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Indianapolis 500 Preview: Ana Beatriz

Photo credit: Michael Levitt (via IndyCar Media)

#25 Ipiranga/Lubrizol Dallara-Chevrolet, Conquest Racing/Andretti Autosport

Born: March 18, 1985

Home: Sao Paulo, Brazil

2011 RESULTS: Beatriz was the slowest driver to make the field last year, but started 32nd due to a driver change at A.J. Foyt Enterprises. In her second consecutive Indy 500 for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, she finished 21st, three laps down.

CAREER BEST: Beatriz has finished 21st in both of her Indy 500 starts, in 2010 and 2011. While her starting spot was better in 2010 (also 21st), she crashed out of that race after 196 laps.

OUTLOOK: Beatriz is a part of one of the few Indy 500-centric programs that will actually have a chance at warming up before the race; her sponsors, all of which are Brazilian-based, will back the Sao Paulo native in her hometown race, which directly precedes Indianapolis on the calendar. In effect, she’s running the same program that she did with Dreyer & Reinbold in 2010, with the hope of the same result the following year: a full-time ride with the team, this time Andretti Autosport.

Andretti will work with Eric Bachelart’s Conquest Racing to field the ride for Beatriz, an interesting combination given Bachelart’s withdrawal from the sport this season. Bachelart currently fields a Nissan-powered LMP2 in the American Le Mans Series, so it isn’t as if his team has been dormant this year, but his team has yet to experience the new DW12. Working with Andretti should alleviate the growing pains, but as both Beatriz and Conquest are used to qualifying late at Indy, don’t be shocked if this car qualifies on Bump Day.

– Chris Leone

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Indianapolis 500 Preview: Sebastian Saavedra

Photo credit: Michael Levitt (via IndyCar Media)

#17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Dallara-Chevrolet, AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport

Born: June 2, 1990

Home: Bogota, Colombia

2011 RESULTS: Saavedra failed to make last year’s running while driving in his first full IndyCar season for Conquest Racing. Conquest owner Eric Bachelart elected not to replace Pippa Mann, his second driver, with Saavedra for the race, as he had replaced Bruno Junqueira with Alex Tagliani in 2009.

CAREER BEST: After backing into a qualifying spot in 2010 for the then-fledgling Bryan Herta Autosport operation, thanks to a pair of untimely withdrawals by faster cars, Saavedra completed 159 of 200 laps before crashing out of the race and finishing 23rd.

OUTLOOK: After an up-and-down IndyCar rookie campaign with Conquest, Saavedra is back in Indy Lights full-time with AFS Racing and Andretti Autosport, a combination that produced two wins and a third place points finish in 2009. Saavedra has already taken his first Lights win of the season at Barber and will continue to be a threat for that championship.

Saavedra will be hungry to redeem himself at Indianapolis after last season’s disappointment, while AFS will be the same after missing last year’s race with Raphael Matos behind the wheel. AFS only qualified for two oval races last season, Kentucky and Las Vegas, with Wade Cunningham behind the wheel for both, while Saavedra generally struggled on the ovals more than road courses last season. This team will have some serious work to do come the month of May, but the familiarity between driver and organization may prove to be a serious asset.

– Chris Leone

IndyCar: Brazilian Drivers Look To Carry Momentum Into Sao Paulo

The Sao Paulo Indy 300 is one of the most popular IndyCar races on the schedule, and a point of pride for the series’ Brazilian drivers. US Race Report’s Chris Leone looks at how IndyCar’s Brazilian stars – Helio Castroneves, Rubens Barrichello, Tony Kanaan, and Ana Beatriz – have started the 2012 season, as they each hope to win their home race.

IndyCar Season Preview: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#28 DHL/Sun Drop Dallara-Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

Born: December 17, 1980

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Hunter-Reay took a controversial victory at Loudon after inheriting the lead from Dario Franchitti, holding it for 71 laps, and surviving the rain-marred restart that was eventually annulled. From Iowa to the end of the season, Hunter-Reay only finished outside of the top 10 once, making him one of the hottest drivers in the second half of the year.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: For much of the early part of the season, Hunter-Reay and his team couldn’t get anything together. Rock bottom came at Indianapolis, when teammate Marco Andretti bumped him from the race in the last qualifying attempt of the month. Hunter-Reay then had to buy out Bruno Junqueira’s May-only ride with A.J. Foyt Enterprises to compete in the race and finish a dismal 23rd.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Hunter-Reay initially struggled to adjust to a Tony Kanaan-less Andretti Autosport, but a strong second half of the year brought him back to seventh place in points. Now without Danica Patrick, Hunter-Reay and teammate Marco Andretti will be the undisputed leaders of the organization. One of Hunter-Reay’s biggest issues during his tough times last season was a lack of discipline, both on track and with the media; that will have to fade away in 2012, especially as his contract expires at the end of the season.

But there’s a reason why Hunter-Reay is the only driver to ever win a race in CART, Champ Car, and IndyCar: he’s one of the top talents in the sport. He’s posted strong finishes at just about every track on the schedule, and as one of the top Chevrolet drivers not employed by Roger Penske, he represents one of the brand’s best hopes to score race victories in 2012. He might not crack the top five in points, but the top 10 is certainly attainable.

– Chris Leone

IndyCar Season Preview: James Hinchcliffe

Photo credit: Greg Hildebrand (CC BY-NC-ND)

#27 GoDaddy.com Dallara-Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

Born: December 5, 1986

Home: Oakville, Ontario

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Hinchcliffe established himself as the most consistent young driver on the IndyCar circuit, finishing 12th in the standings and earning Rookie of the Year honors for Newman/Haas Racing. He scored a best finish of fourth place three times, at Long Beach, Loudon, and Kentucky.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Despite strong offseason tests, a preliminary lack of sponsorship kept Hinchcliffe from competing in the first round at St. Petersburg. He also suffered three DNFs, including a lap 101 crash in his first Indianapolis 500.

SEASON OUTLOOK: After paying his dues in American junior formulas for the past five years, the “Mayor of Hinchtown” finally broke into the sport’s highest level with one of its most prestigious teams in 2011. After Newman/Haas Racing shut down and left him without a ride, however, he managed to land on his feet with Andretti Autosport, taking over the GoDaddy.com ride vacated by Danica Patrick and the passing of Dan Wheldon.

Andretti is a front of the pack team, and Hinchcliffe has as much potential as any young driver in IndyCar. He’ll be looked upon to provide solid and consistent finishes, as the team may have its strongest lineup since 2005, when it was still known as Andretti Green Racing. If Hinchcliffe can carve himself a niche with both the team and sponsor, this could be one of the enduring partnerships of the decade, much like Andretti once had with Tony Kanaan and 7-Eleven.

– Chris Leone

IndyCar Season Preview: Marco Andretti

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#26 Royal Crown Cola Dallara-Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

Born: March 13, 1987

Home: Nazareth, PA

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Andretti finally scored his second career win at Iowa after a drought that dated back to 2006, and posted a series of solid road course finishes that included a third place at Motegi. For the third consecutive year, he finished eighth in points.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: The entire Andretti Autosport team suffered a series of well-documented struggles at Indianapolis that saw Andretti bump out teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay to qualify for the race. He also suffered five DNFs, including three accidents.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The main changes for Andretti’s team include a shift of primary sponsorship (Dr. Pepper-Snapple Group will choose to emphasize their Royal Crown Cola brand instead of previous backer Venom Energy) and a change of engines (Andretti will be one of the top Chevrolet teams). But within the Andretti Autosport organization, the no-longer-so-young driver will be looked to as a team leader, now that Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick are no longer his teammates.

This once seemed like a preposterous suggestion, as grandfather, mentor, and IndyCar legend Mario Andretti has questioned Marco’s desire in the past. But Andretti showed much greater maturity as a driver last season, and with Ryan Hunter-Reay will forge a new leadership path within the once-quarrelsome camp. Now he’ll get a chance to take a step to the next level. And if the Chevrolet engines prove better than the Honda or Lotus efforts, Andretti will be one of the top challengers for the championship.

– Chris Leone