This weekend’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the end of a very long off-season and the start of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season!
Here at More Front Wing, we decided to put our reputations on the line and make some predictions on how the season will play out. Take a look at our thoughts below, and please feel free to leave your own predictions in the comments section at the bottom of the post!
Five different teams were represented in victory lane last season. Will that number be higher or lower this year?
Paul: I’m going to take the over on this one. Obviously Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti are givens. I think KV is going to finally break through and get TK a win this year. It won’t surprise me at all to see Ed Carpenter win again. There are your five teams right there. I think it’s easily conceivable that you get at least one win from the field that includes Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan, Schmidt Peterson, a very fast Takuma Sato at AJ Foyt Racing, and Sebastien Bourdais with a very powerful Chevrolet engine all year long.
Steph: My suspicion is that the teams with more resources have gotten more speed out of the DW12 during off-season development than anyone else suspects at the moment. I’ll predict that this number will go down to four this year: Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, and one more team will visit winners circle. (I would, of course, be more than happy to be wrong!)
Bash: Not sure I see a lot of movement there. Maybe it’ll be five again.
Chad: There will be more this year. You give three to Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti. Looking at the depth in the Series, nearly every team has a driver who will consistently challenge for wins. Rahal (RLL), Pagenaud (SPM), Kanaan (KV Racing), Bourdais (Dragon), Hildebrand (Panther) are all likely picks to win at least one race. Then guys like Carpenter, Tagliani, Sato, and Newgarden give you a possibility of 12 different teams with a legitimate shot at winning. Wilson surprised us last year at Texas, so Coyne could be in the mix as well. It will likely be closer to six or seven, but it should be more than the five we had last season.
John: I think that fewer teams will see victory lane in 2013 but we will still see a good number of separate winners. With a year of DW12 development under their belts I expect Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport to impose their will on the field at most events. Testing was close, but the top teams are notorious for sandbagging. Look for Will Power, Dario Franchitti, and Scott Dixon to win multiple races this year, with Helio, Hinch, and RHR taking at least one victory apiece and likely more. Marco wouldn’t surprise me on an oval, and EJ Viso and Charlie Kimball have made strides as well. That doesn’t leave much for the rest of the field to fight over, so I’d be surprised to see more than two other teams break through this year.
Who will surprise everyone by winning a race?
Paul: It’s hard to be surprised by anyone winning a race anymore, quite honestly, but I think the biggest shocker this year could be from Takuma Sato taking SuperTex back to victory lane. Foyt Racing has a history of sneaking up the leaderboard at street courses here and there, and I think that an aggressive Takuma Sato might just be able to capture magic at one of these events.
Steph: Simon Pagenaud. Of course, that would barely be a surprise. The only thing keeping that from being a lock is that it’s a feat Schmidt Peterson Motorsports hasn’t yet accomplished at the IICS level. With Pagenaud entering year two and Allen McDonald returning to the team after a stint at Andretti — recall that McDonald was the engineer behind Alex Tagliani’s pole run at Indianapolis two years ago — this team is at the brink of a breakthrough. (By the way, the only reason I didn’t pick James Hinchcliffe for this is because I don’t think that would count as a surprise. He’s in prime position. He’s due. Barring monstrously bad luck, it’ll happen. Also, wild card pick: Takuma Sato. Yep.)
Bash: Simona de Silvestro. She has threatened to podium on urban twisties (just ask her new teammate, Tony Kanaan), and she’ll have a strong team behind her this time. Given the extra street course races created by the doubleheader weekends, there will be plenty of chances for her to grab a win.
Chad: There are so many great candidates this year, which is great for IndyCar. The level of talent from top to bottom is as great as it has been in decades. I think most people expect to see Pagenaud, Hildebrand, and Hinchcliffe win their first race this season. Going out on a limb, I’m going to go with Alex Tagliani. After getting a hold of a Honda engine last season, he finished in the top 10 in 8 of the last 10 races, the most of any driver in the Series. He is fast on ovals and isn’t bad on the twisties, either. I give him the nod just over the always-underrated Oriol Servia.
John: Simona de Silvestro. The Swiss Miss was saddled with terrible equipment last year, and truthfully it wasn’t all that much better before the Lotus anchor was added to the mix. With Chevy horsepower behind her, I fully expect Simona to be at the sharp end of the field this year on the twisties. Simona has the talent to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the IndyCar paddock on a road course, and if her KV Racing Technology team plays strategy right I really think she take down the big guns, possibly even this week at St. Petersburg. Other possibilities to break through the power trio’s stranglehold on victory lane (while not as much of a “surprise”) are Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson, and Tony Kanaan. I would put Bourdais in this list as well, but Dragon still has to prove to me that they can provide a winning car.
Who will have a disappointing season?
Paul: I can’t help but feel that EJ Viso will have another underperforming season with disappointing results. EJ comes into a team that had great chemistry last year and was able to regain its position as Series champions. I don’t think the returning trio is going to be overly excited about shaking up their good mojo, and if EJ doesn’t gel into the existing system it could be another long year for the Venezuelan. And with a top-flight ride this season, the pressure will be on to show strong results.
Steph: I hate the idea of writing anyone off before tires have even touched asphalt. But I don’t expect things at Dragon Racing to smooth out any more this year, and that means another season of Sébastien Bourdais languishing at a level well below his very well-known capability. Again, I would be more than happy to be wrong: If Seb ever had a real shot at giving Power, Dixie, et al. a run for their money, things would get interesting in a very big hurry.
Bash: Marco Andretti. Just a gut feeling.
Chad: There may not be championship expectations in the AJ Foyt camp, but I just don’t know how well this Sato thing is going to work out. We know he was fast last year, but how will that translate into 2013 with a new team? I think he’ll have his moments, especially at Indy, but in terms of the overall season I just think this thing is going to fizzle near the end. I worry too about the smaller one-car operations like Carpenter’s and Newgarden’s. It’s so important to be able to share data and setups with teammates and bounce ideas around. Not being able to do that makes it that much harder to have a great season.
John: Graham Rahal. Graham has “gone home” so to speak, reuniting with father Bob at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Expectations are high for the younger Rahal to live up to the promise he showcased in Atlantics and in his first IndyCar start in 2008 at St. Pete, which has also proved to be his only win to date. But so far from the outside it appears Graham is stretching himself pretty thin with sponsor chasing for not only his car but his teammate’s as well. I have a feeling this may take a toll on his season at some point. I hope I’m wrong, though, because the sport benefits when Rahals and Andrettis run up front.
Who will win the Indianapolis 500?
Paul: I don’t see Chevrolet getting caught with their pants down on race day again this year, and there are a lot of strong bullets in the Bow Tie gun. Penske Racing has never had a drought like they are currently experiencing at the Brickyard, but I don’t think this is the year they put it all back together. I think this might be the year the Borg-Warner Trophy comes back Stateside, and it could come home with a legendary name — Andretti. If Marco can keep his wits about him, the 44-year family drought could finally come to an end.
Steph: This comes down to which engine manufacturer has made the most gains in the off-season, and that’s nigh on impossible to know at this stage. Has Chevrolet figured out how to outperform the straightline speed of the changes to Honda’s single turbo after TurboGate? I’m going to say no, not quite. My pick: Dixon wins number two.
Bash: While it would be interesting to add to the four-timers club with Dario Franchitti or Helio Castroneves winning this year, I’m going to say Tony Kanaan. Marriage tends to bring luck to drivers, and he’s way overdue.
Chad: I don’t think we see Helio or Dario get number four this year. While everyone will be pulling for Kanaan, I think we will see one of the Andretti boys get it this year. I like the chances for RHR, Hinchcliffe, and Marco, but in the end I think it is James who drinks the milk in 2013. I know what you’re thinking: How incredible it would be for his first IndyCar win to come at Indianapolis? Let me be clear — the Indy 500 will not be his first win in the Series. I think he starts this season off even hotter than last year. Remember, Hinchcliffe’s “new” engineer is Craig Hampson, who he worked with in 2011 at Newman-Haas. Hampson was a key part of Sebastien Bourdais’s run of four consecutive Champ Car titles. These two are a perfect match.
John: Scott Dixon. The Kiwi has surprisingly captured only one 500 so far among his 28 victories, while teammate Dario Franchitti has claimed three spots aboard the Borg-Warner. I think this is the year Scott turns his consistent Brickyard appearances into another victory.
Who will be the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series champion?
Paul: Is it even possible that Will Power could find another way to lose the championship this year? Obviously, the big question will be whether Power has figured out how to, if not win, at least score big points on the ovals. Much to his chagrin, the ovals cannot be avoided, nor can they be overlooked as his weakness. Whether his inability to succeed is a mental issue or just bad luck, Power must do a better job of finishing on the roundy-rounds or he could be the bridesmaid again. I think he will finally score just enough points on the ovals this year, though, to finally secure his first IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
Steph: Will Power. If I keep picking him over and over again, one of these times I’m going to be right.
Bash: Scott Dixon. Just another gut feeling.
Chad: What are the ingredients of a championship team? Having a driver who is able to perform on all types of tracks, a driver with experience and poise. You need a team that doesn’t make many mistakes and can rebound if they do make one. You need a fast car, a fearless driver, and most importantly — consistency. These things all describe Scott Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team. He had eight top-five finishes last year, including two wins. He starts up front and leads a lot of laps. Don’t forget he finished second last year at Indy, just behind his teammate. In his last seven Indy 500 races, Dixon has finished no worse than sixth. His average finishing position in those seven races is 3.8, better than any other driver. Sure, Indy is “just” one race on the schedule, but when it comes to performance Dixon is the model of consistency. There are plenty of drivers who have a great shot at winning it this year, but if I have to attach my prediction to one guy (or girl), I’m going with the Iceman.
John: Will Power. It’s hard to believe that Will’s dominance over the last three years (14 wins and 21 poles) has yet to translate into a title at season’s end. I think this is the year that Will finally breaks through and takes home the championship. Look for strong competition from defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and from Scott Dixon, though.