Bobby Rahal's column: Left and right at Indy

Bobby Rahal's column: Left and right at Indy

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Bobby Rahal's column: Left and right at Indy

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We’re just off the test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and although there’s a month break in-between IndyCar races, we’re not resting.

To start about the track, it’s hard for me to comment on the different configurations because I didn’t drive it. Graham did say going into Turn 1 in the anti-clockwise direction was difficult due to the various buildings and track sections that converged at different points. In the end I think he preferred the conventional direction but it seems as though Indy car has several reasons to run the proposed race in an anti-clockwise fashion. And in the end, there are most likely numerous changes to even that layout, so time will tell!

There have already been many opinions expressed about running a road course race at Indy and how it may detract from the 500. But I disagree. Why not have a really unique event kick off the month of May? I was a traditionalist until the stock cars came in, which I disagreed greatly with at the time. I was very vocal about that. But tradition went out the window right there and then for me. As I said then, they don’t have more than one golf tournament at Augusta. That was my point at the time. In the end, not only has there been annual NASCAR races but throw in F1, Grand Am, MotoGP and heck, even the Mini-Marathon and perhaps you get my drift?

So why not a road course race at Indy?

Additionally, I understand all the reasons for wanting to end the schedule on Labor Day. In the CART series we tried that a number of years ago. Your TV ratings take a real beating even NASCAR’s do in the fall, because everything’s football. I fully appreciate and understand that. But for me, it’s still a matter of trying to get some spacing in between the races to save the crews and everyone else. If you’re going to stop then, we need to try to start in late January or early February. We need to have events to do that to allow some spacing. That’s easy to say because every promoter out there wants to have date equity, and run them when they’ve always been. And I know Indy Car is listening, so in the years ahead I am confident we’ll move to a schedule that respects the workload of the crews and the needs of the promoters and IndyCar itself.

That is, frankly, why I’m in support of these potential international races to run in the offseason. It opens up the potential for worldwide sponsorship, opens up opportunities to bring drivers from different nations to the series. I see nothing but positives. I don’t know all the details and of course the devil is in the details, as they say, but if it didn’t cost the teams more to participate I’m all for it.

You could probably start in the winter of 2014-15, as it’s probably too soon for this winter. I have friends in South Africa who have expressed interest in a race at Kyalami, which apparently has been bought and refreshed. So why not Brazil or going back to Surfers then? There’s a lot of venues you could participate in if you had the time, and that’s probably a great time to do it.

On-track, I attribute Graham’s recent uptick to a number of things. Since about midyear, we’ve really stepped up our damper program and put a big effort into it. We’ve got one of the better programs anyway but I think we were a bit behind. We have a better understanding now. And certainly our new engineer Neil Fife has provided a different perspective for us, and a fresh approach. In the end, for a driver, if the car’s consistent, that gives you the self-confidence to push the car. I’ve told people all year when they ask, “What’s the matter with Graham?” that it’s not Graham. It’s the team, it’s us, and it’s the car we’ve been giving him. We’re giving him a car that works now.

There have been glimpses of his competitiveness. Long Beach was quite strong. Brazil strong before getting hit in the restart and pushed to the back. At Indy, toward the end of the race, he and Dixon were running together and they were the first two Hondas, but he had a mechanical issue on a pit stop and tire issue right toward the end. There’s people now saying, “Oh it’s the Graham of old.” Well, we’ve had the “Graham of old” all year, but we just haven’t given him the car. Now we’re beginning to.

At Baltimore, he was very strong position throughout the race and passed quite a few people, and after the Hinchcliffe situation he passed a couple cars yet again. Without question we had a car to win. But despite being taken out you go away thinking, now we’re getting it. We have to continue providing him the car he needs, and we’re starting to understand it a bit better.

The contact with Tony was so obvious in our case, because Tony basically drove Graham into the wall, with no attempt to try to not touch. Now, that sounds to me like avoidable contact, but it wasn’t called. So the issue to me is wondering what’s avoidable, what’s unavoidable, and what is or isn’t legal. And I think that’s where the drivers are questioning what the ground rules are as well. It seems built on sand, shifting every now and then with no one really being confident as to what is or what isn’t!

As another example, the call on Tristan Vautier in qualifying for instance, cost us $30,000 in damage and the guy totally ignored the yellow flag! In the end he did get put probation, whatever that means, and a $10,000 fine but it didn’t affect him going into the top six of qualifying. And that seemed so unfair.

So, in any event, it’s a consistency aspect that really has got everyone going. Certainly, that’s an area that needs focus for the rest of this year and into the winter and I am confident Derrick Walker and staff will sort it out for 2014.

Additionally, James Jakes has been a bit snake-bit lately for sure. We had an engine issue at Sonoma for him and then a gearbox control issue at Baltimore. I don’t know what you can do about all that. Some of these things are out of your control. When James has had the opportunity, he’s done quite well and it makes things a bit more for all concerned.

In other “new” news we’ll have Jack Hawksworth testing in a couple weeks as well. Jack did a great job in Baltimore, and he’s pretty psyched about coming to Sebring. It’s a great experience for him, I’ll be there and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do.

On the ALMS side, there’s no question we got lucky at Baltimore. One of our cars was at the back of the field, so the wreck was over when it got there. But the other car was really lucky to squeeze through that whole mess.

It’s been tough, because at Elkhart and Mosport we lived through our expectations that we’d be uncompetitive. We were 6mph slower than the Vipers on a straight, and the Viper gained three tenths just on a front straight at Elkhart. That’s impressive! At Baltimore we had the chance to even the odds, and had a chance to win in the 56 car but the amateur driving the Patron car almost crashed at the chicane, which balked us and gave the opportunity for the Corvettes to jump us. It’s frustrating as we had the chance to win. I think when push comes to shove, there needs to be a reconsideration of the whole starting process at Baltimore as that caused a lot of problems for both series.

So, on to Austin for the BMW team and I have to say I am really excited to see this great new circuit. I think we’ll once again struggle because of the long straights there but who knows what will happen. I do know we’ll give it our best shot!

We’re a bit lucky looking ahead to 2014 on the sports car side. In the GTLM category, we pretty much know what the rules are as USCR rules will mirror those of the ACO and that’s a nice thing. But teams in the DP, P2, LMPC and other classes are all waiting and getting understandably nervous. The first series test is in early December which is just around the corner.

And it would sure be nice to have the schedule out. You kind of know where we’re going but you don’t know the dates. You’re trying to put the budgets together as Sept. 1 is a date a lot of corporations set their budgets for the following year. I am confident we’ll know soon, however.

What a pleasure it’s been to have Joey Hand with us in 2013, even though it’s been on a temporary basis. He’s been very competitive in the DTM series this year and the consummate professional when with us. And talk about a team player, he gave up his points at Baltimore so that we could employ a strategy that would have won the race! Thanks Joey and good luck in the remaining DTM races.

So now we get John Edwards back in the 56 car for the rest of the year. He’s done a great job filling in for Joey and I know he’ll be quite quick at Austin and beyond. We’re looking forward to the end of the year and putting the Z4 in a few more Victory Circles.

Until then, see you at the races!

-Bobby

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