Realistic Wishes For 2012

I’ve always liked Christmas. It’s always been my favorite time of year. As a kid, I was told that I would grow to loathe it as an adult. It never happened. I still love it. That being said, this seemed to be a very Un-Christmas like season. I kept waiting for the spirit to hit me this season and it never did. Perhaps it’s because I took so little time off work. Maybe it was because I scaled back on my gift-giving. It could have been having my twenty-two year old son back in the house with all of his bizarre friends milling about put me in a humbug mood. Whatever the case, it’s over with. I just hope this was a one-year blip and I’m not becoming a Christmas grump in my old age.

One thing hasn’t changed, however – once we get past New Year’s Day, it occurs to me that the beginning of the Month of May is less than four months away. With that thought in mind, it makes the cold winter months much easier to bear. It also makes me begin wondering what might be in store for us in 2012. There are certain things that I wish and want for, but reality generally creeps in and reminds me that many of my desires are just pipe dreams.

So instead of boring you with pointless dreams of teams like Foyt, SFHR and Ed Carpenter Racing leading the championship in September or the stark realities that the championship will probably boil down to a battle between Penske and Ganassi – let’s look at something somewhere in between.

In no particular order, these are my desires/expectations for the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2012:

Competitive balance for the right reasons: What do I mean by the “right” reasons? So far, the new Dallara DW12 has proven to be a handful. I don’t pretend to be an engineer, but I don’t think you need to be an advanced gearhead to know that a car that is too heavy in the rear is not a good thing heading into Turn One at Indianapolis. There is a good chance that no one will be able to get a handle on this chassis heading into the first oval of the year, which happens to be the Indianapolis 500. If teams wad up their cars at the historic 2.5 mile oval on a regular basis throughout the month; the race itself could end up being survival of the fittest, luckiest or slowest. Having the smaller forgotten teams on top for that reason would not be a good thing.

If some of the less-funded teams are able to hit on something before the larger teams, that’s great. I think we would all like to see that. But not just because they pedaled through the corners slow enough to not crash.

A surprise from Lotus: Most experts and even us non-experts expect Lotus to be way behind Chevrolet and Honda. The two experienced players have logged many miles of on-track testing. As of this writing, Lotus has fired up the engine in the back of a DW12, but has yet to turn a wheel on the track. Lotus engine builder John Judd is not inexperienced in IndyCar, but he has been out of the game for almost twenty-five years although his company is still involved in other forms of motorsports. But the series he was last involved with in the late eighties has changed quite a bit – not necessarily for the better, but it is different.

Although Lotus did sign Bryan Herta Autosport, last year’s Indianapolis 500 winning team; BHA, HVM and Dreyer & Reinbold don’t really make up a juggernaut that is really feared by other teams. If those teams are at the back of the grid each week, will it be because of the Lotus engine or because of the overall performance of the teams running it?
If Lotus comes out of the gate as quick or quicker than Honda or Chevy, most would consider it a shock instead of a surprise. I’d like to see it, but I don’t think it’ll happen. There is a reason all of the successful teams passed on Lotus.

Start working on the 2013 schedule NOW: I don’t think this is unrealistic at all. I fully believe that INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard is committed to a balanced schedule comprised of close to fifty percent oval tracks. For a variety of reasons, he has fallen way short of reaching that goal for 2012. IndyCar fans weren’t happy when ovals fell below fifty percent a few years ago, but were willing to put up with it until things worked out where the ovals returned. It hasn’t happened. Currently, there are only four ovals on the 2012 schedule – Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Fontana.

IndyCar fans know that there has to be a desire on behalf of the track to hold an IndyCar race, but the series can’t sit around and wait to be invited. A good salesperson creates a need when a potential customer doesn’t realize there is one there. Mr. Bernard knows this. I think he is making adding more ovals to the 2013 schedule a top priority. He also knows that he needs to attack this sooner than later.

A safe season for everyone: For younger fans of the sport, watching Dan Wheldon’s fatal accident was the first time to witness the loss of a star that they followed. Even old timer’s like myself were reminded of the cold, harsh realities of racing, while watching the events unfold at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We had all been lulled into a false sense that racing was now a safe sport. We were all given a bitter reminder that it is not. Nor will it ever be.

Unfortunately, Dan Wheldon will not be the last person to die in an IndyCar. What we can only hope for is that we don’t experience what we went through on October 16 again for a very long time. Drivers are not the only ones vulnerable. Crew members, members of the Holmatro Safety Team and even fans are constantly at risk. Everyone should be mindful of this and learn from what happened last fall, in order to minimize the risk as much as possible. Above all else, I hope for 2012 to be one of the safest seasons we’ve seen in quite a while.

So, welcome to 2012! I certainly have my hopes for who wins and who doesn’t for this next season, but in the grand scheme of things – that doesn’t really matter. So long as we have a safe and competitive season in 2012 and the series continues its overall path, then we should be talking about a very successful season next fall.

George Phillips


12 Responses to “Realistic Wishes For 2012”

  1. I want a competitive balance, but I want a safe season for everyone just as much. Off the list, a bigger schedule.

  2. I think I read in a Marshall Pruett piece that the Lotus engine, while it might be down a little on horsepower, has come in under weight with a lower center of gravity, which is an intriguing thing, If this is true, then for the lotus teams, they have less weight from the engine sitting in the rear of the car, and if they need to add weight to compensate for being light, that can be added any where – ie the front meaning the Lotus teams could have better Ballance at the ovals compared to the other teams. We could wind up with a scenario where because of its ability to manage the ballance of the car the lotus is best on ovals while the Chevy or Honda have the horses to rule the street and road circuits. Would be an interesting dynamic.

  3. So George, are you writing that my blog post was not realistic? Come on, man! It was a poor’s man wish list!!! I think the 2013 schedule will be the most pressing thing INDYCAR will work on from now on after having selected the Race Director. Great post!

  4. I agree with JP in that the Lots Of Trash4Us is behind the development curve but being UNDERWEIGHT has to be a huge plus. This gives them a lot of “ballast” to play with and should take the big teams about a week at Indy to match up with them. Nice piece, George!

  5. “There is a reason all of the successful teams passed on Lotus.”

    SEVERAL reasons why racing teams wanted acclaimed, winning engine makers supplying them.
    A Judd engine hasn’t propelled an IndyCar yet?

  6. Couple quick thoughts on the engine front:

    1) From what I’ve heard, even though Lotus might be coming in considerably underweight, there are rumors that any ballast that they’ll have to install to bring them up to the same weight as Chevy and Honda will have to go in a predetermined location, i.e. probably somewhere very local to the engine block. That sucks, because Lotus won’t be able to parlay that lighter engine into an instant, possible race-winning advantage by throwing the ballast exactly where they’d like to fix the Dallara’s problems. We’ll have to see, though, because I haven’t heard for certain on that.

    2) I firmly believe that the DW12 will get sorted after some more tests at Indy, probably well in advance of Opening Day at the Speedway. For starts, the new suspension bits that Dallara has ramrodded into production should go a ways toward biasing the weight more forward. Secondly, there’s still the specter of introducing some (expensive) stuff like magnesium bellhousings and what not in order to lighten the back of the car. This may yet happen, if the car owners don’t freak out at the price tags. And finally, this is definitely the “5-pound hammer” approach, but putting ballast in the nose of the car can fix the weight bias (and therefore handling) problem with basically no penalty in overall speed. At the sorts of speeds that the cars see at Indy, the overriding factors are downforce (which gets better the faster you go), horsepower (which sounds like it is not a problem) and drag (which needs to be tweaked, but doesn’t sound miles off). Weight introduces a penalty in accelerating from low speeds, but drag is a much bigger factor than weight at speeds over, say, 120 MPH. It’s totally low-tech, but putting a slug of lead in the nose of the DW12 can put the weight distribution exactly where it needs to be. I still firmly believe that we’ll see Pole Day speeds in the 222-223 range. No, it won’t be a record setter, but the last Dallara sure managed to increase in speed over the course of a few years. We’ll yet see 230 MPH again, it just might happen in 2014, that’s all.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Had I known that expressing optimism about the DW-12 was allowed on the Internet, I’d have done it several times now…

      Now I know.

  7. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Drag per se will not be the only aerodynamic consideration as aerodynamic balance / CG, will be a major factor in how the car handles at speed and at varying weights (fuel loads) and at various ambient temps (pressure altitudes)…

    • To quote Mr. Foyt, “that’s quite true”. There’s obviously a lot more that plays into the equation (center of pressure, changes to CP at varying speeds, center of gravity, changes to CG at varying fuel loads, pitch sensitivity, playing nicely with the tires that Firestone supplies, and on and on), but some folks have been acting like simply putting 30 lbs. of weight in the nose of the car to balance the weight distribution a little more will slow the car another 4-5 MPH at Indy, and that we’ll be lucky to see 215 at Indy this year. So long as the other things are in place (correct downforce levels, correct downforce balance front to rear, drag doesn’t run wildly out of control, HP is sufficient to push the car to 230-ish MPH, the car handles consistently from lap to lap, etc., etc.), we are going to be just fine. The guys working on the car are actual degreed engineers and longtime IndyCar mechanics, and by my calendar, they stil have 4+ months to work on the problems that the car has. Many of them are the smartest guys in the country, as far as vehicle dynamics goes. The car is going to be just fine. Some folks may continue to hate the appearance (for whatever reason; to me, it basically just looks like another open wheel race car; it’s not supposed to cure cancer at the mere sight of it), but the people who claim that it’s going to be a huge, “the entire world points and laughs”, 212-MPH embarrasment, well, those people just don’t know what they’re talking about.

      And, yes, I will hold my hand up and say “I’m wrong and I’m an idiot” if those naysayers turn out to be correct.

  8. My wish is a non Penske/Ganassi car wins the title. How realistic is it will depend on how equal the engines are and how much growth certain teams (Andretti, KV, Panther, Rahal) are able get out of the offseason.

  9. I’m not as worried about the speed of the 2012 car on the ovals (although it’s pretty sad if it’s slower) but the quality of racing. My concern is if the car doesn’t want to turn it’ll be like the NASCAR COT. For those who don’t watch NASCAR that’s not a good thing. The cars wreck at random and drivers are afraid to go two wide. That’s a recipe for processional racing. It’s bad enough there’s only 4 (maybe 5?) ovals next year but if they’re NASCAR level quality that’s even worse.

    • I sure “don’t watch NASCAR” but read of it.
      “The cars wreck at random” ~~ So fans or race directors don’t choose which cars will wreck? Too bad…
      “… and drivers are afraid to go two wide.”
      I read that Tony Stewart passed competitors 188 times in the season-ending race, driving “two-wide or three-wide.” Was he afraid the whole time?

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