Friday, August 31, 2012

10 Stories For The Grand Prix of Baltimore

Ah, Baltimore. One of the most entertaining courses of last season happily makes its return this upcoming weekend as the final twisty on the 2012 schedule. If you’re planning that Labor Day getaway or are cramming to get everything at work done before the long weekend, here are 10 big storylines to follow for the Grand Prix of Baltimore Presented By SRT:

1) The Championship, Of Course
Of course, all eyes will be on the continuing battle between Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay for this year’s IZOD IndyCar Series title. With a good run at Sonoma (and some really bad luck on the part of RHR), Power now leads by 36 points going into Baltimore. He’s largely expected to have a good outing here after last year’s dominant performance, and doing so would probably sow up the title for him. Will this be Power’s year? We’ll find out in short order. If he gains 13 points over Helio on the day, Helio will be eliminated. If he gains 18 points on Ryan Hunter-Reay, he’ll be champion.

2) Don’t Forget Helio
Helio Castroneves is only 5 points behind Ryan Hunter-Reay in the standings, and is still alive in the quest for his first-ever IndyCar title (see above). He finished a lap down in P17 here last year in a rough race, but figures to have a much better result in this so-far rejuvenating 2012 campaign. This could either be a weekend where Helio closes the gap heading into Fontana, or where his championship dreams fall short for one more year.

3) Welcome Back, Junky!
As mentioned the other day, Bruno Junqueira will be jumping into the #67 car as a substitute for the injured Josef Newgarden. Sarah Fisher’s team is just out of the TEAM entrant standings right now, sitting in P23, 14 points behind Ed Carpenter Racing. If they can line up a good finish (or even their first Top 10 of the year), they realistically have a shot at squeezing into that all-important Top 22.

4) Hey Hey, No PTP Delay
Unlike Sonoma, there will be no delay in activating the push-to-pass overtake assist for drivers in Baltimore. With a total of 90 seconds available to the drivers and zero wait time, we should see usage more in line with Toronto and Edmonton. As always, just what sort of impact it will have on the quality of racing will remain up for debate.

Will we see a repeat of 2011?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
5) The Track
The Baltimore layout is an absolute blast, and should be even more so with the chicane removed from the front straight this year. Still, this will be a street with some hard transitions, and we'll have to see if there are any last-minute tweaks again this year to ensure safety and good racing.

6) The Bourdais Finale
After a huge hit in Sonoma, Sebastian Bourdais will be making his last IndyCar drive of the year, since he'll be out of the car for the finale at Fontana. We'll wish him well, as he's definitely still achy from the big impact. There's no doubt he adds to the talent level to the Series in a big way.

7) A Big Weekend For The Ladder
After a race weekend at Sonoma with precisely ZERO Mazda Road to Indy action, USF2000, Star Mazda, and Firestone Indy Lights combine for what should be an explosive show. In USF2000, Matthew Brabham has a narrow 14-point lead over teammate Spencer Pigot, with Scott Anderson attending to inject himself into the conversation as well. The doubleheader of USF2000 races could do much to put this title battle into perspective.

Meanwhile, in Star Mazda, our buddy (Alberta’s Own) Stefan Rzadzinki will return to the track once again, but the real battle is going to be upfront. Jack Hawksworth is leading Sage Karam by 41 points in the standings, and we’ll have to see if Karam can improve on his P2 finish here from last season. Karam can still catch Hawksworth, but his window of opportunity is closing. This should be a great weekend in perhaps the toughest INDYCAR ladder series out there.

In Lights, rookie Tristan Vautier has hung in against Esteban Guerrieri, closing to only a six-point deficit with a pair of races to go. While the title fight goes down to the wire, a couple of additional entries bring the car count back up to 13. Emerson Newton-John returns with Fan Force United, and the amazingly-named Adderly Fong is entered for Brooks Associates. It should be a great weekend for those in attendance—and for those watching the tape-delay soon after.

8) Livery Update
There are a few livery changes of note this weekend. Ryan Briscoe is back in his black, blue, and white PPG colors, while Dario Franchitti has the black-and-gold Lexar sponsorship on the sidepods this weekend. Marco Andretti will be back in his ever-popular Dr. Pepper colors, while Oriol Servia’s #22 will bear the yellow-and-white WIX Filters scheme.

9) Watch For The Shake-Up
As Baltimore proved even last year with the old Dallara, this is a course that could see some very mixed results. Watch for how the Chevys and Hondas each react on the long straight here, and keep an eye on some of the smaller teams to shake things up near the top this week.

10) The Event Itself
It’s been a rocky road in the last year for the Baltimore event; there were unpaid bills from last year, and some doubts the event would make it a second year, but with Andretti Sports Marketing at the helm, it seems as if things have really settled down. The group behind last year’s race has paid off its debt, and it sounds like everyone is looking forward to a really amazing event.

Is Baltimore sustainable in an event in the long run? Let’s sure hope so. It seems as if this race can really be a quality event in an area of the country where it would behoove IndyCar to have a solid presence. Having an awesome course layout doesn’t hurt matters, either.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend (if you’re in the United States), and let’s watch what happens as the setup for the championship finale plays out.

2 comments:

  1. Good call on the track tweaks. Apparently Indycars were not intended to go airborne. I hope that the grinding works because I hated that chicane

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    1. Yeah, we'll definitely be discussing that in a big way this next week. A controversial move, but one I think they had to make.

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