Jun 27, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
Yesterday my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I took a look back at some of the key players from this 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, in examining the goods and bads this year. Today, we pick our top five stories of the year to date, in no particular order:
Tony DiZinno’s Top Five:
Andretti’s assault on the season: There is no question who the best team has been thus far this year: Andretti Autosport is firing on all cylinders. Defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has come out motivated and determined to silence the critics who said he “lucked” into last year’s championship and is driving like a man possessed – he has six podiums when no one else has more than four, a pair of dominant wins and his qualifying has improved.
Engineering changes in the offseason have actually played to their benefit; renewed with Craig Hampson after his rookie season in 2011, James Hinchcliffe has a series-high three wins and is poised for title contention, Marco Andretti’s offseason work has come to fruition with a solid start to the year, and E.J. Viso and Michael Cannon, together again, have produced some outstanding qualifying efforts that haven’t yet borne fruit in the race. Even rookie Carlos Munoz stunned at Indianapolis by qualifying and finishing second.
Parity early ceding to “big team” rise: Through the seventh race of the year at Detroit, 13 different drivers from eight different teams had scored podium finishes. In the last three races, those numbers have dropped to five and three, respectively. The manic stretch of six races in five weekends has been the ultimate strain on crews and the underdogs who starred early in the season are starting to slip back, if slightly. The authoritative nature of the Andretti Autosport and Team Penske squads, in particular, has started to emerge.
Ganassi more than Honda struggling: Honda hasn’t had the easiest first half but on the days that they have come good, it’s been other teams – Foyt, Coyne and Schmidt – delivering the goods rather than Target Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s not as though Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti have forgotten how to drive, but adjusting to this year’s 2013 Firestone tire compounds has been a challenge, as has nailing the setup. A year with only one podium finish and no wins through 10 races is nothing short of a shock.
KV’s changing fortunes: KV always seems on the verge of entering IndyCar’s “top team tier,” but its form is so erratic that it can never truly be mentioned in the same breath as an Andretti, a Penske or a Ganassi. Tony Kanaan’s been revitalized with Simona de Silvestro there to push him, as ever, his oval form has been stellar – including a popular and overdue first Indianapolis 500 victory. But man, for de Silvestro, she needs the road and street courses to come back up. A relatively promising start to the year saw her score three top-10 finishes in the first four races, and feature more regularly at the sharp end of the leaderboard. But on the ovals, she’s been a disappointment, and I’m not sure how much of it is driver versus her car and engine. Regardless, her fast start has fizzled, and she needs to recapture it in the second half.
“Turbo” or bust?: There’s undoubtedly going to be more to come on this front when it premieres July 17, but much of the second half of the season will revolve around how well DreamWorks Animation’s “Turbo” will do at the box office, and the impact it has to a broader sphere of potential viewers. In the first half of the year, we’ve seen the Sunoco/ “Turbo” car on track on several occasions – Kanaan picked up the backing for a four-race deal and has two podiums in his first two races in these colors. Townsend Bell ran the livery for Panther Racing at Indianapolis. Helio Castroneves also had “Turbo” on at the start of the year in an associate sponsorship role. Stay tuned for more.
Chris Estrada’s Top Five:
Tony Kanaan finally wins the ‘500’: We had seen Tony Kanaan come so close to winning the biggest race in the world on numerous occasions. In 2004, he was running second to Buddy Rice when a severe thunderstorm ended the race with 20 laps left. In 2009, he was running third when he suffered a drive shaft failure and slammed into both the backstretch and Turn 3 walls. The next year, he charged from 33rd and last all the way to second before having to pit for fuel with four laps left. But in his 12th Brickyard start this past May, the fan favorite finally got to drink the milk after getting past Ryan Hunter-Reay on a Lap 198 restart. To say it was a well-deserved victory for Kanaan is a vast understatement.
Small teams have their days: With the level of talent as high as it has been in a long while, any victory in the IZOD IndyCar Series these days is a serious accomplishment. In the first half of the season, we saw several of the series’ smaller teams come up big – none as big as KV Racing Technology, who won the Indy 500 with Kanaan. But let’s not forget A.J. Foyt Racing’s first checkered flag in over a decade at Long Beach with Takuma Sato, Dale Coyne Racing’s triumph at Detroit (Race 1) with Mike Conway, and Sam Schmidt’s win in the second Detroit race with Simon Pagenaud. Sato and Pagenaud’s wins were their first in their IndyCar careers.
Ganassi off-Target: After a mixed 2012 season for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, I think we all figured a year’s worth of experience on the Dallara DW12 would enable them to find the “sweet spot” and get their drivers, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, back to their normal, dominant selves. But the turnaround hasn’t come in the first half of 2013. Granted, Honda could be doing better but it’s been really surprising at times to see how far off the pace Franchitti and Dixon have looked. Still, no one is going to count this first-class team completely out, not with their resources or pair of “all-world” drivers.
Let’s race two: When former INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard (now with ‘rural lifestyle’ TV network RFD-TV) unveiled the doubleheader format last year for Detroit, Toronto and Houston, the usual “gimmick” charges got thrown around a bit. And there were concerns about how the teams would grind through two full races in one weekend. But the first of those doubleheaders on Detroit’s Belle Isle Park went off smoothly, even if some of the on-track proceedings were cringe-worthy (see my Worst First-Half Race Award). The event also pulled in a hefty three-day weekend crowd as well. Perhaps Bernard was on to something with these doubleheaders.
An emotional issue: INDYCAR took some heat following the Detroit doubleheader for fining Sebastian Saavedra $30,000 after he flipped off Marco Andretti, and putting Will Power and Sebastien Bourdais on probation – Power for throwing his gloves at Bourdais following an accident and Bourdais for comments toward officials on pit road. It all led to questions about INDYCAR muzzling their drivers’ personalities, and with the series fighting for any public attention it can get outside of the Month of May, those questions may be valid. “If a guy gets upset and throws a glove or something like that – it’s a glove, it’s not going to hurt anybody,” Helio Castroneves told the Associated Press at Texas on the subject. “…You can’t just start throwing fines just because the guy had a bad day.”
Dec 12, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Rookie-of-the-Year award has been through a rough few years before 2013, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick contended for the title. The previous three winners from 2010 to 2012 – Kevin Conway, Andy Lally and Stephen Leicht – were all stuck with subpar equipment and were basically the only drivers entered…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:00 PM EST
As we did for IndyCar, here’s a wrap of my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and my post-season wraps on the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. All posts in one place in case you missed any of them. FEATURES Johnson humble, thankful in banquet speech Jay Mohr’s skewering banquet monologue (VIDEO) NASCAR 2014 silly season…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:30 AM EST
Over the weekend, Audi released a teaser shot of the new-for-2014, but same-name-for-2014, R18 e-tron quattro that will compete in the LMP1 category of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Audi’s official, official reveal with driver lineup will take place next week, as the iconic German manufacturer looks to spread the news out over a long…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
Yesterday, we began our F1 season review with a look back at the biggest stories in the paddock. Now, without further adieu, we’ll follow up with our respective Top 10 driver lists. Tony DiZinno’s Top 10 Drivers 1. Sebastian Vettel: The first half of the year seemed a false dawn. Yeah, Vettel was good, and…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
The winner of the last IndyCar race of the 2013 season, Will Power, has had a bit of time on his hands since the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in October. He made a pit stop into the IndyCar offices in Indianapolis this week, and one of his engagements was participating in IndyCar’s first…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:40 AM EST
Films nominated for Golden Globes tend to have a decent chance of also being nominated for the Academy Awards. So in that sense, it is very good news for Ron Howard’s “Rush,” which received two Golden Globe nominations Thursday morning. “Rush,” which of course captures the drama and battle for the 1976 Formula One World Championship…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:17 AM EST
Sergio Perez arrived late on Formula One’s driver market for 2014, but the Mexican played his way into a seat anyway after strong performances in the final two races when he knew he was a free agent. Perez shifts from McLaren to Force India for 2014, where he will team alongside Nico Hulkenberg. It’s a…
Dec 11, 2013, 8:45 PM EST
After 11 teams contested this year’s Formula One World Championship, the FIA is now looking for a 12th franchise to join the F1 grid in either the 2015 or 2016 season. Potential entries have been asked to submit a formal expression of interest and an initial administration fee of $5,000 to the FIA by Jan.…
Dec 11, 2013, 7:15 PM EST
We may be on the verge of finding out who will replace the retired Dario Franchitti in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (pictured) for the 2014 IndyCar Series. This afternoon, TCGR confirmed a press conference for Friday morning at the Performance Racing Industry trade show that’s currently ongoing in Indianapolis. The release…
Dec 11, 2013, 7:00 PM EST
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at Barber Motorsports Park is in the books for all of Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000. This test marked the first time all three series ran together while on Cooper Tires, as Indy Lights makes the switch this offseason ahead of 2014, and all…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:43 PM EST
Still searching for ways to improve the on-track product on intermediate ovals, NASCAR staged a second test session today at Charlotte Motor Speedway that featured a series of simulated races for different aero packages in addition to traditional single-car runs. “One of the things that we learned and the reason we’re back here with so…
Dec 11, 2013, 4:11 PM EST
Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Juan Pablo Montoya is no stranger to Phoenix International Raceway. But for his second round of IndyCar testing with Team Penske on Tuesday, he might as well have been. Because while it’s one thing to navigate “The Desert Jewel” with a heavy stock car, it’s quite another to do…
Dec 11, 2013, 3:07 PM EST
NASCAR has announced details of an executive restructuring, with former General Motors executive Brent Dewar being named as its new chief operating officer. Additionally, NASCAR has promoted three members of its executive management. Steve Phelps (senior vice president and chief marketing officer) and Steve O’Donnell (senior vice president of racing operations) have both been elevated…
Dec 11, 2013, 2:13 PM EST
In 2014, “The King” of the World of Outlaws will be going after the throne, one last time. Tony Stewart Racing has announced that Steve Kinser, a 20-time champion of the WoO STP Sprint Car Series, will make next year his final full season on the circuit. A year-long farewell tour – dubbed the “Salute…
Dec 11, 2013, 1:28 PM EST
As a young boy growing up, I watched a lot of NASCAR on Sunday afternoons and I always pulled for Dale Earnhardt in the famous Richard Childress Racing No. 3 car. I suppose I was drawn to the whole attitude that both he and that number represented – a tough, determined and strong attitude, no…
Dec 11, 2013, 12:44 PM EST
NASCAR’s worst-kept secret is finally official. Austin Dillon will move up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time in 2014 with Richard Childress Racing, and he’s bringing back the No. 3 to Cup for the first time since 2001. No driver – not even Dale Earnhardt Jr. – has raced with the No. 3 in…
Dec 11, 2013, 11:45 AM EST
With a grid of 69 confirmed cars for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, split between 29 prototypes and 40 GT cars, and a further nine cars listed as alternates, no one will suggest the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is lacking quantity or quality of entrants in its four classes. Still, after compiling an entry list…
Dec 11, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
Now that we’ve completed our IndyCar and NASCAR season reviews, it’s time for us to focus on everything that went down from Albert Park to Interlagos in the 2013 Formula One World Championship. If you’ve been following us this off-season, you know the drill by now. We’ll start with our respective Top 5 stories of…
Dec 11, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
There really doesn’t appear to be much middle ground on Lotus F1′s Twitter account and the rest of its social media strategy. You either love it or hate it; personally, I choose the former but it does have its detractors. Still, after seeing the brilliance the team has come up with in response to F1′s…
Dec 11, 2013, 9:33 AM EST
Sauber has officially passed the 2014 homologation test with its new C33 chassis. Good news for the veteran Swiss team. “The chassis of the C33 has passed all static and dynamic tests of the FIA and is officially homologated. The rear crash test, which is not part of the chassis homologation, will take place separately at…
- Cost cap, double points for Abu Dhabi part of new FIA regulation changes (10)
- Austin Dillon officially confirmed in RCR’s No. 3 for Sprint Cup (7)
- NASCAR Nation must give Austin Dillon a chance to make his own legacy (7)
- New F1 rules announced Monday create more questions than answers (6)
- Surprise (not really): Dale Jr. wins Sprint Cup Most Popular Driver award (5)