3 for 3 on Holy Race Day Heartbreaks: Monaco the Most Unfortunate

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3 for 3 on Holy Race Day Heartbreaks:  Monaco the Most Unfortunate
Monaco Grand Prix

Wow.  That’s all that can be said for either a die hard race fan or the leisurely sports watcher tonight. That’s what may make this years “Holy Race Day,” as I’ve come to call it, so special.

It was one of those days where even someone who didn't know what in the world was going on, Still had their voices shouting in amazement of what they were seeing. 

Starting with the Indianapolis 500, one had originally thought that Dario Franchitti would smoothly drive a conservative last stint of the race, slowly allowing everyone ahead of him to pit while staying ahead of anyone on his same strategy. 

When Dario began to back off substantially, you then thought it was Scott Dixon’s day, who had been as dominant as Dario all race.  If not him, then Dan Wheldon, who was also quick and not worried about fuel. 

Then in the most incredible fashion, a driver who I didn’t even know was In the race itself, put himself ahead of Dixon and Wheldon solidly.  “He must be some guy that's about to pit,” I thought; but he wasn’t. 

With two laps left, the math worked out for him to win considering the gap he had on Wheldon.  Where did this kid come from?  Well, that was the answer in code, as he was a rookie with little experience. 

The disaster that occurred off the final corner of yesterday's 500, may be the biggest choke in Indy 500 history, or maybe even racing history period. 

Of all possible last-second chokes, it wasn’t about getting passed at the last second while trying to drive as quick and smooth as possible in either a slower car or a scenario where a faster car was coming through the field (Marco Andretti, Indy 500 in 2006.  The only other time in history that a driver lost the lead of the 500 on the last lap. 

And by the way, what a race that was with the Andretti story and Hornish's story all occurring simultaneously), running out of fuel (fairly common) or stupidly thinking the race was over and slowing down too soon (Bjorn Wireheim in an F3000 race at Monaco in 2003, or Mark Martin at Bristol in 1994); it was a crash on the 800th corner of 800, with 99 percent fault on the driver. 

One could say it was bad luck that he had to catch a lapped car at the worst possible place, but passing lapped cars to leaders of races is like passing cars on the way to work when one is late. 

It’s part of the common task that one must accomplish at a subconscious level.  But this does bring up something else; I personally, put this utterly atrocious calamity to the spotter of JR Hildebrand. 

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His spotter should have told him before going into turn 3, that A. there was a lapped car coming up that he would catch, and B. he had a substantial enough lead to relax, and substantial enough to not even attempt a pass on that lapped car. 

This is something you would tell a driver of Jim Clark's ability or a rookie, especially with how easy it has been to accidentally go one inch too high in the high groove at Indianapolis and put your car on a red carpet ride to the wall lined with no buffet, no girls in gowns, and no wine.  All of this is even more amplified with two corners to go. 

The young kid, as he explained after, kept pushing because he thought Wheldon was too close behind, and tried to get to the finish line as soon as possible.  For now – the rest is history. 

With it, maybe the first second-place finisher to be remembered as much if not more than the winner. 

Regardless, the young Trevor Bayne made a couple of brilliant decisions in the last mile of the Daytona 500 to win as a 20-year-old rookie.  JR, good information by his spotter or not, made a terrible mistake that will live with him until his memory is destroyed. 

This he is probably trying to accomplish by Monday morning.  He will unfortunately and undoubtedly fail. Poor Kid. 

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I must say how unbelievably impressed I was with how calm and composed JR was in the post-race interview. 

Most of us would have been taking bits and pieces of the car and hurl them at the nearest inanimate object or corner marshal until there were no pieces left to throw. 

In the end, Dan Wheldon was a highly deserving winner.  He was more emotional than anyone I have ever seen win anything at Indianapolis. 

He had a story concerning his mother with Alzheimer’s, and he was racing for a small team that was fully behind him, led by his friend Bryan Herta. 

Most of all, this was a one-off race for Wheldon in 2011.  He is not a regular driver in the 2011 season.  What a one-off it was. 

As a remarkable side note to this the 100th Anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, Dan Wheldon led only that last lap for the win: the fewest laps led by an Indy 500 winner.  The previous record was two laps in 1912. 

Furthermore, Dan came in second place in both 2009 and 2010.  He led no laps in either of those races.  Hence, one lap led for a second, second, and win over three years.  Realistically, about ¼ of a mile led, but the only ¼ of a mile that matters.    

For JR Hildebrand, no matter how you cut it, without even beginning to go back in our minds to think of every single race we have ever seen in any series from 1900 onward, this event that was seen on Sunday was no doubt in the Top 10 greatest driver chokes of all-time in motor sports considering the magnitude that is the Indianapolis 500.  More likely, Top 3. 

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To touch on the Coca-Cola 600, can one say “Who Won?”  In the seemingly more common fuel mileage races, Sunday’s fuel mileage freak show provided more lead changes at the end of a race than any I can remember in recent memory in the sport of racing. 

Greg Biffle seemed like he might have a chance to hold off Charlotte master Kasey Kahne, ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Ragan, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.  Matt was flying 0.500 seconds quicker a lap than both Kahne and Biffle, but had to pit with just a few laps to go. 

During the yellow flag that came out with less than a handful of laps to go, Biffle had to pit giving the lead to Kahne.  Easy win for Kahne now?  No, as Kahne ran out of fuel at the restart, bottlenecking up anyone on the high side. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. would of course take the lead, and do so until the last corner of the longest race on the NASCAR schedule. 

So that means David Ragan got the win?  No, as he was on the high line when Kahne stalled.  Denny Hamlin for the checkered flag?  No, as He ran out of fuel on the final corner just as he was catching the newly fuel-less Earnhardt.

So then, who the heck won?  Kevin Harvick from absolutely nowhere.  Well, kind of. 

He was third in line on the bottom of the restart behind Earnhardt and Hamlin.  Kevin was about the most undeserved winner possible for this race as for one, he stated in the post-race interview that he hates Charlotte as a track, and most importantly Harvick had his teammates (luckily in the right place at the right time) pushing him while he had his engine shut off under the yellow flag, trying to save as much fuel as possible. 

So a car that was being pushed by his friends at 50 mph, ends up winning the 600-mile race three minutes later.  How this is legal, is completely beyond me.  It gives yet another advantage to those teams with more cars, hence those with the most financial power.     

Although, the biggest heartbreak of the day may have actually come in the Formula 1 race at the principality.  We as fans were robbed of probably the single greatest Formula 1 battle ever seen at Monaco, and just possibly one of the greatest Formula 1 battles in its history. 

All of this disaster, because of a monstrous contradiction of definition, which was not a problem just recently.  When do you ever get three considerably different sets of tires on three cars right next to each other? 

When do you get this situation where the oldest tires are on the car in first, the car with moderately old tires is second, and the car with the newest tires sits third?  Moreover, when do you get all of this, at Monaco??  Never.  

Well, it happened Sunday, and was going to continue into the remaining 10 laps with lapped cars ahead, making the battle even that more exciting. 

But the cars ahead had an accident, causing a yellow flag and then a red flag.  As bad as that might be, the race would be resumed, so not much lost at all in terms of entertainment. 

That was until the world heard that you could actually work on your car during a red flag, and yes, change tires.  I don’t know if I have ever been more disgusted at Formula 1. 

In an age where so many things are changing for the better and if not, much better, this was a travesty.  A red flag is to suspend the race as if in mid air.  Even touching the car would change the outcome of the race to the tiniest of a degree, outside of restarting the car. 

But to change tires, and worse off, be able to fix the rear wing of a car (Lewis Hamilton), is absurd.  Completely absurd. 

I am, and have been a major Sebastian Vettel fan since 2007.  But this was not the finish I, nor anyone wanted. 

Alonso would have dove down for a pass in a do or die fashion after a couple of laps of fighting hard.  He has nothing to lose.  And who knows what Button may have done? 

Today, we were robbed of what would have likely been a historic finish to a moor race.  What we saw for those few laps before the yellow flag was just an appetizer to what the remaining laps would have been. 

Still, one of the greatest Holy Race Days of all time.  Just depends on who you were rooting for.

 

        Musically and Racingly -

 

                                   Cory Pesaturo  

 

www.CoryPesaturo.com  

World Digital Accordion Champion        

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