Race fans still have a few weeks to wait until the 2013 racing season cranks up with the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Jan. 26-27 followed by the Bud Shootout on Feb. 16 and the Daytona 500 a week later. But there are some interesting things taking place in the off-season.
One big change for 2013 will be NASCAR's new Sprint Cup car design. What is being called the Gen-6 car will replace the much maligned Car of Tomorrow (COT) that has been the series' standard since 2007. While the COT's safety features have proven themselves, the car's performance and raceability have been a disappointment to both the teams and NASCAR. The new cars will resemble their showroom counterparts much more closely, and technical changes should keep all three makes (Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota) on a par competitively. The new cars will be lighter (3300 pounds vs. 3450 for the old car), will have a taller rear spoiler, and will have more adjustability in the rear camber to increase mechanical grip. The final tweaks to the technical rules will be decided after two upcoming tests: the Jan. 10-12 Preseason Thunder event at Daytona, and a Jan. 17-18 test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Those of us who hated the "locked in" cars that were in the top 35 in points will be happy that NASCAR has seen fit to modify the qualifying procedure for this season. The field will be set in a 36-6-1 format, with the fastest 36 cars making the race. The next six positions will go to the cars with the most owner points that didn't qualify on speed, and the final starting spot will be awarded to the most recent past champion. Personally, I would rather see a straight-up starting lineup based on speed, with the fastest 43 cars starting the race. But at least NASCAR has made a positive move in that direction.
NASCAR is also adding a big crowd draw. After dabbling in the NASCAR Nationwide series last season, X Games standout Travis Pastrana has committed to a full Nationwide season in 2013, driving the No. 60 Roush-Fenway Ford. The team has cobbled together sponsorship from a variety of companies to fund most of the season, and they are confident the remaining sponsor pieces will fall into place. Pastrana made nine Nationwide starts in 2012 with mixed results. He ran eight races in a Toyota fielded with the assistance of Michael Waltrip Racing, but his final start was with the Roush team, which led to the deal for 2013.
The 2013 Formula One schedule kicks off on March 17 in Australia. The 2013 cars are beginning to appear, with the launch of the new McLaren slated for Jan. 31, and the Force India debut scheduled for Feb. 1. The new Sauber will be revealed on Feb. 2. The first pre-season test session will take place on Feb. 5.
The IndyCar series kicks off on March 24 at St. Petersburg, but there will be a large IndyCar contingent at Daytona for the Rolex 24 endurance race. No fewer than ten Indycar drivers will compete, led by 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Former series champions Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon will be racing, as will Justin Wilson, who co-drove the winning car last year. The Roar Before the 24 test is wrapping up tomorrow, and a couple of NASCAR stars set the pace early, with Jamie McMurray setting fast time in the first practice session on Friday and A.J. Allmendinger quickest in the second session.
Speaking of the Rolex series, the class structure for the combined Rolex Grand-Am/American Lemans Series in 2014 was announced yesterday. The Rolex Daytona Prototypes and the ALMS P2 class will be combined into the premier class of the series, and will include the radical Delta Wing prototype. The ALMs Prototype Challenge class will run as a separate class. The Grand-Am GT class will run with the ALMS GTC cars as a single class, with the possibility of the new Grand-Am GX class running either with the GTs or as a separate class. The exact specifications for each class are still under study, and will be announced at a later date.