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Now, Helio Winning Is A Good Thing?
IRL Fans Are A Funny Lot

I don't get it.

Last year, IRL fans were going into epileptic fits because CART swept the top five positions at the Indianapolis 500. This year, they are cheering an IRL driver winning. The only thing is, it's the same driver.

So, let me get this straight. Last year, an evil Brazilian with an un-American name driving for the Satan of all car owners wins Indy. This year, a talented driver with genuine American-style enthusiasm driving for the savior of the IRL wins Indy.

I still don't get it.

First, we have to give credit where credit is due. Controversial ending aside, the IRL did a lot better than the past two years when CART walked in, shot first, and asked questions later. The IRL was a lot stronger this year with fine performances from Sam Hornish, Jr., Tomas Scheckter (exactly the type of driver IRL fans railed on CART for so many years -- an F1 washout with no oval experience who comes in and kicks butt), and Felipe Giaffone (another Brazilian who IRL fans railed on CART for). And some of the pit work from IRL teams were exemplary, Menard and Penske not withstanding.

However, once again the IRL drivers shot themselves in the foot by continuously crashing out of the race while in the lead! The rate of this occurrence the past three years has just been mind boggling. This time it was Sam Hornish, Jr., and then even more shocking, Tomas Scheckter who was virtually already spending his winnings.

It was also nice to see some IRL 500 traditions continue on. Menard still hasn't won the race. Greg Ray once again crashed -- I lost that pool, actually giving Ray more credit than 28 laps. Sarah Fisher, the most overrated driver in IRL's brief history, dropped back faster than a three-legged horse at the Kentucky Derby. But, hey, she did finish a race this time!

Second, CART was not the dominating force they were last year. One lap alone nearly single handedly took care of the entire CART contingent as Jimmy Vasser broke a gearbox while simultaneously Bruno Junquiera's engine let go, whose oil caused Tony Kanaan to smack the wall. Dario Franchitti and Max Papis were never in contention. However, CART drivers also had some very strong performances, from Bruno's early run to Kanaan's furious pace to Tracy's solid ending.

As for the winner, let's face it, the Penske team is virtually a CART effort. In other words, they have the means, personnel, and talent on par with CART, not the IRL. They merely decided to run the whole IRL season instead of just the Indy 500.

Now, before IRL fans start zipping me email, yes, the Indy 500 champion will be at the next IRL race, not the next CART race. And that's a big deal. No question about it.

But, I don't understand it. Why is it that the exact same team and driver that so many IRL fans were glad not to see at Indy in the first few years of the split is now perfectly okay? Why is it that CART going overseas is a bad thing, but IRL going to Motegi is a great victory? Why is it that having engine manufacturers dictate the series and rules is a bad thing (well, actually we do know why that is a bad thing) while the IRL getting both Toyota and Honda, two of the strongest and most powerful manufacturers in the world, and two whom directly dictated their will to CART for many years, is a good thing?

That's because IRL fans are so blinded by Tony George's so called vision that they are willing to be fooled by the man who has one goal in mind -- to take over open wheel racing. The thing is, that's the only vision he has. He'll do whatever it takes to destroy CART, spending millions of his own dollars and abandoning all of his dictums to get it done.

Make no mistake about it. He doesn't care about the good of open wheel racing. Only his hatred to CART. He's come right out and said so. "I bring a hammer to work everyday," was his response to whether the Honda announcement is yet another nail in CART's coffin. Certainly, George has every right to be cocky. I would also in that position. I don't begrudge him that.

The problem is, if (and perhaps when) he takes over open wheel racing, will it really be for the better? Let's take a look at what he has promised in his vision.

The IRL is setup to help the American short track open wheel driver. Though there are still some remnants of those sort of drivers in the IRL, they are becoming fewer and fewer, and quite frankly how many new drivers from that form of racing have appeared in the last couple of years in the IRL?

The IRL will be an All-American oval series. Well, Motegi has finished that idea. Granted, George did say at times that he would like some overseas events, and openly admitted to talking to Japanese and European venues in the past. But still, I find it hard to believe that George will not continue going to overseas events if the money is right.

The IRL will not do road races. Not only has George openly stated that road racing is not totally ruled out, he mentioned last week that he wants two overseas events for next year, perhaps one of them being a road course (though, I believe it will be one of the European ovals). And how about the very strong rumors of the IRL taking over the events at Road America and Mid-Ohio?

The IRL will lower the cost of racing. Well, here's a laugh and a half. It was true for maybe the first year or two. But with new specs, Toyota and Honda involved, and the schedule expanding to the size of CART, fielding an IRL team, especially one to compete against Penske type operations, will cost just as much as a CART team. Don't kid yourselves.

So, to all you IRL fans, if (when?) Tony George wins this battle, and controls open wheel racing, and he has a schedule that includes half a dozen or more international events, races at Long Beach, Road America, Mid-Ohio, Cleveland, Laguna Seca, and Miami with a plethora of European, Brazilian and buy-a-riders without a Midwestern short tracker to be seen, what will you all think?

Maybe wish that Helio Castroneves didn't win this year's Indy 500.

I just don't get it.

Copyright © 2002 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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