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April 25th 2012 - By:  Mark W. Theisen

     WEST BEND, WI   April 22, 2012:   2012, the year of change for the Indy Racing League has seen those changes take its toll on the entry list for this years 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 set for Sunday May 27th.

     Unlike last year, the 100th Anniversary year for the 500, when there was a plethora of the old Dallara chassis and Honda engines producing entries and competition at a 10 year high, we all knew that this year would be different and for a while the coveted 33 starting positions were in a precarious position of not even being filled. But in the end, if all goes per the announcement, we should see a full field and perhaps a bump of two on the final day of qualifications for the 500.

    Many factors have contributed to the smaller number of entries this year, most notably the introduction of the new DW12 Dallara chassis and the debut of engine competition between Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus, the latter being way behind in the development category and thus placed the biggest shadow over the IRL season and the 500 as well.

    At the outset Dallara promised delivery of the necessary chassis to begin the season and assured the competitors that all would have what they needed by May 1st.  The building of their huge new factory right in Speedway (Indiana) has helped them achieve this goal.

    Next each engine manufacturer committed to fielding 10 teams and prepared their budget accordingly signing teams and drivers as 2011 unfolded and right into 2012 so as to have the necessary 10 or in the case of Chevrolet, 11, ready for the season opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

    Lotus, however, began behind the “eight-ball” and has yet to recover.  They showed at St. Pete with 5 cars and it has been tough for them to get past that mark.  This sent the red flag right to the top of pole at Indy Racing headquarters and they looked to both Honda and Chevrolet for help and the two came to the plate with the extra engine programs to put the number of cars entered for the 500 at 34, albeit, that total includes a 6th for Lotus and Lotus has assured the IRL that they will be ready, yet one has to wonder just how ready they will be.

     I ask that question because the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was open for one day of practice on April 4th for one driver from each of the nine teams that are entered for the full season.  That session was open to more than 9, however, Lotus was unable to participate because of their engine development and manufacturing program being behind that they skipped the test session and thus put them even farther behind when it comes to the 500 as both Honda and Chevrolet now have a base line with which to start at for the practice and qualification sessions that lead up the 500 whereas Lotus has none.

     Those practice sessions were on a limited basis for Honda and Chevrolet as well, as they had to adhere to a new IRL rule that requires a competition mileage restriction on engines of 1,850 miles before changing an engine so teams that did participate at Indy had to do so with an engine that they had to qualify and race with at Long Beach 10 days later.

     That new engine rule came in play for Chevrolet right before Long Beach when an engine in James Hinchcliffe’s Andretti Autosports car quit on him during a test session at Infineon Raceway.  That development caused General Motors and Chevrolet to change the engines in all 11 of their cars at Long Beach.  The penalty for the engine change is 10 starting positions at the next race, so in the case of Long Beach should a Chevrolet driver win the pole, as Ryan Briscoe did, he would have to start 11th and thus all the Chevrolet drivers started worse than 11th but in the end Will Power in his Penske Chevrolet won his second straight race of 2012 and continues the dominance of Chevrolet despite the penalty at Long Beach.

     Just prior to the announcement of the entry list for the 500 Bryan Herta Autosport, a Lotus team, announced that they would not make the trip to the next and last race before the 500, in Sao Paulo, Brazil on April 29th, citing preparedness as the reason to further shadow the Lotus program again.

    The field for Brazil will still be at the minimum 26 as the Andretti team is taking a fourth car for Brazilian driver Ana Beatriz so as to enable her to race before her fellow countrymen.

     So as now have it the 500 entries are:


     Andretti Autosport:  Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ana       Beatriz and Sebastian Saavedra.

     Team Penske:  Will Power, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves

     KV Racing Technology:  Tony Kanaan, E J Viso and Rubens Barrichello

     Ed Carpenter Racing:  Ed Carpenter and a second car with no assigned driver as yet but hoping to find funding for Buddy Rice.

    Panther Racing:  J R Hildebrand


     A J Foyt Racing:  Mike Conway and Wade Cunningham

     Dale Coyne Racing:  James Jakes and Justin Wilson

     Ganassi Racing:  Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal

     Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing:  Takuma Sato and a second car with no driver as yet assigned but hoping to find sponsorship for Michel Jourdain Jr., or Luca Filippi.

     Sara Fisher Hartman Racing:  Josef  Newgarden and Bryan Clauson.

     Schmidt Hamilton Racing:  Townsend Bell and Simon Pagenaud.


     Bryan Herta Autosport:  Alex Tagliani

     Dragon Racing:  Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge

     Dreyer & Reinbold Racing:  Oriol Servia

     HVM Racing:  Simona De Silvestro

     Newman Haas Racing:  This is the 6th Lotus as sponsorship is being searched  for Formula One driver Jean Alesi

     This is what we have to date, despite the lower than hoped for entries the field is still stellar in nature.  Castroneves, Franchitti, Dixon and Rice are former Indy 500 winners and it is hoped that Carpenter can find the funding for Rice to make the race.

      The number of rookies and there credentials are impressive:  Barrichello with his Formula One resume; Newgarden and Cunningham former Indy Lights Champions with Cunningham winning three Freedom 100 Indy Light races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Clauson who is reigning and two-time United States Auto Club National Driving Champion; Pagenaud the 2010 American Lemans Series Champion; as well as Legge and Jakes.  The number of rookies could grow to 8 with Alesi if that ride materializes.

     Assuming that each of the seasons regular 26 drivers have a back up car in place for the 500 it was wondered why teams would not enter a second car and use that car once the primary driver was qualified in the race to gain additional exposure for either their engine manufacturer or a sponsor with a new driver but  that idea was quickly shot down as the number of spare parts both for the Dallara and the engines is just not sufficient enough to do a second, third and so on as was done in past years.

     Any numbers of capable drivers are available; many with 500 experiences, but the economic conditions we are enduring right now dictate what teams do or can’t do.  Money is not flowing into the IRL right now as sponsors are sitting on the fence to see what develops with the new chassis and engine competition and who they should side with in the years to come.

     The IRL has come a long way in a short time with the massive developmental program they under took for 2012.  Many tracks are sitting on the fence just as potential sponsors are waiting to see what happens this year.  The first three races have been competitive and entertaining but Chevrolet is shining through but I expect Honda to have its “house” in order for the 500 and the battle between the two power plants should be exciting and I feel Lotus will also be competitive. 

    The body work implementation on the DW12 for oval tracks will sees its debut at Indy so that is yet another intangible to consider and how well the enhancements will help the car, or not?

     Many questions to be answered this May and that is reason enough to be part of the crowd and watch the new cars, engines and drivers develop.

Stayed Tuned!
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