Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Search Of An Underdog

I’ll admit, I’m a fan of the underdog. There’s something in a David-and-Goliath story that makes me pull for the little guy. Perhaps it comes from being a Butler basketball fan; more likely, it’s years of Bump Day qualifications for the Indy 500 making me hope that the world will once again be turned upside down. If someone works hard, has the right attitude, and surprises the favorites, I couldn’t be happier. It’s a big part of the reason I have a 5-minute gap in my memory from excessive celebration at Kentucky Speedway in October after Sarah Fisher Racing and Ed Carpenter won.

So when I look at the still-developing 2012 field for the IZOD IndyCar Series, I find myself at loss. Certainly one still expects Penskes to be Penskes and Ganassis to be be Ganassis, but there’s an element of doubt in the whole mix now. With three new engines in play, a new chassis, and big team personnel changes afoot, yesterday’s underdogs have a chance to be, if not tomorrow’s favorite, at least a contender. Consider:

-HVM Racing, beleaguered, stuck with their backup car all year after an accident at Indy, is preparing to test with Lotus. As a factory team, if Lotus’ supposed weight advantage does come into play for HVM (and if the engines produce enough power), Simona de Silvestro’s third year in INDYCAR could be one to remember.

-Dale Coyne Racing, long considered largely a backmarker team, appears to be close to bringing back both James Jakes and Sèbastien Bourdais. Jakes showed potential at the end of last year, and of course Bourdais’ résumé needs no introduction. With the addition of some of the downsized staff from their Illinios neighbor Newman/Haas, this could be one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2012.

-Foyt Racing, stuck for several years as a mid-pack team, appears to be making significant upgrades in their engineering department, the one area where most folks seem to agree needed the help. If Oriol Servia or Mike Conway (with engineer Allen McDonald) land in this seat, happy days could visit the team once more.

Foyt Racing: Different Look For '12?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
-Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing signed the best American Mazda Road to Indy prospect of the offseason in Josef Newgarden, added a new owner, and is preparing an engine announcement that could give their outfit a nice boost. Honestly, with a rookie driver and working to expand to a full slate of races for next year, this team will likely still be an underdog, but they way they’re building things up for the long-term picture over there, it might not be that way for long.

Aside from this, small teams such as Bryan Herta Autosport (original testing team for the DW12) will try to punch above their weight (just as they did for the Indy 500 last year), and new and returning teams such as Ed Carpenter Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan will see where they slot into the field.

So, if you’re in the market for an underdog in the IICS next season, it’s going to take a little bit of patience. You’ll always have the haves and have-nots, but for next year, the line between them will be a more blurry, elastic one. The David-and-Goliath story is a given in motorsports, but for IndyCar 2012, David might be standing a little bit taller.

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