With the 2011 season looming just on the horizon, the premier form of open wheeled racing in North America appears to be more prepared than ever to get things started. This series has taken notice, asked some questions, and made a few changes to their overall program with the intent of giving the race fans, the paying customers, if you will, more value for their dollar.
The first and most obvious change is the name. No longer know as the Indy Racing League, this series has now been christened as “Indy Car”. This change came to be after research by Indy Car officials indicated there were a significant number of people that were unfamiliar with the Indy Racing League, but were well aware of what an Indy Car was. Now that the differences between the IRL and CART have been resolved it only made sense to rename the series to something the race fan could relate to.
In what is seen as another positive change for 2011, Indy Car has revised the schedule to include races in Brazil, Japan, and two stops in Canada. The series also added a new venue with the addition of the Baltimore Grand Prix, a temporary street course in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. Indy Car will also return to New Hampshire Speedway after a 13 year absence, and a return to the historic Milwaukee Mile is slated for mid June. Chicagoland, Kansas, Watkins Glen, and Homestead-Miami will not host events during the 2011 season. These revisions allow Indy car to be exposed to new markets, and allow opportunity for growth, and additional revenues for race promoters, as well as Indy Car.
With a few exceptions, the teams, drivers, and sponsors have remained pretty much unchanged. It is certain that Team Penske and its’ line up of Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, and the 2010 runner up Will Power will be a force to be reckoned with in 2011. Andretti Autosport will field cars for Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Danica Patrick, and of this writing it is uncertain who will replace Tony Kanaan who signed with DeFerran-Dragon Racing and will team with Raphael Matos. Chip Ganassi has expanded his racing empire with the formation of Service Central Chip Ganassi racing. This team will see Graham Rahall, and Charlie Kimball slated as the primary drivers. The Target Chip Ganassi team should remain without major changes, Scott Dixon, are signed for 2011, and Dario Franchitti will defend his title. Dreyer-Reinbold will be back with Paul Tracy, Justin Wilson, Ana Beatriz, and the return of Mike Conway. Team owners said they will be happy to see Mike back in the car, and fully recovered from his injuries suffered on the last lap of the 2010 Indy 500. Long time USAC star and team owner Sara Fisher will relinquish driving duties in 2011, and hand the keys over to Ed Carpenter. JR Hildebrand , a veteran of Indy Light competition has been secured by Panther Racing to replace Dan Wheldon in the #4 National Guard Car. Dan is rumored to be talking with Chip Ganassi, but there have been no formal announcements made as yet. Other teams to watch are HVM Racing with Simona De Silvestro behind the wheel. Fazzt Racing with Bruno Junqueria, and long time veteran Alex Tagliani. KV Racing will come ready with Mario Moraes, Takuma Sato, and E.J. Visio in their stable. You can never rule out the five car team of Conquest Racing, or The teams of A.J. Foyt, Bryan Herta, Dale Coyne or Newman-Haas.
With the revised schedule, and the majority of talent still in place, there is no reason to believe that the 2011 Izod Indy Car series will be any less exciting than in 2010. Last season saw two, three, and even four wide racing on the high speed, high banked ovals. The Indianapolis 500 was one of the most watched sporting events worldwide. The Street and road course races drew huge crowds. The innovative TV packages with patented “Side by Side” coverage that allowed viewers to never miss a minute of the action was a first in the industry. Overall, it’s easy to see why this is the Premier open wheel racing series in North America.
So, don’t hesitate, the first race of the season is almost upon us. The Honda Grand Prix in Saint Petersburg, Florida is set for March 25th through March 27th and would make a great excuse to visit the sunshine state, and get out of the cold, all while enjoying the stars, and cars of Indy Car.