IndyCar Paddock Pass Presents: Forza Motorsport 5 review

FM5If you’re like me you will never be graced with the opportunity to get in and drive McLaren’s new hybrid hypercar the P1 unless, of course, you return in a second life as Bruce Wayne.  The P1 is sold out, but even if it wasn’t it carries the meager price tag of 1,150,000 dollars without tax, export, customs fees, and other miscellaneous costs of getting the car to your garage.  Many of us would be lucky to make 1.15 million dollars in a decade.  Microsoft’s new tech toy the xBox one retails, currently, at $499 plus tax and for $60 more you can purchase the crown jewel of racing games and the sixth installment from the Forza Motorsport racing franchise; a franchise that has garnered the highest consistent rating over the last decade across all game consoles.  Forza Motorsport 5 harnasses the power of the xBox one to bring the most realistic experience to your living room.  Continuing the franchise’ alliance with the superstar personalities of BBC’s renowned Top Gear program, Jeremy Clarkson welcomes you to the game, just wetting your appetite for what you are about to experience.

After you’re through salivating at Clarkson’s introduction, you are whisked away to one of Forza’s new tracks making their debut, the Streets of Prague in the Czech Republic.  In traditional Forza style you must ‘race’ into the main menus in the game and, also in traditional Forza style, you are graced with the opportunity to drive one of the game’s gems, the aforementioned McLaren P1.  It may seem like an intimidating place to start, but your first experience is with all the game’s assists turned on making the powerful P1 as accessible to drive as 1995 Honda Civic with an automatic transmission.  The speed, the graphics, and the sound are pure exhilaration.  Enjoy it now for it is short lived.

As quickly as Turn 10 gives you the taste of what high end cars are capable of on this title, they return you to reality.  After completion of the “Prague Prologue”, you are returned to the Sport Compact world of the game which is where you begin your quest for Forza Motorsport 5 glory.


For Forza 5, Turn 10 has re-engineered the career mode separating it into championship quests by car type instead of car classes like they have done before.  The result is closer competition because each car you are competing against is in the same general ability bracket as your own.  It is true that some cars have advantages in straight line speed but sacrifice corner ability.  There are eight different ‘car worlds’ to compete in Forza Motorsport 5 and inside of each are at least three different divisions with championships and bonus events to keep you busy and racing for hours on top of hours.


FM5 RaikkonenBeing a launch title for the next generation game console, Forza Motorsport 5 required a complete revamp of all cars and tracks and brand new digital model creation of each.  The result is fewer race courses and cars than Forza Motorsport 4 which, on the surface, is an unfortunate sacrifice.  But every car and track that is contained in the game BELONGS there. It is regrettable that tracks like Sonoma Raceway, Sunset Peninsula, Road America, and the famed and daunting Nurenburgring Nordschliefe were not included, but additions of Prague, Yas Marina, and the Mount Panorama of Bathurst, Australia provide ointment for the wound of decreased tracks.  Each circuit is created with brilliant, almost eerie, realism and make you feel as though you are actually there.  The Circuit du Le Mans returns as well as Road Atlanta, Catalunya, and, importantly to IndyCar fans, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

So far, Forza Motorsport 5’s car roster, reduced to two hundred from Forza Motorsport 4’s five hundered plus contains no gimme cars that you would have no interest.  Each car is valuable somewhere in the game and will help you get to the promised land of completing every event.  From the Fiat Abarth 500 essesse to Kimi Riakkonen’s 2013 Lotus Formula 1 car, this game has a car for every taste all brilliantly recreated to give the player the exhilaration of what it actually would be like to pilot these awesome machines.  As in previous Forza titles, players are given the freedom to drive the cars as they buy them from the car roster or customize them to their heart’s content with paint, decals, numbers, and bodywork designs.  In fact, with the power of the xBox one the number of decal layers allowed in the game has increased.


The most difficult challenge for games is creating AI players that are believable, unpredictable, and challenging.  If there was one area Forza Motorsport 4 fell short of the bar it was the quality of their AI matrix.  The development team faced this challenge head on for Forza Motorsport 5 and brought a gun to a knife fight.  Their solution is what the call Driveatars and they are a complete game changer for future racing titles.  The system works by observing how you, the player, drives, makes passes, and corners.  Do you race dirty, clean, or somewhere in between?  This data is constantly updated and synchronized and sent up into the cloud for the game to access.  Forza Motorsport 5’s AI is generated from these thousands of player’s data and while you sleep in Colorado, your Driveatar is out in the world of Forza Motorsport 5 being grabbed and pulled down into the career mode of a player in Japan to race against meaning you never race alone and the AI is generated not by the programming of the game, but real world player driving habits.  This means AI makes mistakes, spins out, runs you off the road, and is as unpredictable as possible with current technology.  You, the player, receive credit bonuses each day for races in which your Driveatar competes and making money when you sleep is pretty sweet!


Game players have two ways of purchasing cars on Forza Motorsport 5, by using credits obtained from career and online race events and car tokens available for purchase from the Microsoft store system.  The game has received the ire of some fans because buying cars with tokens is more expensive than earning enough credits by playing the game.  For instance, Kimi Raikkonen’s E21 in game credit cost is 6,000,000 which will take the player some time to procure but it can be acquired instantly with purchase of car tokens with a hefty 10,000 token price tag.  10,000 tokens come at an equally heavy price of $100 of the player’s hard earned money from their bank account.  Developers of Forza Motorsport 5 created this system to make the game’s high-end cars more ‘special’ and almost unicorn like because they take investment, be it gameplay or token purchases, to obtain.  Gamers are disappointed in this stance, but let’s be honest.  This game mirrors the economics of life where anything luxurious worth having often requires vast amounts of time to acquire and cost extreme amounts of money to get quicker.  The developers are currently working on changing the economics of the game to alleviate some of the backlash, but, come on, we all bought this game to PLAY IT, so let’s play it and we’ll all get there in time!


This game is, without doubt, THE definitive racing experience available across all consoles and avenues.  The graphics, handling, and Forza DNA of this game is crazy close to real world.  The game is adjustable to anyone’s ability and can be tuned to be as challenging or elementary as the gamer desires.  Each track is brilliantly depicted in such a way that you can almost feel the brisk cold air of the Bernese Alps, the ocean breeze of Yas Marina, or the palpable history of Indianapolis.  Cars can be customized, upgraded, and painted to the player’s personal tastes and the possibilities are limitless.  Quite simply, this is the best racing game that I have ever played and it lives up to and continues the good name that is Forza Motorsport.



FM5 DixonFor the first time, we IndyCar fans have the opportunity to drive our favorite style of cars in a realistic, high quality environment.  Sure Grid 2 brought us the DW12 in May of 2013, but Grid 2 is purely an arcade style game and it was great fun to drive in, but it’s not even in Forza’s ballpark when it comes to realism.  Forza Motorsport 5 contains the IndyCars of Scott Dixon (pictured), Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, and Will Power and can be modified from road course configuration to oval configuration so it can be raced at Indianapolis as well as the famed Le Mans circuit.  One of these drivers NOT your favorite? No worries, the Forza design studio will allow you to create any IndyCar on the grid since the 2012 season went green so if you want to race a Sebastien Bourdais McAfee car, make some vinyl groups for sponsors and go for it!


Open Letter from INDYCAR to NASCAR


We’ve been watching your races over the last year and a half or so and, while exciting, your “Boys Have At It” mentality to let drivers settle their personal vendettas and scores is starting to push the envelope into the ‘danger zone’.

To begin 2013 you had a car impact the catch fence on the grandstands side of Daytona International Speedway injuring fans who paid their hard earned money to sit in those seats for an enjoyable afternoon of racing and, instead, found themselves in an ambulance on its way to a local hospital.  This crash was all caused by a block thrown by Regan Smith because he did not want to give up the position coming down to the finish.  First of all, we can’t remember the last time somebody was penalized for blocking in a NASCAR race.  The blocking issue will resurface later, but the inherent problem with your racing on circuits like Daytona and Talladega is the ridiculous pack racing that ensues on these tracks.  The fans may crave and scream for it but, eventually, they will pay dearly for it.

The race at Bristol opened a new can of worms when Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano took their Twitter feud to a new level when Hamlin nudged Logano into the wall which resulted in subsequent threats of “He’s got it coming” etc.  This past weekend’s race that ended in carnage, bleeped out post-race interviews, and a hospitalized driver is a prime example of how you are losing control of your sport’s atheletes.

Race car drivers are passionate, emotional creatures that desperately want to win.  Especially in these times where sponsorship dollars seem to grow fewer and fewer, the pressure on drivers to win races and championships is ten fold of what it was a decade ago and, therefore, any fellow competitor who interferes in the pursuit of that goal will be the subject of at least verbal jabs if not worse.  What we are seeing is a complete lack of professionalism and respect on the drivers’ part and a lack of discipline from the sanctioning body of your sport and it must stop immediately.  Although there will be differences of opinion and words between drivers periodically, the racetrack is NOT the time or the place to settle any sort of score.  The drivers must respect each other on the track and, if they do not, the management of NASCAR must take swift and decisive action to discipline any driver that steps outside the bounds of what is acceptable behavior with fines, points deductions, vacation of wins, or suspensions if necessary.

In 2011, we had our own version of ‘Boys Have At It’ where poor choices by our series management allowed drivers to take matters into their own hands when it came to settling on-track melees because there was no clear line of what was acceptable behavior.  We paid for the shortsightedness of everyone involved in our sport with our dearest blood when one of our biggest stars lost his life in a race filled with insane pack racing absent of mutual respect between the competitors causing a 12 car crash.

The insanity of the ‘Boys Have At It’ must stop.  You may think it great for the sport as it allows the drivers to “show their character” but showing their character with 3,500 pound racecar circulating a two mile racetrack at 200 mph speeds will come back to haunt you in the deepest, most painful way possible if you do not change the culture.

Change it now before you endure the heartbreak that we did.



Roger Penske Throws A Life Preserver


Roger-PenskeRoger Penske, fresh off his first top level NASCAR championship, never ceases to throw curveballs into the world of Auto Racing.  Penske’s IZOD IndyCar Series operation, appearing hell bent on trimming from three cars to two, never ceases to provide out-of-the-blue and surprising news.  Team Penske came to realize that finding sponsorship to run three cars in 2013 was, quite possibly, and insurmountable task and subsequently released Ryan Briscoe to pursue other options after retaining three time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and perennial championship runner-up Will Power to contest the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series title.  Breaking news last week changed all that.

AJ AllmendingerPenske Racing announced last week that the team’s former NASCAR driver, AJ Allmendinger, would don a Penske Racing firesuit on February 19th to test one of Team Penske’s DW12 IndyCars at Sebring International Raceway.  Allmendinger’s test will be overseen by Penske Racing crew members as well as full-time drivers Power and Castroneves, with the end goal to grid Allmendinger in April at Barber Motorsports Park and Long Beach.  The Indianapolis 500 is also on the radar.

Champ Car World Series Powered by FordRecent history will regard AJ Allmendinger as a NASCAR driver, however, the native of Thornton, Colorado etched his name into the minds of team owners in the Champ Car World Series from 2004-2006.  He was forded the opportunity to drive as teammate to Paul Tracy at Forsythe Racing and really made his mark on the series wining four races and capturing fourth in the final points standings and becoming a regular thorn in the side of four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais.

Allmendinger RedBullAllmendinger was given the opportunity to join the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2007 as a member of the new Team RedBull operation as teammate to Brian Vickers but his full-time participation only lasted the 2007 season as he was relegated to part-time status in 2008 before moving to Richard Petty Motorsports from 2009-2011.  Allmendinger struck gold with the opportunity of a lifetime when Penske Racing signed him to drive for the team with sponsorship from Shell Pennzoil.  The season started difficultly as team and driver worked to find the same page on setups and just when it seemed they were making some headway, Allmendinger took the proverbial .44 Magnum and shot his career in the foot.  Suffering from the strain of the season, Allmendinger accepted a pill of Adderall from an acquaintance.  The following race weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Allmendinger was summoned for a random drug screening as per the NASCAR rule book.  Allmendinger tested positive for Amphetamines leading directly to his release from his Penske Racing contract as he completed the ‘Road to Recovery’ program and was reinstated.

Team Penske IZOD 2012AJ Allmendinger’s career looks to be headed full circle as he hopes to join the IZOD IndyCar Series in a part-time basis in 2013 eying a full-time drive for The Captain in 2014.  Roger Penske runs an organization built on loyalty and family with ‘once part of the organization, always part of the organization’ as its mantra.  Allmendinger handled his return from his drug suspension with the upmost professionalism which is just the kind of character Roger Penske desires and demands from all members of the Penske brand.  While at the unfortunate expense of Ryan Briscoe, Allmendinger’s opportunity to join auto racing’s most successful team is a fortunate happenstance for INDYCAR as it could put an American driver at the forefront of the IZOD IndyCar Series grid which is never a bad thing when trying to build momentum and exposure.

2013 IZOD IndyCar Series Primer

IZOD IndyCar SeriesAs teams begin testing for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, it is time to get moving on some of the things to watch for as we move into February where testing will be ramping up.  The 2012 season for INDYCAR was a great success with closer and safer competition, solutions to keep oval track races that eliminate the insanity but still manage to bring you to the edge of your seat, and an Indianapolis 500 that could possibly be enshrined as the best in the 101 year history of the event.  But, 2013 is a new season with a lot of new and a lot of remaining the same.  Looking to the new season, here are some ‘hot buttons’ to watch for as another run for the Astor Cup and the Borg Warner trophy begin once again.


Chevy EngineThe experiment bringing Lotus to INDYCAR as an engine manufacturer lasted only one season as Lotus and INDYCAR negotiated an exit for the European engine marque leaving Honda and Chevrolet with the responsibility to power the grid for the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.  The 2012 season saw some of the most intense engine competition in motorsports history.  So intense, in fact, that it got entangled in legal litigation and threatening lawsuits between series officials and engine manufacturers.

Chevrolet may have won the manufacturers and overall championships, but there is unfinished business as Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars won the Indianapolis 500 as well as the revival of the Grand Prix of Detroit for which Chevrolet is largely responsible.  Chevrolet was caught a bit off guard by Honda’s newest generation engines debut for the Indianapolis 500 and were vastly out dueled on race day.  Chevrolet will look to repeat its success on the road and street courses while improving their overall large oval performance.

Honda, conversely, would undoubtedly regard 2012 as a mis-step in their storied history in auto racing and would probably admit that Chevrolet brought the battle and perhaps underestimated the Chevrolet commitment and resolve in their first year return.  The previously mentioned legal battle took place because Honda was allowed to change their turbo cover to equalize to the Chevrolet on the road courses.  Honda will look to develop their engine to chase down Chevrolet on the road and street courses whilst keeping their advantage on the ovals.


2013 KV RacingThe casualty in the Lotus debacle was that Simona de Silvestro spent the entire 2012 season handcuffed by a massive horsepower deficiency that saw her parked early at the Indianapolis 500 due to insufficient pace.  For 2013, de Silvestro and sponsor Nuclear Clean Air Energy move to KV Racing to partner with veteran Tony Kanaan.  For the first time in de Silvestro’s IndyCar career she will have an opportunity with a proven winning team and a Chevrolet powerplant to allow her to push her limits higher and, hopefully, turn faster laps.  Also of note, de Silvestro will have a teammate for the first time in her career and couldn’t have chosen a better partner than Tony Kanaan.  This team, KV Racing Technology, has a real opportunity to contend for the front of the grid this upcoming season.


Rahals UniteGraham Rahal must have thought he had the opportunity of a lifetime when he signed on to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing’s satellite operation in late-2010 but the marriage between Ganassi’s outfit and Rahal was never a stable relationship resulting in Graham Rahal’s release from the team for 2013.  What resulted was a perfect opportunity for Graham to take his sponosorship and team up with his dad at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.  Finally, the Rahals unite with Honda power and look to threaten the top of the grid consistently.


Power CastronevesThe years of a full-time three car Team Penske juggernaut appear to be at an end.  Although unconfirmed, it appears that Team Penske moves forward in 2013 with two cars piloted by perennial championship runner-up Will Power and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves while Champ Car and NASCAR veteran A.J. Allmendinger looks to join the team starting at Barber Motorsports Park as well as Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500.  While at the expense of Ryan Briscoe, trimming the team could bring a less-is-more situation where Team Penske can focus on fielding two competitive cars and beating Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi to the elusive fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.


IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 500The four years between 2008 and 2011 could only be described as domination by Target Chip Ganassi Racing encompassing four consecutive championships and two Indianapolis 500 victories.  2012 was a little different as Dario Franchitti had difficulty getting a handle on the DW12 while Scott Dixon suffered some tough luck at points in the season and both drivers entered the season finale at Auto Club Speedway unable to contend for the championship, a situation not seen since 2005.  Chip Ganassi’s team managed to bring home just three wins in 2012, but they did get the most important win at the Indianapolis 500 but all involved would certainly chalk the season as an overall disappointment and they will look to rebound in 2013.  No one in the paddock believes the three cars from Chip Ganassi Racing will suffer consecutive difficult seasons and nor should we.  Chip Ganassi Racing will, undoubtedly, be there until the end in 2013.


RYAN HUNTER-REAY IOWA 2012Anybody remember in 2011 when Andretti Autosport spent the month of May at Indianapolis searching like detectives for enough speed to make the show much less contend on race day?  Fast forward to 2012, and my how they turned things around as they, along with Team Penske, held down the first two rows at Indianapolis and Hunter-Reay outdueled Will Power for the championship.  Even with their rapid turnaround, Andretti Autosport will look to put all three cars in Victory Lane and near the top in the points standings.


Beaux BarfieldThe best hire in sports in 2012 was the installment of Beaux Barfield in INDYCAR Race Control replacing Brian Barnhart.  Barfield’s rules package simplified previously ambiguous and judgement-call rules such as blocking and avoidable contact by providing concrete lines in the rules that drivers could not cross.  Barfield made, perhaps, the gutsiest call in sports when he red flagged the season finale at Auto Club Speedway with five laps to facilitating a finish under the green flag.  For 2013, Barfield has further modified the rules to make the series easier to follow and instituted the possibility of standing starts on the double header weekends at Detroit, Toronto, and Houston.  Barfield will be looked to to maintain his resolve from 2012 and police the series’ drivers accordingly.


Jeff BelskusThe final hot button for 2013 is regarding new leadership at the top of INDYCAR.  Regardless of where you fall on Randy Bernard resignation debate, the fact of the matter is that Jeff Belskus is now the CEO of INDYCAR and the IZOD IndyCar Series.  Bernard’s departure was not handle correctly.  In fact, it was downright ugly how the Indianaplis Motor Speedway Corporation proceeded with the leadership change.  Belskus may be the CEO, however, Bernard’s fingerprints will be all over this season of INDYCAR Racing with the schedule and the movie ‘Turbo’ coming out later this summer, which, if handled correctly, could be a huge boost for the INDYCAR brand.  Belskus has been given the foundation to have a great season of competition and only needs to facilitate what Randy Bernard has left right in front of him.  What is desperately needed in INDYCAR is a liaison from the governing body of INDYCAR to its drivers and team owners.  The driver liaison has been, at least partially, fulfilled as Barfield has good relationship with the series’ drivers, but Belskus must institute a bridge between his office at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the team owners in the Paddock every weekend if history will record him as a successful leader.

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.


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.


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!

A Vote For Randy Bernard

The years of open wheel racing from 1996-2007 can only be described as a period of all out war with no beneficiary!  A little history to get us started.  The year 1996 marked the inception of the Indy Racing League, an oval intensive open wheel racing series with the Indianapolis 500 as its centerpiece.  Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO, Tony George, had become discouraged by the manner the team owners of CART, or Championship Auto Racing Teams, were running their sport and elected to start a racing series with a sanctioning body to manage the overall operations of the sport.  George went on to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on upgrades to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to facilitate the introduction of Formula to the facility as well as improve the NASCAR experience.  The Formula 1 experiment would be deemed a failure after the after the 2005 event saw only six cars start the race due to the Michelin tire deemed unsafe so only cars with Bridgestone tires competed.  Formula 1’s final race was contested contested in 2007.

In 2008, George brokered a deal with the Champ Car World Series where Champ Car teams willing to run in IndyCar for the 2008 season would be given Dallara Chassis, Honda engine leases, and Firestone tires with the costs absorbed by the sanctioning body of INDYCAR and IMS Corporation.  Additionally, these “transition” teams from Champ Car would be partnered with veteran IndyCar Series teams to get them up to speed more quickly.  The unification agreement, signed February 28, 2008, brought an end to over a decade of meaningless, petty, and detrimental hostility between the two series.  Instead of bickering and name calling there became opportunity to rebuild and repair the damage done.  By the end of the 2009 season, IMS Corporation became increasingly displeased with the dollar figures of debt George was amassing in his pursuit of keeping IndyCar afloat.  The result was the removal of Tony George as IndyCar CEO.

To say that Tony George’s reign as IndyCar CEO was without merit or progress would be unfair as George did do a lot of good amongst the irreparable damage.  George’s Indy Racing League became the dominant series in open wheel racing in the early 2000s resulting in the defection of the likes of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti and leading to unification under George’s IRL IndyCar Series.  The unified series brought new and talented drivers to the IndyCar Paddock including championship contender Will Power and 2012 Texas winner Justin Wilson.  The 2012 season marked the first time since 1995 open wheel racing had all the top drivers under one banner.

Entering the 2010 season, IMS Corporation turned to Randy Bernard, a businessman with a proven record of promotional and marketing success.  The hitch, however, was that he had never attended an IndyCar race before being considered for the job in the waning months of 2009.  Bernard took the Professional Bullriders Association from a no-name ‘what the heck is it’ brand to a top tier sport in the United States.  Not unlike IndyCar racing, Professional Bullriders is, unlike the NFL or Major League Baseball, a niche sport that will appeal to certain specific demographics instead of broad societal appetites.  Bernard also had the reputation of being a sound businessman in terms of operating on a budget giving the sport a viable, sustainable financial model.  Bernard signed a five year contract to helm the IZOD IndyCar Series with 2012 his third full year in the series.  Stating Bernard as amazing and without fault is as unfair as saying Tony George didn’t do any good.  Bernard has had his pratfalls like anyone in a position of power.

In the wake of one of the best Indianapolis 500 Mile Races in the 101 year history of the Brickyard’s Memorial Day classic, there was indication that the war may return swiftly after four and a half years of peace.  It was posted, by Bernard, on Twitter that several team owners had banded together to try to get him removed from his position as CEO of INDYCAR.  The central issue circled around the cost of the new Dallara DW12 Chassis and its replacement parts and the owners desiring parts to cost 40% less they were being charged.  As the 2012 season came to a close, Bernard revealed a compromise that he hoped would sit well with the owners, but it seems to have come to no avail…so far.

Tony George has resigned his position on the IMS Board and ventured on an endeavour to buy his beloved IndyCar Series back and oust Randy Bernard.  Rumors are circling that George is unhappy with Bernard’s management of the series and desires more oval track races.  The 2013 schedule contains only six oval races and thirteen road and street course races.  Bernard’s schedule plan includes venues that are financially beneficial and progressive for the sport ushering multi-year contract agreements to build each event’s fan base.  The facts are the facts, and the oval races, while exciting and offering IndyCar’s best on track product, are difficult to sell and put fans in the seats on race day on national television while street course races are capable of attracting 200,000 fans over the course of a weekend and are better financially for the long term success of INDYCAR.  The ovals will come, but it will take a little time to build the popularity.

The IMS Board states that IndyCar Racing is NOT FOR SALE and that they will under no circumstances consider its availability on the open market.  Randy Bernard is at the helm of INDYCAR and has given the brand its first positive momentum since 2008.  It is more financially viable in 2013 than it was in 2009, but it still has a long way to go to get the ship fully righted and sailing in the right direction.  Attendance at the tracks has improved, but the television ratings outside the Indianapolis 500 continue to struggle, but under Bernard’s guidance, INDYCAR has ushered in a new car, new stars, and exciting racing.  Of all the racing series in action in 2012, INDYCAR has produced the best raw racing product of them all with the Indianapolis 500 the prime example on their biggest stage.  The new car has shown to be tunable to given circuits and capable of eliminating the madness pack racing that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon.  Bernard has employed and empowered Beaux Barfield to officiate the series closely and fairly in a manner that drivers and teams understand while the technical department works vigilantly with the drivers to grant them their wishes and honor their concerns.  Most importantly, Bernard is the first in a long while to actually listen and get the pulse of the fan base and make changes accordingly to make the racing more exciting with double-file restarts, or moving lap cars out of the way inside 20 laps to go.  Hopefully the Board stands their ground and keeps their word because Randy Bernard should, and needs, to see his contract through.  All the bickering, name calling, and bad publicity needs to stop because it is just what IndyCar DOES NOT NEED in the wake of one of the best racing seasons run to date…in ANY series, I might add.