INDYCAR 2015: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview
As IndyCar revs up for its first race on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, fans are a-buzz about the new aero kits and the closer racing they should produce. Providing teams with the ability to have more creativity in the aerodynamic design of the Honda/Chevy duos has appeared to produce closer racing instead of widening the gap, as a dynamic mix of spec and non-spec rules pump life into IndyCar.
While Mercedes is running away from the shrinking fields of cars behind them by a second or so in F1, you could throw the proverbial blanket across the top 13 teams in IndyCar, at least according to pre-season testing at NOLA. They were separated by a whopping half second in New Orleans (a new track for this year also) and virtually the entire field was only a second apart. So the question becomes – is Honda still lagging a bit behind Chevrolet, or are the new aero kits allowing them (credit F1 co-development here also) to creep closer to Chevrolet on the leader-boards? We are about to find out this weekend as the Verizon IndyCar Series kicks off this weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida, which became the first race only after Brazil had to be cancelled for a host of political reasons.
IndyCar fans are excited again (as the viewership numbers worldwide can attest) and, even more strikingly, are thinking like F1 fans in terms of “the future” and and “pushing development” at least as far as the limited spec will allow. Fans of legendary IndyCar reporter Robin Miller say things like: “I've been drooling all over Marshall Pruett's detail pics of the cars in testing. There is some seriously cool stuff going on here and its stuff you can see, not like engine or suspension changes. How good they look is a matter of opinion, but browsing the non-IndyCar news, these new cars have made an impact. Websites that don't normally talk a lot about IndyCar featured stories on the new kits.”
As for the overseas perspective, one F1 fan wrote Miller and explained his opinion this way: “I am a F1 fan foremost and I regard F1 as the pinnacle of motor racing. That said, I cannot deny the progress IndyCar has accomplished lately. Their cars look like real rocketships and sound like one, too. Compared to F1, the technical regulations on IndyCar engines are less complex (not less sophisticated) and for the better. I get what F1 is trying to do and the markets they are trying to appeal with this hybrid technology but the reality is that the cars lack the visual and aural impact of the current Indy cars. I saw Ryan Hunter Reay Dallara at the Miami Int'l Auto Show last year and it blew me away. For a machine that's designed to be functional over anything, it was quite the beautiful car. I sincerely hope that IndyCar gets the media exposure it deserves this year and that new fans start watching. Oversea races must be added in the future to gain more global support. Street races in Abu Dhabi, Germany and United Kingdom should be considered. Lastly, I want to see both Simona and Montoya win races this year.
Miller, in his usual blunt tone, responded as such: “If 2015 can be anything like 2014 (11 different winners in 18 races) or 2013 (10 different winners in 19 races) then everyone should be happy. I get that F1 is for techies and one team usually seems to dominate and it’s got millions and millions of worldwide viewers but another Mercedes match race doesn’t interest me. I like the fact I don’t know who is going to win ANY race in IndyCar.”
St. Petersburg had always been a way for IndyCar to sort of ease into the season, since many of the drivers live in Florida and it's a big vacation destination in a beautiful downtown by the water. However, this year, there is some real excitement about the racing itself. More to the point, core IndyCar fans are always going to watch. What the casual viewer notices is described aptly by the Miller fan: “People outside of the IndyCar fickle, were paying attention. People went "WHOA!" when the new cars came out. It's a superficial change in some ways, but to the casual viewer or non-fan, it's a big leap from spec cars. Remember, it was only four short years ago when IndyCar was a truly spec series, and seven years since the reunification, which seemed like a last gasp of a dying form of racing. Something, somehow has worked....” Miller responds: “It’s entirely possible that youngsters and non-fans could be drawn to the new look, which would be a bonus since GM and Honda both seem happy to have their own looks.”
So what about the track? St. Petersburg is a city circuit with concrete barriers, as several IndyCar circuits are. This even distribution of closed circuits, street races, ovals and, of course, the Grandaddy of them all, the Indianapolis 500, is what many believe make IndyCar the only series to test the versatility of driver skill in open wheel racing.Being run on a street that is normally used for street traffic and not as well “prepared” (shall we say) as Monaco, St. Petersburg will be a fist fight, as usual. Cars will have to find creative places to pass, and there will likely be that one or two multi-car pileup that slows the race considerably.
Sometimes, F1 fans have a hard time getting used to all the cautions, but this kind of racing tends to breed them. As Maxim, the magazine puts it: “It is a fast, rough, rugged, narrow complex of 14 turns and a front straight that bombs down a patched-up concrete runway. For the viewer, the race is as white-knuckled as it gets: drivers dive into turns wheel-on-wheel, bouncing over tarmac patches, and emerge in mixed order. IndyCar has that quality that most motorsports (especially Formula One) are so lacking in this modern era: Unpredictability. http://www.maxim.com/cars/racing/article/2015-indycar-season-opens-gut-wrenching-road-race
As for IndyCar coming to Europe? Well, Miller has his terse response: “No doubt it’s a stretch to think IndyCar has much chance to overtake F1 in terms of an audience (although a couple more races with 15 starters might shrink that gap) but obviously there is concern over there and you wonder about how long some teams and manufacturers can hang in there. But IndyCar running a couple of one-offs in Europe isn’t going to help its perception either.”
However, many disagree, including this author. After all, if the NFL can do it....
So you want to watch? Well, unlike many other more famous series' IndyCar makes it easy. Mike Kitchel of IndyCar: “Streaming will be available for all practice sessions in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Streaming of qualifying sessions will be available at all ABC event weekends (the exception being Indianapolis). Qualifying is not available to be streamed for NBCSN races as it is televised. All streaming will be done from our YouTube channel. Youtube.com/Indycar, a platform that will be available worldwide. Races are all televised live in the Unites States and many, if not all, in the U.K. as well. Streaming will also be embedded on the RaceControl.IndyCar.com page for viewing while watching Timing & Scoring.
Oh, and Maxim will be sponsoring the #15 car driven by Graham Rahal, which is a thing of beauty, like the magazine:
Isn't that reason enough to watch?
See also: http://www.racer.com/robin-miller-s-mailbag-for-march-25-presented-by-honda-racing-hpd
And, for viewing options: http://www.indycar.com