Where Do We Go From Here?
IndyCar 2013 Season Preview
By Frank Santoroski
IndyCar 2012 saw an exciting championship that went right down to the wire. We saw multiple engine manufacturers competing for the first time since 2005. We saw the debut of the DW-12, a brand new chassis named in honor of the late Dan Wheldon. The new car did everything it promised and more, resulting in some of the best racing we have seen in years. One could be bold enough to proclaim 2012 as a giant success for IndyCar.
What will IndyCar do to continue to push forward in 2013? Well, for starters they went to the man most responsible for the successes, CEO Randy Bernard, and fired him.
Hulman & Company will begin the 2013 season with an interim CEO who says he won’t take the job full-time, and a 115 page report from a consulting company recommending changes for IndyCar’s future.
Now, I could sit here and write volumes upon volumes about the bonehead moves made by IndyCar management over the years, but, I’ll leave that to Robin Miller. I’d rather talk about what we will see on the track this year.
Among the more interesting stories to follow will be the three double-header races on this year’s schedule. This seems like an innovative way to increase the amount of races in the season without adding additional transportation costs to the teams.
Personally, I’m not sold on it. I think it may serve to dilute the crowd and split them between the two races. To IndyCar’s credit, they chose to try this in major population centers like Houston, Toronto and Detroit. With a sweet deal on a combo-ticket package, they could possibly fill the stands both days. I’ll believe it when I see it.
From a driver’s perspective, however, the concept of a double-header is very intriguing. Often times, a team will run a race and totally miss the mark on the setup. The best they can do is save those notes for next year. Now there is a unique opportunity to apply what has been learned the very next day. It will be interesting to see how this dual race format shakes out, and if it continues in 2014 and beyond.
Two of the top-three teams will return with their 2012 driver lineup intact. Veterans Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will be in their familiar Target Chip Ganassi Racing colors, while Andretti Autosport returns with 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe.
The other heavy hitter in the pack, Penske Racing, quietly dismissed Ryan Briscoe during the off-season. They will focus on a two-car team for Helio Castroneves and perennial championship bridesmaid Will Power. A third Penske car will be entered in select events for A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger returns to open wheel racing after several years of running stock cars.
It is highly likely that the 2013 champion will come from one of those three teams. The last championship won by another team was back in 2002. Target Chip Ganassi is coming off an uncharacteristic lackluster season but, with nine open wheel titles and five Indy 500 wins, they can never be counted out.
Andretti Autosports’ Hunter-Reay comes in with the momentum of having won the 2012 title. His teammate, the likable James Hinchcliffe, seems poised and ready to reach the top of the podium on any given weekend. Marco Andretti, however, still has not lived up to the potential seen in his 2006 rookie season.
Over at Penske racing, my personal feeling is that Helio Castroneves’ prime years are behind him. I hate to say it because I love the guy to death, but I’m truly surprised that Briscoe was the one who was cut. Of course, it is hard to argue with the three Borg-Warner Trophies that Castroneves has brought to the team. Will Power, on the other hand, has all the elements in place for another run at the title. With the Chevrolet Engine, a top-notch engineering staff, and considerable support from Verizon Wireless, Power should have already won two or three titles by now. It seems that he hasn’t had the luck or focus (you decide which one) to carry his momentum all the way through to the end of a season. This could very well be a make-or-break year for Power.
Looking through the rest of the field, there are some familiar faces with new homes. Simona de Silvestro moves into the KV Racing Technology seat vacated by Reubens Barricello. For de Silvestro this is a much-needed boost to her career. She showed promise in her rookie season, but spent much of last year struggling with the woefully underpowered Lotus engine. With veteran driver Tony Kanaan as a teammate, look for Simona to raise some eyebrows this year. KV will drop its third car as E.J. Viso moves over into a fourth entry for Andretti Autosports.
Takuma Sato was blindingly quick at times last year, but is still seen as an over-aggressive risk taker. His lack of patience cost him a chance at winning Indy last year, and it likely cost him his seat at Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. In what can only be seen as a step down the ladder, Sato will run for A.J. Foyt racing in a car that rarely has seen the inside of the top-ten. Mike Conway, James Jakes and Graham Rahal will fill the seats at Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan. Foyt’s 2012 driver, Vitor Meira will be on the outside looking in, without a ride for 2013.
Other drivers you may occasionally see at or near the front of the field include Alex Tagliani, Sebastian Bourdais, Oriol Servia, Simon Pagenaud and Ed Carpenter.
Prediction time. Despite his coming up short in the past, I am picking Will Power as the overwhelming favorite to win the 2013 Vanderbilt Cup with James Hinchcliffe a close second.
The green flag waves on the 2013 IndyCar series on March 24th in picturesque St. Petersburg Florida. The schedule features thirteen road course events and six races on oval tracks. A champion will be crowned this fall in sunny Southern California. If 2012 was any indication, we should see some great racing and fantastic competition. I’ll be watching…will you?