Questions about the 2014 IndyCar Championships were answered at the Milwaukee Mile. Equally some new questions about the series, longer-term, emerged and not all of them easy ones to answer.
Will Power left Wisconsin a very happy man following a performance that must have made his title rivals slightly embarrassed. Dominant and pretty near flawless, Power used his road course prowess to nail the uniquely ‘flat’ mile oval. For the neutral observer, the disappointing performances of Castroneves and Pagenaud, allied to Hunter-Reay’s technical failure, made the race something of a subdued anti-climax and knocked some of the wind out of the title chase.
With the series bound for Sonoma – a track Power hasn’t finished lower than 2nd at since his horror shunt in 2009 – it seems destined to be a straight Penske fight for the title. Many observers hailed Power’s win at Milwaukee as proof he is now the complete package but that is perhaps a bit premature. Castroneves will still have something to offer at Fontana but it is hard to see beyond Power this weekend, barring disasters.
Juan Pablo Montoya impressed again after a run of disappointing performances following his Pocono win. Mathematically still in the hunt for the championship, next season will be of more interest to the rejuvenated and fired-up Colombian. Similarly so for Pagenaud – assuming he gets a move to a larger team – after a season demonstrating how quick he is. With title sponsor DHL confirmed to 2017, we must expect RHR and Andretti to come back swinging and one day soon, Tony Kanaan is going to take the #10 Target car back to victory lane!
Whilst there is much there to be positive about, Milwaukee highlighted some cracks in the IndyCar set up that cannot continue to be ignored. Oval races outside of Indianapolis are still struggling and last weekend’s event will not really help. It is difficult to determine whether fans have just lost interest or if the slightly tame oval racing, relative to the street/road courses, is leaving fans a bit lukewarm to the concept.
One area that definitely is not helping is down force. The Mile is more akin to a road course than Iowa or Pocono, but running road course levels of wing is killing the spectacle. Watching Kanaan trying to pass Power it looked like he could get in to the slipstream but ‘washed out’ in the turbulent air. The fact the cars rarely ran nose-to-tail and were strung out most of the race confirms that IndyCar needs to do something; tinkering only, but something.
Michael Andretti’s Marketing division have clearly been working very hard to build the IndyFest event. I’m a big fan of the Mile and hope to see it continue to expand but IndyCar as a governing body need to help them out. Racing like that is not going to keep the attention of new fans. Otherwise the series runs the very real risk of having only 1 or 2 ovals, at best, outside of the ‘500’ come 2016.
On the positive side, whilst a merger of two teams might not seem like great news, the decision of Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to join forces bodes well for the series. The fact both teams recognised that their progression is limited by single-car entries highlights the level of competition and professionalism running through much of the grid. This can only be a good thing for the series, as long as IndyCar ensures that new entrants aren’t priced out of competition. These small teams played a big part in keeping IndyCar racing alive during the post-split years and will continue to play a key role in its growth.