growth, and much fan friendliness. As Will here has noted. Your negativity doesn’t change a bit of that. There’s still so much to love about Indycar, and the unexpected upside of the fall from grace is a level of access and fan accomodation that’s simply not seen in other sports today. That’s hardly a death knell. It’s a bad fall, true, but not one that cannot be recovered from.

      The sport does not need to be killed. What it does need to do is be rid of people who wallow in the past and use that to cast negativity on the future. I was as PO’d as anyone during the split, but I learned that I couldn’t let that ruin my love for the sport. If I could put it behind me, anyone can. And most people should, else they will do nothing more than hinder the regrowth of the sport.

  17. Will, so glad you had such a wonderful experience. Indy Car is on the way back, and the way they connect with and involve the fans as part of the event is just awesome. Thank you for your kind words in your blog. As a lifetime fan it’s encouraging to see such a positive review from someone of your standing. Take a weekend off for an oval race, you’ll be blown away!

  18. Hello Will, I was one of the fans at Sonoma Saturday morning at turn 9, lucky to have a chat and a photo with you! Thank you….You are the best!!!! Also, you told me Lotus will win Spa and Monza, remember?? I am looking forward to it!!! Cheers, Mario from Moss Beach

  19. Glad you enjoyed a brief time in my part of the world! Also pleased to hear your ride included the “real” 8/8a/9/10 complex. One of the most satisfying pieces of asphalt I can imagine, whether I’m driving my lowly Spec Miata, or trying the max my meager skills allow in my Radical SR3.

    Funny, yet scary, that friend to many of of here, Marshall, brought you to the spot where the big crash was during the race.

    On behalf or our track/racing community, accept an open invitation to return and we’ll get you behind the wheel so you can really experience what the track offers!

  20. Will, seu lindo! See, that’s what I’d like people to read whenever they say IndyCar’s the “F1 poor cousin” or something, I think it has all the human elements I need to be in love with the whole thing plus the thrill of speed, to me it’s perfect. Awesome writing here by the way, thanks for sharing.

  21. Will, thanks for the very enjoyable read! Great to get a first time visitors thoughts, especially from someone who can paint the picture so well. IndyCar is fantastic, and as Rubens is finding out filled with very talented drivers. I hope you can make it to the 500 someday, a truly amazing experience.

  22. Great read, Will!
    This Don, Montreal marshal, Canadian living in Texas.
    Now you have to find a spare weekend to work a corner as a marshal.
    Hope to see you in Austin. Marshals are having a dinner Thursday, if you can make it.
    …/don (don.howson@yahoo.com)

  23. I am happy that you enjoyed your visit to Sonoma Will. I enjoy your F1 stuff. Your comments about what you think IndyCar could do better are spot on. Now, on to the important stuff………I do not know what “dodgy” means, but I have seen Emma Dixon’s legs and they looked mighty fine to me!

  24. Nice blog mate! Glad you liked the show. I haven’t been to an F1 race, and doubt if I’ll ever make Montreal, but the fan access in Indycar and its predecessors is amazing. I’ve missed you and your SPEED colleagues, in Canada the live SPEED F1 broadcast is blacked out this year, so if I want to see the full race vs. the 2hr version, I am stuck with the stodgy Brits!

  25. Glad you enjoyed it Will! Here in the States we really enjoy your work and enthusiasm for racing. If the F1 schedule ever allows you should come out for the Indy 500, and camp the night before in the Coke Lot. I’m sure you’d remember that! You’d be a guest of honor for sure.

  26. what a great read will. you have a fantastic way with words. i too get chills at every race i attend. i have had the pleasure to see f-1 at indy, being first into the track to the booms going off and hearing “welcome race fans!” i could see everything thru your eyes. come again mate.

  27. Quit playing tuner games, you can make the cars sound “right” by adding 300 ponies, Totally agree with pitching the gimics (PTP, DRS and Bats r us). Great article, great race, great day. Parish the thought, but if you really want to make it interesting, screw smaller wings, make harder tires. Makes for a boring show, but it puts more challenge in the drivers hands and it’s cheeper than horsepower. Note: this works only as long as there is one tire manufacturer in the game,

  28. What a. Fantastic article and spot on. I’ve been lucky enough to attend Indy for the past 6 or 7 years and while I’ve always been an F 1 diehard the atmosphere at the 500 with 350,000 people singing with their hands on their hearts really gets me. IRL racing is fantastic and it was so good to see Ryan Briscoe back in the winners circle.
    While lots of people have said you need to go to the 500, you’re always at Monaco and we get to watch it in the Penske hospitality before the 500. Now that is a buzz.
    Having been to a number of F1 races and also a few IRLs besides Indy, give me IRL live but F1 on television.
    You do write well.

  29. Will, it may currently be a professional impossibility, but add attending the Indy 500 to your bucket list. It’s everything you experienced at Sonoma X 10. There is truely nothing like it…

  30. Hey Will! A pleasure chatting with you before our hot lap rides Saturday morning. I left the conversation to get a photo with the Hamster. I didn’t realize who you were until later… your hair is darker in person than I remember during your F1 grid walks! : – ) Or I would have asked for a photo with you too! (I hope you didn’t take that as a slight!)

    IndyCar is awesome: The drivers are accessible, the competition is good, multiple opportunities every year to witness the action in person, the races are held at reasonable times (instead of at 4:30am Pacific), and no global politics to worry about (that can lead to race cancellations). More boost and aero kits can only help.

  31. Great piece WB. I haven’t been to a race since the CART days, mostly out of spite. Might be time to give modern day Indycar a try.

  32. Thanks for the great comments about our great Sears Point track – don’t care what they call it, it will always be Sears Point. And IndyCar is a wonderful series, although I liked the Champ Cars better. Come back to Sonoma anytime.

  33. i felt the same way at my first IMSA race at summit point in 69 or 70 peter gregg and hurley heywood in a 914-6 that screamed. got my foot run over in the pits and met a lot of drivers.

    great article Will. so glad you had a chance to shake it out..indycar is nowhere near the marketing scheme they call nascar. keep calling it from the pitlane in F1 and give David hobbs hell. Peter Windsor who?

  34. Great article Will.

    As an ex-pat Brit living in Canada I have had the opportunity to attend many IndyCar and ALMS races first as a fan and later as media.

    Having been raised on the limited access of F1, when I first attended IndyCar and ALMS races back in the mid ’90’s it was such a revelation to experience how much more fan friendly, laid back and access was available compared to F1 these series are for the average fan (and media) and also much more reasonable ticket prices too!

    From your article it sounds like you may soon be starting to think about look at homes in the U.S., quite frankly, I wouldn’t blame you either. I can recommend St. Petersburg in Florida, we also have a beachfront house there, this is where the late great Dan Wheldon lived and Seb Bourdais and his family lives today….

  35. That was an EXCELLENT article.
    INDYCAR – as an Englishman who has lived in the USA for a number of years, but having been an F1 fan since the days of Jim Clark, I’ve always had an appreciaton of INDYCAR. What with Graham Hill and Jim having won the INDY 500 back in the 60s I’ve always been appreciative of it’s fame. Having lived in the USA though, I became a big fan of both INDYCAR and also NASCAR (go 24) but more so the late Dan Wheldon and Dario. In my mind, INDYCAR has the reputaion of being ‘OVAL RACING’. I believe it should remain that predominantly, I fear it is heading to the road courses more and more trying to copy F1 – it shouldn’t!

  36. Will – Wonderful article. Such a great read from an outstanding motorsports journalist. Keep up the good work and look forward to your commentary on the Speed F1 broadcasts. Also enjoy GP Week.

  37. Will – Fantastic article! Be still my beating heart! I am so jealous you rode the two seater with Mario, my hero. Am going to my first in-person race at Fontana this weekend. (And then to Austin for F1). Can’t wait!!

  38. Hey Will,
    One of the kind commenters on Jalopnik posted a link to this blog past. Your experience at Indy Car has made a fan out of me. I’ll be watching next season. I’m greatly saddened to hear your team at Speed will no longer be covering F1-my son and I got the F1 itch last season. It was you and your team’s coverage that initially drew my attention, stellar reporting, which will be missed. I’m sure you will land on your feet. Your enlightened appraisal of drivers and constructors, mixed with delicious rumor, has been awesome, drawing myself and many of my friends into the F1 fray. Be well, I hope to see your analysis again soon,
    Wolf

  39. First off….ecstatic we will still see you in F1! Great article (even if I did come across it a bit late). I’m glad you love the indycar fan experience so much. I’d be happy to trade my grandstand seat for your media credentials anytime. You know, just to be accommodating. :-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s