My Predictions For The 2011 Season
Now that the thrill and excitement of the NFL’s Pro Bowl is in the rearview mirror, there’s nothing left of the football season except for some meaningless anti-climactic game to be played in Arlington, TX this weekend. That means it’s time to really get focused on the upcoming IZOD IndyCar Series season, which begins in less than two months.
What else does it mean that it’s time for? Predictions, of course. Everyone has opinions about the way this upcoming season will end up in October and I have mine. What better way to make a complete fool of myself than to share those predictions in print? I’ll not go fully out on the proverbial limb and make a driver-by-driver prediction. Instead, I’ll play it a little safer and base my 2011 predictions on team performance. So, ranking the teams in order of predicted performance, here goes nothing…
Team Penske: Talk about not going out on a limb, this is a very safe prediction – but a correct one. Suffice it to say that having what once appeared to be a secured championship snatched away in the last race of the season for two years in a row, didn’t set too well with The Captain. In 2009, Ryan Briscoe watched his championship dreams slip away after he fumbled away his lead in Motegi, then allowed Dario Franchitti to snooker his team on fuel strategy at Homestead. Last year, Will Power’s inexperience on ovals caught up with him in the last four races of the season as Franchitti again stole glory from Team Penske. With more sponsorship from Shell/Pennzoil, IZOD and AAA; I expect the championship will come from one of the three Penske cars. Whether it comes from Briscoe, Power or Helio Castroneves is anyone’s guess. All three are capable – and hungry.
Chip Ganassi Racing: If you’ll notice, I didn’t refer to this team as Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Yes, I know that the additional satellite operation featuring Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball is considered a separate entity. But I think that the additional team will cause enough distractions to lower the level of performance of the Target side just a little bit. Add to that the questions surrounding Scott Dixon’s sub-par performance in 2010. Was it just an off year or were Dixon’s results last year a sign of things to come. Chip Ganassi once said that he never saw a driver becoming a parent (as Dixon did for the first time in fall of 2009) make a driver go faster. So far, Scott Dixon has not made Ganassi eat his words. Count on the childless Franchitti to carry the banner for the Target team as it struggles just a little bit this season.
The other two cars on the satellite team will struggle as most new teams do. Charlie Kimball is a rookie and Graham Rahal will take time to find his groove. I wouldn’t expect too much from this side.
Dreyer & Reinbold: Is this stretching out too much? Possibly. There are many questions at this point. Mostly regarding who will pilot the No. 24 car. Mike Conway appears to be recovered from his frightening accident at Indianapolis, which sidelined him for the remainder of the season – but he is still not re-signed. Other names mentioned for that ride include Tomas Scheckter. There are rumors that Ana Beatriz will fill that seat. While I like Bia and think she has great potential, I don’t think putting her in that car full-time would be the best move. Conway showed flashes last season before his accident. If they can swing it financially, I’d like to see them put Conway in that seat full-time and run Ana Beatriz in a handful of races to give her some more experience.
On the positive side, they have Justin Wilson back for another season. Wilson signed his deal last fall giving him his first return season with the same team since the merger in 2008. I think Wilson has learned enough to hold his own on ovals and should win a road/street course race or two this season.
KV Racing Technologies: No, I haven’t lost my mind. Their driver lineup isn’t set and they led the series in repair bills, but this team is too good to sit in the doldrums forever. If Dan Wheldon can come aboard and they can jettison EJ Viso or Mario Moraes, I think this team can perform – and possibly win! Lotus isn’t involved with them just to see their good-looking paint job ride near the back or on the hook of a tow truck. They are in it to win. Don’t expect KVRT to stay down in 2011.
Andretti Autosport: I have been accused of having a personal grudge against this team. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even as I type, I’m wearing my Andretti-Green sweatshirt that I bought six years ago. I also have a Tony Kanaan die-cast in my office at work and a Dario Franchitti Klein Tools/Canadian Club Dallara at home. Being the traditionalist that I am, I would like nothing better than seeing the Andretti name at or near the top all season. It just won’t be this season.
There have been too many losses from last year for this team that is still recovering from a disastrous 2009. They rebounded with two wins in the first half of 2010, but faded in the second half. Tony Kanaan provided one of those two wins and is now driving for Gil de Ferran. Ryan Hunter-Reay scored the other victory, but his IZOD livery is now gracing Ryan Briscoe’s car. Hunter-Reay returns, but his sponsorship has yet to be announced. There is also another driver that remains nameless to be added to the lineup at some point in the next few weeks. In the meantime, that leaves Danica Patrick, who has one eye on NASCAR and Marco Andretti who has both eyes on Paris Hilton. Hunter-Reay cannot be counted on to carry a four-car team. This promises to be a long year for Andretti Autosport.
HVM Racing: It’s unclear how much funding is actually supplied in the Entergy sponsorship deal, but it gives this team some stability for the next three years. Simona de Silvestro has already won the hearts of most IndyCar fans, with her straightforward and earnest personality. Now she has the chance to win their minds by showcasing her talents in her sophomore season. Don’t be fooled by Simona’s very pleasant demeanor. Underneath that calm exterior is a fire that is fueled by an extraordinary talent. Growing with this team will pay dividends. I’m not sure she will win a race this season, but I expect her to be very competitive on road/street courses and consistent on the ovals.
FAZZT Race Team: Were the 2010 results for this new team a fluke? I don’t know, but they certainly blew away everyone’s expectations last season. If they can somehow repeat that success in 2011, Alex Tagliani and his co-owners will surely have my respect (for whatever that’s worth). I expect them to come back down to earth a little bit this season, but that should still be good enough for mid-pack at most races.
de Ferran/Dragon Racing: As much as I’d like to see Tony Kanaan run consistently near the front, I’m not sure it will happen this season. This team presents quite a culture shock to Tony Kanaan, who comes from a team with over one hundred employees to one that employees only a handful. Although Jay Penske and Gil de Ferran represent good racing minds, this team is low on resources. Rafa Matos failed to impress in his two seasons in the car, but TK fared no better in a test last fall. It will be interesting to see if these three famous racing names can come together and make something of this struggling team.
Panther Racing: This team struggled with Dan Wheldon, a former series champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner, in the cockpit for the past two seasons. Are we to expect JR Hildebrand to suddenly work wonders and get them back to the front? Hardly. Hildebrand is a great talent with huge upside potential, but he still will carry that capital “R” next to his name all season – especially at the Indianapolis 500, where I expect their streak of three consecutive second place finishes to be snapped.
Sarah Fisher Racing: Although this team will not be full-time in 2011, they’ll still be around for more than half the races. This will be interesting to watch. Sarah Fisher has stepped out of the cockpit for good. This will be her first year as strictly an owner. She has hired Ed Carpenter to pilot the No. 67 Dollar General Dallara at selected races next year. Ed has proven himself to be an excellent driver on ovals. His road-racing prowess is another story. This team took a step backwards last season. It’ll be interesting to see how they perform with Sarah calling the shots off the track and Ed on both road courses and ovals.
AJ Foyt Racing: I am an unapologetic AJ Foyt fan. Not only do I consider him one of the best, if not the best, to ever turn a wheel at Indianapolis – but the Foyt name is one of the few names that harken back to my childhood years of going to the Speedway. Nothing would make me happier than seeing this team come out of its slumber. I’m also a big Vitor Meira fan, but I’ve come to realize that his window of opportunity for winning a race has closed.
Unfortunately, this team won’t be awakening anytime soon. They were competitive at some races last season; but being competitive is about the best this team can hope for, given their budget and AJ’s insistence of running things his way.
Newman/Haas Racing: This once proud team has devolved into a shell of its former self. It once looked as if Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe might be paired to give this team a nice balanced lineup. So far, neither has been signed. One wonders if either will end up in the cockpit by opening weekend at St. Petersburg.
Conquest Racing: Bertrand Baguette performed well for this woefully underfunded team last season. It appears he will be back to try and see if he can work the same magic again this year. Rumor has it that Paul Tracy may accept a full-time gig in a second car at Conquest. Personally, I think this is a mistake for all parties. For Tracy, it’s an example of how far the mighty can fall. For Baguette, he is trending the opposite direction. In a perfect world, Baguette could learn from Tracy’s experience. In the real world, Tracy doesn’t have the reputation of being the best teammate. I actually think Tracy’s presence would serve as a cancer on the team and impede Baguette’s progression.
Dale Coyne Racing: With all due respect to Alex Lloyd, but when the loss of Milka Duno hurts your team – that pretty well says it all.
So there you have it. How close will I be? Which team will disappoint? Will there be a team to jump out of nowhere and win it all. With teams having years of data on these nine year-old cars, probably not. But you never know. We’ll find out when it all begins on March 27th.