After a long off season the IZOD Indycar series opens their schedule with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Not surprisingly Team Penske takes the top two spots in my power rankings.
No. 1 Will Power: Since 2010 there have been eleven races held before the Indy 500, of those eleven races Will Power has won seven of them, which translates to a 64 percent win percentage. He dominated the open test at Barber Motorsports Park. If 2013 goes true to form Will Power should roll into Indy with two to three wins under his belt.
No. 2 Helio Castroneves: Helio has four wins at St. Pete and since 2006 has finished lower than second twice. St. Pete is probably his strongest track statistically speaking. He consistently was the second fastest car on the track during preseason testing.
No. 3 Dario Franchitti: A series of misfortunes out of his control knocked him out of the championship early in the season. He’s probably going into this season with something to prove after a disappointing 2012.
No. 4. Ryan Hunter-Reay: You’d think the defending champion would be higher, but Ryan Hunter-Reay is only two years away from DNQing from the Indy 500. He’s not traditionally a strong starter. The big question is if the mid-year stride where he strung together three wins returns, or if it takes a while for all the changes at Andretti Autosport to gel.
No. 5. Simon Pagenaud: Last year’s Rookie of the Year got off to a fast start, nearly running down Will Power atLong Beach. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team has more resources, Pagenaud has a teammate and he’s seen almost all of the tracks before. There’s no reason to think he won’t be a top-five car again.
No. 6 Sebastien Bourdais: The Frenchman is hungry, and he wants to win. Dragon has a two car team, Chevy engines and he’s running every race. He’s my early dark horse pick for a championship and you’d have to imagine anything less than a top points finish with several wins will be a disappointment.
No. 7 Scott Dixon: Dixie historically isn’t a great starter, since he entered Indycar in 2003 only three of his 29 wins have come before Indy. Ganassi Racing is looking to return to form, so he should come out of the box strong.
No. 8 James Hinchcliffe: Is at risk of earning a reputation as a quick starter who lacks endurance at the stretch. Last year his average finish through the Indy 500 was fifth, his average over the last 10 was 13.8. Hinch was one of the few drivers who could keep up with Will Power in preseason testing at Barber.
No. 9 Tony Kanaan: Kanaan was in the top 10 in the preseason testing and in eight starts atSt. Petersburghis average finish is 6.5. He’s only finished out of the top-10 once at this track. I’d rank him higher but there were a lot of changes at KV Racing over the off season.
No. 10 Graham Rahal: He threw away the race at Texas Mot last year, which would have only been his second win since a rainy day at St. Pete in 2008, but hasn’t finished above seventh since.
No. 11 Justin Wilson: Wilson is probably one of the best technical drivers in the sport and St. Pete is one of his better tracks, he’s never finished less than tenth and has a pair of podium finishes over the last four years.
No. 12 Oriol Servia: Hindered by a Lotus engine for the first four races Dryer & Reinbold Racing entered into a partnership with Panther Racing to get a Chevy engine. It remains to be seen if this partnership will start bearing fruit.
No. 13 J.R. Hildebrand: Was largely mid-pack for most of 2012. Going into a second year with veteran driver Oriol Servia to lean on should help this third year driver produce.
No. 15 Tristian Vautier: He was fast in winter testing and won at St. Pete in Indy Lights en route to his championship last year. He’s a lock for rookie of the year, and a dark horse for a top 10 points finish.
No. 16 Simona de Silvestro: I moved her up a bit based on the speed she showed at the Barber test. She was consistently in the top 10, St. Pete is the site of her career best finish, maybe she should be considered a dark horse for the win weekend.
No. 17 Charlie Kimball: Showed some flashes of competitiveness last year. He’s been moved into the Ganassi stable instead of the G2 operation, and it’s his third year in the series.
No. 18: Takuma Sato: Would be ranked higher if he was with anyone other than A.J. Foyt Enterprises. That team has been where good drivers go to disappear.
No. 19: Joseph Newgarden: Newgarden showed some flashes of speed and some moments of over aggression, while that’s a good sign he needs to start capitalizing on his opportunities
No. 20 Marco Andretti: The last time Marco cracked the top ten at St. Pete was in 2007. I’d like to say this is one of his worst tracks but he doesn’t really have a stellar record at any track. Still, his performance her has been marred by wrecks and bad luck.
Not Ranked: Ed Carpenter (No ovals till May), Sebastien Saavedra, James Jakes, E.J. Viso, Ana Beatriz