It's finally here. After a ridiculously long offseason it is time for the 2009 IndyCar season opener. Year 2 of open-wheel unification kicks off with a race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. We are going to take a quick look at what has changed since the series wrapped up with a sick race in Chicago last fall. If you recall, the now-indicted Helio Castroneves won the race over Scott Dixon by .0033 seconds after starting the race in last place (28th). Here's what you need to know:
1.) Helio is in a world of hurt.
2.) 2007 Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti is back after a disasterous stint in NASCRAP. He'll drive in the #2 seat for perennial favorite Target Chip Ganassi. Bold prediction: His wife will wander the pits in a sundress and fancy hat.
3.) Versus will broadcast the majority of the races. Never heard of Versus? The Comcast-owned network has made a real push to become a player in sports broadcasting. They currently carry the NHL, Tour de France, limited NCAA football, various MMA, and professional bull riding. It obviously isn't big enough yet to compete with ESPN, but the channel compares favorably to IndyCar's old home on ESPN 2. Does it sound like I'm trying to sell you on Versus? I admit it is a tough sell, but they have made an earnest effort to promote IndyCar. And realistically no one could do a worse job with the series than the too-busy-be-bothered coverage that ABC/ESPN provided in recent years.
4.) One surprising change, and this may only interest me, but the IndyCar series has made a very real attempt to reach out to bloggers. Yes, there is an IndyCar blogosphere. In fact, the ICS has recently blurred the lines by commissioning its own blog, The Silent Pagoda. The Pagoda is run by Roy Hobbson formerly of the often hilarious and now-defunct Flipside Sports. Here is a description of the new venture in Hobbson's own words...
IndyCar hired me at the beginning of last year to write weekly race recaps... this despite the fact that I'd never watched an entire race in my life -- which is what I told them. Regardless, I did it, truly having no idea what I was doing, and essentially expecting to get fired after every week. It was maddening. (Imagine getting hired by the Indonesian Water Polo League -- a league you know nothing about -- to be the sole blogger for their global site. You'd kind of have to just make stuff up as you go and pretend you knew what you were watching, all while drawing the wrath of the IWPL faithful. That's pretty much how it felt.)
This past offseason, they moved the blog from the Siberian outskirts of their site to the main page and started demanding daily posts. And it just kind of took off from there, to the point where running two blogs proved impossible. (RIP, Flippy. 2002 -- 2009. She took one for the team on this one, and it was hard to let her go.) They gave me an allotment of hardcards, one of which I spent on Jeff Iannucci, who I had quickly gathered was the King Bee of the IRL blogosphere -- as well as a helluva a writer. I got him -- and a few other IndyCar blogging veterans -- on board for a number of reasons, but mainly to add a sense of legitamcy to the blog (which I could never, ever give on my own).
The goal of it, though, remains the same: to provide something DIFFERENT than the other IndyCar blogs and news sources out there. Not better ... just different. Which is what Flipside always tried to do, and what drew IndyCar's attention in the first place.
That was WAY longer than it probably needed to be -- but keep in mind, it was movie night w/ my wife tonight ... and we just watched "Twilight," which I think eradicated any and all common sense I once had.
Great story. On behalf of DZ and probably every blogger everywhere allow me to say, "You're getting paid for this? You lucky bastard."
5.) This isn't really a news item, but I want this.
6.) A major fan complaint understandably deals with the IndyCar's aethestics (the car is too wide, too stubby, too this, too that). The cars are not due for a complete redesign until 2011, but if you ask me just make them look something like the super-sweet cars raced in Formula Nippon (a Japanese league).
7.) The season kicks off in St. Petersburg Sunday, April 5th at 2 pm Eastern on Versus. Last year Graham Rahal won to became the youngest driver to win an American open wheel race, at age 19. Conveniently, Rahal also just became the youngest pole winner in series history for this year's race.
8.) A lot may have changed, but it is still all about Indianapolis.
9. I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shoutout to Chris Estrada's blog. He covers the series for MVN. He also writes for the Boston Globe and FoxSports.com.