Race Weekend Central

IndyCar Roundtable: Season Grades, Schedule Tweaks & Possible Title Upsets

Welcome to the IndyCar Round Table! Several times throughout the season, your favorite writers will get together to discuss the latest IndyCar news, rumors and so much more!

This Week’s Participants
Toni Montgomery (Frontstretch IndyCar Editor/Michael Annett Driver Diary)
Danny Peters (The Yellow Stripe/IndyCar Writer)
Matt Stallknecht (Frontstretch IndyCar Writer)

We’re actually a little past halfway into the season so let’s share some thoughts on how things have gone so far.

Matt: Well I think the oval races have been outstanding. Last week’s race in Iowa in particular was one of the best motorsport races of the year in my opinion. The road and street races have been lacking in excitement, but I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen so far on the oval side of things.
Toni: Personally I think it’s been a good season. The racing has been great everywhere and I’m not so sure this season is going to be as one sided to those two privileged teams as people think.
Matt: Yeah I agree with that Toni. Andretti Autosport in particular is in much better shape than they were a year ago
Toni: Yes – and there are some rumblings from KV, Tacoma Sato had some good runs for Rahal Letterman Lanigan and then there is Simon Pagenaud who is going to win before the year is over.
Danny: I think given the challenges coming into the season: new chassis, new engine, new manufacturers, not to mention Dan Wheldon, I think it’s been a good season so far.
Toni: There hasn’t been much racing up front at the road races but there’s been plenty back through the field, I think.

See also
IndyCar Race Recap: Ryan Hunter-Reay Makes It a Repeat Performance at Iowa

Matt: The race that was on an actual purpose-built road course (Barber) was fantastic. It’s just that street courses, with the exception of a select few around the world (Monaco, Long Beach and from the looks of it, the Port Imperial F1 track), street racing is just not all that exciting.
Toni: No, I agree, street courses don’t lend themselves well for the most part to exciting racing. They are usually too narrow. The exception to the temporary course blues, and I wish we went there, was Cleveland – the airport course – that was always a good one.
Matt: High-downforce cars just don’t work on street courses. NASCAR, on the other hand, would be great since those cars are so much more weighty and tough to wheel around a road course. But that’s a story for another day. The Cleveland airport track was awesome, Indy should do more stuff like that. I’m sure it will never happen, but the little kid in me wishes IndyCar would try to figure out how to race on a highway. There were rumblings about doing one years ago, but I have no idea what happened to that. I think the IndyCar of today would be willing to try something like that.
Danny: I would agree with that Matt. Randy Bernard and team are more than open to looking at different options for races. Innovation is key as they look to build the schedule in future seasons.
Matt: The thing with a highway race is, it would be such a primal thrill for fans. Everyone has pretended that they were a racecar driver on a highway at some point in their life. I think IndyCar would be the perfect series to make such a fantasy a reality.
Toni: Because everyone has also always dreamed they were Mario Andretti.
Danny: Well said Toni!
Matt: All things considered, however, I think the best race so far this year was the Indy 500. That particular aero/tire/chassis package provided some of the best racing I have ever seen in this series.
Danny: And yes, too, on the Indy 500. That was a fantastic race to watch – a genuine advert for the series. 2011 wasn’t a bad race either.
Toni: I agree that this was the best 500 we’ve seen in years.

The cars. New chassis, engines, manufacturers. Let’s give those things a grade for the season so far.

Toni: I’m pretty sure we all agree on Lotus – a hot mess.
Matt: New Chassis: B. I’m still not sold on the safety of the car yet; some of those crashes in Indy were extremely troubling. The chassis does provide good racing thus far though.
Toni: The incident I found most troubling with the new chassis was the one at Long Beach. Marco Andretti got himself airborne over the back of Graham Rahal – that’s not supposed to happen.
Matt: Engines: A for Honda and Chevy, F for Lotus.
Toni: I hit on this in the Pace Laps column this week, but the engine rules – too much to ask for engines to last as long as the rules say they need to when they are essentially still working on them – Chevy and Honda weren’t as far behind as Lotus but they are still new engines and with new there are going to be bugs.
Danny: It’s been a tough season for Lotus, that’s for sure.
Matt: Chevy and Honda seem to have everything figured out, but it has been weird to see Honda engines blow up when they are traditionally so durable. I’m not even sure if there is anything left to be said about Lotus. Just pure failure on every possible level.
Danny: The Honda engines point was well illustrated by Dario Franchitti. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that happen.
Matt: You’re right Danny, that was utterly shocking.
Danny: It really was. That sort of thing shouldn’t happen, but these are new engines. It just adds to what has been a difficult season for the champ.
Matt: It’s been a very up and down year for Target Chip Ganassi Racing to say the least. They’ve experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows
Danny: On the chassis front – I’d agree with Matt’s B rating. I really like the look of the car too.
Toni: I like the look of the cars too – after I got used to them. I confess they looked odd to me at first, especially at Indy because they looked flat there – but they grew on me.
Danny: They look much better than the F1 cars this year.
Matt: They’ve grown on me quite a bit. I don’t really care for how they look on the low downforce tracks with the rear wing so low however
Toni: Yeah Matt, that would be that flat thing. I do however think that B or no B, the new chassis is much better than the old one
Matt: Yeah. Not to be insensitive, but the old chassis was a death trap.

The biggest of the current events right now is the cancelled race. Series management has opted to just can the 16th event and stay with the current 15. Agree or disagree?

Toni: I think it’s a good decision. There just isn’t time to put on a race and not have it be half-assed.
Danny: Right decision, certainly, but not what IndyCar needed.
Toni: Let’s be honest – there are only two-and-a-half months left in the season – you cannot get a race together and get people to show up on that short of notice.
Danny: It would have been good to see another race at Texas but you can’t put a race on with little to no notice. It just doesn’t work that way.
Toni: And going to some place like Michigan and having echoing empty caverns of grandstands would be worse than just having 15 races.
Matt: Big time disagree. It’s a black eye for your sport when a race gets cancelled and you have nothing as a backup plan. I understand the idea behind not wanting to half-ass a race, but from a marketing standpoint, it does not look good. Honestly, if they could have found the right partner, they had plenty of time to put something together. The fact that they couldn’t put something together is an indictment on the state of the sport.
Danny: If they could run a race past Sept. 15 then maybe yes, but there’s no way Fontana is going to relinquish their season finale date.
Toni: They might have been able to toss something together and it may have been fine from the point of view of the venue, the teams, the support services, but yeah, unless there are three months advance, which takes us beyond Fontana and the scheduled finale, which I might add they are promoting their race as the championship event, I don’t think you can get the fans there. And they are really trying to avoid empty stands because every time they have them it’s also a huge black eye on the sport.
Matt: It was a no win situation to say the least.
Danny: It was. Clearly the intention is to add races to the schedule. I think we’ll see that next year.
Matt: I do like the fact that the Fontana race has been extended to 500 miles. It makes the finale all that more prestigious
Toni: I like that Fontana is a 500 and I think it’s a great place to wind up by the way. NASCAR might suck there but it’s a good venue for open wheelers
Danny: And with the way the season is going we might see a race that has huge ramifications for the title.
Toni: They say there are talking with several venues about next year.
Matt: Interesting note about Fontana however, the future for that race may be up in the air due to a possible track reconfiguration that has been in discussion. I’ve heard some rumors that the ACS folks want to repave the track and add banking to spice up the NASCAR show. This may put IndyCar in a tough position if the track proves to be too highly banked to promote a safe IndyCar event.
And it makes sense given how worn out the surface is at Fontana.
Toni: Same old story, reconfiguring tracks to spice up the NASCAR show and making them unsuitable for Indy cars … because that’s where the money is.
Matt: Yup. But from what I’ve been told, they want to bring plate racing to Fontana. That could spell the end of Indy in Fontana. And from what I’ve been told this has been ongoing for four years now and they are finally ready to pull the trigger.

We have six different winners in nine races and all sorts of different faces at the top of the points, so this is a two-point question – the number one fan complaint is the total domination of Penske and Ganassi – is that maybe not the case this year and if not, who looks like they might upset that order?

Matt: Andretti Autosport will have something to say about the championship. Ryan Hunter-Reay has been white-hot the past few weeks, and he looked good on the road courses earlier this year. If RHR can keep applying the pressure and add another win or two, you could see Andretti Autosport steal the championship courtesy of the No. 28 team.
Danny: Andretti Autosport is undoubtedly in the mix this year. Given the mix of tracks remaining on the schedule, I think, despite a couple bad weeks, Will Power is the favorite for a first title. But RHR is right there, as is Scott Dixon and Hinch has run strong. It’s good for the sport.
Toni: RHR and Hinch are both looking good for Andretti. Ganassi is definitely going to have to pin his hopes on Dixon.
Matt: Hinch needs to get a win before I consider him a true championship contender.
Danny: Yep, I hope that win comes for Hinch soon.
Matt: I do believe that win will come in either Toronto or Edmonton, however. You know Hinch is going to step it up in his home country.
Toni: I think Hinch and Pagenaud have a win coming this year. Yes, Pagenaud.
Danny: I reckon Pagenaud will grab a maiden victory.
Toni: He’s also sixth in points.
Matt: Yeah, Pagenaud could ending up throwing this championship fight on its head. He’s ultra consistent and surprisingly quick. Dude is mega talented.
Toni: I don’t know that he’ll contend for the championship but I’m just saying … he might be a darkhorse.
Matt: If Simon was driving for Penske or CGR he would be scary good.
Toni: No I think he’s already scary good because he’s running that strong in a Schmidt/Hamilton car.
He’s the real deal.
Matt: No questions there.
Danny: Nor here.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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