Friday, April 22, 2011

The Friday 15: Between Long Beach and Brazil

It’s a quiet Easter weekend for us fans, but the teams are getting ready for next week’s race in Sao Paulo Brazil. Here at IndyCar Advocate, it’s time for to check out the Friday 15, where we run down and comment on the Top 15 in points for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Again, position change from the previous week’s place is shown red parentheses.

1) Dario Franchitti, 122 points (+1)
When’s the last time at least one Ganassi car didn’t qualify in the Firestone Fast 6? That’s what happened at Long Beach. Dario’s car didn’t seem to have enough to win, but consistent podiums will go far towards his championship repeat efforts.

2) Will Power, -7 (-1)
Taken out by one’s own teammate? Why, it’s practically Shakespearean! I really thought Power would have at least two road/street victories by this point in the season, but that’s the sort of year it’s been. Sao Paulo is another great opportunity for him to leapfrog Dario for the top spot.

3) Tony Kanaan, -35 (Unchanged)
While not quite as awe-inspiring as his performance in the first two races, TK’s a win or a single slip by the gentlemen in first and second place from being right at the top of the points standings.

4) Oriol Servia, -42 (+2)
Awesome accent? Check. Consistent, excellent driving? Check. A maneuver to avoid the Power/Helio spin that was, in a word, magnificent? Yep. Oriol Servia and the rest of the crew at a resurgent Newman/Haas are great for the competitive level of this series.

5) Mike Conway, -48 (+19)
Because of Conway’s quiet, placid demeanor, I think we sort of lose sight of what an awesome accomplishment this is. Conway’s rehab to come back from the wreck last year at Indy was not an easy or a sure thing. Yet in his third race back, he takes the checkered flag. If he drives again like he did in this one, I’m not sure that’s his only victory this year. And yes, he gained the most spots in point this week, improving to here from 24th place.

6) Alex Tagliani, -49 (+3)
Sam Schmidt got himself a hell of a deal, didn’t he? I’m not sure if Tag is going to win a race this year, but he’s going to put some fear into the bigger teams all the way through. He should flirt with the Top 5 or so on the twisties more often than not.

7) Scott Dixon, -56 (-3)
Scotty’s getting pretty irate with Helio Castroneves after race incidents that cost him position and points. Actually, Dixon’s been pretty emotive this year, as opposed to the old perception of him being indistinguishable from one of his cardboard cutouts. I like it.

8) Ryan Briscoe, -56 (+17)
Briscoe’s one of our big movers this week, jumping from 25th to 8th by merit of his 2nd-place run last weekend. “Big mover” seems pretty suitable, given that Penske Truck Rental sponsorship.

9) Simona de Silvestro, -56 (-4)
Not a great weekend for the Swiss Miss. Her average finish through her first three races of 2010 was 17.7. Her average finish so far in 2011 is 11.0. If she wants to keep that going at Brazil, it’d be nice to see her qualify a bit better this weekend than she has been.

10) Vitor Meira, -58 (Unchanged)
The Foyt team has been pretty consistent this year, but a lot of Vitor’s races make you think “if only”. It always seems like there’s an incident or the chips don’t fall in his favor. He finished 3rd at Brazil last year; we’ll have to see what he’s got for that circuit this year.

Meira: Not Slow, But Steady

11) Danica Patrick, -65 (+5)
A very clean 7th-place finish for Danica last weekend. It was also perhaps the least she’d been discussed on-air during an IndyCar telecast that I can remember.

12) Raphael Matos, -65 (Unchanged)
Rafa finished just out of the Top 10 at St. Pete. A good result at Sao Paulo would be a big boost to the AFS team coming into Indy, where Rafa’s going to have some demons to exorcise.

13) Takuma Sato, -66 (-5)
After a reasonably clean start to his season, Taku had an incident with Graham Rahal this past weekend leaving him 4 laps down. Have we seen the real Sato yet? If so, is it St. Pete Sato or Long Beach Sato? He might be the one driver in Brazil where there is no result that would shock me.

14) Helio Castroneves, -66 (-3)
It seems inconceivable, but if Helio doesn’t figure out his braking issues and show something soon, he could finish the year out of or barely in the Top 10. That said, this is still a Penske entry, Indy is still ahead of us, and there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

15) Marco Andretti, -68 (-8)
Before the season started, I predicted Andretti Autosport would grab 2-3 wins this year. Marco’s still fully capable of grabbing one of them, but these early-season wrecks have to be frustrating. Mario Moraes’ car ended up on top of him in the first 30 seconds of last year’s season opener at Sao Paulo, so he’s got to be hoping for a little more race longevity this time around.

Falling out of the Top 15 after Long Beach? That’d be Justin Wilson (15th to 18th), JR Hildebrand (13th to 16th), and Charlie Kimball (14th to 19th). The big mover was James Hinchcliffe, moving up to 17th from 27th. If Brazil’s even close to Long Beach in terms of Hinch’s performance, he should crack the Top 15 right after.

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