Schedule gaps a necessary evil in F1, IndyCar seasons


It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and we’re smack dab in the middle of two several-week long breaks in the Formula One and IndyCar calendars.

It feels like there’s been longer periods of inactivity this year because, well, there have been. F1 is in the midst of its annual August summer break, four weeks from Hungary on July 28 to Belgium on August 25. But there have been three-week gaps four times already: from Malaysia (March 24) to China (April 14), Bahrain (April 21) to Spain (May 12), Canada (June 9) to Britain (June 30) and Germany (July 7) to Hungary (July 28). But for the remaining nine Grands Prix of 2013, there are no gaps of that length, and the last six F1 races of the year are three sets of back-to-back weekends, which will push the crews to the max.

IndyCar’s schedule was first-half heavy, with 13 of the 19 races between March 24 and July 14, and only six the rest of the way through October 19. The insane stretch of weekends from before Indianapolis in May through Toronto in July featured exactly one off weekend, June 28-30, which was ludicrous. But now IndyCar is into a heavy stretch of breaks, too: three weeks from Toronto (July 14) to Mid-Ohio (August 4), another three weeks until Sonoma (August 25), and a full month between Baltimore (Sept. 1) and Houston (Oct. 5-6).

News is at a minimum particularly in the dog days of July and August which means speculation runs rampant, and the “silly season” rumor mill heats up. Honestly, it’s just a way to fill space and print, and when you prefer official announcements to guesswork (as I do), it tends to grate. It’s kind of that in-between “we’re not at the awesome, exciting starting portion” and the “thrilling, championship chase climax” points of the year. We’re just kind of along for the ride.

The difference for F1 and IndyCar, unlike the summer baseball months for instance, is that on-track activity ceases to exist save for a few tests here or there, because of cost cutbacks. There’s not a daily grind of games, but there is a thrash at race team shops, as crews work tirelessly to find that extra aerodynamic or damper improvement that could provide that necessary extra tenth or two to put them over the top. You don’t see it, unfortunately, because teams aren’t going to be giving away their secrets.

Breaks are good, but this year’s been tough in the way the schedules have shaken out to provide a consistent dose of open-wheel racing either every weekend or at least every other weekend. It’s something I hope the schedule-makers can rectify in part for 2014.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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