21 August 2009

A Fine Wine at Sonoma

After a one-week break, the IndyCar Series crosses the country after a dominating/snoozer of a race at Mid-Ohio to Sonoma, where a similar race is almost assuredly to break out.

When the IndyCar Series arrived at Mid-Ohio, I wrote this in my preview:
...I really do. Especially coming off a race in Kentucky that had the following:
  • Side-by-side racing
  • Lack of domination by any one team
  • Green flag racing from start to finish (Justin Wilson's engine trouble aside)
  • Photo finish
Now, time to be the wet blanket: do you see any of those four things happening at Mid-Ohio?
So again, do we see any of these happening at Sonoma? Doubtful. The closest we came to an exciting finish in wine country was in 2007, when Marco Andretti clipped then-teammate Dario Franchitti exiting the pits, damaging Franchitti's car and causing the Scotsman to drop from a probable first or second-place finish to third.

Both Ganassi and Penske have won at Sonoma in each of the last two years (Castroneves, 2008; Dixon, 2007), so they will once again run up front, more than likely.

Andretti-Green (we have four races left to use that) has traditionally run well here, too, with Tony Kanaan taking the inaugural Grand Prix of Sonoma in 2005 and Andretti claiming his only ICS win in 2006. But, we also know how they've run most of the year, so who knows if their five-car stable will show up. Though just doing the math, with five of the 22 cars in the field, they stand a 22.7-percent chance to win the race (Franck Montagny will be driving the No. 25 AFS car).

Look, the fact of the matter is that Sonoma is not likely to deliver the excitement that many fans want in their TV coverage. Road racing is like a fine wine - you have to appreciate the subleties of the course, just as the subtle differences - age, season, variety, etc., in a wine must be appreciated.

While side-by-side racing is prevalent on ovals (at least when the cars are set up properly), the road course is usually more of a physical test, given the number of turns. Yes, g-forces can build up on an oval (see: Iowa), but the road course in the summer really tests the drivers and their machines. The IndyCar must be set up to handle differently, obviously, while tire wear and pit strategy also come into play. And while this might not make for great TV viewing, all these small factors do help build the in-race story lines and create and appreciate for the road course race.

So, with that in mind, here's what I recommend: go to your local bottling shop and buy a bottle or two of Andretti Wine (even if his father's venture, Michael Andretti needs the money - he's going to be running a four-car team on his own, in case you haven't heard). Buy some cheese and crackers (I recommend some pepper jack or colby jack). Drink and eat this during the Grand Prix of Sonoma.

You'll feel closer to Sonoma, which is in California's wine country. Plus, perhaps you'll appreciate the road circuit a little more.

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