LUCZO DRAGON DE FERRAN
Speaking of one-car teams, it's great to see Gil de Ferran join his buddy Jay Penske and Steve Luczo, for it was Gil who recommended 2008 Indy Lights champion Raphael Matos
to this team. “Rafa” shone brightly on occasion in his rookie season, but he would have benefited from an experienced teammate with whom to pool information. It's unfortunate that funds haven't been found to add a second car with, for example, Oriol Servia driving it. Set against that, however, is Matos' attitude – he's right up there with Power, Wilson and Tagliani in terms of constantly thinking about the car and how to make it better. Having an ex-driver like de Ferran on hand to ask even more of the right questions can only help Matos and race engineer Eric Zeto make further progress.DALE COYNE RACING
While Justin Wilson has left Coyne's plucky little team to join Dreyer & Reinbold, Milka Duno
has made the opposite journey, bringing with her a bag of CITGO money, a ready smile for the fans and a racing résumé that I might be proud of, but a racecar driver shouldn't be. Duno is not without talent, but she doesn't belong at this level of racing.
So Milka's feedback is going to be of no use to her teammate, be it the 2007 Indy Lights champion, Alex Lloyd (who occupies the Boy Scouts of America car this weekend in Brazil) or, perhaps later in the season, the reigning Lights champ, J.R. Hildebrand. Both the Brit and the American are excellent drivers who deserve full time rides and have already impressed DCR with their pace and feedback, but the team is unlikely to maintain the level it achieved last year now that Wilson and engineer Bill Pappas have departed.
An excellent oval racer but a mediocre driver on any course where he needs to turn right, Dan Wheldon managed to finish 10th in the point standings last year, and that is likely to be the most he can expect in a series that now has only eight ovals in its 17-race schedule. However, that can't bother team owner John Barnes too much since he employed a driver who hasn't qualified in the top six on a road or street course since Sonoma in 2006. However, if the team can step up to the plate with their mechanical and aero package setups, they can exploit Dan's extraordinary bravery and racer's instinct on ovals, and together they could occasionally hassle Ganassi and Penske cars.
SARAH FISHER RACING
Once upon a time, B.D., (Before Danica), Sarah Fisher was the IndyCar Series' most popular driver. Now it might be time to bow down and worship her again because, as a team owner, she has just done a wonderful thing for the series as a whole (above and beyond swelling grid numbers with her thoroughly respectable little team). On Thursday, she announced that she would be standing down from the No. 67 Dollar General car for the St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park races, and handing the wheel over to Graham Rahal.
Those who wonder whether Rahal really is America's Next Big Thing in terms of open-wheel racing talent should note that, driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan last year, he only once qualified outside the top six on a road or street course, he gets better with every year having learned at the feet of Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson, and in '09 he blew aside a respectable ex-F1 talent like Robert Doornbos. It's a crying shame that Graham's 2010 schedule is so fractured, but thanks to Sarah Fisher, Rahal at least has the first metal pin in place to start putting it together again.
Fisher herself will shine on ovals again (she's a smart cookie when it comes to dicing) while Jay Howard
, the 2006 Indy Lights champion, will drive for the team in a handful of races this year, including the Indy 500. The Brit did a good job for Roth Racing in his five starts for the team in 2008. HVM RACING
Now that the series appears to have stopped making both team and driver jump through unnecessary hoops to make this partnership happen on a full-time basis, Simona di Silvestro
(who so nearly beat John Edwards and Jonathan Summerton to the Atlantic Series crown last year and led more laps than either) can get on with what she does best which is driving fast. She did spend three years in Atlantics to get so good, apparently she's ready for it now. She will be new to most of the circuits, and she will have to learn quickly on ovals, but if there's any driver who has the right combination of pace, humility and open-mindedness to learn from engineer Michael Cannon, it is Simona. As a longstanding supporter of U.S. open-wheel racing, HVM team owner Keith Wiggins deserves a shot of good fortune, and he may just have found it in the Swiss Miss.A.J. FOYT RACING
Welcome back Vitor Meira
, who suffered that spectacular shunt after tangling with Matos in last year's Indy 500, and spent the year recuperating from his broken back. The Brazilian, who made his first IndyCar Series start back in 2002, is probably the finest driver that the IRL has nurtured in the last decade who has yet to win a race. He has eight second-place finishes to his name, notably including the '05 and '08 Indy 500s, and the man who engineered the first of those, Jeff Britton, will reunite with Meira in Foyt's team.
Is that going to be enough to send the No. 14 car to Victory Lane in 2010? I'd love to say yes, but can't. Then again, I wouldn't have put a dime on Ed Carpenter/Vision coming within 0.0162sec of beating Briscoe/Penske at Kentucky last year…
Mario Romancini finished sixth in last year's Firestone Indy Lights championship, winning two races along the way. His dominant Milwaukee performance was one eye-opener, and so was his progress on road courses, which reached its zenith at Mid-Ohio where he qualified on the second row. While it would be difficult to make a case for him above fellow FIL 2009 alumni Hildebrand (obviously), Sebastian Saavedra and James Davison, Romancini is clearly not a pushover and he and Conquest did an excellent job to finish the Barber Open test in 10th fastest. The 22-year-old Brazilian's problem is that his best circuits (ovals) are likely to be Conquest's worst and vice versa. Eric Bachelart does a remarkable job with a fraction of the budget of the big teams, but it would be an amazing day if the Romancini/Conquest combo ever broke into the Firestone Fast Six.