This weekend Formula One returns to action, beginning the European section of the schedule, only leaving the continent for the Canadian Grand Prix in June. While F1’s finest got a little time off from racing, there is no rest in the IndyCar Series, who gets to carry that "Danica won" momentum through to Kansas Speedway for the second oval race of the season.
Formula One - Spanish Grand Prix
The Spanish Grand Prix begins with very tight quarters at the top of the Drivers’ championship. Nine points separates leader Kimi Raikkonen and his sixth place teammate Felipe Massa. Under the right circumstances the Brazilian could vault from zero points to first place in two races. Also in striking distances are Nick Heidfeld, second with 16 points, and the trio of Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica, and Heikki Kovalainen, all at 14 points.
This might be another Ferrari weekend, as the Friday practice times have been led by the Italian team. Now practice times should always be taken with a grain of salt. You never know who’s testing what, or what teams are working on race setup vs. qualifying setup. Still, in this century Ferrari has won at Catalunya five times, including Massa last year.
There’s also currently a tight constructors’ championship, with BMW as the surprising leader. Chalk it up to consistency so far, as they have never scored more than 11 points in a race, but a season opening 8 is their lowest haul. Compare that to Ferrari, who is one point behind, but has scored maximum points (18) in Bahrain but a single point in Melbourne.
For those of you who have not checked out qualifying before, I’d recommend it. Unlike qualifying in most series, it’s pretty exciting thanks to the knockout system which allows even the backmarker teams to get some attention on a race weekend (can they advance to round 2?). Sometimes it can also be more exciting than the race, particularly if the winner destroys the field. It’s on at 8 am EDT on Speed here in the U.S.
Prediction: I’ll stay with the Ferraris, with Kimi extending his points lead with the win.
IndyCar - RoadRunner Turbo Indy 300
Thankfully, there’s only one IndyCar race to worry about this weekend. The momentum for the series could not be better, as the mainstream media really took hold of Danica’s win and kept her super busy this week, with appearances on the morning shows, daytime talk shows, and of course David Letterman. It’s also done good for the bottom lines at the tracks IndyCar visits this season, as many have reported jumps in ticket sales since Sunday. This might keep a few tracks that have been struggling with attendance in contention for a spot on 2009’s schedule, which will be competitive to get on.
With Champ Car now officially in the imaginary rear view mirror, it’s time for teams to hunker down and get into oval shape. With the next seven events on ovals, it will be key for the newer teams to start developing their form. The bigger names at KV Racing and Newman/Haas/Lanigan could contend for the top 10 in series points if they can get it together. Will Power is currently fifth after winning at Long Beach, even ahead of former series champ Dan Wheldon.
This weekend will see debuts for two different drivers. Tomas Scheckter will make his 2007 debut at Kansas driving for Luczo Dragon Racing. The team, no longer a satellite team for Penske, will also run at Indianapolis with the South African at the wheel. The other debutante will be making his series debut.
Jaime Camara has taken over the #34 Conquest Racing entry, as Franck Perera’s sponsorship dried up. Perera will remain with the team as a third driver until he finds another place to race. As for Camara, he brings something to the team that no other driver in the new teams has: extensive oval experience. That’s because he is a three year veteran of the Indy Pro (now Indy Lights) series, with three wins, all on ovals. While this year has seen the influx of Champ Car drivers, it has also now seen several graduates from IndyCar’s feeder programs, with Camara, Hideki Mutoh, and Jay Howard moving up this year.
While he won’t be racing at Kansas this weekend, the series has gained another full-time entrant as Pacific Coast Motorsports have a program with Mario Dominguez at the helm. A six year Champ Car veteran, he has spent the last two years as the go-to replacement driver. In 2007, he drove for five different teams. Even before his first drive in a Dallara, he is in 25th place in the points, as he finished third at Long Beach. The only concern at the moment is the full-time car count is now at 27, one more than the prescribed maximum the series has for Milwaukee, Richmond, and Iowa, the shortest tracks on the schedule. Series official are still working on configuring the pits (which is the main concern) so that bumping is unnecessary, but as it stands one car will be heading home early on those weekends.
Prediction: The Kansas race has been run seven times, and has produced seven different winners. For my prediction, I’ll make it an eighth with Scott Dixon taking his second win of the season.