Was the St. Pete Grand Prix an IndyCar race or Pro Formula Atlantic race? Sometimes it was hard to tell. Covered in cautions at times you wondered had these drivers tested these cars at all. Less down-force was the goal and that was achieved wrapped in a car that is aesthetically pleasing.
What was sorely missing was a professional show from drivers who should have the skillset not have turned a street race into a demolition derby. Granted, street races are not like normal road races. Bumps, scrapes, uneven pavement and walls. Oh those walls. You can’t make a mistake because if you do, you get to meet one of these walls.
These drivers should have been able to adapt to this environment by the first race. They get more testing than Formula One. They’re slower than Formula One. They get more equality than Formula One. They’re supposed to be the best drivers in the world. So why did they crash so much at a street course they know and Formula One drivers don’t? They know Monaco.
My first professional race was in Pro Atlantic at St. Pete on very nearly that same road course layout. I had never raced an Atlantic, never driven a street course, had no testing, never done a standing start and hadn’t driven in a year. But, I knew from the short practices that everyone around me thought they were the next big thing in racing, including me. But, I knew they were going to crash, they didn’t, and crash they did.
My only hope was NOT to crash and make up as much as I could on the start without getting hit. It was the biggest chance I took that day given that I was personally responsible for the crash damage. I picked up nine places on the first lap and that’s where I languished, in fourth.
Every single lap felt like I would crash the car any minute. It was driving me. That’s what I watched on Sunday. Was it a bad race? No. Was it a great race? No. Should these drivers have the ability to adapt quickly to a low down-force car? Yes, but they didn’t.
However Wickens did. He’s not a racing rookie by any means. He’s played the low down-force game before driving for Mercedes in German Touring Car (DTM) series. Others in the field had tested extensively on rough surface tracks such as Sebring and knew what the lack of down-force felt like, but they couldn’t resist. Wickens drove like the consummate professional by understanding his equipment and not over driving it. But, in the end, he made a rookie mistake in a top professional series. He was too nice.
One would think the other drivers might have done the same. If you have a second place car, then you better drive it to second place, not throw it wildly into a turn that you know you wont make. Rossi had no choice, he had the car, had the chance, could have made it clean and went for it.
The now famous crash between Rossi and Wickens is a different story. I have to go along with Paul Tracey here: “But in reality, it looks like he didn’t get a great restart, didn’t protect the inside, left the door wide open, and I can see it from Rossi’s perspective. If it was me, I would have drove it down the f*****g inside as well. You could’ve driven a Mack truck through there. I would have been disappointed in Rossi if he didn’t go for it. Rossi went for it, ultimately, they banged wheel to wheel, and he hip-checked Wickens out of the way. But the door was left open and that’s what racing is.”
All in all, the cars look better, several of the teams are new, there’s new blood on the track and other than all of the sub-par crashing it was a good race to watch.
This, of course, is tantamount to saying “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play”.
C’mon IndyCar, you guys can and should have done better.