Miller on issues facing the 2012 IndyCar season

The IZOD IndyCar Series takes to the track Sunday for its 2012 season opener in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Fla. IndyCar embarks on the new season with a multitude of changes since the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Below, veteran SPEED open wheel reporter Robin Miller discusses some of these changes, the series’ first race since Dan Wheldon’s death at Las Vegas and the biggest storylines as the series kicks off its new season:

Q: With so many changes in place for IndyCar in 2012, what do you consider among the biggest ones and what impact do you expect them to have on the competition?

Miller: “The best thing about the 2012 IZOD IndyCar season is the new equipment and uncertainty it brings to a series that's been stuck with old, boring, predictable cars and engines for a decade. It evens things up, at least for the first few months and that's the interesting part. Which engine comes out of the box strongest and which driver, engineer and team gets a quick handle on the new Dallara chassis?"

Q: What are the most significant challenges facing IndyCar in 2012?

Miller: “We thought it might be fielding enough cars with the expense of all-new equipment, but it looks like 26 are set for the opener and that may be the standard number most of the year. The challenge right now is for Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus to come to grips with the turbocharged era and keep their inventory up. Lotus is pretty far behind the other two so they're really facing the biggest challenge. Of course the other challenge is growing the fan base on television with 11 of 16 races being on cable instead of network.''

Q: How deeply do you expect the absence of Danica Patrick to be felt?

Miller: “She will be missed but it's not nearly as devastating as it would have been a few years ago. The mainstream media was all over her from 2005-2009, but it kind of slacked off the last two seasons and she became what she always wanted — just another driver trying to succeed. To be honest, with Simona de Silvestro and Ana Beatriz, a female driver in Indy car nowadays isn't really any big deal because they're just one of the guys."

Q: Any insight into the drivers’ mindsets as they look ahead to getting back in the car for the first race since Wheldon’s death?

Miller: “I think his presence will be felt at the season opener since it’s where he lived and, of course, at Indianapolis where he was quite popular. But drivers don't dwell on death, at least they better not, and the pack racing controversy probably won't surface again until Texas in June."

Q: Who is/are your favorite(s) for the championship heading into the season opener?

Miller: “Will Power has been the fastest and most winning driver the past two seasons, but Dario Franchitti has won three consecutive championships (four, really, since he spent 2008 in NASCAR) and it seems foolish to not pick one of them. But I think Scott Dixon is overdue for some good breaks and he's as quick as anybody, so he's my pick."

Q: After so much negative news in IndyCar during the past couple of seasons, how important is 2012 to its future?

Miller: “It's going to help set the table for the next few years, and with General Motors back in play, it sends a good message that maybe IndyCar is regaining some traction. If Ford or Fiat like what they see this season with turbocharged engines, maybe they join the party in a couple years."

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