Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Getting caught up with Indy: Carb Day and the 500

The Indianapolis 500 was a few weeks ago already, but it's never a bad time to rehash the details. Let's just get the winner out of the way, since I'm pretty sure I won't spoil the result for anyone: Juan Pablo Montoya earned his second Indy 500 victory, his first coming back in 2000.

We'll rewind to before the race, however. I can now check going to Carb Day off my bucket list, if I had a list. Anyway, Carb Day happens each year on the Friday before the greatest spectacle in racing. (Yes, I always have to use that phrase at least once.) There's an hour-long practice session for the IndyCars, which is their last chance to get out on the track and test their setups before the big race.

Also among the festivities is a pit stop competition and the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race. The Indy Lights is the support series for IndyCar, like a minor league team.

Race cars in the summertime
We made the long drive to Indy and enjoyed a picture-perfect weather day. Sunny skies and just the right amount of warmth. What could be a better setting to watch race cars? Anyway, we got as far up in a turn four grandstand as we could to watch the practice session. (Fan tip: If you're in the stands for a race and aren't sitting as close to the top row as you can, you're doing it wrong.)

Our view let us see down pit road and the main straightaway, from a distance, and then as the cars entered the last couple turns of the 2.5-mile oval. The speed and the purr of the engines was just great. The only real bummers were a couple of caution flags for "debris on the track." With a crash-free session, I didn't buy that "debris" part.

Tough finish for Freedom 100
We watched the Freedom 100 in the grandstands near the yard of bricks marking the start-finish line. Watching race cars fly by on the main straight is a much different perspective than watching from high above in the stands of a turn, that's for sure. Even the speed of this support series is dazzling.

The Freedom 100s in 2013 and 2014 had amazing finishes. We're talking unheard of finishes. In 2013, it was four wide. Four cars wide! That's incredible, and the times were incredibly close. Last year was another close finish, too. What would 2015 have in store at the end? Not much.

The race went along fine until a late crash. That meant that the caution flag came out and there was no chance of getting things cleaned up in time for a restart. Finishes under yellow are just the worst. Well, unless you happened to be in the lead, I guess.

99th running of the Indy 500
As for the Indy 500 itself, we watched that on TV back at home. It pretty much came down to a showdown between - gasp - Penske and Ganassi, the top two teams in the series. History tells you that the 500 doesn't really ramp up until about lap 180 of 200. The past few years, it's been really exciting to watch these closing laps, because there are lead changes all over the place. You're not sure who's going to win.

Montoya made a pass for the lead with three laps to go, and it stuck. And hey, it wasn't Helio Castroneves, so I was happy with that. He's looking for his fourth Indy 500 win, which would put him in an elite class. But I always say he didn't get the one in 2002, and I'm not alone. Bitter? Eh, I don't care.

American drivers, with famous racing dads, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti finished fifth and sixth. Not bad when they're competing with Honda engines, which are apparently inferior to Chevys this year. These two are both having more success this year, but still not the same as their fathers. It'll be interesting to see if they can break through and get some more wins.

As for next year's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, I really hope to be there for that one.