"It's unfortunate that backmarkers kind of screwed up the championship battle." -- Helio CastronevesLast season the oval races in the IndyCar series often appeared divided among four distinct groups: P1-P4 were almost always the Ganassi and Penske entries, the second group of cars from Andretti and Panther, the third group of backmarkers from D&R Fernandez, Foyt, Rahal and Vision entries (although the Rahal and Vision cars moved up late in the season), and at the back was Marty Roth in what can only be described as P-Roth (“He’s going the distance, he’s going for speed”.)
Perhaps this unintentional segregation is what contributed to the record number of green flag laps, as having only a few cars in defined group made the races more hardware friendly. With but a few exceptions (think Carpenter v. Castroneves) it wasn’t too often that someone from the second or third group found themselves competing outside of their general group on an oval and trying crazy maneuvers that would result in a crash. This made for many exciting race with predictable contenders.
The predictability seemed a precursor to even less cars until there were only three or four teems running crazy mad races of eight furious entries. So all winter fans like yours truly have been lamenting that we are heading in the wrong direction with car counts and that clearly there is no reasonable ROI to attract new owners to the IndyCar series. That costs need to be lowered and existing assets need to be marketed with more enthusiasm in order to attract more cars and have better racing.
Well, I and others like me may in fact be wrong. It just may be that costs are low enough, that sponsors are out there (maybe even a series sponsor), and that car counts are instead be on the rise. First, Curt Cavin is reporting that Vision Racing will be fielding a three car entry next season featuring ECG, The Wrecker and AJ4. Plus, if the intrepid folks at TrackSide Online are correct in their reports then there are several more entries on the way come opening day in Miami in the form of a return of Jon Herb, a two-car Cahill entry and possible second cars for Foyt and D&R (although the latter of which may also leave the series entirely).
If all this comes to pass then that makes 23 cars, and that doesn’t even include any possible rides for series regulars like Buddy Rice, Buddy Lazier, Sarah Fisher and Ryan Briscoe or Indy Pro champions Jay Howard or Wade Cunningham.
So if it comes to pass that we as IndyCar fans are getting what we want (more cars on the tracks) then we will also be inadvertently be getting the other thing we want (more competition). Am I saying that Jon Herb is going to bust out a run of podiums? Hardly. I’m saying that we’re going to have more random acts of unkindness on the track resulting in less predictability.
The fact is that nearly all of these additional entries have two things in common: lower budget entries and drivers with very little recent IndyCar-level experience. By the end of last season the races were run with such comparative professionalism that even rookies like Andretti 3.0 and Jeff Simmons were avoiding brain farts and driving safely, but if you take the majority of last season’s cars and now add Jon Herb, PJ Chesson, Milka Duno, Jeff Mitrisin, Darren Manning, AJ4 and reportedly Jaime Camara then you have a whole lot of possibility for crashing during the learning (or re-learning) curve.
And with crashes you never know who will get collected, but at some point the odds are that your favorite driver will be affected. Next thing you know you have a change in the points standings, a trip to the infield medical center, and an angry interview with Jack Arute about “backmarkers”.
Now, I’m still very excited about more cars and more drivers because the odds are one of those drivers may rise to take the mantle from Hornish, Wheldon, et al some day. At the same time the introduction of so many exuberant but inexperienced drivers could make for a long season for the guys at the front of the pack. Just ask Spiderman about his games of tag with ECG last season.