St. Petersburg Preview

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Well, after a long but interesting off-season – it’s finally race weekend. Today, the normally aspirated Honda engines begin their long-awaited farewell tour before giving way to a new turbocharged engine in 2012. Ditto for the antiquated Dallara chassis. Who would’ve thought when we first saw this strange looking design prior to the 2003 season, we would still be looking at them nine seasons later? Not me.

With all-new equipment on the horizon for next year, I’ve heard many say that 2011 will be a boring year for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Nonsense. Now, am I delusional enough to think that everyone is starting off with a clean slate and we have no idea who will win? Hardly. You would be foolish to think that anyone who doesn’t come from Team Penske or Target Chip Ganassi Racing will win the championship. It’s possible, but the odds are against it.

But there is still plenty to keep our interests up throughout the season. For the first couple of months, we’ll get to experience the buildup to the one hundredth anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. Beginning in May, we will also be getting teased throughout the season with small glimpses of the new cars for 2012.

There is also the racing. Beginning this weekend, we’ll find out if anyone has figured out how to beat Will Power on a street course. We’ll also get an indication if Ryan Briscoe has shaken his funk from last season. I like Briscoe and was worried that he may be the odd man out at Team Penske. But he survived the winter and I hope he’ll put things together and be in the championship hunt in October.

The same goes for Helio Castroneves. As long as Helio is a threat to win his fourth Indianapolis 500, he’ll be a part of the Penske stable. He could solidify his legacy by winning the championship – something he’s never done at any level in his career.

Dario Franchitti is at the top of his game. He’s won the championship the last three years that he drove in the series and the Indianapolis 500 in two of the last three years he drove in it. He is showing no signs of slowing down, even though he will turn 38 this May. Scott Dixon, on the other hand, is coming off of a sub-par season and needs to show that it was a fluke and not a trend. I’m not so sure that will happen.

For the season, I’m not going out on a limb at all. I say Dario will win the championship – again; while Helio Castroneves is my early pick to win the Indianapolis 500. I also think that someone will win a race from Andretti Autosport, Justin Wilson will win a road/street course and Tony Kanaan will finally put KV Racing Technology-Lotus into victory lane.

This weekend at St. Petersburg, there will be several things to look for. Fortunately, two of the changes we were expecting have been rescinded. The “Lucky Dog” rule was overwhelmingly rejected by fans a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday, we learned that the plan to cap the starting grids at 26 at all races outside of Indianapolis, had been scrapped.

I saw a lot of criticism on Twitter complaining about Randy Bernard “waffling”. I think it would come across better if he found a way to gauge fan reaction, other than setting rules, then changing them when fans scream about it. Regardless of the appearance, it takes guts to admit that you had a bad idea. At the risk of sounding like a Randy Bernard apologist, I give him credit for not sticking with a bad idea simply because of how it might look if he changed it. He ultimately did the right thing.

One of Randy Bernard’s best traits sometimes causes undue scrutiny. He brainstorms. By definition, that is just randomly trying new ideas as they come up. Some will work or be popular, while some won’t. Give him credit for being creative – something that seemed to elude the previous administration.

Some of the ideas are still there – like double file re-starts. This weekend, we’ll get a good indication of what that will bring for the season. After every yellow flag, the field will try to squeeze into a difficult turn-one at the end of the long straightaway. How many times will that cause Scott Goodyear or Marty Reid to state the favorite line from Darrell Waltrip – “yellow breed yellows”?

Of course, one of my favorite things about the first race of the new season is checking out the new paint schemes. I like the idea of Tony Kanaan being in the No. 82 Lotus/GEICO – sponsored car, which is a tip of the hat to Jim Clark’s 1965 winner. But in the early photos I’ve seen, there is way too much yellow on the car. I’m more reminded of the Green Bay Packers, than I am Jim Clark. Vitor Meira is sporting a new look in his AJ Foyt/ABC Supply Car. It is supposed to remind us of Foyt’s 1961 winning Bowes Seal Fast Special. The problem is, the 1961 car was trimmed in black, not blue. The striping is all wrong, too. The car actually reminds me more of one of the PDM Racing cars from about ten years ago.

For the first time, Team Penske cars will have rotating sponsors among the cars of Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. Will Power’s Verizon car will keep the same appearance at each race, but his two teammates will sport different looks throughout the season. It is a sign of the times, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. This series is still trying to build a brand. It’s tough to build that brand when the stars you are trying to promote are driving a different looking car each week.

One of the new cars that I like is the DHL/Sun-Drop car driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay. The distinctive yellow and white livery looks good in photos. Simona de Silvestro has improved her car’s looks this season too. I never cared for her faded orange & black scheme. The blue, green & white scheme is out there, but it looks much better than last years. One that doesn’t look quite as good is the car of Ana Beatriz. It’s the same sponsor, but last year’s sidepods were yellow with blue outlines. This year, photos show solid yellow sidepods. Hopefully, that will change before today’s practice.

So what will be Sunday’s results? This is my third season to be blogging, and I should have learned to stop making predictions. Fortunately, it costs me nothing to be wrong, other than an already tarnished reputation. Once again, there will be no limb climbing here. Will Power will win the race. He will stay up front and stay out of trouble while a crash fest ensues behind him all day. Who is my dark horse to come out of nowhere to post a great finish? Oriol Servia, giving Newman/Haas a much-needed jumpstart for the season. We’ll see how it all plays out on Sunday. Enjoy the race!

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “St. Petersburg Preview”

  1. Great post George!

    I have to say I am looking forward to this season more than any ones before. I think the good vibes around IndyCar are only going to increase as the season goes on. We’ve got the big centennial 500 to look forward to, then lots of little teaser glimpses of the new car throughout the season, as the league puts it through testing and the aero packages are developed. I’m sure there will still be naysayers, and doomsdayers squawking each week about how terrible things are, (Lord knows the legions of the miserable will never be happy) but the buzz and bright future are undeniable. The NBC-Comcast merger will only help raise the profile, and the influx of new cars to the grid with some exceptional talent will make the road and street courses more entertaining. You have to admit, Servia instead of Mutoh, and Bourdais instead of Milka is a marked improvement I never thought we’d see. Throw in some new faces like Kimball, Hildebrand, Beatriz, and (hopefully) Hinchcliffe, and the future is looking bright.

    Looking forward to another great season of Oilpressure!

  2. R. Bernard is doing a great job. Mistakes, backtracking, waffling–sure, that’s happened. The point is he’s working everyday to make Indycar relevant and successful and put fans in the seats and in front of the tube.

    In all reality, this year is likely to more exciting than next. With all the 100/500 hoopla, the reveal of new cars and kits, new races in new places, new rules that should affect the carbon fiber futures market, new drivers and all the programming coming to Versus, this year will be very cool. Not to mention the likelihood of more drivers and cars appearing as the season move along just so they can use up all the old cars. I’m really looking forward to this season…

  3. I’m so glad the season is finally here, hopefully Will Power is going to win the title this year and bring Roger Penske another championship to rub the smirk of the Chip Ganassi’s face. For the love of god I can’t stand him and Dario in victory lane anymore.

  4. The Lapper Says:

    Team Penske will win and I expect Penske to be loaded for bear at Indianapolis again this year.

  5. I like your writing, George, and I like your thoughts on most things. And your even-handed treatment of people including Randy Bernard. Keep up the good writing. SUCH a pleasure to have something good to read, good food for thought, thrice per week. I’ve been amazed that you’ve found so much to write of in the off-season. Now we have so much to talk of! As you said, the rotating cast of characters, musical chairs if you will, in the series, changing paint schemes, new sponsor decals, etcetera.
    Ana’s car’s paint (yellow & blue) looks so lame, so 1996. Oriol’s plain, royal blue and white car with concentric oval decals on sidepods rather than a big “FedEx” or something, … Mike Conway is driving a GoDaddy car which has most spectators in Saint Petersburg thinking that Danica’s driving by … See the throng of lurkers at Conway’s car in the paddock, just waiting for Danica to arrive or depart. “Conway” is quite large on the rear wing elements in front of them, but so many fans don’t get it … Briscoe’s running Izod livery remarkably like that which R.H-R. had last season, thereby confusing others. So much to say … People hear Dan Wheldon on track P.A. system/IMS Radio announcing that he will race in the Indy 500, and they assume that he’s pedaling the National Guard car that they see…
    I honestly can’t guess who will win this race. Too many possibilities. And the championship? I will guess a Team Penske racer, and if I must choose one, I will guess Will Power. He dominated on road and street courses last year. He may polish his oval racecraft under the tutelage of Mr. Mears, craving the championship that he let slip last season…

  6. Power’s my pick. Made easier to guess now that he is P1.

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