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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Beginning of the End - IndyCar GP of St. Pete - UPDATE

Tomorrow the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg kicks off the beginning of the 2011 IndyCar series which represents the swan song for the current chassis and rules system. Next year the current Dallara chassis which has seen few updates since its intro in late 1996 will be jettison for the Dallara produced safety cell with multiple aero and engine manufactures. The series is gaining traction with car counts up to the point they actually have had to consider what to do when they hit the artificial cap of 26 (more at Indy of course). With the late season drama produced last year that saw the championship lead change hands in the final race without artificial means (yes that's a shot at the bogus Chase format) and the well documented struggles of NASCAR its an all important season to gain more "market share" so to speak.

There is a great cast of characters from veterans like reigning champion Dario "I bagged Ashley Judd" Franchitti to Helio "I have to pay taxes?" Castroneves as well as budding stars like runner up Will "Where are the right turns?" Power and Ryan "the other Penske car" Briscoe. Add an Andretti, Rahal, and a woman that can actually drive in Simona de Silvestro and it really is an exciting field.

There has been a ton of driver movement in the off season. Tony Kanaan lost his ride at Andretti, found a new one at deFerran Dragon which then went under, and then found another ride at KVRT (Also the best looking car in the field - Pic). Promising young driver Graham Rahal who is the youngest winner in series history got a full time ride after spot duty last year. Rahal not only got a ride but he got a Ganassi ride along with Charlie Kimball on a newly formed Ganassi B-team, now that is a serious partnership. Other changes include a strange twist in which last years rookie of the year Alex Lloyd lost his ride, Mike Conway of Indy aerobatics fame is back, and 2009 Indy Lights champion JR Hildebrand comes into the series to take over for Dan Wheldon in the Panther Racing car.

This season's kick off race is a street course again (Sao Paulo in 2010). That means we probably won't see a ton of passing, track position/pitstops are of utmost importance, and we are guaranteed at least one classic street race pile up. The practice speeds have been a slight be slower than last year, Power paces the pack by .3 seconds leading a top 5 that also includes Conway (2nd) and Oriol Servia (5th) while de Silvestro is all the way down in 23rd below that other woman who notoriously sucks at turning right.

Spotters Guide

Combined Practice Results

Highlights 1 - 2 - 3

Results - Round 1 Group 1 / Round 1 Group 2 / Round 2 / Round 3

Starting Grid

No real surprises from qualifying, Sebastian Saavedra did have an incident with Sebastien Bourdais. Unfortunately Comcast/NBC/Versus decided to flex their muscle and not allow live streaming on the IndyCar website so I haven't seen a replay of the incident.

One thing that I did notice when looking over the starting grid is the astounding diversity for such a North American based series (minus 1 race in Brazil and Japan), there is to my count 12 different countries represented in the 25 car field. For the race I will be most curious to see if Conway is in over his head with his practice/qualifying performances and how Kanaan does in a new car and on the flip side how KVRT does with a driver that doesn't destroy cars so quickly.

Lead Photo from IndyCar's Flikr stream

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