Unfortunately, the IZOD IndyCar season has completed 10 races and only has 5 left (Hey Randy Bernard, drivers and fans want more races!). In typical IndyCar fashion, this season has provided plenty of drama as well as great racing, interesting story lines, and plenty of surprises. Here’s a recap of the interesting items in case any of the action was missed.
- Schedule Issues – The great money-making race adventure to China was cancelled leaving the series initially scrambling to attempt to throw together a 16th race. Fans and competitors alike cried out for Road America to be added to the established ALMS race schedule mid-August, but Randy insists he doesn’t want Road America back on the schedule until the Milwaukee Mile event is a success. The China race, which was essentially cancelled by the new mayor of Qingdao, was supposed to be a huge financial gain for the series, but instead turned out to be a loss due to the expensive courtship expenses the series incurred. Scheduling a race half a world away with a Communist government obviously has its pitfalls.
- 2013 Schedule – Already reducing the schedule from 17 to 16 races, and ending up with 15 after the China cancellation, Bernard and crew have been hard at work trying to assemble a schedule for 2013. Randy has stated his goal is to have 19 races on the schedule next year, but IndyCar cannot have the debacle they had this year over the schedule. The late release, teetering races at Baltimore and Milwaukee, and rumors of Texas boycotts put a damper on the action before it even started. How can fans make plans or save money to attend events if they aren’t even sure if they are on the schedule for sure or not? The list of tracks not rumored to be interested is much shorter than the list of rumored tracks that are interested. However, the money has to be right for IndyCar and the tracks. Phoenix and Pocono are ovals that are being closely studied, and the new F1 track in Austin, Circuit of the Americas, has reached out to IndyCar about an event in 2013. A race at Reliant Park in Houston sponsored by Shell has already been announced for October 6th.
- Engine Availability – One of the biggest issues this season has been engine availability. The biggest casualty thus far because of that has been Dragon Racing. After defecting from the Lotus camp at Indy, Dragon Racing has only had 1 engine to share between its 2 drivers. Not only that, but the lack of available engines caused there to be no bumping on Bump Day at Indy despite the fact that the 2 Lotus entries were way off the pace. Drivers with funding didn’t have a chance to qualify because they didn’t have a competitive engine available. Hopefully this will be resolved for the 2013 season.
- Engine Power – This is an easy one. Drivers want the cars to have more power, especially on the road and street courses. Fans want the cars to have more power. The only issue is engine reliability and meeting series mileage requirements. IndyCar, just turn up the boost please.
- Lotus – The “SLOWtus” or “sLotus” engine program as it’s been called has been a total debacle from the start. From day 1 Lotus was behind. The company was sold, assets were frozen, and programs reevaluated during engine development. Then, because of percentages of the field that manufactures were required to meet, Lotus was stretched thin providing engines for 5 teams. After being far off the pace for the first 4 events and engine supply being a weekly issue, Dryer & Reinbold Racing, Bryan Herta Autosport, and Dragon Racing defected from the Lotus camp leaving HVM Racing as the sole Lotus team. It hasn’t been pretty. If Lotus is around in 2013, they will be required to supply more than just 1 engine. But, will anyone want one?
- Ryan Hunter-Reay – One exciting story this season has been Ryan Hunter-Reay. For the first time in what seems to be an eternity, an American is leading the points. After 3 wins back-to-back, all on different types of tracks, Hunter-Reay leaped over Will Power for first place. Not only that, but he is the first non-Penske/Ganassi/Will Power/Dario Franchitti points leader in years. American IndyCar fans have longed for another great American to cheer for and they have one in Hunter-Reay.
- Dallara DW12 – Despite the cars questionable looks, the DW12 chassis has provided IndyCar with great racing action this year. Even at tracks that are notoriously difficult to pass on like Barber (that was designed for motorcycles), the racing has been action packed and full of passing. A reduced downforce package at the ovals, especially Texas, produced spectacular racing with drivers hanging on, working the throttle, and having to actually drive the cars. The pack racing of the IRL is long gone.
- Poor Simona – Saddled with the lone Lotus engine in the field, Simona has had a miserable season. Coupled with the fact she’s on a single-car team, her struggles have been massive. A fan favorite and regarded by competitors like Dario Franchitti as one of the best drivers in the series, de Silvestro needs to have a breakout season. Hopefully the Lotus engine has not been a career killer, but it does seem that she is shopping herself and her sponsors around for next year as she is in the last year of her contract with HVM.
- Owner Uprisings – The car owners have been unhappy this year. Some of their reasons are more justified than others, but the general consensus hasn’t been one of rainbows and butterflies. This came to light after the Indy 500 when Randy Bernard took to Twitter and stated that an owner was trying to have him fired. Things subsided some after everyone had a chance to air out their differences, but one issue remains unresolved…
- Car Costs – IndyCar promised to deliver a chassis that was cheaper than the previous one and delivered on that promise. The chassis was cheaper. But, cheaper to operate it certainly has not been. The series entered into a contract with chassis manufacturer Dallara for them to be the sole parts provider for the series and others to be the lone brake provider, lone transmission supplier, etc. Cutting out the former cottage industry that made cheap parts for the teams for the previous chassis, Dallara, and others, have a monopoly on the spare parts market. Because they were not making money on the initial sale of the chassis itself, Dallara is making its money back on the parts. Teams are not happy because costs have not been what they were initially told and budgets have been busted.
- Flashes of Brilliance – Some teams have unexpectedly shown flashes of brilliance this year. After ditching the Lotus engine, Alex Tagliani and the Bryan Herta Autosport crew have been strong at every event though luck hasn’t been on their side. Known for crashing and subsequently becoming and adjective because of that, EJ Viso has been much improved this season. Though the results haven’t been there, he has qualified well, raced well, and hasn’t wrecked anyone this year. Oriol Servia continues to impress. After switched to Chevy power at Indy, Servia has been steady in every race improving his position through smart strategy, impressive skill, and teamwork. Rookie Josef Newgarden has been fast, but needs mentoring and development before the results show how fast he has been. Given a veteran teammate and some grooming, he will be an American challenging for a championship soon.
- Underperformers – This season has been lackluster for these guys. Takuma Sato has shown promise with a 3rd at Brazil and a near win at Indy. But after Indy, his kamikaze style led to multiple accidents and disappointing finishes. Mike Conway has also been quick at times, but the results do not show it. Oval specialist Ed Carpenter has struggled on the road and street courses this year at times being slower than the underpowered Lotus entries. With his excellent sponsor Fuzzy’s Vodka and their great activation this year, the results desperately need to improve. His last shot at a win will most likely come at Fontana in the season finale. 2011 Rookie JR Hildenbrand has also had a lackluster season. Hopes were high, but the team still needs work. Marco Andretti has also had a poor season. Andretti was fast at Indy before crashing alone and had a chance to win at Iowa, a track he is always fast at. But other than that, Andretti has lagged behind his Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe. Would Andretti still have a ride after all this time if his team wasn’t owned by his father?
There are other small issues and news bits like the aero-kit question for 2013, the return of push-to-pass, and Beaux Barfield, but they aren’t worth discussing…yet. Stay tuned in for the next 5 races and see if an American can bring home the IndyCar championship again. And, of course there will be drama. It’s IndyCar after all.