2011 IndyCar Season Preview

From the time his head hit the pillow on October 3 last year, Will Power probably wondered how he managed to let the title slip from his grasp. From a 59-point lead with four races to go, to losing the title by just five points, it has probably given him more than a few sleepless nights.

Fast forward through 174 more sleeps, almost five months, to 27 March 2011 and Power gets his chance at redemption. The 2011 season is finally here, our excited IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon writes…

It has been a very interesting off-season as a rather busier game of musical chairs than normal took place between the drivers and the available seats.

Perhaps the biggest movements came from Chip Ganassi. Raising the stakes arch rival Penske set one year ago by running a third car full-time, Ganassi has created a secondary two-car team to be run using the race-shop facilities of American drag racing hall-of-famer Don Prudhomme. Mixing two promising prospects, Chip has paired Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will again be Ganassi's front-running pair up Graham Rahal with Indy Lights graduate Charlie Kimball. In Graham, Chip knows he has an experienced head with expert guidance from his Indy 500 winning father Bobby. In Charlie, Chip sees potential not yet realised, and when you receive the endorsement of Chip Ganassi, as so many before him can attest to, Kimball knows he is starting his top-flight IndyCar career at the right end of the grid.

At the main Ganassi team, Scott Dixon and defending series champion Dario Franchitti remain, with Franchitti going for his third third title in a row and Ganassi’s fourth on the trot.

Over in Charlotte, North Carolina, it has been all quiet on the Penske range.

Quietly sourcing new and renewing old sponsorship deals, Roger Penske has kept his driving line-up intact with Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and the newly married Will Power all eager to remain in contention for title glory come October.

On top of stability, Penske has had pace in pre-season testing, and should be a force in 2011 once again.

In other movements, Mike Conway returns to racing action following his horrific season-ending accident in the 2010 Indy 500, ironically in the same team as the man whose car Conway crashed into, Ryan Hunter-Reay. Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti remain with the team.

The northern-hemisphere winter has claimed the FAZZT Race Team, which has sold its operation to Indy Lights legend Sam Schmidt, allowing him to step up to the big dance for the first time as a full-time team owner. Alex Tagliani remains with the new look team, with a host of others coming and going over the seventeen race meetings.

No doubt, the man who has endured the most nerve-racking off-season was Tony Kanaan. Following 7-Eleven’s move to realign their motorsport sponsorship, which was enough to force Kanaan out of his seat at Andretti Autosports, TK thought he had found a home at Luczo DeFerran, before the team folded under financial pressures, leaving him out in the cold. With a less than ideal preparation and no testing in his new car prior to St Petersburg, Kanaan left it almost literally until the last minute to take his seat in the 2011 grid with KV Racing. He will partner EJ Viso and Takuma Sato, who is entering his second season in IndyCars.

In an announcement reminiscent of the prodigal son returning home, Formula 1 journeyman and four-time ChampCar Series champion Sébastien Bourdais has been confirmed to return to the IndyCar Series, in a seat at Dale Coyne Racing.

Sebastien Bourdais
After a three-year absence, Bourdais makes a return to the US open-wheeler scene with Dale Coyne.

Although currently confirmed only for the road and street courses at this stage, to avoid a clash with Bourdais’ prior commitments to the Le Mans series, a proven champion such as Bourdais shows Coyne is keen to visit Victory Lane for a second time.

Partnering Bourdais, initially just for St Pete, will be British GP2 driver James Jakes.

Dreyer & Reinbold retained half of its driver line-up, picking up Ana Beatriz for the entire season to partner Justin Wilson. Keith Wiggins and the HVM Racing Team are running a one-car operation with Simona De Silvestro, very impressive in her first season, behind the wheel, as are Panther Racing, maintaining their one-car outfit with 2009 Indy Lights champion JR Hildebrand.

Newman Haas have confirmed the services of veteran Oriol Servià, with 2010 Indy Lights series runner-up James Hinchcliffe finalising sponsorship details and likely to take a second seat at the famous team. Conquest Racing have announced Indy Lights frontrunner Sebastian Saavedra in their first seat for 2011.

Notable faces from 2010 currently without a confirmed ride are Dan Wheldon, Bertrand Baguette, Alex Lloyd and Mario Moraes, with plenty of part-timers no doubt working to get themselves into the series at some point in 2011.

Some big changes have occurred in the event calendar this year also, with Kansas, Watkins Glen, Chicagoland and Homestead all departing the schedule for various financial and attendance reasons. Iowa in June will become a night-race for the first time, with new and returning races at Baltimore, Milwaukee and Las Vegas filling the void. Another interesting change will be the twin-race format to debut at Texas.

All in all, it is shaping up to be another cracking season, the last one with the current standard Honda / Dallara / Firestone combination among all the teams before the highly-anticipated new formula in 2012. Hopefully we see a few surprises in 2011 to give Ganassi and Penske another reason to look in their mirrors.

All that is left now is for those most famous words in motorsport to get us going. Ladies and Gentlemen…START YOUR ENGINES!!!

Keep tabs on the latest IndyCar news, results and analysis on the Richard’s F1 IndyCar portal – click here.

[Original images via Flickr and LAT]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.