Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What To Look Forward To: IndyCar 2013

With today being the first day of Spring and the first race now being only four days away, it is time to preview what should be an exciting 2013 IndyCar season. From races to drivers, from on the track action to off track decisions, here we go:

1. Indianapolis 500
This was a given. We all look forward to the month of May with eager anticipation for live streams of six hour practice sessions, one-off deals being made, pole day, bump day, carb day, the pit stop competition and of course the race itself. We're intrigued with the possibility of Tony Kanaan finally breaking through, an American becoming a hero and someone joining AJ, Al and Rick at their exclusive table. May is IndyCar's month and it cannot come soon enough.

2. Turbo
This is IndyCar's big opportunity to win over a young a fan base with a animated movie featuring big name stars such as Ryan Reynolds, Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson. Will this movie all of a sudden get a 100,000 people showing up for every race or improve ratings on NBC Sports Net? Not necessarily. But, if it can pique a child's interest in IndyCar racing, heck even if it's piques the interest of  the parents, then it is a step in the right direction. Cross promotion of Turbo and IndyCar will be interesting to see over the next year.

3. Doubleheaders
All signs point to this being the one and only year for doubleheaders. They sound like a good idea on paper, however, few (if any) drivers and team owners have come out in support of them. With that being said, might as well make them a great show this year. With the first races of Toronto and Houston being standing starts, the future use of standing starts will also be in question. Should this be the only year of doubleheaders, the 2014 calendar will already down three races from 2013.

4. Chevrolet vs. Honda
It is now only a two horse race with Lotus ending it's relationship with IndyCar. Chevrolet was the top dog on the street and road courses, with Honda showing it's muscle on the bigger ovals. Honda had glimpse of success on road courses, as did Chevrolet on ovals, but can each manufacture become more competitive at the respective disciplines? Let's not forget the competition within each manufacture. Penske vs. Andretti, Ganassi vs. Schmidt Peterson Hamilton. The intra-manufacture battles should be just as fun.

5. Pocono and the Triple Crown
It has been 24 years since Pocono hosted an IndyCar race. The track has been upgraded and is much safer than it was three or four years ago. The 400-miler will be interesting as only Dario Franchitti (NASCAR race in 2008) has been to Pocono before. Three different corners to set up for, with reduce downforce should give all these drivers a challenge.

The Triple Crown is back and even at Pocono there will be something to race for. Should a driver win two of three legs, they get $250,000, with $1 million on the line for the sweep. Only once has the Triple Crown happened, Al Unser 1978 and only four other times has a driver won two legs (Rutherford 1974, Foyt 1975, Bobby Unser 1980 and Johncock 1982). This should be exciting.

6. Indy Lights
Nine cars across three teams (Schmidt, Andretti and Team Moore) are entered for the season opening Lights race at St. Pete. With the plans for a new car in 2014 being put on hold, the future of the second highest level in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system is in question. What can be done to bolstered the series? There seems to be no real movement to help the series out and no interest from teams to field a Lights car. Should the series fold, what would happen with the ladder system? Would there just be a missing rung or would Star Mazda become the stepping stone into IndyCar? No one truly knows.

7. AJ Allmendinger
Who isn't interested in seeing how Allmendinger does? Having been out of an open-wheel car since 2006, Allmendinger is only scheduled to run Barber and Indianapolis for Penske Racing. Long spells out of a IndyCar are nothing new. Michel Jourdain Jr. ran the Indianapolis 500 last year, his first open-wheel race in seven and a half years and finished 19th. John Andretti had been out of an IndyCar for 13 years before running in the 2007 Indianapolis 500 where he finished 30th after an accident. Danny Ongais had not run an IndyCar race in almost nine years before he stepped in for the late Scott Brayton at Indianapolis in 1996. He finished 7th that year. Not saying Allmendinger will dominate out of the box but he has the equipment behind him for good results.

8. Politics
Hopefully the politics of IndyCar don't hijack all the attention like it did in 2012. IndyCar needs a full-time CEO, Jeff Belskus is still interim and we will have to see what Mark Miles wants to do. Miles seems excited about moving forward in 2013 and helping improve IndyCar's brand. Let's not forget the Katherine Legge lawsuit against Dragon Racing.

9. Second Coyne Car
Ana Beatriz will be in the car at St. Pete. And that is all we really know. We thought Stefan Wilson, brother of Justin Wilson, was going to be in the car for all road and street course sans Brazil, but it seems things have changed.

According to Marshall Pruett, Beatriz will run St. Pete, Brazil and Indianapolis, with Wilson at Barber and Long Beach. After that, no one knows who will be in the car. Considering this team was given a leader circle spot, it is kind of embarrassing they were given money for that car and have not made it known whether they are committed to a full season or not. The money could have been better off elsewhere.

10. How will Racing be in Year Two?
In 2012, the DW12 provided great racing at almost every race tracks. But, let's be ready in case the racing is down at some places. No one thought Barber would have been as exciting as it was in 2012. What if 2013 proves to be less exciting? Let's not freak out that something is wrong. Hopefully the racing can transfer over from year one and hopefully it will get even better. The times at the Barber test were nearly three seconds ahead of the track record. With that being said the rush of seeing someone breaking a track record at any track should get any average fan interested in seeing these cars.

Four more days. It cannot come any faster.