Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Teardown Tuesday: Breaking Down the Greatest Day in Motorsports

Miss any of the action in Monaco, Indianapolis or Charlotte? This Tuesday our Amy Branch breaks down the big storylines from the Memorial Day weekend.

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
By Amy Branch

The Greatest Day in Motorsports

Memorial Day weekend is special in the United States in many ways. We honor lost service members. We celebrate the first long weekend of the summer. We spend time with family and friends, grilling in the backyard or heading to the beach or lake. It's not only Americans who celebrate the weekend though. In the racing world, fans all over the world enjoy one of the most exciting days in motorsports, with racing from dawn until late in the evening.

The day starts with the famous Monaco Grand Prix, a Formula One race which takes place on Monaco's twisty, narrow streets, and ends with NASCAR's longest race at her home track in Charlotte, N.C. Sandwiched between is one of the most famous races in the world: the Indianapolis 500, celebrating its 100th race this weekend.

It's a long day of racing, but worth every minute.

Formula One, Monaco and Tires

In NASCAR, drivers rarely race in the rain. Slick tires and heavy loads on rain tires make it nearly impossible, except at a road course. Formula One racing doesn't have that problem. With several different tire selections for each race, a rainy day in Monaco didn't stop the race from starting. Using treaded tires designed to race in the rain, the F1 drivers started the Monaco Grand Prix under yellow behind a safety car for the first seven laps while the rain stopped and the road started to dry.

Once the racing surface was mostly dry, cars came to pit road to have intermediate tires installed. These tires are still treaded, but less so, designed to race on a track that is wet but without standing water. As the track dries, teams then can opt to change to one of three compounds, decided by Formula One well ahead of the race. For Monaco, teams had the option to use soft, supersoft or ultrasoft throughout the race. F1 regulations state that drivers must use two of the three types of tires provided for each race.

The softer a tire is, the more grip it has. Grip means speed, but a soft tire is also less durable. The idea is that teams will choose differing tire compositions as strategy, hopefully creating a better racing experience.

Monaco gave fans just that. There were botched pit stops, like when pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo's team didn't have his tires ready when he pulled up to the pit box, costing the Australian the win. Team orders were ignored -- the Swiss Sauber team of Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson ran into problems when Nasr ignored team orders to let the faster Ericsson pass him. Eventually, Ericsson ran out of patience and tried to pass his teammate to disastrous effect: the two cars collided and the team's day ended.

At the end of the day, champion Lewis Hamilton picked up his first win of the year, breaking an eight-month dry spell.

100th running of the Indianapolis 500

Since 1950, IndyCar fans who lived near Indianapolis had two options to see the storied Indianapolis 500 each Memorial Day weekend: they could buy a ticket, or wait until the early evening for the delayed broadcast. This weekend, for the first time in 66 years, local IndyCar fans were able to watch the race live on TV, thanks to the first sellout crowd ever, pleasing anyone in central Indiana who couldn't make the race. Around 350,000 people were at the track to watch the 100th Indianapolis 500, and neither those watching up close nor at home left disappointed.

After a chaotic race which saw the leaders crash on pit road and a fuel mileage race to the finish, American rookie Alexander Rossi drank the milk and kissed the bricks. The driver for Andretti Autosport didn't even have a ride at the beginning of 2016, and he'd never driven on an oval track before the Phoenix race in April. That didn't stop him from beating faster cars to the finish line using fuel strategy.

"I have no idea how we pulled that off," Rossi said."We've had our struggles. It's been a new experience for me. We've worked very hard every day to try to improve and get things better. It's just a huge testament to the great people I have around me." 

With 10 laps to go, the 24-year old didn't pit with the rest of the field, and he stretched his fuel just long enough to cross the finish line first. Rossi's race car was sputtering on the last lap, but he worked his clutch and conserved just long enough to win, and be towed to Victory Lane for his celebration.

One for the record (and story) books: the Coca-Cola 600

Pure and utter domination. No other words can describe what Martin Truex Jr. did Sunday night. The Furniture Row Racing driver led a staggering 392 of 400 laps, or 588 of 600 miles, the most of any driver in any race in the history of NASCAR. He was passed only one time under green flag conditions, by Jimmie Johnson, for about half a straightaway. Other drivers couldn't catch him, no matter how hard they tried during the course of the grueling race.

Truex has been seeking his first win of the year, but until the Coca-Cola 600, misfortune plagued the No. 78 team in 2016. He almost won in Texas, Kansas and Dover, losing each race to bad luck and resulting in crushing disappointment.

"It's just kind of sinking in now that we won the 600," Truex said, visibly emotional in Victory Lane. "Really proud of my team -- everybody that made this possible, that believed in me, gave me this opportunity. Just a lot of emotion right now. Not really sure it's sunk in yet. Just an amazing day, an amazing weekend for all of us. It's a weekend you dream about."

Truex's win was celebrated throughout the garage and on pit road. After months of heartache and bad luck, none of his fellow competitors begrudged Truex this win. As he drove to Victory Lane, teams lined up on pit road to congratulate him, and some drivers came to Victory Lane to join in celebrating what may be the biggest win of Truex's career to date.

No matter which series they watched on the longest race day of the year, fans were treated to a fantastic day of racing capped by a storybook win. It's hard to ask for better than that.