Grand Prix of St Petersburg Grand Prix of St Petersburg Grand Prix of St Petersburg

And while many readers to the website will be catching up on the latest goings-on in Formula 1, don’t forget that the IndyCar Series is also staging its own season-opener: The Grand Prix of St Petersburg in Florida. Our regular IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon gazes into his crystal ball and makes a few predictions for this weekend’s race…

Chip Ganassi, one of the most successful team owners in American motorsports history, does not have many “nuts left to crack”, to use the phrase, in terms of races yet to win. Multiple Indy 500 wins, multiple series champions, although the St Petersburg Indycar Race trophy does not currently have the words “Chip Ganassi Racing” inscribed anywhere on it.

Roger Penske, on the other hand, probably has all four of his St Pete winning trophies stacked neatly next to each other, and incidentally, has at least one for each of his 2011 drivers Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power. It is clear who has the upper hand here. This weekend, Ganassi has a chance to start his personal collection as the 2011 Indycar Series gets underway in the picturesque east-Florida township.

In six previous runnings, Andretti Green (as it was then known) and Newman Haas are the other two teams to have visited St Pete’s Victory Lane.

As covered in my 2011 season preview, there is no doubt Will Power will be like a bull at a gate by the time the green flag drops this weekend. With consistency at the forefront of his mind all year, Power will be confident in his road-course abilities, but will know that strong results on the ovals will be what is needed to go one better in the title race this year. His main rival, Dario Franchitti, will be well aware of this fact, and with no signs that the motivation is fading in the three-time series champion, the championship battle is sure to be tight as always.

A lap of St Petersburg with Penske’s Ryan Briscoe

Less than dominant in 2010 though were championship hopefuls yet eventual backroom players Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe, who will be eager to show they can be among the leading cast this year. And what to make of Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball, the two new Ganassi wildcards? Will they be allowed to race against their big Ganassi brothers? Ganassi is a true racer at heart, so nobody should expect them to play Penske hold-up all afternoon.

While only Round one of seventeen, the importance of starting the season in-form cannot be underestimated, so expect plenty of first corner drama, plenty of varying pit strategies, plenty of wheel-to-wheel dicing, and plenty of action.

[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.