The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Season At-A-Glance


The 2011 season closed with tragedy and questions instead of excitement and anticipation.  The death of Dan Wheldon cast a dark cloud over INDYCAR as they moved toward a new car and engine formula and safety going forward was going to be of paramount importance.  The show, as always, must go on and the drivers, once again, prepared for their season-long campaigns for the Astor Cup signifying him or her the champion.

The 2012 season was always going to be of great importance to the future of open wheel racing in North America due to the debut of the new car and engine formula instituted to create closer competition, faster laps, and more excitement.  We will delve into the particulars of the DW12 IndyCar’s performance in a different article very soon, but it is time to look at the IZOD IndyCar Series 2012 season in generalities.

SEGMENT 1: ST. PETERSBURG – SAO PAULO

The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season began in St. Petersburg in an emotional weekend battle on the grounds that Dan Wheldon called his home in the United States.  This was the important debut of the DW12 in competition as well as Chevrolet and Lotus engine package.  With exception to a few electrical gremlins the race came off as an incredible show capped by Helio Castroneves returning to victory lane, but not until after celebrating with a fence climb on Dan Wheldon Way to cap the weekend’s festivities.

A street course is one thing with its own quirks and drama, but the first real test for the IZOD IndyCar Series came at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.  Originally built for motorcycle racing, Barber is notorious for follow-the-leader parades with periodic ill-advised attempts at advancement often resulting in torn up equipment and hot tempers, but 2012 was a completely different story.  The DW12’s competitive ability coupled with new blocking rules resulted in the best race at the track in IndyCar history with Will Power coming from 9th starting position to win the race.

In the weeks following the race at Barber, Chevrolet found an issue with their engine that required all Chevrolet powered teams to change engines and suffer 10-position grid penalties making Pole Winner Ryan Briscoe start 11th in the race.  Teammate Will Power started 12th and raced his way through the field to record his second straight win of 2012.  Power would revisit Victory Lane in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

SEGMENT 2: THE OVALS (INDANAPOLIS 500 – IOWA CORN INDY)

When the IZOD IndyCar Series returned from Brazil, it was off to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Series’ Crown Jewel, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.  IndyCar fans had been treated to some of the best road and street course racing ever seen in the IZOD IndyCar Series, but concerns mounted in testing about the car’s performance on ovals.  We’ll get to the particulars of the car’s oval gremlins in a later post, but, in short, the technical department of INDYCAR developed a new wing package for the Speedway and Auto Club Speedway to correct imbalance in the car.  They hit this package right on the spot resulting in, possibly, the best Indianapolis 500 in history.

After a street race in Detroit, IndyCar teams loaded into the most feared race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway.  When the 2012 IndyCar calendar was released, nearly everyone was pointing at this race as the event with the most apprehension from drivers.  In the wake of the death of Dan Wheldon, IndyCar drivers expressed their distaste for the ludicrous pack racing on high banked oval tracks that was a prime contributing factor to the crash that claimed Wheldon.  Testing at the track revealed that the DW12 was capable of producing this type of racing that the drivers would no longer tolerate or participate.  IndyCar’s technical department developed a package with minimal downforce in order to put the driver back into the equation and it worked.

Short tracks at the resurrected Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway rounded out the early summer oval schedule highlighted by the Iowa Corn Indy 250 all the exciting IndyCar racing that we have all come to know and love.

The streets of Toronto marked return to road and street courses and would be followed by Edmonton, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, and Baltimore.  Toronto began this stretch with Hunter-Reay capturing his third consecutive win of the season soldifying his place as a top contender for the championship.  Edmonton saw Helio Castroneves capture is elusive victory at the track while Dixon continued his dominance at Mid-Ohio.

The scope of the championship began to change in Sonoma which became a game changer on the first lap when third in points Helio Castroneves’ attempted pass on Scott Dixon on the first lap resulted in Dixon’s car turned around against traffic and a drive-through penalty for Team Penske’s Brazilian driver.  The race commenced as normal with Will Power maintaining a healthy lead over teammate Ryan Briscoe until a late-race pit stop by Power followed by an untimely caution flag allowing Briscoe to take the lead.  On the ensuing restart Ryan Hunter-Reay was spun by Alex Tagilani seemingly dashing the American’s title hopes.  Roger Penske’s standard of ‘no team orders’ allowed Briscoe to capture the victory instead of surrendering the podium’s top step to championship contender Will Power.

The streets of Baltimore became the real game changer as the season raced toward its conclusion.  IndyCar elected to remove a chicane on the main straightaway that hindered the entertainment factor of restarts during the 2011 race.  It became very apparent that the chicane needed re-installation when the cars were dangerously leaving the track surface.  Race day was the biggest wild card as mother nature presented herself as the wild card.  In a huge gamble, Ryan Hunter-Reay, needing a win, remained out on the track on slick tires as ran began to fall on the course while Will Power, who dominated the race’s early stages, and other contenders ducked to pit road for rain tires.  The track dried quickly and a coupled with a miscommunication from the Verizon Team Penske crew, Ryan Hunter-Reay found himself with a huge trackposition advantage over his championship rivals.  The final restart was controversial as Hunter-Reay, running second to Power’s teammate Ryan Briscoe, jumped the Team Penske driver on the restart and set sail for the checkered flag capturing the race win setting up a two driver showdown in the season finale.

It all came down, as always, to the season finale for the championship.  The 2012 IZOD IndyCar World Championships was contested at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California and was the first 500 mile race outside of Indianapolis in over a decade.  This race was going to be a marathon that the two championship contenders, Hunter-Reay and Power, would have to navigate.  Power entered the race with a 17 point lead on Hunter-Reay and by starting eliminated Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves from title contention.  INDYCAR selected a downforce level comparable to the one used in Texas making the cars very difficult to dial in comfortably.  The scope of the championship changed drastically on lap 55.

Will Power with a 17-point championship lead only needed to keep Ryan Hunter-Reay in his sights all night to win the championship, but, inexplicably, attempted to get past the DHL/SunDrop car, lost control and hit the wall in between turns 1 and 2 mangling the Verizon sponsored machine and, seemingly, dashing Power’s hopes for the title for the third straight season.  Team Penske would thrash together to repair the car and Power returned to the track allowing him to make up one position in the final running order.  The battle was far from over as Hunter-Reay still had to finish sixth or better to win the title.  Eventually Hunter-Reay would prevail to win the championship while Ed Carpenter won one of the most exciting and drama filled races in the sport’s history.

OVERALL GRADE: As a Series, IndyCar gets a solid B grade.  In terms of the racing product, there was no other series worldwide that produced better racing week in and week out.  The championship was, again, extremely close without any “Chase” or “Countdown” system which speaks volumes for the talent depth of the IndyCar Paddock.  The new race officiating system, and Beaux Barfield in particular, created some intense competition and each race was officiated consistently and fairly.  There was productive and respectful dialogue between drivers and the technical department that allowed for an acceptable downforce package for high speed ovals.  Track product aside, IndyCar faltered in a few areas.  The degradation of the track in Detroit was difficult to foresee but, with the race being on ABC, it goes down as a black eye for the sport.  The entry of Chevrolet had great benefit to the competition level, but the Lotus engine never got up to speed and was parked swiftly at all oval races due to lack of acceptable pace.  Randy Bernard posting on Twitter that people wanted him fired was also ill advised publicity for a sport that just ran one of its best Indianapolis 500 races in history.

LOOKING AHEAD: Looking to 2013, IndyCar is in a great position to move foreward.  The first season with the DW12 was a resounding success and 2013 should have high expectations as the teams get more and more into developing the car and further unlocking its performance abilities.  It can be expected that the 2013 season will be second to none in terms of excitement and competition, however, the biggest hurdle to jump is getting viewers on television to see the amazing motorsport product that IndyCar has to offer.  Formula 1 will join IndyCar on NBC Sports Network starting in 2013 which could give a boost to the television ratings.  2013 will also have the storyline of Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti both going for their fourth Indianapolis 500 victory putting them right next to the names AJ Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears.  Everybody tune in starting in late March 2013 to see how the next chapter in IndyCar history is written!

IZOD IndyCar Season Review: Paul Tracy


Since unification between the Champ Car World Series and the IZOD IndyCar Series, Paul Tracy has found himself a driver searching for a place to race.  2011 would turn out to be no different for the Canadian as he was, once again, trying to scrape together enough funding for a full-time spot on the IndyCar grid.  Plans did not come to fruition and one of the sport’s most endearing and exciting personalities was relegated to part-time status in 2011.  The season became stranger when Tracy, 42 years old, signed with Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing for select races while running the Indianapolis 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing partnering with Wix Filters.

Tracy’s season began with Dragon Racing at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach where the road warrior qualified 25th out of 27 cars on the grid.  The race proved frustrating for Tracy, although he gained nine positions to finish 16th in the final running order but found himself trying to make up ground from start to finish.

Paul Tracy returned to the grid at the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 driving for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing where an ill handling race car and lost practice time due to inclement weather hindered the team’s ability to find speed and car balance.  Tracy qualified on bump day in the 25th position on 33 on the grid.  After losing many laps trying to get the car comfortable, Tracy finished 25th where he started.

Tracy returned to Dragon Racing for the Firestone Twin 275s, Honda Indy Toronto, and the Edmonton City Centre Airport, where he continued to finish mid-pack or worse.  Tracy was on the grid, and involved in the 15 car accident ending the IZOD IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

2011 will probably go down as one of the most frustrating and difficult years of Paul Tracy’s storied career.  Running mid-pack or worse for the duration of the year, lack of competitive equipment, and the tragic end to the season all make for a season to forget.

Looking forward to 2012, Paul Tracy has said that it will be his farewell year to open-wheel racing and will, hopefully, manage to finish it in style.  Tracy is a free agent and most definately deserves a full time ride in IZOD IndyCar competition next season.  There are many lucrative seats still available with teams including KV Racing Technology, Andretti Autosport, and Dreyer and Reinbold Racing.  One of these seats should go to Tracy to give him the opportunity to finish his career as competitive as it was previously.

IZOD INDYCAR Season Review: Dan Wheldon


There is no better place to begin breaking down the 2011 IndyCar Season driver performances than with Dan Wheldon.

After a falling out with Panther Racing, Wheldon found himself on the outside looking in when it came to the 2011 IndyCar campaign…a situation that was, undoubtedly, difficult for Wheldon to endure.  Having become one of the most beloved drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series by its fans as well as his competitors, it was a difficult situation for everybody involved.  Although when the green flag dropped on 2011 Wheldon was sitting on the sidelines watching everybody else race, redemption was a mere eight weeks away.

Wheldon and former teammate Bryan Herta managed to scrape together an under-funded operation in conjunction with Sam Schmidt Motorsports for the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.  Wheldon entered the mecca of auto racing and qualified the No. 98 William Rast Bryan Herta Autosport car on the outside of the second row on pole day and ran in the top 15 the entire day.  The late stages of the race became a fuel mileage game and it looked to be rookie JR Hildebrand’s race to lose!  On the last lap, the unthinkable happened, Hildebrand slammed the wall on the final corner as Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Winner but underdog in 2011, whizzed by to take the victory and drink the milk!  This would be Wheldon’s final victory and in dramatic fashion.

After the dramatic Indianapolis 500 victory, Dan Wheldon was, once again, rideless for the duration of the 2011 season, or so it appeared.  Wheldon decided that he would, successfully, become a bigger draw for the series’ fans as he joined Bob Jenkins and Jan Beekhuis in the Versus broadcast booth for the Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway as well as the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway while broadcast regular Wally Dallenbach was fulfilling his TNT obligations to the NASCAR Spring Cup Series.  Wheldon was an incredible talent when it came to being a color analyst and might have had a career when he decided to hang up his racing boots.

Wheldon completed the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season by competing at Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he, eventually, lost his life!  A full article on the Las Vegas Race can be found here:

https://motorsportswelcome.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/the-race-that-never-happened-but-unfortunately-did/

Dan Wheldon’s biggest contribution to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2011 was that he and Bryan Herta Autosport were tapped by the series to do the first round of testing for the 2012 Dallara IndyCar formula to be used in competition beginning in St. Petersburg in March 2012.  Wheldon was charged with putting the car through its paces to iron out design imperfections and what changes needed to be made to make the car better.  The new chassis will be dedicated in Dan Wheldon’s memory and will be known as the Dallara DW12 Safety Cell.  Much gratitude goes to Dan for his assistance in the development of this car.

 

2011 Race Results

Indianapolis 500 – Qualified 6th, Finished 1st

Meijer Indy 300 @ Kentucky Speedway – Qualified 28th, Finished 14th

IZOD IndyCar World Championships @ Vegas – Qualified 34th, Race Incomplete at Lap 12

 

Dan Wheldon was an incredible race car driver, competitor, father, and husband.  He will be greatly missed by the entire auto racing community.  His engagement of the fans is something IndyCar will have a difficult time filling without him.  He is remembered by everyone!

REST IN PEACE!

DAN WHELDON

1978 – 2011