Three-time defending IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti entered the season seeking his fourth consecutive championship and fifth overall. Meanwhile, two-time championship runner up Will Power sought his first title. Heading into the final race of the season, Power led Ryan Hunter-Reay by 17 points in a two driver fight for the championship. After Power wrecked on lap 55, Hunter-Reay was able to finish 4th, and claimed the championship by 3 points.
It was a triumphant return for Chevrolet after returning from 6 years absence, and an average year for Honda topped by an unexpectedly good performance at the 500 after poor qualifying and thus Chevrolet ending Japanese engine manufacturer nine-year supremacy.
The 2012 season saw the implementation of IndyCar's new ICONIC Plan (Innovative, Competitive, Open-wheel, New, Industry-relevant, Cost-effective), the biggest change to the sport in recent history. The car used through 2011, a 2003/2007-model Dallara IR-05, and normally aspirated V8 engines (required since 1997) were permanently retired. The ICONIC committee was composed of experts and executives from racing and technical fields: Randy Bernard, William R. Looney III, Brian Barnhart, Gil de Ferran, Tony Purnell, Eddie Gossage, Neil Ressler, Tony Cotman and Rick Long. IndyCar accepted proposals from BAT Engineering, Dallara, DeltaWing, Lola and Swift for chassis design. On July 14, 2010, the final decision was made public, with organisers accepting the Dallara proposal.
Under the new ICONIC regulations, all teams will compete with a core rolling chassis, called the "IndyCar Safety Cell", developed by Italian designer Dallara. Teams will then outfit the chassis with separate body work, referred to as "Aero Kits", which consist of front and rear wings, sidepods, and engine cowlings. Development of Aero Kits is open to any manufacturer, with all packages to be made available to all teams for a maximum price. ICONIC committee member Tony Purnell gave an open invitation to car manufacturers and companies such as Lockheed Martin and GE to develop kits.
The IndyCar Safety cell will be capped at a price of $349,000 and will be assembled at a new Dallara facility in Speedway, Indiana. Aero Kits will be capped at $70,000. Teams have the option of buying a complete Dallara safety cell/aero kit for a discounted price.
On May 12, 2011, Dallara unveiled the first concept cars, one apiece in oval and road course Aero Kit configuration.
On April 30, 2011, IndyCar owners voted 15–0 to reject the introduction of multiple Aero Kits for the 2012 season, citing costs. Owners expressed their desire to introduce the new chassis/engines for 2012, but have all participants use the Dallara aerodynamic package in 2012, and delay the introduction of multiple aero kits until 2013. On August 14, 2011, IndyCar confirmed that the introduction of multiple Aero Kits would be delayed until 2013 for "economic reasons," and furthermore, it was put off for 2013 as well. Chevrolet and Lotus had already announced their intention to build aero kits.
Turbochargers returned to the IndyCar Series for the first time since the IRL 1996 and Champ Car 2007 seasons respectively. The newly-revolutionary third generation fuel-efficient engines are single and twin-turbocharged engines, tuned to produce a range of 550–700 horsepower (410–520 kW) with a 12,000 RPM limit. The maximum engine displacement was reduced from 3.5 to 2.2 litres (214 to 134 cubic inches), the number of cylinders were scaled-down from eight to six and the engine shape will remain V-shaped. All engines will run E85 fuel; from 2007 to 2011, the series utilized 100% fuel grade ethanol.
The turbochargers are provided by BorgWarner. The third generation of IndyCar Series engines will be used until 2023 season.
On November 12, 2010, Chevrolet was confirmed as an engine supplier for 2012 with a twin turbo V6. The initial list of potential suppliers included Ford, Cosworth, and Mazda.Honda announced a 2.2-liter turbo V6 developed by Honda Performance Development. On May 27, 2011, Ganassi and Honda announced their partnership renewal for 2012. On August 19, 2010, Cosworth announced their interest in providing an inline-four engine, however, the plan was eventually scrapped. The Chevrolet engine is built in a joint effort with Ilmor who last time partnered Chevrolet in 1997-2002 (1997-2001 as Oldsmobile) and Honda in 2003–2011, and was introduced in full-works partnership with Penske Racing.
The third engine supplier was announced November 18, 2010 at the LA Auto Show, just prior to the league deadline. Lotus announced a twin turbo V6 engine and an Aero Kit. built in a partnership with John Judd and Jack Brabham (Engine Developments Ltd.) Judd engines were used in the CART series and at the Indy 500 from 1987 to 1992, as well as in sports car racing and F1. Lotus has suffered difficulty in both power and delivery of engines and has since pulled out of the sport.
Any engine changes for an engine that has run less than 1,850 miles will result in 10-place grid penalty at the next race. Further, full-time entries are limited to 5 engines per season. There will be two exceptions:
If an engine fails during a race, in which a new engine may be installed for the next event without penalty.
At Indianapolis, all engine penalties will be served at the next race at Detroit. Further, all full-time season entries will receive a new engine penalty-free between Bump Day & Carb Day.
Beginning at Long Beach for all remaining road/street course events, the pits will remain open throughout non-emergency full-course cautions periods. Previously the pits immediately closed upon the display of the caution flag. The series hopes this will shorten caution periods to as few as two laps.
Also beginning at Long Beach for all remaining road/street course events, cars that are not on the lead lap during an upcoming restart in the final 20 laps will peel off and drive through pit lane on the speed limiter and cycle back to the end of the line. The rule was later expanded to oval races as well, where lead-lap cars will simply drive to the front in position order instead. This is similar to NASCAR's restart procedure, where all lapped cars must move to the rear of the field.
For the races at Indianapolis, Texas, and California, restarts will revert to single-file in response to safety concerns.
The contract for the Baltimore Grand Prix runs through 2015. However, an issue with the promoter has been in dispute and a new promoter was scheduled to be announced in mid-February. In May 2012, it was announced that Race On LLP and Andretti Sports Marketing had reached a five-year agreement with the City of Baltimore.
Michael Andretti has been announced as the new promoter of the Milwaukee 225. The race, not originally on the INDYCAR schedule, was announced February 10, and is now known as the Milwaukee IndyFest.
A fifteen-race calendar was announced in December 2011; however, amid speculation of a race being organized in Fort Lauderdale, it was reported in January 2012 that the series needed sixteen races in order to fulfill obligations to sponsors.
After the cancellation of the China race, it was believed that IndyCar would need to replace it to fulfill sponsorship obligations. Road America, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Michigan, and a second race at Texas were considered. However, on June 25, IndyCar announced that the schedule would remain at 15 races.
The series was supposed to visit China for the first time; the Indy Qingdao 600 was to be held on a 3.87-mile street circuit in Qingdao over the weekend of August 19, with plans to build a permanent road course for future seasons. However, this race was cancelled by the promoter on June 13.
3.^Dragon Racing was reduced to a single-car team following the Indianapolis 500, as engine supplier Chevrolet could not supply engines for both cars. Bourdais was named to drive on the remaining road and street courses, and Legge was named to drive on the remaining ovals and Sonoma.
Team Penske: Team utilized full-works Chevrolet engines beginning in 2012 and thus Team Penske earned full-factory support from Chevrolet including free engines and official road vehicles. The entire three car team returns full-time in 2012. Briscoe will switch numbers from #6 to #2.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports: The team ran Honda engines in 2012. The team announced Simon Pagenaud as its first driver on December 8 and that a second full-time car was "likely", but Pagenaud was the team's lone entry to start the season. On May 3, 2012, the team confirmed that Townsend Bell would drive the #99 car for Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports.
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: In November, the team announced that they had signed on as a Lotus works team for 2012. Oriol Servià signed to be one of the team's drivers, but efforts to field a second entry failed to materialize.
Dragon Racing: The team intended to run two full-time cars, with drivers Sébastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge. The team will be powered by Lotus engines. Legge has signed a multi-year deal with the team to drive the #6 car. However, after switching from Lotus to Chevrolet engines, they were forced to contract to a single entry after the Indianapolis 500.
MSR Indy: The team is owned by Mike Shank, A. J. Allmendinger, and Columbus area businessman Brian Bailey. The team was intended to use Lotus engines. The team has purchased a DW12 chassis with the goal of running a full-time IndyCar program in 2012, and took delivery of their chassis on December 15. Unfortunately, the team did not secure the necessary funding to begin the season with often rumored, but never confirmed, driver Paul Tracy. The team originally confirmed Jay Howard for the Indy 500, but Shank released Howard in early May due to the inability to get an engine.
Ed Carpenter Racing: Driver Ed Carpenter and his stepfather Tony George formed a new team, Ed Carpenter Racing. Carpenter was the full-time driver in 2012. The team confirmed a second car for the Indy 500, but the entry was later withdrawn.
Race Summary: Hélio Castroneves won the season-opening event, snapping a winless streak that dates back to Motegi in 2010. It was the first race for the new Dallara DW-12 chassis, and the new turbocharged engine package. Castroneves' victory marked the first win by Chevrolet in the IndyCar Series since 2005. It also marked the first race since the fatal accident of Dan Wheldon.
Will Power took the lead from the pole position at the start, but during the first yellow, he ducked into the pits in order to gamble on a fuel strategy. The strategy backfired, and Power was not a factor during the remainder of the race.
During the final sequence of pit stops, Castroneves and Scott Dixon were running 1st–2nd. Dixon pitted first on lap 72, and Castroneves pitted on lap later. As the rest of the leaders shuffled through their final pits stops, Castroneves made a bold pass of Dixon on the outside of turn 1 for second place. After the sequence of pit stops was over, Castroneves led the final 26 laps to claim the victory.
On his victory lap, Castroneves stopped in turn 10, climbed from his car, and performed his customary "Spider-Man" celebration, climbing the catch fence. He climbed the fence which displayed the street sign "Dan Wheldon Way," which had been designated days earlier by the city of St. Petersburg in the memory of Wheldon.
Race Summary: Scott Dixon led 38 laps and was leading on lap 66 when he made his final pit stop. A slow pit stop caused by trouble on the left rear tire, as well as traffic in the pit lane, allowed Will Power to pass him going into turn one. After all the leaders shuffled through their pit stops, Power took the lead, and held off Dixon over the final laps to win.
Race Summary: Just days prior to the race, Chevrolet announced that all eleven of their entries would change engines, in violation of IndyCar's 1,850 mileage requirement rule. As a penalty, all of the Chevrolet entries would incur a 10-position grid penalty after time trials. In qualifying Chevrolet cars swept the top three spots, and 5 of the top 6. However, after the penalties were assessed, Honda driver Dario Franchitti was elevated to the pole.
At the start, Dario Franchitti and rookie Josef Newgarden battled into turn one. Newgarden tried to take the lead on the outside, but the two cars clipped slightly, and Newgarden smacked the tire barrier and crashed out of the race. Franchitti took the lead for the first four laps, but quickly faded with handling problems, and was not a factor in the remainder of the race.
Late in the second half, the race became a contest between rookie Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, with Takuma Sato also strong all afternoon. Power made his final pit stop on lap 64, and attempted to stretch his fuel over the final 21 laps. Pagenaud pitted on lap 70, and seemingly had plenty of fuel to charge to the finish. As Power held the lead, Pagenaud dramatically charged to catch Power, gaining 1–2 second per lap. The cars were nose-to-tail in the hairpin as they approached the white flag. Power held off on the final lap to win by 0.8 second.
On the final lap, Sato lost his chance at a podium finish, as he suffered contact from Ryan Hunter-Reay and spun out into the wall. Hunter-Reay crossed the finish line third, but was penalized 30 seconds for "avoidable contact" in the Sato incident. The penalty elevated James Hinchcliffe to third in the official results. After the leaders took the checkered flag, a four-car melee occurred in the hairpin, involving Hélio Castroneves and Rubens Barrichello, among others.
Despite all eleven of the Chevrolet entries being penalized 10 starting positions due to the engine changes, Chevrolet-powered cars swept 8 of the top ten finishing positions.
Race Summary: Will Power led 63 laps en route to his third straight IndyCar victory in 2012, and third consecutive win in São Paulo. Power took the lead at the start and led the first 51 laps. The early parts of the race were clean, but two multi-car pileups occurred on restarts in the tight chicane segment. On one of the final restarts, Takuma Sato aggressively moved into third place, taking his first podium finish in IndyCar competition. Power held off Ryan Hunter-Reay over the final 12 laps to secure the victory.
Despite concerns about possible rain during the race, the skies cleared, and the race was dry, with only trace drizzle that did not affect the track.
Race Summary: The first oval race for the new Dallara DW-12 chassis saw an all-time Indy 500 record 34 lead changes during a highly competitive event. On the final lap, second place Takuma Sato attempted to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead in turn one. As the two cars were side by side, Sato pinched the car down too low, spun, and crashed into the outside wall. Franchitti slipped by unscathed to take the victory. Franchitti's teammate Scott Dixon finished second, sweeping a 1–2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Race Summary: Scott Dixon led wire-to-wire at Detroit, IndyCar's return to the Belle Isle circuit for the first time since 2008. Around lap 40, a tar patch of the track broke up, with chunks of pavement creating debris on the track. James Hinchcliffe ran over some of the debris, and crashed hard into the tire barrier. The race was red flagged in order to make repairs to the track surface. After over two hours, the race resumed, but race officials shortened the duration to 60 laps (down from 90). Scott Dixon led the rest of the way, while Dario Franchitti charged up to second place at the finish. The checkered flag fell just minutes before a downpour.
Race Summary: After experimenting with the Twin 275s race format in 2011, the event reverted to a single 550 km (342 mi) race. The event marked the first race of the new Dallara DW-12 chassis on one of the high-banked 1.5 mile circuits. Though there was a level of apprehension entering the week (in the wake of the Las Vegas tragedy), series officials took measures to reduce downforce, lower speeds, and break up the "pack racing." The result was a highly competitive race and yielded overall positive results.Scott Dixon dominated most of the first half, leading 133 laps, and seemingly passing and pulling away at will. His Ganassi teammate Dario Franchitti, however, suffered from poor handling and after an unscheduled pit stop, fell behind and was never a factor. On lap 170, Dixon's handling started to go away, and lost the lead to Will Power. A few laps later, he got too low in turn four, and was caught up in dirty air, which caused him to spin and crash out in the exit of turn four.
After the restart, Will Power led Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan. Down the backstretch, the cars went three wide, and Power swerved to block the inside line. He made contact with Kanaan's front wing, and the broken wing required Kanaan to pit for repairs. A few minutes later, race director Beaux Barfield issued a blocking penalty to Power, and he was forced to serve a "drive-through" penalty in the pit lane.
Graham Rahal took the lead on lap 200, and appeared on his way to his second-career IndyCar victory. He held a lead of several seconds over Justin Wilson. With three laps to go, however, Rahal slid high exiting turn four, and smacked the outside wall with the right side of the car. Rahal continued, but slowed enough that Wilson passed him for the lead down the backstretch. Wilson led the final two laps, and scored his second career IndyCar victory, and Dale Coyne's second victory as a car owner. Rahal held on to come home second.
Race Summary: Ryan Hunter-Reay won for the second weekend in a row, and for the second weekend in a row on a short oval. Hunter-Reay passed his teammate Marco Andretti for second place on lap 234, then took the lead from Scott Dixon four laps later.
In a new format, the starting lineup was determined by three heat races. Dario Franchitti won the third and final heat race, which secured the pole position. However, he suffered an engine failure on the pace laps, and dropped out before the green flag.
Race Summary: Hélio Castroneves held off Takuma Sato to win the Edmonton Indy, in a race that went flag-to-flag without a caution. On the final round of pit stops, Castroneves pitted on lap earlier than Sato, and when Sato exited the pits, Castroneves slipped by to take the lead in turn one.
With the victory, Castroneves moved into second place in the season points standings behind Ryan Hunter-Reay. Championship contender Will Power started 17th, and notably charged all the way up to third at the finish. Power, however, slipped down to third in the season standings.
For 2012, as in recent years, the IndyCar Series schedule split its television coverage between ESPN on ABC and NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus). The season finale returned to NBC Sports Network after airing on ABC in 2011.
As a result of logistics, NBC Sports Network aired 2012 Summer Olympics coverage during the time and ESPN's broadcast and production crew were working the NASCAR Nationwide SeriesU.S. Cellular 250 during a split race weekend for the two NASCAR national series), the August 5 race at Mid Ohio that aired on ABC used the NBC Sports Network crew.
In addition to qualifying and race broadcasts, NBC Sports Network aired IndyCar 36, a documentary series based on NBC's 36 format. Each 30-minute episode features a driver's race weekend. The drivers selected were:
^Not considered a series rookie. He was only considered an Indy rookie.
^Briscoe, the fastest qualifier from the Fast Six shootout, was assessed a 10-place grid penalty for an unapproved engine change. Dario Franchitti, who qualified 4th, was the highest-placed driver not to have a penalty, and thus started the race from pole position. Briscoe earned the pole-winner's championship point.
^Hunter-Reay, the fastest qualifier from the Fast Six shootout, was assessed a 10-place grid penalty for an unapproved engine change. Dario Franchitti, who qualified 2nd, started the race from pole position. Hunter-Reay earned the pole-winner's championship point.