With most of the country under blistering hot weather conditions, the action in the IZOD IndyCar Series is about to heat up as well as the drivers enter the home stretch on the way to the championship. Over the next couple of weeks, the list of contenders for the championship will be whittled down and only a few will remain when the Series reaches its finale at Auto Club Speedway in September.
In other words, it’s time to separate the pretenders from the contenders.
Following a grueling stretch of on-track activity that has seen teams working non-stop since early May, most drivers and crew members were able to enjoy a bit of down time following the Iowa Corn Indy 250. But a crucial pair of Canadian races now awaits the field, the first being this weekend on the streets of Toronto. Followed that, we’ll see the race at Mid-Ohio before we reach the last three-week break of the season.
Success in each of these races will allow a driver to live another day and continue fighting for the title. A single slip and a poor result could effectively end all hope of winning the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Championship.
With “variety” being one of the hallmarks of INDYCAR racing, the next three races will challenge drivers and teams with all that the road and street course portion of the schedule has to offer. Toronto presents a very tight track with only about 2.5 passing opportunities, one long straightaway, and perhaps the most exciting corner on the entire IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. Edmonton, a fast airport circuit, is wide open and affords drivers much more forgiveness if slightly overdriving the car. The narrow, natural-terrain track at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will require the utmost of precision and technical excellence.
Currently, the top six positions in the point standings are within one race worth of points and still have a legitimate shot at the championship. By the conclusion of the Mid-Ohio weekend, that list should shrink to three or, at most, four contenders. Drivers must focus now on the long-range goal of winning the championship, not simply capturing the victory. Each must understand the moment and perhaps drive a bit more conservatively, ensuring maximum points with a steady finish. Not putting their cars in dangerous positions and putting themselves at the mercy of another driver’s misfortune or foolishness will be an important factor. This weekend at Toronto, that will be especially important as patience tends to run short on this track that offers few good passing opportunities.
Will Power clearly has a strong advantage down this stretch despite his currently slim three-point margin over Ryan Hunter-Reay. His ability to get the job done on the road and street courses may well put him in the catbird’s seat heading to California, but he is joined in the top six by a quartet of drivers equally as hungry to capture their first IZOD IndyCar Series championship and a cagey veteran that very rarely puts a wheel wrong.
Winning this year’s championship is likely to require a bit of luck, both mechanical and tactical. Teams and drivers who position themselves best to take advantage of that luck will survive this stretch and be ready to battle for the title all the way through to the 500-mile race at Fontana.
Paul Dalbey is Co-editor of MoreFrontWing.com, a website dedicated to helping fans get a grip on INDYCAR news and views. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.