Welcome to the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg (Florida, not Russia) where this weekend the finest drivers in the IndyCar series will attempt to do their best Formula One impersonations. Or at least look enough like Champ Car to create questions about the relevance of that other series.
All kidding aside, throwing a bunch of right turns into an IndyCar race usually means one thing: it’s time for Scott Dixon to start making everyone look silly. In early practice the Iceman was nearly three quarters of a second faster than everyone else, which means barring some timely yellow flags this oval-racing enthusiast might unintentionally nod off.
Alright, that's not totally fair. Spiderman and the AGR cars are are looking strong as well so it shouldn't be a total runaway for anyone. Promise me a good race, drivers. If anyone gets too far ahead just throw a 20-second pit stop like Wheldon did last week, OK?
Remember fans, this is an Andretti-Green event and AGR cars have done quite well here. Expect them to be near the front, although whether or not they can catch Dixon will be the dominant story line. Other things to watch for include:
• Will Sam Hornish Jr chase down a Top 5?
• Will Marco Andretti driver well enough to impress F1 teams?
• Will Darren Manning get the Foyt team back on the podium?
• Will Danica Patrick keep pace with her teammates?
• Will the Vision drivers surprise for a second straight race?
• Will the real Helio Castroneves show up?
Here are the notes for this week organized by likelihood to finish in Victory Lane. Yeah, Money and I both got Wheldon right last week, but that was the easiest pick of the year. These tidbits are for amusement purposes only unless you are working a race broadcast, in which case they are a vital part of your show prep.
1. Dixon – Iceman has never finished worse than 7th on an ICS road or street course. Wheldon survived the Ganassi Pit Circus last week, but Dixon may not be afforded the same margin of error.
2. Kanaan – The only driver to appear on the podium in both of the previous races here. The Nose knows St Pete and will be in the thick of the AGR charge.
3. Franchitti – He won the pole in last year’s race and led for 14 laps before a wheel bearing problem ended his day. Get the Ashley cam ready.
4. Castroneves – Helio looked lost at Homestead, but he is the defending champion on the Streets of St Petersburg. Maybe this is his world.
5. Meira – Color him consistent – fifth in ’05, fifth in ’06. With a little luck he could make it three in a row.
6. Andretti – The kid has demonstrable skills on road and street courses, but he has also had some accident/mechanical issues on them. He’ll either end up on the podium or not finish the race.
7. Wheldon – Sure Well Done won here in 2005, but that was with AGR. Since then he hasn’t managed better than 6th on a twisty, and in last year’s race he crashed under yellow in a bizarre incident.
8. Hornish – Noted for his non-oval struggles, Uncle Sam drove impressively for much of this race last year. Don’t act totally shocked if he squeezes into the Top 5.
9. Patrick – AGR finished 1-2-3-4 in 2005, and had their two running cars finish in the top 4 in 2006. Last year Danica! worked her RLR Panoz up to 6th, so there’s every expectation she will maintain that level in an AGR entry this year.
10. Rice – Rice finished 7th here in ’05 and led 8 laps in the ’06 race. In fact St Pete and Watkins Glen were the only races he led last year, so he’s earned the back-handed “road course specialist” label.
11. Scheckter – He’s the best chance for Vision to show last week was not a fluke. A solid performance this weekend puts The Wrecker in *gasp* championship contention.
12. Manning – Road courses should be his specialty, and if pre-race times are any indication then Danger Mouse is the dark horse this weekend.
13. Matsuura – Finished 7th last year, but his weekend revolves around Hideki Mutoh’s performances in the two Indy Pro races.
14. Simmons – It’s Spock’s first ICS race here, but he finished 2nd and 4th in two Indy Pro races here last year. Not sure that counts for much, though.
15. Sharp – His best finish on a non-oval is 9th, and he finished 10th last year where only 11 cars were running at the finish.
16. Carpenter – The good news is ECG finished 19th here in 2005 and didn’t start last year, so he’s guaranteed to have a career best finish.
17. Foyt – His lone ICS street/road race was here in ’05. He finished last. Things can only get better.
18. Fisher – This will be her first road race in an IndyCar. Keep it clean and enjoy the ride.
Money says: "Tony Kanaan. He's looking solid in practice, has a BIG hard-on for a win."
I think Money means that figuratively. At least I hope he means that figuratively. Enjoy the show!
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