Monday, January 30, 2012

A Farewell Tour For Paul Tracy

Aside from Michael Shank Racing winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend (good job, Justin Wilson!), there was also the news (long-speculated here) that Paul Tracy was trying to finalize a deal with MSR to run the full 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. It sounds as if it might necessitate a change to Honda power to secure the deal, but if you need a veteran to shake down the new car, Paul Tracy is about the best option still out there.

There's long been a fear, perhaps crystallizing around the time he missed the Indy 500 almost by fluke back in 2010, that Tracy had overstayed his time in open wheel racing. That the sport had passed him by. In an era where the soap opera of a retiring and unretiring Brett Favre made him a figure of derision, and where athletes routinely outstayed their welcome in a sport to their legacy's detriment, we could only hope Paul Tracy was not headed down the same path.

In an interview Saturday, Tracy affirmed this would be his farewell tour for IndyCar, if he does indeed finish up the full-time ride with Shank. After a nickel-and-dime sort of tour around IndyCar for the past few years, this would be Tracy's first full-time season in American open wheel racing since 2007. One more chance to make a full-season charge, to build up continuity over an entire campaign.

No, he's not a saint, finishing a blameless career on some grand farewell tour. But he has been an integral part of this sport over the last three decades. To finish the Series with a respectable, full-time ride would be a fitting farewell, and a definable part of the transition to the new generation of cars and drivers that make up this Series. Let's hope that farewell tour is made official soon.

Friday, January 27, 2012

IndyCar Notes And Review, Rolex 24 Weekend Edition

-First, how about the Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend? I’m really looking forward to cheering for INDYCAR drivers such as Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, and all the others. It’s a shame funding fell through for Tony Kanaan and EJ Viso, but INDYCAR (and their alumni) will be well-represented regardless. It’s a great sign that winter won’t last forever, and racing season is really just around the corner.

-I was a little surprised to hear some mild grousing about Dale Coyne’s announcement for his second driver pushed back a couple of weeks to February. Really? This is Dale Coyne Racing! They usually wait to announce their driver until cars are actually being pushed to the grid, or possibly even the third lap in. OK, so I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. February is downright early for DCR. In any case, it sounds like that seat might come down between James Jakes and one other driver.

With engineer Bill Pappas back in the fold and Honda powering their DW12s, Dale Coyne could be an interesting player in the season to come.

Here's hoping Wilson gets to finish what he started in '11.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
-Not only am I focused on silly season for the IZOD IndyCar Series time of year, but I’ve been following the silly season for Firestone Indy Lights as well. Right now, I would really like to see both Connor De Phillippi and Stefan Wilson find rides. De Phillippi is an excellent American prospect, and if he gets his chance in Lights this year, I’m excited to see what he can do. As for Stefan Wilson, last season left me with no doubts he can win the Lights championship if he gets anywhere close to a good level of support and funding. It’s been a privilege to watch him grow as a driver over the past couple of seasons, and I hope he gets a chance to contend—I want to see a proper championship fight again this year, and I think Wilson can deliver that. Best of luck to both those gentlemen—getting to watch them duel next year would be a great addition to Lights.

-Good news for the Month of May at Indy: The Celebration of Automobiles is expanding for this year. I'm no gearhead, but last year's show was simply amazing, and had countless examples of how an automobile could be a true art form. It's going to make the Opening Day at Indy even better, and that takes some doing.

-Here in Indianapolis, we’re getting ready for Super Bowl Week. I’m not brave/insane/masochistic enough to head downtown with the swarms of folks that will make it a crowd and parking nightmare, but hopefully there’s plenty of good coverage for the Indy 500 and INDYCAR as a whole. With each NFL team represented with its own IndyCar placed around the city, the proclivity of the media to do cultural interest stories on the hosting town the week of the Super Bowl, and the fact that Indianapolis is still best known for a certain race we have each May, there should be plenty of fun tie-ins all week long. I’m not really a pro football fan anymore, but there will be a lot of eyeballs on the city that headquarters INDYCAR. Let's hope they make the most of it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Barrichello Boost?

Right now, no one except Rubens Barrichello definitely knows his plans for 2012 (and Rubens might not know yet himself). The news that Barrichello was testing with KV Racing next week set the INDYCAR community on fire. Although Barrichello has said his wife would not want him to run Indy, even the thought of Barrichello running a partial schedule is enough to raise eyebrows and get people talking. Would he actually join his friend Tony Kanaan for a season with KV Racing? Or is this simply a test, an interesting footnote to what will become the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season?

To put this in perspective, Barrichello is not the second coming of Nigel Mansell, a F1 champ moving on to contest American open wheel racing. He doesn't need to be. He is a multiple race winner, a fixture in F1 for the past two decades, and yes, by all accounts one of the most affable F1 drivers you’ll meet. 322 starts, 11 wins, 68 podiums, and a lifetime of experience working with new race cars. Oh, and as of yesterday, he had somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.4 million Twitter followers. No INDYCAR driver, not even Danica Patrick, can touch that (she falls short by around a million or so, just for reference).

I’m not saying if Barrichello jumps to INDYCAR, ratings will double and bleachers will magically be packed. But it would be another bit of intrigue, another competitor, one that has known victory in the world’s top level of motorsport. And it wouldn't take a huge number of those followers paying attention to INDYCAR for a change to see some manner of positive effect for the Series.

Although the remaining seats in IndyCar are drying up quickly, there remains potential for adding much vibrancy to the Series on top of what is there. Barrichello, the F1 import that could give KV a “dream team” duo. Paul Tracy, ready for one more try, still brash and acerbic. Rookies like Martin Plowman and Pippa Mann, social media and fan-savvy drivers looking for the chance to prove themselves. Free agent veterans such as Tomas Scheckter, Vitor Meira, and Buddy Rice, waiting to see if they get another shot at glory, or if the DW12 signals the end of their active time in INDYCAR.

It's too early to get our hopes up for Barrichello's participation in INDYCAR for this year. If it's just a test (and right now, there's nothing to suggest it's anything other than that), no harm done: it's already stirred up some interest in the Series as a nice bit of free publicity. But if he does join the IZOD IndyCar Series, it would likely be the crowning driver storyline in a season that should be chock full of them already.

And yes, he'd be one heck of a rookie.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Six Quick Questions With Charlie Kimball

Last year Charlie Kimball signed with Chip Ganassi, qualified as a rookie for the Indianapolis 500, grabbed two Top 10 finishes, and inspired the diabetic community by his participation in the IZOD IndyCar Series. This year, Kimball will be back with Novo Nordisk Ganassi Racing in the #83 car for his sophomore season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. With discussion of the new DW12 car, a look back at 2011, and thoughts towards the season to come, he sat down with us for a session of Six Quick Questions:

Thanks, Charlie. How’s your offseason been, and how have you been occupying your time over the winter?

CK: The off-season has been good. I have still been really busy doing appearances in the diabetes community, training hard, and spending some time with friends and family over the holidays. I am not sure how it got to be late January, but I am ready to get in a car!

Novo Nordisk is back for another year as your sponsor. What sort of feedback did you get from them from their first year as a primary sponsor in the IZOD IndyCar Series?

CK: Everything I heard from Novo Nordisk last year was positive. They loved being along for the ride (pardon the pun!) and were blown away by the response we both received throughout the year.

Looking back on the 2011 season, what was your favorite or top moment?

CK: Qualifying weekend at the Indy 500 is a memory I will not soon forget! It was special, stressful, traditional and successful; so much emotion in 36 hours!

New tracks for this year include Qingdao (China), Fontana, and Belle Isle. Is there a new course you’re really looking forward to visiting, or perhaps one from last year’s schedule you’ve got circled as really wanting to get back to?

CK: I will always love racing at Long Beach with it being so close to home in California, but I am glad we are going back to Fontana as well. I used to go to the open-wheel races at Fontana as a kid!

When will you be getting some seat time in the new DW12, and how have you been preparing for that?

CK: My first couple of days in the DW12 will be right at the end of January, the 31st and the 1st of February. To prepare, I have been picking the brains of everyone who has been involved with the Honda development car, including my teammates Scott, Dario and Graham. I have talked to all the engineers, I have looked at data and talked to the mechanics—I was really trying to fill time until I get to do laps myself!

Have you set any personal goals for yourself in regards to the upcoming IZOD IndyCar Series season?

CK: The goals for this year are to qualify and finish consistently in the top-10 with a few podiums thrown in. With the right circumstances, a win is not out of the question either!

Kimball at Edmonton, 2011 IICS Season
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

Monday, January 23, 2012

No Danica At Indy Better In The Long Run

Part of me cringes when a Danica Patrick topic comes up, because whatever you think of NASCAR’s new star, she inspires some very strong opinions on both sides. For my part, I wasn’t a huge fan, but I wish her well in her endeavor.

The news came today that Danica won’t be in the Indy 500 this year, and of course, it will elicit the normal wild swing of reactions, from “good riddance” to “now no one will watch the Indy 500”. While I personally don’t believe it would have been the end of the world for Patrick to contest the 500 once more, in the end, I think it’s good for the IZOD IndyCar Series to have her completely out of there.

Danica is a celebrity, and that means that whatever she’s doing at the track will inspire notice in some sense. But here’s the thing: she’s not coming back to IndyCar. She’s gone, to more expensive pastures, and whatever efforts are on her behalf will be centered on NASCAR.

There’s evidence that the hardliners at places such as Indy had somewhat soured on her in recent years; following the infamous “it’s not my fault” line in 2010, she heard massive boos for the first time. 2011’s Indy reception was tempered, but still mixed. From then on, though still a rockstar, her reception was mixed, with just as much bad attention as good. I was in the stands at both Kentucky and Indy this past year, and one driver alone received a hearty mix of boos and cheers. You can guess which one.

Bottom line: we aren’t going to get anywhere by relying on NASCAR’s star. We have an entire generation of potential stars in James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, JR Hildebrand, and others that have been obscured behind a certain driver’s shadow for too long as it is. In a sense, Danica’s popularity was a two-edged sword; although she undoubtedly drew attention, she also drew excessive coverage during races (even when not in contention), and potentially stunted development of new stars for the Series. It’s the classic case of putting too many of your eggs in one basket. Even as the Series seemed to realize this in recent years, it’s going to take some undoing. Fortunately, the Series’ arsenal is as full as it’s been in some time: new car, new engines, a new wave of talented drivers, and as much talent as we’ve seen in some time. These will be the building blocks for what is to come in INDYCAR. No moping, no wistful glances, no what-ifs. We do not want a Month of May filled with middling, irrelevant coverage of a driver who will be there for a single race, and gone once more to NASCAR after the checkered flag drops.

The Danica ship has sailed. The less time we spend running down the pier, trying to catch one last glimpse, the better.

IndyCar Advocate Survey

I've created a survey for regular (and not-so-regular) readers of IndyCar Advocate. My goal is to ensure as we going into the new INDYCAR season, this site is as useful and fun for you as possible. It should take about 2 minutes of your time, and would be greatly appreciated. Let me know you like, what you don't like, and what you'd like to see added. Check out the link below, with my thanks!

IndyCar Advocate Survey

Friday, January 20, 2012

IndyCar Thoughts And Review, Wintry Mix Edition

-The news from the Sebring tests has been really encouraging, hasn’t it? We’ve got an overall positive impression of progress on the new DW12, it sounds like the oval speed concerns are clearing up, and it sounds as if Lotus turned plenty of laps with few, if any, unpleasant surprises. Of course, there’s still more testing to be done, and everyone’s anxious to see how the car performs during the Month of May, but right now, a lot of folks should be feeling much better about how things stand. Perhaps my biggest remaining question is how will Lotus do with engine supply if the car count goes much higher?

-I have to admit, I am really liking the look of the DW12 right now—especially the Lotus testing livery. It’s grown on me. I suspect some folks will never come around to liking it, others will tolerate it, and some will find it’s more than they’d hoped for once some talented folks get to designing some good-looking sponsor schemes on there. To each their own, of course.

-From all accounts, the crowd at the Walgreens opening featuring Sarah Fisher and her team was great, especially considering the snow. What can you say—is there any team owner more loved in the Series than Sarah? I’m not sure if SFHR will land Walgreens as a sponsor or not, but if not, it won’t be for lack of trying.

If you couldn’t make it out there yesterday or are out of the area, why not consider dropping Walgreens a line about how much you’d appreciate them sponsoring one of the truly good stories this Series has to offer? You never know what could be the straw to break the camel’s back (or open its checkbook, I suppose).

-I received a couple of nice emails from folks on the Pete Henderson “History of the 500” article yesterday. Apologies that comments were apparently disabled—that should be fixed now. One reader brought up Ira Vail, whom he said was at Indy in 1916, and would possibly tie Henderson as the first Canadian Indy 500 driver. Actually, Vail meant to contest the 1916 Indianapolis race, but his entry was filed too late, and he would have to wait until after World War I to make his debut at Indy. That's not to take anything away from Vail, however--he was an accomplished driver in his own right.
Vail (f) in 1919, the 2nd Canadian driver to make the Indy field.
(Courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

There’s something really enjoyable about jumping into the history of the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing. There have been over 700 drivers to take the green flag at Indy, and each of them has their own story. It’s remarkable that we have the resources and capabilities in this day and age where so much of history can be researched, recovered, and shared.

-There comes a point in the silly season where you realize, fully realize, not all your favorite drivers will get a ride for the upcoming season. Seats are becoming sparse, and as thankful as I am that Oriol Servia, Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, and so many other talented drivers are locked in for next year, waiting on news on some others is rough business. I can only imagine what it’s like from the drivers’ point of view! Still, we’re looking at a good 29-30 entries right now. There were years where half of that looked possible at times. I’ve been largely impressed with the hires this year; “deserve” is a loaded word, but this field is going to be stacked with veteran and young talent alike.

-The Andretti Autosport sponsor summit was held yesterday in Miami. Last year’s summit produced some great partnership announcements with DHL and Sun Drop. We already know we’ll see Marco Andretti in an RC Cola car, James Hinchcliffe in a GoDaddy car, and it sounds like Hunter-Reay will have some mix of DHL, Sun Drop, and possibly another larger-size sponsor this year. I wouldn’t be hugely disappointed by the announcement of some awesome new sponsor and livery for someone, though. It’ll be interesting to see what they can work with a potential fourth car, and if they can find enough resources and the right driver to really make it work.

-Finally, we have to bid adieu for now to Anders Krohn when it comes to open wheel racing. Krohn will contest the Rolex 24 with Yellow Dragon Motorsports, and made it clear his looking to move his future to sports cars. It’s not what I (or probably any of the readers here) had hoped for after Monday’s interview with Anders, but I’m happy he’ll get to run at Daytona, and wish him the best going forward. We’ll see what the future holds for The Viking!

Have a great weekend, and if you happen to have time, send a note to an IndyCar sponsor or two!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

History of the 500: Pete Henderson, Canadian

Today sees another installment of our (long-overdue) History of the 500 feature; in honor of James Hinchcliffe’s signing with Andretti Autosport last week, we’re going to discuss the first Canadian driver to ever qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

Although Canadian drivers such as Scott Goodyear, Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy, and Alex Tagliani have all left their mark upon the Indianapolis 500, the first Canadian driver didn’t debut in the Indianapolis 500 until fully five years after the start of the annual event. His name? Pete Henderson.

Pete Henderson was born in Arran, Ontario in 1895, but it didn’t take long for him to search out racing opportunities south of the border. He began his AAA racing career in 1915 at Des Moines Speedway, driving and as a mechanic for the Duesenberg team. He later teamed with the famous Eddie Rickenbacker while driving a Maxwell. Henderson was his best on the board tracks, winning on one at Maywood Speedway in Chicago (widely believed to be the first Canadian to win a AAA race in America), and picking up 8 other Top 5s on the dangerous, steeply banked wooden raceways in only 18 races.
Henderson in his 1915 debut
(Courtesy Rickenbacker Collection)

Having switched to Maxwell (In the shortened 1916 Indianapolis race (only 300 miles due to World War I), Henderson was back in  a Maxwell as Rickenbacker’s teammate on what was known as “Team Prest-O-Lite”. Henderson never led in the race, but did finish all 120 laps with a credible P6, netting the entry $1,400 dollars. (His teammate Rickenbacker would lead early, only to retire after 9 laps with steering issues).

Henderson raced quite a bit through that year and the next, but is conspiculously absent from the AAA record books in 1918, likely because he was an early supporter of a short-lived rival to AAA known somewhat majestically as the National Grand Circuit of American Speedways. The organization soon faltered, but it was enough that you won’t find Henderson on the official AAA rolls for any race that year.

Henderson resurfaces in 1919, where he was back with the Duesenbergs for Indy. Despite being listed as a relief driver, he would not get into the race. 1920 would be kinder; that May, in the Revere-sponsored Dusenberg, he would finish P10 in his last outing at the Speedway. Curiously enough, 10th place that year rewarded $1,400, exactly the amount he had won four years earlier.

After his second Indy 500, Henderson retired from active racing. Details on his later years are somewhat scarce, but he lived in Los Angeles, working as an aircraft inspector until his death in 1940. Inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 2005, He remains an interesting entry in the history of early automobile racing and the Indianapolis 500. Next May, if you see James Hinchcliffe, Paul Tracy, or Alex Tagliani at the track, remind them about Pete Henderson, their forerunner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the first Canadian driver.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Six Quick Questions With Anders Krohn (Round 2!)

Anders "The Viking" Krohn has been one of our most popular interviews here, and by request, we've brought him back for an encore round of Six Quick Questions. For you silly season fanatics, you won't want to miss this one!

OK, Anders, there have been plenty of mysterious Tweets and posts from you this offseason about testing in a race car. I know you're limited on what you can tell us, but have mercy on us poor, info-starved fans: are we going to be looking at another round in Indy Lights, or have you been looking at one level higher?

AK: I've had to keep my lips sealed about all my off season activities, but seriously wish I could have shared more information with my fans. I can reveal that there will be some news out in the next handful of days or so, and this is NOT Indy Lights related. Let the speculations begin :) It's been my most busy silly-season yet, but I'm happy that it's coming to an end and that I can soon get down to work with everything official.

What's your sense of the overall sponsor market in the offseason? Have you been finding it tougher or easier than in years past?

AK: The sponsor market is tough at the moment, but this forces you to think outside the box, and it looks like it'll all come together quite nicely for the season. There are still some contracts to be signed, but overall there's been good progress.
Krohn: Thumbs Up For 2012?
Courtesy IndyCar Media

With a few months' distance now, looking back on your Indy Lights season, what sort of grade would you give yourself?

AK: Tough one. While Belardi Auto Racing and I had the pace to challenge for top honors in several of the races, ultimately we didn't put any of the speed into results. I made a couple of vital mistakes while leading races, so I'll give myself a C. Hopefully 2012 will be an A+!

I'd like to get a driver's perspective on what's been a wild silly season so far. In your eyes, what has been the biggest, best, or most surprising signing or news in INDYCAR?

AK: There's been a lot of positive movements inside the INDYCAR family lately. The two biggest signings in my mind are Josef Newgarden with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and James Hinchcliffe with Andretti Autosport. Both drivers are very deserving of these opportunities and they are with great teams as well.

We've seen drivers such as Oliver Webb, Tristan Vautier, and David Ostella confirmed for Lights rides this year. Which currently signed Lights driver have you been most impressed with in the past, and why?

AK: Tristan Vautier is a close friend of mine, and we were team mates in 2010 in Star Mazda. He was extremely quick then, and put it all together in 2011 to win the title and get the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship. He will be tough to beat this year, but I know Oliver Webb (aka. Oliver Twist as we named him in Edmonton) will be a strong competitor and team mate. I've raced with David Ostella for the past three seasons and think he'll make a big step forward. He's certainly got a strong team behind him. My Belardi team mate Jorge Goncalvez should be strong when he announces his 2012 FIL plans. It might not be the biggest field in the world, but the competition should be tough for sure. My favorite for the title: The flying Frenchman, Tristan Vautier.

Lastly, when are fans going to be able to buy some Anders "The Viking" Krohn-themed merchandise? It seems like a waste to have one of the best nicknames in INDYCAR and not put it on a t-shirt or something.

AK: I've given away a lot of "Viking" gear the past couple of years, so it's most definitely time to get a web shop going. And now that the request has come from IndyCar Advocate I better make it happen!

Thanks so much again for your time! I know fans will love hearing from you!

AK: Thanks so much for interviewing me! I wish we could discuss an exciting deal right now, but it'll have to wait another few days.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Quick Note: Donate Button Added

I've added a Donate button through Paypal on the right-hand side of the site. If you enjoy the coverage here, and feel like buying me a pork tenderloin/helping with crushing medical bills and expenses, feel free to donate either through the button, or at Paypal to the email o_clever_odysseus(at)yahoo.com. I do this site because I love INDYCAR and love talking about it, so if you can't or don't want to donate, we're more than cool. In fact, forget I ever brought it up. OK? OK.

What an exciting week in INDYCAR this was! Let's hope next week's announcements come close to the pace and surprise of this one! As always, if you have questions, concerns, or just want to talk INDYCAR or the Indy 500, drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com. Have a wonbderful weekend!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Little Things Still Matter

I had a really neat chat with a woman in the store the other day while waiting in line. She noticed my IMS shirt, and said when she was young her father was really into racing, and would bring the family out to the Speedway every year for a day of practice. They’d never go to the race itself, being a large family and tickets costing what they did, but not a year went without the family going to watch a day of Indy 500 practice.

In any case, one year, right around 1984 or so, while attending practice, the family saw driver Steve Chassey out and about. Apparently, he took the time to talk to the whole family and even signed a pennant or somesuch that one of the kids had brought.

“Maybe it was just being a kid, but I never thought an actual race car driver would actually talk to me,” she confessed.

I asked if she still went out to the race.

“Oh yes,” she said. “Every May. From then on, I was hooked. We’ve had 500 tickets since my husband and I got married”.

Steve Chassey certainly had an up-and-down career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but without even knowing it, he created a fan for life.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dragon Racing: Pinch Us

Seriously, did that just actually happen?

Dragon Racing. Thought dead and on the scrap heap, part time for 2012 at best. The butt of more than a few jokes around the INDYCAR fandom. Little more than an afterthought on most silly season projections.

So what news from Marshall Pruett greeted the night owls online last night?

"SPEED.com has learned that Jay Penske's ambitious plans to revitalize Dragon Racing could receive a major boost as four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge are close to forming a two-car team for 2012. Penske was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, and a formal announcement confirming the lineup is believed to be imminent".

Very few pieces of news are so stunning, you have to wonder for a moment if you're dreaming or hallucinating. This announcement definitely qualified.

Don't let anyone tell you they saw this coming. With message boards and Twitter and online articles, we often have at least a hunch about INDYCAR news before it's announced. Not this time. Apparently, about as many people knew about this as know the recipe for Coca-Cola, possibly fewer. For all I know, Marshall Pruett lives in some high-tech hermitage in the mountains, where all the deep secrets of INDYCAR are his to possess. I rightly fear and am in awe of the man.

Hysterics aside, just about everyone has Bourdais taking a ride with Peugeot this year, and Legge was projected most commonly to Dreyer and Reinbold Racing. If the official signing is truly imminent, then Jay Penske has instantly taken this team from an afterthought to a team that has to be given consideration for the 2012 campaign.

For those who thought Bourdais was a lost cause for INDYCAR, if Dragon Racing can truly bring this home, they will have landed one of the most experienced and sought-after drivers on the market. Add in the surprise signing of Kat Legge, and the turnaround is nothing short of miraculous. After the non-competitive drives of 2011, the debacle at Indy in May, well...

..."Holy crap", or a less mild expletive, seems to be the most common reaction to this news. And it might be the most proper one to have. What else can you say?

In time, questions about the team, the official announcement, the fact Dragon is now California-based, how they'll fare with Lotus, etc., will all have to be answered. But it's nice to simply and totally surprised for a change with some good news that none of us could have seen coming.

Congrats, Dragon Racing. You just might have the last laugh after all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hinch Signing Simply Makes Sense

Late last night, the happy news finally became official—James Hinchcliffe signed with Andretti Autosport to pilot the #27 GoDaddy-sponsored machine. This news has certainly been a long time coming. It seems like a ages since we were waiting to see if Hinch would catch on with Newman/Haas for the 2011 season, but in reality, it’s been less than a year. In that time, he’s narrowly missed several podiums, impressed the paddock and fans alike with his level of talent and polish, and has continued to exude the trademark personality and zaniness that makes Hinch, well, Hinch.
Hinch fans should be all smiles today.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

The GoDaddy seat is significant for many reasons; of course, there’s the high-profile sponsorship that comes with it, and the promise of national marketing opportunities. For Hinchcliffe, that should be second nature. The deeper significance is that this seat was Danica Patrick’s, who, even as she was winding down her time in the Series, remained its most identifiable driver. The seat was to then pass to Dan Wheldon, who IndyCar fans new as not only a champion in the sport, but as easily one of the most charismatic, approachable, and inspiring drivers in open wheel racing. Neither are easy legacoes to try and fill for anyone, and it would be unfair to expect Hinch to be the type of cultural phenomenon that Patrick turned out to be. Similiarly, Dan Wheldon was one of a kind, as fans and drivers alike know and feel all too well.

No, James Hinchcliffe will be himself—talented on the track, seemingly made-for-TV off of it. That means IndyCar will have a young, talented, personable, frequently hilarious driver in one of its most high-profile seats. That’s a win for fans, a win for the Series, and a win for Andretti Autosport.

In a world where communication continues to become more frequent, instant, and diverse, racers that can also utilize social media and alternate forms of communication to enhance fan outreach become a more and more vital asset for any Series. It’s why I hope that media-savvy, accessible drivers such as Pippa Mann, Thomas Scheckter, and Martin Plowman can also find their way into a secure spot in the Series, and it’s why I think having a smiling, wisecracking James Hinchcliffe in the public eye is great news for all us who care about the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Let's Get Physical(s)

Good morning, IndyCar fans--just a reminder that you'll see and hear about many of your IZOD IndyCar Series favorites coming back to Indy this week for mandatory driver physicals in advance of the next car testing period. (If you're on Twitter by now, you've likely heard a few of them mention they're either back in town or en route). Since we're going to have the drivers already in town, there's a pretty good chance we should have some of those long-awaited announcements this week.

To recap, let's run down the list of announcements we think we're at least close to hearing something on:

Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing)
James Jakes (Dale Coyne Racing)
James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport)
Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
Jay Howard (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
Katherine Legge (Dreyer and Reinbold, but has been pretty quiet since before Christmas?)
Alex Tagliani (Bryan Herta Autosport--should be officially confirmed shortly)


Additionally, we know drivers such as Pippa Mann are still working to close the deal for 2012. And we only wish we knew what Paul Tracy was up to.

Of course, the prevailing wisdom will have turned out to be wrong on at least a couple of projections. All we can do is keep our ears open this week, and wish a clean bill of health to all the prospective IICS drivers for this upcoming season.

Friday, January 6, 2012

IndyCar Thoughts And Review, New Year Edition

-Finally, Justin Wilson, we know your team for the 2012 season. You were linked to Andretti, Rahal, KV, and just about any team in America with a potential open seat. The mix of JW and Bill Pappas at Dale Coyne Racing could turn out to be a strong combination in conjunction with the new car. This isn’t your grandfather’s Coyne team anymore—I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do this year.

I’ll admit, like many others, I had Wilson in at Dreyer and Reinbold instead of Coyne on my silly season worksheet. I only had him as a possibility at Coyne if S├Ębastien Bourdais went elsewhere. Hopefully, if Sebas isn’t going to be full-time in the Series in 2012 (and it doesn't look likely), his Peugeot offer comes through, and finally gets that LeMans victory.
Can Wilson and Coyne find victory together again?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)

-Paul Tracy is having some fun with us. In the space of 24 hours, he mentioned “tying a bow on it” [Chevy], eating at his favorite Japanese restaurant to celebrate [Honda], and having English fish n’ chips, because fried food was turning him “green and yellow” [Lotus]. PT seems to be in a jolly mood just now; hopefully there’s some good news coming soon as an explanation for that.

-James Hinchcliffe looks to finally be on the verge of being officially announced to the GoDaddy seat, and all I can say is, it’s been a long time coming. He’s the perfect mix of personality and on-track talent. I’m excited to see what he can do this year—does he undergo a sophomore slump, and how does the team chemistry shake out for Andretti Autosport this year with Hinch added to the mix?

-Once thought a disappointing exclusion from the 2012 schedule, the chances of the Milwaukee Mile returning seem to be improving. Although nothing’s confirmed, it sounds like Randy Bernard is putting odds on its return at 50-50. I know 2011 was disappointing in terms of turnout, but I still feel that if there’s proper promotion, the IICS can still draw 25,000+ to that track. If the June 17 date comes about, that would make June a month of ovals—Texas, Milwaukee, Iowa—in rapid succession.

Maybe it’s just a psychological thing, but 5 oval events on the schedule instead of 4 just sounds a lot better, especially if the 5th is Milwaukee. You’re talking about the only oval track in the United States that can even come close to complementing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in terms of open wheel history and legacy. If Randy Bernard can pull this off, he’s doing a great thing for the schedule, the Series, and especially the fans.

-We’re finishing up the first week in January, and honestly, I’m surprised a couple of announcements haven’t come through yet. By any other year’s definition, this has been a pretty productive silly season so far, but the wait this year has seemed especially long at times. Part of that’s probably just excitement over the new car and engine manufacturers, but also because there are so many deals we know are close or possibly even “unofficially done”, but just haven’t quite been announced. You’ve got think between now and mid-January, the floodgates will open.

-What do you think of Lynyrd Skynyrd being named as the Carb Day band? They aren’t one of my all-time favorite groups, but then again, I’m not the target audience—I’m one of those weirdoes who goes to Carb Day to watch the Lights race, pit crew competition, and not much else. Really, the Carb Day band just needs to be loud and of a sort of nominal popularity—the booze and atmosphere do most of the rest, generally.

-Finally, are you up for a bit of reading? I'd recommend bookmarking the Independent's excellent article on Pippa Mann (despite her dismissing of America's mac n' cheese). If you're in more of a listening mood, check out the Beaux Barfield interview over at MoreFrontWing. Fine work all around.

Have a great weekend, and we’ll see what gets announced next week!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

For Barfield, The Goals Will Be Simple

When Brian Barnhart was assigned away from Race Control after a turbulent 2011, most of us had one simple request of whomever would be his successor:

Please, no messes.

In essence, the best sign you can have from Race Control is a certain amount of anonymity. Brian Barnhart was a divisive figure during his tenure in that position, and while the vitriol aimed at his performance from Robin Miller all these years seems almost painfully exaggerated, there can be little doubt that incidents such as the infamous restart on a wet track at New Hampshire or the safety vehicle still on tracking during the start at Baltimore did little to instill confidence in the fan base.

We’ve heard the arguments, of course, as to why these events happened, and yes, Barnhart’s job was not performed in a vacuum. I’m not here to damn or beatify the man. But right or wrong, as race director, the buck has to stop right there. And now, with Beaux Barfield being announced this week as the new race director for the IZOD IndyCar Series, the buck will now be stopping at his desk.

Wherever fans fell in terms of blame or understanding for Barnhart, Barfield is coming into a position where the objectives couldn’t be more transparent. Help get the rulebook tightened up, with better definitions. When penalties happen, be consistent, be fair, and be able to relate that consistency so the fan understands it. But above all, keep things on the track clean, and avoid the barest hint of controversy. If Barfield’s name isn’t out there each week having to explain why Item A or B happened, that’s a win. Sometimes, the little battles are the most important, and lead to far greater victories over time.

If it were easy, anyone could do it. But that doesn’t mean the goals for Beaux Barfield won’t be crystal-clear. As race director, your decisions either get in the way of or enhance the racing. If we’re not hearing Barfield trying to explain himself after each weekend, that’s a very good sign for the new race director and the Series.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011-2012 TrackForum Favorite Driver Survey Results

This year's TrackForum Favorite Driver Survey has been completed. The results are below, with the number of votes listed, along with last year's ranking in parentheses. Interesting results, if completely non-scientific:

1) James Hinchcliffe 59 (T29)
2) Simona de Silvestro 42 (1)
3) Tony Kanaan 41 (T3)
4) Will Power 35 (5)
5) JR Hildebrand 30 (T13)
6) Ed Carpenter 26 (T9)
7) Graham Rahal 20 (T3)
T8) Josef Newgarden 17
T8) Pippa Mann 17 (NR)
T8) Helio Castroneves 17
T11) Paul Tracy 16 (7)
T11) Justin Wilson 16 (8)

13) Tomas Scheckter 14 (11)
T14) Oriol Servia 13 (T23)
T14) Ryan Hunter Reay 13 (2)
16) Marco Andretti 12 (15)
17) Dario Franchitti 11 (9T)
18) Scott Dixon 7 (19)
T19) Sebastien Bourdais 6 (NR)
T19) Buddy Rice 6 (NR)

T21) Alex Tagliani 5 (17)
T21) Danica Patrick 5 (T13)
T21) Simon Pagenaud 5 (NR)
T21) Vitor Meira 5 (12)
T21) Ryan Briscoe 5 (18)
T26) Alex Lloyd 3 (T26)
T26) Townsend Bell 3 (28)

2 votes each: Davey Hamilton (T20), John Andretti (T29), Jay Howard (T29), Bryan Clauson (NR), Takuma Sato (T26), Martin Plowman (NR)

1 vote each: Mike Conway (T23), Wade Cunningham (T29), EJ Viso, Ana Beatriz (T20), Charlie Kimball (NR), Bertrand Baguette (T20)

Clearly, the Mayor of Hinchtown reigns supreme--now to get him in a ride for '12. Josef Newgarden and Pippa Mann also made a nice splash as newcomers, and JR Hildebrand moved up nicely as well. Simona de Silvestro, Tony Kanaan, and Will Power remain popular. We'll see who can win over that particular slice of the IndyCar fandom during the 2012 season.