Jason and Adrian bring you part four of the season review extraordinaire, covering the people in front of, behind and in front of the camera, going fast, sponsors who step up and a sad farewell.
Enter stage left, the brother of series champion Will... Damien, he appreciates the name. Not only did he rip into his brother at the press conference before Sonoma, but has now recorded some videos with stars of the Indycar series, plus some others for a little off season derision. Here is Episode 1... Hinchcliffe.
In a series that boasts some of the most exciting and competitive racing on the planet, why would qualifying be any different? 2015 saw 6 Different pole sitters across the 16 race season and more often than not, driver were making a challenge at track records all over the country when they did. Compare to this to F1 where a Mercedes has taken the pole position at every race this year bar one and you get an idea of just how tough it is to put yourself on the front of the field in Indycar. Interestingly though, how many times did the Indycar Pole Sitter win that same race in 2015? Just once.
From pre season testing through to May, ugh, Chevy's, Penske, Ganassi's, this season is going to be a clean sweep for those guys. Or not so. Enter Graham Rahal and his team Rahal Letterman Lanigan. Not only did they step up to take on the power teams and dominant aero kit, they beat them. After some years of struggle for Graham and his team, everything clicked, winning at Fontana and Mid Ohio, taking his championship challenge down to the wire at Sonoma where thanks to double points he ended up forth in the championship, a hard end to a brilliant season for the buckeye who nearly brought home the beef..
Sticking close to the last letter, it is grerat when a new sponsor joins up with an Indycar team, it is even better when they step up and really be a visible force in the paddock, but also outside, Steak 'n Shake certainly did that. Here's hoping that unlike last years nomination, they stick around!
A sombre end to this weeks review, In August we lost a racer and a gentleman in Justin Wilson, the series wont be the same without you. The image will take you to the Wilson Children's Fund, or you can check out the auction over at eBay.
Part three this week, K to O. Jason and Adrian share some great memories of people behind this year, and next, and a little in race action.
K - Katherine Legge & Grace Autosport
Announced during the lead up to the Indy 500, a new team will take to the field for the 100th running of the Indy 500, Grace Autosport. A team made up entirely of females, from the racer, Katherine Legge, Owner, Beth Paretta, all the mechanics and staff.
L - Love, Love is All You Need
They say that behind every good man is a great NHRA drag racer... or something like that. At least that's the case of Graham Rahal who tied the knot with girlfriend Courtney Force this season, a season in which hands down, Rahal drove better than he has ever done in his career. Whether motivated by a desire to impress his new bride or by a desire not to be labelled as the slowest driver in the relationship, the son of 'stache came within shouting distance of becoming Indycar champion. Clearly love has done young Rahal good.
M - is for 'MERICA
"More American drivers doing better. That's what the series needs." is what people, mostly Robin Miller, have been saying for years now. Well, at Iowa this year, the dreams of a Nation were realised when not only did an American go to victory circle but also took spots 2, 3 and 4. The significance of this moment can't really be stated enough as fans and journalists alike were all talking about the stellar performance of the homegrown drivers and rightly so. For a series built on American drivers racing on American ovals, seeing the young Yanks take, not just the top 4 positions but 6 of the top 7, at a race in America's heartland warmed the cockles of the hearts even if you're not American.
N - Next Generation
Given the close competitive racing in the Indy lights this season the future looks bright for Indycar with some drivers coming to the twilight of their years behind an Indycar. In Indy Lights, we saw a new car with a rookie champion, Spencer Pigot (USA). In Pro Mazda, Santiago Urrutia (Uruguay) and in USF2000 Nico Jamin (France). All three drivers will be moving up the ladder, with Pigot landing at least a three race deal including the 100th Indy 500.
O - On-Boards
Not only does the racing kick some serious butt on the track, but the spectacle can amaze off it too. How Marshall Pruett manages to cut so much action down into 15 minutes is beyond me. Take Fontana from this year, (above), over 3,000 on track passes, tight, fast racing, few swear words, but as this video will demonstrate, the drivers have balls...
Iowa is well worth checking out too, mainly for Karam and Carpenter having a few moments of... gesticulation
Since TV ratings are all the rage these days, how about a look at the UK TV figures across the BT Sport platforms (1, 2 and ESPN). You can find a breakdown of the figures from 2014 here. But in summary, Indy 500 was popular, so was Mid-Ohio (as always?) and that was that.
Figures are sourced from BARB, the TV audience data collection company here in the UK, I am, to be fair always dubious over how accurate they are, but I have been told... fairly.
A summary of 2014 first.
Moving onto 2015, for those keen to see more eyes on the series and growth in interest and support in Indycar, you will probably like what you see...
And in graphical form...
...and '14 v '15...
A few notes. These are recorded from TV only, not online players and app viewers. I did get a lot of tweets about the quality of the Indy 500 coverage, in that viewers lost coverage on some platforms. NOLA was on the red button therefore recorded no figures. Mid-Ohio drew a usual season high and Fontana was up 1800% on last year, yes it was a crazy race but starting at 9pm rather than 1am probably helped.
So why the jump? The producers at BT got in touch with me last winter asking for opinions on the coverage, and it going forwards, man, many people obliged, these were all forwarded. One common theme was improving promotion ans that is something that we saw throughout the year on the BT channels. A dedicated Indycar advert which promoted the current DW12 cars (plus bolt-ons) as well as a dedicated advert for the Indy 500 which encapsulated the speed, drama and danger of the event, although unlike last year, there was no UK based studio providing coverage and analysis.
Mainly because we didn't look for them last year, I have now included the highlights figure too given that Indycar can be on at the most unsociable of times, as well as getting in the way of Downton Abbey and such other visual delights.
Since most other series still have a couple months left on their season, I have not included those as a point of interest / comparison as with last year.
In Summary, UK TV viewership of Indycar doubled on live broadcasts on 2014, and if you add in re-runs and highlights, trebled. Indycar would often top the weekly top 10 on BT:ESPN. So one final note, 2016 through 2022, BT Sport will continue to provide UK TV coverage of Indycar. (Google crawlers, check)
N.B. BT Sport now has a channel 'BT Sport Showcase' where they show selected football games for free, next May, go on...
Part two this week, F to J. Jason and Adrian share some great memories of races and people, but also some farewells?
F - Fontana
The California oval which provided us the most exciting and yes, probably, the most dangerous race of the season will not be back for another race next year and that's a real shame because for those of us who had the pleasure of watching the race this season from a seat other than one in an Indycar, it provided wall to wall and wheel to wheel excitement, you know, the kind of thing Indycar is built on. The 2015 event also produced a popular victor in Graham Rahal albeit not one without controversy after Rahal left his pit box with the fuel hose still attached.
G - Goodbye...?
See above, plus a number of tracks are still in the air as to whether or not they will return in 2016, under this microscope are Pocono (Sanctioning fee and attendance), Milwaukee (Needs a promoter, and attendance), and NOLA (Probably still drenched, and promoter issues) to go with Fontana who according to track president Dave Allen, hope to return... one day, (we hope so!).
H - Holmatro Safety Team
The guys who keep the drivers safe are one of the best assets the Indycar series has, they have had a year of it too. But as fans, we are grateful for their work, a Hammerdown beer or two is on the cards for them this offseason.
I - It's A New Track Record
No matter what you thought of the aero kits this year, there remains no doubt that they added to the speed spectacle. Six tracks had their current lap records broken during qualifying. The big one though remains, the Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, 21st and 22nd May 2016, will the echoes of Tom Carnegie ring out for the first time since 1996?
J - Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden entered the 2014 offseason with the label of "future talent" written on him. He now enters the 2015 offseason as the possible key to the whole driver market for next year. After wins at Barber and Toronto and strong showings elsewhere, the young American closed out the season to the sound of rumours that Ganassi and Penske are interested and may come calling in the offseason. While losing Newgarden would be a huge blow to a a CFH team that got very little out of Ed Carpenter and Luca Filippi this season, opportunities to drive for Chip and The Captain just don't come along very often. In addition to all of this, Newgarden stellar 2015 season did not go unnoticed by Honda and it's widely known that the Japanese company would like nothing better than to bring a former Indycar poster boy of theirs back to the marquee. Whatever the future holds for Josef Newgarden, 2015 will be the year that he finally went from prospect to star.
Back by popular demand... well one person liked it! Jason and Adrian look back at some of the key moments, places, happenings, events, drivers and a whole lot of irrelevancy through the medium of A to Z. A new batch out every week as we count down to the new season in ummm a while.
A - Aero Kits
A little later than planned, at the request of the manufacturers, the big on track development of aero kits finally arrived in 2015. They did not get off to the most auspicious of starts, debris cautions galore at St Petersburg. But one thing for sure, track records fell all over the place. They sure made an Indycar damned fast!
B - Brazil... or not
Much talk was made during the 2014 off season that Mark Miles was looking to expand Indycar's schedule to include races overseas and naturally, one of the first mentioned was a return to Brazil, even as soon as to open the 2015 season. Although deals and a date were put in place, by January the towel was thrown in and the proposed race in the nation's capital of Brasilia was scrubbed from the calendar, dealing a blow to Miles' expansion plans. Although publicly, Indycar officials have remained committed to more international races, the focus now seems to have shifted toward adding new American races like Boston and returning to old stomping grounds like Road America and Phoenix as part of an expanded 2016 schedule.
C - Close but no Castroneves
Quick, answer this one. In his first 16 seasons driving for Team Penske, how many of those seasons did Helio Castroneves fail to win a race?...... go on.... do you have it?..... The answer is one and it was the ill fated 2011 season. If it hadn't been for that season, 2015 would hands down rank as the worst season of Helio's career since joining the Captain in 2000. While team mates Juan Montoya and Will Power chased race wins and a legitimate shot at the championship, Castroneves almost became the forgotten man at Penske if not for the year that Simon Pagenaud had. One has to wonder if Castroneves will ever bag that elusive championship that would rubber stamp a remarkable career. Right now, all we can say is the same thing we say every year at this time and that's, maybe next year.
D - DW12
Sadly we lost another driver again this year through what was almost entirely a freak accident but given the amount of huge shunts that we saw in 2015, it could have been much worse if not for the sturdy and reliable Dallara built DW12. The Dallara designers cannot be praised highly enough for just how safe they have made the current Indycar chassis and if you don't believe me, just ask Ryan Briscoe after the massive accident he had at Fontana this year.
E - Extended Offseason
It was long last year, guess what! It's long again, the season finished in 2014 on 30th August and we did not have the cars back on track until 27th March this year. It did not go down too well with fans, teams, drivers, sponsors, you get the idea... So what do we have to look forward to this year? The season finished on 30th August, and the next confirmed race is... St Petersburg... 11th March. So yeah, shorter. There are murmurings about the possibility of a race in Mexico City, possibly in February. Confirm it any time you like guys!
That is Part One done and dusted, back again next week.
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