Up to Speed with Ryan Thoma

Quite a lot has developed over the last couple weeks! Both Formula 1 and Indycar hit the track for their first sessions of the year and each series has some exciting new teams and drivers. The biggest news being the emergence of Haas F1, who are officially America’s first Formula 1 team since the 1986 season. They joined preseason testing in Barcelona last week with the new VF-16. While the team doesn’t have any American drivers, I have to say the car looks pretty impressive! For Haas to build a brand new car, turn over 450 laps, and sit halfway up the speed chart in its debut is no small feat. I’m excited to see how they stack up in the opening round at Melbourne March 19th. The Australian Grand Prix tends to be a race of attrition, and if Haas F1 can just finish, I would expect them to score some championship points.

 
 

Indycar kicked off their pre-season testing on the oval at Phoenix and followed that with the road course at Sebring. New names this year include Formula 1 transfers Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi. Don’t be surprised if they struggle getting up to speed on the Indycar circuits though, learning the nuances of those tracks will take time, regardless of talent. Conor Daly is the feel good story of the pre-season, finally securing a full time ride while Spencer Pigot enters as the defending Indy Lights champ. What’s not going to change in Indycar? The dominance of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. I guess the real question is how the Hondas will hold up. They made some strong gains to end the year last season, let’s hope they can keep the racing competitive with the Chevys. I've even created an Indycar Fantasy League, which was a blast last year. You get to pick four drivers each week, so sign up! The league name is "Push-To-Pass" and the password is "uptospeed"!

 
 

NASCAR has a new downforce package for the teams this year. After watching the last 80 laps of Atlanta and last weekend’s race in Las Vegas, it’s clear the product has improved. Dale Jr said it was one of the most fun races he’s been a part of because the cars were racing again and the long green flag runs took luck out of the equation. The new package, and the fact that I can still tune in to see Jeff Gordon (as a FOX Sports broadcaster), has kept my interest for the time being.

And then there’s Formula 1’s new Halo. While it won’t be introduced until 2017, Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were the first to test the new addition in Barcelona. Drivers like Lewis Hamilton have bashed the Halo calling it one of the worst changes in F1 history, while others are praising its progress in protecting the driver in the cockpit. Vettel really said it best; the halo is ugly, but it’s going to save lives. As much of an open-wheel traditionalist as I am, I have to agree with him. The device wouldn’t have helped the fatal accidents of Jules Bianchi or Dan Wheldon, but the contact that Justin Wilson suffered from might have actually been prevented. It’s hard to justify not taking this step. We could argue that it’s the risk drivers today take, given all the other advancements in safety, that they don’t want to drive with a carbon fiber guard over their helmet. In the end, I have a feeling that the halo, in one form or another, will find its way to open-wheel racing.