First-hand view of first half
WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- When I get home Sunday night from covering the IndyCar Series race here at the Milwaukee Mile, I'll have put nearly 9,000 miles on my car's odometer in the last 30 days.
All that time behind the wheel gives a man plenty of idle time to think, so here are half a season of observations and opinions obtained from trackside, pit lane and paddock over the course of attending 14 of the 16 Champ Car World Series and IndyCar Series races contested so far in 2005.
Best new event: The Grand Prix of Edmonton was proof that Champ Car's formula for downtown events works -- especially in Canada. The fact that it was a great car race was just a bonus.
Best re-invented event: The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which served as a perfect springboard for the IndyCar Series' inevitable move into road racing. But it was puny in comparison to the Edmonton event.
Endangered species: The IndyCar race at Phoenix International Raceway reportedly drew fewer than 8,300 spectators and Champ Car's announced attendance of 26,012 at Milwaukee was so optimistic it was laughable. Maybe it's time to just leave oval racing to NASCAR.
Best Champ Car newcomer: It would be easy to award this to 18-year-old Andrew Ranger, whose potential for the future is almost unlimited. But fellow Toyota/Atlantic graduate Ronnie Bremer has been more consistent on track this year.
Positive Mental Attitude (P.M.A.) award: Patrick, who has accepted the dark side of Danica-mania with incredibly good grace.
Petulant Male Sportsman (P.M.S.) award: At the other end of the spectrum, Dan Wheldon has constantly sniped at Danica in the press since she upstaged his victory in the Indianapolis 500. He even had the cheek to claim in Sports Illustrated that he is "bigger than [David] Beckham." Uh, time for a reality check, Dan.
Comeback award: 2000 IndyCar Series champion Buddy Lazier parlayed a competitive top-five run at Indianapolis into additional seat time with Panther Racing.
Strongest quote: Assessing the current state of engine play in the IndyCar Series after Toyota announced its withdrawal at the end of 2006, Honda's Robert Clarke said, "If we were to walk away too, we could do serious damage to the series."
"Wrongest" quote: After Danica Patrick crashed out Tomas Scheckter and Tomas Enge at Indianapolis, her car owner Bobby Rahal casually observed, "No harm, no foul." Let's see what Rahal says the next time two of his cars come back in on a wrecker.
Best race: The IndyCar race at Kansas was clean and green and featured a photo finish, even if the drivers involved claimed it was staged.
Worst race: Champ Car's GP of Monterrey, Mexico, where 32 of the 76 laps were run behind the pace car and the longest green flag run was 12 laps. Champ Car's ho-hum procession at Milwaukee wasn't much better.
Luckiest victory: Wheldon at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. How could Panther Racing have been more than two laps off in its fuel calculations? The championship leader had already received a gift win from teammate Tony Kanaan at St. Petersburg.
Most-deserved victory: Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais couldn't figure out how Cristiano da Matta beat them at Portland International Raceway. Here's a hint, guys: He was faster when it counted. Wheldon's dominant win in the IndyCar Series opener at Homestead, Fla., was impressive too.
Best TV innovation: ESPN's "Side By Side" keeps viewers tuned in to on-track action during commercial breaks.
Biggest TV blunder: The IndyCar Series' network partners have occasionally forgotten about the actual race they are covering in their zeal to keep everyone updated on how Danica is doing.
Lost opportunity: For the last 10 years I figured American open-wheel racing would reunify before the feuding members of Pink Floyd. But David Gilmour and Roger Waters actually shared a stage during the London Live 8 concert on July 2. The fact that Champ Car's new management entered discussions with the IndyCar Series about creating a single open-wheel series was encouraging, but the fact that nothing came of it was not surprising. In keeping with the Floyd theme, I therefore predict pigs will fly before Champ Car and the IndyCar Series work together.
Additional predictions for the second half
1. Wheldon will hang on for the IndyCar championship but it will go down to the California Speedway finale.
2. Bourdais will prevail over Tracy in Champ Car.
3. A.J. Allmendinger will win a race but Danica won't.
4. Ryan Briscoe will crash at least two more IndyCar Series cars.
5. Watkins Glen will be the first IndyCar race run in the rain.
6. I won't be doing another 9,000-mile month on the road anytime soon.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
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