Does IndyCar need a juicy rivalry?

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We all love rivalries — Cowboys vs. Redskins, Celtics vs. Lakers, Yankees vs. Red Sox, etc. — and IZOD IndyCar Series fans would appreciate a legitimate one in their sport as well. But does such a thing exist for them right now?

As NASCAR can tell you, controversy sells. And while IndyCar maintains a loyal following for its action-packed races, it would appear to be lacking in the drama department.

Now, there have been incidents in recent years that have drawn attention. Perhaps the one that comes off the top of most race fans’ heads is Will Power’s double-bird salute to Race Control at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011, a gesture that made sure the series’ one-and-done return to New England would always be remembered.

But those incidents never really evolved into something bigger. They happened, then came the initial attention that eventually died off, and then everyone involved kind of moved on. So does IndyCar need more “black hats” to create feuds that can yield longer-lasting buzz?

Perhaps. But here’s the question: How many in the paddock would relish being the bad guy?

“That’s the thing, it doesn’t sit well on just anybody’s shoulders,” Dario Franchitti told the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer on Thursday. “[Paul Tracy] loved being the villain. I’ve been portrayed as the villain for some things I’ve done in races, but it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with. Some guys love it, but it just doesn’t sit well with me.”

Graham Rahal, who got in a short feud with Marco Andretti after the two crashed last year at Long Beach, thinks that the sport’s management has an influence on why rivalries haven’t quite taken root within IndyCar — and that they could do their part to change that.

“Drama is part of it, but our sport in many ways tries to be too clean,” Rahal said to the AP. “Not from the driver side, but from [management and race control], because anytime you did anything, even if it was small, it was a penalty. We need to let some of that go.

“I don’t want it to get dangerous, but if we want to build drama for the sport, then they need to help.”

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.