2013 GRAND PRIX OF BALTIMORE

Race became reality TV and we loved it

Grand Prix had something for everyone — fast cars, crashes, controversy

Simon Pagenaud's No. 77 car took the checkered flag in front of young American Josef Newgarden and fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais to win the 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Video)

No doubt, a lot of open-wheel racing afficionados were shaking their heads after the Grand Prix of Baltimore turned into a demolition derby on Sunday, but the "chaos" that prevailed on the debris-strewn downtown course was just what the event needed to capture our admittedly primative imaginations.

This is America. We don't like soccer. We don't like chess. We didn't even like real baseball until the steroid scandal shamed us back into it.

Let's be honest, we claim we want to support public broadcasting, but we'd rather watch Shark Week. So, yes, the purists probably didn't like the fact that the Grand Prix turned into a high-speed war of attrition, but the casual fans who are really the key to the success of the event are more likely to come back to next year's race (if they can find a suitable date) if it promises to be another fender-bending fiasco.

The average American sports fan has the attention span of a chipmunk, so Sunday's race was everything we ever wanted in a Grand Prix but were ashamed to admit.

It had crashes …lots of crashes. It had controversy. It had the racing equivalent of a beanball war when 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix champ Will Power forced Scott Dixon into the wall and out of the race just a week after Dixon accidentally ran into a member of Power's pit crew at the Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

When Dixon got back to pit row and strutted angrily past Power's car, it almost turned into Golden Boy Productions reality television, which – as previously noted – is right up our alley.

For the record, Simon Pagenaud took the lead from Marco Andretti with seven laps to go and held off Josef Newgarden and Sebastian Bourdais to win his second IndyCar race of the season. And that was just fine, if you actually care who won, but you probably don't.

Bourdais thought it would be him until all hell started breaking loose.

"It really looked like the race was pretty much in the bag, but then, you know, the race started to be the usual Baltimore chaos," he said, "and it was one restart after another and it was just survival."

Or, as we like to call it, rush hour.

Three years in, there is a wide variation of opinion among the IndyCar drivers about the Baltimore course. Those who have run well in the race seem to like it a lot and those who have distributed various pieces of their cars around the track aren't so keen about it. They seem to recognize, however, that the unpredictability of it is pretty entertaining.

"…It was a pretty exciting show and everything," Bourdais said, "but at the end of the day, when it's just a series of incidents after incidents, it just reflects poorly on everybody and we just look like idiots and I don't think it's the best.

"But I don't know what the fans want to see — do they want to see racing or do they want to see crashes — but I definitely saw the first half of it was racing and the second part of it wasn't so much."

We do know the answer. The casual fans around here don't know squat about the science of racing or have any understanding of what it takes to get an IndyCar ready to survive 75 laps over an uneven asphalt street track. When Pagenaud talked after the race about the great job his team's "engineers" did getting his car ready for Baltimore, the hardcore gearheads knew exactly what he was talking about and everybody else's eyes glazed over.

The beauty of this particular race was that everybody got to see what they came to see. The real race fans got a clean start and an exciting finish. The first-time curiosity seekers enjoyed a great Baltimore street festival and a chance to see the cars up close in the paddock. The casual race fans in between got a little bit of everything.

The Grand Prix was eventful and exciting and there were enough subplots to create a race-themed soap opera, which is just what it's going to take to make this event marketable in the admittedly uncertain future.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

 

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