Our top three stories to watch in IndyCar in 2014

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on March 24, 2014 9:47 am


With so many changes coming to IndyCar in 2014, not the least of which is the new name for the series — the Verizon IndyCar Series — trying to keep track of who’s who, what’s what, and who’s where is going take a few races to get sorted out. Of all the changes in the off-season, here are the three I’m looking most forward to seeing play out:

The new Honda engine package and the Ganassi/Andretti swap between Chevrolet and Honda. I realize that’s actually two different topics, but it’s quite difficult to unlink them from one another. Honda has been slow out of the gate each season since the new engine formula was introduced in 2012, but in both 2012 and 2013 they ultimately found their stride and were very competitive by the end of the year. This season, they’ll introduce a brand new twin-turbocharger configuration and Andretti Autosport will be carrying the banner as the focal team in the Honda stable. Michael Andretti’s outfit has been extremely stout the last two seasons and had to be pleased with the Chevrolet performance, particularly given the 2012 IndyCar Series championship that was secured by Ryan Hunter-Reay. I don’t think Michael would have switched allegiances if he didn’t feel that Honda could make an engine to run strong out of the gate. Andretti Autosport and Honda have a fantastic history together and many people were surprised the band was broken up for 2012. Now all the players are together again, and I expect to see Andretti Autosport pick up right where they left off with a very powerful Honda powerplant pushing their four-car effort around.

New points structure will keep a lot of drivers in play at season’s end. For the most part, I absolutely love the new points structure. Even though INDYCAR has been fortunate to have the championship fight come down to the wire every year since 2005, it’s nice to see them tweaking the formula slightly to make it even better. I particularly love that extra points are being paid for the 500-mile triple crown races as that really starts to put some emphasis back on the oval races, which numerically make up a much smaller portion of the schedule than it should. One could also easily make the argument it is a nice counterbalance to the double-points weekends that exist on the double-header street courses events at Detroit, Houston, and Toronto. (Yes, I know they are separate races, but how different did all the races really play out at the three double header weekends last year? It was mostly the same players in contention for each race with the deck only slightly reshuffled in each case.) My only quibble with the revamped points structure is the plethora of bonus points and penalties that come into play. I’m of the opinion that championships should be won and lost on the track during the races (Indianapolis qualifying, to some extent, withstanding). Trying to keep track of bonus points and penalties in the last few weeks of the season and who is still mathematically eligible to win the championship is going to be a nightmare. But if it all works out as intended, the series should head to California in late August (whose bright idea was that again?) with even more drivers in play and more drama to unfold.

How will Verizon impact the visibility of the series this year? There is no doubt that having Verizon as the title sponsor of North America’s premiere open-wheel racing series is perhaps the biggest thing to happen to racing in America since the unification. Verizon has more name recognition to the common man than any other title sponsor in open-wheel history, save possibly for FedEx. The reach of Verizon cannot be overstated, but how that plays out for the IndyCar Series remains to be seen. All indications are that Verizon will activate this partnership in ways INDYCAR has never known. But until we actually see how Verizon pushes the Series and puts it in front of the American public, we really don’t know how they will do. When IZOD came on as title sponsor prior to the 2010 season, they really pushed the Series and tried to make the drivers more recognizable. Sadly, after the 2011 season — whether because of a change in management or as a reaction to the tragic Las Vegas race — IZOD backed away and had little to do with the Series for the following two years. We can only hope that Verizon will be as excited about their IndyCar opportunity as the fans, series, and teams are. If Big Red flexes their muscle and really makes a great effort to promote their new property, open-wheel racing might actually have something on their hands that can no longer fall on deaf ears. By September, we’ll know.



How the Verizon title sponsorship and leadership changes in marketing and communications play out. I’m very interested to see what direction this takes and if it reaches to all levels, from fan engagement and grassroots initiatives all the way to national campaigns.

How the top teams fare with the engine swapping and new/old drivers coming on board. Montoya’s back, but with Penske. Briscoe’s back, but (back) with Ganassi. Franchitti’s retired and Kanaan’s new to Ganassi. Ganassi’s new to Chevrolet. Andretti’s back with Honda. It’s musical chairs and should be very interesting to watch. Oh, and I want to keep an eye on that Muños kid, now full time at Andretti. He might be good.

How the inaugural GP of Indy goes. It’ll finally be “The Month of May” again at Indy, even though it’ll encompass two races. I’m anxious to see how the GP is received and how the racing plays out on the road course now that it’s been tinkered with some more.

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