On the road/street courses last year, Will Power was, in a word, “dominant”. In two words, he was “really dominant”. In eleven words, he was “Holy Andretti, I can’t believe how good this guy actually is”. You get the idea.
There were nine “twisty” events on the IZOD IndyCar schedule last year. Power won five of them, more often than not in convincing fashion. In the other four he finished fourth, third, second, and second. Add this to the fact he was coming off a season-ending crash and back injury in 2009, and it seems even more impressive. Sure he was in great equipment, but on many courses his times were far faster than any teammate.
Will Power looks to be in a prime spot to defend the Mario Andretti Road Championship Trophy in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be without competition. Last year, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, and Dario Franchitti all had road/street victories. Ryan Briscoe should contend after coming close last year at St. Pete and Watkins Glen. OK, so that’s last year’s Ganassi and other Penske entries. Who else? Contrary to what you might think, there’s no reason 2011 should be a total “red car” parade. There are simply too many drivers who excel at the twisties to not expect a good, solid, collective challenge to Power’s dominance.
Let’s start with Graham Rahal. Now with Ganassi’s satellite team, Graham has already shown his chops in this series, winning at St. Pete in 2009 with Newman-Haas. This year, he should be in some very good equipment. Graham might be 22 years old, but no one can doubt his maturity on and off the track.
Although you can expect an acclimation period with any new team, there are some big expectations for him in ’11 and beyond.
Also in the mix are Dreyer & Reinbold’s Justin Wilson and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. Both have road course victories in the last two years, with Hunter-Reay winning an emotional race at Long Beach in 2010. Wilson was close enough to taste it several times last year, and the lanky Englishman can never be counted out when it comes to road racing.
The list doesn’t stop there. Tony Kanaan is with a new team this year, but DeFerran Dragon Racing’s new star could be an absolute wild card, depending on how things shake out. Vitor Meira had a surprising and excellent third-place finish at the inaugural Sao Paulo event. Alex Tagliani and FAZZT Racing should be stronger in their second year together. Marco Andretti shows some brilliant flashes at times. His new teammate Mike Conway is going to be interesting to watch as he tries to regain the momentum of his interrupted sophomore season.
And if we have to have a dark horse, what about Simona de Silvestro? Simona was nothing short of amazing last year when you consider she was pedaling with some pretty rough equipment for most of the year. This year, with new sponsorship, a new tub, and the hope of a little luck, one of IndyCar’s brightest rising stars could wow us all at a course like Edmonton or the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix.
Last, but certainly not least, we know Paul Tracy will be showing up for at least the Canadian races in Toronto and Edmonton. PT’s still got the fire, especially when it comes to his home turf. And if Dale Coyne's testing pans out, he could have a great rival back in Sebastien Bourdais.
Sure, some of these folks (as well as others not named here) might be underdogs, but that’s the glory of racing. Few people expected Justin Wilson to win at Watkins Glen in 2009 for Dale Coyne Racing, but he did. And I have a feeling more underdogs are lying in wait for the 2011 IZOD IndyCar season. In a lot of ways, “if” is the most important and exciting word in motorsports.
In short, Will Power might have the inside track to the 2011 Road Championship, but there are plenty of drivers who are out to give him all he can handle.
Zachary Houghton runs the IndyCar blog & fansite IndyCar Advocate(www.indycaradvocate.com).
You can reach him on Twitter (@indycaradvocate) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org