It’s strange, but even as life tends to go by at what seems like an increasingly torrential pace, racing offseasons seem to progress incredibly slowly.
For the IZOD IndyCar Series, this offseason was one of the busiest in recent memory, but for fans, the wait seemed interminable. Coming off the tremendous loss of the incomparable Dan Wheldon, few of us in October could have predicted just what sort of offseason awaited us. Yet we are racing fans; one of the reasons we carry on is to honor those that dared to push the envelope and exemplify the competitive, bright human spirit.
So now, we’ve had months to see what this new IICS season would bring:
-We’ve watched as new teams and new drivers joined the Series. Ed Carpenter Racing was one of the first to announce their plans. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing signed Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden. Rahal Letterman Lanigan returns full-time with Takuma Sato after a couple of years only running a partial schedule. Of course, all eyes were on KV Racing Technology when they announced F1 star Rubens Barrichello had joined their team for the 2012 campaign.
-We’ve followed as the driver “silly season” produced intriguing pairings. James Hinchcliffe landed at Andretti Autosport. Justin Wilson found his way back to Dale Coyne Racing. Oriol Servia was announced as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s main driver for 2012. Mike Conway will attempt to bring Foyt Racing back to the front, and Katherine Legge returns with Lotus Dragon Racing after a long absence from open wheel racing. Simon Pagenaud will drive for Schmidt Hamilton Racing, whereas Alex Tagliani jumps to Team Barracuda—Bryan Herta Autosport.
-We’ve seen endless speculation over the Series’ new car, the DW12, and the battle between engine manufacturers Honda, Chevy, and Lotus. To go along with that, we have been introduced to a new race director, a new rulebook, and a few competition changes as well.
-We’ve even glimpsed at upcoming INDYCAR media projects, from NBC Sports’ reality show “INDYCAR 36” to Dreamworks Studios’ big-budget 2013 animated film Turbo.
So now, with a new car, new faces, new teams, and even a new website, the IZOD IndyCar Series gathers at St. Petersburg to begin to answer all of the questions we have:
-Will this be the year Will Power claims the Series Championship, or will Dario Franchitti continue his historic streak of INDYCAR titles?
-Will Rubens Barrichello live up to the hype of his arrival in INDYCAR?
-Is this the year Tony Kanaan finally gets his long-sought Indianapolis 500 victory?
-How will the battle for Sunoco Rookie of the Year play out?
-Can Helio Castroneves bounce back after a disappointing 2011, and can he join exclusive company as a 4-time Indy 500 champ?
-Is this the year that legacies Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti come fully into their own with breakout years?
-Will young drivers such as James Hinchcliffe, JR Hildebrand, and Charlie Kimball show they’re ready to be the true new faces of INDYCAR?
-Will Lotus show that they’re able to compete with giants Honda and Chevy? For that matter, which engine manufacturer will claim the Championship?
INDYCAR fan know that each season is special. Every lap, every race, only comes around once, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to witness it. From the incredible, to the unbelievable, to the legendary, to the unforgettable, it all becomes a part of a proud timeline stretching back over 100 years. That’s our heritage; combining the old with the new into something like nothing else in the world.
It’s been a long offseason, and the fans have stuck with it, though every bit of news, good and bad, every surprise announcement, every ebb and flow that comes with a Series working on keeping its positive growth going. Now, the reward is here. All the speculation, all the talk, all the punditry ceases to matter. All that matters now is over 2 dozen new DW12s, turbo engines roaring to life, taking to the track to determine who will have a place in history.
The wait is over, and we’re fired up. Drop the flag. We’re ready.
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, or drop him a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.