Sunday, May 28, 2017

The changelessness of Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- And greetings, Blobophile(s), from Race Day, where light is just starting to bleed into the sky off to the east, and there is hot coffee at my elbow, and, yes, I am at the track already, six hours before Gentlemen And Lady, Start Your Engines.

It's an Indy thing. Or at least a Me thing, Indy version. You wouldn't understand.

Anyway ... on to other matters.

Which is to say, I forgive Lewis Hamilton.

I forgive the British Formula One driver for what he told a London newspaper the other day. I forgive him for suggesting the regulars who race at Indy are steerage-class pikers, because one of F1's own, Fernando Alonso, went over there and -- right out of the box -- qualified in the middle of Row 2 for the 500.

"'Fernando, in his first qualifying, came fifth," Hamilton all but sneered to the Daily Mail. "Does that say something about [the level] of IndyCar? Great drivers, if they can't succeed in Formula One, look for titles in other races, but to see him come fifth against drivers who do this all year round is... interesting."

Ah, Lewis. You're too young. Because you know something?

It's not interesting at all. Or even anything new.

Roll back the calendar 54 years, and pretty much the same thing happened. The F1 presence then was Jimmy Clark, bringing with him a (for the time) revolutionary rear-engine Lotus-Ford. Like Alonso, he qualified fifth, too. And went on to finish second behind Parnelli Jones.

Two years later, he led 190 laps and won easily. A year after that, Graham Hill won, Clark finished second and Jackie Stewart finished sixth.

Did that say something about the level of IndyCar?

I don't know. Were A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, the Unsers et al steerage-class pikers, too?

No serious person would seriously suggest that. What they might suggest, then and now, is that if you're as accomplished as most F1 drivers are, and have the kind of juice they have, a couple of things are going to be true.

One, to begin with, you're not just another rookie.

Two, you're not coming to Indy in some back-marker cheesebox, but (in Clark's case) a state-of-the-art ride, or (in Alonso's case) a ride with one of the premier teams in IndyCar, Andretti Autosport.

That gives you a huge advantage over the average rookie. It also doesn't hurt that you're being tutored by people like 2003 500 winner Gil de Ferran and, no doubt, the great Mario Andretti himself. And, of course, you're a former F1 champion yourself, not just a guy who came here from Indy Lights.

So, "interesting," Lewis Hamilton?

Nah. Just history doing what it does in this place: Repeating itself.

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