As 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…
The 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
The 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.
Graham 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
The 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
The 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
Anybody 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.
The 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.
The 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.