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Fact Or Fiction: 25 IndyCar Storylines for the 2012 Season, Part 1

This is the first post of a five-part series predicting the 25 biggest storylines of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season. We’ll be addressing some of the top assumptions coming into the year, and either reaffirming them as fact or dismissing them as fiction. Today, we’ll count down stories 25-21. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Ned Leone

25. Ed Carpenter Racing is simply the second coming of Vision Racing.

FACT: This time around, Tony George didn’t simply buy the assets of a folded team like Kelley Racing and turn it into an outfit to keep Carpenter in the series. This is Carpenter’s team, and he hired the perfect person to run it: Derrick Walker, the longtime CART owner, who was responsible for launching Will Power’s career and turning Gil de Ferran into a contender. While Carpenter is still lacking in speed on road and street courses, he’s surrounded himself with the right people to make him faster.

24. Taking a few seasons off won’t impact Bobby Rahal’s team as it returns to full-time competition.

FACT: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing usually put up solid performances in its limited IndyCar appearances over the past few years, nearly stealing last year’s Indianapolis 500 win with Bertrand Baguette, so returning to two full-time cars should be a cinch. Because they’ve moved back up to full-time competition, they were able to select from a better (and better-funded) pool of drivers. Lead driver Takuma Sato showed his typical speed and improved consistency last year, while Luca Filippi will be an intriguing young prospect once he starts his season at Indianapolis.

23. The NBC Sports Network will be a major step up from Versus, its predecessor.

FACT: If you’ve watched any of NBCSN’s coverage of any sport since the rebranding, you can tell that the broadcasts are going to look and feel professional. Everything from NHL hockey, its lead property, to niche sports like the Dakar Rally and Red Bull Crashed Ice have been covered with skill and care. With NBCSN also committing to air all Indy Lights races this year, expect an extra level of attention to detail in 2012.

22. Simona de Silvestro will finally have a breakout year in 2012.

FICTION: Despite de Silvestro’s HVM Racing employers being the lead Lotus team this year, Sebring testing may have been an indicator of where they’re going to be in the points. There’s simply so much talent in the series right now that the top of the standings is going to be crowded, and breaking out may take an other-worldly performance. While de Silvestro has the raw talent, she hasn’t had the luck in her IndyCar career. If Lotus is as far behind as some think they are, that might not change.

21. Chevrolet will outperform Honda consistently in its return to the sport.

FACT: Honda has Chip Ganassi, but Chevrolet has two advantages on its side: a more experienced engine builder and a deeper lineup. Chevrolet once worked with engine builder Ilmor to create the Chevy Indy V8, which won 64 of 78 CART races from 1987 to 1991; after years of building the old Honda engines, the two companies have reunited to produce the new turbocharged V6s. And while Honda has secured the always strong Ganassi squad, Chevrolet has more teams in winning contention under its belt, with Roger Penske, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, and John Barnes among the owners who will sport the bowtie this year.

– Chris Leone

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IndyCar Season Preview: Ed Carpenter

Photo credit: Paul Henman (CC-BY-NC-SA)

#20 Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka Dallara-Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing

Born: March 3, 1981

Home: Indianapolis, Indiana

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: After coming desperately close to winning at Kentucky two years in a row, Carpenter finally managed to turn the trick in 2011, edging eventual series champion Dario Franchitti by .0098 of a second to take his maiden IndyCar victory. He finished 26th in points while running a limited schedule for Sarah Fisher Racing.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Never particularly well-respected for his skills at turning both left and right, Carpenter competed on three circuits that fit that bill in 2011: Mid-Ohio, Infineon, and the streets of Baltimore. He failed to finish better than 20th in any of those events.

SEASON OUTLOOK: In an environment where many race teams are scaling back or shutting down entirely, Carpenter and stepfather/IRL founder Tony George have taken the bold step of starting an entirely new team for 2012. No, this isn’t a reformation of the mediocre Vision Racing outfit where Carpenter spent six average years; this new team will operate out of the Walker Racing shops and employ Michael Cannon as its engineer. The talent of the people working for ECR will be on par with some of the top teams in the sport.

That being said, it’s up to Carpenter to make that talent gel, both on the track and off. Kentucky won’t return to the schedule this year, taking away his one guaranteed podium finish, and with a shrinking oval schedule, his strongest traits as a driver will be limited. Carpenter will have to utilize the talent he’s assembled behind the scenes to help him improve on the road and street circuits. On paper, this team has top-15 quality; if Carpenter makes serious strides away from the ovals, and we know he’s working at it, this could be the surprise top-10 team that happens nearly every year.

– Chris Leone