Chip Ganassi Racing
Drivers: Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball;
The champion team is obviously among the title favourites again. Franchitti and Dixon are the best pairing in the series and it will be a major struggle to beat them. I still put Dario ahead of Scott but the car changes this year could easily swing in the Kiwi’s favour.
The second, satellite team will do will with Rahal and I hope Kimball shows improvements too. Both should thrive with a second solid season without needing to chase a race seat.
Drivers: Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe;
Power has emerged as the best of the trio over a season, he’s almost unbeatable on road and street courses and is always improving on ovals. So much so, Will is my tip for the title this year. Word from testing is that this car suits Helio and Ryan more than the last one did in recent years, could we see the Helio of old at Indy (and elsewhere)? Will Briscoe finally again show the talent which got him a drive at this team in the first place? I hope so.
Drivers: Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe;
A drop from 4 cars to 3 this year for Michael’s team. The big-name star is gone and Hinch moves across from Newman/Haas (who shockingly aren’t in the series this year) to take the vacant seat, which was originally earmarked for Wheldon. Perhaps the focus on 3 cars and the drop of the constant attention of the media on a single driver, will help the team recapture the form it lost some time ago. RHR should be the fastest driver but don’t count out the others.
KV Racing Technologies
Drivers; Tony Kanaan, Rubens Barrichello, EJ Viso;
If the Andretti team moves out of the media spotlight this year, this team moves into it. Sato is out but Barrichello is in, and there’s no doubt Rubens is the bigger name particularly since the series already has a strong following in Brazil. How will he transition from F1? I think it’ll be a mixed season for him.. much like his F1 seasons. I’m amazed that he’s so well-loved outside the F1 paddock as much as in it – if he scores a win expect everyone to go wild! Kanaan drove very well last year and seemed to enjoy himself more to boot, I hope the addition of his experienced friend helps him. Signs are that it may have helped Viso who seems to have calmed down a lot already, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog his drive in the 12 Hours was very mature. Good things could come to KV this year, a far cry from 2010′s crashfest.
AJ Foyt Enterprises
Driver: Mike Conway;
Conway moves from Andretti to Foyt. A match made in heaven or a baptism of fire? I can’t call it. I know Conway is always quick on the city street courses and there are plenty of those this year, the team has a reputation though of preferring ovals. Fair? Not sure. They’re gradually getting better everywhere.
Driver: JR Hildebrand;
Very good all-round driver, but an oval-specific team still looking to up their game elsewhere, much like Foyt. They are always making progress in that regard and this could be the year they make that leap forwards.
Drivers: Sebastien Bourdais, Katherine Legge;
This deal seemed promised for some time yet only seemed to fully come together this week when an engine finally appeared for Seb on Thursday. A good team though, they should be among the top Lotus teams. Where that puts them in the overall field is another matter. Interesting to see Bourdais back in open wheelers, he would win races (maybe the title) if he were with a top Honda/Chevy team. Legge hasn’t been in an open wheel car for years and wasn’t stellar in DTM, so has lots to learn/relearn and lots to prove. She has a lot of respect among fans and the paddock but I wonder if that’s more due to surviving a horrible crash at Road America than actual talent. We’ll see.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Driver: Takuma Sato;
Great to see Rahal’s team back in IndyCar, and doing it without compromising the ALMS programme. Taku’s landed on his feet with RLL and I really think he’ll do well here. I am a big fan of both the man and his talent and I’d love it if he won a race, he just needs to stop bloody crashing! Could Bobby and his team be the people to knock it out of him?
Dale Coyne Racing
Drivers: Justin Wilson, James Jakes;
Wilson returns to Coyne after a couple of years at DRR but I’m not sure why, they aren’t the fastest out there. He probably didn’t want a Lotus! He managed to get a win at Watkins Glen in 2009 so who knows, maybe he’ll do better than I expect. I don’t consider Jakes to be a hot talent and that opinion dates back to his GP2 days where he qualified well but couldn’t seem to race. He didn’t prove me wrong in IndyCar last year and will need to work hard to convince me this year.
Ed Carpenter Racing
Driver: Ed Carpenter;
I have a lot of respect for Ed for making this move. I never really liked him, what with his family connections to Tony George and the fact he raced for TG’s team. I gained that respect when he drove for the underdog Sarah Fisher Racing team and was still competive on ovals. Always an oval driver first, he and the team decided to tackle select road courses even though he was invariably at the back. He’s been improving throughout. He’s now set up his own team and will run the entire season in a year with a bigger road/street course focus. The only question mark I have is how well he will do as a one-car team with nobody to show him the road course ropes, away from ovals he needs an experienced team-mate.
Driver: Oriol Servia;
A good upper-midfield team, a very good underappreciated driver, a potentially uncompetive engine. Also a drop from several cars to just one although that probably wouldn’t worry Oriol. May well become the leading Lotus team and the team’s results will hinge on the performance of that engine.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
Driver: Josef Newgarden;
A rookie in a one-car team in a season with new cars and engines. A talented rookie yes, and one I really think should have stuck to the F1 ladder. But even so… I don’t see how this will work well. And yet, in the first two practice sessions in St. Pete he was in the top 12. Remarkable. Want an underdog? You’ve got one.
Driver: Simon Pagenaud;
It is about time Pagenaud got back into open-wheel. He had a stellar debut in Champ Car 5 years ago, before showing his worth in a variety of top sportscars including Peugeot, with whom he finished 2nd at Le Mans last year (alongside Bourdais). He also won the 2010 ALMS title with Highcroft and David Brabham.
Driver: Simona de Silvestro;
Simona is a real talent who like so many others could use a team-mate to learn from, sadly this is a one-car effort again potentially hampered by the engine. She’ll show good results when she can but unfortunately results this year may look worse than they could’ve been.
Bryan Herta Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian
Driver: Alex Tagliani;
Tags is a decent driver but he doesn’t seem to ultimately ‘have it’, he’s been at upper-midfield level for years and can’t seem to make that last jump. BHA won the Indy 500 last year but then disappeared until the final two rounds whilst they went away to act as official test team for the new Dallara. As a result they have a lot of data of the car in its early stages which is probably redundant now, the car has evolved so much and the other teams have had plenty of testing to learn it for themselves. Midfield among Lotus runners, occasionally top among them and most likely so at Indy.
Paul Tracy and his legion of fans were hoping to have one last full-season deal as a farewell tour before retirement, and a full-season ride would’ve enabled him to put in more competitive performances than his patchy recent career suggested. Sadly this hasn’t transpired and he seems destined to end his career scratching around for a drive wherever he can, which is not the way a champion should go.
Michael Shank Racing couldn’t secure a deal in time, largely thanks to Dragon getting the TEAM money from the sanctioning body, but are hopeful of appearing later in the year. RLLR have another car coming from Indy onwards for Luca Filippi. Expect several deals to come together for Indy alone and, hopefully, for a few entries beyond that.
I don’t get the sense we’ll see a merry-go-round of drivers this year which makes the series look that much more professional.