Las Vegas Diary, Part 2
The Race, Mr. Wilson, and Me
Las Vegas, NV, September 26 ó The very first thing I would suggest to Champ Car about the Las Vegas race for next year is that they start their race earlier. Even though I altered my schedule as much as possible on Saturday for a late race, I, along with most of the crowd, was positively sleepy when the green flag finally waved at about 10:15 P.M.
Fortunately, the 18 racecar drivers were not similarly afflicted. Jimmy Vasser, for one, was looking forward to a most unusual race day. He planned to "sleep in, eat my Momís breakfast, and then have a swim." The race didnít end until nearly midnight, by which time I can assure you that the press corps was running on caffeine, if not on empty. Thus, an earlier start Ė perhaps the original 9:00 P.M. Ė Would work much better for this event.
Second, it is essential, imperative, absolutely, positively, overwhelmingly necessary for Champ Car to have a public address announcer who can explain to the crowd what is going on Ė on the track. This did not happen Saturday, and it severely weakened the experience for nearly all the spectators. Bruce Flanders, who was the voice of the series under Chris Pook, is particularly adept at the art of informing without being insulting or cloying or overly technical. I have no idea why the New Owners did not retain Bruce, but he was sorely missed at LVMS. When the mother of all yellows was thrown early in the race, no one, not even Mr. Announcer, seemed to know what in the blazes was going on. This really spoiled the race for the NASCAR stay-overs. While others have blamed the officiating, surely some of this must be shared by the failure of Champ Car to simply inform the crowd.
We were joined on the Media Center patio by an odd assortment of non-media types, including a man who told me that the white flag waving meant the last lap of the race. Jeff asked me later if I punched the guy. Instead, I gave him my best Nancy Reagan glance and said, very blondly, "Really?" I also did a Nancy while talking to Justin Wilson on Friday. It must have been during the time when I failed to mention his Formula One experience while interviewing him. I was thinking at the time, "man, am I an idiot."
At any rate, we enjoyed the duel between Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais. It seemed to me that Bruno had the faster car Ė but Sea Bass kept pulling ahead. It was also the first race in a long time when Justin Wilson really seemed to break out from the pack. At one point, Mr. Wilson was running fourth. It seemed that his last set of tires kept him off the podium, but it is obvious that he will podium soon Ė if not this year, then certainly next. The Wilson breakout that we were expecting actually happened, ironically, on a track that he did not feel would show his driving skill. Thatís okay, the manís skill is driving Ė not in prognostication.
Shortly after the race Julie and I witnessed something that was beyond strange Ė and Iím still not sure exactly what we saw. We were able to figure out for ourselves that Tag stayed out on the track and began to be scored in P1 after Hunter-Reayís spin because the pits are normally closed right after the yellow is thrown. We heard that Rocketsports was protesting the penalties being thrown Tagís way. And we also know that Tag, while a great guy and talented driver, can be something of a hothead. What we saw, however, was a Champ Car official, or to be more precise, a male in a Champ Car staff shirt, yelling and shaking his finger in a very aggressive manner at Tag on pit road at about 12:10 A.M.
The question is, why? This went on for several minutes, and Julie and I watched in some amazement. Normally, officials are cool and professional, especially with drivers. I would say that this shocked us, and thatís somewhat true. But, we were more incredulous than anything else. Since we were in the Media Center behind glass and could not lip read, it will probably remain a mystery what the official was saying to Tag and why. But, it is very unusual for such personal animosity to be directed at a driver by a series official.
I was very surprised that we all managed to stay awake during the very entertaining post race press conference. Youíve got to love Bourdais. He is very humble, does not do donuts, and heís very articulate. Itís too bad we had to listen to Bruno whine for endless minutes during his interview. I just wanted to reach up and slap him and say, "Enough! Itís not all about you!" Of course, I couldnít. And, as usual, Patrick Carpentier was his usual funny, charming self. His description of his racing gearbox was one of the highlights of the weekend. I am sure going to miss him and Iím sorry if the reports are true and heís off to the IRL. Oy vey.
So, what can I say about a race weekend that featured a breakout performance by Mr. Justin Wilson, mystery and officiating errors surrounding Alex Tagliani, and another brilliant win by likely champion Sebastien Bourdais? Iím really glad they did this race; Iím grateful I was able to cover it in spite of all the problems.
Oh, yeah, see you next year at LVMS! This time, donít forget to feed the press more caffeine, okay?
Copyright © 2004 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.