It's been a rough few days for IndyCar and fans of the series.
First, Brian Barnhart was announced as race director on Wednesday. Then the season opener scheduled to take place in Brasilia, Brazil dropped off the calendar 38 days before it was scheduled to take place. We will get to Barnhart in a second but we will start with Brazil.
IndyCar Must Fill Brazilian Void
The cancelled race from Brazil's capital has extended IndyCar's offseason by three weeks. A series that has already limited itself to when they will race cannot allow their season to start three weeks later than originally anticipated. Everyone was already scheduled to be at a race track the weekend of Sunday March 8th and NBCSN had to already prepare to show an IndyCar race that day.
Pirelli World Challenge will be at Circuit of the Americas March 6-8th for the opening round of their 2015 championship and IndyCar management should be on their hands and knees, checkbook by their side begging to squeeze in on the bill. First, it is a race track that exists and isn't in the middle of renovations. Second, IndyCar would be joining a race weekend that already exists which means IndyCar wouldn't be scrambling to get a race together in six weeks. Tickets have already been sold and the track has the personnel in place to host a race. Third, PWC is a great partner with IndyCar and I think the more race weekends they share the better. Fourth, I really don't care what Eddie Gossage thinks about this.
I am normally not for doing things just for the fans because ultimately IndyCar has to do things that make business sense and won't cost them a boatload of money but IndyCar owes the fan base a race on March 8th and should not force them to wait another three weeks. This isn't a natural disaster or political revolution that is forcing the cancellation of the Brazilian round. It is poor government decisions by the local government in Brasilia and IndyCar's decision to do business with an outdated race track (So basically its a bunch of suits who get paid more than I do fault because they lack common sense).
It's not IndyCar's fault the Brazilian government took so long to get renovations started. I am not surprised this happen in Brazil, a country that has spent billions of dollars on sport venues in recent years for last year's World Cup and next year's Summer Olympics. However, I question IndyCar's decision to do business with a track that was pretty much a shell of what it was suppose to be. Why on earth does IndyCar (and this is an extension to include the IRL/CART/ChampCar) keep doing business with tracks that don't even exist or are archaic? Whether it be the Hawaiian Super Prix, Ansan, South Korea, Seoul South, Korea, or Qingdao, China, IndyCar and it's recent predecessors have made some bonehead decisions. While chasing golden carrots in hopes of riches, IndyCar has ignored established venues in countries with long ties to motorsports. The pays days might not be as grand at places such as Mugello but the races would actually take place as the track actually exists and hosts major events every year.
As for now, IndyCar should not settle with starting the season at St. Petersburg. Make Austin happen. Be as accommodating to the already established Pirelli World Challenge weekend but fill in what ever on-track time is available and pay PWC to make it happen. Offer PWC a spot during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend either starting this year or next year. It will be a little rushed but it would not be impossible. Austin is a reasonable trip and more affordable for the teams. The track actually exists and I am sure adding IndyCar to the bill will draw more people to the track than a standalone PWC weekend.
For IndyCar, making this race happen isn't about making a profit, rather giving fans nourishment after being famished from a lengthy offseason.
Brian Barnhart is back as IndyCar race director. Marshall Pruett had a great article on the return of Barnhart and why you should not jump ship because of the hire. First, there is nothing you or I can do about it. Would I have brought Barnhart back if I was in charge? No. He restarted an oval race in the rain. It was a mistake but there has to be a straw that breaks the camel's back and that was it.
Second, we can't let a race official decide whether or not we will watch a race. I am sure no one is deciding whether or not they will watch the Super Bowl based on Bill Vinovich being referee. The on-track action has been great the past three seasons and the introduction of aero kits is leaving everyone on pins and needles over who will have the advantage and who will be playing catch up. There are so many positives with IndyCar on-track that you can't let these little things get us down.
Time To Be Positive
While it seems like the last two days have been nothing but crap for IndyCar, let's look at some positives.
First, Luca Filippi will likely be announced as Ed Carpenter's co-driver in the #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet in 2015 with the Italian running all the road and street course races. I am sure some wanted J.R. Hildebrand to land in that seat but it still looks like Hildebrand is in prime position for an Indianapolis 500 seat with the team and Filippi has been busting his butt for a seat in IndyCar. The runner-up in the 2011 GP2 Series championship appeared to have a seat in place with Rahal Letterman Lanigan in 2012 but that did not happen. He made his debut in 2013 with Bryan Herta Autosport and just when it appeared he would get the seat for 2014, Jack Hawksworth was hired. Filippi is a competent driver and I would not be surprised if he won a race this season.
Speaking of Bryan Herta Autosport, it appears they will run full-time in 2015 with defending Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves as their driver after it appeared the team would have to cut back their operations. IndyCar can't afford to lose teams and keeping a full-time team on the grid is a big hold of serve for the series.
Indy Lights Testing
The Indy Lights series wrapped up their first oval test with the IL-15 chassis and these cars were quick out of the box at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
All 11 cars ran laps sub-30 seconds with 10 of the 11 drivers to take part in the test running laps under 29 seconds and six of 11 ran faster than the Indy Lights track record at Homestead.
The Juncos Racing pairing of Kyle Kaiser and Spencer Pigot were 1-2 with Kaiser leading the way with a lap of 28.3081 seconds (188.851 MPH). Pigot was 0.1504 seconds back. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Scott Anderson made it an American 1-2-3 at the test just 0.0030 seconds behind Pigot. Belardi Auto Racing rounded out the top five with Juan Piedrahita fourth at 28.4801 seconds and Félix Serrallés at 28.5871 seconds. Shelby Blackstock was sixth at 28.7210 seconds driving for Andretti Autosport.
R.C. Enerson just missed out on beating the Indy Lights track record at Homestead. The Floridian ran a 28.8392 with the track record being a 28.833. Emirati Ed Jones was 0.0339 seconds back of Enerson with the Brits Jack Harvey and Max Chilton following Jones. Harvey ran a 28.9298 with the former Marussia F1 driver Chilton 0.0055 seconds back. Ethan Ringel was slowest at 29.2686 seconds, 0.9605 seconds behind Kaiser.
While things appear to be crappy, there are a lot of positive things going on in and around IndyCar. We just have to dig a little bit to find it.