The IndyCar Series, which has had one of its most eventful off-seasons in recent memory, appears to be able to be compared to a long-running game of Jenga. Just as it appears a pretty strong tower was taking shape, somebody pulls out that load-bearing piece at the bottom which sends the carefully built structure crashing to the ground, leaving the only option but to start again.
It has been quite widely documented how the firing of Randy Bernard from the CEO position following the end of last season was like a bazooka-blast to the feet, just as the series was starting to win back the interest of part-time fans and even generate a new fanbase altogether.
Clever marketing and frequent interaction with the fans was Bernard’s modus operandi, and while it worked in putting more bums in seats at many racetracks, ultimately lining the pockets of the team owners, it earned the ire of those same team owners themselves, who were convinced the old ways still worked and unfortunately had the political clout to do something about it.
The year 2013 will see some of the fruits of Randy Bernard’s labour still be released, such as the Dreamworks movie “Turbo” and later, the first IndyCar-themed video game in nearly a decade, and the effects of these fan-friendly ventures will be interesting to the suits at Indy Headquarters.
So while no clear CEO has been named to lead the series forward (frankly, who could conceivably want the poisoned chalice?), this coming weekend, on-track hostilities will be waged, and based on last season, it will be difficult to imagine how the quality of racing could possibly be topped, but herein lies the challenge for the 27 drivers currently contracted to run an event at some point in the season.
New Venues & Race Formats
With nearly every season comes new circuits, and 2013 will see Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania and Reliant Park in Houston rejoin the series for the first time in several years, and in the case of the former, the first event since 1989.
Detroit will also revert to the old layout used until 2001, which saw a longer straightaway used after the first right-left sequence and adds another overtaking opportunity to hopefully spice up the action and make it less of a procession.
In a case of ‘everything old is new again’, the Triple Crown has been re-established and will be run during the Indy 500 and the Pocono and Fontana events.
For younger fans who may not remember the Triple Crown, it is essentially an incentive run successfully for many years in the old USAC championship (United States Auto Club) which offers a significant financial reward (US$1,000,000) to a driver consistent enough to win all three events, or $250,000 if two out of three can be won by the same driver. In a series as competitive as the IndyCar Series, in which the pecking order can change at any time, it will certainly be a challenge but not an unattainable one.
Also new for 2013 is a new double-header race format, which will take place at Detroit, Toronto and Houston, and will see not one, but two full-length (and full points paying) races held in consecutive days over the weekend. It is another remnant from the Bernard Administration and will be interesting to gauge the success level of this concept and whether this sees it last into 2014 and beyond.
New Faces, or Old Faces in New Homes…
One thing that always changes is the driver lineups, which always sees a host of new faces join the fracas to ply their trade and aim for chequered flags.
Seasoned drivers have shuffled amongst the teams, which has also seen the departure of a number of others, notably Ryan Briscoe and Katherine Legge.
Some former stars have returned to the fold, namely multiple-time Champ Car race winner AJ Allmendinger (pictured right), who will contest the events at Barber Motorsports Park and Indianapolis only at this stage.
The race for the ‘Rookie of the Year’ honours will likely be a two-horse race in 2013, with only Sebastián Saavedra and new-boy Tristan Vautier contesting each event and considered a rookie.
Also currently signed to compete only at Indianapolis is Carlos Munoz, who will suit up for Andretti Autosport at the 500-mile showpiece. Undoubtedly more names will be added to the mix for the 500 as the month of May approaches.
The Pecking Order
So what is this writer’s prediction for the season ahead? It would be easy to say Ganassi, Penske and Andretti will dominate again as is often the case, and this may be the most likely of scenarios. This championship though is not that simple to predict.
A driver such as Simona De Silvestro, who has talent in great abundance but who suffered so long last year at the back, will find herself driven to succeed now she has a more reliable (and faster) car underneath her at KV Racing. She is capable of a victory this year.
Marco Andretti needs to break through again, and Takuma Sato has a point to prove from Indianapolis last year. He had the strategy and the speed, but one lap from the finish, he also unfortunately had the wall.
Sébastien Bourdais is a proven quantity and will be expected to do well, whether he has a Newman Haas, a Dragon Racing machine, or a lawnmower underneath him.
Simon Pagenaud last year was a thorn in the side of the frontrunners on more than one occasion, but Lady Luck kept him off the top step of the podium, many times in cruel and the unluckiest of circumstances – he can get the job done this year.
His trophy cabinet contains many road-course wins, even a single oval win, but there is a big gap set aside for the Series Championship, and the fire to succeed this year will be insatiable and an unquenchable inferno. Surely 2013 can finally be his year?
Tony Kanaan has another championship in him too, while Hélio Castroneves isn’t getting any younger and must consider 2013 as one of his last shots at the ultimate prize.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is a marked man, and knows he must be on his game once again to defend his hard-fought championship won last year.
Bring on 2013!!!