Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Is It Anyone’s IndyCar Championship?

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In 2010 and 2011, we saw the continued battles between Dario Franchitti and Will Power for the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship. A formula developed; Will generally dominated the road and street courses, while Dario occasionally grabbed a street course victory, but otherwise did enough to hang around in contention. On the ovals, Dario’s performance generally bettered Power’s, and so it could be said Dario’s overall results won him those championships despite Power’s tremendous twisty talents.

This year has been markedly different in terms of the Franchitti/Power dynamic. While Will won three straight road/street courses, Franchitti struggled in the early going, never looked completely comfortable in the DW12, and only recorded a truly good result at Sao Paulo. Going into the Indy 500, it seemed as if Power had the makings of a clear path to his first Series Championship. Indianapolis, however, may just have muddied the waters a bit.

With Dario grabbing a whopping 54 points in his third 500 victory (and Power garnering only 20 after an early exit), we are now to a portion of the schedule featuring a street course, followed by three straight ovals in June. More than ever, this will be the test of Will Power as a multi-discipline driver.

Although it’s usually easy money to take Power for the pole and win at any road/street course, he’s got some drivers relatively close to him in the standings. James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves both sit 36 points back, and the smoothly consistent Scott Dixon (3 podiums in 5 races!) is only 11 points behind them. Power might have a margin of error, but it isn’t a massive one.

What, then, of Dario? Currently he sits tied with Simon Pagenaud in P6 overall, 64 points out of the lead. If we know nothing else, we know Dario is very good at making up point deficits, as he’s done the last two seasons. In other words, he might have been down, but he’s not out.

Ultimately, this Championship will likely come down to consistency. Will we see James Hinchcliffe blink, or Helio? Will Simon Pagenaud come back with a good result on the ovals? Can Ryan Hunter-Reay return from a disappointing ending to an otherwise good Month of May?

Many of us were ready to claim this year’s Championship was Will Power’s to lose after the first four races. He still might have the inside track, but there are a few drivers who just might take objection to crowning him this early. Let’s see how things stand at the end of June—if Power wins one or two of these ovals while his competitors falter, he’ll be looking good. If he has the sort of poor luck or results he had at Indy, then it could be a whole new ballgame. My feeling is, going into the Canada portion of the schedule, we could have an even closer fight at the top than we do now.

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