Four Races in and Twelve to Go, What Have We Learned?

Ok, we all know it’s May, but there is still the little matter of the 2012 championship trail. With four races down, the first quarter of the season is in the bag. Teams and drivers have twelve more chances, plus qualifying at Indy, to claw back much needed ground in the championship. We love Indy, but at the end of the day we all need more than just one race a year to get our juices flowing; the championship is why we stick around. Unfortunately, the 2012 season is a bit short, but that just means every race from here on out is that much more important. Hardware drama, a failing manufacturer, growing pains and a healthy points lead have punctuated the year thus far.

Now, what have we learned?

Evolve, or Become Extinct – Although the DW12 has it’s own special set of shortcomings, it is a modern open wheel car. The thing has a hand clutch, carbon brakes, a transmission actually designed to be used with paddle shifters, and an honest to goodness diffuser just to name a few. The car was designed from the beginning to be a left foot braking car; same way all modern single seaters are designed.   During pre-season testing Dario Franchitti was forced to brake with his left foot and found he was having trouble with the balance of the car. Enter Dallara, they make a special right foot braking package just for him yet his troubles still continued. Dario Franchitti’s notable slide may be because he refuses to left foot brake in the new chassis. He says it would be like asking a right handed golfer to play lefty. I say that is a big bag of crazy. Franchitti’s current P10 in the championship is the only truly shocking position on the entire points table. To run with Will Power, Franchitti may need to do a bit of soul searching and decide if he really wants to find that extra speed hidden beneath his left foot or the series will leave him behind.

The French Connection has Arrived – Countrymen Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais are not to be messed with this year. Bourdais, possibly the best driver in the field if given the right equipment, was strapped with the painfully slow Lotus and was still able to almost compete with the Honda/Chevy mid pack. He consistently records the highest cornering speed only to lose it all when the wheel straightens out. If the racing gods have any heart at all SeaBass will have a shiny new Chevy that will really make Will Power do a bit of worrying. Rookie Simon Pagenaud is already there and crushing his competition in the rookie of the year standings. A champion and proven race winner in sports cars, Pagenaud and the sophomore year team Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports are in a prime position to grow together and really start mixing it up with the front runners.

The Lotus is SlowIllegally slow. The Malaysian British Bankrupt butt-end-of-all-jokes-concerning-anything-slow company is in more hot water than could have been envisioned just a few short weeks ago. Never mind that you need a doctorate in business to understand how the Lotus conglomerate actually works, the INDYCAR faction is on the verge of implosion. They have been sued at least three times because the engine is not even in the same ballpark as Honda or Chevy. They can’t even be considered an underdog because it would take the total and complete vaporization of both the Chevy and Honda camps for Lotus to even have a chance at a good result; let alone a win. From a respectable five cars on the grid to now a single full season competitor, the fall has been quick, public and painful to watch. I have my doubts that Lotus will even be able to contend the balance of the season post Indianapolis. My fingers are crossed for poor Simona de Silvestro and HVM racing.

Chevy is not Playing Games – Perhaps it was a bit of punch drunk naivety, but I did not expect Chevy to utterly dominate the first quarter of the season. Four races, four poles, four wins, three fastest laps… not much room for improvement. Couple these facts with Chevy not standing down from turbogate and it is clear that the bow-tie brigade is here to win. This is a very good situation considering what the Lotus driver(s) continues to suffer through; we need serious manufacturers. Chevy has also stacked their hand with expert precision. I am not sure how Honda did not do a better job in partnering with a few more proven teams, but it is a decisive Chevy victory. Now they are on the eve of signing Sebastien Bourdais and the steamroller that is Team Chevy looks to lose no speed heading into Indy.

It’s Still Early, Baby – No, Will Power has not clinched the points lead with twelve races left like some would have you believe. Only a quarter of the way in and there is already a feeling that we are in the process of getting dominated. We are… but as the saying goes, it’s still early and anything can happen. I have always felt that the season didn’t really start to get rolling until Indianapolis; everything before is just practice. Not discounting the lead Power has amassed, but the race is still wide open; teams are just now starting to get a feel for what this newfangled DW12 needs to be quick and Honda has a few more ponies under the engine cover. Indy usually serves as a good shakeup round to mix everything up before heading into the heat of the summer. I’m not too worried yet.

I know that recently, 17 rounds has been a normal season and as late as 2006 the IRL had a 14 round season and in 2007 ChampCar also had a 14 round season, but four races constituting a quarter of the season is a tough pill to swallow. Ideally I would like to see 18 to 20 races on the calender but that is a topic for another day. As far as the 2012 season goes, from P2 and beyond the fight is still ripe. I still don’t envision a dominating season for Power but it will be interesting to see if someone can claw back some points to the leader or whether Power will allow himself to fall back into the clutches of the pack. If we have learned anything from the past few season of racing it that: IndyCar racing doesn’t really like to produce a runaway championship. The coming middle half of the season should prove to be very interesting.

Eric Hall

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