IZOD IndyCar Series Season Preview: Andretti Autosport


andretti autosport logo# 1 RYAN HUNTER-REAY

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 1 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet# 5 EJ VISO (IN CONJUNCTION WITH HVM RACING)

EJ VISO 2012 SEBRING# 25 MARCO ANDRETTI

Marco Andretti, No. 25 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet# 27 JAMES HINCHCLIFFE

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE 2013CAR NUMBERS: 1, 5, 25, 27, TBA (CARLOS MUNOZ; INDIANAPOLIS ONLY)

SPONSORS: DHL, SUN DROP, CITGO, RC COLA, GODADDY.COM

ENGINE: CHEVROLET

Andretti Autosport enters the 2013 IndyCar campaign as the defending IZOD IndyCar Series Champions but find a long road ahead of them on their journey to repeat.  While Ryan Hunter-Reay’s amazing 2012 campaign has been well documented, it almost completely overshadowed the struggles of the other two members of the team.

Ryan Hunter-Reay 2013 shot

When Ryan Hunter-Reay returns to the grid in St. Petersburg he will be thrust immediately into the defense of his title.  By no means should Hunter-Reay’s title be cast aside as lucky or fortunate as he finished the season with a daring win at Baltimore and finished finale at Auto Club Speedway while his rival found the Turn 2 wall.  That being said, Hunter-Reay has the bullseye of the #1 affixed to his DW12 for 2013 and the entire field will be coming after him.  He and his team must do it better this year if he’s to win consecutive championships.  It will be incredibly difficult for Hunter-Reay to have back-to-back five win seasons which he needed to counterbalance some mechanical woes that removed him from contention at Indianapolis, Texas, and Mid-Ohio.  Hunter-Reay enters 2013 with a great deal of momentum as the defending champion, but his teammates are a different story.

Marco Andretti 2013 Shot

It seems that whenever Marco Andretti has a season where he looks to have turned a corner the following campaign turns out much like 2012 did.  Although his first IZOD IndyCar Series win came on a road course, since that time Andretti has suffered from poor qualifying results on these circuits.  Road and Street Courses are notoriously difficult to pass on so starting at the back of the field makes constistent, strong, and points paying finishes almost impossible.  Coupled with Andretti’s competitive pace but tough luck on the ovals, the poor results mounted to a frustrating campaign and a number change for 2013.

James Hinchcliffe 2013 shot

The 2012 campaign for James Hinchcliffe could be described as a tale of two halves.  From St. Petersburg through Iowa, Hinchcliffe had every driver, team member, and analyst in INDYCAR saying that the No. 27 GoDaddy car would find its way to victory lane, but after a difficult weekend in his hometown of Toronto, Hinchcliffe’s season seemed to go dead weight.  The top six qualifying positions and competitive race pace seemed to inexplicably go away.  2013 will be Hinchcliffe’s third full season in the IZOD IndyCar Series and he will be asked to be fast at all times and break through to Victory Lane.  Ryan Hunter-Reay has solidified himself as the lead driver on this team, but Hinchcliffe will look to move to position 1A on the roster.

EJ Viso 2013

HVM Racing suffered the worst season in history in 2012 resulting in the loss of its driver and sponsorship.  Owner Keith Wiggins turned to former driver EJ Viso to see if a program was possible for 2013.  The result is a car fielded by Andretti Autosport in conjunction with Wiggins HVM outfit and driven by Viso with sponsorship from CITGO and Team Venezuela.  Viso has shown flashes of being competitive but has lacked consistency in every seat he has entered.  Perhaps, Michael Andretti’s top-tier team will be able to help Viso find the competitive balance.

Indy Lights veteran will join Andretti Autosport at Indianapolis so stay tuned for news on that entry coming in the next 90 days.

IZOD IndyCar Series Season Preview: A.J. Foyt Racing


a.j.-foyt-enterprises

Takuma Sato Foyt 2013

CAR NUMBERS: 14, 41 (INDIANAPOLIS ONLY)

2013 DRIVER: TAKUMA SATO, CHASE AUSTIN (INDIANAPOLIS ONLY)

2013 SPONSORS: ABC SUPPLY CO.

2013 ENGINE MANUFACTURER: HONDA

Overview:

Move over Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, we have a new odd couple in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2013.  After a season of mixed results in 2012 with Mike Conway culminated with Conway’s resignation from oval racing, AJ Foyt Racing was forced to find a new pilot for its Honda-powered Dallara sponsored by ABC Supply Company.  The free agent list in IndyCar was extensive but AJ Foyt dropped a bomb on the racing world by hiring Japanese driver Takuma Sato as the full-season participant for the team.  An odd couple it may seem, but Takuma Sato could be just the kind of driver needed to catapult Foyt’s operation to a consistent contender on a weekly basis.

The Upside:

Foyt’s team has always seemed to suffer from lack of pace, but if there is anything that Takuma Sato has proven in his three year tenure in INDYCAR that he is anything but slow.  Sato spend 2012 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing showing flashes of being the fastest driver in the Paddock and put his competition on notice.  A brilliant drive in the Indianapolis 500 that ended in the wall caught the attention of everyone on the grid.  Expect to see the No. 14 with consistent, competitive pace but whether they enjoy a breakout season is in the hands of the driver.

The Cause for Concern:

Nobody doubts Takuma Sato’s ability to push a car to its limits getting every ounce of speed but what is open to doubt is whether Sato can temper his aggressive tendencies that have so often resulted in contact with the barriers separating the racing surface from those in the grandstands.  Takuma Sato will, undoubtedly, crack the top echelon of the grid at points in every race this season, however, transferring his quick pace into points paying finishes will be what to watch for.  AJ Foyt is certainly hoping his roll of the dice in signing Sato will result in a major leap forward for his team which has, historically, been mired in the bottom third of the IZOD IndyCar Series grid.

PREDICTION:

Takuma Sato will breathe a shred of new life into AJ Foyt Racing giving them something to be excited about.  Qualifying towards the front of the grid on Road and Street Circuits should be a regularity but Sato will suffer from a lack of engineering expertise to qualify well on the ovals, but should make his way to the front.  Sato will have a difficult time finishing races resulting in a 15th place or lower finish in the final points but could climb higher if the finishes match the potential.

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.

AND THEN THERE WERE TWO…

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.

DE SILVESTRO GETS HER OPPORTUNITY AS KV RACING REBOOTS

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 UNITE

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.

PENSKE TRIMS THEIR GRID

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.

GANASSI LOOKS FOR A REBOUND

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.

HUNTER-REAY, ANDRETTI LOOK TO BUILD ON AMAZING 2012

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.

RACE CONTROL

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.

NEW LEADERSHIP

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.

2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Awards: Best Oval Track Race


This is the first in a series of IZOD IndyCar Paddock Pass awards posts.  Stay tuned for more awards!

BRONZE MEDAL: AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY’S MAVTV 500

In an effort to replace Las Vegas Motor Speedway as host for the INDYCAR World Championships, the IZOD IndyCar Series turned to Auto Club Speedway to close their 2012 campaign.  Bringing a combination of the Speedway wing package used at Indianapolis and low downforce used at Texas, the show was sure to be interesting.  Throw into the mix that the championship was coming down to the wire as Will Power entered the event with a 17-point lead on Ryan Hunter-Reay, but, as IndyCar Series campaigns have shown consistently, it isn’t over until the checkered flag falls and the MAVTV 500 became a prime example.  Both championship contenders suffered ill handling race cars and combined with grid penalties for engine changes, both started back in the pack.  The race took a dramatic turn on lap 55:

Battling with rival Hunter-Reay, Will Power attempted to make a low side pass, got loose, and spun into the turn 2 wall changing the entire scope of this race.  Hunter-Reay immediately had the best opportunity to win the championship but still needed to complete 195 laps and finish 5th, after Verizon Team Penske was able to repair Power’s car enough to run enough laps to make up one position, to score enough points to win the championship.  The race was drama filled to the end capped of by a gutsy ‘red flag’ call by Beaux Barfield to give the race the opportunity to end under green flag conditions.  Ed Carpenter managed to snatch the race from Dario Franchitti while Hunter-Reay grabbed the title from the clutches of Will Power.

SILVER MEDAL: 96TH INDIANAPOLIS 500 MILE RACE

It might be considered a travesty to not have the Indianapolis 500 as the winner of this award every season.  The 2012 rendition of the 500 mile marathon just outside downtown Indianapolis could be enshrined as the best race in the event’s 100+ year history.  The Chevy vs. Honda ‘Turbogate’ saga had been accepted and Honda’s new turbo cover had been approved my IndyCar’s technical department, but when Pole Day came around it looked as though it didn’t even matter as Josef Newgarden was the only Honda to crack the top-9 in qualifying.  The race turned out to be a different story as the brand new Honda engines installed for the 500 miles seemed to have new life.  The race began as a battle between Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe with Marco Andretti holding the lead through the middle stages of the race.  Then Honda and Chip Ganassi Racing began to show their muscle.

On the final lap, Takuma Sato attempted to pass Dario Franchitti in turn 1 when he spun hitting the wall giving the race win to the Scot followed closely by teammate Scott Dixon and KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan.  A race filled with close competition that set an event record for lead changes ended like the greatest stories ever told.  The unenviable backdrop to the 2012 Indianapolis 500 was paying tribute to Dan Wheldon and the race ended with all three of Wheldon’s former teammates and best friends crossing the bricks three wide under caution for the most fitting tribute of all to Dan’s legacy.

 

GOLD MEDAL: FIRESTONE 550 AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

As drama-filled and exciting as the Indianapolis 500 was, how could any event unseat it as the best oval race of 2012?

The award for best oval track race goes to the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway for a very simple reason.  In the wake of the tragedy of Las Vegas, there was much apprehension and questions about the viability of IndyCars racing on the high banked 1.5 mile oval tracks that helped make IndyCar Racing famous, at least in the recent history of the sport.  In order to remain relevant and draw fans, the schedule’s balance between ovals and road courses must be retained.

The tension was mounting in the Paddock as the first practice inched closer and closer.  Drivers said they would no longer participate in pack racing on the ovals but elected to grid at Texas because they are professionals.  The beauty of the new DW12 chassis is that it has a wealth of aerodynamic options to add or remove downforce.  In conjunction with the drivers, IndyCar’s technical department came to Texas with a low-downforce package that would require drivers to lift in the turns instead of holding the throttle flat.  This became an instantaneous solution for the pack racing and brought some serious excitement as cars were coming and going all the time.  This was also a race for the ‘little guys’ as the Pole was won by Alex Tagliani while Justin Wilson took the race win for Dale Coyne Racing after Graham Rahal grazed the turn 4 wall with two laps to go.

This race gets top honors for 2012 oval track races because of what it means for the future of the sport.  Leading up to the race, drivers said they would run the race but they would also be very happy to leave when it was over, but fast forward to after the race was complete and the attitude changed to ‘we want to do this again’.  Justin Wilson may have crossed the finish line first, but the big winners in this race was the sport itself and its fans.  Oval tracks are here to stay and make no mistake that the results of Texas had direct correlation to the addition of Pocono Raceway in 2013.  A big ‘Thank You’ goes to Eddie Gossage for sticking with IndyCar through all the talk of configuration, pack racing, and fence talk to host IndyCar Paddock Pass’s ‘Best Oval’ of 2012.

 

 

 

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!

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.