IndyCar 2012 season preview: A new beginning

Indycar

Rubens Barrichello, KV Racing, IndyCar, 2012IndyCar emerges from a long, dark winter into a new season which promises much for the beleaguered championship.

The death of Dan Wheldon in the final race of last year cast a shadow over the series which it will take time to fully emerge from.

IndyCar has pledged to learn from the events of that day. But one major step towards improving safety in the series had already been put in place long before it happened – the introduction of a new, safer car for this year.

As the teams find their feet with the new Dallara DW12, new engine format and engine suppliers, this one of the most anticipated new IndyCar seasons in years.

And F1 fans will be especially keen to see how Rubens Barrichello fares in his high-profile switch to America’s premier open-wheel racing series.

2012 IndyCar teams and drivers

The arrival of the most experienced Formula 1 driver of all time, is a much-needed shot in the arm for the series.

Not since Nigel Mansell left F1 as world champion to race in IndyCar in 1993 has the series had such a high-profile convert.

Barrichello teams up with his close friend and fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan at KV Racing in a driver pairing which looks strong enough to get on terms with the best IndyCar has to offer.

Four-times champion Dario Franchitti remains at Ganassi alongside Scott Dixon. Franchitti must rank as the pre-season title favourite along with his closest challenger of the last two seasons, Will Power.

Power has come close to snatching the title from Franchitti in the last two seasons. Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe remains his team mates for 2012.

IndyCar has lost one of its star draws in Danica Patrick, who has defected to NASCAR. Wheldon was set to take her place at Andretti before the awful events of Las Vegas.

Instead, that seat has gone to one of the most exciting rookies of 2011, James Hinchcliffe. He partners Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay. JR Hildebrand, another of the top rookies of last season, remains at Panther.

Barrichello is not the only former F1 pilot on the grid. Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson remain in the series and multiple Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais will race for Dragon alongside Katherine Legge.

Another hugely experienced former F1 driver, Jean Alesi, is due to make a one-off appearance in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

2012 IndyCar calendar

Round Date Circuit Type Length (km) Laps
1 25th March St Petersburg Street 2.89 100
2 1st April Barber Motorsports Park Road 3.83 90
3 15th April Long Beach Street 3.17 83
4 29th April Sao Paulo Street 4.08 75
5 27th May Indianapolis Oval 4.02 200
6 3rd June Detroit Street 3.38 90
7 9th June Texas Motor Speedway Oval 2.41 228
8 16th June Milwaukee Mile Oval 1.61 225
9 23rd June Iowa Speedway Oval 1.41 250
10 8th July Toronto Street 2.82 80
11 22nd July Edmonton Street 3.63 75
12 5th August Mid-Ohio Road 3.86 85
13 18th August Qingdao Street 6.23 TBC
14 26th August Infineon Road 4.05 80
15 2nd September Baltimore Street 3.28 75
16 15th September Fontana Oval 3.22 200

The series which at one point was contested entirely on ovals is increasingly given over to road and street races. IndyCar’s varied calendar is a major part of its appeal, spanning road courses, street circuits and ovals.

All five of the oval races are contested on tracks of varying lengths, from short ovals like Milwaukee and Iowa up to the daunting superspeedways of Indianapolis and Fontana.

As ever the focal point of the year will be the Indianapolis 500, which this year is being run for the 96th time.

This year’s calendar boasts three additions, including the welcome return of former venues Detroit and Fontana. The third, a street race in China, is something of a mystery, though we do know the 6.2km street track will be IndyCar’s longest this year.

Among the circuits absent from the calendar this year is Las Vegas. There are concerns over the race at Texas Motor Speedway which is similar in configuration to Las Vegas and the only 1.5-mile over on the schedule. IndyCar have said they will take steps to ensure the race does not see a repeat of the pack racing which led to the Las Vegas disaster.

New cars, new engines

Barrichello has chosen an opportune moment to make the switch to IndyCars as all the teams and drivers have new machinery to get used to this year.

The new Dallara DW12 (named after Dan Wheldon) is designed to make greater use of under-body downforce instead of its wings to promote closer racing. The cars are lighter and have been setting some quick times in testing.

The car also features extensive safety enhancements compared with the previous design. These include the unusual bodywork around the rear wheels, designed to stop cars being launched into the air.

One problem some drivers have had with the new cars is right-foot braking, leading Dallara to supply a new kit to allow the likes of Franchitti to drive the way they prefer.

IndyCar has also changed its engine formula for 2012 and attracted two competitors to go up against Honda. The cars use 2.2-litre V6s with a choice of single or twin-turbos. Chevrolet and Lotus have arrived although the latter have not got up to speed as quickly as their competitors.

Barrichello will also have to adjust to other key differences between IndyCar and F1. These include oval racing and in-race refuelling – the latter he experienced in F1 as recently as 2009.

Another small but significant difference is the banning of tyre warmers in IndyCar, which makes the drivers’ skill in bringing their tyres up to temperature all the more crucial.

Follow IndyCar teams and drivers on Twitter

Find a list of drivers, teams and other key IndyCar figures on Twitter here:

Watching IndyCar

Those in the UK can see the opening race of the new IndyCar season live on Sky Sports F1 at 5:30pm on Sunday.

The rest of the season will be shown live on other Sky Sports channels.

IndyCar on F1 Fanatic

You can join us on F1 Fanatic Live during most of this year’s IndyCar races.

He also have a dedicated group and forum for IndyCar fans:

IndyCar 2011 season highlights

A selection of video highlights from some of last year’s best races:

Long Beach

Mike Conway scored a surprise maiden win at the former F1 venue:

Indianapolis 500

The 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 produced a finish worthy of the historic race. Rookie JR Hildebrand was on course to score an history victory until he crashed at out the final corner.

That allowed Dan Wheldon through to claim his second Indianapolis 500 victory.

Mid-Ohio

Scott Dixon won his first race of the year at this picturesque road circuit:

Kentucky

Ed Carpenter finally won his first IndyCar race after a close finish at Kentucky:

Your view: IndyCar in 2012

Will you be watching the IndyCar series this year? Who are you rooting for?

And how will Barrichello fare on his debut? Have your say in the comments.

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64 comments on IndyCar 2012 season preview: A new beginning

  1. ECWDanSelby (@ecwdanselby) said on 21st March 2012, 12:05

    Nice write-up, Keith.

    One thing that always put me off with the stupid blocking rules. I remember watching last year at Sao Paulo where EJ Viso (I think) got punished for defending his position more than 3 times. Utterly ridiculous.

    I’m pretty sure, however, that it’s gone this year? Could be worth mentioning for anyone that was also turned off by this pathetic rule.

  2. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 21st March 2012, 12:05

    I think I’ll be paying a lot more attention to IndyCar this year… :) I expect Rubens to be right on the money from the word go. It’ll certainly be something to watch!

    • Ben (@dirtyscarab) said on 21st March 2012, 13:24

      While the KV car is typically in the top ten, the team haven’t been a match for the Penske or Ganassi cars. I’m actually expecting Rubens to struggle a bit. Taku didn’t exactly shine when he moved to indycar.

      We’ll see…

    • Fixy (@fixy) said on 21st March 2012, 22:01

      I’ll probably not be watching it as it’s not broadcast live on free-to-air channels in Italy, but I’ll definitely be paying attention to how the hunt for the title develops.

    • strunk27 (@strunk27) said on 22nd March 2012, 3:29

      Taku got a pole position with KV in Iowa last year. Outside of Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti, KV in my opinion is the strongest contender

      • Adam Tate (@adam-tate) said on 22nd March 2012, 4:07

        I do agree with you there, KV is definitely best of the rest, and with the somewhat leveled playing field and their strong driver lineup they can be a real challenge to the Penske and Ganassi drivers this year.

  3. NickTheGeek said on 21st March 2012, 12:09

    And keep in mind that … at least the first race is on the Sky F1HD channel. Unfortunately it looks like a one off to tempt people to take up sports! bah! Sunday 5.30pm Should not be missed.

    • Dizzy said on 21st March 2012, 18:32

      1st race is on sky sports f1 as there are other live sports taking up the other 4 sky sports channels.

      think they confirmed that indycar will only appear on the f1 channel if there is live content on the other 4 channels which started broadcast before the indycar.

  4. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 21st March 2012, 12:14

    I don’t think I will be able to watch it on Dutch TV, so I might have to look for a stream somewhere online.

    Funny that they race in Sao Paolo but don’t make use of the permanent circuit that F1 uses. I guess they like their street courses, although it deprives us of a nice opportunity to compare laptimes (who knows, it could be pretty close, as this generation of F1 cars does not seem particularly quick).

    • ivz (@ivz) said on 21st March 2012, 12:32

      Close? On power to weight alone they would be no where near an F1 car. And even with the FIA trying to slow the F1 cars down, they are not far off the lap times they were in 2004.

      • NickTheGeek said on 21st March 2012, 12:34

        There is a thing on youtube somewhere with a super augri blowing away and indycar around the Motegi oval (this assumes my eyes were picking out the right cars in the poor quality video)

      • AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 21st March 2012, 13:16

        @ivz Last Sunday Jenson Button’s fastest lap of the race was 5 seconds off the fastest race lap in 2004. Sure, in qualifying with the DRS open on every stretch of straightish track the relative speed of today’s cars would compare a little more favourably.

      • dkpioe said on 21st March 2012, 13:47

        ofcouse they arent close, gp2 is probably closer these days, indycars are usually 200kg heavier so there is no point comparing the series. although in the late ninetees, with 900hp (while f1 had about 750) the champcars had some series speed in them, and were revving at similar levels to f1 cars of the day, up to 16k rpm (f1 was reaching 17 at the time), but then champcars set a 12k rpm limit. but now indycars are going oldschool, small turbocharged engines, and no tyre warmers, should be fun to watch, irrespective if they are close or not to f1 speeds, which isnt the point, its a totally different racing series, and is still very very fast.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd March 2012, 8:39

        @ivz F1 cars obviously have higher levels of performance – but IndyCars are allowed to run closer to their potential for longer.

        The average lap speeds for the Indianapolis pole sitter last year was 367.2kph (228.2mph).

        That’s far in excess of what we see in F1 – Vettel’s pole speed at Monza last year was 253.5kph (157.5mph).

        F1 has many tracks which show off the cars’ high and medium downforce performance. But even at Monza we don’t get to see what they’re really capable of in low downforce, low drag trim.

    • TimG (@timg) said on 21st March 2012, 13:12

      On anything other than an oval, F1 cars would be quicker. In 2002, before the merger with the IRL, Champ Car and F1 both raced at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. The F1 pole position time (which was around two tenths of a second faster than Vettel’s pole time from last year) was about 6 seconds faster than the Champ Car time. Champ Cars were generally quicker than their IRL rivals.

      How a 2012-spec F1 car compares with the DW12 is, so far, an unknown, but it should be fairly clear that the DW12 would need to be a lot quicker than its immediate predecessors to get off the back row of an F1 grid.

      That said, there’s a lot to be said for Indycar even if it is (probably) slightly slower. In the mid-1990s Champ Car was on even terms with F1 in relation to driving talent and much more competitive. It was often a Sunday evening treat with the races broadcast on Eurosport and I have very fond memories of Alex Zanardi literally throwing his car past Bryan Herta for a last gasp win at Laguna Seca one year. Last year’s Indy 500 was also a real thriller, possibly the best since Al Unser Jr beat Scott Goodyear by a nose in 1992.

      • Adam Tate (@adam-tate) said on 21st March 2012, 15:29

        Yes, the only close lap times I have seen between and Indy or Champ Car and an F1 car is at Laguna Seca.

        Toyota took their TF106 there and set the lap record with Ricardo Zonta at 1:06.309

        The next year in testing the new Panoz DP-01 for Champ Car, Bourdais set a 1:05.880

        Probably the closet F1 and an American open-wheel car have been on times and one of the few a Champ/Indycar has come out on top.

        For comparisons sake, an Audi R10 lapped the course in 1:08.268

        Given that all three of these cars were pretty much contemporaries of one another, it would have been an awesome sight to see them go head to head! It was also a time that ChampCar and F1 followed a very similar design philosophy from an aerodynamic point of view. Maybe someday a rich tycoon will race a mid 2000’s F1 car against the DP-01 in EuroBoss or something like that. I think they would stack up quite well against one another, they sure did at Laguna Seca!

        • TimG (@timg) said on 21st March 2012, 15:49

          Toyota took their TF106 there and set the lap record with Ricardo Zonta at 1:06.309

          I knew about the Laguna Seca comparison but I couldn’t help but think that the TF106 would ultimately have been even quicker with some more time to work on a proper set-up, etc.

          There have been a few EuroBoss races featuring both F1 and Indycars, but they were by no means modern and it was always difficult to get a proper comparison between them. In fact, now I think about it I knew someone who entered an early 1990s Lola Indycar chassis against mid-1990s F1 cars in EuroBoss – the Lola was quick on the straights but a pig round the corners, so generally lost out to old F2 and F3000 cars overall as well as the F1 cars.

          • @TimG

            I love the EuroBoss concept. Is it still around? I tried searching but couldn’t get to a decent website about it.

        • Dizzy said on 21st March 2012, 18:39

          The thing to remember about the toyota run was that it was the 1st weekend after the resurfacing & there was very little grip in the new surface. It was also done on the monterrey historics weekend so you had the historic cars laying down some oil.

          Also & perhaps most important was that it was 1 f1 car laying down Michelin rubber which was then been pulled up by the other cars. When Champcar ran the DP01 there it was a group test over a week so they had time to get the cars setup right & laid down a lot of Bridgestone rubber.

          Bourdais set the lap record on the final day of the test when they had the car setup sorted & when the track had the best grip levels.

          Have an F1 test at Laguna Seca with all the teams there & the fastest times would likely be 4-5 seconds or more faster than what the DP01 managed.
          In fact the Superleague Formula ran the Panoz DP09 which was an evolution of the DP01 & they were 10 seconds off the f1 pace at Magny-Course one year.

          • Adam Tate (@adam-tate) said on 22nd March 2012, 5:47

            Oh wow, I didn’t realize they had just resurfaced the track. Then forget about the times being that close then. Your Superleague observation is very good too. Thanks for the enlightenment! :)

    • @AdrianMorse

      I would imagine that IndyCar officials wouldn’t be keen to race on any track in which F1 cars currently race, because it would reveal the lap time differences.

  5. I Love The Pope said on 21st March 2012, 12:40

    I’m glad to see IndyCar doing better these days. I followed them when I was young, but after the whole CART/IRL thing, I stopped. I thought NASCAR was ridiculous and so I kept looking. Then I found F1 and haven’t turned back. But, since IndyCar might be interesting again, I may have to tune in.

  6. Katz, Tim said on 21st March 2012, 12:57

    The Tony Kanaan car will win.
    Everyone else will be dazzled by the colour and drive off into the weeds!

  7. maxthecat said on 21st March 2012, 12:58

    They seem to be showing all the races live on SkySportsF1 this year.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd March 2012, 8:25

      I don’t know where you’ve got that from, but Sky’s presenter Keith Heuwen said on Twitter the first race will be on Sky Sports F1 but not necessarily any of the rest.

      More’s the pity, it would make an excellent fit with their F1 coverage.

      • I tweeted Randy Bernard, who replied implying that sky sports f1 were showing multiple Indycar races this year…..

  8. dkpioe said on 21st March 2012, 13:37

    this years indycar series will be interesting, it has similar engines to what f1 will be in 2014, v6 turbo, and those wheel arges could make it to f1 too if there are any more flips like webber had a couple of years ago over koveleinen.
    american open wheelers were the best during the car glory days of late 90s. lots of different engine manufacturers, 900hp turbo engines spinning at 15-16k rpm, great drivers, great tracks and great action. to many it was better then f1 at that period. it has fallen away somewhat since then, and nascar has overtaken it easily as prefererred motorsport in america, even for drivers! heck even raikonnen considered nascar and not indycar.
    look forward to some great action, it isnt quite the ‘alternative f1′ it used to be, but this new formula this year should be fun to watch.

  9. Mikemat5150 (@mikemat5150) said on 21st March 2012, 13:39

    This season should be the best since the split. For anyone who gets the chance, I highly recommend checking it out again giving it a chance. The ovals are really exciting too. Don’t write them off.

    • Adam Tate (@adam-tate) said on 22nd March 2012, 5:51

      Agreed! I live just a few minutes from Texas Motor Speedway and have been to the race there about 4 or 5 times now and it’s always a blast.

      Plus it is so accessible to the fans. 2 years ago my father and I even walked away with the valve stems from Danica’s car!! :D

  10. mfDB (@mfdb) said on 21st March 2012, 13:43

    Nice write up Keith! I’m glad I can just come here to read up on F1 and Indy!! I’m routing for Rubens 100%. I watched his first F1 race and followed him all along through F1. Would love to see him adapt quickly and perform well on ovals. I also like Franchitti and Hunter-Reay. Oh yea, can’t forget Sato!

    Hopefully I’ll get to make it out to Barber in Birmingham. Are you going to any of the races Keith? I could see a Detroit Indy and Montreal F1 combo trip since they’re only a week apart….

  11. DaveW (@dmw) said on 21st March 2012, 13:51

    Shocking to me that there are only 3 road courses. (None of them are Road America.!) Fully half are street courses. Street courses can be great racing and a great test of skill, but by no means do they demonstrate the abilities of a modern formula race car. Neither does an oval where the throttle is flat for all or almost all of the lap. Among the ovals, only at Indy and Milwaukee do the cars really “drive” around the track. I see they are going back to TMS for the human g-loading experiments. I’ll skip that one.

    • Dizzy said on 21st March 2012, 18:50

      They go to street cources because thats where the fans are, Champcar did the same thing.

      The attendance on most of the proper road circuits was/is dire (Even at classic tracks like Laguna Seca & Road America). You can turn up at a street circuit & draw huge crowds because as Champcar used to say, Your taking the race to the people.
      Champcar ran on a street circuit at San Jose & even though the track was horrendously bad & the racing dreadfull, It still drew a sell out crowd each year.

      Outside of Indy its only really the street circuits, Iowa & Texas that draw crowds. Main reason they still race at Texas is because its very well promoted by the track owners & because it draws a fairly big crowd every year.
      Ovals that were seen as been better tracks that produced better racing (New Hampshire is one example) were not promoted by track owners & thus drew abysmal crowds.

      Most oval tracks are owned by ISC (International Speedway Corps) & there a part of Nascar. Nascar turns up & you know about it for months beforehand as ISC promote the hell out of it, Indycar turns up & you pretty much only know about it if you follow Indycar because ISC do zero promotion.

      With the split over & the rebuilding of Indycar racing beginning they have to go where they can draw crowds & gain exposure, Right now thats street circuits.

    • Mikemat5150 (@mikemat5150) said on 21st March 2012, 20:26

      Road America and Watkins Glen are both very rumored to be on the schedule for next season.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st March 2012, 20:41

        @mikemat5150 According to who?

        I’d like to believe it were true but it sounds a bit like wishful thinking.

        • Mikemat5150 (@mikemat5150) said on 23rd March 2012, 1:40

          I’ve been going to Road America my whole life and my dad knows some people who work there who said they have been pursuing it. The thing that held them back this year at Road America was the China date is the same as ALMS and they will most likely be paired together.

          Robin Miller has also reported that The Glen and Road America are rumored for next year. Along with Phoenix and maybe one or two other ovals.

          I may be wishful as well but hopefully it comes true. Road America is one of the best road courses.

  12. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 21st March 2012, 14:14

    I’m gonna try my damnedest to be better about catching races. I always start off strong and start to peter off through the year.

  13. topdowntoedown (@topdowntoedown) said on 21st March 2012, 14:16

    Barber Motorsports Park – isn’t that where the F1 US GP was going to be held before the CoTA came along?

    I might try and catch some of these… some of the street circuits are really good, and unlike places like Valencia actually feature “bumps” and “kerbs” and so on.

    I like the idea of banning tyre warmers too. F1 could do that easily and it’d add another layer of skill to the driver’s job… warm the tyres up but don’t kill them.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st March 2012, 14:20

      @topdowntoedown

      No, but it is where US F1 were going to test before they collapsed:

      USF1 to test F1 car in America

      I like the idea of banning tyre warmers too. F1 could do that easily and it’d add another layer of skill to the driver’s job… warm the tyres up but don’t kill them.

      I agree – they might need to tweak the tyre compounds to achieve it but in terms of raising the challenge for the drivers and cutting costs for the teams it’s a good idea.

      • Adam Tate (@adam-tate) said on 21st March 2012, 15:49

        Plus, everytime they show the warmers I wonder if some poor team member has been burned by one, they have to be like the world’s most extreme electric blankets after all!

        I am sure they are expensive and probably use a ton of electricity. I wouldn’t mind seeing them disappear.

  14. ajokay (@ajokay) said on 21st March 2012, 17:07

    I’ll definitely be watching this weekend. I think the cars are beautiful and can’t wait to see them racing in close quarters.

  15. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 21st March 2012, 17:36

    And F1 fans will be especially keen to see how Rubens Barrichello fares in his high-profile switch to America’s premier open-wheel racing series.

    Sod that, GO SATO! ;-)

    Pretty much resigned to Power winning it this year, although he deserves it, so I’ll be putting all my positive vibes into Taku and James Hinchcliffe.

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