After the trials and tribulations we saw 2011, as well as the issues during pre-season testing, the IZOD IndyCar Series simply wanted the first part of the season to run smoothly and mistake-free. They have gotten much more than that: quite simply, the opening rounds of the 2012 season have been nothing short of great.
The chassis and engine package has proven to be both reliable and competitive. The mechanical and engine failures at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park have been scarce and are no more visible than the woes typical of any discipline of professional motor racing. All aspects of the car appear strong and up for the task.
On the competition side, the racing has been quite entertaining. St. Petersburg saw a variety of strategy, with many teams split between two and three fuel stops, based on cautions, as well as overtaking. In fact, Helio Castroneves’ outside pass on Scott Dixon heading into turn one is an early candidate for the overtake of the year.
Barber Motorsports Park saw more of the same, but on a larger scale. At Barber, the strategic focus shifted from fuel to the tires, with Power starting on blacks, allowing him to use reds the rest of the day as others were forced to switch to blacks in the middle of the race. And, despite reports that Barber Motorsports Park is “impossible to pass on,” Sunday’s race was a masterclass is overtaking. Passing was in abundance, with only two on-track spins (Justin Wilson, who did so on his own, and Katherine Legge).
The drivers have handled themselves as the professionals they are, which comes in stark contrast to last year’s borderline fiasco regarding double-file restarts and contact. On several occasions, drivers crashed into each other at will. This year, every start and restart has been both exciting and clean; not once has an accident occurred because of the close quarters on the starts and restarts, while we still see controlled and aggressive maneuvers to gain positions. In short, we’re seeing the best of both worlds.
Beaux Barfield’s initiation to INDYCAR has also been a success thus far. The rules are much more clearly defined and the drivers have taken note. In particular, the new blocking rule allows the competitors to battle each other and, within reason, defend their position.
We saw this perfectly exemplified in the battle between Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal. Castroneves did defend his position from Rahal in the dying laps, but not dangerously and offered Rahal room to make a move if he chose to do so. Rahal tried valiantly to go by, but to no avail and Castroneves held him off for third. This is how racing should be: drivers battling it out, tooth and nail, as hard as they can while not making any dangerous or wild moves that could ultimately knock either, if not both of them, out of the race.
Perfection is often nearly impossible to attain, as there is always at least one aspect that can be improved, no matter the project. However, for the Izod IndyCar Series, the opening two races could not have gone much better.