IndyCar Fans Have Reasons To Be Thankful
There has been a lot of gloom and doom in the blogosphere lately regarding the IZOD IndyCar Series, and I can’t say I haven’t generated some of it. Even though things looked bleak following the late October firing of CEO Randy Bernard and all of the subsequent gnashing of teeth; there are still a lot of good things going on in the series.
After all, just yesterday we got to meet Mark Miles, the new CEO of Hulman & Company. Say what you will about the board’s bungling of firing Randy, but I was very impressed with Mr. Miles. Jeff Belskus seems to be growing more and more fond of his interim role as IndyCar CEO along with being President and CEO of IMS, so we’ll see what happens there. Even though he still holds the interim title, it seems to be a growing possibility that he may shed the interim tag and become Randy Bernard’s permanent replacement. At least he is capable of keeping the ship steady, even though he doesn’t seem particularly fan-friendly or real forthcoming with any information. He certainly steered clear of Robin Miller’s question asking him what he brought to the table that Randy Bernard didn’t. Anyway, as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we IndyCar fans have to be thankful for as the 2013 season approaches.
A much-improved on-track product – At this time last year, the new DW12 was having some teething problems and we didn’t really know what to expect. But the car with the funny back-end proved to be a winner. Not only has it shown toughness and durability pounding the curbs of street courses, it has shown it can take a fairly substantial brush with a concrete wall and keep going. The rear “fenders” may need some re-working as they have shown a tendency to eat the front wings of cars making slight contact, but other than that, it has proven to be strong.
It has also proven to be much racier than its predecessor. Tracks that had previously given us dull races (i.e. Barber) suddenly put on good shows in 2012. Most importantly, the car performed well at the Indianapolis 500, giving the fans one of the best races there in years.
With a few tweaks to the chassis, I think we can look for more of the same in 2013 and a few years beyond.
A better engine situation going forward – Lotus dropping the ball in 2012 didn’t just spell disaster for the five cars starting the season with Lotus power. It affected other teams that were counting on Honda or Chevy power. Each manufacturer geared up for the 2012 season with plans to power at least forty percent of the grid, based on three manufacturers pulling their weight. That should have accounted for 120% of the grid being covered – an adequate cushion under normal circumstances. But the Lotus situation last season did not provide normal circumstances.
Not only did Lotus fall short of its goal by supplying engines to only five cars of a twenty-six car field, they were agonizingly slow. This put Chevrolet and Honda into a bind, by forcing them to produce more engines on short notice to be able to fulfill most requests. Sarah Fisher Hartman racing did not find out they would be getting a Honda engine until the eleventh hour. Michael Shank owned a DW12, but was shut out of the entire season because he could never secure an engine deal. By the time the series arrived at Indianapolis in May, all but one of the Lotus teams had jumped ship – putting an even greater burden on Honda and Chevy to have just enough engines to fill the field at Indianapolis.
With Lotus all but officially gone for 2013, Chevy and Honda know what they’re up against and can plan accordingly. They will both be required to supply at least sixty percent of the field. This ugly situation should be a thing of the past for 2013.
Possible greater car count – Many things can change and things usually do between Thanksgiving and the first race in March, but it looks like there may be more full-time cars on the grid for 2013 than previously. With the added cost of a brand new car, I’m still amazed that the fields for each race were as large as they were this past season. With the exception of one, it looks like all teams are certain to return in 2013. HVM’s future looks a little cloudy with the defection of Simona de Silvestro to KV Racing Technology. HVM has no driver, no sponsor nor an engine deal. Plus, a lot of key personnel followed Simona over to KV.
Speaking of KV, they have contracted from running three cars full-time in 2012 to being a two-car team next season with Simona and Tony Kanaan. That pairing assures KV as having one of the most popular teams in the paddock with the fans. Team Penske also looks like they may contract from their three-car operation and Ryan Briscoe looks to be the odd man out, unless more sponsorship can be found. There is also the matter of filling the seat vacated by Graham Rahal at Ganassi
So with HVM up in the air and contraction at two and possibly three teams, that’s a potential loss of four cars. How can I say that there may be a greater car count? Many one-car teams are trying to run two cars full-time next season, including Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, Schmidt-Hamilton Racing and AJ Foyt Enterprises. Some will reach that goal, while some will not. Michael Shank hopes to answer the bell for 2013 and there is talk that Eric Bachelart may be back on the grid with his Conquest Racing Team. My guess is that by the time the season opens at St. Petersburg in March, there will be at least one more car on the grid than there was in 2012.
Better schedule – No, the 2013 schedule is not ideal. In fact, it is far from it. The series will be returning to every venue they raced at the previous season, except for Edmonton. They have added a street course event in Houston and everyone is excited to be returning to Pocono for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.
There is still a shot at adding a seventeenth venue in the gaping hole in September. It had been rumored that a race in Italy might go there, but that has gone quiet since the Randy Bernard firing. Stay tuned on that one.
Before Bernard’s departure, he somehow got ABC to agree to air the Texas race during primetime on Saturday night. This is huge for the series to get network TV coverage for this race and it comes on the heels of the Indianapolis 500. Two good races on network television is a lot more likely to hook a potential new fan than just one. Hopefully, the series can capitalize on this unique opportunity for exposure.
A star-powered grid – Although most of them are stars to us – to the rest of the world the drivers may not be so recognizable. That will come (hopefully). But this group of drivers is the most competitive I’ve seen for quite a while.
There will be two three-time Indianapolis 500 winners in the field this May, as Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti each chase a fourth victory. That’s the first time we’ve seen that caliber of multiple winners in the same Indianapolis 500 field since Al Unser, Rick Mears and AJ Foyt all competed as four-time winners for the only time in 1992.
There will be other strong veterans on each grid next season with the likes of Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani. They will be going up against exciting young talent such as James Hinchcliffe (who I predict will win two races next season), Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Simona de Silvestro, JR Hildebrand and Josef Newgarden. Rubens Barrichello is a grizzled veteran, but will only be a second year driver in IndyCar, but he bears mentioning too. Ditto for Pippa Mann, who will hopefully find her way into a full-time ride next season.
So, as you can see – for all the hand-wringing we all did about the future of the series just a few weeks ago, there is still a lot of good going on in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Are there some major issues that need addressing very quickly? Of course. But the series isn’t headed off of a cliff, as some have projected. There were a lot of positive developments that came from the 2012 season that give us a lot to be thankful for as we look ahead to 2013.
Please Note – There will be no post here on Friday Nov 23rd or Monday Nov 26th. Susan and I will be traveling this Thanksgiving weekend to the home of my 88 year-old mother (and yes, she still does all the cooking), and I don’t care to spend my holiday time sitting at a computer. I will return here on Wednesday Nov 28th. I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving! – GP