Helio leads the points after a win at St. Pete - will the cars make a difference this weekend?
The bugs in the new car and engines showed, and some of our favorites weren't even in the race by day's end, but in the end, it was a hugely cathartic result. Helio Castroneves was the winner, after not winning a single race last year. Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, along with Andretti Motorsports were on the podium, as we thought, but the drivers we all expected to be there were not. Even James Hinchcliffe, Danica Patrick's replacement in the GoDaddy.com car had an excellent finish, in 4th, and let us know he is here to win.
This weekend the teams are at Barber Motorsports Raceway near Birmingham, Alabama. Again, this is a road course, but by all accounts, couldn't be more different than St. Pete. A handful of teams tested at the track in November, but that won't really give them much of an advantage. Racing on the track with 25 other cars will be the true test. In addition, Firestone is providing a slightly different tire for the track, one that is not quite as durable, meaning the tires may necessitate pit stops before fuel. That being said, Will Power put 31 laps on a set of alternate Firestone tires last year. He won the race leading every single one of the laps.
Wait! Does that mean the racing won't be racing? Does that mean it will be a parade?
I don't think so. I'm no expert, as I've said many times, but honestly, after watching last week's race at St. Pete, I'm happy to say I am really excited for this year in IndyCar. I haven't watched a lot of open wheel racing in the last few years, mostly because of the irreparable damage that seems to be the boon of the open wheel cars. However, I like the look of the new cars. I like the fact that they have retained the look of the open wheel cars, yet made them safer. They even look safer. There are slight fenders over the rear tires meaning it will be unlikely for the front wheels of a following car ending up over top of the rear tires of the car in front of them, lessening the chance of the catastrophic wrecks that follow such contact. I don't know about others, but that means I can enjoy the racing more. I *think* it might also mean that we will see more daring passing, although it may take some time for the drivers to become more comfortable in the new cars.
Finally, the announcement was made this week that the IZOD IndyCar series will return to Houston, TX in October of 2013. The CHAMP car series raced there during 2006 and 2007, and IndyCar will race the concrete circuit in the Shell and Penzoil Grand Prix of Houston over the weekend of the 4th and 5th of October.
For the win this weekend? Well, I have to go with Will Power. Even with the new car and a possible tweak in the tire compound, the man showed last year exactly how to get it done here. Hopefully we will see some racing, some passing, and hopefully Eric will give you a little better idea of what to expect at the track on Sunday, but I can't argue with success. My dark horse has to be Hinchcliffe. I don't think it was just luck that put him in 4th place last weekend. I think the man has heart and talent. I think he will be on the podium before this season is done.