Of late, the IZOD IndyCar Series has seemed to alternate edge-of-your-seat and recline-in-your-armchair type of events. The former would be on tap for this weekend's inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix if things follow patterns in the last five races.
Toronto featured a mix of bold and brilliant or ambitious and aggressive passing maneuvers, the latter of which often caused accidents. Things leveled off a bit at Edmonton if not entirely by Mid-Ohio. New Hampshire, unfortunately, will be remembered for the disputed ending rather than the intense mid-pack racing for position, while Infineon last weekend struggled to produce anything exciting other than the final restart.
And so Baltimore comes next, which on paper has all the components of a doozy. The unpredictability of a new 2.1-mile, 12-turn street course in the Inner Harbor coupled with some part-time drivers keen to make an impression and the urgency of needing to achieve the maximum points with only four races remaining equals what should be a cracking event.
Naturally, no one has had the chance to test, but based on impressions from photos and track walks during media days, the potential exists for a lot of overtaking.
“It seems to me that Baltimore is a lot wider than any other street circuit, instead of the typical two lanes,” said Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon (ABOVE). “It's nowhere near as long as Brazil, as far as the straight goes. But Turn 1, also going into Turn 3, the hairpin past the harbor, and even Turn 4 seems really wide,” he added. “The rest of it's going to be tough to pass because of the quick chicanes. Those three will be good for passing.”
Whether the new course will level the playing field remains to be seen, but Dixon says there should be some surprises at the top.
“It should be like Edmonton, where we saw a bit of a mix-up – Sato got the pole,” he said. “I think it does equal the playing field a little bit and some of the top six should be mixed up.”
Less optimistic was Sato's KV Racing Technology teammate Tony Kanaan, primed to put a forgettable weekend in Infineon behind him.
“I don't think you're going to see a lot of difference,” he said. “The field will be a lot closer. But probably the guys who dominate will here, too.”
Said dominators of the road and street circuits are, unsurprisingly, series points leaders Dario Franchitti and Will Power. Combined, the duo has won six of the eight such events this season, and Power's win in Infineon closed the gap to Franchitti to 26 in the overall, and seven in the road/street championships.
Dixon has finished fifth or better in eight of the last 10 races and still has slim title chances, down 75 points to Franchitti.
The other particularly interesting battle to note is the Rookie of the Year standings, as James Hinchcliffe has closed to within three points of J.R. Hildebrand. “Hinch” gained 14 points in Infineon with a seventh-place finish there while a fraught home weekend for Hildebrand ended in 23rd.
The rest of the 28-car field is the same as Sonoma save for Dragon Racing dropping out and Tomas Scheckter returning in a joint SH Racing/Dreyer & Reinbold entry. The South African's presence in the field means some fireworks are guaranteed for restarts.
Martin Plowman (right) and Giorgio Pantano shone at Infineon, each having made some sterling maneuvers throughout the race. Though they ended 12th (Plowman) and a penalized 17th (Pantano, originally sixth), they have this as their last scheduled event of the season and gain the level playing field advantage on the new track.
Still to be determined is whether HVM Racing's Simona de Silvestro will return following her travel issues in returning to the U.S. ahead of Infineon.
The team's sponsor, Nuclear Clean Air Energy, has its home race this weekend with de Silvestro's birthday also on tap. If she were unable to compete, Simon Pagenaud would likely reprise his role as “super sub” for the second weekend running and fourth time this season.