It’s finally Opening Week for the IZOD IndyCar Series, and prospects couldn’t be much higher for another year of great racing, on-track drama, ferocious championship battles, and more twists and turns than a premiere road course. It will start this weekend at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but will play out in Barber Motorsports Park, in Long Beach, at Indianapolis, Toronto, Milwaukee, Pocono, and many other destinations as well. In short, it is, in all likelihood, going to rock your face off.
We’re getting things rolling for 2013 coverage here at INDYCAR Nation by inviting three IndyCar bloggers to throw their opinions in on some of the big questions regarding the upcoming IICS campaign. Zachary Houghton (IndyCarAdvocate.com), Steve Wittich (OpenWheelWorld.net), and Eric Hall (anotherindycarblog.wordpress.com) took turns weighing in just how some drivers and teams might fare in the year to come:
What sort of results will we see from Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Josef Newgarden in his sophomore outing?
Steve Wittich, OpenWheelWorld.net: In 2012 Josef and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team showed very surprising pace for a rookie outfit. In 2012 Josef and the Sarah Fisher Hartman team also made many rookie mistakes. Newgarden and Purdue trained engineer Nathan O’Rourke appear to share a great relationship and expect the #67 to regularly finish in the top 10.
Zachary Houghton, IndyCarAdvocate.com: Well, for starters, I expect them to do something they couldn’t do in 2012, and that’s crack the Top 10 in a race. Newgarden is good for IndyCar and will have his time to shine, but he definitely had his share of rookie impatience and mistakes last year. It’s an ongoing learning process for Josef, but I think he’ll be a regular feature in the Top 10 this year.
Eric Hall, anotherindycarblog.wordpress.com: Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Josef Newgarden have a hard road ahead for the 2013 campaign. After a freshman season of 10 finishes P15 or worse, if Josef and SFHR can consistently crack the top 15 like we all know their capable of, I would call the season a success.
Let’s talk about Takuma Sato and AJ Foyt Enterprises. Early returns look impressive for that pairing. True or False: Foyt and Sato will get a win this year?
Steve: False. The pairing of the scintillating Sato and experienced engineer Don Halliday has the potential to produce some runs. But, some of Sato’s strongest runs came at superspeedways, and those tracks were not the Foyt’s team’s strongest.
Zack: Everyone seems to be pretty happy with the way the Foyt/Sato partnership is working through early testing, and I definitely think the team is slowly seeing the results of increased engineering help. I’m a Sato optimist, and think he’ll get his win at some point in IndyCar, but I also know he’ll have his share of late-race wall slaps. I’m throwing caution to the wind here and saying yes, it’s going to happen.
Eric: False. Although Sato is a perfect fit for AJ Foyt Enterprises, the team will need the season to mesh and become a strong mid-pack contender and be in place to steal a win. But, as Sato and AJFE gain speed, so will the rest of the paddock and it will become harder and harder to find that first win.
One more True or False: Simon Pagenaud will finish in the Top 3 in Championship points.
Steve: Is true, no false, ummmm maybe a legitimate answer? I’d like to say true because Simon and the Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports crew seldom make mistakes. I’d like to say false because the team didn’t have any “bad” luck last year, and I’d like to say that they are due for some. I’d like to say maybe because I feel the need to cover my butt.
Zack: I think the world of Pags, and know he’ll have the speed to contend throughout the year. I’m 50/50 on this one, just because the field is so deep this season—you’re talking about beating out the Penske guys, the Ganassi guys, and some strong contenders at Andretti. I think Pagenaud will be a Top 5 guy, but I’ll have to wait and see on Top 3.
Eric: True True True. Not only will he finish in the top three in points, Pagenaud will find his way into victory lane for his first time in top level open-wheel racing. However, all the small teams on the grid will have the same steep hill to climb if there is any hope of breaking into the Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti stranglehold on the top.
What can we expect from Simona de Silvestro this season now that she’s rocking the Chevy power?
Steve: Simona’s best career IndyCar championship finish was P19. I’d be very surprised if she does not finish higher than that. This will be the first time she has had a teammate as an IndyCar driver, and it happens to be a teammate who will be an excellent tutor on ovals: the style of track with which she needs the most help.
Zack: Well, after Lotus last season, it almost has to be better, doesn’t it? Simona is a talented driver who will benefit greatly from having a teammate this season. Her progress on the ovals probably won’t be breathtaking, but I’m fully expecting her to mix it up on the streets and road circuits. KV isn’t an elite team right now, but I imagine that Chevy engine feels pretty good after being criminally underpowered last year.
Eric: If Simona took anything away from her time with Lotus, it was how to extract as much speed from the chassis to mask the engines power deficiency. Now that she has Chevy muscle at KV Racing and a veteran teammate, her true form and pace will start to develop and she will free herself from fighting with Ed Carpenter at the back week in and out.
Right now, who’s your early pick to take the checkered flag at Indianapolis?
Steve: If the down force levels remain the same as they were in 2012, I think Marco Andretti will become the first grandson of a winner to have his face grace the Borg Warner Trophy. If there is less down force, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Justin Wilson will win an unexpected 500 for Dale Coyne.
Zack: We’re not entirely sure just how they’ll tweak the cars for this year’s 500, but Dario Franchitti is just so good there it’s tough to see him not at least in the mix. You can say the same for his teammate Scott Dixon, who is also a fairly decent bet to take the checkered flag. I also believe James Hinchcliffe is very close to figuring it out. I still think Ed Carpenter could get one before it’s all said and done, and believe Justin Wilson could be a sneaky name up front, as well.
Eric: Tony Kanaan. No other driver deserves a first time trip to victory lane at Indianapolis to drink the milk than Tony Kanaan. Until he retires without a win or finally snatches victory at Indy, he will always be my pick for the 500.
Which one of these Chevy drivers will have the best year? Tony Kanaan, JR Hildebrand, or Oriol Servia?
Steve: A very tough question to answer, as I believe any of them could surprise with a win, but none of them will contend for a championship. I’m going to have to give the overall season edge to Oriol because he seldom makes mistakes.
Zack: Servia is so polished and unflappable as a veteran that he’d be hard to choose against. For TK, I need to wait and see what level of support he gets from KV Racing this year. Hildebrand should see more consistent results this season, but I don’t think I can justify putting him in front of Servia just yet.
Eric: Oriol Servia. Barring the unforeseeable event that Oriol loses his ride halfway through the season, this will the first time he has been able to contest two full seasons with the same team. Stability breeds results and the annual fan favorite will finally have a foundation to build success on.
EJ Viso in 2013: Better, worse or the same versus 2012’s points finish?
Steve: I expect E.J. to fare a little bit better in the overall championship fight in 2013. A reunion with Michael Cannon (his engineer from HVM) should have a positive impact on his confidence and consistency.
Zack: I think he’s a good fit at Andretti, and he’s going to have his best chance yet to show good results in the Series. He’s cut down on mistakes the last two years, and he’s plenty fast. I’ll say better, but hopefully they have someone on the radio keeping him level.
Eric: EJ is better than his P20 championship finishing position in 2012. But how much better and whether he will be able to mesh is a timely fashion with his new team at Andretti is the real question. Viso has never finished higher than P17 in a season; his new AA ride leaves him no excuses.
Have we begun to see the decline of Dario Franchitti as a regular contender in this Series?
Steve: There comes a time when every driver enters the downside of his career. But when the high point of your career is four consecutive championships the first couple of steps downwards will still leave you very competitive. I still expect Dario to be competitive and in the conversation when talking about potential Championship contenders.
Zack: He’s still going to be in contention at places like Indy, where he’s among the all-time best, but I think we might be seeing the beginning of a slow decline for Ganassi’s champion. Then again, his B-level is probably still good enough to regularly compete in this series. I don’t see a championship in the works for him, but he’ll be up towards the top again.
Eric: It is without a doubt the beginning of the end of the Dario Franchitti Era of IndyCar. He is the only driver on the grid that hasn’t switched to left foot braking; coincidence that he could never get a car designed for two foot braking to work for him on the twisties? No. If Dario is to stay relevant, he must update his driving style.
Is Will Power going to be this year’s IZOD IndyCar Series champ?
Steve: Yes. I think there is a very good chance that the Toowoomba Tornado will run away with the Championship this year. Will excels on street course, and the addition of doubleheaders plays right into his strengths. While some of his problems on ovals have come from self-inflicted mistakes, many have also come from bad luck. This is the year that luck turns.
Zack: I think the twisty doubleheaders are big for Will, and that at some point, he’s going to build up a big enough lead that the season finale doesn’t matter for him. It’s just a matter of time for Will, and it might as well be this year. Put me down for a big “Yes” here.
Eric: Yes. A championship is really the only option left for Will Power this year. He will either win or totally self-destruct at some point in the season. But with increased championship focus on street racing by way of the doubleheader weekends, he may have his best chance at a championship yet.