Who’s going to win what? A final gaze into the crystal ball for the 2013 lead in is here and as always, I will attempt to put my money where my mouth is all year and predict my way through a more and more unpredictable sport. Most of my picks come from the heart, and not from what actually, possibly, maybe could go down. When the checkers finally wave I just want to have been witness to a season of heated action and a championship battle that goes down to the wire. I don’t care how we get there or what players are involved. Indycar hasn’t had a problem in creating suspense during the run to the championship and this year looks no different.
Season Champion – Will Power – I cannot fathom how he could possibly lose the tile four years in a row. Anything but a championship will relegate him to “just good enough” status until he can close the deal. Although he is a proven race winner, on the twisties, he has not shown that he has the ability to win where it really matters to his team owner and the rest of the motorsports world: Indianapolis. His issues are much deeper than having the yips at the brickyard. During the 2012 season finale Power reminded everyone that no matter how far we think he has come, even with no immediate pressure, ovals are his weak point. Will Power has no other option in 2013, a championship must be clinched.
Indy 500 – Kanaan – I will pick this man for a 500 win year in and out until he has tasted the milk at least five times. No driver in the current era deserves a win more than TK. Through his twelve years of competition, Kanaan has led 225 laps, and racked up a second, two thirds, and a fourth and fifth place finish at the famed brickyard. I said it last year; I swear this year will be the one.
(Programming note: I have no idea if there will in fact be discipline champions, but I will preview them as if they will be awarded.)
Oval Champion – Ed Carpenter – I give Eddie a lot of crap for being worse than deplorable on road and street courses, but the team knows how to get around the ovals. He is not a stretch to win every time the series only turns left, and If he can continue the spectacular oval form seen in the 2012 season finale, there is nothing this team cannot achieve… on ovals.
Road Champion – Scott Dixon – Two wins on twisties last year amid a two season run of bad luck kept Dixon in our minds until the very end. In 2013, he will embarrass teammate Dario Franchitti on the street and road courses en route to another close championship; capturing the road crown but losing the Astor Cup to the aforementioned Will Power.
Rookie of the Year – Tristan Vautier – Not a tough pick considering he is the only full season rookie signed up for the 2013 campaign. But this brings up the larger issue of never having more than a year or two straight of multiple rookie signings followed by a drought where the ROTY championship turns into a consolation prize. With Indy Lights on life support, enjoy it Tristan, you may be the last “Indy Lights” driver to make it into the big leagues.
Engine – Chevy – The Bowtie Brigade had a noticeable power advantage for most of 2012 and they do not look to be slowing one bit in the development. A company confident of its progress and strength would not circulate a presser that said they were “being conservative” in preseason testing. Honda did exactly that and in so doing, let everyone know they were already worried about a repeat slaughtering as seen in 2012. Then again, Honda won the Indy 500, are they really that worried about losing the manufacturer trophy if they can capture the Borg-Warner?
Triple Crown – Ed Carpenter – Wins two, Pocono and Fontana, good enough for a cool quarter million in prize money courtesy of his team sponsor, Fuzzy’s Vodka. I like Ed, a lot, especially when it’s on an oval, as far from a twistie as he can be. Do not discount the proven winners; ECR is fast on the big ovals and the return to Pocono should suit Ed’s driving style exceptionally well. Unfortunately, triumph at Indy will still prove elusive for the team that is in business solely to win the Memorial Day Classis.
Epic Performance – Simon Pagenaud – Assuming Andretti Autosport can solidify itself as a big-three team, Pagenaud and Schmidt Peterson Motorsport will come out as the best of the rest team. KV, who in years past was always a contender for best of the rest, is a shell of its former self and BHA, AJFE, DCR, DRR and Panther are all fighting to solidify themselves as the mid-pack leaders. Simon will use his extensive skill set along with the engineering prowess of SPM to steal at least one win this season, fully bringing himself and the Schmidt Empire into the big series as a force to be reckoned with.
Biggest Loser – Dario Franchitti – At one point last year I wrote that Dario must evolve or become extinct. He is an old school racer with old school habits that just will not work this new technology. There is a reason why both Helio Castroneves and Rubens Barrichello both made the tough switch to left foot braking for 2012, because it just works better in the DW12. Period. Evolve or become extinct. It is well known that Franchitti operates on a year to year basis with Ganassi, We may be watching the sun set on a truly exceptional career. Or in his post Ashley Judd world, he could come back stronger than ever.
Its race week and finally the season is so close we can touch it; are we excited? However, before we fully dive into the excitement that is the St Petersburg Grand Prix, there are still a few niggling items from the offseason. Andretti Autosport is primed to contend with Ganassi and Penske week in and out. Takuma Sato, AJFE’s new kid, is a perfect fit for Super Tex and is in a good position to actually finish a race in the lead. Moves in race control and any changes to the sporting regulations were more or less missing from the offseason after kicking off with the shakeup in INDYCAR management. A spate of fantastic news has ended our winter journey on a great note and everyone is just ready to get to some racing.