The resurrected and rebuilt Streets of Baltimore play host to the penultimate round of the 2012 championship. Amid financial uncertainty, the seemingly well attended event lives another year, once again, thanks to Andretti Sports Marketing. The battlegrounds for this weekend consist of a two mile ribbon of asphalt, turning 12 times around the inner harbor. In only its second year, yet on its second layout, we aren’t really sure what kind of action the track can produce. But knowing what the DW12 has been able to accomplish during this shortened year, I cannot imagine anything less than exciting. Power looks to be in prime position to walk away with the championship when the checkers fall in Baltimore, and I doubt any of the contenders will have much to say about it.
Five Things to Watch
Push to Pass – After two events of wonky delay not-so-much-enhanced P2P, the series is finally reverting back to an immediate trigger once a driver gets on the button. If we must have a button, I prefer it to be set up like this. Drivers will still have a set amount of 90 seconds of button time available and there is no recharge time. Although I don’t really see this aspect of competition as a huge gimmick, putting the power totally into the driver’s hands is he correct thing to do. Let them decide, they’re the pros. I applaud INDYCAR for using the ChampCar idea of a pool of time that is progressively used as the driver gets on the button instead of doling out “X” amount of pushes. We all like it like this, let’s not noodle with it again, OK?
Track Changes – For the second event in a row, we are visiting a reworked layout with indycars in mind when the changes were made. I know there has been slight turn and curbing reprofiling in the area of T5/6/7, but I’m not sure how much this will affect action on track. These alterations have been made with more of a safety and drivability outlook than anything else. The real treat will be the removal of the chicane on the front straight. The 2011 design did not initially include this odd feature, but was deemed necessary because of the light rail line running across the start of the straight. Someone has paid to have the tracks smoothed out cancelling the need for the chicane. Again, it’s nice to have someone thinking about indycar and willing to spend some money on us. (Update: It looks like the light rails are still causing problems. Practice has been halted and the series is evaluating solutions. First attempt will be to grind the rail lines with the intallation of a chicane as the last resort.)
Championship – What a ride it has been. Two short months ago we were witnessing Will Power’s very visible slide from grace, the rise of Ryan Hunter-Reay, the rejuvenated championship hoped of Dixon and Castroneves; only be entering the final street race of the season will Power in his expected role as the guy to beat. Last week’s race at Sonoma exemplified the way the season has played out thus far. A confusing event that was difficult to read while it was running, yet when it was all said and done the natural order of indycar was restored. As turbulent of a year as we have had, it feels like no surprise that Power sits at the head of the championship taking a defensive position with two races to go. I had my doubts and have definitely thought through parts of the year that neither he nor Penske deserved the hardware, But it looks like they will not be denied another year.
Dario Franchitti – Another driver who is easy to hate given his constant position at the head of the field for the past five years, yet such a visible fall from grace is painful to watch no matter who the sufferer. Evolve or become extinct has been my mantra throughout the year and I think Franchitti has lived with this fact all season long. It is no secret that he is literally the only driver on the grid who uses the right foot braking kit; a possible reason for his continued struggles? Dario is sitting on an abandoned island with absolutely no setup help from the other three drivers on his team. This begs the question: is the DW12 able to be driven by a right foot braker competitively? Racecar technology has progressed to a point that favors right two footed drivers and I wonder if Franchitti has an equally frustrating year in 2013 if he will even be back.
Spotlight Stealer? – With all of that Will Power love out of the way, I still feel that nearly the entire field is in contention for a win every single week. I could name off who might be in line to seal their maiden win in the series, but once you start going through the list only a few names really stick out with no real chance… cough cough… Ed Carpenter. The entire year has felt more competitive, yet the best chances other drivers outside of championship contention have had all year have been on the ovals; a perfect 180 degree switch from last year. Yet, so many teams are just right there and need a bit of luck to fall their way. Honestly, that seems to be what the contenders have had that no one else has been able to find: luck. I still don’t, and may never, know how top motorsports teams seem to create their own luck right out of this air. But that skill is slowly permeating the indycar grid. It’s only a matter of time now.
Pole – Will Power – I have picked with my heart all year, for the final twistie of the year the head gets the pick. Is there really anyone else you could seriously slot in here?
Winner – Will Power – Read: above. The heart has been crushed by Power this year.
Epic Performance – Will Power – A weekend of domination will parley itself into a championship in a bit over two weeks.
Biggest Loser – Everyone not named Will Power – Power will layeth the smack onto the field; not much more to say.
I am shocked that Will Power has been able to take control of the championship and walk away from the competition in such convincing fashion. After Milwaukee, I would have bet a few bucks we would have seen one of the patented, down to the wire indycar championship battle. Power basically must finish well this weekend and not crash out at Fontana to sew the championship up no matter what his title contenders manage to do. Baltimore marks the final twistie of the season in a year defined by road courses. Considering the oval twistie ratio of 5/10, it has been a true shock to see Power struggle throughout the year to pull a lead over the competition in the standings. Two to go, and everyone still has a lot to play for. Look out for the spoilers.