Over the last week or so, a good bit of news has come out regarding the 2012 IndyCar season, including this week’s “State of the Series” meeting and show. Many other blogs and outlets have already covered the news in detail, so I won’t go into that; I’m just going to offer up my thoughts and feelings about some of the bits that have caught my attention the most.
I only have two negatives, so I’ll get them out of the way before moving on to the positive news:
I fundamentally disagree with how Leaders Circle funding was distributed to the two teams that got Newman Haas’ spots when they dropped out of the series. In a 06 January 2012 article on SpeedTV.com, Marshall Pruett wrote: “Introduced in 2008, the TEAM concept, part of INDYCAR’s Leader Circle program, did away with the traditional amounts of prize money that were on offer at each round (except for Indianapolis) in favor of a guaranteed lump sum the series would give its teams each year.” If, as that article states, the Leaders Circle funds are a replacement of traditional prize money then the money should have been awarded on performance on the track rather than an assessment by IndyCar of what the team will do for the series. There shouldn’t have been a process by which teams submitted plans and paid $60,000 for consideration; IndyCar should have simply looked at points from the 2011 season and awarded the 2 remaining Leaders Circle positions to the teams that finished highest in points. Yes, it would have meant that the new teams didn’t have a chance at getting any of the money but then again, that’s not what the money was there for in the first place, was it?
It was announced that double file restarts will not be used at 1.5 – 2 mile tracks and at the Indianapolis 500. This is news that I find most unwelcome. I was a fence sitter at one point on the double file restarts but last I year I came to like them for the excitement they lend to the restarts. I know a lot of fans see this as copying NASCAR but I like them in NASCAR and I liked them in IndyCar as well. The double file restarts are unpopular amongst some of the drivers, but if they are indeed the best and most versatile in the world, as IndyCar loves to advertise, they will adjust to them (just as they seemed to do gradually throughout the 2011 season). If it’s OK to start 2-wide at Texas and California and 3-wide at Indianapolis, why isn’t it OK to restart 2-wide at those tracks?
Everything else announced was a positive for the series:
First to come out was the news of new Chief Steward Beaux Barfield’s interpretation of IndyCar’s blocking rule. Barfield will be interpreting the rule as a blocking rule, not the way the previous Chief Steward interpreted it as a “no defending” rule. There will be no imaginary boundary drawn on on the track with the lead car forced to stay to the outside of that boundary leaving the preferred inside line to the following car. The leader will be allowed to defend but not weave back and forth to block the car behind. The previous interpretation was nothing less than ridiculous and was an embarrassment to the series and many of it’s road and street racing fans. This is how Barfield viewed blocking and defending in the ALMS and I’m glad to see he’s carried it over to IndyCar.
It has been announced that the series will use heat races to set the field at the 2012 Iowa race. I love this idea! First, it reaches back to short track heritage and traditions that are part of IndyCar’s past. The idea is to use 30 lap heats to set the field, with starting spots in the heat races determined by practice speeds. Not only will this qualifying process emulate the qualifying process of the series’ short track roots, it will also give the fans more racing for their ticket money! It will also be more interesting for the fans to watch than individual car qualifying can be. I see this as a great idea for the short tracks but I’m not sure how it would work on the larger tracks. As for Indianapolis, I would definitely leave the qualifying process alone. Although I don’t worship the heritage of the Indianapolis 500 like many other IndyCar fans I do think replacing the 4 lap average qualifying and bumping process from the “Month of May” would diminish the excitement and drama of that great race.
At the same time, it was announced that we may see standing starts at some of the later road and street course races in the season. This is another idea that I love. I love watching standing starts in Formula 1 and other series and the excitement it brings to the start of the race. I think it could also decrease some of the carnage we witness going into the first turns of the first lap of road and street course races. Rolling starts would of course remain in use on oval tracks.
ABC will be carrying 6 races on network television. I think this is very important. While Versus was a good partner and much of the Versus crew (noticeably minus Lindy Thackston) will be moving to NBC Sports Network’s coverage I’m not sure that having races on a network not everyone has access to is the way to grow exposure to IndyCar. The more races IndyCar can have on network television that most every TV viewer has access to, the better. Unfortunately there is a sense of “one step forward, two steps back” to this announcement; NBC Sports Network decided not to bring pit reporter Lindy Thackston over from Versus. Thackston was not only popular amongst the fans she was a competent pit reporter, knowledgeable and friendly with the drivers but not to the point of being a cheerleader as some other pit reporters tend to be.
It was announced that Milwaukee will indeed be on the 2012 schedule. From the perspective of balance, tradition, and racing I think it’s important that they’re going to give Milwaukee another go and try to correct some of the mistakes made when they tried last year. To me, it’s important that IndyCar have a balanced schedule between road, street, long, and short oval courses; the closer that they can come to that balance the better. The fact that a driver had to be proficient in all four course types to be a championship contender is what drew me to the sport in the first place. In the current climate, finding successful IndyCar oval races is difficult, let’s hope they succeed this time at Milwaukee.
The majority opinion of those in the know about PR and Marketing see the Verizon IndyCar smartphone app and the LIDS merchandising deals as good things for IndyCar. I’m not knowledgeable on PR or Marketing so I’ll take their words for it and leave it at that. I will make one humorous comment on the LIDS deal… For a motor sports fan who is also an amateur radio operator it is ironic that something positive would come from something called LIDS; in the amateur radio world to be called a LID is an insult – it is a term used to describe an amateur radio operator with poor operating skills (and yes, I know that’s not what it means for the LIDS company!).
What lies ahead for the 2012 season?
There have been some disturbing disturbing signs. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a team that has had a driver and sponsors named for some time and won a race last season has so far been unable to sign an engine deal. As yet, there has been no team testing, only chassis and engine manufacturer testing. A scant 2 months before the season, there should be team testing going on for the teams and drivers to learn the new cars. Car counts for the season are being predicted to be from 26-28 cars; I don’t want to sound pessimistic but I’ll believe that when the transporters show up at St. Petersburg and 26-28 cars roll off of them and take the green flag. It just seems that there is going to be a very short time to get ready and be properly prepared for the season opener.
Those that know me are aware that I consider myself a realist despite the opinion of some that I’m a pessimist (I disagree). From that perspective and contrary to the previous paragraph, things are looking up for IndyCar in 2012. They seem to be having success improving the new car (although it remains to be seen by how much on ovals). They are making rules changes to improve the on-track product and have made steps to improve the officiating. As we have seen this pre-season, the series is becoming less secretive and more open to the fans. The glass isn’t half empty, it’s half full; it isn’t emptying – it’s filling up!
All in all, the the 2012 IndyCar season should be an interesting one, I can’t wait for it to get underway!