Baltimore IndyCar Preview

Last year's crowd

On Labor Day weekend one year ago, we witnessed a sparkling debut from an unlikely pairing, as the City of Baltimore hosted its first Izod IndyCar Series race. Sure, there were some grumblings about noise, traffic congestion, and the inevitable, yet unforeseen costs a start-up event. And yes, there were some complaints about the layout of the downtown race track.

But at the end of the day, a city with almost no racing heritage attracted more than 100,000 spectators to its beautiful Inner Harbor for the three day festival of speed. Spectators, many of whom had never seen any race of any kind, were wowed by the incredible speeds, charmed by the accessibility of the IndyCar paddock, and enamored with the carnival atmosphere.

As for the IndyCar paddock, whatever shortcomings in racing knowledge the virgin race-goers displayed, were more than offset by the packed grandstands, and genuine passion the city showed for the event. And for a series that has long been in search of a viable East Coast venue, all indications were they had found a wonderful, if unlikely, partner in Charm City.

Sadly, we all know, nothing is ever quite that simple in the world of IndyCar. Issues between the city and promoter became contentious and public during the off-season. And at one point, the event that saw such a smashing debut, seemed destined for the ash heap of Indy car racing history, which, of course, features quite a few city street races.

Luckily, the business savvy Michael Andretti, and his company, Andretti Sports Marketing, came to the rescue. Andretti took over the event's promotion, and insured its place on the 2012 schedule. While the event's future is by no means certain, Andretti is a creative business man, with a strong record promoting races. And, as someone who lives in Maryland, about 50 minutes from downtown Baltimore, the promotion for the event has been evident.

Hopefully, the business savvy of Andretti combined with the success of the inaugural event, can make the Baltimore race a success for years to come.

Nevertheless, promotional and political issues aside, there is a race to run this weekend. Sunday's 2nd Grand Prix of Baltimore will serve as round 14 of the 2012 season. Defending race winner Will Power comes into Baltimore leading the series championship, which he can clinch with a strong showing this weekend.

With Power no doubt the favorite to win coming into Baltimore, let's preview the Izod IndyCar Series' second run through Charm City, using a question/statement/answer format.

1. Which drivers arrive in Baltimore with momentum?

Power, Ryan Briscoe, and Rubens Barrichello.

Power has been the fastest car at the last three road/street course races. At Edmonton he was forced to start 17th after an engine penalty and drove to third. At both Sonoma and Mid-Ohio, he had trouble in the pits while leading and finished second.

Briscoe has typically qualified well this year, but dropped back in the races. Last Sunday, at Sonoma he qualified second and parlayed Power's bad luck into his first victory in two seasons.

Formula One (F1) veteran Barrichello had his best day in Indy car at Sonoma, starting 12th and finishing fourth. Barrichello has also been the best qualifier in the KV Racing Technology stable in 5 of the last six races.

2. Who are some drivers that have struggled of late?

James Hinchcliffe and Justin Wilson.

Hinchliffe didn't finish worse than sixth in the season's first 5 races, and was second in the point standings after the Milwaukee race in June. However, in the last 5 races, the affable Canadian has a mere one top 5 finish, and now sits sixth in the standings.

Since his unlikely June win at Texas, Wilson, who sits 12th in points, has not finished better than ninth. Particularly puzzling with Wilson, is his best road/street course finish this season is ninth.

3. Who runs well at Baltimore?

As noted already, Baltimore does not have much of a history to draw on.

However, last year's top-5 finishers were Power, Oriol Servia, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. Danica Patrick finished sixth, but has since left for NASCAR. Alex Tagliani, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Vitor Meira and Graham Rahal rounded out the top 10. Meira is no longer in the series, however, Rahal qualified second and ran competitively with Power for much of the event, before poor strategy ruined his chance at a podium finish.

4. How important is qualifying at Baltimore?

Looking at last year's results, not as vital as it is elsewhere. Power did lead 70 of the 75 laps from pole. However, Servia finished second after starting 14th, while Kanaan drove from the 27th grid spot to 3rd. Patrick started 23rd, and Tagliani started 19th.

The case of Kanaan deserves special mention. The affable Brazilian, of course, has made a habit of engineering stirring drives from deep in the field. If you remember the Baltimore race a year ago, "TK" qualified 11th last year, before being forced to start from the back of the grid after a stuck throttle resulted in a terrifying accident with Helio Castroneves during the morning warm-up. During the race, Kanaan opportunistically negotiated the turn 3 hairpin, passing 10 cars, when a crash between Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe bottled up 12 cars.

While I wouldn't expect TK to get a similar break again, judging from last year a poor starting position can be overcome.

5. So, is Baltimore more of a "strategy," event?


Again, we only have one race of data, but there were variable strategies last year, with Rahal being the big loser on strategy. The caution for the Hunter-Reay/Briscoe shunt was particularly long, and Rahal running in second to Power didn't pit. Power built a large gap over Servia, the leader of those who pitted during caution, and was able to come out ahead of Servia.

For his part, young Rahal came out of the pits in tenth, and finished there.

6. But haven't there been fewer cautions in IndyCar races this year?

Yes. Over the past three races, there have been a mere two caution periods.

Still, Baltimore is, relatively speaking, a long street course. Power's pole time last year was 1 minute 20 seconds. Drivers at the back of the field will be able to pit without losing a lap, and will certainly attempt to go "off sequence," early in the race.

7. Are there any possible long shots?

Yes. If you want to call two really fast French guys long shots.

Sebastien Bourdais has made the Firestone Fast Six in 3 of the last 4 road/street races. He should have had a podium at Toronto, finished fourth at Mid-Ohio, and was running third at Sonoma until a strange accident. Bourdais and Dragon Racing have gotten things together, and are due for a little luck. I say Bourdais, makes the podium.

Also, Simon Pagenaud has been the fastest driver in the series outside the Big 3 teams (Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, Target/Chip Ganassi). Pagenaud has made the podium three times and been very strong on the road and street circuits.

8. Who ultimately wins?

Power. Sorry to be boring, but Power wins the race, and clinches his first championship.

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