Risk vs. Reward is what racing has always been all about, especially Indycar Racing. Saturday we seen this on full display at Auto Club Speedway as some of the most diversely talented race car drivers in the world made 3 wide at 215 MPH the rule instead of the exception. 3 wide seemed quite tame compared to the few times drivers took it 4 wide into a corner or even 5 wide a time or two. Ever since Graham Rahal took the checkered flag on Saturday the racing world has been buzzing about what took place, is it too RISKY and what are the REWARDS for this style of racing?
In 2011 Indycar lost a hero in Dan Wheldon during a race that was considered to be a “pack” racing style of race. At this point the series promised its drivers, fans, and teams that it would not run races in such a matter ever again. The racing this Saturday was NOT the same style of racing that was run on the high banks of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Instead this was racing on a flatter, wider, 5 lane 2 mile track. Cars were able to use every single lane on the race track effectively which is what made the racing so exciting and also it is what allowed a series record of lead changes.
Was it TOO RISKY? No matter what style of racing it is, open wheel racing will always be inherently dangerous. The question after the race was did the downforce that Indycar added increase the risk of drivers’ lives as they battled wheel to wheel for 500 miles. Drivers were split almost 50/50 on how they felt about this style of racing. Road course stand outs think that this style of racing is just dumb while most of the oval ringers said it was a lot of fun and the danger aspect comes with the territory. Fans are also split, old school fans and more casual fans think the drivers should just shut up and drive while the younger generation and some of the more hardcore Indycar fans feel that Indycar can have great racing without increasing the danger aspect.
So what was the REWARD? The MAVTV 500’s TV ratings more than doubled this year. This race has been widely considered as one of the most intense and compelling races of all time. It had a record number of lead changes. The race kept fans on the edge of their seat for the entire 500 miles. The racing was spectacular, but with spectacular racing also comes spectacular crashes, and we saw this when Ryan Briscoe got airborne at the end of the race and his front wing dug into the grass propelling him into a flip. Briscoe walked away from the crash and was one of the drivers that said he “enjoyed” the style of racing even after the flip.
Here is my honest opinion after taking it all in, listening to all perspectives, and thinking with as open of a mind as I could manage after Saturday’s race. Pack racing is a bit fabricated but very entertaining on a wide track like ACS. This is one of the few tracks that this could actually work on because of the multiple racing lanes. However, there is a better common ground than what we seen on Saturday and that would be a downforce package much like we seen at Texas Motor Speedway a few weeks ago and I wrote about this in my “Indycar Hits On the Winning Formula” blog after that race. During that race the downforce level was lower but the drivers were still able to race wheel to wheel for multiple laps at a time. The better handling cars lasted longer into tire stints and the racing was more pure. On Saturday at Auto Club the cars were too easy to drive, the race was more about placing your car in the correct position instead of actually driving it to its limit. I like and prefer the Texas formula but also understand that the closer it is to pack racing, the higher the ratings will climb.
At the end of the day I think it should be left up to the drivers who risk their lives to entertain us. They have a union in which they express their concerns but I have heard many of drivers say that recently Indycar personnel is not listening to them at all. This was being said long before they arrived in California this weekend and continued after the first practice on Friday. Some of the drivers really seemed to enjoy the race so they should have their say too. But one thing is for certain, it is great to hear people still buzzing about an Indycar race 3 days after the fact, other than the Indy 500.