Looking Ahead To IndyCar

With two races in the books for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, it’s time to turn our attention to the upcoming Izod IndyCar Series season as well as the Centennial running of the Indianapolis 500.

IndyCar opens on March 27 with a road course run at St. Petersburg, FL (ABC TV), followed by events in Alabama, Brazil and Long Beach (all on Versus), leading up to the May 29th running of the 500.

IndyCar enters this season with the Indy Racing League brand gone, as they compete for the final year with the old engine/chassis combination; to be replaced in 2012 by new regulations.

Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama will host three days of testing for Izod IndyCar, Firestone Indy Lights and Star Mazda teams on March 14-16.

Let’s spend a few paragraphs looking at some items that should/could affect IndyCar and the 500 this year and perhaps in upcoming seasons:

• With the economy still heading slowly toward recovery, several teams are struggling for sponsorship. Just last week deFerran Dragon closed its doors after a futile search for money to run Tony Kanaan, who had been signed by the team for the full 2011 season. This in spite of Gil de Ferran’s close ties with series engine supplier Honda, and with both Gil and Tony looking for money in their native Brazil. Kanaan joins other top-line pilots such as Dan Wheldon, Paul Tracy, Tomas Scheckter and Bruno Junqueira who are still on the outside for full series rides, though these and many others are in constant communication with teams hoping to run a second full-time program. The weeks of May track activity in Indianapolis should open up a few extra seats solely for the 500, but these drivers deserve to be on the grid at St. Petersburg in full-season programs. The next three weeks should make their picture clearer. The IICS will likely produce 24-26 cars for early season races, with some observers looking at 45+ cars for the 500.

• The Centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 (1911-2011, with this being the 95th 500 due to cancellations during WWI & II), has some interesting and creative events scheduled to go along with the actual race. On Saturday, May 28th, the public drivers meeting will be followed by autograph sessions for this year’s starting field and living 500 winners. Later there will be a similar session for former 500 drivers. There will also be a major memorabilia and collectors show at the track that day. It has also been announced that the starting time for the 500 has been moved to High Noon (Eastern-time) on the 29th. In recent years the green flag waved at 1:00pm, but back when the speeds were slower it began as early as 11:00am. The noon start will give fans more time to get home after the race and will give officials a better chance to get the event run in case of rain. For those interested in 500 Pace Cars, there will be a reunion and display of those vintage vehicles in the infield at the track on qualifying weekend, May 21-22. The IMS Museum will also be filled with 500 race-winning cars during May. Among other things to watch for is a fan participation on-line program to name and rank the greatest 33 drivers in 500 history. This can be accessed at Another opportunity being offered for the first time will allow families access to the track’s Garage Area with their children (aged 9-17) by purchasing Bronze badges from the track. Advance planning and registration are required and the pass is not good in the pit area or on race day. Info at, click on NEWS.

• The Milwaukee Mile recently brought IICS driver Justin Wilson to town for several public appearances. Wilson was at a Milwaukee Bucks-Chicago Bulls game and then did a meet & greet next door at the Milwaukee Auto Show. All this is in preparation for the return of IndyCar racing to the State Fair oval after a year’s absence. Race promoters are still searching for a title sponsor for the June 19th, Father’s Day event.

• Speculation is running high in the racing community over which five drivers might sign up for a chance to win the season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16th, and with it a special $5 million purse. To be eligible, a driver needs to be a participant in another racing discipline such as NASCAR, or be a retired IndyCar driver. The promoters would love to see the likes of Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart try to win, but with the Sprint Cup Chase still in progress, that is unlikely. Perhaps Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Scott Pruett or Scott Speed would opt to try, but will their “names” be enough to attract additional fans? And will this promotion get in the way of the real race for the Izod IndyCar Championship? In any case they’re trying.

Share Button