It's time to start the engines. Two weeks ago, the 2008 Formula One season got underway and tomorrow, The Indy Racing League season will begin under the lights at Homestead Motor Speedway in Miami. To celebrate, I wore a lot of my Indy Racing gear to work today and of course I got razzed about that. More than a few people seemed curious that I would be so into something so "testosterone filled" as Indy Car Racing. Well, last time I checked, sports don't belong to men. Two women, Danica Patrick and Milka Duno will be racing tomorrow evening, with Patrick having a realistic shot at winning. So there!
Anyways, I thought I would step out on a limb and give my 2008 Indy Car Season Preview and Prediction Thread. It's an exciting time for American open-wheel racing fans as for the first time in over a decade, we have one unified series with all of the top drivers competing under one sanctioning body. When the flag goes green, 25 cars will race 300 miles at over 210 mph, the largest field in ages. Had Graham Rahal not wrecked his car in practice, we would have a field of 26 cars. Most of those new cars will be at a severe disadvantage as they try to come up to speed with a new chassis, new engine and new format of racing, namely ovals. Only two of the former Champ Car drivers have any meaningful experience on ovals and to expect any of them to finish high, much less win, is unrealistic.
That won't necessarily be the case next week when the series heads to St. Petersburg for the Grand Prix on a temporary street circuit. That is what makes the Indy Car Series so challenging and what for me, makes it the most competitive racing series in the world. The schedule features a challenging mix of high speed ovals, temporary street circuits, road courses and small ovals. Throw in the 33 car field Indianapolis 500 and you have one hell of a schedule. I'll get to see two races this year, the 500 and the race at Kentucky Speedway in August. Should be fun. So, without further ado, here are my picks for the season:
1. Season Championship: Realistically, 4 drivers have a shot at the season title and should be quite a shootout. My pick for season championship is Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi. Challenging him will be Tony Kannan of Andretti Green, Helio Castroneves of Penske and Dan Wheldon also of Ganassi.
2. Rookie of the year: This will be an interesting battle as all but two of the new drivers from Champ Car will be classified as rookies because of a lack of oval racing experience. My pick is Newman Haas driver Justin Wilson. Wilson was expected to be the heavy favorite to win the Champ Car title and I see no reason why he won't perform better than any of the other rookies. He's a former Formula One driver and is immensely talented. Best bet for runner up: Graham Rahal, also of Newman Haas.
3. Will she or won't she? Perhaps the second biggest story line of the year is whether or not Danica Patrick will finally notch her first victory. She's steadily improved with each season and racing for Andretti Green doesn't hurt. I say yes, she gets not one, but two wins this year and finishes in the top six of the standings.
4. Will any of the former Champ Car drivers win a race this year? My gut feeling is no, but if it's going to happen, two drivers have a good shot at pulling it off. Orial Servia has 27 oval starts and is a talented driver and is the only one with a chance to win an oval this year. The best option to win however belongs to Wilson and it will come at Surfers Paradise in Australia or Edmonton, Alberta, street circuits that none of the drivers from the IRL have raced over.
5. Who will win the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel in the series? I'm going to predict Scott Dixon will drink the jug of milk on his way to the season championship. Look for Kannan to finish second with Patrick third.
6. Will Paul Tracy land a ride? Amazingly, the most popular driver in the former Champ Car Series, Paul Tracy, doesn't have a seat this year. In a last minute decision, his team decided not to field a car for the merged series, leaving Tracy on the outside looking in. It's a shame as Tracy brings a lot of personality and would have been a great rival for some of the Indy Car drivers that used to race against him in CART. I suspect that a seat will indeed come open for Tracy and within a couple of races, we'll see him mixing it up and going upside down as he is want to do.
7. Besides the 500, what race am I most excited about? Belle Isle in Detroit. This beautiful circuit was the most exciting race last year and the Champ Car drivers should love it. I'd give just about anything to go see this one, even if it meant having to go to Detroit.
8. What am I most looking forward to? As excited as I am about this year, next year will be even better. The former Champ Car teams will have a year under their belt and expect them all to be much more competitive next year. Also, next years schedule should greatly expand and hopefully we'll see some exciting new additions to the race calendar. I'd love to see a 22 week schedule with the following sites included:
Homestead Speedway, Miami- Oval
St. Petersburg, Florida Grand Prix- Street Circuit
Twin Ring Montegi, Japan- Oval
Long Beach Grand Prix, California- Street Circuit
Indianapolis 500, Indiana- Oval
Texas Motor Speedway, Texas- Oval
Kansas Motor Speedway, Kansas- Oval
Iowa Motor Speedway, Iowa- Oval
Michigan Motor Speedway, Michigan- Oval
Kentucky Motor Speedway, Kentucky- Oval
Chicago Motor Speedway, Illinois-Oval
Belle Isle Grand Prix, Michigan- Road Course
Grand Prix of Edmonton, Alberta- Street Circuit
Toronto Grand Prix, Ontario- Street Circuit
Surfer's Paradise Grand Prix, Australia- Street Circuit
Monterrey Grand Prix, Mexico- Street Circuit
California Motor Speedway, California- Oval
Cleveland Grand Prix, Ohio- Burke Lakefront Airport Circuit
Portland Grand Prix, Oregon- Street Circuit
Mid-America Road Course, Ohio- Road Course
Nashville Super Speedway, Tennessee- Oval
Las Vegas Grand Prix, Nevada- Streets of Vegas