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Long Beach Diary:
Day One
You Can't Always Get What You Want

Long Beach, Calif., April 16 — What a difference a year makes! So much has changed in open wheel racing in such a short time. Back in the pre-unification days, it was said that there was not enough money and talent to support two major open wheel series. I never heard it said that there was not enough money to support one major open wheel series, but that may actually be the case.

The situation with the talent is another story. At one time, I actually thought that unification would clean out the ride buyers. Not a chance – instead we now can see the moving chicane that is Milka Duno make the ICS look like a bunch of rank amateurs – oh wait!

So, without further ado, here is what we want in open wheel racing versus what we have:

We Want: Good drivers to have seats all year – guys like Oriol Servia, Paul Tracy, J.R. Hildebrand, Jonathan Summerton, Dan Clarke, Sebastien Bourdais, Bruno Junquiera, Max Papis, and Nelson Philippe are all absent from full time open wheel racing.

We've Got: A mixed bag at best. The majority of the drivers in the ISC are competent mid packers. And, if you think I am damning them with faint praise, you would be right. There are some clear champions – Dario Franchitti comes to mind as does his teammate, Scott Dixon. But, there are a number of drivers, including Milka Duno, who is a danger to others on any track and Hideki Mutoh, who is not that horrible but suffers from a bad case of mediocrity that don't have a tenth of the talent of a Servia, a Junquiera, let alone a Tracy. Unfortunately, unification seems to have perpetuated the problems that the IRL had before and added many of the problems of CCWS to the mix.

We Want: No more Tony George.

We've Got: No more Tony George. Memo to the F Troop: he's gone, but open wheel's problems remain. What now, guys?

We Want: A healthy Atlantics series.

We've Got: No more Atlantics series. At their last race, they fielded 10 cars. RIP.

We Want: Our Indy 500 back.

We've Got: An Indy 500 that seems to be endlessly tinkered with. On the other hand, it looks like there will be authentic bumping for the first time in decades. Who knew?

We Want: More Americans driving in open wheel.

We've Got: Four American drivers in the Indy Car Series, three of whom had their starts in Champ Car. The exception is Marco Andretti. But, Princess Danica got her American start in Atlantics, Graham Rahal in Atlantics and Champ Car, as did Ryan Hunter-Reay. But American drivers, we've got more of them than in the heyday of CART/Champ Car.

We Want: The DP01 in the top level of open wheel racing.

We've Got: The Crapwagon in its latest incarnation. We lost that battle, and it doesn't look like it's coming back. Ever. Bummer.

We Want: Open wheel to be as popular as it used to be, before the split.

We've Got: An uncertain future for our favorite sport. It has nothing to do anymore with the IRL/CART split. It now has to do with substance versus “entertainment racing.” It was observed on Thursday that perhaps 100 people watched a pit stop demonstration, but when the motorcycles came out, there were thousands. This is the era of NASCAR, “the call,” and the most popular open wheel racer being someone who has won a single race in nearly a decade of competition and thinks it's okay to be photographed as a pinup girl. This is the time when most non race fans think that auto racing is only NASCAR and the sound of race cars no longer resembles a symphony. This is the time when most talented young racers are going into series with cars with roofs, if only to make sure they are not having to shill for rides when they are seasoned veterans. This is the Dark Ages of Open Wheel, my friends. Let's hope a flicker of the flame remains burning so there can truly be a rebirth.

Remember 1999. Sports Car racing was just about dead then, but no funeral rites were performed. A decade later, sports car racing is more popular than ever. In racing, as in life, change is the only constant, so don't get too comfortable or too angry, because just when you've got your mind wrapped around it, it's going to change.

In the immortal words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, you can't always get what you want, but sometimes, you get what you need.

Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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