Friday, December 30, 2011

Fearless 2012 INDYCAR Predictions

I thought we’d finish off the year with some amazing predictions as far as what to expect in 2012 for INDYCAR. Of course, as an INDYCAR blogger AND TrackForum member in good standing, I am infallible, and therefore each of these predictions is 100% guaranteed to be right on the money (except for the ones that aren’t).

Are you ready for a glimpse behind the curtain into IndyCar, circa 2012?! Continue on, brave reader!

January
-Lotus sees their engine undergo its first on-track test. After the results simply blow away the Chevy and Honda results to date, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi are observed grimly handing large suitcases of cash to two massive men wielding a baseball bat and tire iron.

-James Hinchcliffe is announced as the driver of the Andretti Autosport GoDaddy car, Justin Wilson is announced as the driver of the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing #22 car, Takuma Sato is announced as the driver of the first Rahal Letterman Lanigan car, and Darren Manning continues to be announced on the side of milk cartons.

-Randy Bernard introduces IndyCar’s new Chief Steward, saying he “found someone whose name is synonymous with racing”. A pained Robin Miller takes him aside afterwards to explain Slick Racin Gardner’s other qualifications for the position may be somewhat lacking.

February
-The City of Baltimore agrees to pay off the debt incurred from the Baltimore Grand Prix, but before they can, a fleet of Mayflower moving vans duck in under the cover of night and transport all race assets to an undisclosed location in Indy in preparation for the newly-announced Streets of Indianapolis race. At least one Baltimore official is heard to say in disbelief, “I can’t believe they did it to us again”.

-The mystery 16th race is announced for the 2012 schedule. However, Randy Bernard’s suggestion for a race around the world, ala the Jules Verne novel he read over the weekend, is eventually dismissed as too expensive.

-Delighting oval fans everywhere, the Milwaukee Mile is added as a last-minute race and the season finale. The series comes to terms with a new promoter, who plans on using a new, previously unused method called “advertising” to entice locals to come to the event.

March
-Conquest Racing announces the signing of Greenland’s own Skajard Skillensontortensson as their driver for 2012. “Coming off a series of stirring Top 20s in Formula Greenland in 2011, young Skillensontortensson is poised to deliver a dynamic—ah, who are we kidding anymore?” states Conquest’s press release.

-The Streets of St. Petersburg manages to avoid any sort of first-turn pile-up, only to have Marco Andretti’s car end up upside down yet again. Marco immediately lobbies for IndyCar to simply start the season on the second race of the year to give himself a fighting chance.

-Engine Manufacturer A will fail to win the first race of the year, leading to 17 different online columns and 122 letters to Robin Miller’s mailbag claiming Manufacturer B and C are in trouble/doomed to failure/total frauds.

-ABC announces they will be improving the lead-in programming to their IndyCar telecasts. True to their word, the Ahh Bra commercials are replaced by an impressive lineup of Sham-WOW, Slap Chop, and George Foreman Grill paid programming.

April
-IndyCar works on their youth outreach by reaching a deal to have the Streets of Long Beach Presented By Sesame Street. However, the event takes a financial hit when sponsors A and H pull out at the last moment.

-Chip Ganassi is briefly identified as a hate group by the United States government after another one of his mid-race interviews blaming “backmarkers” for slowing the leaders, world hunger, Palestinian unrest, and potentially the JFK assassination.

-Several IndyCar bloggers go on hiatus, citing exhaustion from producing multiple “Here’s Ho-Pin!” puns from Ho-Pin Tung’s presence in the series.

May
-Simona de Silvestro once again proves her “Iron Maiden” nickname by putting her car in the field despite 3 crashes, a freak tornado blowing half her crew into Hendricks Country, needing to defeat a clan of terrorist ninjas attempting to keep her from qualifying, and most frighteningly of all, the last-minute addition of Marty Roth as a teammate.

-During an episode of the Talk of Gasoline Alley, Donald Davidson briefly forgets the middle name of the cousin’s sister’s dog of the 2nd alternate driver for the 1926 Indy 500. Mortified, he immediately announces that he will begin training Dave From Marion and Jerry From Delphi as his eventual replacements.

-Katherine Legge narrowly wins the Indianapolis 500 over initial winner Pippa Mann, after Mann is penalized a lap in the official results for passing the pace car during the last caution. Frantic British tabloids work through the night to change their headlines from “A Mann’s World” to “A Legge Up”.

June
-Indy Lights driver Anders “The Viking” Krohn of Norway finds himself with an already nearly insurmountable lead in points due to his overwhelming skill in showing patience on the track, consistent finishes, and pillaging the homesteads of all who dare oppose him.

-The Belle Isle race in Detroit is briefly interrupted as Martin Plowman finds himself the victim of an attempted carjacking in the hairpin.

July
-During the streets of Toronto, EJ Viso joins the ranks of the great daredevils of all time when he ramps his car up a wall on two wheels, jumps between two buildings, ricochets off a flagpole, and flies 200 feet over the construction ramp before returning to the course, taking out Scott Dixon as he comes to a stop. When asked by the media where he got the idea for his stunt, he asks, “What stunt?”

-In a novel attempt to add more ovals to the schedule, four oval races are announced, to be held simultaneously, one on top of another. 2013’s Kentucky Indy 300, Indy Kentucky 300, Kentucky 300 of Indy, and the IndyCar Presents The Kentucky 300 will be the first simultaneous multi-event of its kind!

August
-Will Power takes a hit in the championship race after missing the Streets of Qingdao. He remarks regretfully afterwards he thought “slow boat to China” was simply an expression.

-Robin Miller begins to train to join Tony Kanaan and Vitor Meira as triathletes. His impressive regimen consists of at least three Grid Runs each day.

-TrackForum Mad Libs begin to sell in the IMS Gift Shop. They are non-sellers, despite the fact that (PERSON) ruined IndyCar in (YEAR) due to (VERB)ing the (NOUN) and allowing (NATIONALITY) to (VERB).

September
-Running 6th in the standings, Mike Conway has a brief health scare when his heartbeat skyrockets to 12 beats per minute. While being attacked by Africanized killer bees on A.J. Foyt’s ranch. During a hailstorm.

-Will Power confidently charges into the last two races 4,512 points ahead of Dario Franchitti. However, this lead is cut to the slimmest of margins after Franchitti wins Fontana and Power somehow manages to finish 213th in a 28-car field.

October
-It is discovered Dragon Racing actually joined the series somewhere around Indianapolis, but no one can seem to remember exactly when they showed up. “Did you invite them?” Randy Bernard asks Brian Barnhart. “I thought you did”, Barnhart replies.

-At the season finale in Milwaukee, Will Power wins his first championship after Franchitti becomes ill with food poisoning before the race. It is discovered Franchitti had been nibbling on a vegemite sandwich left by an anonymous well-wisher in his trailer before the race. The culprit is never found, and Power celebrates with the Vanderbilt Cup.


Have a wonderful New Year! The real 2012 should be a fun one for INDYCAR!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Is Guerrieri Ready For IndyCar?

Between Marshall Pruett columns and foreign websites, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Esteban Guerrieri is potentially in the mix for the final seat at KV Racing for 2012.

The Argentinean driver showed speed and talent in 2011 Firestone Indy Lights, but as he prepares to turn 27 next month, is he ready for the IZOD IndyCar Series?

As far as his resumè goes, it could be that of just about any other young IndyCar hopeful. A swing through multiple European junior open wheel series, a nice 2010 campaign in Formula Renault 3.5, and some success at the Indy Lights level highlight his accomplishments up until now. It’s as much or more as many successful IndyCar drivers have had.

However, let’s take a look at his more recent stats. Guerrieri challenged eventual Lights champion Josef Newgarden repeatedly throughout the 2011 campaign, but the big difference was in consistency. True, Newgarden had 5 wins to Guerrieri’s 3, but Newgarden also had only a single race where he placed P10 or worse. Guerrieri had five such races. Newgarden simply looked more patient and polished at times than his Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammate.

Ready or Not?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

Assuming he goes to KV Racing (and nothing’s a done deal), Guerrieri will be matched with a team that showed they could be fast last year, but also struggled with unforced errors and mistakes at times. That sounds like a situation that matches Guerrieri’s perceived profile, which could be a warning flag. There’s no reason to expect him to be a James Hinchcliffe right off the bat, but more patience and fewer incidents will be a fine measure of just where he is in terms of development. He has the knack for looking smooth on track one moment, and then so very much like an impatient rookie the next.

So is he ready? Like so many questions we’ll finally get to have answered in IndyCar in 2012, I have to respond right now with “we’ll see”. I think he’s got potential, but “potential” sounds suspiciously like a dirty word when your driver’s “growing pains” involve lots of trashed carbon fiber, or last multiple years. I find myself wondering if another KV driver long associated with the aforementioned P word would step up his game in 2012, or if EJ Viso will keep giving us head-scratchers each race weekend. How would the chemistry between Tony Kanaan, Viso, and Guerrieri work out? The identity and performance of KV’s third driver could say a lot about whether or not Jimmy Vasser’s crew completes the fine improvement they displayed overall last year. If it’s Esteban Guerrieri, that leaves us a lot of questions to be answered when the flag drops at St. Pete.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Look At The 2012 Indy Lights Schedule

Yesterday, Firestone Indy Lights released their 2012 schedule. It consists of 11 announced races, plus a To Be Decided (TBD) that will almost definitely line up with the TBD on the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar. 3 ovals are included, along with 8 announced road or street events

So how’s the Lights schedule look for next year? Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. If the TBD event is an oval, that helps the balance a bit. There are unfortunately still some gaps in the schedule due to foreign races, such as August and China, that really could stilt any momentum a good championship points battle might generate. The long gap after the first triad of races and Indy is also potentially problematic, though the Month of May at IMS is always going to be a factor in that. Of course, that’s part of being a support and ladder series, but it is frustrating for fans of the junior series to follow over the course of a season.

Fortunately, Lights’ turn at being the featured race for a weekend continues with their return to Trois Rivieres, Quebec. That, along with the staple of the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and fun support races such as Long Beach and Iowa remain unaffected. Overall, the schedule hits oval, road, and street disciplines, but I think we all agree that another oval can only help. Firestone Indy Lights has its share of European drivers, and usually they need oval experience more than additional twisties.

It would be nice to see Lights pair with another series for a weekend or two to pad out the schedule, but honestly, races cost money, and if it isn’t supporting IndyCar directly and driving the same tracks as the IICS, then any such venture needs to be scrutinized closely. You can argue events such as Trois Rivieres gives the Mazda Road to Indy some nice availability at a unique North American event, but opportunities like that aren’t exactly around every corner.

With any single race representing a full 1/12 of potential points for the year, consistency is going to be a must for the eventual champion. Inconsistency from drivers such as Gustavo Yacaman and Esteban Guerrieri doomed any chance they had at a Lights championship and IndyCar scholarship last season; at the same time, it allowed Josef Newgarden to propel his way into a 2012 IICS ride, and assisted Stefan Wilson in his charge into P2 in the standings late in the season.

The Mazda Road to Indy needs to work to the very top in order to prepare and graduate drivers to the top level of American Open Wheel racing. The type of prospects for IndyCar this schedule and the 2012 field produce will be the basis on which the success of the upcoming Lights season may be judged.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Joy Of IndyCar

I was going to write a Christmas article this year either doing one of the innumerable “Twas The Night Before Christmas” parodies that flood the internet this time of year, or possibly a fake “wish list” for the various teams for laughs. Instead, I’m going a far more boring route, but I hope in the spirit of the season, you’ll bear with me for a minute.

For me, Christmas isn’t just a time of joy and celebration; it’s also a time for thankfulness. We think nothing of taking the time to thank someone who has given us a present underneath our Christmas tree, but all too often fail to show thankfulness for the other blessings in our lives.

From the teams to the drivers to my fellow fans, we’re each part of a season that only comes around once. We are so incredibly fortunate, but I think at times we concentrate on that we perceive to be imperfect instead. Every minute, every race, every championship only comes along once, and we are so immensely lucky to be even a small part of it all. We forget how privileged we are, how amazing it is we get to see these men and women race, how incredible it is to take a child to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time, that sense in your gut in the moment when dozens of cars roar past, how we rally or sink behind our favorite driver’s victory or defeat, and that euphoric, unmistakable feeling when we know we’ve seen a great upset or tremendous finish.

If there’s a time of year where just the simple awareness of how very cool this all is should be able to trump cynicism, this should be it. Life is too short to spend it pining for what we don’t have, especially when we have so much. If that makes me a Pollyanna or the owner of “rose-colored glasses”, I can live with it.

If you’ve had a rough run of it lately in IndyCar, if you’ve found your enthusiasm is flagging, I hope this Christmas you rediscover some of that joy. The history of IndyCar is immense, the storylines countless, the machinations, strategies, and surprises endless. Watching the eyes of my preschool son light up at IMS this year when the cars zoomed past on the track, I was reminded once more that the world does us a disservice at times, expecting us to have a critical eye of each and every thing as we grow up. We forget how to look at things and just take them for the simple happiness and excitement they bring. May we each remember to take our simple joys in life like that once again.

IndyCar is a family—one with plenty of weird uncles, distant cousins, and relatives you can’t decide whether to hug or throw out the door, but a family all the more because of it. Being a part of IndyCar, and getting to share it with both my immediate family and my “extended” IndyCar family, is really the best gift I could have asked for and received this holiday season.

This Christmas season, I find myself thankful for everyone who’s been a part of this wild IndyCar rollercoaster. When I started this site and began to write for INDYCAR Nation as well, I could never have imagined the sort of friendships that would be formed. Your letters, kind comments, and words of support have a knack for turning around the worst of days for me.

I’ll be enjoying the next few days with friends and loved ones, and I hope each of you have the chance to do the same. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, God Bless, and my absolute best wishes for each of you in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dissecting The Mike Conway Signing

-With Mike Conway, Foyt Racing grabbed a driver who has the potential to win on a majority of the schedule, considering his road and street course prowess. However, the big question for Conway is going to be whether his season mirrors the type of season had had in 2011 pre-Indy or post-Indy. We talk about drivers showing "flashes" of promise; for Conway, as part of a (anticipated) single-car effort, the emphasis on consistent, measured performance is at a premium.

-I'm really interested to see how Conway's personality plays into the dynamic over at Foyt. Conway is about as cool as they come, seemingly always in control of his emotions, be it a great moment or a poor one. You have to think the team admired his courage and resolve in returning from his terrible 2010 accident, as well as his composure in the face of adversity last year.

-With Oriol Servia having been so linked to the Foyt seat, we're inevitably going to see comparisons between what might have been with the Spanish veteran on the team versus what Conway might accomplish. It's easy to make a case for Servia, but Foyt apparently wanted to go another direction. Perhaps unspoken is some thought of what Conway could bring to the team financial-wise in addition to Foyt's ABC Supply money, and how that might help with some of the upgrades they're working to make.

-Speaking of those upgrades, the biggest factor at Foyt this offseason could be not in the driver department, but in engineering. With Foyt looking to really push improvements in this area, their ability to maximize the DW-12 will likely determine whether or not this team moves forward or stays mid-pack.

-Conway was also a possibility to go to Andretti Autosport as the 4th car there (in fact, that's where I thought him most likely to go). You have to wonder if this changes their plans, and if they find someone for that seat. I'd like to think this was not a blindside for them.

-Is Conway the driver to get Foyt Racing back in the victory circle? Well, as we all too often tend to overlook, that's truly a team effort. Yes, Conway needs to show that Long Beach-winning form, but the engineering and support on this team need to be right there with it. Any part of the team fails, and the team can fail.

Welcome to Foyt Racing, Mike Conway. Let's see what that partnership brings.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Six Quick Questions With An IndyCar Sponsor: Mouser Electronics

We often hear about the driver and team side of the sponsor search, and how much work it is to find that successful partnership that allows them to go racing. No one denies it's tough work, and it takes a lot to make it happen.

I wanted to get the view from the other side of the table, so to speak, and so I went out and interviewed Larry Johannes, Vice President of Strategic Marketing for TTI/Mouser. Mouser Electronics was a sponsor of Alex Tagliani's #77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car at Indy, and also primary sponsor for Ho-Pin Tung's debut at Sonoma. As the latest entrant for Six Quick Questions, we asked Mr. Johannes about Mouser's plans in 2012, working with teams on sponsorship, and what companies look for when they sponsor a team.

-For those unfamiliar with your company, can you give a brief company profile for Mouser Electronics, Inc.?

LJ: We're a part of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway family of companies. Mouser is an award-winning authorized semiconductor and electronic component distributor, focused on the fastest introduction of new products and technologies to electronic design engineers and buyers.

Mouser.com features more than 2 million products online from more than 450 manufacturers. Mouser publishes multiple catalogs per year providing designers with up-to-date data on the components now available for the next generation of electronic devices. Mouser ships globally to over 300,000 customers in 170 countries from its 492,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility south of Dallas, Texas. For more detailed information, please visit http://www.mouser.com.

-I understand the Mouser has an IndyCar in display in their lobby! Is this the car Ho-Pin Tung drove in Sonoma this past season?

LJ: Yes it is. HPT was the first Chinese driver to ever qualify for an IndyCar event (see picture).


Tung's Sonoma car sits in Mouser's lobby.

-Mouser worked with both Ho-Pin Tung (Dragon Racing) and Alex Tagliani (Sam Schmidt Motorsports) in 2011. Obviously we know you can’t comment on specifics, but do you see yourself increasing your involvement in the series for 2012?

LJ: Absolutely, we're reviewing opportunities with 4 different teams and expect to make a final decision within the next two weeks.

-Will Mouser look to promote some of their business partners on the car sidepods as part of their strategy going forward?

LJ: Yes we will, very much like the "Target" or "Kmart" strategies of the past. Mouser.com is our award winning online store with over 450 supplier brands and over 2 million searchable parts online. Our top suppliers partner with us to help promote their brands and to help drive more traffic to Mouser.com.

-What does a leading electronics company such as Mouser see as the benefits and upside to IZOD IndyCar Series sponsor participation in today’s economic climate?

LJ: Partnership with a "high technology" series and a very strategic race for us in China. In addition, Indianapolis, Texas and Sonoma are key opportunities to stage events that build partnerships and solidify longstanding relationships.

-We hear a lot from the team’s side of a sponsor relationship, but what does a company such as Mouser look for in that team/sponsorship relationship? What sort of “red flags” can come up when in negotiations to sign on as a sponsor?

LJ: Most of the teams we meet with are high integrity teams, Penske, KV, Dragon, Sam Schmidt. They're very accommodating and flexible with negotiations. I've found that they set a standard for the team and support the sponsors with whatever is required to ensure that the experience is enjoyed and remembered by everyone attending the race and pre-race events. "Details" are usually easy to work through to find agreement with teams like this. The red flags I look for from a new team might be factory support or not, new chassis purchases or not, engine deals with tested engine packages, financial backing, previous dealings, ect. There also has to be chemistry between the partners involved to ensure direct, honest dialog as development inevitably goes through it's typical high's and lows.

Friday, December 16, 2011

INDYCAR Thoughts And Review, December 16 Edition

-The Las Vegas Crash findings were released yesterday. No real bombshells, though it is a chance for vultures from news organizations who normally don’t care about INDYCAR to get one more uneducated shot in. Ultimately, I thought it was handled well, with a good deal of transparency. As Randy Bernard put it, it was unfortunately a “perfect storm” of fatal circumstances. It was tough to listen to. I’ll just add that I appreciate the job folks did with the investigation—it couldn’t have been easy to relive those terrible moments again and again. As Pippa Mann said on Twitter yesterday, “we mourn, we learn, and then we must try to move forwards”. That’s pretty spot-on, even as I still get the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when discussing the crash. We miss you, Dan.

-Speaking of Dan Wheldon, the car named after him saw its first delivery to IndyCar teams yesterday! Even with some of the developmental issues the DW12 has had, it’s an exciting day, as teams at last can turn towards the task of assembling the car. I noticed AFS Racing was among the teams that took delivery of a chassis—you have to wonder what they’ve got going on right now. It’s been pretty quiet from that corner of the Series…

-Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s announcement of their new facility is pretty exciting in its own right, even as we wait on engine/sponsor news. It would seem to be a sign that SFHR is in this for the long haul. It’s also a nice boost for Speedway, Indiana—having new shops open around the Dallara building can really lend a nice aspect to their town’s renewal program.

It also sounds like the team is close to announcing a sponsor. Is it just me, or is it going to seem weird if the car isn’t the usual yellow and black scheme? Whatever gets them out on the track, I suppose!

SFHR: Digging For Their New Digs
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

-Although we now have at least seen a glimpse of a preliminary 2012, schedule from IndyCar (edit: link appears to have been removed at this time), it's safe to say this isn't the finished product. I'm almost positive we won't end the season at Fontana, and I'm pretty sure Randy Bernard and his crew are still working to add one more oval. Bernard knows that’s a big deal.

-Did you miss Sage Karam’s big announcement this week? The Andretti Autosport driver will return with the team to try win a Star Mazda Championship next year. If his charge last year is any indication, he could pull it off. Now we just need some good news on Mazda Road to Indy prospects like Nick Andries, Nick Mancuso, and Connor De Phillippi. With the scholarships for the ladder series making upward mobility more of a reality for true talent, it’s a great time to follow these promising drivers.

-If anyone is looking for any last-minute Christmas ideas for me, getting some good news on 2012 deals for Martin Plowman, Tomas Scheckter, and Pippa Mann would be much appreciated. If it isn’t too much trouble, of course.


Have a great weekend as we move closer to the holidays, and we’ll be back on Monday for what promises to be a very busy week in INDYCAR!

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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An IndyCar Christmas: Advice Welcome

This year, as I channeled my inner Clark Griswold and sojourned forth to kill a tree* to put in my living room for the Christmas season, it was important that each family member pick out something for the tree decorations. I’m not all about fancy matching ornaments or uniform lights; I want a tree that looks like it was decorated by a family with three small kids and more enthusiasm than concern for aesthetics. And by gum, I was going to get it.

My daughters and son each picked out some ornaments for the tree, but more importantly, they provided me with multiple homemade ornaments. My wife decided to top our tree with a giant bow and ribbon instead of a star, which has lead to multiple comments by me about the Three Wise Men following the Christmas Ribbon to Bethlehem. Such comments are not conducive to my well-being, but I can’t seem to help myself.

So what is my contribution to our tree? Well, unsurprisingly, I really wanted an IndyCar ornament to put in the tree (I particularly like this one). However, with three kids, a cat, and a dog who REFUSE TO LEAVE MY TREE ALONE, EVEN FOR FIVE SECONDS, I figured being made of glass, it would be shattered within mere seconds of me putting it on the tree, because that’s what happens when you have kids. Cartoon soprano opera singers break glass with less regularity than my kids.

All three of my kids are getting IMS Kids Club Memberships for next year, and my son wants a big IndyCar in his stocking. These things I can do, but I still need something properly "IndyCar" for my contribution to the tree. So, what to do? Do I buy the glass ornament, only to have it break? Do I use driver cards to decorate? If I do that, I risk being “the weirdo who glued multiple Oriol Servia hero cards together to decorate his tree”, and like Scott Speed trying to qualify for the Indy 500, you just don’t come back from that. The weirdo/creepy factor would also apply to making detailed gingerbread representations of various drivers.

The trick, you see, is ensuring it doesn’t take over the tree, because then my long-suffering wife will have to SAY SOMETHING. And that is not what we’re after here. I’m afraid that likely knocks out putting a Tom Carnegie bobblehead on top of the tree. No, we need subtle, but clever. If you hadn’t guessed, neither are my strong suites.

So I’ll throw open the suggestion line here: what’s a good IndyCar decoration I can put on my tree? I was thinking of turning a couple of Hot Wheels into ornaments, but I’m open to further suggestions. Clever, Relatively Practical, Christmas-y, and Not Too Weird are what we're looking for here. If you wish to send letters of sympathy to my wife this holiday season, I'll take those as well.

*-I am aware Clark Griswold pulled his tree out by the roots. Here, I deviated from the script.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What About Conway?

Mike Conway remains an absolute cipher at times for the IndyCar fan. For every brilliant race, such as his masterful charge at Long Beach, there's a number of races where it seems like poor luck, poor decisions, or perhaps a mix of both doom him to a Did Not Finish. It's why he finished P17 in the standings despite his victory last year, and it's why opinion still seems to be split as to whether he's a legitimate contender waiting to have a breakout year or an inconsistent driver doomed to mediocre finishes punctuated by a few great runs.

I'm in the same boat as everyone else; I don't know if Conway is the real deal or just a pretender. I do know he's seemingly the calmest person in IndyCar; if I've ever seen a situation where it looks like his heart had exceeded 20 BPM, he sure didn't show it. I also know his story of recovery and return from a disastrous wreck in 2010 Indy 500 is a study in resolve. But a cool, determined demeanor doesn't mean the on-track results will match it.

It's still most likely that if Conway returns, he does so in Andretti Autosport's 4th car, and if that's the case, the question will be one of consistency. In his two full seasons in the IZOD IndyCar Series (excluding his injury-shortened 2010), Conway finished P17 in both campaigns. That's not the type of consistency I mean, either--we're talking about measurable improvement in finishing races and securing good results across an entire season. We know he's capable of winning and podiums--can he do it with enough regularity for a Top 10 or higher in the points standings? For the record, it would have taken 54 additional points over the season to move Mike from P17 to a tie for P10 last year. When you look back on his season, you can see those potential points spread out throughout the year--in the Alabamas, Torontos, New Hampshires, and Baltimores along the way.

From reports, it sound like Mike Conway might be finalizing his plans for next year. What isn't finalized is whether or not his third full season will be the big step forward fans have been looking for.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday INDYCAR Mailbag: Teams Running Second Cars In '12?

Every so often, I get emails from readers, generally from the folks who use the subscribe function on this site. It’s always great to talk about racing a bit more in-depth with other fans, and I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to leave feedback.

I had a good question from a reader this week, so I asked and received permission to use it for a mailbag. Please note this is not a Robin Miller mailbag, which means the likelihood of reading about someone promising for the fifth time this year that they’ll never watch INDYCAR again is pretty remote. No, an IndyCar Advocate mailbag is not an angry thing.

Our question from our friend Louis in West Lafayette, Indiana (home of the bowl-bound Purdue Boilermakers, wouldn’t you know):

Do you know which teams are running second cars in 2012?

Well first thing to remember is I'm not an insider on the stuff. I read, track, and occasionally get the odd piece of good info passed along to me, so take this as you will. The second thing to remember is in any given year, many normally single-car teams will talk about running a second car. However, the reality is that most don’t end up doing it, as exciting as it is to consider. However, with the new car, having another teammate to work through setup and testing with certainly becomes an even bigger boost to a program.

Excluding existing multi-car teams such as Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti, as well as teams such as KV where the expectancy is 2-3 cars, let’s look at who we have. I would say right now, teams such as Michael Shank, Conquest, and Bryan Herta are all going to be one-car efforts, barring something shocking. Dale Coyne Racing seems to be in line for two cars, though guessing Coyne’s plans can be like trying to decipher the Voynich Manuscript. Ed Carpenter Racing has discussed adding another car, but that sounds like it might be more of a future project for this team, and would be part-time in any case.

So that leaves us with a handful of teams that are potentially in line for a second driver: Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, Foyt Racing, Panther Racing, Lotus HVM Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. I've tried below to provide links to some relevant articles as we discuss these teams:

-Sam Schmidt Motorsports has said they’re currently 60/40 for a second car, though the most likely outcome right now seems to be a couple of partial-season deals for various drivers in that seat.

-I believe Dreyer and Reinbold will again likely be a two-car team--that's certainly their plan right now.

-By all accounts, Foyt is upgrading their engineering situation, and if Oriol Servia does land a seat with the team, he might see a teammate for Indy, but that’d be about it.

-Panther Racing seemed very likely to at least have a one-off additional car for the Indy 500, but some of the chatter around the team makes me think a second full-time car for this program is more of a reality than in previous season. I’d look for something in the next couple of weeks from the team. A veteran driver paired with J.R. Hildebrand could be a nice step for them.

-Lotus HVM remains linked with veteran F1 driver Jean Alesi, who plans to run the Indy 500 for Lotus in 2012. There’s talk of him doing more races than that, but I wouldn't bet on it.

-Rahal Letterman Lanigan is probably the most likely team on this list, along with Dreyer and Reinbold, to run two cars in 2012. With a host of drivers having plausible connections and scenarios for driving for RLLR, the resuscitated IndyCar team seems certain to field a duo next year. Expect the first driver announcement before Christmas.

-The one that intrigues me is Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (boy, that “Hartman” will take some getting used to, won’t it?). With a rookie driver and expanding to a full season with the new car, there’s no team that would perhaps benefit as much from a second car as this one. Of course, they’re not even officially full-time yet, so right now, those second car hopes seem awfully remote. I include them on here because some folks have been kicking around rumors of a former 500 winner "helping out" at the team, but it seems pretty thin right now.

If I had to guess right now, I’d say you’ll see two full-time cars at Dreyer and Reinbold, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, and Panther, with one-offs or part-time second cars at Sam Schmidt (majority of the season) and Foyt Racing (Indy only?). I'm on the fence with HVM, thinking we'll see Alesi at the 500 as a maximum. Of course, that’s only a mildly educated guess, based on everything I’ve heard and read.


Thanks for the great question, Louis, and I hope that helped at least a little. If you've got a question or topic you'd like covered, or just want pass along a commment, remember you can always find me on Twitter (@indycaradvocate), or email me at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Carpenter On The Twisties

I’ve been having some pretty lively correspondence as of late in regards to Ed Carpenter and his team’s chances in 2012. Obviously, there’s a lot of pieces still missing; although they’ve impressively lined up Derrick Walker as team manager and Michael Cannon in engineering, they continue to hire personnel as they prepare for the season. Still, many questions remain as INDYCAR’s newest team gets ready for its inaugural season.

Of course, the knock against Ed Carpenter has always been that he can only succeed on ovals. Certainly he’s proven himself as an oval assassin over the years, especially in his shorter tenures with both Panther Racing and Sarah Fisher’s team. But can 2011’s Kentucky Indy 300 winner find the same sort of success on the road and street courses?

More questions await Carpenter for 2012.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

I think it’s important to remember that Carpenter has not traditionally been with teams known for their engineering acumen when it comes to the twisty circuits. Neither Vision Racing, Panther, or SFR have a great deal of renown when it comes to that particular skill, however successful they’ve been on ovals. So when you see Carpenter and his team hire a quality setup engineer in Cannon, you definitely get the sense they want a better performance across the board, and not just in a single racing discipline.

Detractors will say Ed managed only a couple road/street Top 10s in six full-time seasons in INDYCAR between 2004-2009. Maybe so. But it was a different series back then, predominantly oval in nature. And everything about how they’re putting this team together right now suggests they’re serious about building a contender to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series, circa 2012 and beyond.

That still leaves the driver factor. I’ll admit, I’m pulling for Carpenter to pull it off. While I think it’s unreasonable to expect him to jet to the front of the field at St. Pete, if he’s finishing at least respectably mid-pack early in the season, that will demonstrate some progress over last year’s results at SFR (finishing P20 or lower in the 3 road/street circuits that team contested). Perhaps the 30 year-old driver is behind the curve, but he and his team seem dedicated to the task, and have the experience to know what needs to happen. There’s time yet for him to learn.

So how will Ed Carpenter Racing have fared on the road/street side of the schedule when all is said and done for 2012? I wish them the best, but ultimately none of us know until the results go into the record books. As a fan of Ed Carpenter, dedication, and proving naysayers wrong, I’ll be pulling for them to improve every day. Whether you’re a cynic or an optimist when it comes to the issue, I’m glad we get to watch it all play out next season.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Silly Season Roundup, Post-Newman/Haas News

Sometimes silly season feels like some alternate version of Noah's Ark. You're hoping as many folks as possible get on the boat before the rains come.

It's tough at times, because when you get to know even a few of the drivers, it hits home that some are going to get to live the dream, and others are going to be sitting on their couch, waiting for that phone to ring. It's part of the reason tracking silly season developments can become so time-consuming. Yeah, things work themselves out in the end, but it's a cliffhanger until it happens.

The news of Newman/Haas sitting out 2012 certainly kicked up a big cloud of dust in terms of seeing who is going where next season. Here's an attempt to sift through and see what we can tell so far in terms of silly season expectations.

What We Know

-Alex Tagliani (Bryan Herta Autosport), Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan), and Simon Pagenaud (Sam Schmidt Motorsports) are basically locks at the teams indicated. Go ahead and pencil these ones in.

What We Think We Know (For Now)

-James Jakes and Sébastien Bourdais seem very likely to both be back at Dale Coyne Racing.

-Vitor Meira is being looked at for a seat at KV Racing.

-If EJ Viso returns, the best chance right now is that he'll be back with KV Racing as well.

-The Josef Newgarden to Sarah Fisher Racing rumor (which I laughed off last week), seems to actually be picking up steam. Newgarden seems to have something cooking for 2012, and this might be it. Oh, and don't forget the Honda engine deal, which I would anticipate hearing something on sooner rather than later. That's good news for the Little Team That Could if it holds. I'm still not sure where this team stands with sponsorship, but Newgarden's Lights scholarship money and TEAM money for running a full season would sure help.

-Jay Howard seems to have something going for 2012. Just how big of a deal I'm not sure, but I keep wondering about him and that second Rahal seat.

-Bryan Clauson's scholarship deal for 2012 is still working out. While there's a chance it could contain a shot at the Indy 500, the expectancy of road course events lower on the ladder is certainly expected.

-I didn't think Panther would run a second car this year, but with some of the rumblings out that shop, I've got to upgrade it from a Doubtful to a Possible.

What We Don't Know

-SERIOUSLY, JUSTIN WILSON, JUST ANNOUNCE A TEAM ALREADY. We keep hearing Andretti Autosport, but until I hear actually announced, it remains the key missing step in a busy offseason.

-Where Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe end up. After last year's season, you'd have to think Servia's being  chatted up by just about any team with hope of a funded seat, and Hinchcliffe seems like a natural fit for the GoDaddy seat at Andretti (although if Wilson goes to AA, that puts Hinch gunning for the fourth car, possibly?).

-Just how many cars we're going to have full-time in 2012. My current guess is 27-28, but we have to see if the 4th Andretti car, 3rd KV car, and items like a potential second car at Foyt or Sam Schmidt to materialize.

-The fate of Alex Lloyd, Bertrand Baguette, Martin Plowman, Pippa Mann, Tomas Scheckter, Paul Tracy, Wade Cunningham, and many other drivers.

So what next? Well, the expectation is that we see a couple of driver announcements very shortly. Hopefully, with announcements heating up before Christmas, we can fill in a few more blanks before the New Year. Let's hope we get as many on that boat as possible.

Friday, December 2, 2011

INDYCAR Thoughts And Review: Welcome To December Edition

-Obviously, we have to start with the sad Newman/Haas Racing news from yesterday. As happy as we all are to see new teams like Ed Carpenter Racing and to have names such as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing return full-time, Newman/Haas was a special organization, with a tight-knit crew that showed life in 2011 after a couple of disappointing seasons. After the news they won’t be fielding cars next season, our thoughts are with the good people of Newman/Haas, and hopefully they find good positions within some of the new organizations starting up. (Let’s hope ace drivers Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe find firm footing as well). Newman/Haas stands as a team who won multiple, multiple championships over 3 different decades of racing.

We worried they wouldn’t answer the bell in 2011 after a disastrous 2010, but they did. I’m thankful we got to see them go toe-to-toe once more with the big teams, and prove that they still had what it took in abundance.

INDYCAR’s not the only major motorsport to lose a team for 2012, but you could easily argue none has the history of Newman/Haas. We’re talking about the team of Mario and Michael Andretti, Sèbastien Bourdais, Nigel Mansell, and of course, departed owner Paul Newman himself. This one’s going to sting for a while.

Teams come and go, be it ChampCar, the IRL, or our reunified INDYCAR. That truth doesn’t make it any easier, though. If there’s any way they can find a path back to the series in 2013 or beyond, let’s hope it happens for them—and, to be a selfish for just a moment, for the fans that want them back.

-As with all bad news during Silly Season, there tends to be a “sky is falling attitude” whenever anything negative is reported. If you go reading in certain corners of the internet, you’ll walk away convinced INDYCAR will fold in 13 days, a notable sponsor was indicted for crop arson, and every DW12 chassis will spontaneously combust while being assembled. Every offseason, there’s bad to go with the good. Progress is never smooth, never uniform. Things only seem more certain and ideal when viewed in hindsight. Keep calm, carry on, and realize that there’s plenty of good stuff yet to come between now and St. Pete.

-Ready for some good news? Thought so. TrueCar is beginning a program of sponsoring female drivers throughout the Mazda Road to Indy. This is certainly great news for Shannon McIntosh (USF2000) and Ashley Freiberg (Star Mazda), both of whom will be partnering with TrueCar next year. Additionally, TrueCar also is looking to do some sponsorship for a female driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Courtesty IndyCar Media

-Additionally, the Star Mazda schedule is out for 2012, and it’s looking good so far (despite a couple of TBAs that will be resolved once other series get things resolved). I’d really like to see Star Mazda get some air time in 2012—this is a fun, competitive series, and I think we’re in for a great year.

-If you missed my interview with Connor De Phillippi over at INDYCAR Nation, don’t! CDP was impressive in Star Mazda last year, and he’s a great prospect to be part of the next wave of American talent. (While you're over there, check out Paul Dalbey's warming story regarding Pippa Mann).

-Finally, if you’re going to be taking the kids to the IMS Kids Club Christmas Party tomorrow, I’ll be there with the kids in tow. I’ll be the chunky white guy in the IICS hat—to differentiate, don’t you know.

Have a good weekend, stay warm, and I’ll see you back here on Monday. We are likely going to have a lot of Silly Season business to discuss!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

If IndyCar Personalities Ghostwrote Dickens

If you're of a literary mind or got stuck reading one of his works at school, you've doubtless heard of Charles Dickens, the great English novelist. Among his greatest works is his novel set during the bloody French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."). Well, today we've recruited some of IndyCar's most distinct personalities to see how they would do if they were tasked with ghostwriting this epic novel.

Donald Davidson:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times--well, actually, the worst of times started in 1934, when they showed up in what they called the Third Estate Special. Now, they didn't make the race that year, came back, crashed in practice in 1935, and then, still in the same entry, qualified 27th in 1936. They finished 28th in their only race, which was actually the worst of times. Now, as a side note, Fred Frame had actually considered a similar ride in 1932, only colored blue and partially sponsored by a steel mill in Hobart, Indiana, but I suppose that's for another show, but no, that was their only outing, and I appreciate the question.


A Random Robin Miller's Mailbag Reader:

Q: I am so TIRED of people calling these the best of times. CLEARLY Randy Bernard has failed to address many of the excesses of Louis XVI. WHY IS IT that no one has asked Robespierre to take over this series? I've been a fan of the French Revolution since 1789, but I don't even get up to watch the execution of the nobility anymore. This revolution has completely lost me as part of the bloodthirsty rabble. What a joke. Try going back to something like a headsman's axe, or something actually took some skill to use, instead of a crapblade guillotine.


A Vocal Minority On TrackForum:

Who the hell cares about a bunch of stupid French people? You want people to read your novel, make it about AMERICANS.


The Venerable Pressdog®™:

Notes Taken During The Execution of Sydney Carton

Welcome to Paris. Official Pressdog®™ Beer of the Execution is something swiped from a dead marquis' private cellar. Attendance looks thin, but we are assured this is a GORGEOUS EXECUTION SCAFFOLDING.

Here comes the Executioner. As a preamble, he whacks off the head of some nameless aristocrat. DRINK, YE THIRD ESTATE. (preferably from your Official Pressdog®™ Beer Stein).

Executioner tests guillotine blade on a melon. SWISH. LET'S LIGHT THIS REVOLUTION.

Cameo from official Woman of Pressdog®™ Madame Defarge. Festival of Bag-Breathing.

Cries for the death of the monarchy. SUCK IT, HATERS.

FESTIVAL OF DEAD PRINCELINGS. The Executioner chops them off before they can so much as utter a prayer. Again, the Ancien Régime is taking a beating today. KA-BOOM.

Fourth execution of the day. JAMMED GUILLOTINE. Bang. Crowd goes nuclear. A tiny oxcart comes out and a dozen revolutionaries climb out to get the whole business unstuck.

Carton goes for his last words, but Mike King talks over him and they are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.


Overly Optimistic Driver Test Press Release:

Confident Revolutionary Does Well In Tests In Early Riots

Eager to learn and casting an eye towards either Storming The Bastille or Overthrowing The Monarchy, Uruguay's Orlando Matizo turned heads in his first test with the mob outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Friday.

"We were really pleased with his early pitchfork wielding and torch-holding", commented mob principal Guy d' Honore. "He was an eager participant, and he seems like he'll be a great addition to a mob. He's young, but shows potential".

Despite some unspecified issues where he was unable to keep up with the mob as it charged a group of Royalists, Matizo felt the test was "great overall".

Matizo recently finished a healthy sixth in overall revolutionary rankings in his native Uruguay, which should be a catalyst towards excelling in Revolutionary Paris and beyond.

"It really felt like the pitchfork handled well out there, and I think I can easily overthrow this monarchy within a few days. There can be no doubt the best of times are ahead of me".