The NTT IndyCar Series reached the halfway point of the season Sunday, and here’s how things stand after the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course:
There’s more heat under the helmets than under the engine covers.
Roman Grosjean was sorry about bumping Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta in the keyhole corner.
But Grosjean is really, really ticked off at a soon-to-be ex-teammate, Alexander Rossi (who is moving to Arrow McLaren SP after this season), after some aggressive elbows-in-the-ribcage moments, one that sent Grosjean’s car into a tire barrier. If there was a thought bubble over Grosjean’s head, “keyhole” wouldn’t be the word he’d have used.
Back to Herta, he wasn’t too pleased with his crew after they didn’t call him in for a pit stop like other drivers just before a yellow flag waved while he was running among the leaders. When he did pit, he returned near the back of the pack.
As if Grosjean’s earlier frustration wasn’t enough, he appeared to hit the rev limiter of his patience during a late-race request to “protect your teammates.” His response -- “I’m not going to protect Rossi.” – was followed by a reply from the pit box that “Rossi is not a lap down. You are.”
Even after the cool down laps, not much had cooled down in the Andretti camp.
Reporters near the Rossi pit after the race saw team owner Michael Andretti ride up on a scooter and deliver a terse, “Where is he?” before pulling away.
Grosjean spoke fairly calmly post-race, apologetic for the bump with Herta but bewildered by all the contact with Rossi. The word “idiot” did come up. (Flashback: early in the season at Barber Motorsports Park, Grosjean was the bowling ball and Graham Rahal was the pin, twice in the same corner. Rahal used some rather descriptive words about Grosjean after that one.)
After a race of oops and loops on track, an Andretti Autosport PR rep made perhaps the save of the day. Just as someone asked about the appearance of tension within the Andretti camp, she pulled Grosjean away from reporters, saying, “He’s got to go.”
Oooooooh. Things are getting juicy! Any chance that documentary series IndyCar wants to put together can start now?
This is all aside from Scott McLaughlin’s impressive victory Sunday, and Team Penske teammate Will Power’s recovery to finish third after a first lap spin that put him at the back of the field, and a tight battle for the season championship which Marcus Ericsson narrowly leads over Power, Josef Newgarden and Alex Palou.
But that’s something that’ll play out over the remaining eight races. What we now have is racing with anger, bitterness and, hopefully, storylines worth following the rest of the season.
IndyCar needs this.
As close and competitive and entertaining as the racing has become – six different winners and nine different pole winners in nine races this season – the series still comes off as vanilla in the minds of the general sports fan. Improved TV ratings are great to see, and it shows that more people are taking notice.
But, at least once a week when I mention IndyCar to someone who isn’t a regular follower of the series, the usual response is: “You mean NASCAR?” No, that’s stock cars; this is open-wheel racing. “Oh, so Formula 1,” is what I'm normally met with in reply.
The Average Abe knows the Indy 500, but he probably can’t name five drivers who were in it, if that many. Try this: Next time at work or school or church, ask who won this year’s Indy 500.
I love taking first-timers to an IndyCar race because when they sense the speed, the sounds, the smells and the machinery in a way that’s impossible to translate on TV, they’re hooked. There’s nothing like being there, but there’s a greater audience that needs to be captured. Some way, somehow, the passion and personality that I know exists within the sport needs to come out.
Die-hard fans may love alternate race strategies – does a team start on primary or alternate tires, two pit stops or three, overcut or undercut their stops? – but if that’s all the intrigue there is to a race, it’s not going to grab the average sports fan.
Drama, emotion and dust-ups are what does the grabbing.
With more than half the Andretti team upset with each other and the ire coming through clearly on the NBC telecast Sunday, it was a perfect side story to the main plot.
It can’t happen every week, but the potential is enough to make a person look.
What happened at Mid-Ohio was great theater. And kudos to IndyCar officials for keeping penalty flags in their pockets for all but the most flagrant incidents.
It was more than a race, and I can’t wait to see what unfolds in the next race in Toronto on July 17.
Sure, some of the chief principals may be teammates, but it's pretty clear that from here on out, it's going to be every man for himself.