Thursday, March 11, 2010
Indycar Season Finally Here: Penske- Ganassi Battle Expected
By now, all the teams and their gear are settled in for the Sao Paulo season opener this weekend. Unfortunately, I will be couch racing instead of shooting this event and I am looking forward to seeing how all the new combinations handle this inaugural street race. I'm sure a festival atmosphere will prevail as everyone knows Brazilians love their racing. With six (6) native sons or daughters racing in the IRL this weekend (four of whom list Sao Paulo as their hometown), their time will be in demand off the track as well.
Three time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, leader of Penske Racing, brings his race winning savvy and local heritage back home. Considering where his life was a year ago at this time, under the microscope of the Internal Revenue Service, Helio will no doubt be all smiles this weekend. Outside of Helio's Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Will Power, defending Indycar champ Dario Franchitti and teammate Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing will likely provide Helio's toughest competition. I think Helio's biggest personal challenge will be reigning in his natural exuberance since there is no margin for error on street courses like this one. A crash in qualifying could put any of these contenders at the back and passing is expected to difficult between so qualifying results will likely set the stage for the anticipated race winners.
I do expect there will be some surprise results this weekend as numerous new car/driver combinations have surfaced since last season. Of the 24 cars expected to start this weekend, roughly half involve drivers at new teams. A first time event such as this street race can also be expected to reward teams with the most experience with the Indycar street course setups, as they can go fast almost as soon as they unload and wheel out on the track. Street races are notorious for wall contact and the experienced drivers are not exempt, so someone like Justin Wilson, now with Dreyer & Reinbold, could sneak through to victory lane if the big boys run into concrete (or each other).
The ultimate darkhorse this weekend has to be Takuma Sato so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the IRL's close quarters racing and the relatively sluggish performance of Indycars compared to the F1 equipment with which he is more familiar. My personal favorite to do well would be Ana Beatriz as I have been impressed with her in Indy Lights equipment the last two years and the opportunity to do well in her hometown in her first IRL race will undoubtedly bring pressure, but I think she will be able to handle it even though she is not a likely podium candidate. Three women will start this race, two of them rookies, and Sarah Fisher is not among them. How will the Brazilian press treat Danica, Ana and Simona di Silvestro? I hope they all do well and it will be interesting to see the highly touted di Silvestro take on this circuit after a scintillating Atlantic series in 2009. I hope we see four women qualifying for Indy in May! No other high level racing series can boast of this kind of gender diversity.
Coverage will again be provided by Versus, and I feel badly for DirectTV customers who will not have access to the telecast. At least they can catch it on Indycar.com! With no Sprint Cup race this weekend and the Formula One opener also slated for Sunday, this should be an excellent weekend for the open wheelers to take center stage. Let's go racing!