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!


Through Six Practice Days…Who Has What?!

97TH Indy500 LogoThrough six days of practice, the field for the Indianapolis 500 has left spectators with nothing to be disappointed about.  The weather has been cooperative allowing 9,000 some laps to be turned in six days with a full field of 33 cars all gracing the famed Brickyard with their presence.  Single car runs have dominated the early portions of the day while afternoons have seen packs of at least five cars running together.  The field in IndyCar for 2013 is so competitive that there is no clear favorite to win the Pole or the Race and the enigma that is the IZOD IndyCar Series grid in 2013 continues to grant no clarity.

Each weekend so far in the IZOD IndyCar Series has been a complete crap shoot of who will finish on top; a welcome problem for all of us fans who like to think that our favorite drivers have only a few other cars to worry about in a given race.  It used to be that though IndyCar Series races gridded at least twenty cars each weekend that only four or five drivers had a realistic opportunity to win the race.  Not so in 2013 as each member of the IndyCar grid has a realistic opportunity to find their way at the front and win the race.  The stats speak for themselves.

Go ahead and poll anyone who associates with INDYCAR and ask them if they predicted, going into the Indianapolis 500, that Takuma Sato would be leading the points standings and Will Power would be sitting in 18th position with only a single top ten finish in four races with left and right turns.  If they say they predicted such a situation they are lying their pants on fire.  The first four races of Power’s season are no indication of his competitive pace, but rather outside influences hindering his finishing positions.  This only further indicates that mistakes made in IZOD IndyCar Series races this season will cost you dearly because driving through the field is an order as tall as the Eiffel Tower.

Back to the Indianapolis 500, it seems that Chevrolet has the early jump on the speed chart but we’ve read this melodrama before.  Chevrolet easily had its way in qualifications snatching the Pole and eight of the top nine positions.  In fact, only Josef Newgarden was able to make the shootout at the end of Pole Day while the Ganassi operation was forced to start mid-pack.  While Chevrolet was basking in the Champagne of their gross outclassment of Honda in qualifying, their Japanese compatriots were licking no wounds as they had a plan in place when race engines were installed. Ganassi Hondas drove through the field taking it to Chevrolet in the race and captured INDYCAR’s crown jewel.

The bottom line is that through thirty hours of cars turning laps and practicing on track, we have no idea what anybody has stashed in the back of their DW12s for qualifying this weekend.  Teams get extra boost pressure in the turbo tomorrow so stay tuned as teams may, finally, show their hand in preparation for qualifying…but I doubt it.  Rest assured this will be the closest Pole Day qualifying show in the history of the Indianapolis 500 and Honda will certainly ensure they are not left out of the party as they were a year ago.


Danica Patrick and the 2013 Indianapolis 500

As Danica Patrick winds her way through her first full season of competition in NASCAR, the native of Roscoe, Illinois is mulling the possibility of running both the Coca Cola 600 as well as the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend in 2013 thus marking a short lived return to IndyCar racing at the track where she gained notoriety and fame in 2005 when she became the first woman to lead the annual Memorial Day classic at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Patrick is slated to drive a full 36 race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule next season which will be her priority in 2013.  Patrick gained fans in bunches in 2005 but her last two runs at the Indianapolis 500 saw her burn some bridges with fans due to comments made essentially throwing Andretti Autosport under the bus.  If Patrick elects to attempt the double-duty Sunday she has a long road ahead of her for a number of factors.

Who Will She Run For?

Undoubtedly, the entry for Patrick would be a partnership between Stewart Haas Racing and a current IZOD IndyCar Series team.  Stewart Haas’ alliance with Chevrolet would indicate that Patrick would run an IndyCar powered by the Bowtie and with Chevrolet likely powering half of the field for the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 there will be multiple options for Patrick to choose.  Patrick’s desire to have a competitive car will definitely play into her decision.  Team Penske is the most obvious choice of the Chevrolet powered teams given their storied history at the Indianapolis 500, but an effort with Team Penske is unlikely.  Team Penske will likely field entries for Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and probably a third car that might remain piloted by Ryan Briscoe.  Roger Penske will be hesitant to field a fourth car for the danger of putting too many cooks in the kitchen as their focus for the 2013 race will be on Helio Castroneves as the Brazilian tries to beat Ganassi rival Dario Franchitti to the four-time winner club.  So far in 2012, Andretti Autosport as shown renewed strength in the IndyCar Paddock with Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe in the top-5 in the points standings.  Andretti could take on Patrick, but the tumultuous relationship between Patrick and her teammates during the last years of her full-time IndyCar career would be  a deterrent given Andretti Autosport’s renewed mojo in 2012.  Beyond Penske and Andretti, Patrick is left with KV Racing Technology, Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold, Ed Carpenter Racing, and Dragon Racing as Chevrolet possibilities.  All of these teams probably don’t fit the bill that Patrick demands essential for the program to become a reality.


In NASCAR, Danica Patrick is sponsored by internet conglomerate who also sponsors the Andretti family as well as James Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 Dallara.  GoDaddy would probably move forward and sponsor Patrick in the Indianapolis 500, but will she be allowed to utilize GoDaddy as sponsor if she were to run for a team other than Andretti Autosport?  If not, where would the sponsorship money come from?


The last time Danica Patrick competed at the Indianapolis 500 was in May of 2011.  The car she competed with was a Dallara IR07 powered by a V8 Honda engine.  In 2012, the IZOD IndyCar Series debut a new car, the DW12.  The DW12 is a completely different animal than the car it replaces.  The weight distribution is further to the rear of the car making it increasingly more difficult to drive around the four corners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The car is very difficult to dial in and even the best drivers in IndyCar have found difficulty getting a handle on it.  The DW12 is powered by turbocharged 4-cylindar engines and utilizes and hand clutch instead of a normal foot clutch.  The hand clutch has been a serious adjustment for drivers this season.  Patrick would hit the track more than a year behind her competition in a car that, admittedly, is tough to master.


The schedule for the Indianapolis 500 has been scaled back dramatically in recent years for financial reasons and track time is at a premium especially with the unpredictable weather conditions in Indianapolis in May that has a knack for cutting practice days short and washing them out completely in some cases.  Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 takes place on the weekend of the Spring All-Star Race in Charlotte, an event that Danica would certainly be voted in by the NASCAR fan base.  Patrick would need to try and qualify the IndyCar on Saturday before the All-Star Race or the next day where she would start no better than 22nd in the race.  Balancing her NASCAR commitments and the large amount of work that it will take to make an Indy 500 program a reality.

The big question for IndyCar in 2012 other than how to make the racing safer was how would the sport fare without their biggest name?  IndyCar has responded with some of the best racing across all Motorsport in 2012 and found new starpower in James Hinchcliffe and Rubens Barrichello.  For Danica Patrick, contrary to what many predicted, the sport of IndyCar has moved on with very little hiccup.  New cars, races, and stars have assisted IndyCar into its new, post-Danicamania, era.  Patrick decided that her brand would benefit from a career in NASCAR and that is where it should remain.

Indy 500 Recap: Ganassi, Honda Break Through

The 500 Miles of Indianapolis have been completed and, for the third time in the last five editions, Target Chip Ganassi Racing emerged victorious in the World’s Greatest Race.  Dario Franchitti, carrying the No. 50 in honor of Target’s 50th Anniversary was in the lead coming to the last lap of the race when Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing dove underneath vying for the race lead.  Sato proceeded to the white line on the inside of turn one when the No. 15 MiJack machine touched wheels with Franchitti’s Target red car spinning Sato to the outside SAFER Barrier giving the win to the Scot.  This win places Franchitti in an elite group of drivers that have won the Indianapolis 500 three times joining Helio Castroneves as the only active driver to accomplish the feat.  Franchitti made his way to victory circle for the ceremonial bottle of milk and saluted his fallen former teammate and friend, Dan Wheldon.  Digging further into the final results the top-3 finishers are fitting because they were all former teammates of the late Dan Wheldon, and, in a race so filled with emotion and tribute, finished as it should.  Any of the top-3 would have been a fitting champion in this race.


Andretti Autosport was considered, by many in the Paddock, to be the team to beat on Race Day.  Sure, Team Penske won the Pole Position for the race, but Andretti Autosport cars filled the next three positions on the starting grid.  Through the first half of the race, it seemed as everything was going to plan.  Marco Andretti sailed out to the lead and led a race high 59 laps, but spent the second half of the race mired in traffic with a downforce level that made the car difficult to drive in that situation.  His race finally ended on lap 187 when he spun and hit the SAFER barrier ending his run.  Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay ran a conservative race just logging miles and setting up for the final fifty laps to go for the race win when a CV joint broke in the right rear of the car ending his day.  Ana Beatriz and Sebastien Saavedra also suffered difficult runs.  James Hinchcliffe was the lone bright spot for the team finishing 6th in the Chevrolet.


For the third straight rendition of the Indianapolis 500 Team Penske has suffered mediocre results, overall.  Team Penske and driver Ryan Briscoe started from the Pole in the 2012 edition with Power and Castroneves starting 5th and 6th respectively in their cars.  Briscoe led fifteen laps early, but faded through the middle portions of the race before rebounding to a fifth place finish to lead Team Penske on the day.  Castroneves suffered through subpar pitstops and difficult handling balance in traffic salvaging a 10th place result in the final box score.  Will Power had, by far, the toughest day for Team Penske.  On lap 79, Power was approaching the car of Mike Conway who had just made a pit stop, a botched pit stop where he slid into the box damaging is front wing.  Conway’s car got loose and spun toward the SAFER Barrier collecting Power ending his day saddling him with a 28th Place finish and a huge dent in the points lead.


The two cars powered by Lotus were in for a tough day, for sure, but they were hoping that they would last more than ten laps into the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, however, Director Beaux Barfield determined very early that they were unable to keep sufficient pace to warrant remaining on the track.  Lotus’ problems were well documented all month and the race was a culmination of all of these issues.  HVM Racing, the only full-time Lotus team, seems to be committed to moving forward with the European manufacturer, however, if the engine doesn’t make significant progress soon, you could see Keith Wiggins jump to Honda sometime later this year if pressure for better results comes from their sponsor Entergy.


KV Racing Technology driver Rubens Barrichello finished his first Indianapolis 500 in 11th position as the highest finishing rookie, therefore, winning the Chase Rookie of the Year award for 2012.  Barrichello had a consistent day of learning and will return to the Speedway next may with a legitimate chance to win the race in his second start.



The IZOD IndyCar Series packs up and leaves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for another year and returns to business as usual.  The car count will be back down to the normal field of 26 as the series loads into the revival of the Grand Prix of Detroit with the race sponsored by Chevrolet.  The race for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship resumes Sunday from the Motor City with Will Power holding the points lead by a margin of 36 over teammate Helio Castroneves.




All That’s Left Is 500 Miles!


Rookie Orientation Program, Seven days of practice, Two days of qualifications, Carb Day Final Practice with Pit Stop Competition, and 500 Festival Parade…Complete.  All that is left for the IZOD IndyCar Series at Indianapolis is to run 500 Miles and find out whose face is etched on the Borg Warner trophy this time next year.  Storylines are abound on the eve of the World’s Greatest Race!


The IZOD IndyCar Series debuts its new DW12 package on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in race competition for the first time on an oval.  The car has gone through substantial testing and modification to bring it to this point.  New rear wings and underwing ground effects have greatly enhanced the car’s ability at IMS.  The car drafts very well and according to drivers being ten car lengths behind in this car is like two car lengths in the car that IndyCar retired after the 2011 season.  This year’s rendition of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race could have to most passes in the history of the event, especially for the lead.  The indications are that this aero package could breed Indianapolis’ version of “pack racing” so hopefully the drivers use their heads and have a safe afternoon.  Double-file restarts have been scrapped for this year’s race for safety reasons which should help the safety factor.  This new DW12 car is still in the development stages and drivers have said that the car can be difficult in traffic so that is something to watch.  The question is which driver/team combination can find the car’s sweet spot over the course of the race’s 200 laps to make their car the best in traffic?

Returning to the Indianapolis 500 for the first time since 2005 is engine competition.  Series staple Honda along with returning Chevrolet and newbies Lotus have entered cars in the 2012 Indianapolis 500.  Lotus is not expected to be a factor, but Chevrolet and Honda will duke it out until the very end.  The Indianapolis 500 has often proven to be won on a game of fuel mileage strategy and the 2012 edition could be more of the same.  Through the first four races the Chevrolet twin turbo powerplant has been able to get slightly better fuel mileage than their Honda counterparts, however, all these races were on road and street courses so the engines were not constantly on the high end of the RPM meter.  Which manufacturer will emerge victorious?


Roger Penske, honored at Legend’s Day in 2012, is going for his 16th Win at the Indianapolis 500 as an owner.  Penske has an unmatched record at the Speedway, a record he would undoubtedly like to build upon.  Ryan Briscoe has already won the Pole Postion for Team Penske giving Roger the first bullet fired in the race.  Briscoe is joined in the top six by teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves starting 5th and 6th respectively.  Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet powered Shell V-Power Team Penske car, strives for his fourth Indianapolis 500 win;  A feat only accomplished by Rick Mears, AJ Foyt, and Al Unser while Power and Briscoe look for their first likeness on the Borg Warner Trophy.  Since 2003, when Gil de Ferran gave Penske his third straight win after returning to the race in 2001, Team Penske has won in 2006 and 2009 marking a return to victory lane every three years.  2012 would be three years since the last win.  The numbers add up, but will the results on Race Day?


The Andretti Autosport and Penske teams handily outdueled the four car Chip Ganassi Racing stable in qualifying, but, if Carb Day is any indication, Ganassi’s team should be a factor on Race Day.  Dario Franchitti topped the speed chart in final practice on Carb Day followed closely by Scott Dixon.  Dixon finished the day for Team Target by winning the Pit Stop Competition, a first for Chip Ganassi in his storied history at the Brickyard.  Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball also showed strong pace on Carb Day practice and with the DW12’s drafting ability these cars could go straight to the front!


In 2011, Andretti Autosport endured possibly the most difficult month of May at Indianapolis for any team since Team Penske failed to qualify in 1995.  The 2011 Andretti Autosport cars handled well, but had no speed, ending up with Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay missing the 33 car field in qualifying and Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti making the field on Bump Day by the slimmest of margins.  Fast forward to 2012, Andretti Autosport entered the sacred ground of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway loaded for bear qualifying cars in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th separating only Team Penske in the front two rows.  James Hinchcliffe missed the Pole by a total of ten inches.  Andretti Autosport could be the team Favorited to win the 2012 Indianapolis 500 with the pace, talent, and experience of their cars and drivers.  What will 500 Miles hold?


Formula 1 veteran Rubens Barrichello faced a steep learning curve entering the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for IndyCar’s Month of May.  Barrichello has shown well in practice and qualifying by starting 10th, but this race is a 3 1/2 hour, 500 mile marathon of an event.  The learning curve only gets steeper as Barrichello has yet to drive an IndyCar on an oval in traffic for any substantial length of time, and, thusly, has a monumental task in front of him.  Barrichello must approach Indianapolis as he has every other race and test session which is a learning experience.  Barrichello has done a remarkable job through the first four races keeping the car on the track and learning as much as he can each event.  Don’t count Barrichello out if he can keep the No. 8 KV Racing car on the track and the lead lap when it comes down to the finish.


Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a history of having a say in who wins this race.  The biggest factor on race day may not be the cars, drivers, strategy, engines, or tires but the SUN!  This could be the hottest Indianapolis 500 on record making the conditions harsh on handling, driver fatigue, and engine reliability.  The drivers will have a difficult time staying hydrated and focused for the 500 miles.  Who can endure the conditions?


This field, except for the two Lotus powered cars, is WIDE OPEN with a winner too tough to call and surprises could be abound once the green flag drops at around 12:15 Sunday.  Tune into ABC for all the action at 11:00 AM Eastern time!  Pull up a chair and E N J O Y!


For the first time since 1947, the defending Champion of the Indianapolis 500 will not be able to defend his title due to his death.  The most important part of the 2012 Indianapolis 500 is remembering the great Dan Wheldon.  Dan Wheldon loved this race more than any other and everybody knew it.  Wheldon came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011 with a small team helmed by former Andretti Green Racing teammate Bryan Herta.  The team became sleepers qualifying sixth and triumphantly crossed the bricks first after JR Hildebrand hit the Turn 4 wall on the final lap.  Nobody thought that win would be Dan’s last.  Wheldon was more than just a top flight racecar driver, he was an ambassador for the sport of IndyCar racing always taking extra time for a photograph or an autograph for a loving fan.  Dan’s death has left holes in the lives of everybody that loves INDYCAR…holes that may never be filled.  Dan Wheldon was a fan favorite, media favorite, and competitor favorite and meant more to our sport than just about anybody.  Wheldon was slated to drive the car that James Hinchcliffe now pilots.  Instead of piloting the car, screaming in to turn 1 as the green flag drops, Dan Wheldon will be watching the Indianapolis 500 on May 27, 2012 from the best seat in the house.  Alas, he will not be here with the rest of us and it hurts.  Everybody wear some Orange on Race Day in honor of the late, great Dan Wheldon!  Hope you enjoy this one, Dan, it’s going to be a great race. 



Indianapolis 500: Qualifying Weekend Review

Qualifying for the 2012 Indianapolis 500 is complete and INDYCAR has filled the 33 car field, but not without trepidation.  Team Chevrolet drivers had all their worries of a dominant Honda opponent in qualifying fade into the sunset when Chevrolet powered cars from Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, and KV Racing Technology all but stomped the rest of the field in qualifications.  It became apparent very early on in Pole Day that Chevrolet was going to be extremely strong, especially with the higher boost levels given to teams for the qualifying weekend.  Chevrolet drivers came out and snagged eight of the top nine positions on the grid setting up the shootout for the Pole.  The only Honda to qualify inside the top nine was Josef Newgarden and all four drivers from Chip Ganassi Racing were shut out of the Pole Shootout.  There were three incidents on Pole Day involving Oriol Servia, Bryan Clauson and Ed Carpenter forcing those drivers to qualify on Bump Day.


# 2 Ryan Briscoe IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet

# 3 Helio Castroneves Shell V-Power Team Penske Chevrolet

# 5 EJ Viso CITGO KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

# 11 Tony Kanaan GEICO KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

# 12 Will Power Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

# 26 Marco Andretti RC Cola Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

# 27 James Hinchcliffe GoDaddy Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

# 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay DHL/SunDrop Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

# 67 Josef Newgarden Dollar General Sarah Fisher Hartman Honda

The Pole Shootout began with EJ Viso making a couple laps on his run and waving it off as did teammate Tony Kanaan.  Ryan Briscoe exited the pits in his IZOD Team Penske machine and fired off a first lap of nearly 227 mph and completed his run with a four lap average of 226.484 mph besting James Hinchcliffe by .003 mph to take the Pole.  The first three rows consist of cars from Andretti Autosport and Team Penske.  The highest qualified car from Chip Ganassi Racing is Graham Rahal who will start outside row four.

The dominance of the Team Chevrolet teams may have come as a surprise, but the struggles of Lotus went as anticipated.  Neither car from Lotus made a qualifying attempt on Pole Day and why would they?  The Lotus has consistently shown speeds 12-14 mph off the leader’s pace.  So much, in fact, that Lotus had been considered to keep the extra boost level for qualifying to make them more competitive during the race, however, this has been vetoed by INDYCAR so Lotus has a difficult race weekend ahead of them.  Hopefully, Lotus can find enough pace to remain on the racetrack for the entire event so they can continue their engine development.

A vote of encouragement for INDYCAR to come out of qualifying weekend for the Indianapolis 500 has to be the performance of the DW12 cars during crashes at high speed.  Previous to this weekend, the DW12 endured only one major crash when Marco Andretti got together with Graham Rahal at Long Beach and neither car suffered serious damage.  Crashing on a road course and an oval are completely different things as the speeds on ovals are to the absolute extreme of the IndyCar’s capabilities.  The only incident during practice leading up to the qualifying weekend was a slight brush to the wall by Josef Newgarden.  Oriol Servia, Ed Carpenter, and Bryan Clauson suffered major hits to the SAFER Barrier during qualifying runs while Charlie Kimball tested the car’s crash abilities during practice on Bump Day.  The DW12 passed its first oval crash tests with flying colors as all four drivers exited uninjured ready to fight another day.

This field is incredibly tight and there are so many unknowns as we head to the drop of the green flag on Sunday May 27.  For the first time in nearly a decade, we are dealing with a new car with so many unknowns itself.  How will it handle in a slipstream behind 14-15 cars?  Will the lead be the desired place to be or will the leader by handicapped by the DW12’s apparent ability to draft and pass as shown in practice?  These three engine manufacturers have yet to run these engines at oval speeds constantly for 500 miles so how will the reliability factor into who wins the Indianapolis 500?  It has also been suggested that cars will not be able to pull away from each other creating an Indianapolis version of pack racing which could make for lots of excitement on raceday, but the danger factor could go through the roof.  Hopefully, INDYCAR has the field with enough depth and experience that the drivers will show the same courtesy, patience, and respect that they have shown through the first four races in 2012 to make the Indianapolis 500 a safe race.  The green flag drops just after 12:00 on Sunday May 20, so strap in and pull the belts tight because this one is gonna be exciting!


Indianapolis 500 Spotter Guide

Bubble, Bubble, Lotus In Trouble…

As Chevrolet and Honda powered teams work through their programs leading up to Fast Friday and Pole Day, Lotus is struggling to get their cars up to competitive pace.  Team Lotus drivers Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi are very concerned about their lack of speed and their ability to compete in the race.  Fortunately for these drivers, there are currently only enough entries to make the 33 car field so they will make the race no matter what their qualifying speed, however they must keep a race pace within 105 percent of the leader’s speed in order to continue running during the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.  An update to the Lotus engine is in the works to, hopefully, give the marque a boost in power thus increasing the speed, however, it is unknown if such an update will be available in time to make the cars competitive in the Indianapolis 500.  IZOD IndyCar Race Director Beaux Barfield will not hesitate, for safety reasons, pulling these cars off the track if they cannot keep pace.  It is unrealistic to think that Lotus was going to come out and win the Indianapolis 500 stealing it from Chevrolet or Honda, but 500 miles of development will help the brand down the road in 2012 and beyond.  A competitive Lotus engine is very important to INDYCAR so let’s hope that they can right the ship and make some quick progress.

The field is now full for the Indianapolis 500.  Dragon Racing’s severance from Lotus is complete and they are now powered by Chevrolet.  As a result Katherine Legge got her first taste of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as she went out early in the morning on Thursday May 17 to begin her rookie orientation program where she completed Phase 1 of the three phase process.  She will be given extra time in the afternoon to, hopefully, complete Phase 2 with Phase 3 being completed on the morning of Fast Friday practice.  Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 7 McAfee sponsored car should have a Chevrolet engine married to it in time to run Fast Friday and complete his requires refresher course.  Dragon Racing is six days behind the 8-ball but they have strong engines and probably some support from Team Penske so expect them to get up to speed quickly.  They must work fast because they only have three days of track time before Miller Lite Carb Day to get it right.

An oddity of this month’s proceedings at the racetrack, other than the weather being immaculate, is the quiet demeanor of the super teams of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.  While Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Saavedra, and Andretti Autosport have enjoyed strong showings each day on the speed chart, the six cars Favorited to win the race have been eerily quiet so far this month.  They have shown good pace, but not lights out, amazingly quick speeds that we are accustomed.  Look for them to turn up the wick tomorrow as the boost levels on the turbo are given an upgrade for the qualifying weekend.