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MAVTV 500 – a truly competitive oval race

June 29, 2015
Graham Rahal was oblivious to the shenanigans by his team in Victory Lane - Anne Proffit photo

Graham Rahal was oblivious to the shenanigans by his team in Victory Lane – Anne Proffit photo

It’s been entertaining reading and watching all the commentary about Saturday’s MAVTV 500 on the Auto Club Speedway 2-mile oval in Fontana, Cal. I was there in person – I saw what transpired on that track – and I have been working this series from the time it was co-sanctioned by USAC and SCCA. This was one of the most entertaining, exciting and competitive races I have seen in ages.

Graham Rahal at speed - Anne Proffit photo

Graham Rahal at speed – Anne Proffit photo

This may come as a surprise but I’ve got to go along with two opinions, the one from racer/team co-owner Ed Carpenter where he stated on Twitter: “I love close @IndyCar racing. Hate to see drivers bad mouthing a series.  If you want to race, race. If not, retire.”

Carpenter also retweeted a comment Ryan Briscoe, who was involved in the final lap incident after racing at the front of the field for most of the contest’s 250 laps: “I thought today’s @IndyCar race was awesome. A few drivers need to show more respect out there, but the racing was fierce & exciting.”

Robin Miller, working for racer.com posted a video in which he extolled the race as one of the best he’s seen – as did the legendary A.J. Foyt – and ravaged INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles for the low pay generated by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing winner Graham Rahal ($30,000 won’t even cover travel expenses for this small team) and the grand number of solar reflectors, rather than fans in the stands to witness a fabulous oval race.

There were drivers that didn’t like the fact that they had to race side-by-side with two or three or even four or five cars on the extremely wide, D-shaped Fontana oval. Prime among them were guys like runner-up Tony Kanaan, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya. I take the latter driver, who continues to lead the Verizon IndyCar Series points standings after his fourth-place result, to task for his comments, recalling the Colombian’s victory at Michigan in the 2000 CART race where the racing was very similar. He raced tight and clean during this race – what’s the problem?

Tony Kanaan, who finished second by the proverbial hair, was glum on the podium - Anne Proffit photo

Tony Kanaan, who finished second by the proverbial hair, was glum on the podium – Anne Proffit photo

Kanaan, in particular, brought up the prospect of another Las Vegas, where the great Dan Wheldon died from unsurvivable injuries in a race that never should have been held. If anything, that race is the reason Randy Bernard no longer works for INDYCAR. It was the final stanza for the old Dallara INDYCAR chassis and brought drivers out of the woodwork and onto the track that never should have been there. Period. It was stupid driving that caused that chain-reaction accident; there’s no comparison to Saturday’s Verizon IndyCar Series race.

Oh, and Kanaan was one of the fiercest and most aggressive drivers out there, diving, bobbing, weaving his way through the traffic, going high, going low and generally racing at least three-abreast most laps. His outside moves were mesmerizing. And then he trashed the way the race was held? And the requirements set by INDYCAR for his Chevrolet aero kit? Kanaan missed a second consecutive victory by inches; that’s the only complaint he should have.

As we’re casting blame for all of the group racing, let’s also remember the amazing reliability we experienced in this contest. Although James Jakes lost an engine in the second practice session and was unable to qualify, not making it to tech in time, there were no other debilitating mechanical problems in this 500-miler – that weren’t of the team’s or driver’s doing.

The entire meeting featured close racing - Anne Proffit photo

The entire meeting featured close racing – Anne Proffit photo

The sole injury sustained during the MAVTV 500 came to a member of Dale Coyne Racing, Olen Trower was hit by driver Tristan Vautier during their first pit stop, marking the fourth time this year a team member has sustained a pit injury.

Only about 5,000 people witnessed this great race... here is the 2nd to final caution - Anne Proffit photo

Only about 5,000 people witnessed this great race… here is the 2nd to final caution – Anne Proffit photo

On Saturday I saw a tremendous level of trust, respect and diligence on the racetrack. Quite frankly, I thought it was going to be slow going, with green-flag runs breaking up the cautions. To go through 135 laps before throwing yellow was, to my mind exemplary racing on the part of 23 Indy car drivers. They raced single file; they raced many-wide and they raced clean and fast. Closing speeds into the first turn were most often in excess of 220mph.

Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Sage Karam race close and safe - Anne Proffit photo

Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Sage Karam race close and safe – Anne Proffit photo

That the race ended with a spectacular accident – from which all participants walked away – was a darn shame, especially since INDYCAR did throw a red flag at the previous caution to try and ensure a green-flag finish. When a driver gets turned on the track, though, something like this is going to ensue – unless the cars are so strung apart as to be boring (see Texas, which used to be pure entertainment). Schmidt Peterson Racing will have to build a new car; Andretti Autosport will have to replace some parts but neither Ryan, Briscoe nor Hunter-Reay, needed any medical assistance and that speaks to the veracity and safety of these cars.

Rahal and fiancee Courtney Force embrace in Victory Lane - Anne Proffit photo

Rahal and fiancee Courtney Force embrace in Victory Lane – Anne Proffit photo

These 23 racers were hired to put their lives at risk – even in front of only 5,000 amazed fans – and they raced hard and clean. Except, of course when they didn’t. And if you’re not going for it at the close of 500 miles, you have no right being in a race car. If a driver doesn’t heed Takuma Sato’s credo of “no attack no chance” in the final 10 laps of a 500-miler, maybe they should do as Ed Carpenter suggests and retire.

By Anne Proffit

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