St. Petersburg Preview
Welcome to the first race weekend of the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2012! It seems like it has been forever since that terrible day at Las Vegas. While the memories of Dan Wheldon will be prevalent in his adopted US hometown of St. Petersburg, this is also a time for enthusiasm, celebration and excitement.
We’ve all read and heard opinions on the new car, the various new engines and the new looks to teams. Everyone has come up with season predictions that are nothing more than guesses – especially this season, since no one really knows who has gotten a handle on the car and who hasn’t. It’s all about as relevant as the first pre-season game before an NFL season – it’s fun to talk about, but means nothing when the season starts in earnest.
That’s what happens this weekend, as the turbocharged V-6 engines fire up in anger for the first time.
With all of the new changes this season, this is surely one of the most anticipated season-openers since possibly the 1994 CART season that saw the introduction of the Reynard chassis and the Honda engine. Some of the old-guard IRL enthusiasts may point to the 1997 season when the Dallara and G-Force chassis made their debut along with the Oldsmobile Aurora and Infiniti engines; but I’ll go with 1994.
Although I’ve never been to this race, St. Petersburg is a good place to start the season. The stands along the main straightaway always look packed. It appears that the city really gets behind this event and it seems to be a festive party atmosphere.
This race has always had a flair for the dramatic. Dan Wheldon won the first IndyCar sanctioned event in his championship year of 2005. He made a bold late-race pass on a section of the street circuit where the street now bears his name. That year, Wheldon was the first of four Andretti-Green cars to place in the top-four – a sign of the Honda dominance that would drive Toyota and Chevrolet out of the sport by the end of the season.
In 2008, Graham Rahal won his first-ever IndyCar event while driving for Newman/Haas as a dreaded “transition team” from Champ Car. It was believed to be a sign of things to come from the teenage son of a former three-time CART champion, but he has yet to produce another victory. I have an idea that will change this season.
Last season saw a massive crash on the first turn of the first lap. As it turned out, the season was book-ended by chaotic melees on the first and final laps of the season. While the final crash of the season was tragic, the first crash was almost comical – unless you were one of the participants. When Helio Castroneves tried a hopeless move on the inside to overtake Marco Andretti, it brought an early end to a lot of driver’s races – and it started Helio digging a hole for the season he couldn’t crawl out of.
Simona de Silvestro had the drive of the day last year at St. Petersburg, battling for a spot on the podium for most of the day with veteran Tony Kanaan. Although she didn’t make the podium; she earned a fourth place finish, a lot of new fans and the respect of her fellow drivers. Don’t expect Simona to be that high this weekend as she is saddled with the highly questionable Lotus engine. At least she knows she has an engine. At midweek, Dragon Racing wasn’t sure if they had an engine for former four-time Champ Car champion Sébastien Bourdais. Although Bourdais has the pedigree, his teammate Katherine Legge has the sponsorship – so guess who would get priority.
Fortunately, that situation has been resolved as Bourdais has secured an engine for the weekend. However, it will be a precarious weekend for all Lotus teams. Not only are they down on power and development time – rumor has it that there is only one spare Lotus engine on site for the entire weekend. If that is true and more than one Lotus engine has issues all weekend, look out for some fireworks.
Up at the front last season it was Dario Franchitti winning with Will Power closely behind in second – just as the championship finished up seven months later. Will Sunday’s winner win the championship just like last season? Your guess is as good as mine. I didn’t even bother to do the obligatory season preview this season. Aside from Penske and Ganassi being the usual favorites – any other predicting is purely conjecture and a waste of bandwidth.
Likewise, I have no idea what to predict this weekend – except that the Lotus will be slow, at least some of the Penske and Ganassi cars will be fast and that EJ Viso will crash. Other than that, I’d say it’s pretty well wide open this weekend. But that won’t stop me from making a wild guess as to who will win on Sunday. Not that I think I know the answer – I don’t. But my race winning picks last season set a new low for ineptitude (0 for 2011). Instead of ending up in victory lane, my picks usually ended up in the wall. I have to pick this race just to give myself a chance of ending this miserable streak.
So who do I pick to win and thereby increase their likelihood of a DNF to start the season? None other than Ryan Briscoe – driving the No.2 car for the first time after switching from No. 6. Sorry Briscoe fans – I’ve now doomed your chances for this weekend.
Enjoy the race (and the season)!