NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Open Wheel Wednesday: Reasons To Be Optimistic About 2013

Now that we are officially underway on the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, there are several early indicators that there is a lot to look forward to this year. A number of things went very well in St. Petersburg, and if they continue the same way, they would be good for the IndyCar Series in the long run.

As noted in Pace Laps on Monday, ratings were up for the season opener on NBC Sports Network. Part of it could be momentum from last season, but whatever the reason it’s great that there were more eyes than usual on the broadcast. NBC Sports Network is setting a great standard for not just IndyCar broadcasts, but for anyone doing motorsports television. The broadcast crew is knowledgeable and interesting and they know how to keep viewers interested, giving a good mix of facts and statistics and color commentary.

The NBCSN crew also has a great grasp of how to broadcast the whole race. This is not a team that focuses just on the leaders, a la NASCAR. They show the entire race, no matter which drivers are involved or what position is in dispute. It probably helps that they have 24 or 25 drivers to focus on in a given week rather than 43 like their NASCAR counterparts, but they do a great job and should be commended for not focusing only on the leaders.

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The drivers on the podium each week won’t be the only ones smiling if the IZOD IndyCar Series can carry its momentum forward in 2013. Credit: INDYCAR LAT USA

One new aspect of the broadcast crew was lead announcer Leigh Diffey. Bob Jenkins is not someone who can be replaced, but Diffey is someone fans can get to know and enjoy in his new role. He’s a veteran announcer and has covered road racing series on Speed Channel for several years. It was a good move on the part of NBCSN to hire Diffey to lead the IndyCar broadcasts going forward. He seems to have nice chemistry with fellow booth announcers Wally Dallenbach and Jan Beekhuis and showed a knowledgeable and capable leadership at St. Petersburg.

On the track, a couple of popular drivers really hit their stride and took the spotlight. Many people have been hoping for great things from Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro with KV Racing Technology. It’s the best equipment she’s ever had and she benefits from the presence of veteran teammate Tony Kanaan. She’s run well at St. Petersburg before, so it may be too early to get overly excited, but a solid sixth-place result and a strong run in the top five before her tires gave out is reason for optimism.

Race winner James Hinchcliffe is another fan favorite, and starting the season with the Mayor of Hinchtown atop the podium for his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory, was certainly popular. That’s key. Sure, the popular drivers can’t win every week, but it is a great way to start the year and certainly generates interest, especially when it’s a new and different face posing with the trophy.

And that brings up one more point, although a slightly dubious one, about why there should be optimism for 2013. The most frequent comment at the bottom of these IndyCar columns last season referred to the dominance of Penske and Ganassi and how tired fans were of seeing those same drivers run roughshod over the field every week.

Helio Castroneves ran a strong second at a track he’s excelled at, and Scott Dixon drove the wheels off it for fifth, but Dario Franchitti started the year behind the eight ball again, the first driver out in 25th and last place after losing the car and crashing only 18 laps in. Will Power, to be fair, started on the pole and ran well early, but was a victim of a distracted JR Hildebrand who flat ran him over under caution. Still, there were a lot of teams, not least of all Andretti Autosport, who looked good. The days of the ho-hum Penske/Ganassi dominance may have come to an end.

Sure, INDYCAR has some issues. Hazy leadership prospects, questions about future direction, hit and miss efforts to really market the sport to its full potential, and occasionally an identity crisis as to where the niche they need to fill lies. But on the track and for the viewers, there was a lot to be happy about in St. Petersburg, a lot to focus on as things to grab on to and grow in 2013. There were reasons for optimism.

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