After what has felt like a lifetime of spec-car boredom, IZOD IndyCar Series fans, teams, drivers and analysts finally have something to get excited about.
The changes for 2012 are well known, and they all add up to what should be the least predictable season of IndyCar Series competition to date, thanks to:
• A new, more modern spec chassis from Dallara (the DW12, named for its chief test driver Dan Wheldon, who lost his life at the Las Vegas oval in October), a new engine formula, two new engine manufacturers in the form of Chevrolet and Lotus, some exciting new and returning drivers, one popular driver who left, a big shift in the balance of road/street and oval races on the calendar, the demotion of Brian Barnhart, new staff in Race Control, and upgrades throughout most areas of the organization serve as the major highlights.
• The hiring of Beaux Barfield, Arie Luyendyk, Johnny Unser and Gary Barnard should go a long way to restore the respect the series lost with throughout the world of open-wheel racing, the struggles with the new chassis are common knowledge (along with some of the issues the engine manufacturers have faced in testing), and the feared loss of Danica Patrick has been tempered by Rubens Barrichello’s switch from Formula One to IndyCar.
• Versus morphing into NBC Sports Channel, which should help nudge the series’ TV ratings in the right direction as questions about the reliability of the new cars and engines should deliver plenty of drama to chronicle.
The series has assembled what’s arguably the greatest level of driving talent it’s ever seen which should make for a fascinating 16 rounds of racing to follow, but the new cars will make the biggest difference in how the championship plays out between the season opener at St. Petersburg on March 25th and the finale at Auto Club Speedway in September.