The series is named for the annual Indianapolis 500, which has been running every year since 1911 (With the exception of during World War I and II). The cars are open-wheeled and open-cockpit, very similar to Formula One, although the differences between the two are many. Indy Car, once the pinnacle of American motorsport, has slowly seen a decline in ratings and popularity over the past thirty years as NASCAR became popular for its wild, down-to-earth appeal. Even today, the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel in the series schedule, is normally overshadowed in the ratings by just about any NASCAR race during the year.
The reason for the decline stems from a split within the series itself back in 1979. Back then, the United States Automobile Club (USAC) had organized and run the Indianapolis 500 as well as other American championship car races since 1956. However, many prolific team owners such as Dan Gurney, Roger Penske, and U.E. "Pat" Patrick had long disagreed with USAC due to alleged ineptitude on the organization's part. As a result, they formed Championship Auto Racing Teams, (CART) which was founded as an advocacy group to keep USAC in check. However, such an agreement was flat-out denied by USAC bigwigs, which then led to CART becoming a breakaway series. After several years of legal battling, USAC finally allowed the Indianapolis 500 to be part of the CART calendar, and all was good. CART enjoyed immense success in America as drivers such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, and Nigel Mansell, coming off of highly successful Formula One drives, touted its competitiveness.
But then things changed.
In 1994, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George took a stand against CART, protesting the series' arbitrary rules (CART was often charged with changing rules to benefit certain teams), escalating costs (Which squeezed out small privateer teams who could not afford to race), the lack of opportunities for American drivers (Only 10 Americans raced in 1996), and the emphasis on road course racing. In response, he teamed up with USAC and created the Indy Racing League (IRL), using the Indianapolis 500 as leverage to get the series off the ground. IRL was created to be a cheaper, all-oval, all-American alternative to CART, and George enforced it by allowing the top 25 drivers in his series a guaranteed spot in the Indianapolis 500, leaving only eight spots on the grid to CART regulars.
CART, outraged, filed a lawsuit in 1996, which ultimately ended in a settlement and the legality of the new series. In response, they created the U.S. 500 the same weekend as the Indianapolis 500 to show their technical superiority to the "CART rejects series". However, this backfired when the front row drivers collided on the pace-lap, leading to a multi-car pileup before the race began. Although the race was restarted and the Indy 500 was won by a relative unknown driver (Buddy Lazier, who had been a makeweight in previous races), the damage to CART's 'professional' image had been done. George and IRL then pushed CART series against the wall when they announced new technical regulations which basically outlawed CART-spec cars from competing at Indy. IRL slowly climbed in popularity, as they held the one card the CART series couldn't hold; the Indianapolis 500. The tradition and prestige of Indy completely overshadowed everything else and CART's leading teams, Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti, found it increasingly difficult to justify staying away from the big race to their sponsors. Eventually they bowed to the pressure and abandoned the series for IRL.
Now on the decline, CART began to get desperate. Trying to outdo IRL with a race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001, they found that the greater performance of the cars led to many drivers coming close to to blacking out under the extreme g-forces imposed. Forced by the series doctors to cancel the race for medical reasons, CART took a huge blow in prestige, which was then compounded when a row over engine rules resulted in key engine manufacturers Honda and Toyota defecting to IRL. CART tried to pick up the pieces in 2003 by reforming under the name "Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford (Champ Car)." After declaring bankruptcy in 2003 and again in 2008, Champ Car was finally bought out by IRL, which then became simply the Indy Car Series. In a final twist of the saga George was voted out of his position at the head of the series by his own sisters, allegedly angry at the amount of family money that had been spent over the years, and a new boss was brought in (Randy Bernard, a former head of Professional Rodeo). Now the 'IRL' name is largely history too, and the series is officially the 'Izod Indycar Series', a series contested between US and non-US drivers on oval, street and road courses.
Chip Ganassi Racing:
- Charlie Kimball - Handicapped Badass. Although 2011 was his first time in the Indy 500, he deserves recognition as being the first ever driver at the race with Type 1 Diabetes. He didn't get a podium finish but for him to complete the race at all (which he did handily) was a noteworthy achievement. Due to his condition he needed to have two drink reservoirs, one with water, the other with a high-glucose drink, and a switch to let him select which reservoir he'd be drinking from, chosen based on a blood-sugar-level gage integrated into his car's custom steering wheel. In the event that an insulin shot was needed, his pit crew included a doctor who could provide him with the needed injection on the next pit-stop.
- Dario Franchitti - Jack of All Stats. He doesn't specialize in road course or oval track racing, but he is still amazing at what he does - and that's racing. The result is two Indy 500 wins and three Indy Car championships, including the last one.
- Started out as a road course specialist in CART.
- Scott Dixon - A divisive figure. To some an Indy Car legend to others unskilled driver an who drives with no respect for anyone else.
- Graham Rahal - The Wild Card. Because his successful father refuses to let him ride on his coattails, Rahal is known for signing with many teams simply so he can race (In 2010, he raced with four different teams). However, when he does race, he is extremely competitive.
- Hélio Castroneves - Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass. Some say he's a very credible driver. Others say he only wins when he feels like it. But you can't deny that when he wins, he does it like a true champion. Too bad he can't do it every time.
- Ryan Briscoe - Seems to have fallen victim to Always Second Best, on the team and on the racetrack. It's not that he's bad, but he seems perpetually overshadowed by Will Power.
- Will Power - His successes on road course tracks are balanced by his failures on oval tracks, usually due to outside circumstances. He always is competing for the title, but his failure to get results on oval tracks means that he loses to the more consistent Dario Franchitti.
KV Racing Technology:
- Tony Kanaan - The Stoic. Many TV commentators are quick to note TK's lack of emotion whenever he is injured or suffers a heartbreaking failure, although there have been times when he succumbs to Not So Stoic. Seems to inherited the "Best Driver Never To Win At Indianapolis" title.
- Rubens Barrichello - A Cool Old Guy (is turning 40 during the 2012 season) who came to Indy after becoming the pilot with most races on F1 - a career marred by bad luck and failing to become Brazil's champion after Ayrton Senna died. At least he beat the Stig.
- E.J. Viso - Fair-to-middling driver who doesn't cause too many problems but doesn't stand out either.
- James Hinchcliffe - Canada, Eh?. Landed with Andretti Autosport under the worst possible circumstances, because his ride belonged to Danica Patrick before she left for NASCAR and was going to be Dan Wheldon's before he was killed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Despite all the baggage, has been very competitive now that he has better equipment to run with.
- Marco Andretti - The Spoiled Brat. Despite having raced for several years with limited success, he still manages to be the epitome of immaturity when things don't go his way. Of course, following in the footsteps of your legendary father and grandfather must be no easy feat, considering many people believe he's cursed.
- Ryan Hunter-Reay - Five wins across his CART/CCWS and Indy Car career, all of which have been on non-ovals or short ovals. Still best known for having Andretti buy a seat for him from A.J. Foyt after he got bumped from the 2011 Indy 500.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing:
- Takuma Sato - The Klutz. 2011 was one accident after another on the track for him, though he has enough raw speed and raw talent to be as competitive here as when he was in F1.
- J.R. Hildebrand - Became a minor celebrity after his heartbreaking crash at the final corner of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 while in the lead, giving the win to Dan Wheldon. Whether or not he has talent behind the wheel remains to be seen.
A.J. Foyt Racing:
- Mike Conway - Got squeezed out of Andretti Autosport and ended up with Indy Legend A.J. Foyt's team. Wasn't much of a competitor before, and still isn't.
Team Barracuda - BHA:
- Alex Tagliani - The Older Canadian. 'Nuff said.
- Simona de Silvestro - This Swiss Miss is considered by many to be The Rival of Danica Patrick: She doesn't prefer to be in the spotlight and is a road course master. Her ability to shake off horrific crashes one after another have solidified her as Made of Iron.
Dale Coyne Racing:
- Sébastien Bourdais - The Bus Came Back. After winning four straight Champ Car championships, he was Put on a Bus and left for Formula One. His failure in the series meant that for the 2011 season, He's Back.
- Alex Lloyd - The Kid Sidekick. His 4th place finish at the 2010 Indianapolis 500 meant that he would live to race another day, but his form is still to be seen.
- Paul Tracy - Small Name, Big Ego. While definitely a former great, his form has not been up to par as of late, and his hot temper usually leads to his big ego.
- Tomas Scheckter - Glass Cannon. Son of former Formula One champion Jody Scheckter, Tomas is best known for his spectacular outside lane charges on the ovals...and his spectacular wipeouts that often result from it (especially when he drove for Red Bull in the early 2000s).
- Berserk Button: Legendary driver A.J. Foyt as a team owner in the late 90s. Slapped driver Arie Luyendyk in the face when he (correctly) contested Foyt's driver Billy Boat being declared the winner, and at one point Foyt smashed his laptop in anger.
- Badass Grandpa: Mario Andretti, who walked away from this crash back in 2003 with only a nick on his chin. Currently he's one of the drivers involved in the two-seater ride, aged 71!
- Calvin Ball: Many fans feel poor officiating is turning the series into an automotive form of this.
- Cloudcuckoolander: James Hinchcliffe.
- Continuity Snarl: The rapidly changing array of tracks. Outside Indianapolis of course.
- Down to the Last Play: The 2011 Indy 500.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: Famously, Danny Sullivan won the 1985 Indianapolis 500 despite spinning out during the race.
- Every Year They Fizzle Out: Beside 1969, Indy has not been nice to the Andrettis.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is more suited as such and much less so for Indycars with the narrow surface and few straightaways.
- Family Business: On track: the Unser and Andretti racing families. Off track: The Hulmans, owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
- Fan Boy: Dario Franchitti has a room dedicated to Jim Clark, winner of the 1965 Indy 500. The tiles are the same colour as his fellow Scot's helmet.
- Fan Nickname: And boy are there a lot of them, from the Indy 500 to the drivers themselves.
- The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is commonly referred to as 'The Brickyard,' due to the paving bricks that originally made up the track surface from 1911-1962. Today, layers of asphalt cover the track, with the exception of the start/finish line, which is called 'The Yard of Bricks.'
- After experiencing horrible crashes at Indy and Milwaukee, Simona de Silvestro has been dubbed "The Iron Maiden" by the fandom, who remarked how easy it looked for her to bounce back from potentially career-ending wrecks.
- First-Name Basis: Many current regular drivers, among serious fans, and even on TV.
- Flame Bait: To this day, the CART vs IRL debate is taboo in Indianapolis and its surrounding environs.
- Fragile Speedster: Many engines throughout history, most notably the Novi (1941-1966) and most recently the Infiniti (1997-2002).
- Hey, It's That Guy!: NASCAR fans will be surprised to see Tony Stewart in the early races of the Indy Racing League.
- In fact, quite a lot of NASCAR drivers started their careers in open-wheel racing. Drivers such as A.J. Allmendinger or Juan-Pablo Montoya.
- Hollywood Dateless: Some Indianapolis 500 champions have been unable to find full-season, competitive, or any rides afterwards, including Arie Luyendyk after his first win in 1990, Buddy Rice (2004), and Dan Wheldon (2005).
- In Name Only: In early 2003 Chevrolet engines were severely uncompetitive. The newer and faster Chevrolet engines used from midway through the season on were built by Cosworth. Specialized outside engine companies are also used by other manufacturers however.
- I Will Only Slow You Down: Milka Duno. And how. Her 2010 drive for Dale Coyne Racing could only be described as "out of her league," considering that often times she was so slow that the track officials would pull her off the track and refuse to let her continue racing!
- Irony: Tony George's original vision was an all-oval, all-American series that relies on cheap technology. Nowadays only a handful of Americans are driving in the series, more than half of races are driven on road or city courses while some teams have trouble funding a full-season drive.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Live penalties during a race for avoidable contact, which are only used in extremely severe cases in other racing series.
- Loophole Abuse: In the 1994 Indianapolis 500, Roger Penske entered a brand new pushrod engine. The top teams at that time used overhead cam engines, and so the rules favored pushrod engines over overhead cam engines as only small teams were expected to build them. Penske's cars turned out to be unbeatable in the race. By 1995 the loophole was closed, and pushrod engines no longer were at an advantage.
- Luck-Based Mission: The second Firestone Twin 275 at Texas in 2011. The starting lineup was determined by a random draw as opposed to time trials.
- Ludicrous Speed: Physically, modern IndyCars, even as far back as the ground effect days in the late '70s and early '80s, were and still are extremely physically demanding cars to drive. Modern drivers are often examples of physical fitness just to cope with the G-forces of acceleration, braking and turning. Mentally, IndyCars accelerate and corner so quickly and are meant to be driven so fast in order to generate grip via downforce that a normal person would simply be unable to think as fast as the car can maneuver.
- The official fastest lap in motorsport belongs to Gil de Ferran in the CART series in 2000 at Fontana: 241.428 mph. Paul Tracy recorded a record top speed of 256.948 mph on the backstretch at Michigan in 1998.
- Money, Dear Boy: As with most upper echelons of motorsport, you get the occasional accusation of hiring a driver simply to gain money from the sponsorship they bring in.
- Milka Duno was brought in to drive for Dale Coyne because of the sponsorship money she brought with her from CITGO and... well, we know how that turned out.
- The Movie: In 2001, Sylvester Stallone produced a movie based on the CART series called Driven. The result, as Film Brain put it:
"Originally intended as a biopic of the late Ayrton Senna, it evolved into a racing movie set in Formula One. One problem: the Formula One bosses took one look at the script and told Stallone to get stuffed."
- Understandably, the movie was panned by critics and regarded as an all-around bad movie.
- New Technology Is Evil: The reason why Tony George began the IRL series in the first place. He believed that the technology available to CART teams was such that it was more a case of better car than better driver. Therefore, his new series has been strictly spec-racing and has remained so even after Champ Car merged with IRL.
- Subverted somewhat, as IndyCar officials have announced a stack of new rules for 2014 that are designed to offer more freedom to designers, including more leniency on aerodynamics and the availability of more than one engine manufacturer.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Tony George's war with CART caused Open Wheel Racing to play second fiddle to NASCAR, losing drivers like Tony Stewart or A.J. Allmendinger in the process.
- Nitro Boost/Super Mode: Okay, while IndyCars may not use literal nitrous, the series has the "Push to Pass" Button, which gives cars an extra 5 horsepower for 12-18 seconds (depending on the track) to make overtaking a car easier during a race. However, they are only allowed a certain number of button-pushes (Again, depending on the track), and there is a cooldown period of 10 seconds after using it. The new engine packages in 2012 tentatively will have a 100 HP boost when activated.
- No MacGuffin, No Winner: Essentially the whole story of the 12-year 'Split' between CART and IRL. Right from the beginning in 1996 pundits were predicting that the only benificiary of an Open-Wheel racing civil war would be NASCAR.
- Only Known by Initials: A.J. Foyt.
- Part Time Driver: The Indy 500 plays host to many part-timers who only race during that event. The reasons are simple:
- The grid for the Indy 500 is 33 drivers instead of the usual 26-28, so it gives part-timers a chance to compete.
- It is the Indy 500. Anything can happen in your favor.
- A good example was when Dan Wheldon won the 2011 Indy 500 during a one-off drive after losing his official ride at the end of the 2010 season. Even after winning, he took up a role as a broadcaster for the Versus network instead of accepting ride offers, preferring to wait until the next year.
- Randy Bernard offered $5,000,000 to anyone outside of Indy Car to win the 2011 season finale in Las Vegas, but the scenarios weren't feasible for those who sent in applications. Instead, being a one-off 500 winner, Wheldon's being offered $5,000,000 (half for him, half for a contest winner) to win the Las Vegas race if he starts from the rear of a grid expected to come close to the traditional 33 car Indy 500 field...being a part time driver does have its perks.
- Not really, considering Wheldon was killed in a horrific fifteen-car accident at said Las Vegas finale...
- Ed Carpenter nearly won at Kentucky two years in a row in part time campaigns. He finished 2nd in 2010, only denied because of fuel strategy from Castroneves. Then he won the 2011 race edging Franchitti in a photo finish.
- Precision F-Strike: Given by Marco Andretti describing Sebastian Bourdais at the 2011 Long Beach GP, whom he crashed into while exiting his pit box.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ganassi vs. Penske.
- Red Herring: Tony Stewart getting into, but not actually driving, one of A.J. Foyt's cars during Indianapolis 500 qualifying is believed to be this. At that time Stewart was a full-time NASCAR driver and may not have had any intentions of driving Foyt's car.
- Retcon: The 2011 MoveThatBlock.com 225 at New Hampshire. The race was restarted with 10 laps to go in rainy conditions on an oval. After several immediate wrecks, the race was red-flagged, and eventually stopped. For better or worse, the official results reverted to the running order before the restart, not after it.
- Road Trip Episode: In the early 20th century there were point-to-point races.
- Second Place Is for Losers: The Indianapolis 500 is so important over the rest of the season, and even the points championship, that it especially holds true there.
- Starfish Aliens: Smokey Yunick's sidecar in the 60s, and the Delta Wing car, one of the proposals for the new car starting in 2012.
- Start My Own: First when CART split off from USAC in 1979, and then again when IRL split off from CART in 1994.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The European-built rear-engined cars that came to Indycar in the 60s, and within a few years rendered the traditional front-engine cars useless.
- What Could Have Been: Jeff Gordon originally wanted to start his mainstream racing career in CART, but he couldn't gather the necessary funds to buy himself a ride. The rest is history.
- Furthermore, the lack of opportunities for young American drivers like Gordon prompted Tony George to consider starting the Indy Racing League in the first place!
- Women Drivers: The 2011 Indianapolis 500 saw five female drivers, and the 2005 race had Danica Patrick lead several laps before finishing 5th.