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An aspiring motorsports journalist’s personal blog.
Just weeks away from the season-opening event in St. Petersburg, FL, we examine a few prospects for the upcoming season. Aside from the usual suspects in the hunt for the championship, here are a few dark horses who may take the IndyCar title in 2013.
1. Sebastien Bourdais
In his second year with Dragon Racing, Sebastien Bourdais is due for a return to his winning ways. The Frenchman won the final four titles of the now defunct Champ Car series in dominant fashion and showed all the potential in 2012 that he displayed from 2004-2007. Battling engine gremlins with the underdog Lotus power-plant, Bourdais was largely hindered from showing the Jay Penske owned team’s potential. With a committed effort for 2013 and Chevy power, Bourdais banks on his best bet to compete for wins and podiums since his Champ Car days.
2. James Hinchcliffe
Hinch enters his third year in the IndyCar series coming off a solid sophomore year performance with Andretti Autosport. The young Canadian moved into the prime GoDaddy seat vacated by Danica Patrick at the end of 2011. Following a year of steady results highlighted by a few podiums and, at one point, running as high as second in the standings, The Mayor looks as a prime candidate to grace the top step of the podium this season. With Andretti Autosport’s knack for colluding (and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s championship-winning experiences from last year,) there’s plenty of potential for Hinch to threaten the veterans in 2013.
3. Josef Newgarden
A rookie in 2012, Newgarden showed flashes of brilliance at times. Driving for the underdogs Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Newgarden moved mountains on a shoestring budget. The American put his DW12 on the front row at Long Beach, just his third race. His aggression got the better of him, however, as he put it in the wall trying to overtake past champion, Dario Franchitti, in the opening laps of the race. Reliability issues and rookie mistakes hampered the 22 year-old as his best finish was only 12th at Mid-Ohio. Heading into 2013, Newgarden has gained invaluable experience and could easily see the front of the pack this season.
4. Oriol Servia
Servia, the always underrated Spaniard, signed on with Dreyer Reinbold Racing for 2012 after the untimely and unfortunate demise of Newman/Haas Racing. Making the most of Lotus power, Servia placed 11th in the Sao Paulo round, one of the highest placings for any of the Lotus powered cars. After Sao Paulo, DRR dumped Lotus and signed on to a joint effort with Panther Racing. With the partnership, Oriol welcomed the shift to Chevy power. In his first race with the new engine maker, Servia placed fourth at Indy. Servia added a few more fourths to the season tally. Although never on the podium in 2012, Servia remained consistently in the top-10 for much of the second half of the season. In 2013, Servia looks to build on the moderate successes of the previous year and could be a serious threat in the points when the circus arrives at Fontana.
5. Simon Pagenaud
In his full-time return to American open-wheel racing since Champ Car’s demise, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud put in some amazing drives for the one-car effort of Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports. Few picked Pagenaud to immediately join the front runners when he emerged as the Honda-powered team’s driver at the opening of last year, but they should have. In his first start, Pagenaud finished sixth. Pagenaud frequented the top-10 in 2012, finishing as high as second at Long Beach. Despite his consistent finishes on road and street courses, Pagenaud seemed to find difficulty in figuring out the oval side of the IndyCar schedule. He managed to muster out a top-5 at Iowa as his best finish on an oval in 2012. After a year to gain confidence on the ovals, however, Pagenaud’s building chemistry with his team could prove a formidable threat to the usual front-runners in the championship.
Dwelling on the past prevents progression. Reminiscing, however, is vastly different from dwelling. Reminiscing involves reflection and remembrance and insight. The IndyCar paddock this week did not dwell on the past but reminisced about the life of Dan Wheldon. From his triumphs to his tragedies, from his extraordinary racing talents to his extraordinary family talents.
Few have accomplished what Wheldon had. Two Indianapolis 500 victores, an IndyCar championship, 16 wins in 128 IndyCar starts. For those keeping track, that means Wheldon won nearly 13% of all of his IndyCar races. His talent was profound. His likability was incomparable. But all that was taken from the IndyCar paddock just over a year ago.
Anyone who watched the IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October of 2011, remembers that race. I remember exactly the scenario when the massive, 15-car pileup unfolded.
I was helping the girl who I was going to marry in less than a month fold laundry. I was DVRing the race but still had it on in the living room. I heard the announcers’ voices escalate and peeked my head into the living room to see its cause. After watching IndyCar racing for 23 years, I witnessed the most rabid and vicious scene to come from a racetrack I had seen. The rest, as they say, is history.
Allow me to jump topics a bit. I admittedly blog infrequently. I have barely been at a racetrack since the birth of my daughter. Just three times. Once at Chicagoland Speedway for a private Firestone test, again for the NASCAR race there and, lastly, at the Milwaukee Mile this June. The void that has arisen from my lack of time in the paddock over the past few years often makes it somewhat saddening to come write a blog. Frankly, I find it counter-productive to write about a topic when I cannot provide visual media to stimulate my own story lines. I miss racing and this often makes it worse. But, this week, I began looking through old pictures of mine from the 2008 and 2009 IndyCar season. I realized I was dwelling on the past.
On a personal note, I need to take my own advice and reminisce. The only way to develop anything further with a career in motorsports is to continue to cultivate the seeds already planted. My degree will finally be complete in under six months. From there, and in the meantime, I must continue to write in this setting. This blog provides the only opportunity, albeit on a personal level, to continue growing as a writer/photographer in motorsports. There are many motivations behind this. But one is IndyCar’s own lesson on how to move on and grow.
IndyCar has used the tragedy that took Wheldon from their own paddock and used it to grow. The new chassis, the DW12, is named such in respect of Wheldon. Through this season the DW12 has proved itself with an impeccable safety record. IndyCar moved away from “pack-racing” and brought back oval races that were more than just engineers competing on aerodynamic setups. Drivers drove the cars. IndyCar used what happened in Vegas as a lesson and largely moved away from the 1.5-mile ovals. In fact, only Texas Motor Speedway remained of the venues.
As painful as Wheldon’s loss was, it pushed the series into motion. That motion is leading into safer, more skilled racing. 2012 provided arguably the best season in IndyCar’s 16-year history and one of the safest. With Wheldon’s influence in setting up the DW12 for the paddock, this year’s phenomenal racing can largely be attributed directly to him. Although he has left us, he has provided many lasting legacies that will long outlive the brashness that surrounded his death.
Although but a fraction of his IndyCar career, I decided to post a sampling of Dan Wheldon from my personal collection, despite some flaws. As we mark a year since his passing, reflect and reminisce on the fantastic talent that was Dan Wheldon. Enjoy.
Speed records might not be broken in 2012 by the new, DW12 IndyCar Dallara. But 2013 might be a different story, according to IndyCar’s Vice President of Technology, Will Phillips in an interview with Autoweek.
During initial testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the DW12 never approached the speeds set in 2011– topping out at a measly 215 mph and some change. Through wind tunnel testing, engineers found a solution for the car to reach the same speeds seen in recent years at the Speedway.
In 2013, however, as the addition of aero kits come into play, Phillips expects speeds to steadily increase and old records broken. As the aero kits are added to the cars, “the car could be exceeding expectations as they reduce drag further,” Phillips said. Phillips went on to say it’s not just about the car being capable of reaching the speeds aerodynamically, but also mechanically. The drivers always have to find the appropriate balance between the two to reach maximum performance.
IndyCar fans have patiently awaited the utterance of “a new track record” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since Arie Luyendyk’s blistering lap of 237.498 mph during qualifying in 1996. Luyendyk also set an unofficial record that same year when he set a lap of 239.260 mph in practice for the Indianapolis 500.
This weekend brings an end to this long, dreary time known as the off-season.
Tomorrow morning, the Indy Car Series will take to the streets of St. Petersburg to mark the official start to the 2009 season. And what an off-season it has been.
Franchitti’s back. Rahal-Letterman is gone, with the exception of perhaps the Indy 500. Will Power moves to Penske. Castroneves moves to the penitentiary, potentially. In other words, things have changed quite a bit since Australia. Not to mention Chicagoland.
Castroneves will be sitting out at least the first round of ’09 as he presents his case before a Miami courtroom to plead his innocence in tax evasion charges. In his stead is Will Power. Power came on strongly in his rookie season in the IRL last year. The captain took note, and gave him the seat. Power, until hearing word from Penske Racing, was without a ride for the ’09 season after his seat at KV Racing lost its funding.
Also suffering from KV’s loss of funding, Oriol Servia is forced to sit on the outside looking in. Mario Moraes, who drove for Dale Coyne Racing in 2008, will step into Servia’s seat. A second car fielded by KV is possible later in the season, but looking unlikely.
Loss of funding seems to be the common theme across the series with the given state of the economy. Rahal-Letterman Racing also suffered a major loss of sponsorship and, consequently, is not planning on fielding a car in 2009. With RLR’s loss of Ethanol sponsorship, ’08 Watkin’s Glen winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, lost his seat. Up until last week, the American was without a ride even after signing a marketing deal with IZOD to showcase their clothing. Luckily for indy car, Hunter-Reay and IZOD, Tony George intervened and offered the second seat at Vision Racing to the rising star.
This weekend’s race will also be the first time Dario Franchitti has stepped into an indy car with points on the line since he won the championship in 2007. Franchitti switches to Target Chip Ganassi’s indy car program following a rough 2008 in NASCAR. Franchitti’s arrival at TCGR started a musical chairs in the indy car paddock. Franchitti replaced Wheldon at Ganassi. Wheldon shuffled over to Panther Racing, booting Vitor Meira out of a seat. Meira ended up at AJ Foyt Racing, forcing Briton Darren Manning out. Manning has since been signed with Dreyer & Reinbold to team with Mike Conway. Manning’s seat at D&R may result in Indy 500 winner, Buddy Rice, or Townsend Bell being without rides this season.
Also changing teams is Justin Wilson. Wilson lost his seat at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and made the switch to Dale Coyne Racing. NHL has since picked up Dutchman Robert Doornbos. “Bobby D” is expected to have brought with him a large amount in sponsorship dollars. At the Homestead test in February, NHL brought three cars. Graham Rahal, Robert Doornbos, and (surprisingly) Milka Duno. Duno was thought to have brought millions in CITGO and Arctic Ice Energy Drink money. Since the test, it is thought her funding may have fallen through as no new announcements from the team, or Duno for that matter, have come.
The good news this year? An expanded schedule as the series will head to Toronto and Long Beach for the first time in 2009. A new team, Team 3G, will be on the grid with Stanton Barrett as its driver. Luczo-Dragon Racing will field a car with Indy Lights champion, Raphael Matos, as their driver for the entire season. The Indy Lights Series is strong and growing with a full-time field of 28 cars this year. Not to mention, the Indy 500 will begin its centenial era this year and will go through 2011.
All in all, things could be better. But, given the global financial crisis, things could be a lot worse. Optimism is key in these hard times. Don’t lose it, especially when it comes to the passion of racing. Hell, imagine how bad it could be if there were still two series.