Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013 IndyCar Season: First Impressions

1. Scott Dixon deserved to win this title. We'll say he didn't start strong and turned it around at Pocono but he finished fifth and second in the first two races. That's hardly a bad start. Ok, he had a string of three consecutive finishes outside the top ten after that but then finished fourth in both races at Belle Isle. The gearbox broke on him at Texas but he recovered for sixth at Milwaukee but then struggled at Iowa. And then he turned it on knocking off three consecutive wins. Salvaged a seventh at Mid-Ohio and then came the two races from hell at Sonoma and Baltimore. But after that he recovered winning and finishing second at Houston. As much as Dixon had to comeback from in Houston, it shouldn't have been a surprise. He was consistent all season with a few blips. He was the fastest guy all season.

2. I said it once and I'll say it again, Helio Castroneves pussyfooted throughout the season and that cost him the championship. Sure he was completing every lap but finishing sixth and seventh will never be enough to win the title. Castroneves had to be going out their and getting victories and he wasn't doing that. He was settling and he shouldn't have been. He could've put the championship away at Baltimore but instead of going for it, he knew Dixon's day was done and all he had to do was manage to finish but what he did was let valuable points go and settled for ninth. Castroneves had only five top fives all season. Dixon had five top fives in the first half and second half of the season. Dixon won the title by racing hard, Castroneves was hoping to rest on his laurels and win by just completing every lap but winning a championship takes more than that and it back fired on Castroneves.

3. And Simon Pagenaud has to improve on being more consistently up front. Pagenaud had only five top fives all season, just like Castroneves and that won't win you titles. Pagenaud did have two wins to Castroneves' one but you have to do more than that. To win the championship you are going to need at least three or four wins and nearly half your finishes in the top five. Pagenaud has the talent to do that but is Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing a team capable of have making that happen for the Frenchman?

4. Will Power had a fire in his eyes after his win at Fontana that I have never seen in him before. He ended up winning three races, despite not winning until Sonoma at the end of August. He finished fourth in points despite not scoring a podium until Milwaukee and not scoring another one until that win at Sonoma. Power was driving angry. Angry over his season, angry at Ed Carpenter for saying Power blowing the title the year before was "usual Will," angry this race came a year late and a championship short. The man will have five months to prepare for his 2014 campaign but he is ready to go and win that title now.

5. Marco Andretti finished a career best fifth in the championship standings but just like Power, he wants more. Andretti should have had at least two victories this year but errors, whether mechanical or poor strategy bit him. Not to mention he improved leaps and bounds on road and street courses this year. He scored two podiums on road and street courses this season, he had only two career podiums on road and street courses entering 2013. If he can match his success on road and street courses this year with the speed he has on ovals and the team minimizing failures, he will definitely be fighting at the top of the championship standings next year.

6. What was a great season for Justin Wilson ends with him in hospital with a small pelvic fracture and a small pulmonary contusion. Four podiums but no wins for the Brit kept him from vying for the title but he has turned into a respectable driver on ovals and has turned Dale Coyne Racing into a dangerous team with help from engineers Bill Pappas and John Dick. Let's home Wilson can make a full recovery and return in top form for 2014.

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay's championship defense ended when Takuma Sato ran over the back of him entering the pit lane at Pocono. Mechanical issues also plagued the defending champion all year but he still showed he has the speed and capability to run up front and contend week in and week out. With Andretti Autosport's move to Honda for 2014 one can only wonder if that will reduce the amount of mechanical issues that hinder his title defense.

8. James Hinchcliffe just edged out Charlie Kimball for eighth in the championship as both will be looking to take another step forward in 2014. Hinchcliffe had three wins but needs to be able to finish more races if he wants to finish at the top of the championship. Kimball by far had his best season and finished ahead of teammate Dario Franchitti though Franchitti did miss the final race. With the move to Chevrolet coming for Ganassi will Kimball be able to improve on his 2013 success or fade slightly and become less of a factor?

9. As 2013 comes to a close, many question about the future arise. Dragon Racing appears to not have the funding to do a full IndyCar operation as well as Formula E which they have committed to do. Jay Penske has said he is committed to do the two Indianapolis races but will we see Dragon be able to keep two cars on the grid full-time?

How committed is Honda? They have already said IndyCar needs one more engine manufacture to help them and Chevrolet carry the load and will not be sponsoring the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg anymore. It is not inconceivable that they would consider pulling out of the series in the next few years if they can't reduce their loses.

Will Simona de Silvestro return to KV? Who will be driving for Herta? Will Foyt keep Sato? What is the future of Panther Racing if they lose National Guard sponsorship? Will EJ Viso return? Do any teams expand their operations for 2014? So many questions with the answers coming at a tortoise's pace.

10. More importantly what will IndyCar do to expand their television packages internationally? I learn during last nights race from a New Zealand man that the race wasn't on in the champions home country and he was relying on my tweet-by-tweet update of the championship picture and the race.

How can a series expand internationally with a winter series if the places they are going can't find the races on television? Better TV packages for those around the globe would bring in more TV revenue for the series while also expanding the audience around the globe. The series need to be making more money and the last thing they can do is allow countries go without being able to see IndyCar race, especially ones with top IndyCar drivers such as New Zealand, the UK, France, Australia and Brazil.

And when it comes to revenue, the series has to take what it can get. Not turn down an offer because a network wants to pay less than what the series is asking for. At this point, any money coming in for the series is good for series.

11. As the season ended, I felt empty. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was all the attrition and the feeling the race would never end. Maybe because it was such a late finish. Maybe it was too much wondering about the future as the series has no title sponsor as it enters the 2014 season.

I want what's best for the series. I don't want the series to die but I wonder where the series is going? It was another great year for racing and when it comes to four-wheel forms of motorsport, IndyCar had to be producing the best product in 2013 but it still appears that isn't enough to gardner attention and sponsorship necessary to continue.

IndyCar needs partners. They need to form relationships with people who are committed for the long-term. IndyCar needs to become more. They can't just rely on the Indianapolis 500. One race isn't the entire championship and the series has to improve on all levels.

12. But how does IndyCar improve while being sensible in their spending? They need to become more recognizable than the Indianapolis 500 and every time their is a massive accident. But come to think of it, it's not like NASCAR does any better. If their races weren't on ESPN each weekend, would they get as much time on SportsCenter as they do now? It's not like NASCAR is what everyone is talking about all day Monday after a race.

Motorsports will never be a full-time cable network sports property like other major sports leagues. So all of you saying every IndyCar race should be on NBC you should just stop now. In the United States, motorsports is cable sports with it's major races getting network coverage. And that's as true for NASCAR as it is for IndyCar. Why do you think Fox is going to be moving some races to Fox Sports 1 in 2014? Why do you think the only Chase race on ABC is Charlotte and not all ten races like a few years ago? It's not that it's not profitable. I'm sure NASCAR was profitable when on ABC but it wasn't making enough and in the world of capitalism just breaking even isn't good enough, you need to be raking more and more each time out.

13. I don't want to end on that note though. IndyCar does have a lot going for it. More and more talented drivers are seeing IndyCar as an option over Formula One because of the cost. When Sam Bird, currently 2nd in the GP2 standings and Mercedes test driver says he is interested, that has to perk up your ears. Here is a guy who is on the doorstep of Formula One but realizes the entry fee is more than he wants to pay but see IndyCar as just as good of an option. Not to mention the talented drivers IndyCar already has but jewels like Bird coming over would only further the depth of an already deep field.

As much as you want the series to grow, you don't want it to grow to a point where it starts pricing drivers out, makes drivers less accessible to fans and stops being fun. IndyCar needs to find an equilibrium of those three factors. That is what the series should worry about the most.

14. Now we play the waiting game until March 30, 2014 when the cars take the green flag at St. Petersburg.