The IndyCar Series starts its new season this weekend on the Streets of St Petersburg in Florida – and if qualifying is any guide it’s going to be much like the last one.
In 2010 Team Penske’s Will Power jumped out to an early championship lead, including a win from pole at St Pete, only to see Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti gradually overhaul him and take the title.
This year the Australian has again topped qualifying – but this time the Scot, who started 13th last year, is breathing down his neck in second.
They headed the Firestone Fast Six, in which the quickest drivers from the earlier qualifying sessions compete for pole. In the mix with them were two other Brits, Mike Conway and Justin Wilson, as well as Ryan Briscoe for Team Penske and Scott Dixon for Ganassi.
Dixon took third ahead of Conway, who is making his debut for Andretti Autosport and also his comeback following the horrific accident in last year’s Indianapolis 500 that left him with broken leg and back.
Briscoe will start fifth with Wilson sixth for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
The new season sees the usual flurry of drivers striking late deals with teams, or doing the rounds of potential sponsors seeking a deal to race.
Among the late agreements were Spanish veteran Oriol Servia, who has rejoined his former team Newman/Haas. They’re also hoping to bring Canadian Indy Lights driver James Hinchcliffe on board from the next race.
Former Indy 500 winner and series champion Dan Wheldon, originally from Buckinghamshire but now settled in St Petersburg with his family, took the opportunity of his local race to announce a deal to run this year’s Indianapolis 500 with Bryan Herta’s team.
Former champion Tony Kanaan lost his Andretti drive after last season when his sponsor pulled out, then was unable to find the funding to cement a promised season with De Ferran / Dragon. That team folded soon after but Kanaan has now joined KV Racing.
This year KV has expanded its tie-up with the Lotus Group to run all three of its cars in classic British Racing Green, and Kanaan qualified eighth in the #82 car – the number used by Scottish legend Jim Clark to win for Lotus at Indy in 1965.
Among those still seeking the funding to finalise deals are Pippa Mann, who is close to an agreement with Conquest Racing to run at least the oval races during 2011.
Fellow Brit James Jakes, who had been expecting to race in GP2 for Coloni this year, missed the final GP2 Asia race at Imola and instead appeared at IndyCar testing for Dale Coyne’s team. He looks set for the full season and qualified the #18 car in 22nd.