This weekend marks the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, as the IZOD IndyCar Series takes to the streets for an all-new event. Naturally, there’s a great deal of anticipation and excitement for the race, in part because we simply have no historical data to gauge how teams might do. At a brand new event, the door is wide open for anyone to stake their claim as the “ace” of a circuit.
So, which teams will climb to the top in terms of performance? Since we’re discussing a new layout, history would point towards Penske Racing. When the series went to Sao Paolo, Brazil for the first time in 2010, it was Will Power who emerged as the winner. At Barber last year, his teammate Helio Castroneves carried the checkered flag in the Series’ first-ever race at that course. When Edmonton changed its layout this year, it was Will Power winning once again.
Does that mean Penske Racing is destined to win at Baltimore? Not so fast; there are some other drivers who have shown a knack for getting the hang of a new course right off the bat.
Of the three inaugural races mentioned above, the only drivers matching Power, Castroneves, and Dario Franchitti in finishing Top 10 are Tony Kanaan and Mike Conway. Both drivers have had some rough patches lately, but perhaps a new course is what’s needed to get them back in front.
Additionally, don’t count out Ryan Hunter-Reay. He’s on fire lately and he finished P7 on the new Edmonton layout. Don’t forget, he also finished P2 in the first-ever Sao Paolo race. A driver who’s on a hot streak with a propensity for doing well on new courses could be a lethal combo this weekend.
His teammate, Marco Andretti, also looks for success in what is now the closest thing left to a “home race” for the Nazareth, PA Andretti clan. It doesn’t seem like much of a home field advantage, but after two consecutive poor results, Marco might be fighting for whatever edge he can find.
Last, but not least! Let’s not forget Newman/Haas Racing. The dynamic duo of Oriol Servia and James Hinchcliffe has shown they can find the right setup even when they don’t have a lot of historical data. Coming into New Hampshire, the team had not tested at that track, while their rivals at Andretti, Penske, and Ganassi had. The result? Hinch finished P4, while Servia just missed winning in a controversial finish. If they can again manage to be fast out of the gate this weekend, we could be seeing the first Newman/Haas victory of the year.
Ultimately, whatever a team’s history at new tracks, finding the right setup will be of massive importance- and multi-car teams have an advantage. Guessing or going the wrong route in practice/qualifying can ensure a drop to the back of the field, and chances are stacked against a top finish. As the drivers zip past Camden Yards and around the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, we’ll see if seasoned veterans, strategy or luck win out.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.