What a season.
When we began this journey in March for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, we certainly hoped we’d see great racing. We certainly hoped we’d have yet another battle for the Championship come down to the wire. And above all, we hoped to come away from this season with a good feeling about the direction of this sport.
Looking back, it would seem those hopes were fulfilled.
The combination of the DW12, new Honda and Chevy engines, and Firestone’s usual amazing job with the tires gave IndyCar a package capable of great racing from Barber to Indy to Texas. The development of the DW12 wasn’t and isn’t without issues, but after Year One, the results have been more favorable than many could have predicted.
The battle for the Championship once again came down to the last race, with Ryan Hunter-Reay giving the Series a come-from-behind story and desperate fight for the ages. Will Power, again denied the Championship he has fought for these past three years, gave us an ideal portrait of sportsmanship and grace in defeat. In the end, the American flag was displayed, and Andretti Autosport celebrated as fine a title victory as we’ve seen.
We saw teams like Penske Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing continue to demonstrate true excellence, but also saw small teams such as Dale Coyne Racing and Ed Carpenter’s new effort demonstrate they could take the checkered flag, as well. It wasn’t just Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Will Power battling up front—it was a full mix of teams and drivers, with nearly everyone capable of finishing up front in any given race weekend.
We witnessed one of the wildest, most action-packed Indianapolis 500s in history, with a final few laps that will rank among the most memorable in the history of that storied race.
On the scheduling side, the Series continues to work to find events that only not make sense for fans, but are sustainable in the long-run. We can expect all the ovals from this season to return, plus one more for next year. Schedule-building is a slow, difficult process, but a solid crowd for the finale at Fontana should reinforce to IndyCar that ovals can work.
For every challenge that remains to INDYCAR — television, sponsor activation — there are a number of bright spots the INDYCAR fan can happily hang their hat on. A tremendous paddock of drivers, a competitive field from the largest to smallest teams, and very possibly the best racing going right now have all taken the IZOD IndyCar Series’ product to another level, it seems.
Things will never be perfect, but we’ve certainly been given plenty of highlights to review and encouragement to consider in the offseason. As we wait for the 2013 season to begin, every INDYCAR fan has a host of races and experiences they can point to when getting others involved in the sport.
No one can be sure what the 2013 field will look like when the green flag drops next spring — intrigue, surprises, and strange bedfellows will rule the offseason — but if what we get next year is anything close to the caliber of racing we saw in 2012, INDYCAR’s fans have every reason to be optimistic for the future. As this season showed us, it may be a fight out there in a crowded sports landscape, but it’s a fight well worth having.
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.