While the Formula 1 championship season is barely past its halfway point, the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season is just over four weeks from finishing.
With just three rounds to go until it all wraps up, fifteen – yes, fifteen! – of the grid’s 24 full-time drivers are still in contention to claim this year’s championship crown.
The statistics for the 2012 IndyCar Series season make for impressive reading. In the twelve races this season, there have been seven different winners and fifteen different podium finishers. This is on par with the numbers being achieved in this year’s Formula 1 championship.
Despite not having stood atop the podium since the fourth round of the championship, Will Power returned to a narrow lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings last time out at Mid-Ohio as he continues his quest for a long-awaited title. The Australian leads Ryan Hunter-Reay by a scant four points, which is the smallest points margin in seven years.
With a maximum 159 points up for grabs over the remaining three races, that leaves Marco Andretti as the lowest-placed driver in the championship standings who is still in with a shout of the championship crown. The last time we had such a high number of drivers in with a shout was in 2006, when thirteen pilots were in contention at this stage of the championship battle.
Andretti – who has, aside from his second-placed finish at Iowa, had a dreadful season by his standards – is a long shot, lying some 152 points adrift from Power.
Truth be told, the championship winner is likely to be among one of the drivers currently lying in the top-five places in the championship: Power, Hunter-Reay, Hélio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe (pictured below, left to right).
Defending IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti currently lies eighth overall in the championship standings, having largely struggled in the early half of the season to adapt to the DW12’s handling characteristics. His excellent win at Indianapolis side, it’s been a character-building season for the Scot.
So what’s kept this year’s championship battle particularly tight? Well, the biggest factor has been the introduction of a host of new technical changes, not least of which being the switch to a radical new Dallara DW12 chassis, which has seen much closer competition and greatly improved overtaking.
A new control chassis and engine regulations has brought all of the teams back to the starting blocks, and with restrictions on in-season testing – coupled with a development freeze on engines – it has ensured the competition has remained tight.
Granted, there have been some changes in the mid-season to the rules and regulations – which have given the series the perception that it is being too reactive – but this too has served to keep the competition through the field nice and close.
As our event preview will surely reveal in more detail, this weekend’s race at Sonoma will be the last road course event on the calendar, before the field takes to the temporary street circuit at Baltimore (September 1-2) and the two-mile oval at Fontana (September 14-15) to close out the season.
With a poor reputation for overtaking, Sonoma Raceway is a circuit that has favoured Power, who has won twice here in his three outings around the Californian track.
But the close points spread could see the championship lead change hands for a fifth time this season, and a poor result for any one (or more) of the major contenders could blow the championship battle wide open.
One thing’s for certain: we’re likely to see a cliff-hanger finale for the seventh year in succession.