Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Some review of the early 2015 IndyCar season

It's time for some review of the first IndyCar races of the 2015 season. The big change for this season was opening the aerokits for competition. The start wasn't promising. In the first race of the season at St. Petersburg, broken winglets brought many debris cautions plus drivers were already saying it's harder to follow the car ahead. Those were my concerns about the aerokits. The more aerodynamically advanced the cars get, the more they suffer when following another car. And more fragile wings may discourage drivers from overtaking attempts or lead to debris cautions.

Barber was the race I was looking forward the most to see the effects of the aerokits on a road course with fast corners. And it left a good impression, it was a good race. Obviously it's harder to follow the car ahead but it wasn't hurting the racing at Barber too much. And maybe it's only the track characteristics or maybe the drivers have learnt to be more careful with the more fragile wings after St. Petersburg. So, I'm thinking the manufacturer aerokits are a good thing; the cars are a bit more different now. Different aerokits also caused fear of one manufacturer dominating the series. Honda were underdogs in the early season but pretty competitive at Barber, so maybe their car isn't as bad as it seemed earlier. It will be interesting to see how Honda will do at the Indianapolis 500 where they have won 10 of the last 11 races. I hope they could improve their performance on road courses a bit so that we'd have two manufacturers racing for wins all the time. Even better would be if a third manufacturer came to IndyCar soon.

Still, I think IndyCar must ensure the cars don't get aerodynamically too advanced. Aerodynamically advanced cars don't usually provide so great racing plus they put less emphasis on the drivers' skills. Also, while I'd like opening the rules more, it should be done carefully to avoid creating too big performance differences between the manufacturers as well as to avoid costs exploding.

Juan Pablo Montoya is leading the championship by three points to Helio Castroneves. Montoya took a brilliant win at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. At the second-race of the season at NOLA, his pace wasn't so good but as the qualifying had to be abandoned, he started on pole as the championship leader and finished fifth. Great defensive driving at the end of the Grand Prix of Long Beach gave him the third place there and he retained his championship lead at Barber despite finishing only 14th.

Castroneves took the poles in the last two races at Long Beach and Barber. Having to wait for the traffic on the pit road probably cost him the win at Long Beach and at Barber he finished only 15th after running out of fuel. Still, his pace in the last two races shows he's a strong contender for his first IndyCar Series title and surely one of the favorites for the Indianapolis 500 where he could equal A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Sr., and Rick Mears at four wins.

Scott Dixon is on the third place of the standings. After the difficult first two races, he took his first win at the Grand Prix of Long Beach and then was third at the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber. Everything looks to be set for another great season for the three-time series champion.

Josef Newgarden has had a good start to the season, three times in top 10 and fourth in standings. The 2011 Indy Lights champion took his first career win the in the IndyCar Series in the last race at Barber. He seems to have potential to become the next American superstar in IndyCar, and an American superstar would be great for the series in its home market. I heard some speculation that he might be a candidate for the new Haas F1 Team in 2016, even though he may not fulfill the super licence requirements. While I'd love more crossover between IndyCar and F1, I must say I'd be slightly disappointed if IndyCar lost a potential future American star driver to F1.

The defending series champion Will Power is only fifth in the standings. A pole and a second-place finish at St. Petersburg as well as a fourth-place finish after a collision and drive-through penalty at Barber show he has the pace but he should have been smarter at times. At St. Petersburg, an overly-optimistic dive on Montoya for the lead caused a collision but thankfully didn't take the cars out. At Barber, colliding with Sato when exiting the pits was a stupid mistake. He hasn't lost the championship yet but he needs to drive smarter if he wants to win it.

Simon Pagenaud completed Team Penske's four-car dream team. One might have expected him to be a threat for the veterans Montoya and Castroneves for the 2016 seats unless Penske wants to continue with four cars. But Pagenaud has been a disappointment for me. He's been the weakest Penske driver so far and is only ninth in the standings. That's quite poor given he's been in the top 5 in the last three years and his teammates are first and second in the standings.

And few words about the calendar. As it seems that Formula One is going to start the 2016 season only in April, I think IndyCar should try to fill the void of open-wheel racing. Start the season in the Southern states, Latin America, or Australia right after the Super Bowl and have few races before the F1 season starts. The winter break of F1 might make some F1 fans to watch IndyCar.

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