Spent as much time as I could at the INDYCAR State of the Sport - and while real-life did mean I skipped the Monday afternoon marketing sessions, I still learned plenty over the past 24 hours.
First, you may have seen the news on Monday from Ed Carpenter Racing that they will be a
Chevrolet team. That puts Chevy at 11 cars, and Will Phillips said today that he was counting Chevy to have 12 cars at St. Pete. We believe that the place that makes the most sense for an additional Chevy engine would be Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in the car driven by Josef Newgarden. Based on folks we talked to the last couple days, we're led to believe that Honda will also supply 11 or 12 cars. Likely candidates to land those additional engines would be a second car at Sam Schmidt in partnership with Davey Hamilton Racing and a possible third seat at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, per Marshall Pruett. Where would all this leave Michael Shank? Really don't know - based on Shank and Paul Tracy's comments lately, we don't think they have the budget to go racing yet, so he may end up being a Lotus car once a) they can supply him and b) he can find the dollars needed.
No confirmation of Rubens Barrichello at KV Racing during the event, but Barrichello is doing a second test at Infineon Raceway in a couple weeks and Jimmy Vasser was quoted by Curt Cavin as saying that "sooner or later" they'd have a deal to run Rubens alongside Tony Kanaan and EJ Viso. (Viso was announced as a Chevrolet driver and will be running at the same test as Barrichello, yet another sign that EJ will be at KV.)
During the afternoon sessions, the 2012 TV schedule was released. The ABC races are St. Pete, Indy, Detroit, Milwaukee, Toronto, and Mid-Ohio. The addition of Mid-Ohio was in part because NBC will be busy covering the Olympics during that time period. NBC Sports Network will show the rest of the races and will also air a reality show called INDYCAR 36 before each of their INDYCAR races. The show will give audiences "full access" to a driver/team during a race weekend and is something that NBC Sports has done for other properties like the NHL in the past.
One change would appear to be Townsend Bell replacing Lindy Thackson as a pit reporter. I'll admit a bias for Lindy as a fellow Purdue University grad, and I hope she lands on her feet elsewhere. We see the point of having a pit reporter who has recent experience as a driver, though.
Tried to talk to as many drivers as possible during the media availability for drivers - was very well attended, and it appeared to be a gathering for the 500 Festival committee at the same time as the appetizers and drinks were flowing.
Pippa Mann is working on deals that would enable her to be on the 2012 grid. She didn't want to say much more than that...
James Hinchcliffe told us that one thing we won't see in 2012 is push-to-pass. That capability will apparently not be coming out until 2013 at the earliest. James also had just six days of testing last season with Newman-Haas - he's scheduled to have 10 days in the car this season and is looking forward to jelling with his new teammates.
We believe the Andretti team will miss the Texas open test, as they already had another test scheduled to take place. They are planning on an oval test before the month of May.
Charlie Kimball is glad that his first year of INDYCAR was last season
- he's experienced the increased sponsor demands and time commitments that come with being an INDYCAR driver. This year, he can just focus on adapting to the new car and engine.
Kimball has done development work in the past - he raced F3, which was a competitive chassis and engine situation. Where Honda is in comparison to the other manufacturers does not factor into Kimball's goals, which are to build on the strong performances he had in the second half of last season and continue to qualify better (top 15's) and finish races higher (more top 10's).
Oriol Servia was pleasantly surprised with how good the Lotus engine was when he drove it for the first time, but there's no two ways around it - the Lotus teams are behind the Chevy and Honda teams as they're just now getting their first bespoke engines after sharing the Lotus test engine the last few weeks. He's not sure how much the Lotus teams will share information once the season starts at St. Pete, but the teams have a common interest in helping each other right now.
The State of the Sport was pretty much what we expected - part 2011 Championship Celebration, part pep rally, part information, and part marketing. Randy Bernard spoke to the media after the State of the Sport. It was mentioned during the presentation was that Fontana will be the season finale for 2012. Bernard admitted...
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