The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series is a new era in a number of ways. The series has gained a new car and new officials, and aims to emerge out of a dark ending to the previous season which saw the loss of a champion and a reminder that nobody is immortal.
It has been five long months since that dark day in October which saw the 2011 season end the way nobody wanted. Since then, an official series review of the accident which killed Dan Wheldon determined that a “perfect storm” of events led to the catastrophic accident. Specifically, the report found a fence post protruded Wheldon’s helmet, inflicting the head trauma that left the two-time, and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion without a chance at survival. Regardless of the method to the madness, a much-loved and respected champion will not race again.
From this, the series must do what Wheldon would have wanted, and that is to learn from the mistakes made, move forward into a new season, and most of all, fire up those new 2.2L V6 engines and go racing again. A host of new drivers (who will be covered in detail later) and a new car has been developed and will soon be unleashed in competition.
In addition to a new car, a former engine supplier in Chevrolet has rejoined the series, and a brand new supplier in Lotus has broken new ground and thrown its hat into the ring for a tilt at powering a potential champion, giving Honda something more to think about in 2012. With that, a new manufacturers championship has been established to crown an eventual champion engine supplier at the end of the season.
The on-track action is not the only thing that has seen changes during the off-season. Up in the stewards box, the controversial Brian Barnhart has fallen on his sword after a very controversial year in 2011. Too many poor decisions were made throughout last season which has led to the long-time steward to be moved aside by CEO Randy Bernard and replaced with ALMS chief steward Beaux Barfield. The new chief has proceeded to trim the rulebook down, and has also amended the official interpretations of many of the regulations with the aim of clearing up confusion and providing teams with more certainty about what can and cannot be done on the track.
The series is also spreading its wings a little further afield in 2012, with a visit to the harbourside precinct of Qingdao in China on the cards for August, which will no doubt keep many sponsors happy and also showcase the noise and carnival atmosphere to a new market. The series will return to Detroit, and will end the season at Fontana in Southern California.
So with a highly anticipated new season on the horizon, let’s now look at each team and driver and what can and should be expected from them in 2012…
TARGET CHIP GANASSI RACING / HONDA
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That is the mentality of the once-again defending champions, who return with Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti on board, and very little is expected to change. The new car will provide equal headaches for everybody, however it is safe to expect Ganassi to be a regular frontrunner once again. The question on everyone’s lips though is whether Dixon can more regularly challenge his illustrious team-mate in Franchitti. He is definitely capable, but the last two years have seen Dixon running further behind than he would like.
In the other Ganassi team garage, Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball also return to their seats, with Kimball needing to impress this year and Rahal on the cusp of a victory. Expect both this year.
TEAM PENSKE / CHEVROLET
If Will Power doesn’t win the drivers championship this year, he never will. The old saying of “third time’s the charm” can be thrown in…but then again, so can the saying “Always a bridesmaid…never a bride”. Can Power do it this year?
Countryman Ryan Briscoe knows that another year running in the bottom half of the Top 10 will see questions from the top brass start to trickle in. Briscoe is more than capable of delivering, and has the machinery to do so, but is the utter speed of Power having more of a psychological effect on Briscoe’s self-confidence than he is letting on?
Another man with a point to prove is Hélio Castroneves. Last season was the first since his first year with Penske in 1999 that he has not taken at least one victory. Castroneves is also not getting any younger, and knows that time is running out for that as-yet elusive championship.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORTS / CHEVROLET
Michael Andretti’s group all want to return the team to the championship fight and this year is a great chance for them. Trimming down from four full-time entries to three (Sebastian Saavedra will drive at the Indy 500 only) will do them no harm at all, and although some of their tech staff have been let go, a more rounded focus on fewer cars should see a more rounded championship effort for one or more of them.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti return, and with both drivers securing a win last season, both will want to build on this and try and develop more consistency. Joining the fray is James Hinchcliffe, formerly of Newman Haas and the 2011 Rookie of the Year. ‘Hinch’ was selected as the man to fill the seat that was to be owned by Dan Wheldon. Expect ‘Hinch’ to deliver on his promising debut season with Wheldon watching from above.
KV RACING / CHEVROLET
Undoubtedly the team everyone will be watching in 2012. Tony Kanaan returns, this time with a full off-season to prepare and with every expectation to challenge for wins and possible even the title this year. EJ Viso also returns, but with more than one watchful eye looking on and hoping for more consistent results and a smaller damage bill.
By far the signing of the year, and possibly the entire off-season worldwide was Formula 1 veteran Rubens Barrichello, who was unable to secure a twentieth consecutive season in the world championship, and with the competitive fire far from extinguished, found himself lured to America. Despite all of Rubens’ experience, give him time to find his feet and then results will come.
RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING / HONDA
Remaining loyal to Honda from a team perspective is another Formula 1 journeyman in Takuma Sato, who will lead the full-time series return of RLL. Sato was very impressive in 2012 and is much more comfortable within the series, so the time to stand up and deliver some results is now. A win cannot be ruled out this year.
Joining him is GP2 stalwart Luca Filippi, a late signing over from Europe who brings a healthy paycheque and hopefully talent to match. Filippi is an unknown quantity to many in America who will be watching him with interest when he makes his debut in attempting to qualify for the Indy 500 in May.
DALE COYNE RACING / HONDA
Justin Wilson, despite all his hard work, never got the equipment his talent and technical know-how deserved in Formula 1. When he moved to America and tried Champ Car, he managed to wring the neck out of a RuSport car which rarely wanted to play and Newman Haas was his best chance when the series merged in 2008. Since then, despite all his hard work and his obvious talent, Justin has either gone backwards (barring a once-off series of miracles at Watkins Glen in 2009) or gotten himself injured.
Signing for Dale Coyne is yet another example of talent being under-utilised, but if he can be consistent, Wilson should be able to get some regular points hauls, but not enough to trouble anybody in the big end of town. James Jakes, his team-mate is back for his second season, and while the end of his first year was much better than the start of it, Jakes still needs to convince me, but Coyne has always been somewhat of an oracle at picking talent, so if he is prepared to persevere with him, then let’s see what he can do.
DREYER & REINBOLD RACING / LOTUS
It’s a bit of a shame this car had to downsize to one entry, but so be it if it is in the best interests of the team. In terms of driver choice, they have landed a much bigger fish than they probably deserve in Oriol Servià, but were probably helped by Servià’s previous employer closing up their IndyCar shop. His experience and speed will propel them back near the front where they used to be, so all power to them if he can help them pull it off.
A.J. FOYT RACING / HONDA
Mike Conway really didn’t enjoy the majority of last year. No doubt Long Beach was his best day, but that was it really. AJ Foyt doesn’t allow slouches in his ranks though so hopefully he can motivate Conway back into gear, but if Conway is to win this year, it will likely be as the beneficiary of a slew of engine failures from those ahead of him.
LOTUS-HVM RACING / LOTUS
Lotus will be putting most of their technical know-how into this operation, thanks to Keith Wiggins long history with the marque. His driver, Simona de Silvestro, set the world on fire in her debut year but had her nerves of steel rattled last year with several big accidents at Indy and Milwaukee that almost set HER on fire. Now, third year and with enough experience to deliver the goods as she is capable of.
LOTUS-DRAGON RACING / LOTUS
Two months ago we didn’t know this team even existed, but Jay Penske worked quietly behind the scenes, and what he put together was enough to impress four-time Champ Car champion Sébastien Bourdais to sign, along with prodigal daughter Katherine Legge. He even secured backing from Lotus, so based on this, even the most expert pundit wouldn’t know what they could turn up with in St Pete. You never know…they may even put Ganassi and Penske on notice.
BRYAN HERTA AUTOSPORT / LOTUS
We all knew Alex Tagliani would be signing for BHA before 2011 even finished, so that was never in doubt. There won’t be a dry eye in the house come May 27 when the team lines up to defend its 500 crown without the driver who delivered it to them, but in terms of a full-time effort, BHA is another team which is a relatively unproven figure. Tagliani though has enough experience to deliver some consistent finishes, and hopefully higher up the order.
ED CARPENTER RACING / CHEVROLET
Ed Carpenter Racing is certainly ticking all of the right boxes in terms of signing the right people to run their show. Tony George and Derrick Walker certainly have the cred, and now that Ed has finally won his first race, he should by all rights be able to take this team to the front.
PANTHER RACING / CHEVROLET
Come May, JR Hildebrand will have a burning desire to go one better than last year, and to complete all 200 laps, not 199 laps and 3 corners. Based on recent years, Panther have a magic formula that comes out to play at Indianapolis, which will hopefully steer Hildebrand through the extra 500 metres and on to some sweet tasting milk.
SCHMIDT HAMILTON RACING / HONDA
Sam Schmidt is definitely not an unproven quantity…he just needs to do it more often. His new signing Simon Pagenaud is capable, but whether Schmidt gives him a car good enough every week to do so is yet to be seen. Having Davey Hamilton’s expertise on board will only be a good thing.
SARAH FISHER HARTMAN RACING / HONDA
IndyCar definitely avoided a PR problem by ensuring their home-grown family team, run by the always popular Sarah Fisher, had an engine to go racing instead of waiting in line behind the guys with more money than her. Bobby Rahal definitely did the series a favour with that one. And as usual, SFHR have remembered their roots and given the reigning Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden his ride in the top flight as reward for winning last year’s feeder championship. Fingers crossed they can again show they are not just along to make up the numbers and can give those up the pointy end of the pit lane a few headaches.
Latest posts by Richard Bailey (see all)
- 2020 F1 Season Review (Blu Ray) - 27 February, 2021
- WTCR: Guerrieri outwits Muller at the Nordschleife - 26 September, 2020
- WTCR: Girolami breaks Nordschleife lap record to claim pole - 25 September, 2020
- WTCR: Hyundai withdraws from Germany round - 24 September, 2020
- WTCR: Ehrlacher leads Lynk & Co podium sweep at Zolder - 13 September, 2020