Into The Crystal Ball… 2014 is Upon Us!

crystal ballThe green flag drops in St. Petersburg in a bit over a week and we haven’t event talked a word about 2014! The season finally kicks off in sunny southern Florida and finally marking the end of a long and cold off-season; an off-season packed with news and driver moves and noisier than indycar has been in between seasons in recent memory. We lost a few events, gained a few drivers and corporate guys and solidified the remains of the calendar into a repeatable schedule ripe for growth. I’m not sure if anything in indycar-world was left untouched during the off-season. What we have left is a more or less positive feeling about 2014 and beyond.

So, welcome back to anotherindycarblog and as thanks for returning you get one whole extra discussion point because it’s the SUPER SPECIAL SEASON PREVIEW!!!

Six Things to Watch

Honda Twin-Turbo Engine – During the off-season, Honda dumped its single turbo setup used since the introduction of the new engine formula. Under normal circumstances, changing the configuration of an engine three years into a highly competitive and homologated series like IndyCar is a recipe for disaster. However, this is Honda we are talking about; a proud company based in competition. Honda did so much engine control work to make the single turbo setup compete with the Chevy twin unit that it is nearly certain they learned more than a bit of 2.2 liter IndyCar engine voodoo that Chevy would not have been otherwise been exposed to. Those secrets should allow Honda to unlock instant potential in the engines and fight for wins from day one of the championship.

Compact Scheduling – The 18 round, 15 event, 14 track schedule is one of the more balanced and consistent schedules we have seen in years. Of course I would like to have a few more ovals, but just a single roundy-round event added before Indy and a natural terrain road course somewhere between the GP of Indy and Mid-Ohio would have made the 2014 trail perfect.  Save for the run of four road and street events to start the season, the events are well distributed and the longest schedule gap is three weeks between Texas and Houston. The year closes with three straight weeks of combat to punctuate what will be a non-stop summer of action. For what we have to work with, the year ahead looks great and there is plenty of space before and after for future additions to compliment the solid string of events inaugurated in 2014.

Points – Double points are to be awarded at the three 500 mile races this year. These are the supposed crown jewels in the triple-crown, so extra weight on these events makes sense. This also brings point balance to the schedule by making more points available on ovals and bringing the total closer to the points available on road and street courses. Too bad we aren’t awarding road and oval trophies this year, but that is a rant for another day. Kind of gimmicky yes, but not out of the realm of sanity. A little over 30 years ago, a 500 mile race was worth 100 points and a 200 mile twistie race would be worth 40 points. How this plays out at the end of the year should be interesting. There could be many more players involved in the historically close championship than we are used to seeing. Which is almost uncomprehendable.

Tires – What would any racing preview be without tire discussion? 2014 may have a different look for Firestone as there is quiet talk that they may actually develop the road tire during the year. There were also reports from the Barber test that the compound provided by Firestone was already softer and gripiper than what the drivers had in 2013. Taking into account the debacle that was Firestone introducing a drizzle tire that was “more of an intermediate rain tire than its full wet predecessor” with a “tread pattern inspired by the Firestone Firehawk Wide Oval Indy 500 passenger tire”, the company’s commitment to bring a new and true full wet to the series this year is more than welcome. By bringing us an enhanced product, Firestone feels much more focused and onboard with IndyCar in 2014.

Chassis Development – During the offseason, safety development of the DW-12 has been well underway. Anti-intrusion laminate, carbon fiber cockpit opening rings and advanced foams have all been added with only ten pounds gained by the already robust chassis. During the summer of 2013 we also heard whispers of undertray aero development for this year’s Indy 500. As of yet, there is no word on the status of said whispers, but all of this points to the expectation that the introduction of aerokits in 2015 will raise speeds; one part of the equation in breaking the track record. The undertray development could be the first step in the quest for speed. All the talk of breaking Luyendyk’s record in nice and all, but there is still that 241.428 that stands as the ultimate speed barrier at a track the bandwagon stops by at the end of the year.

Team Penske – The addition of Montoya to Team Penske was exactly what Will Power didn’t need. With the retirement of Dario, Power finally had the headspace to make an honest run for the championship. We know Dario wasn’t performing to the top of his abilities in 2013, but his mere presence on track was enough to derail Power. 2014 looked like his year until Montoya found a home right beside him. Power could insulate himself from Franchitti because they didn’t debrief together, nor did they share a garage or a team. Montoya will win this year and he will be a force to be reckoned with. Power needs a smooth road to a championship and Montoya will present a huge pothole for him. And there is always Castroneves waiting in the wings to pounce while still chasing that elusive fourth sip of milk in May.

Seventh-Thing-to-Watch-Just-Because-I-Want-To-Put-It-Out-There-Now – Busch can win the 500. Allmendinger + Busch’s skill – seatbelts = 2013 Indy 500 champion.

Predictions

Series Championship – Juan Pablo Montoya – Read this for the first of many times this year: JPM is the best driver of our generation. A CART championship and F1 championship finishes of two thirds, a fourth, fifth and sixth in the Schumacher era? Check. Monaco and the Indy 500 wins? Check. The powers that be possibly blocking him from success in NASCAR? Check. You can have the field, I’ll take Montoya.

Indy 500 Champion – Tony Kanaan –I am physically unable to pick any other driver as long as he is entered.

Rookie of the Year – Carlos Munoz – If he can keep it out of the tires and off of the walls for most of the season, nothing can stop the driver that wowed us in only his first 500 attempt.

Manufacturer Title – Honda – See: Chevy contingent. Ganassi, KV, Penske and possibly DRR, Panther and Dragon. A prickly group to say the least. Honda is lean, focused and has an incredible group of teams to develop with and to back the Andretti armada.

Triple Crown – Dixon takes Pocono and Fontana – Dixon could be unbeatable this year on the ovals, but then again he is almost every year. Easy pick.

That’s it! I’m more than ready for another ridiculously exciting season of IndyCar racing and the wait in 2014 has been tougher than usual. US sports car racing is in shambles, F1 is cool but slightly underwhelming and NASCAR is dead to me. Win 35 in a row, come in second at the finale and lose the championship?! Come on. With all of the positive momentum gained over the offseason with rules changes, strengthening of INDYCAR management, increased commitment from key partners and a cohesive schedule, I don’t see anything in the way of IndyCar growing in popularity. Not to mention, the on-track action is as close and as competitive as it has ever been. 2014 will be a telling year in the saga of American open-wheel racing; strap in, because it’s going to be a wild ride.

Eric Hall

P.S. I did an entirely different style of season preview for “Pit Lane Reporter”. The business begins on page 42. Direct link here.

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One Response to Into The Crystal Ball… 2014 is Upon Us!

  1. Pingback: The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Season Previews list (links & videos) | The Set-Up Sheet

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