The Magic Mile welcomes back open wheel racing this Sunday, after a 13 year hiatus. New Hampshire Motor Speedway saw four years of CART racing from 1992 through 1995. In 1996, the newly formed IRL inherited the race and ran three more editions before leaving after the 1998 season. AJ Foyt is the only team with any type of history at the track, although after being gone for so long this will probably not be a factor. The track has progressive two to seven degree banking and turns three and four are 35 feet higher than one and two. I have no idea what kind of effect this has on the cars, but makes for a facility with character and individuality. These are the very things that we have been asking for when the series takes on new tracks. The race for the championship has changed given Dario’s massive points lead, and the style of racing Ganassi may partake in this weekend, could open the door for a surprise winner.
Five Things to Watch
New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Before Thursday’s opening practice, no driver has ever driven the track at full speed. Everyone has the same amount of notes, tricks and secrets about the track… None. This could explain the interesting speeds we have seen in practice thus far, and can mix the field up on race day. I think we will witness another very entertaining race at a new facility.
Speed – After the first day of practice, we are already seeing speeds close to the all-time lap record at NHMS. The high speeds give credence to the notion that today’s cars are a bit easier to drive than the cars from 1995, the year the fastest lap was turned. With 650 horse power, the Honda engine is down 250 – 300 horsepower from the engines of the early 90’s, yet we are almost running faster laps times. The Dallara chassis has much more downforce available, allowing a faster speed through the center of the corner, but not reaching as high a top speed.
Parity – Ganassi locked out the top three positions at the close of practice. The Penske boys were quite a bit farther back, not factoring into the shoot out for top practice speed. Not far behind were all three of the KV Racing cars, and both of the Newman/Hass cars. With Penske seemingly missing the target this weekend, if the Ganassi camp has some trouble or are not perfect all weekend long, we could see a new winner in victory lane.
Road and Oval Championship – Indycar.com posted an article about the high speeds during Thursday practice. In the article they gave us a table of the road and oval championship point’s standings. To my surprise, it looks like Franchitti could lose both of the trophies, while winning the season championship. Dixon is three points back on the ovals, and Power is 28 points back in the road standings. I totally forgot about these awards. Nice injection of suspense into a championship that looks all but wrapped up.
Pippa Mann – The blonde rocket is back for her second career start in the big cars. This time out, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing is giving her the ride. This will be the first of a three race deal with the team, driving in the final two ovals of the season as well. Thursday practice did not go well for her, as she slightly damaged the rear of the car, on her birthday nonetheless. Not a good start for her new team, but her extreme will to succeed (Ed: see; losing drink bottle during parade laps of Indy 500…) should still impress on Sunday.
Winner – Graham Rahal – I like to think that Ganassi Deux is not actually a Ganassi team. It makes it much easier to root for them without feeling guilty. Maybe part Deux has finally been given that two percent of speed they have been missing. Rahal was fast on Thursday, his luck will finally hold on Sunday.
Pole – Tony Kanaan – If I keep picking him, he will eventually succeed. KVRT has shown speed on short ovals, and TK thrives at places like this. Given the close speeds his teammates are running, it is safe to assume that the team has finally hit on something.
Epic Performer – Takuma Sato – This guy has been amazing the past few races. He has kept out of self inflicted trouble, and has raced smart. Success on an oval would do wonders for his confidence entering the final few races of the season.
Biggest loser – Will Power – I feel like a broken record picking almost the same lineup as last week. It doesn’t seem Power has the speed to qualify out front this weekend, and it has been repeated ad nauseam that WP doesn’t do well while behind, trying to make up ground.
If Dario has another big weekend, I will officially call the championship closed. At this stage in the seasons, teams will be getting desperate for a win as dreams of hoisting the championship trophy at year’s end dissolve with every lap turned. We are seeing resurgence from the mid pack, and the best-of-the-rest team becoming ever difficult to pinpoint. A win from one of these teams would continue to put major heat on Andretti Autosport. Any trip to a new track will bring surprises, and I do not expect this weekend to disappoint as long as the drivers can keep race control from being forced to show the black flag. There is a huge list of unknowns going into race day, we could very well see an amazing start to a new favorite stop on the schedule.