Monday, March 18, 2013

2013 IndyCar Season Preview: The Chevy Teams

We did it--we survived another offseason. The IZOD IndyCar Series is ready to get things rolling once again. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will open the season this weekend, and the IndyCar paddock is again packed with some great talent and some intriguing team-ups this year.

Over the next two days, as part of a week of full coverage leading up to the INDYCAR kickoff, we’ll be looking at each team and driver in the Series. Get ready, because we have an amazing season in front of us.

Today, we’ll start with the Chevrolet teams. Chevy cars won 11 out of 15 weekends last season on their way to the Manufacturers’ Championship, and will be looking to repeat the feat this season. The core of their driver pool remains largely the same, as Simona de Silvestro is the only full-time driver to switch from another manufacturer to Chevy this season from last season.

Andretti Autosport
Ryan Hunter-Reay, #1 (USA)
EJ Viso, #5 (VEN)
Marco Andretti, #25 (USA)
James Hinchcliffe, #27 (CAN)

The Andretti team enters this season looking for all the world like they should be able to make a solid defense of last year’s championship, especially with their their current driver and engineer lineup. Ryan Hunter-Reay demonstrated he could win on both twisties and ovals, and really seemed to take his performance to a new level as the first American IndyCar champ since Sam Hornish. If he gets on a string of victories again this year, there's no reason he can't repeat.

Big things are also expected from his teammate James Hinchcliffe, whom many have projected as taking his first Series trip to Victory Lane this season. Hinch has the personality and talent to continue to grow as one of IndyCar’s true stars and personalities. A high-profile win would be a big step in that direction. Seeing him reunited with engineer Craig Hampson should be a major plus.

Hinch: Even better for Andretti in 2013?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Marco Andretti’s move to the #25 car will hopefully be the sign of a new beginning for the legacy racer. It’s been the regular story in recent seasons: we know Marco can win (and he has), but a mix of the Andretti luck and other misfortune has kept him out of the championship hunt. As with every year, the faithful will be waiting to see if this year’s 500 will be the end of the Andretti Curse. Marco’s RC Cola is one of the best-looking on the grid, and he should be a big contender not only at Indy, but places such as Iowa, Fontana, and Mid-Ohio.

The newest member of the Andretti family is EJ Viso, who is looking for a change of luck of his own. Viso has greatly cut down on his on-track mistakes, and is hoping that the move to a championship team will ensure the burst of pure speed and potential we’ve seen from him turn into sustained positive results. Viso has the talent to compete up front, and seems to be a good fit so far with the Andretti crew. Having Michael Cannon as his engineer doesn't hurt, either. We’ll see how the change agrees with him, but he very well could be a dark horse winner at some point this season.

Andretti will be expanding from 4 to 5 teams for Indianapolis this year, with their Firestone Indy Lights driver Carlos Munoz confirmed in a 5th car.

Dragon Racing
Sebastian Saavedra, #6 (COL)
Sebastien Bourdais, #7 (FRA)

Dragon’s prior season and this offseason were anything but normal, between their drama-filled switch from Lotus to Chevy, Jay Penske’s off-track escapades, and the extremely contentious removal of Katherine Legge from the #6 car. Despite all this, Dragon could have some decent result on the year, thanks especially to the driving prowess of Bourdais. He is very good at doing much with little, and though his season will likely be a roller coaster, there will be ample occasions for him to demonstrate the sort of prowess that ruled ChampCar for so long.

His teammate for the year, Sebastian Saavedra, is stepping back up to a full-season after spending most of 2012 in Firestone Indy Lights. It appears to have been a smart move for the young Colombian driver, who last ran full-time with Conquest Racing in 2011. If he’s able to grab some Top 10s and turn some heads, it will be a big vindication for his career strategy. Overall, Dragon Racing remains a cipher, and is probably one of the hardest teams to project performance for this season.

Ed Carpenter Racing
Ed Carpenter, #20 (USA)

A rookie team in 2012, Carpenter’s outfit looked strong at the 500 before a late spin, and managed to win the MAVTV 500 finale at Fontana. As one would expect, Ed was very good on the ovals, and struggled mightily on the road and street courses. Carpenter has worked diligently at his craft, but it’s still too much to expect him to suddenly be a world-beater on those courses. On the ovals, however, the Fuzzy’s Vodka Machine should be a regular terror, and should be in the mix at Indy once again. Carpenter should have every chance to net his third win in three years somewhere along the oval portion of the schedule.

Twisties: Superior landscaping, but poor results for Ed.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
KV Racing
Tony Kanaan, #11 (BRA)
Simon de Silvestro #78 (SUI)

Kanaan is the only holdover from KV’s 2012 lineup, and is still a fan favorite at places like Indianapolis, as well as a threat to show up and compete any given weekend. Still, KV Racing has yet to make the jump to a top tier team, despite all the potential in the world. If they’re going to get that elusive win, it could also come from Simona de Silvestro, who should feel like she’s in a rocketship after last year’s nightmarish Lotus campaign.

Kanaan and de Silvestro are both two popular, well-respected drivers, and either one of them could give KV Racing the breakout season fans have been anticipating for the last few years now. It’ll be exciting to see how de Silvestro responds to finally having an IndyCar teammate. This team should be one of the more enjoyable duos to watch interact this season.

Panther Racing/Panther-DRR
J.R. Hildebrand #4 (USA)
Oriol Servia # (ESP)

It was a fairly, somewhat surprisingly quiet 2012 season for Hildebeast and National Guard car, but they did manage some nice finishes at Long Beach, Texas, Brazil, and a couple of other tracks. They were a general non-factor at Indy, which seems an odd thing to say for a team that had been so good there for so long. It remains to be seen if they can get their DW12 back to the same high oval standard of years past. Hildebrand is an excellent all-around racer, and his time in Victory Circle shouldn’t be too far off.

The other part of the equation here, thanks to the Panther semi-merger/partnership/team-up/whatever with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, is IndyCar journeyman and respected veteran Oriol Servia. This will mark the first time Servia has started a year with the same team as he finished the prior year since 2004-2005, and hopefully he’ll get to enjoy some consistency for once. Once Servia switched from Lotus last season, he managed four Top 5s in 11 races. He’ll have the chance to be a sneaky spoiler once again this season.

Team Penske
AJ Allmendinger, #2 (USA)
Helio Castroneves, #3 (BRA)
Will Power #12 (AUS)

With the departure of Ryan Briscoe in the offseason, Team Penske will once again be primarily a two-car team. However, AJ Allmendinger will be running at least Indy and Barber for the team in the IZOD #2, which will be a very high-profile sort of partial season. We know Dinger can drive the wheels off everything from NASCAR to sports cars, so there shouldn’t be too much expectation he’ll get lost in his return to open wheel racing. Hopefully, if things go well, we’ll see him for more races later on, but it’s all up in the air right now.

Helio Castroneves grabbed a pair of wins in the first year of the DW12 chassis, and showed he still has what it takes to contend at age 37 (he’ll be 38 before this year’s 500). The only thing missing in Helio’s illustrious career is an IndyCar championship, though there’s no reason he won’t be a frontrunner this season. There’s also the possibility of a 4th Indy 500 victory this year, which cannot be discounted. He’s still among the very best at Indianapolis, and running well there has never been a concern for him.

The #12 car: Coming soon to a Victory Circle near you.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
No IndyCar driver has been as analyzed and endlessly discussed this offseason as perhaps Will Power. He’s been so very close to championships the last three seasons, only to see them lost in a variety of progressively stranger ways. No one can dispute he reigns supreme on the twisties, and he has to again be the prohibitive title favorite. Power has been pretty prevalent in advertising and online content during the offseason, and he should remain a very prominent racer. It’s about time he had a title to go with that. You have to like his chances, but then again, that’s what we thought in 2010-2012. At some point, he’ll get his championship, and it very well could be this year. Expect the usual wins from Power, and wait to see if the consistency on non-win weeks is enough to put him through to the title.

Tomorrow: A look at the 2013 IZOD IndyCarHonda teams.

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