KERCHNER: The Heat Race


IndyCar LogoCONCORD, N.C. — Fans of Indy car racing will have a lot to digest this offseason.

The most important and latest item to ponder is Friday’s news that IZOD will be leaving the series at the end of 2013, again leaving North America’s top open-wheel series without sponsorship.

Since its first season as the Indy Racing League in 1997, IndyCar has operated with and without title sponsorship as Pep Boys, Northern Light (forgot about them didn’t you) and now IZOD have come and gone.

While IndyCar Series officials painted a rosy picture on Friday, this is not good news for a series that is already trying to reinvent itself in an attempt to regain sponsors, fans and television ratings.

But clearly what IndyCar has on its side as it hunts a new sponsor, is great racing — racing that has seen 10 different winners this season.

• But it is that same racing that is one of the concerns that fans will be pondering this winter as IndyCar’s new director of competition Derrick Walker continues to promise changes to the Dallara chassis and the engine combination that will bring higher speeds back to the series.

Many, including this writer, aren’t sure that’s the correct path to take as the current product IndyCar puts on the track is far more interesting than anything else currently on the market outside grassroots short-track racing.

• After a season where seven different teams have won races, IndyCar fans are facing a return to the Big Three next season, and possibly the Big Two. Penske Racing will only get stronger with the return of Juan Pablo Montoya to the series and Chip Ganassi Racing is looking to add Tony Kanaan to its operation, weakening KV Racing in the process.

Andretti Autosport started the season strong, but has staggered through the second half of the campaign.

• Montoya’s return to open-wheel racing and the prospect of Kanaan with a highly funded competitive team, however, are definitely things to look forward to.

• It appears doubleheaders will not only return to the schedule for a second season, but there will more of them. Certainly more interesting than watching qualifying.

• And then there is the highly controversial addition of a race, likely at the beginning of May, on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where traditionally the Indianapolis 500 has been the only IndyCar race on the schedule.

It’s an unlikely break from tradition, but if it brings more fans than the speedway has seen for qualifying in recent years, it very well may be the right move at the right time.

Anyway you slice it, there’s a lot for Indy car fans to think about.

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Mike Kerchner
Mike Kerchner is a veteran racing journalist and has been a member of the SPEED SPORT family since joining Chris Economaki at National Speed Sport News in 1991. He is now the Editor-in-Chief of SPEED SPORT Magazine.