If you were one of the fans who bitched and moaned about last year's IndyCar Series being all about Target Chip Ganassi Racing vs. Team Penske, then suck it up: there's a 95 percent chance that the same will happen in 2010. A high chance, too, that the only guy to prevent these teams' quintet of drivers taking all the wins will be Justin Wilson.
But that's enough to create great racing, so long as all of them are evenly matched at any given track. Of course, that often wasn't the case in '09, and that's what disenchanted many. However, that doesn't make it easier to predict race winners or polesitters. For this weekend, I'll predict Will Power for the pole and win with Dario Franchitti and Justin Wilson joining him on the podium. But ask me to explain why Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe aren't figuring there, and I'll struggle.
Anyway, this is a season preview, so here goes.
TARGET CHIP GANASSI RACING
One of the two best teams, with a pair of drivers who each has two IndyCar Series titles to his name. Reigning champ Dario Franchitti
is analytical, one of the fastest on street courses, one of the smartest on ovals and usually unruffled in the heat of a fight.
In 2009, Scott Dixon
was stronger than Franchitti on road courses (with the notable exception of Sonoma) and evenly matched with him on ovals. Between them, in other words, they have all bases covered. Dixon has vowed to step up his technical debriefing sessions and work hard to understand how he can get the best from Firestone's rubber compound on street circuits – both areas that he felt prevented us seeing him at his best 100 percent of the time in '09. The competition from their leading rivals may have increased, but expect that, as last year, both drivers arrive in Homestead-Miami Speedway in October with a shot at the title.
How do you solve a problem like getting beaten? Add more arrows to your quiver. And that's exactly what The Captain has done, by adding a third full-time car. Entering his 11th season as a Penske driver, the pressure is probably greatest on Helio Castroneves. The effervescent Brazilian is a fast and brave oval racer who is no slouch on a road or street course, but allowed too many errors to creep into his game in 2009. However, he didn't win a total of 22 CART and IndyCar Series races by accident; playing the consistency card whenever he doesn't have a winning car could yet earn him his first Indy car title.
Ryan Briscoe came of age as an Indy car driver in 2008, and spent '09 as a regular threat for victory. How badly he beat himself up over his mistake in the penultimate round at Motegi is unclear, but he rebounded in a gripping duel with Dixon in the finale. Two of Briscoe's wins last year came on ovals, but those magnificent pole positions at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio show he possesses every talent necessary to be IndyCar champion.
Will Power's great pace now has 17 race outlets. That's bad news for the rest, as many rate Power as the fastest driver in the series, and with his old KV Racing engineer Dave Faustino working on the No. 12 car, Will is going to be more comfortable than ever to unleash his potential. If he combines his natural road/street course pace with consistency on ovals, pouncing only when he feels he has a legitimate shot at victory, there's no reason why he can't be 2010 champion.
What was once known as Andretti Green Racing should have the capacity to rise to the top once more, especially now there's just one boss to make decisions, and that boss is Michael Andretti. But it won't happen overnight: It's a steep hill to the Penske/Ganassi level. Tony Kanaan
is the only non-American in the (for now) four-strong driver lineup, and the 2004 champion is still perceived as the team leader. He had a horrible year in '09, usually through no fault of his own, but give him a sniff of victory and he'll rise to the challenge. He's still got the pace to win.
It's a personal view, but I think Marco Andretti could have a breakout year. In terms of results, that very much depends on how well the team has been revamped in the off-season, but I still believe he has the raw talent to match Kanaan and become the next homegrown Indy car legend. He needs to be disciplined in down time, and form a strong bond with new race engineer Tino Belli, but he also needs a car tailored to his taste. This is a kid who qualified fourth at Sonoma last year (ahead of Dixon, Kanaan and Rahal), and who was quicker than all his teammates in the Barber Open Test last month.
For now, Ryan Hunter-Reay has just six races to show everyone how good he is, and that may work in his favor.
Free from the shackles of thinking in terms of points, he can just go for it, and that's when we should see Hunter-Reay at his best. After struggling against misfortune so many times, he deserves a chance to show what he can do – especially alongside a yardstick such as Kanaan.
It's anybody's guess how Danica Patrick's season will turn out, but commitments to NASCAR, perfume launches, TV shows and ads, etc., will surely slow her momentum in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Last year there were good signs of progress in her road course form – qualifying seventh at Watkins Glen, for example – but there are now questions being asked over her commitment to Indy cars. I hope they're unwarranted.