Hi, welcome to the first of my blogs for Verizon and RACER.com. This is going to be an exciting season for the IZOD IndyCar Series – in fact, it already is. The fact that there are now three engine manufacturers in the series is an obvious big step up, but there's a lot of encouragement in other areas too. Everything I hear from the series is good news: drivers like Rubens Barrichello joining the series, NBC Sports stepping up its coverage, and we're going to China which is obviously a massive market for Chevrolet and Honda. You can only see positives for our series. Randy Bernard is not afraid to be really ambitious and it seems to be paying off.
FACING A NEW ERA
For a group like Team Penske, which plans way in advance, the season really started for us from the first time a Chevrolet-engine DW12 got on track. Roger Penske was instrumental in attracting Chevrolet back to IndyCar, so we feel a strong responsibility to the brand, as well as to ourselves and our sponsors, to be as prepared as we can and to go out and kick butt. We had plans in place even before we got the first of our own cars and since then we've been non-stop, working on the handling of our new cars, our pit stops, our operational procedures and on promoting the series as a whole. The one thing we haven't changed is our work ethic, because working our tails off is a Penske tradition.
So after all the testing, people think we should be able to make predictions for this weekend's opening race at St. Petersburg and I'm telling you, it's still impossible to say. In test sessions, the Verizon Team Penske car has been fast, but you never know how much fuel your rivals are carrying, how old or new their tires are, whether they're experimenting with parts or really going for a lap time, and so on. Even this weekend, you won't see the full picture, just a sort of outline sketch of where the three engine manufacturers stand relative to one another. Using all the information I have from studying our rivals, my gut feeling is that Chevrolet has a really strong engine.
The extra promotion that all the companies involved in IndyCar have been doing couldn't have come at a better time, because I think you'll see some interesting changes in the balance of power from race to race. I'm expecting a wider variety of winners this year, and I'm expecting more drivers in with a shot at the championship, too, because you have to assume that brand-new engines – brand-new types of engine – might not be 100 percent reliable straight away.
ON THE BEAT IN ST. PETE
St. Petersburg is a great start to the year, in my opinion. There are good facilities and it has a great atmosphere because of the strong crowd numbers – and it's a track where I've won before (RIGHT)! Although it's a street course, there are plenty of quick turns that used to be just about flat with the old car but will be easy-flat with the new DW12 because it has more downforce and the Firestone tires have more grip. In between the fast bits, there are quite a few second-gear corners that remind me of Surfers Paradise in Australia – 90-degree angles and a crowned road surface. Turns 1 and 4 are potential passing zones, and the pit straight is nice and wide…but sometimes that gives drivers ideas bigger than they can handle, as we've seen in the past. I'm not sure anyone's practiced rolling starts with these engines, so that's going to be interesting, especially considering that will be the first pack start we've had with carbon brakes… Another thing to look for will be the pit stops. This DW12 car has a smaller fuel cell and that will add a stop on to all races, so efficient crew work and the ability to do fast in laps and out laps will be even more crucial.
So there are a lot of new things to look for. If you can't get to St. Pete, follow all the action on ABC on TV and via the Verizon IndyCar Mobile app on your smart phone or tablet. There's a bunch of cool extra things Verizon has added to it this year so make sure to check it out. (CLICK HERE for more details.)
We've come so close to winning the IZOD IndyCar Series championship the past two years that now the hunger for it is even greater. Every time you think back to near-misses, it doesn't just bug you – it makes you more determined than ever to nail the title. So I can promise you that I don't go into St. Pete saying, “I'm looking for a good handful of points,” or “a podium would be good enough.” Sure, we may have to settle for that – like I said earlier, we don't know everyone's relative performance levels and we don't know how the race will play out with yellow flags, strategies, and so on. But my sole purpose is to make the best of every circumstance in every race and that belief is shared throughout the entire No. 12 Verizon Team Penske crew. This is what we do.
To find out more about Verizon's FREE IndyCar Mobile app, CLICK HERE. IndyCar Mobile puts you in the driver's seat, with live in-car cameras, driver-pit crew chatter, real-time track maps and leaderboards, and much more.
• RACER's founding team is back at the helm for the upcoming 20th Anniversary issue! Click here to learn more.
CLICK HERE to subscribe to RACER at a 30 percent discount rate!