IndyCar Title Fight Wide Open
INDIANAPOLIS – Graham Rahal doesn’t have to think hard to answer why the IZOD IndyCar Series has been so competitive in 2012. All he has to do is look back to the series’ last race – the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio and he has the answer.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a field that is that competitive or that close worldwide,” the second-generation driver said. “At Mid-Ohio, you’re talking about a track that’s over a couple miles long, with lots of elevation (changes), and with different engines, different teams. The whole thing. If you missed by a tenth and half in qualifying, like we did, you start 22nd. That’s how competitive it is. We weren’t far off the pole time and we were that far back. It shows how the quality of the driving has gone up. You have to be on top of your game every session of every race.”
With three races to go entering this weekend’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, there are 15 drivers, including Rahal, still mathematically eligible for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
It’s the most since 2000 when 24 drivers were still mathematically eligible to win the title with three races remaining in a nine-race season. And while there are 15 races on the 2012 slate, another of the title-contending drivers, Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Oriol Servia, said 2012 has been the most competitive Indy car racing season he’s experienced.
“I’ve had seasons with very competitive fields, but it really seems this year that all the best drivers of CART, Champ Car and IndyCar have gotten together. There’s not one driver of the top 20 that could not win the race,” Servia said. “You see it in qualifying. You could be fighting to be in the top six or you could be 18th. And those in the middle are very close. In qualifying, you feel as if you really have to give everything you have to make the top six. You feel empty after because it’s such a challenge physically and emotionally. When the competition is that high, it just takes you to a level you didn’t know you could reach. It’s part of the addictive thing that we do.”
Team Penske’s Will Power, who leads the series point standings by five over Ryan Hunter-Reay, said the introduction of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series chassis and the ability to run closer together has raised the level of competition on both ovals and road/street courses.
“It’s insanely competitive,” the two-time series runner-up said. “You haven’t seen anyone consistently win poles or win races. No one dominates this series. It just proves how tough it is and tight it is. You have to work on all the finer points of your driving just to be competitive. Anyone in any other series in the world could come here and I can guarantee you it would take them a good year to get competitive, if they are a good driver.”
Any driver within 107 points of the lead will remain eligible for the championship as the series heads to Baltimore on Sept. 2. But the closeness of the competition among drives almost assures that the title race will go down to the final race of the season for the seventh consecutive season.
“It’s the beauty of the series going from a road course to a street course to a fast oval,” Servia said. “It’s what I’ve always loved about (Indy car racing) – the mixed schedule. Teams have to change a lot of different things in the car and the drivers have to have different skills. I love the challenge and love that we show the challenge to the fans. The championship will be a fight to the end.”