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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.

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