Looking Ahead To IndyCar In 2012

“Anger, sadness, competition, optimism”- these are words that come to mind when we think back to the 2011 racing season.” Anger” displayed regularly by the sometimes out- of- control Busch brothers, “sadness” at the death of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, “competition” during the Chase for the Sprint Cup and “optimism” that open wheel Indy Car racing was on a much- needed upswing.

But the calendar has just changed to 2012 and many of these issues are now history, while others will continue to be in the headlines for the next twelve months. Let’s take a brief look ahead to see what could be important during the soon-to-be racing season.

• IZOD INDY CAR SERIES- Popular Danica Patrick has defected to NASCAR, everyone wants oval track races but no one seems to want to attend (or promote) them and the long-promised new chassis has underwhelmed most who have seen the test numbers.

With only 15 races on the schedule, we’re now less than three months from the first green flag and the series is struggling to find venues that are willing to host events. IndyCar heads to China and Sao Paulo but can’t find promoters willing to do business at Phoenix, Milwaukee, Chicago or Michigan. Oval tracks were the heart of open wheel racing in the past, but the 2012 model world-wide is almost 100% road course/street events. If people are clamoring for oval races, they’d better start filling the seats. We’re down to four ovals on the circuit, with California (Fontana) back for one more attempt after a lengthy hiatus. And though it isn’t an oval, the inaugural race on the streets of Baltimore, initially thought to be a business and competitive success, recently lost its organizer after a closer look at the finances.

• On the up-side, three engine suppliers (Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus) will be involved this year, the Versus cable network is now branded as NBC Sports and may draw more viewers with greater promotion of the series on the NBC network, and despite teething problems (slower speeds and poor weight distribution) with Dallara’s new chassis, there has been a solid demand by teams for the DW12, indicating strong numbers on the 2012 grid.

When IndyCar relieved Brian Barnhart of his Race Director duties, many replacements were considered; among them a number of former IICS drivers. In a recent hiring, Beaux Barfield has assumed the Hot Seat on race weekends and his first job will be to rewrite the Series’ rule book to remove as many Gray Areas as possible. Clarity will hopefully be the operative word. Barfield has a resume that include directing various series in CART and recently as Race Director for the ALMS. He also has been in the cockpit in FF2000 and Indy Lights.

As to scheduling for 2013 and beyond, Watkins Glen has reportedly shown interest in returning to the calendar, while Phoenix, Milwaukee and Road America have apparently had discussions. What many feel the series needs is a consistent schedule with races on predictable dates every year so sponsors can promote and fans can plan for the long term. Self-promotion by the series may be an answer: actually it may soon become the only answer to help the series grow.

Next week we’ll look at the upcoming Indy 500 and the 2012 Sprint Cup Series.

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