2012 was the year of competition. Even with an unproven hardware package, the fight from the front to the back of the field was close and intense all year long. A new car, new engines, the reworked rulebook, a cleaned house in race control; so much was unknown entering the 2012 season and I think we can all agree that given the steep climb we faced this year, indycar came out on top and no worse for the wear. Of the 25 full season drivers, we could really only classify one or two drivers as in over their heads. We finally have the best and brightest from ChampCar in mostly competent rides and it finally feels like American open-wheel racing was truly unified for the first time since 2008. There aren’t many vestiges of the complicated political past left in the series and a glimmer of hope and a slight inching of forward progress punctuated an epic season of indycar racing.
Andretti Autosport – The most fearsome team in the paddock during the mid-2000’s has finally retaken its rightful place atop the championship standings. An interesting statement, but not one I totally believe to be true. It would be hard to categorize a season with four wins as a fluke, but it just doesn’t feel like we truly have the “big three” back. Obviously, Ryan Hunter-Reay more than pulled his weight on the team, and sophomore driver James Hinchcliffe was placed as high as P2 in the standings after Milwaukee, but where was Marco? Taking Target Chip Ganassi and Team Penske as the high water mark of the series, it is more than apparent that all available drivers must be in a position to win races and help teammates in the late stages of a championship battle. The boss’s kid was quickly overshadowed by Hinch and is now the weakest link in the chain. I know he’s young, but Marco has a long road ahead of him to total bring Andretti Autosport back into the lime light.
Simon Pagenaud – Four podium finishes and five more top seven finishes punctuated the Frenchman’s return to American Open Wheel Racing. Sam Schmidt is one of the most ruthless owners in the paddock and it was only a matter of time before success was found at the highest rung of the ladder. The amalgamation of Simon and SSM seems to be exactly that both needed to find near immediate success in the series. Pagenaud ended the season P5 in the championship standings, didn’t claim a single victory and finished ahead of four race winners in the final standings. Pagenaud had a single DNF in 2012, bested only by Helio Castroneves who finished every race in 2012. Not bad for a “rookie” driving for a team in their sophomore season. Throw in a second car for 2013, and Simon, his teammate and SSM will absolutely be contenders week in and out.
Race Control – Beaux Barfield performed as well as anyone could have asked during his maiden voyage into the shark infested waters of the indycar paddock. The officiating staff had only one real scream at the TV moment with Scott Dixons wonky non-penalty penalty in Milwaukee, Of course we can dissect the red flag at Fontana forever, but I think it was a good move if rules are hashed out and clearly spells out the how/when/whys of the issue. But honestly, after going green in the rain on an oval last year, it did not take much to appease the detractors and we received at least a single year of more or less calm waters in race control. Drivers said all year that they never know what the rules are race to race, but that’s exactly what they are paid to do. No one could create a disenable pattern of bad calls; all in all an excellent year for indycar in the tower.
Discipline Championships – I have made it no secret that I am a fan of the oval and twistie trophies handed out by the series. We also know that there were more points available (500 on roads, 265 on ovals with Indy qualifying and no bonus points) on the twistie side of the championship than the oval portion. The series prides itself in diversity, but many fans do not feel the series is truly diverse until a close to 50/50 split schedule of oval and twistie events it attained. I would like to see some kind of weighted system to make the ovals worth more to the championship in the long run. Even if it is a sub-discipline, a five race championship is not very spectacular. At this rate, we might as well hand out separate road and street course championships too.
Team Owners – Penske and Ganassi have been vocal about how car owners in the series do business, and 2012 really separated the good guys from the rest of the pack. During the mid-season break, some wonderful people started the owners-want-to-buy-the-series rumors that, in the end, just reopened old wounds than need to be left alone. Michael Andretti, the man single handedly trying to save indycar and keep its ladder system healthy, had issues getting sponsorship contracts signed due to this rumor mongering. Everything seemed more or less peachy in March, but the paddock has quickly devolved into the monster we all know and love. At least we think we know who we can trust; it would be nice to get a few more owners on the let’s-do-right-by-indycar bandwagon.
– Is Andretti Autosport still considered the best of the rest, or do they exist in some big three* limbo?
– Tipped to be the next race winning team in March only to devolve into more of a joke by September, what is the ultimate fate of Tony Kanaan and KV Racing?
– Will Takuma Sato quit throwing it away at the most inopportune times all the time?
– What kinds of changes can, or should, we expect in race control?
– How will the 2013 edition of the rulebook evolve from the current version?
– Will we see any tire compound changes from Firestone? Amid the posturing regarding the 2015 tire supply, should they prove themselves throughout the coming seasons?
– How much speed is left to be found in the DW12?
– What will the engine regulations look like next year? How far will manufacturers push the envelope?
– If KV, Penske, and G2 all lose a seat, how will this affect the effort to pair up existing single car teams?
– Will Ed Carpenter Racing finally strengthen its only real weak link in the program; Ed Carpenters road course driving skills?
What. A. Year. We had a season of clean racing, close finishes, epic on track battles and yet another patented indycar championship race than came down to the final corner of the season. The series has finally nailed down the on-track product and now needs to finalize the off-track details that seem to derail any forward progress obtained. . The field was finally stacked, and the drivers had a more than capable race machine to do battle on-track with, it’s just too bad no one saw it. The anticipation race to race and the accompanying buzz in 2012 were far more palpable than any time in recent history and the off season looks to be even worse. Indycar racing is still the best kept secret in motorsports, and now we just need to let the rest of the racing world know.