Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lotus Blossoms

Among the stories from last weekend's season opener at St. Petersburg was the performance of the engines from the three manufacturers. Lotus' story is probably most interesting, with their relative tardiness and the drama behind Dragon's engine supply issues. Contrary to many predictions, not one of the Lotus engines wound up scattered on the Florida asphalt. That's not to say they didn't have their share of issues. I've always found Lotus' participation as an engine builder to be curious. Lotus is not historically known as an engine company, unlike both Chevrolet and Honda. In fact, Lotus does not build any of the engines in its road cars-they all come off-the-shelf from another supplier. So what marketing advantage does it gain as an Indycar engine producer?

Anyway, based on my own pure speculation, observation by Television, and comments by actual professional racing journalists, here are some notes about the Lotus-powered cars:
It might not be surprising to not see any engine failures. Lotus may have felt most comfortable (especially as the sure backmarker) simply de-tuning the engines to a guaranteed safe level to prevent the embarrassment of a 'blowed motor' live on TV during the season opener.

It was reported that the cars with Lotus power were a few mph slower than the rest of the field at the end of the longest straightaway. Elsewhere, it was mentioned that they were unable to reach their 12,000 rpm redline thanks to a software problem. I would think this is an issue that would be quickly resolved.

I'll also speculate that Barber's smooth surface will be kinder to electrical systems than the very bumpy streets of St. Petersburg.

I'm not saying to expect a Lotus victory come Sunday, but I'll be looking for them to be performing notably better.

Until next time,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hello, 2012!!!

Hello everyone, and welcome to the 2012 Izod Indycar Series! I'm very excited that the season is underway. First and foremost, I think moving forward helps with the healing process. I still get very emotional thinking about Dan Wheldon and that day last October, but with real competition and real storylines, I feel like actual progress and improvement can be made.
Obviously the next biggest news item are the 2012 Dallaras and the three different engines powering them. With a number of teething problems made painfully public, skepticisim for both car and engine ran high. It looks, however, that much of that was unfounded. Any time entirely new systems are introduced, problems can be expected. I don't think the mechanical attrition rate was unreasonable. Even the engines seem well-matched. Latecomer Lotus' were a bit behind, but Sebastian Bourdais had his running well inside the top 10 late in the race.
Race control looks to have improved-the start and restarts were all very clean, and car-to-car incidents were apparently very rare. (Though I wonder how much of that is drivers unsure of how much abuse the new cars can take?)
While veterans dominated the podium, some of the off-season's new hires proved to be good investments. First up was 4th place finisher James Hinchcliffe. A preseason no-brainer for the car, Hinch backed up his antics with a 4th place run. Simon Pagenaud no doubt wonders why he's been running sports cars for the past few years while Sam Schmidt's team looks stronger and stronger all the time. Josef NEwgarden looked good, and can probably be very happy with his 11th place finish for a team not accustomed to running road courses. I don't know that I saw Rubens Barrichello on TV all day, but the standings show that he finished 2 laps down. This blogger was very skeptical of the Mike Conway/Foyt combination, but I think I was wrong. Their mechanical problems belied a great run.
On the other hand, 2011 powerhouses will Power, Dario Franchitti, Graham Rahal, and Oriol Servia were mired mid-pack. Power and Franchitti ran on a pit strategy that I had worked out as being an ideal arrangement. I was wrong. Power salvaged 7th while Franchitti wound up a very uncharacteristic 13th. Rahal finished 12th, behind teammate Charlie Kimball, and Servia might have his Lotus engine to blame for his 16th place finish.
If you picked up on my undertone, you'd have figured out that I'm no fan of ABC's coverage. While the Vegas segment of the pre-race show was emotional, the race coverage left a lot to be desired. ABC seemed intent on only following the leader while battles raged back in the pack, on giving out zero information about pit strategy, and on relaying nothing about the cars that dropped out. JR Hildebrand and Sebastian Bourdais both were running in the top 10 late in the race, only to disappear without explanation. I really wish I had a computer set up to watch live timing and scoring data on... I guess all we can do is beg ABC to do a better job. I think the series is better off with bad coverage there than any coverage on an obscure cable channel, but all-around poor coverage does no one any good. St. Petersburg wasn't the only victim-I watched last year's 500 the evening after attending the actual race, and could scarcely believe they were the same event.
I guess I don't have a lot of comments today, but am happy we got a good (if not great) race with no major drama to kick off the 2012 season and move everything forward. I believe 2012 is an "End of the Beginning" kind of year and will prove to be pivotal in the history of the sport. Until next time,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Are You Ready?

Are you ready? Ready for American Open Wheel Racing's new era? This Friday will see the opening practice session for the 2012 Indycar season. When the first car takes to the streets of St. Petersburg, we will be seeing the biggest, boldest step forward for the series since 2008's merger. Not only will 2011 and its joys and heartaches be put behind us, the future of open-wheel will be laid out before us. One gets the impression that it's time for the series to step into its own. Gone is Danica Patrick's walking publicity machine. Gone is the visually and aurally offensive 2003 Dallara/V8 package. Gone is an officiating regime that angered, baffled, and robbed the series of badly-needed credibility.
Instead, our regular cast of characters are here to shine on their own considerable merits, joined by old friends and a popular and respected Formula 1 veteran. They'll be piloting all-new Dallara DW12 race cars boasting the latest advances in safety, performance, and styling; each one powered by an all-new turbocharged 2.2 liter engine built by one of a trio of invested manufacturers. The rule book is new and will be wielded by another respected veteran who promises a new and fresh approach to the officiating job.
There are a lot of questions that remain-how well will the DW12 race? How equal are the different manufacturer's engines? How durable are these new car/engine combinations? Will the drivers adapt successfully? Will Beaux Barfield live up to his expectations? These are interesting questions, and make for the most highly anticipated season opener since... well, I'm not sure. I'm looking forward to a great season and hope you are, too.