At the beginning of March, would you have believed me if I told you that heading into Sao Paulo:
- Will Power would fail to podium in the first three road/street courses of the season;
- The Penske and Ganassi teams would not only fail to have a single victory between them;
- Dario Franchitti would trail 19 other drivers in points, and would reach that only after a good performance at Long Beach;
- Five different teams would be represented in the Top 5 in points, including Dale Coyne Racing and Foyt;
- Takuma Sato would be second in points after a masterful, error-free victory at Long Beach;
- Marco Andretti would be fourth in points as one of the most consistent drivers on the year so far;
- By strange circumstance, James Hinchcliffe would have to sit in his broken car on the side of the track for nearly the entire length of a race.
Let’s face it; had a prognosticator thrown most of those scenarios out there, they’d be checked for heatstroke. Yet here we are.
Those are just a few of the surprises the young IZOD IndyCar Series season has yielded thus far, and it doesn’t look as if the stunners are slowing down any time soon. While many thought that the second season of the DW12 chassis and the Honda/Chevy engines would see the biggest teams take home the lion’s share of victory, that has not been the case. While Andretti Autosport won the first two races of the season, teams from bottom to top have been close to victory on a regular basis.
While series stalwarts such as Scott Dixon and points leader Helio Castroneves haven’t lost a step, Charlie Kimball, Tristan Vautier, and Simona de Silvestro have all been impressive. It’s as if nearly everyone has upped their game, and as a result, no one is quite sure just what’s going to happen from week to week.
Moreover, this year has seen plenty of exciting results from the “new wave” of IndyCar drivers. James Hinchcliffe has his first IndyCar victory. Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier are proving the “French Connection” at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports turn out brilliantly. Legacy drivers Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti are starting the year off right. Fans have discussed how loaded this field is in terms of talent, and that’s playing out in a big way right in front of us.
We now exist in a reality where it is unremarkable to see Will Power drop back on a street course due to a strong challenge, where Kimball and Kanaan battle it out, where any team, now more than ever before, can hope to show up, put it all together, and take home the checkered.
It’s a parity not just borne out of the specifications of this formula. It comes from Firestone stepping up and delivering a red/black tire difference that makes a serious difference in terms of strategy. It comes from drivers capable of attacking through the turns without wadding up their car. It comes from IndyCar tinkering with the race lengths to deliver more on-track action and fewer fuel mileage races. And yes, it comes from a car that continues to confound its critics by being exceedingly racy.
The Ganassis and Penskes will have their day this year, to be sure; sustained excellence, attention to detail, and talent are not lacking from those teams. But they have plenty of company this year, and that’s great for fans. Through Long Beach, the INDYCAR world is upside down, and we’re all reaping the benefits.
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.