Double points – winners and losers

First of all – what a season! The finale lacked that final twist of drama, but that would be being far too greedy and demanding to paint that as a negative.

Understandably, in all the excitement of who would be crowned champion a few topics had to be sacrificed, so I thought I’d pick up on one of them: the impact of double points on the final points standings. Unlike Formula One’s cynical adoption of the concept, IndyCar’s awarding of double points for certain races carried a logic beyond guaranteeing a more interesting finale, instead rewarding drivers who were strong on the big oval races of 500 miles, counteracting the effect of double-header street races on the points battle. Of course, there was a chance that double points could have produced a last-race decider where there might not have been one or even a different champion, but it would have required a specific, unforeseeable set of circumstances.

First of all, let’s see who gained most and who lost out because of double points. There’s no hard cut-off to place a dividing line, but generally you would want to be as high on the list and as far away from the bottom as possible.

Driver Indy Pocono Fontana Total
Montoya 30 50 32 112
Castroneves 40 40 16 96
Munoz 32 35 24 91
Hunter-Reay 50 12 14 76
Andretti 35 22 19 76
Dixon 5 30 40 75
Kanaan 5 19 50 74
Briscoe 12 32 26 70
Carpenter 5 30 35 70
Power 24 20 22 66
Pagenaud 18 28 10 56
Hinchcliffe 5 18 30 53
Bourdais 26 14 12 52
Newgarden 5 24 20 49
Sato 11 9 28 48
Aleshin 9 26 8 43
Saavedra 15 15 13 43
Wilson 8 16 17 41
Kimball 3 13 18 34
Hawksworth 10 8 15 33
Huertas 13 10 9 32
Rahal 5 11 12 28

Note: both Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin missed a Triple Crown race due to accidents in practice. Both were awarded half-points as if they had started the race but finished last. In both cases this amounted to 8 points. Bonus points are not included.

The clear winner in all of this was Juan Pablo Montoya, gaining more than two race victories’ worth of points. Team-mate Helio Castroneves was the next-highest beneficiary and comparing him to his other team-mate Will Power, his first two results helped to keep him in the hunt for the championship. Power himself lies in the middle of this table, suggesting that double points were a largely neutral factor in his championship challenge, apart from the two other Penske drivers benefiting considerably.

The table doesn’t quite tell the whole story however. Graham Rahal gained the least amount of points from the Triple Crown races, but how does that compare to the rest of the season? Sure he failed to capitalise on the opportunity, but maybe these were just normal results for him? To answer that we should look at those points’ impact on their total:

Driver Indy Pocono Fontana Total  Points Total
Carpenter 5 30 35 70 262 26.71755725
Montoya 30 50 32 112 586 19.11262799
Munoz 32 35 24 91 483 18.84057971
Andretti 35 22 19 76 463 16.41468683
Castroneves 40 40 16 96 609 15.7635468
Briscoe 12 32 26 70 461 15.18438178
Saavedra 15 15 13 43 291 14.7766323
Sato 11 9 28 48 350 13.71428571
Kanaan 5 19 50 74 544 13.60294118
Hunter-Reay 50 12 14 76 563 13.4991119
Dixon 5 30 40 75 604 12.41721854
Newgarden 5 24 20 49 406 12.06896552
Aleshin 9 26 8 43 364 11.81318681
Hinchcliffe 5 18 30 53 455 11.64835165
Bourdais 26 14 12 52 461 11.27982646
Wilson 8 16 17 41 395 10.37974684
Huertas 13 10 9 32 314 10.1910828
Pagenaud 18 28 10 56 565 9.911504425
Power 24 20 22 66 671 9.836065574
Hawksworth 10 8 15 33 366 9.016393443
Kimball 3 13 18 34 378 8.994708995
Rahal 5 11 12 28 345 8.115942029

3 races from “22” (turning the double points races into extra races for the purpose of this analysis) makes 13.6% so a driver would look to be above that mark for double points to have had a beneficial effect. In this table, a new name jumps to the top: Ed Carpenter, who was towards the middle in the first table. But there’s a good reason for this: the Triple Crown races constitute half of all the races Carpenter entered, as he only ran on the ovals. Oddly though, the 26% figure tells us that actually Carpenter did slightly worse at under double points, as he only raced in “9” races, so really the figure we are looking for is 33%, which he falls under. Of course, that is all down to the incident at Indianapolis which meant he finished far down the order instead of possible winning. Carpenter’s only victory of course came in Texas, which is not a Triple Crown race.

So we look to the next name on the list and it’s Montoya once more, confirming that he was the best driver at utilising the opportunity double points provided (or perhaps covering up for his failings in other races, considering the Triple Crown extra points made up a fifth of his total). Tony Kanaan actually hit our 13.6% marker, showing that he wasn’t just good at these three races (and he didn’t even enjoy a good race at Indianapolis).

Below Montoya are the same drivers as before in roughly the same order and it’s a similar story down the bottom. This is no surprise – if you didn’t do well in three races with 300 points on offer, your final tally isn’t going to be that great! But there are quite a few drivers who did even worse in the Triple Crown races than was their usual, such as Rahal. The stand-out name there is Power, but when you consider he took away 66 extra points divided almost evenly across the three races it perhaps indicates how good the rest of his season was rather than a poor Triple Crown performance.

The thing this data really tells us is that the purpose of double points was fulfilled.Look at the top names on both lists and they all have one thing in common: they are known for being good on ovals. Saavedra in the second table is a bit of an anomaly, but he didn’t have a very good year on most tracks; small wonder that the double points races gave him a boost.

So, there we are. Double points complemented or reflected the drivers’ strengths and seasons. In that regard, it can be considered a success.

The championship show-down

Three races to go. Three weekends. Three different kinds of circuit. 216 points up for grabs. Even for a series that generally produces tight and dramatic finishes to the season, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series is shaping up for one hell of a championship run-in. Each contender will have to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses if they wish to emerge victorious. So who has to do what and who might do it best?

Will Power

Nearly always a contender for the championship, Power has yet to make that final step and actually become champion. He’s had many opportunities thrown away at the final hurdle due to his weakness on ovals, but his impressive victory in last season’s finale led many to brand him the clear favourite for this year’s crown. But despite that he has failed to lay the foundations for a runaway championship victory. Having finished inside the Top 10 in every race before Houston, he’s since managed that in only four of the last seven races and only one of those was a podium position. The numbers aren’t too disastrous at first glance but they have come in hand in hand with some pretty average performances by Power’s standards, as well as a bit of lottery going against him. But for a raft of penalties that Power brought upon himself (including a call for blocking at Pocono which dented a strong showing) he would be in command of the championship and have its fate in his own hands. He still leads by four points, but that is virtually nothing in this series.

Power’s weakest circuit will probably be the very next race, Milwaukee. He finished 3rd there last year but was 17th the year before. A good result would set him up nicely for Sonoma where he is usually very strong and then he needs to go for at Fontana as he did last year – the cautious approach hasn’t worked for him in previous oval showdowns. Mainly Power needs to not make any silly errors like at Pocono and his destiny will be in his own hands.

Helio Castroneves

A look at Helio’s finishing positions this season would lead one to wonder how he is still so close to his team-mate, with only a single victory compared to Power’s and only one more podium finish. Helio’s campaign has been all about profiting from Power’s misfortune and grabbing bonus points where he could. It’s remarkable but a driver with both lower highs and lower lows could be so close, but Helio has shown his trademark consistency, plugged away and finds himself with as good a chance to win the crown as he could have hoped for.

Helio has a good recent record the first two tracks IndyCar will race at next. Sticking to his consistent approach and then going for victory in the final round would be a sound strategy for him. Barring any more mechanical dramas like he experienced last time around at Mid-Ohio, Helio has a good a chance as anyone to get that championship he so badly wants.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

With an Indianapolis 500 victory this season, RHR is already a champion. But it’s not enough for him; he wants another championship and even then he won’t be done. RHR’s hunger has got him into bother this season – Long Beach being the striking example – but without it he wouldn’t be where he is today (and certainly wouldn’t be a 500 champion). He is the driver who has won the most times (three) so far this season, but sits 63 points back thanks to some calamitous results: 18th, 19th twice (and started 19th at Indianapolis), 20th and 21st are the kind of results that derailed his championship bid last year. But the steely RHR isn’t going to give up without a fight and no-one should expect anything less from him.

RHR has won twice at Milwaukee in the past two years and will be fancying a three-peat to get himself right back into the championship hunt. He’s had mixed fortune at Sonoma but a solid result there on the back of a high points haul in Milwaukee would make him a dangerous opponent in the final round, having already experienced the pressure of needing a good result at Fontana to win his first championship.

Simon Pagenaud

Only one point behind is the Friendly Frog himself, the impressive Simon Pagenaud. Last year he just missed out on being mathematically eligible for the championship at the final round. He and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports continue to work miracles and with team-mate Mikhail Aleshin as a solid benchmark for speed results have been extremely solid. Like championship leader Power he has two victories, although those having been his only trips to the podium coupled with finishing dead last twice accounts for the margin between the two. He is yet to get a big result on an oval (his highest finish is fourth) but he is always improving on his craft.

Pagenaud is theoretically the weakest contender due to his oval form. He and the team simply need to go for it at the remaining races and roll the dice if needs be.

The others

Whilst they are mathematically not out of it and could conceivably have a say in things if circumstances go their way, realistically Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon are not quite in the running to become champion this year, 101 and 108 points adrift respectively. But if Montoya can combine a last-round victory with a podium or two then he could produce a shock upset. And only a fool would count out Scott Dixon with so many points on offer. Their destinies lie in the hands of the leading two as much as it does in their own, but take nothing for granted in motor racing.

Someone also worthy of mention is Ed Carpenter. He was never in the race to be champion because of his car-sharing deal with Mike Conway, but he has proved to be a very potent force on the big ovals. Victory at Fontana is well within his abilities and if he takes it that will deprive the title contenders of a lucrative 20-point gain on their rivals. With their recent form, Sebastien Bourdais and Tony Kanaan could also be spoilers at one or two of the final races. And as always with IndyCar, there are plenty of other drivers capable of spoiling the party.

Prediction

My head tells me that Power is in a very strong position providing he doesn’t make any mistakes. My head also tells me that Power is all too capable of making a mistake at exactly the wrong time and blowing it. Helio on paper will be nearly if not as good as Power on the remaining circuits and is generally more reliable on-track. For that reason I think Castroneves is the betting man’s choice for the championship. RHR will make a spirited attack but one piece of misfortune culminating in a low finish and he’ll need extra help. Pagenaud is in the same boat but with more of a mountain to climb when comparing his skills set to the kind of circuits coming up.

Whoever the winner is, they will have to work hard enough to dispel the criticism targeted at them that they are somehow reversing into it. As embodied in the diversity of challenged that await the hopefuls, the IndyCar series will require someone to step up to the plate if they wish to be crowned champion on August 30th.

Indianapolis 500 qualifying – a thumbs-up

Breaking tradition. Too complicated. Making Saturday pointless. Those were just a few of the criticisms levelled when the new qualification format for the Indianapolis 500 was announced. It’s certainly a big change and it definitely isn’t simple. But the fears about Saturday quickly evaporated as time started to run out.

In years gone by the issue of who would actually make it into the race was as big a story as who would start on pole. That has declined in recent times due to lower car counts; this was the second time in three years that only 33 cars attempted to qualify. But if there wasn’t any bumping at the back of the field, the drama of bumping at the front of the field took centre-stage.

The Fast Nine wasn’t a new feature for this year but incorporating it into the new format has really brought it into its own. The main change in the format is that Pole Day and Bump Day have effectively been swapped. Every car must qualify on the Saturday, with the aim being to get into the Fast 9 to fight for pole on Sunday. Failing that, the aim is to get into the top 30. Unlike in previous years, a driver didn’t have to withdraw their previous qualifying attempt in order to have another go. This meant that as the session neared its end a long queue of cars accumulated on pit road, all waiting to take advantage of the improved conditions and their tweaked set-ups. However, cars could withdraw their previous times in exchange for jumping to the head of the queue.

So it was on Saturday that as track conditions improved and speeds increased a number of cars decided to do just that. Tony Kanaan attempted to break into the Fast Nine but failed. Marco Andretti got himself in. Then, with not very long to go it was Ryan Hunter-Reay who tried to bump J. R. Hildebrand out but posted a disappointed run and failed to break in. No grid positions were being finalised, just championship points and yet there was a sense of high drama going on at the Speedway. The only thing that was missing was with only 33 entrants there would be no separate qualifying group for the last row on Sunday, so if one of these drivers had crashed they could still attempt to qualify as high as 10th; I feel that keeping this in all cases would have added even more drama to proceedings, although one could argue that this would discourage drivers sitting just on the outside of the Fast Nine from risking having to start 31st for a shot at fighting for pole (I think most would though). But it’s a minor niggle.

Sunday then was like previous Saturdays, culminating in a very exciting and tense Fast Nine. I wouldn’t claim it was even more exciting because of the story of how it had come to be, the dramas of the previous days. The Fast Nine is an exciting thing in itself. But overall Saturday did make qualifying weekend much more exciting than the previous two years. There wasn’t anything that revolutionary about the change and it’s not a game-changer in itself. But taking away the Fast Nine on Saturday and making the fight to qualify for it the  focal point of the day’s running has (in the absence of bumping from the field entirely)  manufactured more drama in the weekend, drama that is much-needed in a television window. The battle to qualify for the Fast Nine wasn’t new, the Fast Nine itself wasn’t either and yet by splitting them across separate days we got two days of excitement and unlike double-header races they were two different kinds of drama (which is why I am more in favour of qualifying races for the double-headers than two individual races). Adding old-style bumping in future years (hopefully) and the format will really come into its own, with two days of action and both ends of the grid.

As I said, it’s no game-changer but as with other things IndyCar is trying at the moment, I see the new Indianapolis 500 Time Trials format as a springboard for success should better days for the series come around.

Back in the swing of things

IndyCar was finally back last weekend. Although it didn’t come back with a bang, we nevertheless had an interesting and intriguing race to enjoy. Now we are in the middle of a fortnight’s break, itching to see what we saw in St Pete was the unveiling of a pecking order or whether we are still in the midst of the typical early-season shake-up, just with a more traditional result.

Chevrolet v Honda

Round 1 went to Chevy; however, Honda were much more competitive than this time last year. Takuma Sato won the pole and was a contender for race victory. With a better strategy, he might have found himself in the mix at the end, but it was Ryan Hunter-Reay who flew the flag for HPD. The ever-impressive Simon Pagenaud managed 5th, whilst Sato himself placed 7th ahead of two other Hondas, Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden. With the Top 10 split evenly between the two manufacturers, we could have some genuine parity in performance this year. One could even argue that as the five Chevrolet cars were all Penske and Ganassi cars – teams that are always expected to be strong – it shows just how genuine Honda are.

Penske v Ganassi

For the last few years Penske have had the jump on Ganassi and 2014’s first race was no exception. Like last year though, Scott Dixon finished in the Top 5 and this time he didn’t have to fight through the field to do so. What’s more, Tony Kanaan placed 6th with a very respectable performance on a street course. Even the “G2″ drivers showed pace, Ryan Briscoe finishing 10th and Kimball doing quite well until his mistake forced him out of the race.

In years gone by we’ve seen that Penske early performance give way under a Ganassi resurgence. Here’s hoping that Ganassi’s early form will be complemented by Penske staying the course. With Power’s determination and focus from last year’s finale visibly carrying through to this season’s opener, I’d certainly like to think it’ll happen.

Andretti and the rest

Penske and Ganassi might take up a third of the regular field but there are still plenty of challengers ready to take victories off of them and maybe even the championship. The last ones to do that staked their claim early, RHR taking the next-best place for Andretti Autosport. Last year Andretti started on a real high, winning three of the first four races and five overall. However their best results were split between three of their drivers and ultimately their highest-placing driver Marco Andretti didn’t even win a race. RHR, Marco and James Hinchcliffe all need to up their consistency or results (in Marco’s case) to have a chance of being champions; the three Andrettis keeping their rivals off of the podium and out of Victory Lane will be key to their challenge.

It won’t just be Penske and Ganassi they have to have their sights on, however. Last year’s closest challengers ultimately ended up being Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports with Pagenaud producing an astonishing long-shot chance at the championship. They already have a Top 5 finish this year; if they can replicate last year’s form with a higher average finishing position, they will certainly be in the hunt again.

Outside of these teams it was pretty much business as usual. KV Racing placed a good 11th and13th, Rahal Letterman Lanigan were mid-pack again, with Newgarden taken Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to a Top 10 position that is becoming less and less of a novelty. Ed Carpenter Racing vindicated their hiring of Mike Conway for road and street courses, running 3rd at one point before dropping the ball during the first caution period and failing to pit with the other leaders. Wilson once again showed his and Dale Coyne Racing’s abilities by securing yet another career Top 10.

The rookies

Four drivers started the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg having never raced in IndyCar before. As might have been expected, it was Mikhail Aleshin,  a driver who’s spent many years in feeder categories to Formula One (including winning the Formula Renault 3.5 championship) who finished highest, a very respectable 12th for SPHM. Carlos Munoz was one of the final finishers but he will only improve; Carlos Huertas had had barely any time at all in an IndyCar yet finished the race, albeit practically last. Possibly the most impressive performance however was Jack Hawksworth for Bryan Herta Autosport; after a few doubts over whether he was ready to make the jump, he handled himself very well before being caught up in the confusion of the first restart.

Bye-bye, double-file restarts

I have to say I did not enjoy the single-file restarts we saw at St Pete. The track is plenty wide to accommodate two files of cars , but this wasn’t the reasons all street and road course will now only see a single file; apparently it is now to keep things simple, so the fans know what to expect. After the disastrous restarts we saw in Detroit and Baltimore (although sadly the latter is no longer  a problem) and the problems going double-file in Toronto and Sao Paulo (again, the latter sadly no longer an issue), I was very supportive of restarts being single or double-file being reviewed on a circuit-by-circuit basis. Now there is uniformity outside of the ovals in the name of simplicity. Personally I see this as very insulting on the intelligence of IndyCar and even casual fans. IndyCar is a series full of diverse talent racing on diverse circuits even within single types of courses. There will still be a split between single and double for the Triple Crown races. To my mind this was a simplification asked for and needed by no-one, to the detriment of the racing spectacle and the series’ ethos.

By the way, I don’t think reverting to single-file caused the accident at the first restart. Yes, moving the designated acceleration zone further down so more cars could be together at the green did lead to a concertina effect, but those happen at every restart and the drivers have handled many of those successfully. Ultimately the pace car drew off the racing line too late green flag was waved too early; vilified by many (including myself) at the time, in reality Power was an innocent party in all that happened. The format is a problem, but not because it’s beyond the drivers to execute it properly.

Moving on

Long Beach is the next race, having swapped in the order with Barber. The scene of Takuma Sato’s first series victory, he and A.J. Foyt Enterprises will fancy their chances after last week’s strong showing. But only a daring individual would bet on Will Power making it two out of two. As ever, the thrill is in the anticipation and the enjoyment in its resolution. The St. Pete race wasn’t an all-time classic, but we have become rather spoiled these past few years. Still, let’s hope for more as IndyCar 2014 moves on to its second round.

It’s March!

The IndyCar new year is upon us and after a fairly quiet winter with not much else to write about except pontificating on proposed changes and the series’ current status (which I wished to stay well away from in the dark winter months!), the month of March is here and the first race of the new season will be starting very shortly.

I haven’t been very active because of the demoralising and demotivating factors of work and winter, but after thinking about it I realised I still wanted to carry on with this project with a slightly different approach to the road I was going down; back to basics, as it were.

So a Happy New IndyCar year to you all and I’ll try to put some ideas to screen shortly to kick off the season and build momentum for St. Pete :-)

A personal tribute to Dario Franchitti

Over the coming days there will surely be many tributes to Dario Franchitti, written by authoritative journalists and bloggers alike. They will cover his career, his life so far and his achievements and any attempt by myself to do so will inevitably fall short.

So instead I want to give a more personal tribute to Dario. I only first became aware of him in 2010, alerted to the IndyCar finale in which he was a championship challenger. As with many F1 fans in the UK I had never before heard of this Scot, by then already a champion twice at Indianapolis and in the series itself. That night Franchitti claimed his third series title and at the time I thought little more of him.

As I steadily became more interested in IndyCar during 2011, Dario was my natural focus of interest. Though not terribly patriotic and strictly speaking from a different nation of the UK’s political union, he was from the same country as myself and a success with continuing momentum; as a sports fan in general I have been drawn towards athletes or teams with the potential to break established records and write history (for example, Michael Schumacher). I witnessed the second round of his rivalry with Will Power from the perspective of Team Dario and was as pleased as anyone could have been under the circumstances when he secured another championship.

Through 2012 however the loyalty faded, through no fault of Dario’s. I was firmly pulling for Takuma Sato and not for Franchitti to win his third Indianapolis 500. IndyCar had ceased to be about Dario for me. As the season rolled on, ended and then gave way to a new one new figures supplanted Dario in my priorities.

Yet I never lost respect for Franchitti and still had a soft spot for the man. Even in his native land Dario can be a polarising figure. There are those who support him for flying the flag and representing Scottish and UK motorsports abroad, cheering on his assault on IndyCar’s records and numbers but there are also those who have little time for him, seeing him as a complainer on the receiving end of favouritism. Neither one is more or less commendable; sport wouldn’t be the same without heroes and villains. But though having moved away from the first position I resisted moving fully to the second; whether his struggles with the DW12 leading to his appearance in Victory Lane becoming a rarity had anything to do with it or not, another victory for the master would have been welcome to me.

I cannot really appreciate the full value of Dario Franchitti to IndyCar and motorsports because I was introduced to him more than halfway through, missing out on critical parts of the Dario story. His successes in this and other series are something I’ve mostly read about instead of experiencing for myself. Yet though my membership of the IndyCar fan community has not been that long, from interacting with fans and detractors alike I have been able to somewhat marry their shared experiences and opinions with my own limited ones and the raw facts of his career.

Though Dario will not grace the cockpit of an IndyCar again, I hope his presence in the paddock will remain for many years to come and that he will always be around to voice his thoughts and opinions on the series, if not having an active role himself in its operation and future, be it as a Ganassi employee or another capacity.

Good luck for the future Dario and thanks for everything.

Schedule – initial thoughts

After all the hints and leaks, the IndyCar Series 2014 schedule has been released. It contains few surprises to anyone that’s been following closely, but in case you haven’t here are the big stories:

  • St Pete returns as the opener but will NOT be a double-header.
  • Long Beach becomes the second race of the season, moving Barber down one.
  • IndyCar will not return to Brazil for now. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis effectively takes its spot on the calendar.
  • Milwaukee is moved to August and breaks up what would be an even more gruelling June & July schedule.
  • 2013’s double-headers remain as they are.
  • The season will finish with a short oval, road course and super speedway. Fontana is again the final race.

I’ve actually come around to the condensed season idea despite criticising it before. 6 months is a long off-season certainly, but I hold out hope that at least one of those early international races will be in place in 2015. Also, in my experience long breaks don’t affect my enthusiasm or enjoyment of other sports; as a casual NFL fan I actually love that it only takes place over 5 months, with action every week (apart from the Pro Bowl, which I find pointless viewing) from early September to early February. I can enjoy the sport for a few months and then immerse myself in something else, refreshed and recharged for when it comes back. It’s going to suck a bit as a die-hard IndyCar fan but there are some benefits.

One of the big plus points is that there are no unseemly gaps in the calendar; the next event will be at most two weeks after the previous one. I would argue that this is more beneficial to keeping new viewers than having a month’s and five weeks’ break in the second half of the season for the sake of extending it to October and having a shorter off-season. I would be very frustrated getting into something and then having to wait three months for the final four events to play out. Yes there’s a chance that new viewers would forget about IndyCar over 6 months, but it’s also possible that they’ll come back to it refreshed and interest renewed. NASCAR and F1 may have long, packed schedules to milk their appeal as much as they can but the increased money is the only guaranteed benefit. As a F1 fan with the season ending in November and winter testing starting in February there’s almost no time to switch off and take some time away to renew the enthusiasm, to the point where I’ve had enough by the time Singapore comes around, with only a championship battle able to keep me interested. I’d also probably be a little more interested in watching NASCAR if there wasn’t a race every week, which makes watching any individual race seem pointless to me as it matters so little in the grand scheme of things (especially with the Chase). Another example of having too much of a good thing is soccer in the UK: the new season starts in August and before you know it the Premier League, League Cup and Champions League are in full swing, not to mention international competition, the busy Xmas-New Year period and the FA Cup. The season might end in May but before you know it it’s July and the pre-season games are taking place. I could provide other examples, such as the NHL and MLB’s long schedules. The bottom line is long schedules are great for the die-hards but a hard slog for the casuals.

Of course it would be far preferable to have been able to fill those gaps in with new races and have a 7-month season which to my gut feels like the happiest medium. But that’s not where IndyCar is really at at the moment; if we could have races, they’d probably be there already. Make no mistake, 2014 represents a contraction in losing two races and adding a new one at the same venue as an existing one. That’s just the realities of today making themselves known. The series is not big and it’s not rich. If the calendar being the way it is helps the series, I’m all for it.

As for the actual races, the loss of Baltimore is a downer as I always liked the circuit. Losing Brazil is a big blow as the event was well-attended and had a great atmosphere that was apparent even on TV; being that that ties were cut on Sao Paulo’s side, it also sends an unwelcome reminder about the appeal of IndyCar. The Indianapolis road course circuit remains to be seen although I’m very excited about it and confident that the DW12 can throw up a race as good as any other. I’m also pleased that there are no new double-headers. Having watched two on TV and experienced one personally it does leave me with the sensation of the two races having blurred into one with the whole actually being less than the sum of the two parts. There are upsides and downsides but as a fan I find they’re only really adding something if both races turn out to be out-standing in different ways. They help the promoters of their events and so they can have as many as they like if it helps the series, but as a fan I can take them or leave them.

In all the doom and gloom the best news for me is that none of the ovals have disappeared. IndyCar seems a long way away from the ideal of half ovals, half twisties (I rarely even hear about that being an ideal anymore) but at 6 of 18 races having the series being at least 1/3 oval is a good thing in my opinion. We can dream of Michigan or Phoenix but until people actually start going to ovals again (instead of just complaining there aren’t enough of them) then IndyCar is doing well by holding onto the ones it already has.

To sum up, the 2014 schedule highlights the problems IndyCar has. But in of itself and as a platform for the future, I give it a thumbs-up. It could be so much worse; it can be a lot better. Hopefully we’ll start seeing the latter real soon.