Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spring Training Report

Can it really be that we are just a little over a week away from the IndyCar opener at St. Pete? There were times over the winter that I thought that day would NEVER arrive. Please, IndyCar, fix this. Please.

Anyway, we got a little bit of a taste of what's to come this season over the course of the last two days as everyone participated in the Spring Training test at Barber Motorsports Complex in Alabama. And if the total of 2,833 laps the drivers put in over that span says anything, it's that we might be in for a heck of a season.

Of course, Will Power showed again that he is the Twistie King, dropping a best lap of 1:07.1329, just about a quarter-second faster than James Hinchcliffe. The other notable thing about that time is it is 2.3 seconds faster than Power's two-year-old track record.

Eventually, 25 of the 27 drivers who tested this week went under Power's mark of 1:09.4557. Wow. It looks like the engineers took full advantage of the off-season, and there was a new tire compound in play as well.

So Hinchcliffe was second overall, Justin Wilson third, Tony Kanaan was fourth and defending champ Ryan Hunter-Reay was fifth. Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud completed the top 10. Overall the top 10 drivers (representing seven different teams) were separated by just under .7 seconds and the engine battle was split evenly, with five Chevys and five Hondas in the mix.

It's obvious that parity rules, and that is a good thing. Sure, it's probable that Penske, Andretti Autosport and Ganassi will win the majority of the races -- and the championship -- as the talent (and resources) rises to the top, but at the same time it won't be a gimme by any means, neither will it be a surprise when one of the other teams rides a hot weekend to a win.

Need more proof? How about this: the top 16 cars were separated by just about one second, and there were several drivers, most notably Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais, who for one reason or another struggled over the two days but will be ready when it gets real in St. Pete next week.

Simona de Silvestro showed she could be a factor now that she has a car with power, and while I won't predict a win for her this year -- although look for Tony Kanaan to visit victory lane at least once this year -- a couple of podiums is a very distinct possibility. Rookie Tristan Vautier held his own in the middle of the pack, but the big surprise was Dario Franchitti, who could manage just the 15th-best combined time over the two days. His 2012 season got off to an awful start and he needs to avoid that from happening again.

I will be working on a driver-by-driver season preview, so look for more info from the test and my crystal ball predictions for 2013 in the coming days.

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