The IndyCar season begins next weekend at St. Petersburg. What are you looking at going into the season? How will Ryan Hunter-Reay defend his title? Is this finally the year for Will Power? How will the racing be in the 2nd year of the DW12?
Eric: Above all else, I'm just looking forward to being able to talk about racing again and not politics. I'm also excited about the competitiveness. At the test last week at Barber, 16 drivers were within a second of each other, and almost everyone was faster than the track record. There's a lot of talent in this series right now, and with a second year of development with the DW12, the speeds look ready to come up to go with the tight racing we saw last year.
As for the champion, anyone that thinks Hunter-Reay was a fluke will be sorely mistaken. There are some changes to Andretti Autosport this year, but I expect RHR and his team to defend the title with everything they got. As for Will Power, with 13 of the 19 races on road and street courses, you would think this would finally be his year, and but we've thought that before. The main title contenders are the obvious four: RHR, Power, Dixon, and Franchitti, who I think will bounce back after a down year (except Indy of course). However, most of the time a good 10-15 drivers are going to have a chance to win every race, and it's that kind of competition I can't wait to see.
Debi: I'm just looking forward to the style of racing. I'm not a diehard fan, so I don't follow all the engine types, brand names, teams, etc. the way I do in NASCAR. I just enjoy the style. I'm sorry, but I have no idea what RHR will do to defend his title, or even what he CAN do, except drive the car. As for Will Power, with a name like he has, he should be champion. He's really talented, so I do look for him to be a contender. As for the DW12, it definitely seemed safer, but the fender thingies were cumbersome, if I recall correctly. I don't know if they did anything to make them less "there", but I hope so.
Eric: The point of the wheel backs (coined "Carbashians" by some one) is to prevent launching if cars collide, a la the Wheldon tragedy. The jury is still out on whether they actually do that.
Scott: To be honest, I'm just looking forward to watching something other then Nascar. While I enjoy the Sprint Cup series, IndyCar is something different and as an auto racing fan, you really can't get enough of watching other types of racing. As for Hunter-Reay and Will Power, I expect another battle between the two for the title and hopefully, guys like Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves can make it a 5 way race for the title.
Jen: As I don't follow Indy racing, I really don't feel I can offer anything here. I am going to try to catch at least one race this year, maybe more.
Eric: I hope you do Jen. The racing was pretty good last year, and hopefully it will be again. Well, not at Belle Isle. I would avoid that one.
Of the drivers in new places this year, which do you think will have the best season? (For reference the changes are: Graham Rahal and James Jakes to Rahal/Letterman, Simona de Silvestro to KV, EJ Viso to Andretti Autosport, Takuma Sato to Foyt, and Sebastian Saavedra to Dragon Racing)
Eric: I'm hoping the answer ends up Simona. After three years with an underfunded team and one with a sled of an engine, she is finally in a position where she can show her talent. If the Barber test was any indication, she's up to the task. If Simona isn't the most successful old face in a new place, then it'll probably be Graham. For whatever reason, it didn't work out at Ganassi, so maybe teaming up with Dad will help Graham turn his potential into results. The Sato/Foyt team could also surprise, and if not, it'll at least be a fun combination.
Debi: I can't stand Bobby Rahal. I'm sorry, my dislike of him goes waaaay back, and Eric, you already know this. I try not to dislike Graham, just because he is Bobby's son, but it's difficult. Now that he is with Rahal-Letterman, it is going to be even harder. I will be watching Simona. I really hope she does well this year.
Scott: I'm going to go out on a limb and take EJ Viso.
Eric: That is also possible. His overall results didn't show it last year, but Viso only wrecked himself once. Improvement!
Outside of the obvious suspects, your Penskes and Ganassis, what drivers and/or teams do you expect to make noise this season?
Eric: Sam Schmidt Motorsports (or whatever they call themselves now). Simon Pagenaud was very good as a "rookie" last year, finishing 5th in the championship. With another year together, I fully expect that team to win at least one race this year, and maybe be a sleeper title contender. The team also added the only full-time rookie this year, Indy Lights champ Tristan Vautier. Vautier moved up the ladder very quickly, and showed in the offseason tests he has a lot of talent. On the driver side, it feels like this is the year James Hinchcliffe breaks out and picks up his first win.
Debi: Ugh. I'm so very sick of the Penskes and Ganassis. I want them to fail!!! Sorry, but it's a little frustrating to watch a race and they always seem to be the only equipment that doesn't fail, the only teams that can make repairs and get back in a race quickly. I won't know who to watch until I see the first race.
What does IndyCar need to do to grow the sport? This topic has been discussed ad nauseum all offseason by IndyCar fans. Since I've been inundated with ideas all winter, I'm going to leave this question to you guys, since you have a more outsiders perspective. Keep in mind that spending a bunch of money is not an option at this time.
Debi: I haven't seen or heard any of the off-season discussion, so I have no idea what they have discussed. I honestly don't know what the answer is, but I would for sure look for some sponsors who are more American mid-stream. I'd also encourage the drivers to make commercials that enable them to become household names. I think the US needs to become interested and to do that, they have to give people something they want. Right now the series seems snooty.
Scott: I think Debi was point on when she said IndyCar needs to get themselves a big time American sponsor. They also need to find themselves a big time TV contract that will allow them some better time slots on channels that most people won't have to go "looking for". I would also like to see other media outlets put forth more of an effort covering the sport, but I think we all know that's never really going to happen. Nascar is the media darling. IndyCar and other racing are the black sheep of the family.
Eric: This and what Debi said point to the issue. IndyCar has to show it can deliver an ROI worth it for companies to get involved, which to do so, it needs more fans. For whatever reason, people have rejected the product. The TV contract is an issue, but it's the same problem. Even if IndyCar got out of it, who would want it at the miniscule rating the series currently pulls? These are tough questions, and I certainly don't have the answers. We can only hope Mark Miles and Jeff Belskus do.
In one sentence, who wins the IndyCar championship?
Eric: My gut is saying that this will be Scott Dixon's year.
Debi: I have no idea. I want to see a race first.
Scott: I think Will Power finally crosses the threshold as the bride and not the bridesmaid.
On the next page, we turn to NASCAR at Bristol and the rest of the week in auto racing.
Did the Bristol race meet your expectations for good, hard racing?
Eric: To my untrained eye, it looked like fine racing to me, although admittedly I didn't have my full attention on it. There was a mid race lull, but any long is going to have that. I've never really understood the complaints about the racing at Bristol.
Debi: At the risk of offending, well everyone, I enjoyed the race immensely. I have said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm happy with the new car.
Jen: Yes, Bristol is always a good race.
Scott: I tried to follow the race as best I could on the drive down to Florida but I didn't get to see any of the action. From what i've read though, it seemed a lot of people really were happy with the action. I was happy to see Kasey Kahne win, hated to see Matt Kenseth's day end on some bad luck and thought Kyle Busch showed a lot of moxy coming back from way deep in the field to finish 2nd. Special shout outs to Jamie McMurray and Brian Vickers for top 10 finishes.
Once again, we had the inevitable feud coming out of Bristol, this time between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. What are your thoughts? Who was in the right, if anyone, or is it all just ridiculous?
Jen: Bristol is a small track, stuff is going to happen. While I am not a fan of Hamlin's, the incident lit a fire under Logano and I got to see that spirited young man with so much promise a few short years ago. I love the old " I didn't mean to wreck him". Whether you meant to or not, it happened, an apology would of been nice.
Debi: Denny Hamlin is an ass, in my opinion, of course.
Scott: Didn't see what happened so I can't comment on who was in the wrong. I will say though any time there is a "feud" between two drivers, it's good for the sport. I imagine Hamlin will get his some day, hopefully a day I don't have him on my fantasy team.
Eric: I consider most of these ridiculous, but to piggyback what you said, Scott, why are these feuds considered good for the sport? I hear all the time IndyCar needs more of these, but to me it just feels like a sideshow.
Scott: Anything that brings attention, good or bad, to the sport is "good" for racing. Why? Because whether we agree or not, those are the times where shows like Sportscenter, PTI and Around the Horn actually talk about racing. Nascar and IndyCar certainly aren't going to encourage drivers to intentionally mix it up but I think behind close doors, they have to be smiling just a bit when something like Hamlin/Logano and even last year with Gordon/Bowyer become national stories. Unfortunately, the sport needs to push these types of incidents in order to become more main stream.
The empty seats at what was once NASCAR's most iconic venue outside of Daytona were obvious. Why do you think this is, and does is portend issues with the sport as a whole?
Debi: Kenny Wallace told us why it is. The hotels in the area jack up their prices to a ridiculous amount - no basic hotel room should be worth $648. It doesn't matter if the seats are only $20.
Jen: Hotels need to be regulated, it's just ridiculous.
Scott: I've got some friends who live in the Bristol area and they made the same type of comment Debi did. If the area around the track is going to try and screw fans, they won't come. As a whole, it can't be good for Nascar to see so many empty seats at any of their tracks. Hopefully this isn't a sign of things to come.
Eric: Yeah, you all nailed it. The issue seems to be that there aren't a lot of hotels available, and with Bristol being in the middle of nowhere, no one is going to be in a hurry to build any more. Thus, we have low supply and high demand (even with a half-filled track), and as such, jacked up prices. Question for thought: Can Bristol still support 2 race weekends a year?
Do you have any other thoughts on the NASCAR weekend, or from any of the other racing that occurred this past weekend?
Jen: The Nationwide race was outstanding, and as I mentioned before Pastrana finished 16th.
Scott: Keep an eye on Kyle Larson in the Nationwide Series. He gave Kyle Busch all he could handle and more on Saturday in the Nationwide Race but came up just short in winning. Hopefully some time this week I can watch a replay of the Sprint Cup race and see if the racing was as good as what the "experts" and fans said it was.
Eric: F1 opened up in Australia in the overnight hours and Kimi Raikkonen and his Lotus team used strategy, and a quick car, to take the win. Lotus were able to figure out the tire strategy best in a race where the option supersoft tires were useless after just a few laps. Fernando Alonso was 2nd, followed by Sebastian Vettel, which is much better than the feared Vettel dominance. McLaren though, is in trouble. They weren't a factor all weekend and finished 9th and 11th.
Meanwhile, the 12 Hours of Sebring was also last week, the final 12 Hours under ALMS sanction. The Audis that dominate Le Mans came over and dominated here, winning easily by six laps. Of course, the LMP1 class will cease to exist next year here in America in the unified series, so it's the last time they can do that. Suddenly former IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe was part of the LMP2 class winning team.