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Monday, July 26, 2010

Opinion: KV Finally Turning a Corner?

Helio Castroneves' blocking penalty was obviously the big story of this Sunday's Honda Indy Edmonton. Everybody has their own opinion on what happened - whether it was a block or not - and it's sure to remain one of the biggest stories kicking around the IndyCar blogosphere until we race at Mid-Ohio in two weeks.

But looking a little further up the official results than Castroneves' penalty-affected 10th place finish, one can see a pretty solid day for KV Racing Technology - finishes of sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth for the four cars of Paul Tracy, Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso, and Mario Moraes.

This comes in stark contrast to the previous ten races on the schedule, which had seen 20 crashes in 30 combined starts for Sato, Viso, and Moraes. The "KV" in KVRT may as well have stood for "Krash Victims," the way that 2010 had been going.

2009 and 2010 have been like night and day for the team owned by former Champ Car owner Kevin Kalkhoven and 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser. For one, 2009 featured a one-car effort for Moraes, a limited-schedule entry for Tracy, and an Indy 500 entry for Townsend Bell. Moraes began to hit his stride at the end of the year with some solid top five finishes, Tracy was generally competitive, and Bell's one start yielded a fourth place finish in the season's biggest race.

This year, the team found the money to expand to three full-time cars. Viso brought his PDVSA sponsorship to the team, Sato came with some Honda support, and James Rossiter was set to run a third car with sponsorship from Marisco Liqueur. Add to this the support of Lotus Cars - stemming from their partnership with engine builder Cosworth, which is partially owned by Kalkhoven - and strong finishes at the end of 2009, and the team looked like a contender.

But Rossiter's funding fell through, leading the team to bring Moraes back in at the last minute with zero time spent testing. When the team went to Brazil for the season-opening Sao Paulo Indy 300, Moraes made a catastrophic and stupid error in the first turn, failing to slow down for an accident ahead and ending up on top of Marco Andretti's car. Sato was knocked out in the wreck ahead.

So it's gone for KV all year. Moraes sits 14th in points with five DNFs, Viso 16th with two, and Sato 21st with six. The only two races before Edmonton in which all three KV cars finished were at Barber and Watkins Glen. The entire team has shown big-finish potential when they've kept the cars off the wall, but with an average of two accidents per race weekend for three cars, that's been hit or miss, so to speak.

Tracy has, despite missing the Indy 500 this year, been the team's most consistent driver in his two appearances. He finished 13th in Toronto but led laps, and of course led the team with his sixth place run at Edmonton.

Unless the momentum from Edmonton can be sustained over the final six races of the year, however, look for changes at KV next season. If I'm Jimmy Vasser, I'm honestly considering clearing house. The team's three drivers have plenty of potential, but potential means little when the team has to be suffering financially from all the torn up equipment. And the drivers' sponsors, as supportive as they have been thus far, can't be willing to finance this much longer.

Perhaps one of the issues is the relative inexperience of the drivers. Sato's eight years in Formula 1 do not necessarily translate to the slower, lower-revving IndyCar. Viso and Moraes both entered the series in 2008. Tracy, on the other hand, has been racing American open-wheel cars since the early 1990s, and to this day remains a threat to win every time he takes to the track.

Another issue stems from the team's relatively quick expansion from one car to three. Yes, the trio worked well at Indianapolis last year, but that was only for one race. Even with experienced drivers in the cars, the team likely would have had some of these same struggles, if not necessarily as high of a crash count.

What would make the most sense, sponsorship dollars willing, would be to keep one of the team's driver prospects for next year, put a veteran like Tracy in a second car, and leave it at that. This would allow the veteran to help show the young driver how to be consistent in an IndyCar, while also greatly easing the burden on the team. Keep in mind that its best years in CART came when they ran two cars, usually featuring a young driver paired with a veteran, and its first, decently successful, year in IndyCar was the same way.

But in a sport where money now comes at a premium, it's not always possible to build the ideal team. Vasser and his crew will have to find a way to work through the team's struggles and turn lessons learned and momentum built at the end of this year into success next year and beyond.

IndyCar Race Review: Honda Indy Edmonton

Scott Dixon won his second IZOD IndyCar Series race at the Edmonton City Centre Airport on Sunday, though it did not come without its share of controversy.

Helio Castroneves was assessed a non-appealable penalty for blocking Team Penske teammate Will Power on the 93rd lap of the 95-circuit Honda Edmonton Indy. He refused to head into the pits for his drive-thru penalty, and dropped to 10th place in the official results after being assessed a 20-second penalty to his time.

An angry Castroneves confronted three race officials after climbing from the car, grabbing one by the collar, but it was no use. It was the second time in three years that a blocking penalty on Castroneves took a race win from him, the other instance coming at Belle Isle in 2008, where Justin Wilson eventually took the victory.

So Dixon and Power, the past two winners of the event, stood 1-2 on the podium at the end, with Dixon's Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti placing third. It was Ganassi's second victory of the day, the other coming with driver Jamie McMurray in NASCAR's Brickyard 400, held at IndyCar mecca Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five.

The two biggest surprises in qualifying, E.J. Viso (sixth) and Simona de Silvestro (seventh), had wildly divergent days. Viso was unable to maintain his position directly behind the sport's top two teams, but rebounded to finish eighth, as KV Racing Technology cars swept positions six through nine. Meanwhile, de Silvestro ran strongly for much of the race, a necessary boost for HVM Racing, but finished a disappointing 22nd after her fuel pump broke with eight laps to go.

And finally, critics of Milka Duno may see some relief, as she was put on probation for the rest of the year during the race weekend. Series officials have cited her failure to meet minimum standards of performance, such as maintaining 107% of the leader's speed, and poor decision-making on the track (to the ire of many of her competitors).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

IndyCar Race Preview: Honda Indy Edmonton

Once again, a Team Penske Dallara-Honda driven by Will Power will start on the pole in an IZOD IndyCar Series race.

Like clockwork, the Australian won his sixth pole of the season (fifth on road or street courses) for this weekend's Honda Indy Edmonton, the lone race that he won last season. And unsurprisingly, the rest of the top five cars all belong to his owner, Roger Penske, or his top rival, Chip Ganassi.

Meanwhile, Helio Castroneves continued his trend of being an Edmonton bridesmaid. Penske's elder statesman, who finished second in both IndyCar-sanctioned Edmonton races, qualified alongside Power. They were the only two drivers to break the 61-second mark in qualifying.

But time trials at the Edmonton City Centre Airport also provided some surprises. Namely, E.J. Viso and Simona de Silvestro will start sixth and seventh, respectively. Both drivers have or have had affiliations with ex-Champ Car teams, and were brought up through the ranks to race on this sort of track.

Indeed, most of the cream of the road course crop rose to the top in qualifying, with a handful of surprises, such as Raphael Matos and Tomas Scheckter, advancing to the second round of qualifying. But drivers who generally have run better on ovals, such as Alex Lloyd, Mario Romancini, and Danica Patrick, qualified closer to the back of the pack. Only Tony Kanaan and Milka Duno failed to make qualifying laps, and will start 24th and 25th, respectively.

The three drivers in the field that have won this event before all start towards the front. Power, obviously, sits on pole, while Scott Dixon, who won this event in 2008 with Ganassi, starts third. Meanwhile, Justin Wilson, looking to rebound from miscues that cost him last week's win in Toronto, starts ninth. He won this event in 2006 when it was still sanctioned by Champ Car.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Carpenter and Vision Return for Three

Chris Hagan, the sports anchor for Fox 59 in Indianapolis, has reported via his Twitter page that Ed Carpenter and Vision Racing will rejoin the IZOD IndyCar Series for the final three races of the season at Chicagoland, Kentucky, and Homestead.

The No. 20 Dallara-Honda will once again be sponsored by Fuzzy's Premium Vodka, who backed the team in this year's Indianapolis 500. That car, run in partnership with Panther Racing, finished a respectable 17th, only the third car a lap down. Professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, the founder of Fuzzy's Vodka, confirmed the news in an interview with Hagan at a charity golf tournament.

Carpenter has always been an oval specialist, the kind of driver that Vision Racing owner (and IndyCar founder) Tony George had in mind when he first founded his open-wheel series in 1994. Carpenter especially excels at short tracks, where his career average finish is 12.1, and mid-size speedways, where that number is 13.7.

It's no surprise, then, that Kentucky and Homestead are Carpenter's two best tracks, with average finishes of 9.3 and 10.6, respectively. Meanwhile, at Chicago, his average finish is a respectable 13.7, making that track his fourth-best oval, out of the ovals that IndyCar still races. In a combined 18 starts at the three tracks, Carpenter has three of his four career top five finishes and eight of his 27 career top 10s.

Last year, Carpenter scored respectable finishes at both Chicago and Homestead, coming home 6th and 12th, respectably. But Kentucky was the highlight of the small team's season, as the team came within .016 seconds of its first win, only to be nipped at the line by Ryan Briscoe.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

IndyCar Race Review: Honda Indy Toronto

Will Power capitalized on a poor restart by Justin Wilson, opened up a big lead on defending race winner Dario Franchitti, and cruised to victory in today's Honda Indy Toronto. It was the fourth win of the season (all of them coming on road or street courses) for the Team Penske driver, who now holds a 42-point lead over Franchitti in the overall standings.

It was perhaps the luckiest of Power's four wins this season, however, as Wilson clearly had the car to beat all weekend. During an early practice session, Wilson had a .7-second advantage on the next best car; from there, he won the pole, and led in the early stages of the event. He only relinquished the lead during pit stops under the first caution, which came after KV Racing teammates Takuma Sato and Mario Moraes got together.

Hometown hero Paul Tracy inherited the lead on lap 18 by staying out, with Vitor Meira also choosing not to pit. Two more cautions over eight of the following 12 laps kept him there until he pit on lap 31. From there, another caution trapped Tracy in 17th, and another pit stop and a miscue while trying to pass Simona de Silvestro later in the race put him back in 13th at the finish, the first car one lap down.

Cautions were a big story of the event, especially involving KV Racing cars, which have now been involved in 20 accidents over 10 race this year. Moraes later punted Mario Romancini out of the race, leading to a drive-thru penalty from race control. And E.J. Viso ran into a spun Raphael Matos with 19 laps to go, totaling the de Ferran Dragon Racing vehicle and putting Viso three laps down in 19th at the finish.

Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon were two of the bigger names to fall out of the event. Castroneves was a victim of early braking by Meira in the third turn after the first restart, and he went hard head-on into a tire barrier in the runoff area. Dixon touched wheels with Ryan Hunter-Reay about the same place where Castroneves and Tracy had an incident last year, and a damaged left front suspension ended his day. Both drivers were unhurt.

But as Castroneves and Dixon sat on the sidelines, they watched a good show by their teammates, Power and Franchitti. The Scotsman inherited the lead from Tracy on lap 32 and held it until a green-flag pit stop on lap 53. Power and Wilson pit the next lap, with the Dreyer & Reinbold team somehow managing to beat the renowned Penske crew out of the pits. Despite being held up by lapped traffic in that extra lap, oth managed to make up enough time on track to get ahead of Franchitti coming out of the pits, and they ran 1-2-3 as pit stops cycled through. Wilson began to open up a huge lead on Power, with the help of lapped traffic and the alternate red tires, before the fifth caution of the day.

But on the restart after the Matos-Viso incident, everything went awry for Wilson. Power pressured him on the restart, making quick work of passing his former Champ Car competitor, and Franchitti was soon in hot pursuit. Going into turn eight, Wilson came in too hot and spun the car around, allowing most of the field to get by him. Wilson would rebound for seventh at the end of the race.

In the same handful of laps, Dixon had his incident, and Tomas Scheckter and Canadian favorite Alex Tagliani drove into the tires in turn one, setting up the final restart of the day.

But Power would not yield, as he beat Franchitti to the line by 1.27 seconds. Hunter-Reay, who had been struggling with his car all day, took third, followed by Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal, who scored his best finish of the year in his return to Newman/Haas Racing.

Andretti Autosport, at a track where team owner Michael Andretti took seven victories as a driver, had the best day of any team, with their other two cars of Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti taking sixth and eighth, respectively. Meanwhile, Simona de Silvestro and Dan Wheldon rounded out the top ten, marking de Silvestro's best finish of the year and Wheldon's fourth top-10 finish on a road or street course this season.

Friday, July 16, 2010

IndyCar Race Preview: Honda Indy Toronto

The IZOD IndyCar Series makes it first foray into the Great White North of the season with this weekend's Honda Indy Toronto, an event won by Dario Franchitti last year.

Each of the past eight races held on the 1.755-mile Exhibition Place street circuit have been won by different drivers; the last driver to successfully defend his victory was Michael Andretti in 2001. Andretti is the all-time wins leader at the circuit with seven victories, a factor in his decision to purchase the race's assets in mid-2008 and rescue it after that year's running was cancelled due to the demise of Champ Car.

This weekend's event, as well as the Edmonton airport race two weeks from now, are widely celebrated by the Canadian fans, and are especially welcomed by the Canadian members of the circuit. Alex Tagliani and Paul Tracy, the two active Canadian IndyCar drivers, will each be running special paint schemes in the race - Tagliani a new Hot Wheels-backed livery, Tracy an equally impressive car backed by the Canadian arm of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Toronto Blue Jays.

But the drivers aren't the only ones returning to their home country this weekend. In fact, two of the engineers on the de Ferran Dragon Racing team, lead engineer Eric Zeto and performance engineer Scott Raymond, call the province of Ontario home. The team hopes to build on their momentum from Watkins Glen, where driver Rafa Matos finished an impressive 4th despite losing his in-car telemetry in the middle of the race. Matos finished 10th at Toronto last year.

Matos has certainly shown the speed this weekend, with his best lap in the second practice, a 62.3984-second run, good for fifth in that session. But 13 cars - half of the field - were within a second of that session's leader, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who turned a 62.1433-second lap.

Within those 13 cars, seven different teams are represented - Andretti Autosport, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Team Penske, de Ferran Dragon Racing, FAZZT Race Team, KV Racing Technology, and Chip Ganassi Racing. This suggests not only a close battle for pole position, but also a mammoth struggle just to make the Firestone Fast Six.

In the race itself, don't be surprised if Will Power and Justin Wilson challenge for victory. They are two of only four former Toronto winners in the field (the others being Tracy, who won it in 1993 and 2003, and Franchitti, who won in 1999 as well as last year). Power and Wilson were right on Franchitti's tail last year, finishing third and fifth, respectively, after starting second and fourth.

Television coverage of the Honda Indy Toronto begins on Sunday at 12:30 PM EST. The race will be shown on ABC.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

2012 Wish List: BMW

With new open rules for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series, fans all over are speculating about who will build the engines that power the next generation of IndyCars. Plenty of opinions have been voiced already, and plenty more will still come out in the coming weeks and months.

We all know Honda will be there. Lotus, too, is a likely bet, with their involvement with Cosworth (whose owner, Kevin Kalkhoven, also runs KV Racing Technology). Mazda has been mentioned by a handful of folks as a potential candidate; I wrote an article about their IndyCar potential yesterday. Ford and Chevrolet have been bandied about as returning to the sport, while Fiat and Volkswagen AG brands went deep into preliminary engine discussions that the series had within the past few years.

But in my opinion, the next brand that ought to look into the IZOD IndyCar Series is BMW.

Hold on, you say. BMW pulled out of Formula 1 after last year, is currently restructuring their junior formula series (which no longer even operates in the United States), and has never even competed in an Indianapolis 500. So what makes me think I know what I'm talking about? How does bringing this completely foreign brand into the sport make any sense, when past examples of such new programs (think Alfa Romeo and Patrick Racing in the early 1990s) have been disastrous?

What makes BMW such a solid fit for IndyCar is their relationships with current prominent team owners in different areas of motorsport. They currently provide the engines for two of the top sports car teams (in their respective classes) in all of American sports car racing: Chip Ganassi Racing's Daytona Prototype in the Rolex Sports Car Series, and Rahal Letterman Racing's pair of GT2 M3s in the American Le Mans Series. Those two teams have won three of the past seven Indianapolis 500s, and Ganassi has won the past two series championships.

I don't need to get into describing a Ganassi-BMW alliance, but the natural continuation of the Rahal-BMW alliance only makes sense. While they have mostly been involved in sports car racing as of late, everybody knows that Rahal is, first and foremost, an open-wheel team; its storied history in CART and at Indianapolis leaves little doubt of that. Bobby Rahal has been attempting to run a full-time IndyCar program for each of the past two years to no avail. If the BMW brand, which will likely maintain its connection with Rahal for the foreseeable future, was to move to IndyCar, there's almost no doubt who would get the factory sponsorship.

The same folks who own Dreyer & Reinbold Racing also own a pair of large BMW dealerships in central Indiana, making them a solid fit as well. Assuming all three of these teams maintained their relationships with the brand and continued racing at their current or potential capacities, BMW could have a stable of five to seven cars in 2012, were they to enter the series.

The driver stable would also likely be one of the best of any brand. Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will probably remain with Ganassi until they each retire, unless somebody has an unlikely plummet down the standings. Rahal could be blessed with the services of his son, Graham, if he continues to struggle finding sponsorship as he has this year. And DRR has made its way up the ladder in IndyCar year by year, rung by rung, to the point where it is now one of the more respected teams in the sport. With that prestige comes at least one, if not two marquee drivers, depending on the market in any given year. Though Justin Wilson may be gone, Mike Conway could develop into a top talent by 2012.

The engine itself would likely be a new creation. BMW has an existing 2.0-liter I4 that currently competes in the World Touring Car Championship, and won the 2005-07 titles with Andy Priaulx behind the wheel, but that motor is not turbocharged. While BMW does have an existing twin-turbo motor for that car, the E90, it exceeds the 2.4-liter limit that IndyCar has put in place.

Were BMW to pursue IndyCar competition with the three teams, with whom they have already established solid business and racing relationships, the results could be devastating for the rest of the series. A proper BMW effort would claim some of the best minds and drivers in the sport, and challenge for the first Indianapolis 500 win by a German automaker since Al Unser Jr. drove a Penske-prepared Mercedes to victory in 1994.

Opinion: A More Balanced Reaction to the Dallara Announcement

So we're about 30 hours removed from the groundbreaking announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series will move to a single chassis - ahem, "safety cell," excuse me - produced by Dallara for the 2012 season and beyond. The majority of the reaction to this decision has been tempered disappointment layered with guarded optimism for the future.

Certainly, what was unveiled on Wednesday was not what most of us expected, or really wanted. The cars that we will see on track in 2012 look nothing like any of the concepts presented to us beforehand by BAT, Delta Wing, Lola, Swift, or even Dallara.

To be honest, we still don't even know what the car will look like for certain - we just have the general idea of how a handful of the parts on the safety cell will appear.

The content of the announcement was a far cry from what most of us had hoped for. Instead of the beautiful Lola chassis, one of the many innovative Swift designs, or even one of Dallara's three less groundbreaking models - or better yet, an entry from each - we don't have any definitive designs to sink our teeth into for quite a while. And that's a disappointment, to say the least.

It's especially disappointing because of how amazing some of the chassis in play would have looked. The Lola was perhaps the best-looking open wheel car since Lola's last Champ Car, which was retired at the end of 2006. It's a car that should be used in some form, by some series, somewhere in the world. Hell, even if only the Indy Lights version of the car makes it to that series, that car needs to be in competition.

The return of Dallara, and Dallara alone, also put a lot of people off. Yes, anybody who wants to design an aerodynamic kit for the car can, but it's not quite the same as a full-blown chassis war, where two or three different companies vie to produce the greatest vehicle overall for their teams. And a lot of people are sick of the same company producing the vehicle, especially when the current chassis that dominates the series has been panned by a lot of fans, particularly when Champ Car produced a new chassis in 2007 (four full years after the Dallara's introduction).

But sit on this decision for a little while, consider it more rationally, and you have perhaps the greatest move that the sport has made since Randy Bernard came on board.

By allowing anybody to design their own aerodynamic kits while only allowing Dallara to produce safety cells, the series maintains the best of both worlds: the fairness of a single unbiased supplier for the safety cell, and the innovation, visual variation, and on-track advantages that come out of different aerodynamic kits.

Any engine manufacturer looking to join the sport can now find ways to add aesthetic cues that reflect their street cars to an IndyCar, perhaps the most purpose-built racing machine in the world. (Lotus' Formula 1 head, Tony Fernandes, has already hinted that the brand may up their commitment in 2012 from their current sponsorship of Takuma Sato.) Keep in mind that one of the reasons fans flocked to NASCAR was because the cars used to resemble what we saw on the road every day; now, IndyCar has a little crack at that, too.

Let's also keep in mind what Dallara offered to maintain its relationship with IndyCar: a brand new facility in Speedway that will churn out these new safety cells. Indianapolis becomes a racing town all year once again, as the engineering schools of the Midwest (fun fact: my grandfather studied engineering in Purdue) will produce the future minds that shape the sport. The facility creates new jobs that should help rejuvenate the local economy, something that should not go without consideration.

I will concede that for all the fanfare that came with this announcement, and all of the high expectations that we the fans and writers developed on our own, we were a bit let down. But it was our own grandiose expectations and rigid mindsets that let us down. We all wanted something for the series that nobody starting from scratch could really provide us with in 2012, while still making a reasonable amount of money. As much as I hate to say it, racing is a business... a business in which my vision of Honda, Porsche, Cosworth, and BMW 3.4-liter V6s in Dallara, Lola, and Swift chassis is not quite feasible at the moment.

Once we all get over those elevated hopes, dreams, and expectations we had, I'm sure that IndyCar and Dallara will not disappoint, and we're going to see a fantastic 2012 IndyCar season. It'd just be nice to have a few more complete and concrete images and specs drawn up at this point, especially since the new car has been such a long time coming.

But alas, we shall keep waiting... and in the meantime, probably drawing up our own aero kits. Let the art project begin!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

2012 Wish List: Mazda

Now that the specifications for engines and chassis in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season have been released, manufacturers have 18 months to throw together programs before the start of that season. The current Dallara-Hondas will see a lame duck year in 2011 before giving way to brand new equipment the following year.

Dallara will now build the "IndyCar Safety Cell," which is for all intents and purposes the chassis of the car. Aerodynamic parts such as wings, sidepods, and engine cowlings, however, may be crafted by any manufacturer willing to adhere to certain league standards for cost, safety, and availability. These parts must not exceed $70,000 in cost, be open to all teams, and pass certain safety tests before the league will approve them for on-track competition.

This decision, announced today by the ICONIC committee, preserves the relative fairness of a one-chassis system, while still emphasizing aerodynamic innovation and variability. Every car on the track will likely no longer look the same, unless one manufacturer's aero kit far surpasses the rest - and even then, because teams may only use two of these packages per year, the teams that guess wrong will be stuck.

The new engines will be even more of an open-source system. ICONIC set maximum parameters of 2.4 cubic liters of displacement, six cylinders, and 700 horsepower, while also mandating that the new engines will be turbocharged. Theoretically, any engine meeting these standards can take to the track in 2012.

Honda will be back for sure, producing a brand new engine that will likely adhere to the maximum parameters. Cosworth, too, will probably be back, with the engine company co-owned by KV Racing Technology principal Kevin Kalkhoven likely producing Lotus-branded motors for KV. Ford, Chevrolet, and members of the Volkswagen and Fiat conglomerates have also been rumored at various stages of the game to be mulling the production of IndyCar engines.

One brand that stands out, however, is Mazda.

For a moment, forget about the existing Mazda racing engines, and simply consider Mazda's most recent racing involvement. They were the sole engine supplier for two feeder series, the now-defunct Atlantic Championship and the Star Mazda Championship, the latter of which currently operates under the IRL's Road to Indy banner. They sponsor the development of plenty of top young talent - recent open-wheel drivers to progress through the ranks in Mazdas include John Edwards, Adam Christodoulou, Jonathan Bomarito, Simona de Silvestro, and Conor Daly.

The first three drivers, however, have shifted their focus to sports car racing in a poor market for open-wheel development drivers. They all remain Mazda-backed, but instead of having come to IndyCar, they compete in the Rolex Sports Car Series for SpeedSource. You can bet that if the 2012 system was in place right now, and Mazda had a team established in IndyCar instead, every single one of those drivers would still be in open-wheel. Sports car racing just became a necessity when the ladder broke.

But with the new 2012 system, Mazda can bring some of its sports car folks over to IndyCar, including ex-Atlantic champions Newman Wachs Racing and longtime sports car stalwarts Dyson Racing, to give their development drivers a prestigious end to the ladder. Instead of the monetary prizes offered in past Atlantic and Star Mazda championships, the prize can be a drive for Mazda's IndyCar program. Even if the program did not win races, it could at least serve as a stepping stone for drivers within the big series to go to bigger teams, much as Will Power went from KV to Team Penske and E.J. Viso went from HVM Racing to KV.

As for the motor, there is another reason why Mazda makes a perfect fit: it already has a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 in competition in the American Le Mans Series. While the motor, which is powered by BP isobutanol and runs in Dyson Racing's closed-cockpit LMP2, would require a handful of changes (especially in the fuel department) to work in IndyCar, it would be a cost-effective option due to the smaller amount of development work required.

A Mazda IndyCar team in 2012 would provide Edwards and Christodoulou with the means to reach their open-wheel goals, give its development drivers in lower series a goal for which to shoot, and perhaps keep Daly in America for another year before he heads off to Formula 1 as many expect. The brand seems one of the best fits for IndyCar competition in 2012, and they are certainly at the top of my personal wish list.

Dallara to Build 2012 IndyCar Chassis

At an announcement at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the ICONIC committee announced that the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series will feature Dallara chassis.

Dallara beat Lola, Swift, BAT, and Delta Wing for the bid.

The new chassis will feature aerodynamic body modifications. Dallara will build the monocoque, but the other chassis parts, those visible to the car on the outside, can be developed by other manufacturers. These manufacturers may range from other chassis manufacturers like those who failed in their bids, to presumptive engine manufacturers, all the way to aersopace companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

In effect, this preserves some sort of equality by giving all teams the same basic car with which to start, but allowing other companies to design their own aerodynamic pieces in order to try and develop advantages. Their only limitations are safety testing, the ability for any team to use said parts, and cost limitations - up to $70,000. Teams may use two of these aerodynamic kits per season.

According to Brian Barnhart, the chassis will cost $349,000, but a complete "roller" will cost $385,000 with Dallara's standard aero kit. This is just over half the price of the current chassis. Further, Mitch Murray, governor of Indiana, also announced that the first 28 chassis ordered by Indiana-based teams (the majority of the series) will receive $150,000 discounts.

Photos: Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen

It's about a week and a half late, but here are some photos I took at the Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen.

Originally I planned to save them as a little treat for race-starved IndyCar fans before this weekend's Honda Indy Toronto. But with today's chassis announcement - something that never crossed my mind when I made this decision - these photos won't exactly fulfill that purpose.

That's neither here nor there, though. Enjoy the photos!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Finally, Rahal Returns to Newman/Haas

Earlier in the season, Robin Miller at SpeedTV.com reported that Graham Rahal would reunite with his old team, Newman/Haas Racing, at Long Beach and beyond, saying that the young American talent had finally found sponsorship to resume his IZOD IndyCar Series career.

That didn't happen; instead, Rahal lent his services to Sarah Fisher Racing for that event, while also making appearances for Rahal Letterman Racing at Indianapolis and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at Iowa. But after tweeting last night that he had "good news" to announce today, Rahal and Newman/Haas have revealed that they will return the No. 02 car to the track for this weekend's Honda Indy Toronto, as well as subsequent races at Mid-Ohio, Infineon, Motegi, Chicagoland, and the season finale at Homestead.

Quick Trim, which backed the father-son Rahal effort at Indianapolis, will sponsor the car.

Rahal finished 7th in points last year with Newman/Haas in the No. 02 car, scoring a pair of pole positions and third-place finishes at Richmond and Motegi. Last year, Rahal qualified sixth or better in each of the six events that he will drive for Newman/Haas this year.

Rahal did not return to the team this year when sponsor McDonald's exited the sport and the team could not find a replacement in time. Subsequent offers from Dale Coyne Racing and a handful of other teams were not to Rahal's liking, and so he sat until Fisher offered him her seat at the three road course events at St. Petersburg, Barber, and Long Beach. A poor chassis kept the team towards the back for the greater part of those runs, and a crash at Long Beach ended his SFR tenure.

Rahal finally finished an Indianapolis 500 this year, coming home in 12th, though not without controversy, as drivers complained that he was blocking too aggressively on the track. Regardless, Dreyer & Reinbold, looking to replace the injured Mike Conway, gave him the call two races later, and he matched his best finish of the season by coming home ninth.

Now Rahal gets to go home again with the team that launched his major open-wheel career and try to re-establish them as contenders. While Hideki Mutoh has proven himself a worthy driver in the past, luck has not been on his side for much of this year. The No. 06 team has finished no better than 12th all season, with more DNFs (four) than lead-lap finishes (three).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Opinion: The Plight of the American Open-Wheel Racer, Pt. 2

Last month, the American open-wheel racer was an endangered species.

Other than Marco Andretti, the futures of most American drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series were shaky at best. Ryan Hunter-Reay was on a race-by-race deal; Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter were on the sidelines after Indy; J.R. Hildebrand and Jonathan Summerton never had rookie-of-the-year campaigns materialize; Danica Patrick was still testing the NASCAR waters in order to potentially make the jump.

What a difference a month makes - Hunter-Reay has a deal to keep him at Andretti Autosport for the balance of the year, Hildebrand will make his IndyCar debut for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing next month, and Patrick's generally unsuccessful NASCAR runs make you wonder if she'll reconsider.

Hunter-Reay is the biggest feel-good story of the year in IndyCar. On a limited schedule with Andretti, he won the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, only to have a couple potential sponsorship deals fall through after that victory. The former series Rookie of the Year and IZOD spokesman been one of the most consistent drivers in the series all season, but even having everything going for him couldn't keep him in the car beyond Watkins Glen. The signing of Adam Carroll, a talented Irish driver with the chops for Formula 1, also seemed to hurt Hunter-Reay's case.

Then, good karma came back to repay Hunter-Reay. Andretti's existing sponsors, including IZOD, Snapple, Ethanol USA, Inland Industrial Services Group, and the Michael Fux Foundation, announced just before Watkins Glen that they had stepped up funding to keep Hunter-Reay in the car for the rest of the season. Not only that, they created the charitable initiative Racing for Cancer, dedicated to Hunter-Reay's mother, who passed away in the offseason.

Of course, Hildebrand is a bit of a feel-good story himself. The man they call "Captain America" won last year's Firestone Indy Lights title for Andretti, but besides some time testing Marco Andretti's car this year, he'd been generally out of open-wheel, instead competing in the American Le Mans Series. But with Mike Conway still on the sidelines at DRR, and two tracks coming up that Hildebrand performed well at in Lights last year, he became the perfect fit for the No. 24 team.

Mid-Ohio yielded a third-place finish last year for the young American driver, while Infineon Raceway, his self-proclaimed home track, was the site of his fourth and final victory of the year. There is also the outside shot that he may run at Edmonton for the team, the final race before Conway's return that does not yet have a driver under contract. Hildebrand won at that track in Lights last year as well.

But while these instances are progress, the sport still does not have many American drivers under long-term contracts. Patrick and Marco Andretti over at Andretti Autosport are the only drivers with guaranteed futures at the moment. The team will certainly try to bring Hunter-Reay back, but it all depends on sponsorship. Hildebrand's deal, for the moment, is for two races only.

Rahal is still looking for a bit of certainty after having driven three different cars over the course of this season, with some spotty results. Carpenter and Vision Racing, the team owner by ex-IRL czar Tony George, have not been heard from since the end of May. Townsend Bell runs Indianapolis only these days, Davey Hamilton's bid to run races after Indianapolis was dashed by de Ferran Dragon Racing's totaled racecars, and Sarah Fisher still has a long way to go sponsorship-wise to bring her team to full-time status.

Worse, while the trend of open-wheel stars jumping to stock cars may continue with Patrick, few NASCAR competitors seem willing to go to at least Indianapolis and compete for the proposed $20 million prize that would come with winning the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, two of NASCAR's finest that grew up with 500-mile dreams in the state of Indiana, have passed on the idea. Juan Montoya, perhaps the driver with the best shot, doesn't seem too keen on it, either. Robby Gordon hasn't been able to make something happen, and ex-F1 pilot Scott Speed and Team Red Bull, despite potentially making a great fit, have not commented on the possibility. Meanwhile, at the press conference introducing the New Hampshire IndyCar race for next year, Dario Franchitti downplayed the possibility of making such a run.

The series also has to bring in more American equipment in order to maintain relevance in the United States. Yes, Firestone is an Akron-based tire company with a storied history at Indianapolis. But Dallara is an Italian chassis manufacturer, and Honda is a Japanese engine builder. As many Americans as there are who drive Hondas, it doesn't hurt to have an American brand promoting the sport, something that disappeared in open-wheel once Ford pulled out of Champ Car at the end of 2006.

The new-for-2012 engine regulations, providing for (as a maximum) a 2.4 liter turbocharged V6, should open up that category to more American brands. But if the series sticks to a single chassis manufacturer for 2012, the only American company with widespread fan support that is in the running is Swift, which also provides chassis for the Japanese Formula Nippon Series.

Part of the reason why NASCAR flourished and American open-wheel racing declined was the preservation of American values in one niche as the other moved towards becoming a minor-league F1. NASCAR remains to this day dominated by Americans. The sad reality is that, in order to firmly entrench a sport in a country's consciousness, you have to embrace some of that country's core values - Americanness, if you will - even when they may bring the product down a little bit.

Part of the reason why IndyCar is great stems from the fact that these are some of the "fastest drivers in the world," representing every inhabitable continent and over a dozen countries. But American fans need more American drivers to back. The series also visits Canada, which has Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani; Japan, besides all the engines in the series, can get behind Hideki Mutoh and Takuma Sato; although Australia is now off the schedule, fans down under can embrace two-thirds of Team Penske; Brazilian fans have about a third of the series to get behind.

American fans don't really have those drivers or that equipment to strongly identify behind in IndyCar right now; they just have the races on their own soil. Danica is too polarizing a figure at this point, when plenty will bash her for her lack of on-track production, instead of just appreciating the strides she's helped make for women in motorsports. Marco hasn't won in nearly a presidential term, and Hunter-Reay needs a long-term deal to keep him in the sport. We can't even bring up Rahal until somebody signs him to a solid deal, either. The quick fix of NASCAR drivers in the 500 seems unlikely.

Has the series made progress over the past month? Yes. The American open-wheel driver is now a "protected" endangered species, with every intent on rebuilding its population over the next few years. But wholesale changes may still need to come before the sport can once again rival NASCAR in popularity - and that means a little more red, white, and blue on the track.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This Week in IndyCar: July 10, 2010

A collection of news clippings from around the IZOD IndyCar Series over the past few days:

- Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, whose flagship No. 24 car has seen a revolving door of drivers since Mike Conway's Indianapolis 500 crash, may finally see its driver lineup completed for the season.

Tomas Scheckter will bring his Mona Vie sponsorship to the car for the July 18 Honda Indy Toronto, where he will make his 13th career start for the team and 112th career start overall. Scheckter finished 16th at Toronto last year. His best career road course finish is sixth, at St. Petersburg in 2007.

While Edmonton is not yet settled, J.R. Hildebrand will take over the car at Mid-Ohio and Infineon. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion has been basically out of work all season, save for a bit of testing with Marco Andretti's team at Andretti Autosport. In Lights last year, he finished third at Mid-Ohio and won at Infineon, his home track.

But Conway's rehabilitation is progressing faster than many had imagined. In fact, the goal is to have him back for Infineon, where he finished an impressive third last year. If this happens, he'll slide into a third car for the team, alongside Hildebrand and Justin Wilson.

- Four days from now, the ICONIC committee will vote on the future car strategy for the IZOD IndyCar Series, and unveil it to the world at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's Tobias Theatre.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard has advised fans not to pay attention to any rumors regarding which manufacturer has a leg up, since the decision will not be known until that day. Three of the five manufacturer proposals - coming from BAT, Dallara, Delta Wing, Lola, and Swift - have been chosen to move forward to the end.

Whichever chassis (and there may be more than one) are on the track in 2012, they will be paired with a new engine formula that has already been settled. The new engines will feature up to 2.4 cubic liters of displacement and up to six cylinders, and will all be turbocharged.

The key word, of course, is "up to" - meaning that anything beneath those maximum stipulations is welcome. (In fact, some food for thought: Mazda, which has long been a supporter of feeder series to American open-wheel racing, currently runs a turbocharged I4 engine in the American Le Mans Series, with a 2.0 cubic liter displacement.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Opinion: It's a Kind of Magic...

An IZOD IndyCar Series event may not have the pomp and circumstance, the television presence, or the giant in-person crowds present in some other forms of motorsports. It may not have quite as many big names as some of said other forms, even though many of those other forms' big names have passed through this series and its predecessors. And it may not have anywhere near as many overpriced merchandise trailers with products far out of the price range of the average fan.

But what an IZOD IndyCar Series event DOES have is a great group of fans who are passionate about the sport, some of the fastest and most talented drivers in the world, the promise of parity (take that, everybody else!), and the promise of becoming the biggest form of American motorsport around in just a few years.

Last weekend's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen has become something of a tradition for my father, my dog, and me. Though we've only seen two of the six events in person, this weekend is more valuable to us than any of the other races we see over the course of a year (and there are many). We make the lengthy trek by minivan seven hours across the country, from Route 95 to 90 to 88 to a handful of New York state roads, all in the name of passion for our beloved IndyCars.

We set up the tent with the uncomfortable air mattress, or we sleep in the minivan, at our campsite near turn 10. We bring our cameras, our racing shirts, and plenty of money for the sponsors that keep this series running. And for a wonderful three days, we enjoy one of the greatest atmospheres in racing - and we're not even talking about a SIGNATURE event of the sport, like Long Beach or the Indianapolis 500.

We walk through the garages of every series, gleaning information from drivers and crew members alike about the cars they're running now and the cars they used to run. We learn about faces long gone from the sport, and faces that should be back sooner than later. We take photos of the Honda Indy V-8s and Dallara chassis that will soon say their farewells to the series.

We see just about every big name in the sport at least once. That's all about being in the right place in the right time, but if you hang around the garage long enough, you'll see every driver from Dario to Danica and every owner from Foyt to Kalkhoven. And if you're really lucky - or if you're just a fan with access to pre-race festivities - you'll be close enough to IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard to shake his hand and thank him for what he's helped do for the sport over the past six months or so.

Us IndyCar fans have a language and sense of humor all our own. That's part of what makes the weekend so great. Nobody else would laugh about Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon standing in the back of the same truck during driver introductions. And nobody else would get a kick out of the cold glances that Mario Moraes and Marco Andretti shot one another a few trucks down in the parade.

Even the off-track events are something to behold. Last year, the Presidents of the United States of America played a fantastic concert within the track on the night before the race. This year, the two bands playing were Jimkata and Kinetix, and while neither had the name recognition or the pop-radio staples like "Peaches" and "Video Killed the Radio Star," they managed to raise an already high bar for pre-race concerts. (Of course, it's also really cool when you meet the band and find out that one of their members shares a hometown with you, and they'll be hanging out in your town in two days.)

I met some awesome people over the course of this past weekend. I gave most of you my business card with this website's name on it. Hopefully some of you read this, because I just wanted to say thanks:

To Craig at Walker Racing, thanks for answering all of my questions about the old Champ Car equipment.

To the Pepsi Max folks, you've made a Pepsi drinker out of me.

To Kinetix and Jimkata, thanks for a hell of a concert. And if you guys in Kinetix ever play a show in Newburyport again, you know I'll be there.

To the Tony Kanaan fan from Connecticut I met at the Tweetup, thanks for the conversation, you know your stuff (and I don't just say that because we agree on a lot of things).

To Doug Harrell at Harrell's Miniatures, sorry I didn't have the cash on me to buy that beautiful RS Spyder model I had my eye on.

To Dan Wheldon and Helio Castroneves, thanks for doing the book signings. And to Mike Kitchel at Panther Racing, thanks for taking my card - hopefully we can get some interviews with you guys set up.

To Mike Kelly at IZOD, I'm sorry I wasn't able to find you at the track and thank you for all that you and your company have done for the sport.

And finally, to those of you that have read my stuff in the past (and hopefully continue to do so), thanks for your time and continued patronage. It's been a great first half of the season - let's make it a great second half as well.

IndyCar Race Review: Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen

This weekend, Team Penske had the Power – Will Power, that is.

Power led over two-thirds of the race from the first starting spot as Penske claimed its first victory in the Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen after winning every pole six years running.

Teammate Ryan Briscoe made it a Penske 1-2 after passing Chip Ganassi Racing rival Dario Franchitti in the later laps of the race. Raphael Matos and Mario Moraes rounded out the top five.

Dan Wheldon rebounded from an early-race incident in the track’s boot to finish sixth. Alex Lloyd punted Wheldon’s Panther Racing Dallara-Honda and Wheldon stalled, The Holmatro Safety Team got him refired before he lost a lap, however, and he utilized an alternate pit strategy to help get him up front.

Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves were also among those to use different pit strategies, although not by choice; Dixon got into the back of his Team Penske rival early on in the race, forcing both to pit for repairs. Neither lost a lap, however, and were able to stay out after the Wheldon caution. They finished eighth and ninth, respectively.

E.J. Viso and Alex Tagliani also had encountered early-race issues that put them towards the front in the middle of the race. Viso came home 11th, and Tagliani 17th.

Tony Kanaan, on the other hand, had his problem on the penultimate lap, running out of fuel during a solid top-10 run. The necessity of the splash and go dropped him all the way back to 21st.

Kanaan’s finish was emblematic of a difficult day for most of the members of Andretti Autosport. Coming off the announcement that he would be running the rest of the season for the team, Ryan Hunter-Reay led the team with a seventh place finish, but other than that, there wasn’t much to celebrate about in the AA garage.

Marco Andretti’s streak of three consecutive top five finishes at the Glen was broken with a 13th place run, Adam Carroll’s first race of any kind in over a year yielded a 16th place result, and Danica Patrick continued to struggle on the road courses with a 20th place showing.

As for last year’s race winners, Justin Wilson snuck into the top 10 for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Meanwhile, it was a difficult day for Dale Coyne Racing, which saw Milka Duno finish 23rd and off the lead lap. Lloyd, meanwhile, was the first driver to retire, shortly after the Wheldon incident.

Power now maintains a lead of 32 points over Franchitti in the series point standings as the series heads to Toronto. His lead in the road course standings is now a whopping 70 over Ryan Hunter-Reay - theoretically, Power could take the next two events off and still win that title.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Penske 1-2-3 in Glen Qualifying

It’s Roger Penske’s world, and we’re all just living in it – at least if qualifying results for Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen are to be believed.

His drivers, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Ryan Briscoe, will start 1-2-3 for the 60-lap event after besting Dario Franchitti, Takuma Sato, and defending race winner Justin Wilson in Firestone Fast Six qualifying. It marks Team Penske’s eighth consecutive open-wheel pole, a new record, as the team has won every Glen pole six years running.

Power capitalized on an extra set of alternate-compound Firestone tires in the final qualifying session, allowing him to post the fastest lap of the day. Castroneves pushed a little too hard, sliding into the turn eight gravel, but was allowed to keep his fast two laps because he only brought out a local yellow. IndyCar rules stipulate that any driver who causes a full-course caution during a qualifying session will have their two best laps voided.

Such was the case for Ryan Hunter-Reay in the first round of qualifying. Despite turning some very competitive laps in the second group, he lost control of his car and required the assistance of emergency vehicles to remove him from the gravel. To make matters worse, Hunter-Reay, having to push especially hard to make up the loss of his two hot laps, had his run compromised by the slow car of Milka Duno at the end of the session, and did not advance to round two.

Hunter-Reay immediately made his way over to Duno’s pit at the end of the session and expressed his feelings. “There are 14, 15 corners here, and she’s the 15th or 16th corner,” Hunter-Reay said after the session, affirming the same comments that many drivers have made over the past couple of years.

Dale Coyne, Duno’s owner, was quick to point out that Duno was not the driver who caused a full-course yellow. Coyne won here last year with Wilson; this year, in a reversal of fortune, his two cars will start 22nd and 24th.

Most of the cars to advance to the second round of qualifying came from the sport’s four top teams: Team Penske (all three), Chip Ganassi Racing (two), Andretti Autosport (two), and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (two). Raphael Matos and de Ferran Dragon Racing made the tenth car, and KV Racing rebounded from E.J. Viso’s crash in practice to put their other two cars, driven by Sato and Mario Moraes, in the top 12 as well.

Meanwhile, Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Alex Tagliani, Vitor Meira, and most prominently, Danica Patrick were among the names not to advance.

Bumping in and out of the top six in the second round of qualifying took place almost every lap. Eventually, Scott Dixon, who won this event in each of its first three years, found himself in seventh, on the outside looking in. Both Andretti cars that had advanced, driven by Marco Andretti and Adam Carroll, found themselves in the same position. Carroll was, in fact, a surprise to make the second round, as he had struggled in morning practice. Matos, Moraes, and Paul Tracy were the other three not to move on.

But the focus of the day remains on Power, who has now won an impressive fifth pole in nine starts thus far this year. Briscoe won two of the other three consecutive Penske poles, while Castroneves led the field to green at Indianapolis. Power is also the series’ only multiple winner thus far, taking the checkers at Sao Paulo and Barber, while Castroneves and Briscoe have a victory apiece.

In Firestone Indy Lights, James Hinchcliffe of Team Moore Racing won the pole for tomorrow’s Corning 100, which will directly precede the IZOD IndyCar Series race at 1:30 PM.

The Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen will begin at 3:30 PM. It will be broadcast live on ABC.

Friday, July 2, 2010

IndyCar Race Preview: Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen

The Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen may not be the marquee road course event on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, but it is one of the more prestigious events in the championship. The cars race on a layout and circuit that formerly hosted Formula 1 events, and the race is one of the handful of events to remain on ABC after the series announced its broadcast partnership with Versus last year.

Speaking of Formula 1, IndyCar will receive a second injection of F1-caliber driving talent this season as Adam Carroll makes his series debut for Andretti Autosport. Carroll, the final A1GP champion driving for his home country of Ireland, will wheel a fifth car for the team, carrying No. 27 and Boost Mobile sponsorship.

While the establishment of the fifth squad secures Ryan Hunter-Reay’s job, at least for the weekend, plenty of questions remain for the Andretti squad. Will AA maintain the momentum that they established on the series’ first oval races, even with the addition of yet another car to its stable? Will Hunter-Reay, the race’s 2008 winner but unsettled on sponsorship for the rest of the season, pull out another victory, or overdrive and kill the momentum he’s built up all season long? Finally, how will Carroll perform in his IndyCar debut?

This year’s event will see at least one new face in the winner’s circle, as Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing split up after the season. Coyne’s team has struggled with Milka Duno behind the wheel of one of its vehicles, but Alex Lloyd’s team begun to find its stride with solid placements at Indianapolis and Texas.

Meanwhile, Wilson has brought Dreyer & Reinbold Racing to new heights on road courses this season, challenging for multiple victories and doing well in the points. Paul Tracy will drive a second car for DRR this weekend, and though the Thrill from West Hill is making his season debut after failing to qualify at Indianapolis, he is still recognized as one of the sport’s best road racers. Unfortunately, Graham Rahal will not be manning a third car for the team this season after a solid finish at Iowa, as had been rumored.

The two top teams in the sport, Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing, will certainly challenge for the victory this weekend. On the Penske side, points leader Will Power is currently the series’ best road course driver, although he did not compete at Watkins Glen last year. Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe have won all five poles at Watkins Glen IndyCar events, with Castroneves scoring the first three and Briscoe the last two.

On the Ganassi side of the fence, Dario Franchitti lost his lead the IndyCar points standings after mechanical failure at Iowa. Last weekend, he performed demonstration laps on the oval at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to help promote that track’s new IndyCar date for next season. Scott Dixon, meanwhile, has not scored a road course victory thus far this season, but normally contends at the Glen, winning each race from 2005 to 2007.

One team that could surprise this weekend is Alex Tagliani and FAZZT Race Team. The new entity purchased Marty Roth’s old equipment before the season, and little was expected out of the new outfit at first. But after signing some key personnel, Tagliani has consistently run up front all season, with only a couple of poor races due to circumstances not entirely in his control. The No. 77 team has been towards the front in every road course race and will most likely continue to run up front this weekend.

KV Racing Technology is also primed for a breakout run, and the Glen could provide that opportunity. Engineer Bill Pappas won last year’s event with Dale Coyne Racing and Justin Wilson, and lead driver E.J. Viso scored his best career finish with a third place at Iowa two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Takuma Sato’s Formula 1 experience often translates to being quick on the road courses, and Mario Moraes has shown that when he and his team come together, they can impress.

The Road to Indy also goes through Watkins Glen, as the Firestone Indy Lights Series competes this weekend, directly before the IndyCar race as per usual. Last year’s event was won by J.R. Hildebrand, who will not return to defend his victory. The revived US Formula 2000 championship will also compete, as will the World Challenge touring car championship.

The Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen will take place on Sunday, July 4.