Jan 16, 2012
IndyCar at Yet Another CrossroadsBy JR Nerad
IndyCar, the open-wheel racing series that used to be America’s most prominent and prestigious form of racing, just can’t seem to catch a break these days. This year saw some bright spots -- the most prominent being the inaugural street race in Baltimore and a successful foray into South America -- but it ended on a tragic note with the on-track fatal accident that took driver Dan Wheldon.
So in the wake of yet another turbulent season, IndyCar chief Randy Bernard has relieved president of operations Brian Barnhart of his race director duties while allowing him to continue to supervise overall operations. Barnhart’s record as race director has been widely considered spotty at best, and the Wheldon incident, which was largely beyond his control, proved to be one of several motivators for change. His replacement has yet to be announced.
So what will 2012 bring for IndyCar? Sadly, instead of healing and a bright future for the series, next year looks murky. Just last week, one of the premier IndyCar teams, Newman/Haas Racing, announced that it was leaving the series. The team captured 107 wins in IndyCar and its predecessor series between its formation in 1983 and its exit after this past season, and it included the teaming of legendary driver Mario Andretti with his talented son Michael over a four-year span.
And there is yet more potential bad news on the horizon. Rumors persist that the supposedly carefully chosen all-new Dallara chassis that’s set to be the 2012 series platform is undergoing major teething problems. One key issue is that the race car in its present form might not be suitable or safe for high-speed ovals, which strikes us as a rather large shortfall for a racing series that includes several big NASCAR-style oval tracks on its schedule. The issue is so big that IndyCar appears to be holding up the release of its 2012 schedule, fearing that it might have to drop big-oval races in Texas and Las Vegas. That would be a tremendous black eye for the series, since those tracks have serious drawing power and are great showcases for IndyCar racing.
The chassis problem couldn’t have come at a worse time, since the series is trying to recover from the tragic loss of Wheldon in what some see as an ill-advised publicity stunt. The series is adding two new engine suppliers this coming season -- Lotus and Chevrolet -- but so far, it appears the chassis development schedule is way behind the curve. That’s not the kind of news IndyCar wants to make as its teams continue to seek new sponsorship in a tight market.
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