After six, yes that’s right, SIX months off, on-track hostilities will finally, yes FINALLY be waged this weekend for a whole new season of the IZOD IndyCar Series.
All of the off-track politics aside, there’s no doubt that when all of that is peeled away, what it left is still an extremely competitive series that cannot be predicted on a week to week basis and that still provides the viewer with a superior product. For that, the fans remain glad.
As we discussed in our 2013 Season Preview article, very little has changed in the top teams in terms of driver lineup. Penske’s perennial series bridesmaid Will Power will undoubtedly be chomping at the bit to get going to try and rectify what was in his opinion once again the wrong ending to last season. Oval racing remains Power’s bugbear, and despite the Australian’s obvious prowess on road and street courses, team owner Roger Penske will only have so much patience if the package cannot be put together into a championship – Penske hasn’t had one since 2006.
Speaking of Penske, first blood last season was claimed by The Captain’s outfit, with Hélio Castroneves executing his strategy to perfection to find himself taking the chequered flag and dedicating the victory on Dan Wheldon Way. Hélio only has a single full-time team-mate this year, with Ryan Briscoe departing for sports cars (for the time being anyway), but knows he must start well and maintain consistent results this year to challenge for the title in his own right.
In the Chip Ganassi camp, nothing has changed except for the departure of Graham Rahal. Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball remain on board, but all must know that a repeat of 2012 must be avoided at all costs. Dixon scored a couple of wins and Dario took the Indy 500, but neither were seriously in the title hunt with a few rounds remaining in the season. Both know they are better than that, and with six championships between them, they know it can be done, and with the equipment at their disposal, know it must be done. For Kimball, the experience of these two stalwarts can be nothing but a benefit for the rising star.
Over at Andretti, the feeling of having snatched the title out from under Penske’s nose at the final round would still have Ryan Hunter-Reay feeling good, but the realist that he is, RHR is privately relishing the challenge of retaining his crown. With wise heads in Michael and Mario Andretti, who have both been there before guiding him, both would have told him that it is harder to stay at the top than it is to get there. A new face onboard at AA for 2013 is EJ Viso, who is capable of capitalising on the opportunity available to him, even as a satellite entry of HVM Racing supplied by Andretti Autosports. Whether he does remains to be seen.
The bumpy St Petersberg layout hasn’t changed from last season, and with a full season with the DW12 now under the belts of every team, the knowledge last year brought from it will be of immense benefit to how they approach 2013.
My prediction for this weekend is a strong start to 2013 for Will Power, who will take the win this weekend, with Hunter-Reay close behind. My wildcard for the weekend is Simona De Silvestro, who finished a strong fourth here in 2011 and will want to improve knowing she has a faster engine powering her from behind.
Let’s go racing!
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