Can Justin Wilson score Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's first win in a decade?
Yes, of course he can. He came close at Toronto last year, beat all but Power in St. Petersburg and all but Hunter-Reay in Long Beach. It's safe to say, therefore, that Wilson's a red-hot street course driver and the team has a good handle on setups for temporary circuits. Road courses were more of an issue, with D&R a step behind the big two teams, fighting Andretti Autosport to get into the Firestone Fast Six.
The revolving door attached to car No. 24's cockpit following Conway's Indy shunt was not helpful to team manager Larry Curry as he and the race engineers sought consistency of feedback, so while one of Wilson's 2011 teammates is a rookie – Ana Beatriz – at least she should be in for the whole year. If Dreyer & Reinbold's plan to step up its oval-testing program pays off and the third-car entry for Paul Tracy can be expanded beyond just the Indy 500 (a potential deal is being worked on right now), there could be big gains on banked ovals, matching the team's strong raceday showing at Indy last year.
Will the former FAZZT team shine under Sam Schmidt Motorsports?
It would have been sad if IndyCar's newest supergroup had dissolved following the departure of former team owner Andre Azzi. Sam Schmidt, who'd been looking at eventually expanding beyond his excellent Indy Lights operation, has promised not to break up the band that brought you hits like second on the grid at Sao Paulo (the team's debut!), fifth on the grid at Indy (beaten only by three Penskes and one Ganassi car) and fourth on the grid at Sonoma. Notice the common factor there? Yeah, qualifying provided most of the team's highlights in 2010. We've said it before: If Alex Tagliani and Co. have their best race performances and luck on the same weekends as their best qualifying performances, there could be podium finishes or better this year.
Is the J.R. Hildebrand/Panther Racing combo a potential top-five contender?
Hildebrand may be a rookie (OK, he has two starts under his belt, thanks to Dreyer & Reinbold last year) but the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion appears to have the right blend of pace, cool judgment and technical smarts to become one of the series' elite drivers in the years ahead. At Panther, he knows he has good oval setup data already, thanks to the performances of predecessor Dan Wheldon. As for road and street courses, neither the team nor J.R. are sure what they've got – again, thanks to the performances of Wheldon.
Also bear in mind that Hildebrand is a rookie without a teammate, a situation which surely hindered another Indy Lights champ, Raphael Matos in the now defunct De Ferran Dragon team. And, of course, J.R.'s chances aren't helped by the fact that there are now four Ganassi cars as well as three Penskes, and aces at Andretti Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold. Still, don't be surprised to see Hildebrand on a podium.
Are we on the brink of a Newman/Haas Racing revival?
If you witnessed this team in its pomp last decade, it was heartbreaking watching it struggle to rise higher than midfield in 2010. When Rahal was in a second car, there were flashes of pace, but Hideki Mutoh was there only because he brought money – and that emphatically is not what NHR is about. Oriol Servia is one guy that can prove that, providing excellent feedback, strong performances on all types of circuit and reinvigorating everyone behind the scenes. It's to be hoped that Indy Lights grad James Hinchcliffe, who looked so stellar in his tests with the team, can get in a second car. He clearly has much to offer.
Will Simona de Silvestro prove the real deal in 2011?
It's beginning to look very encouraging for the HVM Racing team, and it was de Silvestro's eye-catching performances and humility that enabled her to suck up the negatives that her rookie season threw at her. She reflected the stoicism of team owner Keith Wiggins who is a past master at absorbing misfortune and whose team suffered more than most in the switch from Champ Car to IndyCar in 2008.
Last year was grueling, too, for there were some spectacular and expensive accidents as Simona learned her way around ovals and occasionally allowed enthusiasm to overtake her on road courses. But, generally, de Silvestro is cool-headed, determined and quick. The loss of Michael Cannon was a last-minute kidney-punch, but Wiggins is wise with his money, so with funding from new sponsor Entergy, de Silvestro and HVM should continue to make good progress.