2016 IndyCar Series Preview

IndyCar racing is brilliant. It is some of the best racing in the world. It remains consistently good on a wide variety of tracks. I fully expect this to continue in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series!

If you aren’t watching because of some preconceived notion you picked up despite having watched it for yourself, do yourself a favour and watch it this year.

Okay, St Petersburg (race 1 this weekend) can¬†often have a lot of safety car periods. That’s the nature of the track, just let this week pass by and judge the series over the course of a year.

Misgivings

Back in August and September I honestly though I’d not watch IndyCar any more. The death of Dan Wheldon a few¬†years ago while a colossal shock and terribly,¬†unbelievably sad, didn’t affect me in the way the death of Justin Wilson did. Although¬†DW’s did affect me JW’s was even harder.

I hadn’t really been a fan of Dan. Nothing against him at all, not saying I was against him in anyway and he seemed a great guy, just that¬†I had my favourites.

I was a fan of Justin Wilson. Had been since the Minardi and Jaguar days. His loss left me morose for a while. It was just so unspeakably sad.

To think we could’ve lost Hinchcliffe as well..

But I’ve been a fan of US single-seater / open-wheel racing since 2000. The racing is fantastic. It’s hard to give up.

And I know they are working on safety all the time. They are working on a solution to protect drivers from flying debris. That injury could’ve happened in any open-top race car including F1 – just¬†ask Felipe Massa. It wasn’t anything inherently dangerous about IndyCar which killed Justin¬†Wilson,¬†it was just sheer damned bad luck. This isn’t necessarily the case with Wheldon’s accident, nor Hinch’s,¬†nor¬†even¬†the accident that meant Dario Franchitti had to retire prematurely.

No, it’s a dangerous game but it is being improved all the time.

Competition

The cars are becoming less ‘spec’ as time goes on. Aero kit and engine competition has promoted development and added a new layer of interest. The better-funded teams have the advantage yet the other teams are still in with a shout. The well-funded teams held the advantage in the ‘spec’ era¬†anyway – even with identical kit the teams with money will always be the best. We see this in GP2 and FR3.5 and other single-make series.

I’m glad there is engine competition and minor aero differences. It adds the possibility the pendulum might swing the other way.¬†Chevy may have the advantage at the moment but that may not always be the case.

I do feel the cars have too many aero devices. You can have aero competition without having a hundred winglets on each car.¬†They look ugly and wings ruin racing. But they’re fast though…

Races

The season¬†was condensed last year, it’s good they spread it a little this year. A 7-month offseason followed by week after week of relentless racing just seems a little crazy. Start a little earlier, finish a little later, spread the same number of races out a little. You don’t want teams and drivers – and definitely not fans – suffering from race fatigue. This isn’t NASCAR and we don’t need a race every weekend.

As I say, the variety is tremendous:  short road courses, long road courses, bumpy street courses, short ovals, large ovals. You name it, they race well on it. Track variety is the name of the game in IndyCar and is one of the great strengths of the series.

The addition of Road America and Phoenix, two classic Indycar venues, can only be a positive! Even at the cost of Milwaukee and Fontana. I love both those races but you can’t sustain an event when nobody attends – or when the series schedules a race in California in mid-August. I really hope Phoenix and Elkhart Lake are as good as they were.

Boston is the latest addition to the revolving door of random street tracks. I’m less convinced on this one, so many street races have come and gone over the years. Only Long Beach and Toronto have ‘stuck’ as successful long-term events, add St Pete¬†now. How many street courses failed in the last 20 years?

Drivers & Teams

Team Penske look almost unstoppable (especially at St Pete). Power, Montoya, Castroneves, Pagenaud.¬†A hell of a line-up in their second year as a group. Part of me is surprised Helio hasn’t retired yet but he’s still fast enough for regular podiums.¬†Montoya and Power should battle for the title and Pagenaud should come into his own this year.

Chip Ganassi is as strong as ever. Dixon is surely their lead charge. Kanaan is as Castroneves and not because of their shared nationality –¬†sadly neither are in their fastest years any more.¬†Kimball is improving all the time though possibly not quickly enough – would that change in one of the ‘primary’ cars? Chilton is the new boy from F1 after a year¬†testing Nissan LMP1, his progress will fascinating and perhaps we’ll finally get a read on his real performance level.

Andretti Autosport is the other¬†big team and should represent¬†the primary Honda charge, but¬†didn’t last year.¬†Hunter-Reay never had the promo his championship and Indy¬†wins deserved. Andretti conversely never really fulfilled his potential – I actually think he needs to¬†race for someone else for a year or two. Munoz is very promising indeed and I think my early impressions of him were wrong.
AA linked up with Herta to run Alex Rossi, another ex Marussia/Manor F1 driver. Unlike Chilton, Rossi doesn’t seem to want to be there and is very obviously hoping to go back to F1.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan are running Graham Rahal along with a 3-race stint for Spencer Pigot, 2015 Indy Lights champion. Rahal was by far the best Honda runner last year and impressed me enormously. I’d mistakenly written him off prior to 2015. Something clicked for Graham and the team¬†last year and I hope and expect¬†that to¬†continue.

KVSH are running one car this year but that is for Sebastien Bourdais. The focus on one car could backfire with a lack of data, or their full attention on¬†one¬†car could make for better results in the way it did for Rahal. He’ll rag the car as he always does.

Schmidt Peterson tend to do well with the budget they have. James Hinchcliffe is back, fully recovered after¬†his terrible crash last year. Judging from test times and free practice at St Pete, he’s fully back on the pace which is incredible! His team-mate is the returning Mikhail Aleshin, who got in the wars in 2014, I’m sure he’ll continue to provide entertainment all season though he¬†was good in the SMP Racing BR01 in the European Le Mans Series last year.

AJ Foyt retains Sato and Hawksworth and bolstered them on the technical side. I’d like to see a much better year for these guys. Let’s say of Sato¬†what has been said already¬†for over a decade: calm down and use your head!

Among the rest, Conor Daly is with the usually-underfunded Dale Coyne but I hope he can spring a few surprises. He is joined by Luca Filippi at round 1 and hopefully more races. Luca ought to have a solid drive somewhere and I hope this is the place to showcase his abilities. DCR sometimes to spread their smaller resources a little thin and that could compromise both drivers. But sometimes they work a small miracle.

I think that is all the full-season drivers. There are one-offs at Indy and elsewhere which I won’t bore you with now.

Predictions!

In general I see the championship again coming down to Montoya versus Power¬†versus Dixon.¬†I’d like to think Pagenaud will be in there as well. Perhaps Rahal and Hunter-Reay too.

Ultimately I think it’ll be Power’s year.

I think the racing will be excellent all season, as it usually is in IndyCar!

Even if the Penske and Ganassi cars jump ahead like they used to, the competition among them will be intense and¬†that’s no bad thing.¬†The racing is such that anyone else could influence the result. The midfield will be so jumbled and the odd surprise result still possible, that you can’t go into any race confidently predicting the outcome.

It’ll be a great season!

To honour Justin, it had better be!

WP_20160313_13_22_32_Pro resize

 

2016 Motorsport Calendars

2016’s calendars are now available!

Each year I produce motorsport calendars for use within Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook and many other apps.

I have now added as many 2016 motorsport dates as I can find and they are available to use!

Just go to:   www.toomuchracing.com/calendar

There are a few notes on my methodology followed by a table showing each racing series:  F1, MotoGP, IndyCar, WEC, IMSA, NASCAR, WTCC, BTCC, DTM and many more. Just click the links on the right hand side of the table.

There are a couple of options, try each to find the one that works the way you want it.

If you subscribed to these feeds in 2015, or before, and have not removed them, you do not need to add them again. Just scroll forwards and the dates will be there. This obviously doesn’t apply if you took it as a download!

Thanks everybody for your continued support of this project. Do keep pointing out errors and omissions. And share with anybody who may be interested!

This Blog

A quick note on the blog:  I apologise for not posting more frequently. The last couple of years have been quite tiring. I keep meaning to return with lots of small posts and observations rather than the occasional long-read. I do miss the long posts as well.

I’m also considering a Facebook page.¬†On Twitter I¬†share or retweet¬†lots of stories¬†I think are interesting or funny and it might be useful to have a place on FB to do the same. Let me know your thoughts.

UK’s Coverage Of IndyCar Switches To ESPN

Following several seasons with Sky Sports, in 2013 the IZOD IndyCar Series’ UK coverage will switch to ESPN.

It seems ESPN were taken by surprise after the news was made public on the Sky Sports Facebook page! (The page also confirms there is currently no deal to air NASCAR Sprint Cup highlights, as they have before). After requests from Twitter users ESPN issued this confirmation:

Understandably, details are thin at the moment so we don’t yet know which ESPN channel/s will show IndyCar – whether it’ll be the main ESPN station available across multiple platforms, or the niche ‘ESPN America’ station. Given IndyCar’s lowly status in the Sky Sports structure, languishing down on Sky Sports 4 I would have to guess it will appear on ESPN America, perhaps with the 500 on the main channel. Hopefully ESPN will instead choose to give it a push on their primary channel.

Right now we don’t even know if the coverage will be live or delayed, in full or highlights. ESPN UK covers the DTM but has a habit of airing it on a delayed basis – DTM races happen at 1pm UK time but sometimes aren’t aired until 11pm. Hopefully IndyCar’s schedule will help rather than hinder it.

Previously the UK’s coverage of ‘North American Open Wheel’ was served by Sky Sports (IRL, then post-merger IndyCar) and Eurosport (CART, Champ Car).

Continue reading

Fixing IndyCar & Turbo The Snail

The turmoil in the IndyCar Series seems almost never-ending. Whenever a problem is fixed or a new idea is tested it seems as if there are always two or three clouds following closely behind. Part of it is unhelpful gossip and hearsay, part of it is genuine inanity from various figures inside and outside the series (and by that I mean the organisation itself, the teams, drivers.. well, anybody really). The series doesn’t really deserve it.

IndyCar has come a long way since the ‘split’ and the messy post-unification days of 2008-2010. The racing is good and there are some top-notch drivers and team personnel as well as good people in the ranks of the series, all of whom I’m sure are being let down by others.
The fact some good folks were fired recently, some of them not in the job for all that long, for cost-cutting reasons is a terrible sign particularly as some are in marketing which is a chronic weakness of the series, they hadn’t been around that long and were just starting to make their presence known with some great ideas.

The whole parent organisation seems introspective, in denial, or working to outdated business practices. It feels as though everyone is clinging to the 90s, or even the 70s. I really hope the recent top level management changes bring about a change in attitude even though the early signs (the firings) are not good. Some certainty would be appreciated. New boss Mark Miles keeps talking in management-speak of a ‘deep dive’, which apparently means he’s ordered a data-rich analysis of the whole company (or even the group of companies controlled by the Hulman & George Co. of which he is CEO).

In much the same spirit, Steph at More Front Wing recently performed her own multi-part analysis which is well worth your attention. She has run through all the different factors which need addressing, some of them are pretty fundamental. All the same, they needed pointing out in a rational manner and that is what she’s done.

I don’t agree with all of the answers but that’s fine, what was needed was a dose of realism and some potential suggestions. Do read and comment with your own ideas and observations. I’m afraid I rambled for far too long in the comments sections with my own thoughts!

Turbo

There is some positive news in the pipeline. DreamWorks are working on a feature film connected to the IndyCar Series – it is about ‘Turbo’, a racing snail who wants to go faster and faster, sees the Indy 500 and wants to race in it. Yes, really. At first I was sceptical too because it sounds ridiculous, but then I saw the trailer and saw how well DreamWorks rendered IMS and the IndyCars themselves. I’ll reserve final judgement until I see the film but do you know what? This might work.

Check out the trailer here:

Allen at Grab Bag Sports¬†made a great point: this is going to shift the demographic of the average IndyCar fan, which is currently getting older and fewer in number. If this film works – even if it is only moderately successful – it ought to attract kids and their families and skew the ‘casual’ fanbase in a younger direction. It might even open up interest internationally. Allen also spotted word of a mooted spin-off cartoon series. Let’s hope that happens.

Quite how many people outside the US ‘Mid-West’ will connect the race in the film to the real life Indy 500 and IndyCar Series remains to be seen. IndyCar and the H&G parent company need to be sure their house is in order in the next six months so that they are ready to make the most of this opportunity.

2013 IndyCar Schedule Shows Progress

The 2013 IndyCar Series schedule was announced on Sunday night. The 2012 schedule took the 2011 list and revised the basic structure, the 2013 calendar shows definite progress in building a defined schedule for the medium-term.

As ever there are pros and cons to any race calendar, they are always a balancing act between what the fans want, what the teams and sponsors want, what the series itself wants, and what is actually available.

Most of the IndyCar bloggers have come out with a very similar format to analyse this and I’m not going to stray far from it. I’ve seen at least four splitting it down into ‘Good’, ‘Bad’ and ‘Ugly’. I find that unnecessarily pessimistic as you’ve got two negatives to one positive. I prefer to look at the Good and the Bad then have a little summary.

Good

16 solid venues in 2013. Compared with 2012’s 15 solid, 1 vapourware (China) and 1 cancellation (Las Vegas). Good to get firm confirmation rather than have question marks all year. That happened all the time at the end of the CART/ChampCar era and I hope Bernard has learned. And at these 16 venues we get 19 races.

Doubleheaders. 19 races at 16 venues is achieved by having 3 doubleheaders. I’ll come back to this as there’s not a lot I like, except it is a new idea and that shows IndyCar leadership is willing to try new things. I can’t mark them down for trying even if I don’t like what they try. Shows initiative. I like using these races to trial standing starts. One race with standing starts, one race with rolling. Just like WTCC!

Early announce. The schedule has been announced at the beginning of October. That’s a miracle by IndyCar standards! Teams can now plan ahead effectively and more easily pitch to sponsors.

Continuity. Breeding familiarity in the race order is a sign of a maturing schedule, it is good to see after the gutting of 2012. There are big changes but the backbone is the same.

Pocono! The return of the big triangle. Mixed feelings. I’ve not seen much racing there and I hear frequent complains about NASCAR’s 500-mile events being boring, however everybody who saw them absolutely raves about the old USAC and CART open wheel races there in the 1970s and 80s. We’ve got a 400-mile race there and calls for it to be extended to 500 so it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. As a flat oval it is traditional IndyCar territory so I’m cautiously excited.

Triple Crown! The Pocono races of old were a part of a Triple Crown: if a driver won all 3 races he’d win a million dollars! Okay so it is a little crass but that is American razzmatazz. The Triple Crown is back! It’ll be take in the Indy 500, Pocono 400 and Fontana 500. Win two to win $250k, win all three to get $1m. It adds an extra layer of storyline to the mix and keeps things interesting so I’m all for it. Okay if it were a top team in the running it won’t be as interesting but imagine a lesser-funded team or driver has won Indy – you can think somebody like Ed Carpenter has his eye on this prize.

Houston! Another new race is always fun, or should I say a returning race (hey we’re unified, it counts). It’s a big city so should be quite popular. I don’t know what the racing was like in the Champ Car era as it fell into the gap of years I missed, so I’m being cautious on this one.

Iowa isn’t a night race any more. I know it looked ultra-cool at night but night races in the US start at 2am here. I’m purely selfish in preferring a race starting at 6 or 7pm UK time on Sunday. Of course this happens to be Le Mans weekend so I might’ve been up after all, but at least it moves it until after the 24hrs.

Fontana is a 500-miler again and is the season-closer again, despite being a month later. Great idea. This year’s race was utterly compelling and was a true championship decider. This series tends to decide champions at the last race. The alternative was to end at Houston, I’m okay with street races but I don’t like ending the season on them, too much of a lottery even against a superspeedway. This isn’t a street vs oval point, it is a point about a big notable race to sign off for winter. Make a statement.

US TV coverage. The first ABC race is at Indy then they take 5 of the next 6 races. Excellent idea. Grab the audience with the big race then keep hold of them for a few weeks to bump up viewership. I really do like this idea. No offence to an NBCSN crew who do a brilliant job, but their ratings stink at the moment. Plus ABC have the Texas Saturday night race which is a Big Deal ratings-wise, if that doesn’t work little will. This is an incremental improvement rather than wholesale change and it seems the most sensible thing to do with the allocations available.

Canadians get a better deal too, after years and years of complaining. They listened! Embrace it.
(We may have to wait a little while before finding out the UK deal.)

Bad

No oval race before Indy. I know they have a ton of practice at Indy, it isn’t the same as racing. Teams, drivers and most importantly the fans need to see cars on an oval before the big one. I am torn though, a part of me thinks the unknowns created drama at Indy and no race does level the playing field for Indy-only teams.

Deadwood. Some of the more tedious races are still there. I’m thinking specifically of Belle Isle and Sonoma. The DW12 transformed the racing at most tracks this year brilliantly, but not at these two.

Belle Isle directly after Indy. Not only that, it has one of the double-headers. Buzzkiller. It only seems to be a favourite among attendees – more than one person told me it was great in person. Yet I haven’t seen a good IndyCar or CART race there in any iteration. Is there something wrong with the TV presentation? Maybe that can be looked at along with track layout.
Indy should always be followed directly by Milwaukee anyway, that’s the proper tradition.

Double-headers. Okay here’s the thing. Double-headers work really well for touring cars, they work really well for ladder open wheel series, they work really well on short oval tracks. The reason they work is because the races are shorter. Two IndyCar-length races in two days is going to be tough on everyone involved in the series. It may be tough on the casual fans too who will probably just watch one of them, they may even think there is only one race that weekend. The hard-cores will probably lap it up, especially Toronto and Houston.

Race split. One of the quirks of IndyCar not seen anywhere else is the split between ovals, road courses and street races. It’s a Big Deal among fans. This year including doubles we have 6 ovals, 3 roads (ouch) and 10 street races. I’m more okay with streets than most IndyCar commenters I see, but half the schedule is crazy! I’m a fan of natural road courses and ovals with the odd street race. More of the former two in 2014, please. We all know the ‘most wanted’ list so I won’t repeat it here.

Edmonton. I’m not crying about this loss as I never liked it, even the new layout, but it is a town with a strong supportive fanbase so it gets a minus mark.

Gaps. There are notable gaps in July, August and especially September. I can easily accept a summer break in August especially after that exceptionally punishing May-June-July stint, and that really is tough with two 500 mile races and two double-header street courses. Unlike most American bloggers I am not suggesting all gaps be filled – that would be crazy and you’d have a mutiny on your hands. The crew guys need a rest and they want to see their families in the school break. Give that to them. Not only that, nobody can watch IndyCar every single week for two or three months! I actually want to make use of summer to have a life if that’s okay with you!
September is less understandable, there’s only one race in the whole month. It is clear something was supposed to go there but fell through. There’s still scope for a little bit of shuffling about.

Summary

On the whole it is a good schedule balancing recent tracks with two returning venues. A lot of tracks which produced awful races with the previous IndyCar came alive with the DW12 chassis, so there’s less of a desire to strike off the Mid-Ohios and Barbers of the world.

Double-headers are an interesting experiment and despite Randy Bernard’s protestations I think they’ll remain an experiment – if we see them at all in 2014 I bet it’ll only be at one event.

Too many street races though. I know that’s where the money is and modern fans seem to prefer things to come to them, but if we’re having them I’d like a review of their designs and some proper resurfacing done.

2013 IndyCar Series Schedule

24 March  РSt Petersburg (S)
7 April – Barber Motorsports Park (R)
21 April – Long Beach (S)
5 May – Sao Paulo (S)
26 May – Indianapolis Motor Speedway (O)
1 June – Belle Isle, Detroit (S)
2 June – Belle Isle, Detroit (S)
8 June – Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth (O) (night)
15 June – Milwaukee Mile (O)
23 June – Iowa Speedway (O)
7 July – Pocono Raceway (O)
13 July – Exhibition Place, Toronto (S)
14 July – Exhibition Place, Toronto (S)
4 August – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (R)
25 August – Sonoma (R)
1 September – Baltimore (S)
5 October – Reliant Park, Houston (S)
6 October – Reliant Park, Houston (S)
19 October – Auto Club Speedway, Fontana (O) (night)

I’ve added these dates to my TMR Google/iCal calendars which you can import for your own use. If you subscribed earlier in the year these should be visible to you already.

Feature: IndyCar 2012 – On The Road to Recovery?

It is the middle of September and one series has already wrapped up their 2012 season: the IZOD IndyCar Series.

The apparent need to avoid the NFL, and the NASCAR Chase, meant IndyCar finished racing two full months before F1 and NASCAR – admittedly those series may go longer than they really need to. I tend to think mid/late-October is a good time to stop for the winter break. Just feels right.

With the first IndyCar race of 2013 not due until March we are left with a six month off-season!

A Fresh Start

This was always going to be a tricky year.

The introduction of the new chassis and engine package was fraught with difficulties throughout 2011’s development period and the pre-season of 2012. There was not only a new engine formula but also the return of open competition between manufacturers. Add in a new Race Director, then mix up the schedule by removing favourites with low-attendances and replacing them with gambles.

Do all this while trying to satisfy the most divided and demanding of fans, team owners and media anywhere in the sport. Motorsport fans the world over complain endlessly about the smallest things but they’ve got nothing on the hardcore IndyCar ‘fans’ in the US.¬† Nowhere else will you find such a bunch of complainers and whiners. The team owners aren’t much different. They were always going to be tough to please.

And Pleased They Were!

Happily it turned out to be a classic year. Most fears were unfounded. The many problems which did emerge over the year were, on the whole, tackled well. The racing was excellent, the cars stood up to the test of the variety of tracks, and they withstood some pretty nasty impacts far better than the old car did.

The early trait of the car to lift into the air mid-spin (noticeably more at the higher speeds of an oval) were ironed out as the year progressed until it didn’t seem to happen at all at Fontana. Compare Indy and Fontana and the rear-to-the-wall spins are very different.

The race director proved to be a revelation, as ALMS fans had expected. Beaux Barfield rearranged the existing rulebook rather than rewrite it completely, though there were many rewrites. The main differences were a change in philosophy and interpretation. Decisions from Race Control were now explained post-race to anyone who would ask, they were even broadcast during the race.
Even if you disagree with the reasoning it is there for us to see it. This is a HUGE change on past years. It cannot be overstated how good a change this is. Transparency is key and now we have it.

The crazy ‘draw an imaginary line on the track’ rule has been thrown out. Racers can race again – within good reason. This has worked really well all year. The drivers have responded to being treated as adults by driving more maturely and with respect. It’s been really, really enjoyable to watch.

Great Competition

The racing all season long was phenomenal. Dallara produced some great aerodynamics packages which meant the cars were very racey on all three classes of course (road, street, oval). It opened up new passing lanes at tracks where the old Dallara couldn’t race at all, Barber Motorsports Park being a notable example – the race was transformed from a snoozefest to being one of the best of the year.

If there wasn’t a lot of passing there was drama in other ways – pit strategy, driver errors, mechanical failures. Unlike past years you never felt like you were marking time, wasting time. Something was always about to happen and you couldn’t switch off in case you missed it. In terms of racing, the new car and engine combo was a hit.

Engine competition was a welcome return. It created winners and losers, just as it should. We saw the return of unreliability (in engines and chassis and software), a classic part of racing which had been engineered out of the last formula. Okay so this engine may be lacking a little in outright power – hopefully that’ll change as development progresses both in technology and in regulations. Remember this is only Year 1.

It was great to have Chevy back in the series and they were on full attack, producing a better unit than incumbent supplier Honda. There wasn’t much in it by the mid-season. You have to think Chevy having more of the ‘powerhouse’ teams helped them enormously, both title protaganists at Fontana used Chevy, and hindered the Ganassi team who were Honda’s only big team.

The only question mark is the engine penalties for failures in testing. Failures in a race weekend I understand, those have been commonplace in racing for a while now. To penalise a team for a failure in a test isn’t on – where’s the incentive to test? This could be solved by saying a team can’t use a race engine on a test day or vice versa, remove the link.

The Lotus Position

As I said, it also created losers and the biggest of those was Lotus. Such is life in open competition. I don’t see it as a downer. Sometimes somebody gets beaten by a big margin. That’s racing. Someone’s got to lose. You can either fight with it and hope they get better next year, and there’s real value and interest in seeing the former underdog bounce back, or you can jump ship to something better. As it turned out by Indy most full-season teams had switched to Chevy or Honda, leaving HVM Racing and the Indy-only Fan Force United with Lotus. All credit to HVM and Simona de Silvestro for sticking out the full year without publically complaining about it.

With Danny Bahar being ousted from Lotus and the company changing focus, they will not return for 2013. Perhaps the engines will be redeveloped by their makers, Judd, into LMP sportscar units. Got to feel for Judd who were completely screwed by Lotus, having to start the programme six months behind the others and not being given the resources to go out testing like the others did. They were up against it from the very beginning.

Schedule

It was a reasonable schedule. There weren’t enough races but we must remember two planned events were dropped. Las Vegas was canned for understandable safety reasons in the wake of the accident last year. A Chinese street race was dropped after financing fell through, not really a surprise. It is a shame replacements weren’t found especially after Bernard was quoted as having a backup plan for China. It turned out either he didn’t or the backup fell through too.

Barber, Long Beach, Indy, Texas (for different reasons to usual), Milwaukee, Iowa, Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Baltimore, Fontana. All good races. Great to see.

St Pete wasn’t covered well by TV, and in any case it was the first race with the new car AND the first race back after Dan Wheldon’s accident, and it was held in his adopted home town. Lots of reasons for everyone to take it easy that weekend.

Sonoma was a near-procession but at least they’d tried something to fix it this year with the circuit layout. I’m not sure what else they can try without a fundamental circuit redesign. It clearly isn’t the car. And Belle Isle came back after a break of many years, the race was surprisingly okay but the track surface was not – it caused a red flag and a reduction in laps.

Much better was the return of Fontana, not only that it was a 500-mile race and the season finale! Inspired decisions. The race length gave it drama and allowed storylines to develop naturally, and teams and drivers had to set up their cars for differing conditions and then bring them home. The only complaint from a UK point of view was the 1.50am start time and the 5am finish!

Diversity

The split of ovals to non-ovals plagues IndyCar discussions and has done for many years, decades even. This year was no different and for once I fall into the ‘more ovals’ camp. Five wasn’t enough. Mind you there were fewer road courses than ovals, just the four this year.

The dominant discipline was street races, six of them. I like some street races but I don’t like them taking over the series. My preference is and has always been natural terrain road courses and oval races at the right venues, with 2 or 3 street races. I understand that’s where the people are though, and that’s the way of racing today. Take the racing to the people because people don’t want to go to the racing at traditional venues. If it were my choice I’d move the Sao Paulo race to Interlagos.

TV

The coverage was better this year. The much-maligned ABC/ESPN improved. Sadly the channel which has the better coverage, NBC Sports, is not being rewarded with good viewing figures which are apparently falling. The only saving grace is IndyCar is now apparently highest-rated sport on the channel. The rebrand from Versus was supposed to bring extra cross-promotion and more viewers – what happened?

Here in the UK the races are on Sky Sports. They’re good at sticking with IndyCar if races run long. During the numourous US ad breaks they’re able to stay with the track – by law they can’t take the same number of breaks as the US but at least they don’t cut back to their studio.

That said, the Sky pre-race is far, far, far too dry. Three blokes in a studio, a few interviews/videos, at least one of the two guests with a monotone voice (much like my own – not saying I’d do better!). It’s all very downbeat. It works well during the US ad breaks when we need discussion to fill the air, but as a pre-race it really doesn’t work at all.

I don’t know why races aren’t run live or at least in replay on Sky Sports F1. It seems a perfect fit to build more of an audience for IndyCar, which Sky must surely want? Perhaps there are contractual reasons, perhaps we’ll see more of it next year.

The Future

After years of neglect and mismanagement, the 2008 ‘unification’ gave IndyCar a chance to regrow. It has taken longer than expected but they’ve finally put in place the building blocks to allow that to happen.

I have no doubt the racing in 2013 will be just as good, even when the ‘big teams’ figure out the tricks and pull away again which they will do. The trick now is to sell this racing to the American public, because their TV ratings will determine the future of the series. If they can be built up elsewhere in the world at the same time, including in the UK, then so much the better!

A Word On Alex Zanardi

A warm congratulations to Alex Zanardi on his three medals, two Gold and one Silver, achieved last week in the handcycling at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Alex Zanardi up front at the start of the H4 64km Road Race (photo: P.Wotton)

It has been a very long journey since losing his legs at the 2001 American Memorial 500 at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany, just days after the attacks of September 11th. The man who according to NASA studies ought to have died with that amount of blood loss, through the skills of the CART medical team headed by Drs. Terry Trammel and Steve Olvey and also the German hospital staff, was able to make a remarkable recovery. Indeed just three months later Alex was at an Italian awards show where he stood again in public for the first time. Three months!

The largely American and Canadian CART paddock was already downhearted and didn’t really want to be in Europe, his accident only served to excacerbate the feelings. Somehow, because they are racing people and that’s what racing people seem able to do, they pulled through and ran the Rockingham race the next week (despite all the track problems there).

Via a short comeback to finish that race in Germany two years later, and a fairly successful career in touring cars with BMW (including WTCC race wins and an Italian national championship), he turned his hands to handcycling. He decided handcycle technology wasn’t good enough so, much like his prosthetic legs, he set about designing and modifying his own. He won the New York Marathon among many others. The goal: To win at the London 2012 Paralympics.

And now he has achieved it. Gold in the time trial. Gold in the 64km road race. Silver as a member of the team relay.

Last Friday I was lucky enough to have a ticket to watch Alex compete in the road race, and all of the great competitors in all six races held that day. This followed an evening at the stadium on that day, Thursday, the night GBR won many medals in the track and field competition which pumped up the 80,000-strong sellout crowd (as if they needed pumping up). By Friday evening it was tough to know which experience made the bigger impression. Brands Hatch held far less than 10% of the crowd the previous night yet the atmosphere during the Zanardi race was as good, the mix of motorsport fans, people who had discovered him thanks to Channel 4 kindly highlighting him so frequently (remember the UK general public who are not die-hard motorsport fans had little idea who he was), and also the supporters of the other athletes who were battling for the podium: Swiss, Austrian,  Belgian, Irish, and yes, Italian.
To be so close to Alex not only as he raced but also after Lou and I had managed to put ourselves where the victory podium was set up, to be no more than 10 metres from the man as his gold medal was draped around his neck and he sang his national anthem along with many in that crowd, it was a privelige to see a man achieve his dream.

What now? After the win he told interviewers he might feel a gap in his life now that he has achevied the goal of Paralympic Gold that he’d been working towards for so long. How to follow it? He jokingly said the next step is to add another wheel and an engine, but this is Alex Zanardi.. was it a joke? Jimmy Vasser and Chip Ganassi are allegedly working on car for the Indy 500. Another joke.. or serious? In a way I hope he does. In another way I hope he doesn’t because to my mind he has nothing left to prove.

Zanardi, van Dyk, and Decleir with their Paralympic medals, Brands Hatch – 7 Sept ’12 P. Wotton

(Apologies for slight fuzziness, the light was getting bad and I tried to correct it with software, if I hadn’t it would all be dark and you wouldn’t be able to see it!)

Finally, another fan at the event recorded a video of the day. It really does capture it perfectly – the video is just like being there. You might even get as sick of the Dolly Parton clips as we were – they played it every time the field came by the start line which was a lot with two races running at the same time! This guy does shout a bit much, though Alex doesn’t seem to mind.

For more photos of Zanardi and the other cyclists at Brands Hatch across the six races that day, as well those from my Thursday in London at the Paralympics, take a loko at my photoset on Picasa here. I also went up to London in July during the Olympics although not to many events, but if you want to see the city in the grips of Olympic spirit (and you should) then that set is here. I know I’ve been going about it on Twitter but I don’t care, it was such a great summer I want to share it with everyone who couldn’t be here!