The Off Season as it Stands Today

After a tough week, I am back in action and what a week to be injured. We have had the best of best news all the way down to the worst of the worst. After a few weeks of not-necessarily-on-topic posting, I figure this is as good a time as any to get up to speed on the recent happenings in the crazy world of indycar.

Newman/Haas – After nearly thirty years the team closed its doors last week citing the unstable economic climate. I will admit to being an absolute NHR fan boy last year. By season’s end, both of my brand new favorite drivers worked on the same team together. With the exception of the classic big three; Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, the news of a team’s closure comes as no surprise. Yes, it was gut wrenching to see a team with 105 wins and eight championships fold after such a good comeback year, but I just couldn’t believe the initial car count projections of upper 20’s. Something had to give.

When any team closes there is the romantic idea that they will miraculously find funding in the eleventh hour and put together an operation just in time for the season opener. I use Forsythe racing as the perfect example of how much trouble this can be. I drive past the still operational “garage” about once a week; the building still has a car in the parking lot and team badging and signage outside. The team very well could be restarted, but it would be a shell of its former self. Just an expansion team built with the lower level talent, not taken by the bigger teams. The guys at NHR will be hired quickly and I fear any attempts to reincarnate the team would only dull its illustrious history.

Brian Barnhart and Terry Angstadt – INDYCAR announced “operational” changes within the organization last week. Angstadt was fired or resigned, depending on what you believe. I had no major feelings for or against Terry; I just had no idea what he did. This could just be my non business astuteness coming through though. It seems that his position was replicated when Randy Bernard was hired on; making Angstadt’s position redundant and unnecessary… but they didn’t close the job; INDYCAR replaced him. I don’t know how businesses work exactly, but it seems odd considering the series is trying to save major dollars to keep this position active. But then again, I don’t understand many things that happen across from 16th and Georgetown.

Barnhart, on the other hand, makes perfect sense. The man has had more blog pages written about him than any single driver during the past year. Word on the street always was that he didn’t actually draw the same negative feedback from the paddock that he did from the public. I refuse to believe that this was still the case after New Hampshire. After that he had to go; there were no more free passes. I completely understand the move to wait until the off season to move him. Brian will basically continue his old Monday through Friday job; he just won’t be in race control on the weekends. I am OK with this as he, admittedly, has some good knowledge about safety and operations. I just hope INDYCAR makes a smart decision on how it will fill race control next year.

2012 Chassis – THE SKY IS FALLING… RUN FOR THE HILLS… SAVE YOUR FIRST BORN. No it’s not that bad but some outlets would lead you to believe that a room full of monkeys are in charge of designing the new cars. Although quick and responsive in low to medium speed situations; the chassis begins to become more of a challenge to drive in high speed areas. Full throttle-off corner entries have been reported in every session at Indy and mixed reports have been coming back from the Fontana test. The 208-216 speeds have been a bit discouraging at Indy, but all is not lost yet. The various component manufacturers have been working with Dallara to save some weight at the rear of the car, but initial calculations look like the already over target weight chassis may not be able to achieve the desire weight distribution.

The drivers are basically searching for a more positive feel to the front of the car. The chassis is pushing on corner exit, requiring a fair amount of throttle play to make it through the fast ones. The answer may be Firestone if they are willing to work with the series. Dallara has tested new aero packages on the car, but the results have been minimal. A bit stickier tire that would need some oval development could mask the weight issues of the chassis. Firestone is out in one year so I wonder how far they would go to develop a new tire. At worst, the cars will be a bit slower and the drivers will actually have to drive them. Not the 100 percent worst of all situations I guess…

Unanswered Questions – Aside from the unusually heavy silly season banter, I still have a few unanswered questions. Where is the incident report from the Las Vegas accident? A week or two before thanksgiving I was under the assumption that the report would have been published soon after. I know it has only been a week, but we are six weeks out and still no word at all. I would hope that said organizational changes would indicate the investigation closed, and reporting could happen soon.

The lack of report is a direct causation for the delay in the 2012 schedule announcement, although I am not sure why. It’s not like there is a dearth of 1.5 milers dying to get into the schedule, nor do I think RB would drop what remains and leave only Iowa and Indy. I know Fontana is two miles, but it seems to have fallen into similar discussions as the dreaded cookie cutters. Which leads me to: why are the drivers talking about testing at homestead when we don’t race there? I am not sure of the testing history of Homestead but my thinking is why risk testing a new chassis at an oval you aren’t even going to race at? Is Homestead in the discussion for 2012? I would welcome it.

So there it is minus silly season, which is so silly right now I am having trouble keeping tabs on everything. With all the new teams and manufacturers all vying for a sweet spot in the 2012 paddock, it is really shaping up to be an exciting winter. The loss of NHR will be sad; the loss of BB in race control will not. One step forward, one step back. At least the sanctioning body is not doing anything too publicly off the wall right now and hopefully this will be the last team closure we need to hear about in the near future. As we push through the long, cold and snowy off season, at least we have news to talk about. There is quite the buzz around the series right now and it is truly exciting to watch. I hope this continuing momentum will push through into the 2012 season.

Eric Hall

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One Response to The Off Season as it Stands Today

  1. gforcepaul says:

    Nice and well thought out piece, Eric. I appreciate your following today and one good turn deserves another.

    GForcePaul in ‘Ripple

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