PREVIEW: IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen

Photo: IndyCar

The second-to-last race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, at Watkins Glen International this Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) is the last in a three-week back-to-back-to-back run of races which have all been a bit abnormal.

Pocono Raceway’s ABC Supply 500 brought the series off a two-week break, yet was delayed to Monday, August 22, due to rain. Texas Motor Speedway’s Firestone 600 occurred but five days later, Saturday, August 27, with the resumption of the rain-delayed-from-June race and a thrilling final 177 laps.

Watkins Glen this Sunday, however, wasn’t even supposed to happen this year. Courtesy of an incredible two-week effort between track president Michael Printup and INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye and their respective staffs, Watkins Glen made the calendar as the eleventh-hour replacement for the canceled street race in Boston.

Here’s what could be some of the key talking points for the penultimate round of the season.

2016 IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen – Talking Points:

PAGPOWERtmsPagenaud vs. Power, again

Simon Pagenaud’s pivotal drive at Texas on Saturday night may be enough to secure his first title. A fourth place finish to Will Power’s eighth extended his lead to 28 points.

Power has won at Watkins Glen while Pagenaud is yet to race at the track. Still, figure either enters as the pre-weekend favorite.

Here’s a breakdown of their points battle throughout the year to the right, because I got bored and made another line graph in Microsoft Excel.

The desires of those who need or want a win

James Hinchcliffe came up 0.008 of a second short at Texas. Tony Kanaan has been close-but-no-cigar all year. Same for Helio Castroneves. Ryan Hunter-Reay’s been unlucky; Mikhail Aleshin’s been on the doorstep.

These are but five drivers who could use their first win of the year. There are more in that category, as well.

Ludicrous, ludicrous speed

The official track record heading into this weekend is 1:28.1322 (137.657 mph) set in 2009 by Ryan Briscoe at the 3.4-mile road course.

Weather pending, the question isn’t if the track record will be beat at the freshly repaved road course – but by how much.

Unofficial test times from both a Firestone tire test held in June (via and a bigger group test in August (full list here, social roundup here) have pegged the cars anywhere from three to four seconds quicker, and the estimates could be in the 1:24 or lower range.

“Everyone is blown away by the speeds. If the fans want to go to any race, go to that place, because it looks like unbelievably fast. It looks crazy from the outside,” said Graham Rahal, the Texas winner who tested at Watkins Glen in the August test, and also watched trackside as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires driver Ed Jones took over his No. 15 Mi-Jack/RLL Honda in the morning.

Downforce levels

Watkins Glen combines the elevation, long straights and high-speed corners of Road America, the tight right-handed Turn 1 of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and flowing back-and-forths of Mid-Ohio and Barber to create its 3.4 miles.

And that’ll make downforce levels a gamble, depending on how much teams want to trim out. As ever, if you go for a higher downforce setting you sacrifice top-end speed but could be quicker through the already ridiculous corners. Going for a lower downforce setting gives more speed for the straights but costs you in the corners.

The repave unknown, vs. the unknown unknown

The repaving of the track presents really the only unknown of the weekend, and nearly three hours of practice time on Friday will ensure the field gets a quality amount of track time.

Comparing that to the other would-be race of the weekend, Boston, presents a more known quantity than what the field and anyone on site would have had to tend to otherwise. Traditionally, first-year street races have hiccups on the first official day of running. And that’s not a knock on them, but more illustrates a point that owing to the complexities of organizing and getting the streets shut down and the course set up, running on schedule becomes a luxury.

Looking at road course performance this year

The four permanent road courses this season have produced these results:

  • Barber: Pole: Simon Pagenaud, Win: Simon Pagenaud
  • Indy GP: Pole: Simon Pagenaud, Win: Simon Pagenaud
  • Road America: Pole: Will Power, Win: Will Power
  • Mid-Ohio: Pole: Simon Pagenaud, Win: Simon Pagenaud

Four permanent road course races. Four Team Penske poles. Four Team Penske race wins. Four wins from pole.

Results don’t always tell the full story, though, and all four wins have featured tight win battles. Pagenaud and Rahal staged an epic bout for the win in the final laps at Barber; Tony Kanaan was coming like a freight train on Power at Road America but came up a lap short; Pagenaud needed to pull off a ballsy, aggressive passing move to pass Power at Mid-Ohio, and that only became the win battle once Mikhail Aleshin fell out of it on a pit stop.

Obviously, the question this weekend will be whether the Penske/pole/win stat rolls on. Overall though it’s been a case where you need to qualify in the Firestone Fast Six to make the podium; only Helio Castroneves at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Carlos Munoz at Mid-Ohio have parlayed off-sequence strategies and good yellow timing into podiums.

Podiums this year on permanent road courses have been this with these starting positions:

  • Barber: 1. Simon Pagenaud (1), 2. Graham Rahal (6), 3. Josef Newgarden (3)
  • Indy GP: 1. Simon Pagenaud (1), 2. Helio Castroneves (13), 3. James Hinchcliffe (3)
  • Road America: 1. Will Power (1), 2. Tony Kanaan (3), 3. Graham Rahal (6)
  • Mid-Ohio: 1. Simon Pagenaud (1), 2. Will Power (2), 3. Carlos Munoz (15)

Pit road drama

There’s been way too much drama in the pit lane this year. Whether it was Aleshin at Mid-Ohio, Alexander Rossi with Charlie Kimball and Helio Castroneves at Pocono or a couple near misses in Texas – plus the obvious one back at the Indianapolis 500 – there’s almost been more intensity in terms of entering and leaving the pit road than on track. At least until the closing laps of Texas, that is.

The final word

From defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, a multiple-time winner at Watkins Glen:

“Watkins Glen is one of those old-school, traditional road courses. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the INDYCAR circuit and we’ve had a lot of success there in the past with Team Target. The layout is really a driver’s track. I think every driver was excited when they announced we were going back. It’s a place where Indy car racing belongs. I’m glad INDYCAR was able to continue this relationship into the future, too, after the recent announcement of the 2017 schedule.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule: 

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, Sept. 2
11 – 11:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, NBCSN (Live)
3:30-5:30 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, (Live)

Saturday, Sept. 3
11 – 11:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, (Live)
3 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), (Live); TV: NBCSN (Taped, 6 p.m.)

Sunday, Sept. 4
10:30 – 11 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, (Live)
1:55 p.m. – Driver Introductions
2:30 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
2:37 p.m. – INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (60 laps/202.2 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s race’s most recent top 10 (from 2010)

1. Will Power (pole)
2. Ryan Briscoe
3. Dario Franchitti
4. Raphael Matos
5. Mario Moraes
6. Dan Wheldon
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay
8. Scott Dixon
9. Helio Castroneves
10. Justin Wilson

Here’s race’s most recent Firestone Fast Six: (from 2010):

1. Will Power
2. Helio Castroneves
3. Ryan Briscoe
4. Dario Franchitti
5. Takuma Sato
6. Justin Wilson

Vicki Golden and 805 Beer tell a unique story from an Inverted Perspective


Vicki Golden has earned a career worthy of a thousand stories and 805 Beer tells at least one of them, as “Inverted Perspective” premiered March 30 on the company’s website and YouTube channel.

Golden did more to break the glass ceiling in SuperMotocross than she ever thought possible. She knows this because riders have never felt the need to explain any of her accomplishments with the disclaimer, “for a girl”. 

At this point in Golden’s career, she’s been the first woman to finish top 10 in AMA Arenacross Lites, the first woman to qualify in the Fast 40 in Monster Energy AMA Supercross and the first woman to compete in freestyle Moto X competition, earning a bronze medal by doing so.

Her love for moto came from childhood while she watched her dad and brother ride. By seven she was on her bike and making waves throughout Southern California. 

Golden, 30, is still madly in love with the sport and has no plans on moving away but her career is already one to talk about. 805 Beer’s film series wanted to do exactly that.

“I’m taken aback by it all,” Golden told NBC Sports about the documentary. “It’s just crazy to see your story, it’s one thing to live your life and battle everything that comes about but it’s another to just sit there and talk about it.”

805 approached Golden about the feature by asking, “Do you even realize that what you do, and your story is special?”

Golden took the question as a blank canvas to map out the highs and lows of her career and life. 

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The title “Inverted Perspective” came from a brainstorming session with Dominick Russo and it highlights Golden’s outlook on the sport of SuperMotocross and her life in general. 

“My whole life, my whole career was thinking differently and looking at things that shouldn’t be done and aren’t there, while being able to make a place for myself, where no one thought there should be a place,” Golden said.  “It’s inspiring someone to think in different ways. It sums up my life.”

Vicki Golden is not “fast for a girl”; she’s just fast. – 805 Beer

While Golden is no stranger to the spotlight, this was the first time she’s been fully involved with the storytelling and creation of a feature about herself. 

“It’s not like a full new experience,” Golden said. “Obviously, you get your standard questions about your upbringing and accomplishments, but I’ve never really put into perspective things that happened in my past with my dad and putting that to light. Also, certain other things that maybe got overlooked in previous interviews or films. I wanted to touch on these and Dom wanted to create a story. It’s just cool to see it come to light, it’s a nearly impossible thing to tell somebody’s life story in 40 minutes.”

Golden’s father was left paralyzed after an ATV accident, robbing him the opportunity to ride again. This happened a few months before the father-daughter duo was set to compete in the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Nationals when Vicki was 12. While she might have been unable to grasp the severity at the time, it’s something she carries with her. Golden continues to ride in his honor.

Years later, an accident in 2018 nearly sidelined the then 25-year-old Vicki when a freestyle accident almost resulted in the amputation of her lower leg. 

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Golden 805 Beer
Vicki Golden has ridden a variety of disciplines in SuperMotocross, which gives her a unique perspective. – 805 Beer

“Inverted Perspective” highlights her father’s diligence in helping Vicki continue with her career and the kindness and strength he carried while fighting his own battle. 

“My dad was the entire reason that I started riding in the first place,” Golden said. “So, to honor his memory and to honor what we went through and how hard he pushed to keep our dream alive and keep everything going – in that sense then, it was really special to be able to honor him and talk about him.”

The 40-minute feature was filmed entirely in black and white, a stark contrast from the oversaturated world of motocross where the brighter the suit the easier it is for fans to find their rider and follow him in the race. By filming in monochrome Russo and Golden had the chance to focus on the race and track from a different perspective. 

“It was cool to be able to film it differently,” Golden said. “It created a challenge in the sense of what was going to be more visually impactful for the film.

“I couldn’t be here without the companies that back me but at the same time, it’s not like the logos or colors disappeared, it’s just different lights shed on different spots. It’s just a cool way to do it and to take color away and still be impactful. When you think of black and white, you think of old school, the OG way of doing things.”