From the moment the Indycar series and the Champ Car World Series decided to merge again in 2008, after 12 years apart, the Indycar series has been on an upward trend. After over a decade of American open wheel racing being in the doldrums the series now finds itself in very rude health after a fascinating 2014 Verizon Indycar season. What has been the key to the series recent revival?
The first major point for the upturn in the Indycar series is the merger itself. Back in the day, before the hideous split in 1996, the series was arguably a rival for Formula One with a bevy of professional teams and drivers from across the world, including many with experience of F1. Whilst the series had yet to reach it’s peak of the mid-1990’s the combining of the two series has led to an upturn in grid sizes and the quality of those involved in Indycar.
For example from the 2007 Indycar there were less than 20 full season entries, and in Champ Car things weren’t much better with Champ Car having 18 full season entries. Now fast forward to the present moment and the Indycar grid has risen slightly from two grids of 18 to a regular full season grid of 23 cars this year.
A second factor behind the revival has been the introduction of a new Dallara DW12 car for the 2012 season. After extensive testing by Dallara in 2011 with the help of the late great Dan Wheldon, the series final introduced a new car to the series for 2012 for the first time in 9 years. The buzz around the impressive new Dallara DW12 car gave the series added impetus and momentum, something that was badly needed and subsequently further enhanced with the announcement of new engine packages for 2012 also.
Both Chevrolet and Lotus announced they were joining the series in 2012, and although Lotus quietly quit the series after a disappointing 2012 season, Chevrolet have proved stern competition for the previous Honda dominance. With talk of new aero kits being developed for next year the battle between these two manufactures is expected to heat up further.
A third factor in the development of the Indycar series has been the upturn in driver talent on the grid. Whilst in the initial years of the series merging the driver line-up remained similar to the last years of both series, in the last few years this has changed dramatically. The 2012 season brought a new car and two faces more familiar to F1 fans than American Open wheel fans. The series generated some news headlines when it was announced F1 refugee Rubens Barrichello was join the series in 2012. Although he only raced 1 season in Indycar racing, Barrichello and Jean Alesi, ex-F1 veteran who raced in the Indy 500 that year, set the ball rolling with the F1 connection returning to Indycar.
After being left out in the cold by F1 the talented Paul Di Resta was linked with the vacant Chip Ganassi seat after cousin Dario Franchitti was forced to retire at the end of the 2013 season. Alongside this was a much improved grid in 2014 which contained ex-F1 Wildman Juan Pablo Montoya, who left Nascar to join Penske for the 2014 Indycar season. Alongside him were 5 ex-F1 drivers including Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson for this season. On top of the strong regular season grid, the grid for the centrepiece Indy 500 contained 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve alongside the highly popular controversial Nascar racer Kurt Busch.
Alongside the high profile faces the Indycar grid is being supplemented with an increasingly strong level of young European racers trying their hand at American open wheel racing. Alongside established runners such as the hugely impressive Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais and Mike Conway there has been a recent influx of young talented drivers turning their backs on the European racing scene to pursue a career in Indycar.
Drivers such as Mikhail Aleshin, Luca Filippi and Jack Hawksworth have recently made the jump and their being joined by the likes of one time Marussia F1 driver Luiz Razia and 2012 British F3 champion Jack Harvey who both competed in the feeder Indy Lights series this year. A lot of talented European drivers facing budget problems are attracted to the Mazda Road to Indy feeder scheme, whereby the champions from the U.S Formula 2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights series gain funding and numerous tests to help them progress to the next rung on the ladder. A perfect example of it’s success is Sage Karam, who was the 2010 US Formula 2000 series champion and progressed to take the 2013 Indy Lights crown, guaranteeing him a 2014 Indy 500 drive at least.
Sage Karam in action during practice for this year’s Indy 500
Alongside the European influx there has been an increase in the amount of North American drivers getting their chance in the series, with drivers such as Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal becoming household names in the series over the last few years. Over the next few years many more young North American and European drivers will be making the jump to the Indy Lights series, with a new car and a much more expansive involvement from Indycar teams sure to attract many young hopefuls to the series.
With rumours of a more international calendar with races in Europe and the Middle East for next year, alongside possible new individual aero kits from some of the teams next season is already shaping up to be a classic Indycar season, whereby champions Penske, Will Power and Chevrolet will be aiming to defend their crown from the challenge coming from Chip Ganassi racing, Andretti Autosport and Honda. Further enhancing the series will be a number of talented new European and North American racers looking to push their way onto the Indycar grid, supplemented by a revived and much more relevant Indy Lights series for international young hotshoes to announce themselves to the Indycar paddock. I for one cannot wait for the new season already.
For more information on the Indycar series or Mazda Road to Indy scheme please visit their official websites below
Dallara DW12 Testing photo – sourced from http://www.queers4gears.com credit goes to unknown
Sage Karam photo – sourced and credit goes to http://www.SageKaram.com
Dallara IL15 Testing photo – sourced from http://www.Autosport.com credit goes to unknown