The rounds of interviews Wednesday during the IZOD IndyCar Series Media Day at St. Petersburg often came down to three subjects: the new car, the new driver and the new controversy.
In general, drivers shrugged off a recent report in which drivers allegedly threatened to boycott the Texas IndyCar race in June, but some responded to TMS general manager Eddie Gossage's comments that belittled the drivers and called into question their commitment to the sport.
“Eddie is doing his job,” Scott Dixon said. “He's promoting the race. If he can create a bit of a boxing match in the media, that's what he's going to try to do. He's creating talk about it.”
After the report of the possible boycott, Gossage was quoted in a RacinToday.com article as saying: "It's absolutely irresponsible of those drivers, and they deserve – because of the way they conduct themselves sometimes – they deserve where they stand now in the food chain of motorsport.”
Drivers have denied saying they would boycott the June 9 race, but several took offense to what Gossage said, especially considering the lingering emotion surrounding the death of Dan Wheldon in October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile sister oval to Speedway Motorsports Inc.'s TMS.
“If there's something good that came out of Dan's accident, it's that we have a stronger voice to push for safety,” Dario Franchitti said. “That's what we're going to do.”
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard declined to respond to Gossage's comments. Dixon indicated that the concern for drivers is a return to pack racing blamed for creating Wheldon's crash, but added that it's unclear yet if IndyCar's new chassis/engine combination will result in that.
“When you have way too much grip and you can follow each other three wide, bumper to bumper, it's just ridiculous,” Dixon said. “Any of you guys [press] could get in there and do the same thing. If you weren't too freaked out and you knew how to follow someone, you'd just hold it there.”
• The Dallara chassis, numbered the DW12 in honor of Wheldon's work in testing it, has received mixed reviews since drivers began testing it in earnest in January.
“It's going to be different on different circuits,” Will Power said. “In a low-grip situation, it's hard to get a balance with this thing. There's a lot of understeer. But at a track like Sebring, it's pretty hooked up. Time will tell what this car needs to be fast. We'll see as the season goes on.”
• The feel-good story of the season, which begins March 25 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, is the addition of former Formula 1 driver Rubens Barrichello, whose likability and global recognition has the potential to ease the pain of last year while diverting attention from what could be a dicey situation – at least early in the season – with the new chassis.
“He could go to his farm and drink wine or go to Disneyland every day, but has such a passion for racing,” Franchitti said. “The fact that he chose to come here says a lot. He's a guy who, when he was in a good car, was challenging for a championship in Formula 1 – even when he was [Michael] Schumacher's teammate and wasn't technically allowed to. He's one of the very, very best.”
Tony Kanaan, who played a role in getting the former F1 star to become a teammate, laughed when asked about Barrichello.
“It used to be the Danica question,” he said. “Now it's the Rubens question.”
• The series' final open test before the St. Petersburg opener resumes Thursday at Sebring International Raceway, with the second group of drivers and teams, including the following:
No. 4 JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing) – Chevrolet
No. 5 E.J. Viso (KV Racing Technology) – Chevrolet
No. 6 Katherine Legge (Lotus Dragon Racing) – Lotus
No. 8 Rubens Barrichello (KV Racing Technology) – Chevrolet
No. 9 Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) – Honda
No. 10 Dario Franchitti (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) – Honda
No. 11 Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology) – Chevrolet
No. 14 Mike Conway (A.J. Foyt Racing) – Honda
No. 15 Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) – Honda
No. 20 Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing) – Chevrolet
No. 22 Oriol Servia (Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) – Lotus
No. 38 Graham Rahal (Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing) – Honda
No. 67 Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) – Honda
No. 83 Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing) – Honda
No. 98 Alex Tagliani (Team Barracuda-BHA) – Lotus