My Wish List For 2011
Well, Christmas and New Year’s Day are finally behind us. I ate well, relaxed, visited with family and even attended the Music City Bowl and watched my Tennessee Volunteers suffer a controversial and heartbreaking loss to North Carolina. Last night, I enjoyed giving my Indianapolis friends a good scare before the Colts finally beat the Titans on a last second field goal. After watching bad football for four months between the Tennessee Titans and Tennessee Vols, I’m ready for something different. Now that the holiday blur is behind us, there’s only one thing to focus on – the upcoming 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season.
In all the years that I have closely followed this sport, I’m not sure that I’ve ever witnessed an offseason quite like this one. I was surprised that there were any new engine manufacturers to announce they would be joining the series when the new equipment came on board in 2012. Not only did we get one, we got two – when Chevrolet and Lotus both announced they would be joining Honda. When the ICONIC committee announced the new equipment this past July, most of us (myself included) reluctantly resigned ourselves to the fact that Honda would be the sole engine supplier to the series probably at least through 2013. Getting two manufacturers to commit this early is just the latest bit of magic pulled off by Randy Bernard.
So what can we realistically hope for in 2011? Like many throughout the IndyCar blogosphere, I have my own wish list for 2011 that pertain to issues on and around the track, rather than global warming, starvation or world peace. In no particular order, this is what I want to see in 2011…
Good weather in May: This is one of the few issues that I don’t think Randy Bernard can do anything about, although I wouldn’t put it past him. Of all years that it doesn’t need to rain the last two weekends in May, this is it. With so many big things planned for the Centennial celebration of the Indianapolis 500, you would hate to see rain be a factor for qualifying or the race. Maybe the weather gods will let rain fall throughout the week. With this being the ninth year with the current chassis, practice is not that critical. There is quite a bit of data floating around regarding the handling characteristics of a 2003 Dallara at the Speedway.
I want to see perfect weather on qualifying weekend and race weekend. I want dry conditions and temperatures in the low eighties both weekends. We are due. Since 2003, we’ve been plagued with frigid conditions (race day 2003, qualifying 2005, 2006 & 2009), rainy conditions (race day 2004 & 2007. qualifying 2005 & 2006) and unbearable heat (race day 2006 & 2010). I want to see old cars and drivers those weekends in optimal weather conditions.
An exciting buildup to the month of May: In 2010, the excitement level appeared to be grinding to a skidding halt as we approached the month of May. An exciting opening race in Brazil got the season off to a good start, but St. Petersburg was not particularly exciting. It was followed by a clunker at Barber and not much of an improvement at Long Beach. Then came the snoozer at Kansas.
On paper, things looked competitive. Of the five races, four had been won by different drivers from three different teams. But it didn’t seem that competitive if you were paying attention. The races were still dominated by the Penske-Ganassi juggernaut. Andretti Autosport showed some signs of life early with Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay, but Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti had fallen off the map. Plus, Hunter-Reay’s future was cloudy beyond Indianapolis due to funding issues.
All in all, there wasn’t a whole lot of suspense leading into the month of May. The only real question was which Penske or Ganassi car would win and would Helio Castroneves become the fourth four-time winner at the famed oval. Dario Franchitti dominated while winning one of the more boring 500’s we’ve seen in a while.
A tantalizing summer regarding new cars and engines: Although we’re all starving for any new information regarding the 2012 engines and aero kits, I don’t anticipate much to come down the pike until after the month of May. Quite honestly, that suits me just fine. After the month of May, there is always a letdown – even though we are heading into the actual meat of the schedule.
As information of the new engines, chassis and aero kits comes out – we’ll all be trying to catch every glimpse of any drawing or photographs we can find. As the new safety cell by Dallara hits the track in the summer, we may be more interested in the 2012 season than the 2011 season. As each aero kit is unveiled and announcements of which team will be aligning with which engine and aero kit, we’ll always want more. The buildup to the 2012 season has already begun.
A competitive 2011: With so much to focus on in 2012, it will be tempting to forget there is a season for 2011 beyond the Indianapolis 500. I don’t think that the Ganassi satellite team of Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal will be considered challengers for the 2011 championship. But the two main Ganassi cars of Franchitti and Dixon will certainly be top contenders. The three cars from Team Penske will all be championship contenders as well. With the same equipment we’ve had for the last several years, I don’t see that any other drivers will be seriously considered as candidates for the championship this season.
What I would like to see is at least some other drivers or teams to step up and steal a few wins from the “big two” just to keep things interesting. Other than two Andretti Autosport wins in 2010 and a win from Dale Coyne in 2009; it’s been all Penske and Ganassi.
TV improvements in 2011: Overall, I felt like Versus took a slight step backwards in 2010. Their coverage in 2009 was so much better than what we had grown accustomed to with ESPN, I think we were expecting another giant leap in 2010. It didn’t happen.
Instead, Jack Arute got too cute with his props and tried to make himself the star of the show instead of the competition. Bob Jenkins, who has always been one of my favorites, had too many days when he wasn’t at the top of his game. Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl had some arguments that came off as contrived and artificial, as if they were sparring for the cameras. About the only real positive move for versus was moving Lindy Thackston into the role as anchor for the pre-race show. She did a good job and she knows her stuff. She performs better in that role than she does as a victory lane reporter where her post-race interviews have come off as awkward at times.
Although the current TV contract won’t allow another major network (read: NBC) to broadcast races, the Comcast purchase of NBC should eventually lead to major changes at Versus to make the channel more visible and available for audiences. ABC/ESPN can either choose to step up their coverage or be prepared to see the series go to NBC at the end of the current contract.
Another exciting points battle: Say what you will about any possible championship contenders coming from only two teams, but at least it is always an exciting battle between those drivers. The IZOD IndyCar Series has been very fortunate to have the points battle go down to the final race for the past several years. When Tony Kanaan clinched his championship before the season finale in Texas in 2004, it let all the air out of the balloon for that final race. Thank goodness, IndyCar hasn’t felt compelled to go for anything like a contrived playoff format that some other racing bodies have adopted.
A new championship trophy: The only real flub that occurred last season was the unveiling of the garish championship trophy near the end of the season. We’ve heard all the well-deserved jokes that were thrown out there. Probably the most significant was from the actual recipient of the trophy, Dario Franchitti, who described it as the naked guy on the unicycle. Randy Bernard has shown a penchant for listening to the fans. He needs to on this one and scrap that thing and start over.
A successful second year for Randy: In my opinion, Randy Bernard exceeded any and all expectations during his first year on the job. Actually, his one year anniversary isn’t until March 1, but most would agree that he should be given an A+ for his first year. Now, what will he do for an encore?
With a full year under his belt, I am hoping that we haven’t seen anything yet. He claims that he was just learning the culture last season. Now, he intends to put his full stamp on the series. He’s already off to a nice start for 2011 by announcing that he intends to have all open-wheel records merged by the time the 2011 media guide goes to press. Based on what he did for Professional Bull Riders, I expect nothing short of great things for 2011 and beyond.