Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2013 IndyCar Season Preview: The Honda Teams

Welcome to the second half of our 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season preview. Part One, covering the Chevy teams, may be found here. Today, we look at the Honda teams rounding out the paddock this year. Honda won the Indy 500, but otherwise could not match Chevy in the wins department, coming in second in the Manufacturer's Championship. They'll look to change that, with a mix of both experienced veterans and some prospects that could have big years as well.

AJ Foyt Enterprises
Takuma Sato, #14 (JPN)

On the surface, the pairing of Sato and Foyt might seem an odd one, but early returns have been almost universally positive. We all know the story on Taku by now: fast as anyone, crashes late. Still, he should have some very good finishes this year, and don't ignore his potential for winning if he can simply keep it off the wall. Sato can win, make no mistake. I would also think Foyt's engineering upgrades start to pay some bigger dividends this year. I like what Don Halliday can do for that team.

Expect to see the #41 car (at least) rolled out Indy, though with Conor Daly racing in GP2, that probably signifies it won't be him in that seat come May.

Barracuda Racing (Bryan Herta Autosport)
Alex Tagliani, #98 (CAN)

Seriously, Team Barracuda just looks fast.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
There's an awful lot to like about how Bryan Herta's crew is going about their business these days. They aren't a big team, but are taking a lot of pains to do things the right way. The return of Alex Tagliani is a good move, and this team should be super-fast on several stops along the road this year, including Indy. After switching from Lotus last year in time for Indy, Tag posted Top 10 finishes in eight of the next nine races. This is a team on the rise, and that should play itself out in the results this year.

Chip Ganassi Racing (Target)
Scott Dixon, #9 (NZL)
Dario Franchitti, #10 (SCO)
Charlie Kimball, #83 (USA)

Scott Dixon was again in the title hunt for most of the season last year, and was the highest-placing Honda driver overall. Dixon is still in the peak of his career, and can be counted on to be a regular presence in the championship consideration. He is also one of three active IndyCar drivers with an Indy 500 win to his name, and with an average 500 finish of 3.8 in the past five years, he could add another likeness of his to the Borg-Warner Trophy. He likely represents Ganassi’s best shot at regaining the IndyCar title.

Dario Franchitti had an “off” season by his standards in 2012, but that still meant winning Indianapolis and three other podium finishes on the season. Of course, Franchitti has been on top so long, any poor result will add ammo to claims he is “slipping”, but he is still a threat to win on just about any given weekend. He’s in the sunset of his career, but that sunset should still shine pretty brightly. There's no reason to believe he can't grab a record-tying fourth Indy 500 victory this year.

Dario: A 4th 500 win this year?
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Charlie Kimball begins his third season in the IICS having made some nice strides in 2012, including his podium finish at Toronto and a very nice result at Indianapolis. Kimball isn’t a world-beater just yet, but he’s been working at his craft, getting more comfortable in the car, and the results are slowly coming. Look for another decent year from Charlie—not a championship season, but a competitive one nonetheless.

Dale Coyne Racing
Ana Beatriz/Stefan Wilson, #18 (BRA/ENG)
Justin Wilson, #19 (ENG)

Justin Wilson should return for another full season at DCR. The team of Coyne, Wilson, and engineer Bill Pappas paid off big dividends last year, as Wilson won a stunner at Texas. Results will probably be up-and-down at Coyne overall, but they should sneak up front at least a few times this year. If you want a real dark horse possibility, don't forget about last year's P7 at Indy!

No one is quite sure what the final breakdown of races will be for the second Coyne machine, but Ana Beatriz and rookie Stefan Wilson both look to play some manner of role in that ride over the course of the season. Bia will start the season for Coyne, and we'll have to see when/where Stefan Wilson steps in (right now, it sounds like a few North American road or street circuits, but we'll see). Interestingly, at the time this was was written there official announcement has been forthcoming for either of the Coyne cars, despite Justin and Bia being listed as entrants for St. Pete. That might be concerning in an another racing series, but here we just call that Coyne's standard M.O.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Graham Rahal, #15 (USA)
James Jakes, #16 (ENG)
Mike Conway, #17 (Long Beach) (ENG)

After what seemed to be a somewhat unhappy situation for Graham Rahal at Chip Ganassi’s outfit, he moves back to his father’s team for the new season. RLLR was fast enough to win last year, though they came up infuriatingly short (Indy, anyone?). Rahal sounds pretty relaxed and confident going into the year, and working with this team could be the bump he needs to get back to the win column. The Rahal crew will hope that early testing gremlins are just that, and that St. Pete is the start of some big statements this year.

Teaming with Rahal the Younger will be the Englishman James Jakes, who will look for better results after a lackluster, frustrating 2012 season. It seems as if Rahal and Jakes are getting on well, so we’ll see just how Jakes fits with his new team. It will be interesting to see if he can duplicate his P8 from Toronto or some of the late-season 2011 promise, or if he will finish around P22 for a third straight year.

Mike Conway might be done with oval racing, but we’ll at least see him in a third Rahal car at Long Beach, where he has previously won. It’s very possible we see Conway in a couple more race weekends this year, and the #17 car should also make an appearance, sans Conway, at Indy.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Tristan Vautier, #55 (FRA)
Simon Pagenaud, #77 (FRA)

Simon Pagenaud has a teammate for the season in 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champ (and fellow countryman) Tristan Vautier. Vautier was ridiculously fast in early testing, and though he'll have his rookie moments, the early expectations are favorable, to say the least. Vautier made it here by winning Star (Pro) Mazda and Lights against competition that was expected to beat him out; one certainly wouldn't expect him to back down now.

This may be a familiar sight to some drivers this year.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
As far as Pags goes, you won't many better-regarded drivers for the season to come. The 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year is perhaps the most intriguing driver outside of the Big 3 teams, and you can expect to see him with a least some podium action over the course of the season. I don't want to jinx it, but we just might see some crepes in Victory Circle at some point this year.

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
Josef Newgarden, #67 (USA)

Sarah Fisher's crew moves into their impressive new building in Speedway this April, and also boast a new Indy 500 sponsor in Century 21. They also have one of the most charismatic young drivers around in Josef Newgarden. Unfortunately, Newgarden, while possessing all the raw potential in the world, couldn't nail down a Top 10 last season, as a mix of impatience and rookie luck/judgement came into play. It will be a more experienced Newgarden behind the wheel this season, and he should continue to develop nicely over the course of the campaign.

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