Well, we are now just a few days away from the 2012 season opener in St. Petersburg. After a highly publicized pre-season test at Sebring some things are very clear. Most notably, Lotus is light years behind Chevrolet and Honda. While some real fan favorites are with Lotus for 2012; Servia, de Silvestro, Tagliani, Bourdais, and series rookie Katherine Legge—The best time in testing was Servia who was only the 19th fastest out of 27 drivers.
This is the return of Chevrolet to the IndyCar series after many years of absence. While Chevrolet had six of the fastest ten drivers, they did not have the fastest. Along with that the viral video of Will Power’s engine woes only adds questions to the reliability to the bowties early in 2012.
While I’m in no way saying all of the Chevrolet engines are troubled—I’m also not holding my breath there won’t be mechanical issues for a make returning to the series, and dealing with an all new rules package to boot. Most important to this issue, the core of the brand engineering crew has been recently put together. While most have plenty of open wheel experience in their careers—it is still a new team so to speak.
Honda on the other hand, while also dealing with a new rules package is an established operation in the series already. They have the most dominant team of the past several years (Target Chip Ganassi Racing), along with some great off season acquisitions as well.
So what am I predicting for the debut of the DW12 car, and the highly anticipated turbo charged engines? I predict the unpredictable. Yeah, really. Not what we have had the last few years for a season opener with lap one demolition derby incidents. Instead I expect to see drivers the racing pundits are ignoring will have surprisingly great debuts for 2012. So who are the top five drivers to look out for?
First the most obvious driver to look out for, Scott Dixon. Yes, we do expect a red Ganassi car to run well. With his off season test speeds, it is hard to not expect the 9 livery to be a top five team for the qualifying and on race day.
The next most obvious driver would be Will Power. There is probably no one with a greater burning fire to win the championship in the paddock than Mr. Power. Wankers-be-ware, the #12 livery will be kicking asphalt and taking positions all season. Power has become the top dog at Penske, and no doubt Captain Roger will see to it his new franchise driver has the fastest entry. But will his Chevy engine make the distance for the race?
Less obvious, the 2011 winner at Long Beach, Mike Conway. He was 8th fastest overall in testing for A.J. Foyt. That is a team who has not been this good in ages, and lets be real, if not for the turn one pile up last year at St. Pete, Conway would have been a strong contender for Andretti. He runs streets well, and he is in a Honda powered entry. Don’t be shocked to see a podium for Conway.
Another not so obvious pick, who also happens to be my upset pick to possibly win the race—Takuma Sato. YES, SATO! Why would I say this? Easy, with the entire buzz about TK versus Simona late in the race last season, everyone missed the impressive P5 run for Sato with KV. As the year went on, while luck was not always on Sato’s side, he showed some real impressive runs. Including putting KV on the pole for their first time in the IZOD IndyCar Series. In 2012 Taku will be in a Honda powered livery for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing, a group who are no strangers to the IZOD IndyCar Series, or winning open wheel races. While Sato was only the 10th fastest in Sebring testing, I think he has the talent to make great things happen on Sunday. Every season he has improved upon the last, and even should he not take it home P1 Sunday in St. Pete, I would not be surprised to see him become a winner later in 2012.
So that brings me to the fifth driver to look out for Sunday. Well, let me be fair with this. I really don’t want to rag on Lotus. They have some of the most beloved drivers, teams, and owners behind them. I mean just look at the list. Fans are crazy about Simona, and I’m sure many will also be as crazy about Katherine Legge. But there is just no way the Lotus engines are “ready for prime time”. So this is my pick for the top Lotus driver and team for Sunday, and is not a pick for a top five finish, just the best among the Lotus drivers. That honor will go to Oriol Servia. If any driver for Lotus will give them a pole this season, or a win, it would be Servia. I’m pretty sure no one driving for Lotus is more fired up to avenge a lost race in 2011 than Servia.
There you have it, my shot in the dark at picking the best drivers for St. Petersburg. I do think it is most likely the podium will be a Honda sweep as well. Although I will be happy to be wrong about this since I want to see a competitive field.
Sadly I will not be there this season due to scheduling and financial matters. However I will be glued to the computer and TV all weekend just like you. So check in at OpenPaddock.net all weekend long as we give you daily coverage of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series opener.