IndyCar Season Opener Preview

IndyCar Season Opener runs this weekend, without two of their biggest names

3/23/12 in IndyCar   |   Debi_L   |   11718 respect

I will be the first to admit that I am a NASCAR fan first and foremost, but I have always said I am a fan of racing, any kind of racing.  So, with that in mind, please bear with me as I attempt to give you a preview to this year's opening race in the IZOD IndyCar series.  Our friend and IndyCar expert, Eric (gearhed) is studying madly for his next examination and isn't able to do this preview.  I'm sure he will offer his thoughts, and I certainly welcome them!

The IndyCar series starts their season at St. Petersburg on Sunday and it will no doubt be an emotional day.  In the series' last race of the season at Las Vegas, one of the most recognizable names in IndyCar, Dan Wheldon, lost his life.  The video has been played over and over and I will NOT post it here.  We remember Dan for his smile, his laugh and his victories, one of which came here in 2005.  His sister, Holly Wheldon, will wave the green flag on Sunday, after a moment of silent which is to be included among other open ceremonies.  

This year, IndyCar will use the newest car, developed over the the past year or so, which has been named in Dan's honor.  The DW12 was built by Dallara and Dan had an opportunity to test drive the new car last year.  Would the safer car have saved his life?  Not likely, but the with the safer car, the accident may not have played out the way it did.  

Good news for IZOD shows a full 26 drivers will compete this year.  This will be minus Danica Patrick, of course, who has made the jump to NASCAR full time, but adding Rubens Barrichello from Formula One.  All eyes will be on Rubens as he makes his first start in the series. The same favorites will also return, including Dario Franchitti, four time champion of the series.  Marco Andretti, who was supposed to appear on Celebrity Apprentice will also return.  Taping for the show was set to start a mere hours after the Season Finale at Las Vegars, in October.  With the death of Dan Wheldon, his father, Michael Andretti, stepped in to take Marco's place, but his appearance was short lived and his "firing" seemed almost rehearsed. 

Engines will be provided by Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus, but the initial thoughts are that Lotus may be the one to lag behind, at least at this point, prior to the season opener.  Testing has gone on all winter, with the new chassis and the engines, gauging how it will all fit together in race conditions.  Given that it has been such an expensive off-season for the teams, the fact that there will be a full roster of cars on the track is a huge boost to the sport.  IndyCar seems to be back on the rise.  

Debate has continued regarding the series racing at the high bank oval tracks, given the way the cars react on these tracks.  Road courses seem for fitting for the cars, but the oval track racing seems to be a fan favorite.  We all like to see exciting racing, but at what cost?  I, for one, enjoy the road courses for IndyCar far more than the oval tracks.  NASCAR racing on the ovals is more exciting for me, as the cars can touch, smack the wall, beat and bang against each other, yet still continue racing, once repairs are completed.  The IndyCars do not fare as well on the ovals.  On the road courses, the damage to an IndyCar seems to be to the nose or tail of the car, allowing for repairs and more racing.  In my opinion, the ovals should be left to the stock cars.  

Who are the favorites for the season opener?  Well, by many accounts, newcomer, Rubens Barrichello could be an early favorite.  He comes into IndyCar fresh from Formula One.  He hasn't been in the "old" IndyCar, so will only have to adapt to the new car.  The rest of the drivers are still adapting to the DW12, including left foot braking.  Series favorite, Dario Franchitti, has had a kit installed to his car to allow him to continue right foot braking, but from most accounts, the other drivers seem to be adapting just fine.

To close this preview, I want to remind people that the racing itself is a way to honor Dan Wheldon and to find some closure.  He loved racing.  He died doing exactly what he enjoyed most.  Yes, his loss is an incredible one, but as a NASCAR fan, I can recall many, many drivers saying that just getting back in the car, and getting down to business as usual helped them with the loss of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001.  I'm sure this race will go a long way to helping IndyCar drivers do the same.

God speed, Dan.  I know you will be watching over the drivers, and waving the green flag right along with Holly.
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3/24/12   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Debi_L wrote:
Okay, I am at home now.  I guess I didn't explain myself very well. For me, IndyCar racing on the road courses is exciting.  Road courses in NASCAR aren't exciting.  Oval courses in NASCAR are terrific, but, other than Indianapolis, I don't really enjoy the ovals in IndyCar.  It seems the ovals are more dangerous, so why race on them? Of course there are some that should be good, as you mentioned above,  Eric, but the others not so much.  To me, it makes sense to attract the audience with what works best.  Even if IndyCar goes back to Las Vegas, I will never watch another race there. I know I won't enjoy it so I won't do it. 

I certainly understand the attracting audience thing. The mile and a half ovals except Texas don't draw flies (which I've always found odd because the cookie cutters aren't . I just don't agree that ovals are necessarily dangerous to the point they can't be raced on. The new car at Texas and Fontana will probably give us the answer. I can tell that the future of ovals will mostly be short ovals (which are great) and Indianapolis, but some bigger ovals need to be on the schedule or it will be too road and street heavy. As we saw with Champ Car, that business model doesn't survive in the US.

That's the future though. For now, I'm just excited to finally get going. Things are far from perfect in IndyCar land, but things look like they're on the uptick. I can't wait for it to get started tomorrow.

3/24/12   |   Debi_L   |   11718 respect

Okay, I am at home now.  I guess I didn't explain myself very well. For me, IndyCar racing on the road courses is exciting.  Road courses in NASCAR aren't exciting.  Oval courses in NASCAR are terrific, but, other than Indianapolis, I don't really enjoy the ovals in IndyCar.  It seems the ovals are more dangerous, so why race on them? Of course there are some that should be good, as you mentioned above,  Eric, but the others not so much.  To me, it makes sense to attract the audience with what works best.  Even if IndyCar goes back to Las Vegas, I will never watch another race there. I know I won't enjoy it so I won't do it. 

3/23/12   |   Debi_L   |   11718 respect

derms33 wrote:
about 3 q'ers care

About 5 now.....

3/23/12   |   Debi_L   |   11718 respect

I have comments but I am on my phone. I didn't mean NASCAR should have a block on ovals, just that if the ovals are unsafe for IndyCar they should not race on them. Safety should come first. More later tho......

3/23/12   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Thanks Debi for pinch hitting! Here are my thoughts (which hopefully won't end up at long as an actual preview).

Overall, I think the new cars will help competitiveness as teams spend the year figuring them out, and as the new engines go through their gremlins. It helps that the driver lineup is really deep this year. Now in the end, the championship will likely be a Penske and Ganassi battle, but I can definitely see a more spread out distribution of race wins. In all seriousness, of the 21 drivers not running Lotus, you can make a case to some degree that most of them are capable of winning a race.

Some people do not like the look of the new car. I am not one of those people, and some of the liveries are really, really nice looking. The new car is faster (at least on road and street courses), and hopefully it's safer. Big kudos to Randy Bernard on this one. If it weren't for him, the new cars don't happen this year. It's made the development time a little more rushed than one would like, but in the end it was something that needed to happen.

Needless to say, I disagree with you that ovals should be sole purview of NASCAR. It all depends on the oval and how the racing is. Look at Indianapolis and Iowa last year as examples. The real reason there are only 5 ovals this year isn't the pack racing issue, it's because most of the ovals aren't drawing enough people to the tracks. This year's Milwaukee race was a last admit addition, and it's basically a test case as to how IndyCar is going to approach ovals going forward. The hope is the low number is just a blip, although Texas is looking less and less likely it will return after Eddie Gossage responded to drivers safety concerns by being a dick.

Overall I'm guessing going forward IndyCar will mostly concentrate on short ovals like Iowa and (hopefully) Milwaukee and Phoenix, but there's no reason they can't run on 1.5 milers as long as pack racing is gone with these new cars, and I don't necessarily mean pack racing like 2011 Texas. I mean as long as we're not seeing what we saw at Vegas, there more than likely won't be an issue. That crossed over from dangerous to stupid dangerous, with tragic results.

Championship-wise, I'm going with Power. I think it's his year, although obviously Dario will be tough to beat. Dixon and even Helio (he's been rejuvenated during preseason testing) have good shots too. I also think this Graham's year to break out, and the Andretti Autosport and big two at KV could also make it happen.

It's been a long offseason, with a lot of bumps in the road. There was a lot of complaining, some of it justified, and some of by people who seem to do nothing but complain. Now, it's finally time to go racing. I'll hopefully be back in the writing saddle in time for Indy.

3/23/12   |   derms33   |   17642 respect

about 3 q'ers care