With the city of Indianapolis celebrating a successful turn hosting the Super Bowl (with a little help from INDYCAR drivers such as Graham Rahal along the way), football season has concluded. In just over 3 months, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host another massive event, one that will be marking 101 years of tradition in the Indianapolis 500. In 47 days, the IZOD IndyCar Series will be running the Honda Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg. In less than a week, many remaining questions for this year and beyond should be answered with the State of INDYCAR event.
In short, if you thought things were hectic before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Whether you’ve been pacing back and forth waiting for INDYCAR all winter, or you’re just coming out of your football-induced zombification, now seems as good a time as any to run down some of the big news items to key in on for the short time remaining between silly season and the first official green flag of the year:
State of INDYCAR: As mentioned above, the State of INDYCAR winter meeting in Indianapolis on January 13 should answer multiple outstanding questions about the IZOD IndyCar Series upcoming season. Many expect a finalized schedule announced at this point, and with that comes the possibility of a return to a single-day event at the Milwaukee Mile. Don’t count out hearing news on engines, drivers, and multimedia efforts as well. Circle that date on your calendar, because if it’s anything like last year, it’s going to be a bonanza for INDYCAR news junkies.
Sorting Out The Engines: Lotus is putting in laps on the track, along with competitors Chevrolet and Honda. Honda suffered some setbacks in the last round of testing, but, hey, that’s part of engine development. Still to be announced are the engines for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing, along with if Michael Shank’s outfit goes with a Honda or a Lotus. Expect answers soon on all three situations. Reliability and performance are still an open fight, which means every test and race will be a battleground for the engines to show what they can do.
The Last Few Seats: In a sign that the world might indeed end in 2012, Dale Coyne Racing announced a driver before the last minute. With Justin Wilson official in the first seat at Coyne, we now wait to see who will land the last few seats in what promises to be an immensely strong field. Of course, the big news right now is all about Rubens Barrichello and Esteban Guerrieri; one or both these drivers could end up as teammates with Tony Kanaan and EJ Viso at KV Racing. Obviously, an F1 veteran fan favorite like Barrichello would be a nice addition to the Series. Additionally, fans of the Chrome Horn are waiting to see if Rolex 24 winners Michael Shank Racing can finalize plans for a full-time season for Paul Tracy’s open wheel farewell tour.
While all is currently quiet in regards to a fourth Andretti Autosport car or a program at Conquest Racing, second cars at Dale Coyne and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing still just seem to be a matter of time, with drivers Jay Howard, Pippa Mann, and James Jakes still in the conversation here and there. A second car at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is still a possibility. Ana Beatriz and Sebastian Saavedra are still working towards a program for 2012, and a host of part-timers wanting to expand on positive outings (Tomas Scheckter, Alex Lloyd, and Martin Plowman, to name a few) are waiting to see what the season might hold.
New Faces, New Teams: Mike Conway with AJ Foyt. Sèbastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge with a revived Dragon Racing. James Hinchcliffe in Andretti Autosport’s GoDaddy car. Takuma Sato with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. These are just a few of the new pairings for the 2012 season that will be entertaining to watch. Which teams will be looking sharp early in testing, and which teams look like an uncomfortable fit is sure to be a big topic of discussion in a year where team development is going to be such a huge part of overall success.
Mazda Road To Indy: Star Mazda and Firestone Indy Lights are still sorting out their lineups for this season; drivers such as Sage Karam and Tristan Vautier have secured seats in Star Mazda and Lights, respectively, but we’re still waiting to hear on promising drivers such as Connor De Phillippi, Nick Andries, and Stefan Wilson. USF2000 looks to have a loaded field, with Spencer Pigot capturing the first race of the year on Monday at Cooper Tires Winterfest as Cape Motorsports went 1-2-3. In the scholarship era of the Mazda Road to Indy, you’d better believe the ladder series count more than ever before.
There’s more awaiting the IZOD IndyCar Series fan in 2012—rulebook changes, the ultimate evaluation of the DW12’s performance on the ovals as well as street courses, new details on coverage with the NBC Sports Network, and possibly a few team surprises as well. So get ready, stay tuned, and prepare as the last pieces fall into place for what should be an amazing season of racing.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.