A Tale of 2 Series: F-1 VS. INDYCARS

Tony CastaneiraAnalyst IJune 24, 2008

    This past Sunday I settled down on my couch to watch what was shaping up to be full afternoon of watching racing on T.V...  At 1pm the Formula French Grand Prix was on and the IRL race from Iowa started at 1:30.  No problem.  I’ll watch the F-1 race as I tape the Indycars on my DVR, staying away from my computer so as not to have the results spoiled by any errant mouse click or E-mail press release.

     The F-1 race was glorious.  State of the art formula racing cars accelerating like bullets, braking at impossible distances and the incredible capacity to change directions in corners all confirms the fact that F-1 is the world’s top racing series.  10 different teams, all with easily identifiable yet different cars.  Ferrari, McLaren Mercedes, BMW-Sauber, Toyota, Honda and Renault are joined by the privateers Williams and the Red Bull/Toro Rosso teams.  Six different engine manufactures each with their very own unique exhaust note.  If you pay attention enough after awhile you can close your eyes and tell which car is passing by just by the sound.

     Sure Felipe Massa ran away from the rest as Kimi Raikonnen had to slow down due to a loose exhaust pipe but back in the back the action was enthralling.  Watching Nelson Piquet Jr. hold of wunderkind of the British press,  Lewis Hamilton lap after lap during the early stages of the race was surprising to say the least then the last 10 laps as Hekki Kovalainen reeled in a slipping and sliding Jarno Trulli kept me on the edge of my seat.


      The F-1 race ended all too soon so I took a quick bathroom break then sat back and hit the “play” button to watch the Indycars.   It is times like this I am thankful for the fast forward button.  I used it through most of the pre-race to get to the green flag.  The only thing of real interest is that 2 cars will not be starting the race due to suspension failures during practice.  Having a suspension part break with no warning while doing over 170 MPH on an oval track is not a good thing and shouldn’t happen in a spec series.  Sometimes you have major component failure in Formula 1.  It is to be expected in a series where every car is built to the extreme limit of performance to extract even the most minuscule advantage.  The IRL is a different story.  Every team drives the same car manufactured by Dallara in Italy.  The Dallara can by no means be considered “state of the art.”  In fact it’s pushrod front suspension design dates pack to the 1980’s.  The reason for having a spec series is to contain costs.  The main way to contain costs is to make the parts durable.  Suspension part failure without contact points to a serious design flaw.

     There is one other thing about the Dallara.  How can an Italian company design such an ugly car? 

     The race finally starts and the first thing that jumps to my attention is the straight at the Iowa Track is not much longer than my TV screen is wide (F.Y.I. it is a 32 inch).  It reminds me of a local short track.

     ABC has done a wonderful job with the sound.  If you have ever attended and IRL race in person then you understand that the last thing you want to hear from your home entertainment center is that painful drone of the Honda 3.5 liter spec Indycar engine.  Every car in the series has to run the Honda because all of the other manufacturers have left.  I can’t say I blame them.  Not much of a place to showcase technology when the rules force you to make a motor that is 200 H.P. less than an F-1 motor yet is larger.  F-1 motors are 2.4 liter and have to last over 4 race weekends before being replaced.  Some IRL teams with deeper pockets will replace their Honda 2 or 3 times over the race weekend

     They continue to go round and round…..Fast forward about 25 laps.   Hold on!  Danica is in 9th place.

     Fast forward.  The Announcer points out that last year there was hardly any racing passes at the then new, Iowa track but this year the story is different.   You could have fooled me.  All I saw was a faster car passing a slower car.  Just like passing a car in the interstate.  There was no skill, no setup, and no strategy. 

    I fast forward some more.  Oh my God!  Danica is in 11th place!

    Fast forward again.  Tony Kanaan’s looses it in a turn and backs into the wall.  One of the announcers brings up the suspension piece problem but the other announcer attributes it to “Dirty Air” from the car in front.  Funny, the dirty air didn’t seem to bother Tony Kanaan for the first 210 laps or the others at all.  Later Tony would say that he just lost it but later mentioned that something might have broken.

    Knowing that the IRL takes what seems like forever to clean up after a wreck (how come F-1 can clean up a wreck on a road course in less than 3 or 4 minutes but it takes the IRL 20 minutes to clean up on an oval?) I fast forward again to hear that it is going to be fuel mileage race.  Great so the best driver or the fastest car won’t win but the one who can best make his car impersonate a Prius.  Which must really tick off the Honda Marketing guys as the Prius is made by Toyota.

     The announcer try to get us all excited because this might give Danica a chance to win.  I am about to through the remote at the TV…….Wait.  Isn’t NASCAR running on a road course today?  I hit the pause button, leaving Danica in 6th place, and switch to the NASCAR race.  Over-weight, under-tired, low-tech cars with most of the drivers having little road racing skills……It is an expensive SCCA club race!  It is at least better than what they claim is the “premier’ open wheel racing series in America.

    I watch the rest of the NASCAR race then later go out to dinner with some friends.  After my return home I watch the GP2 race I had taped from the morning.   Then right before I hit the sack I watch the end of the Iowa race so I can erase it and not feel guilty because I need to clear some room on my DVR.  Nothing even remotely exciting happens on the track.

    The best part was when they returned from commercial break and it was obvious that they kept Wheldon from leaving his car to stage a “spontaneous” victory celebration for the cameras.

    Next week the IRL races at Richmond which is a shorter track than Iowa.  So here is another 2 hour race that I can watch in 25 minutes.  I love my DVR.