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INDYCAR: Honda Fails To Capitalize On Advantage At Long Beach

When Chevrolet changed engines in all 11 of its IndyCar entries before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it opened up an opportunity for Honda to score its first win of the season. But as US Race Report’s Chris Leone explains, tough luck befell the top Honda teams one by one until their final shot at a win finally drifted away.

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Fact Or Fiction: 25 IndyCar Storylines for the 2012 Season, Part 3

With today’s post, we’re halfway through our season preview for the IZOD IndyCar Series. We’ll break down stories 15-11 today; the first ten stories went up in the past two days (see part one and part two), while the top ten will be revealed in the next two days.

Photo credit: Ned Leone

15. Mike Conway will bring A.J. Foyt’s team back to relevance with a strong season.

FACT: Conway, last year’s surprise Long Beach winner, has improved every year he’s been in IndyCar. Foyt, meanwhile, landed a Honda engine contract early in engine negotiations and will be one of the brand’s top teams in 2012. With an emphasis on road and street courses, tracks where Conway excels, the Foyt team has hired the right driver to put together a competitive season, especially since they’ve never been particularly strong on those sorts of tracks.

14. Los Angeles will provide a better setting for a series finale than Las Vegas.

FACT: Last year’s tragedy aside, Los Angeles and the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana actually have a few natural advantages over Las Vegas for IndyCar. For one, IndyCar’s media headquarters are in Los Angeles, and with the announcement of a new Dreamworks film, “Turbo,” about a snail that dreams of winning the Indianapolis 500, it’s not a stretch to figure that the series will have plenty of marketing tie-ins to utilize. The sport has had ties with plenty of movie stars over the years, from the late Paul Newman’s team ownership to Mark Wahlberg’s IZOD commercial appearances in the past couple of years. Las Vegas has its attractions, including a parade on the Strip that highlighted last year’s event, but the thought of taking over Tinseltown is too good to be true.

13. With the strongest freshman class in years, the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award is anyone’s to win.

FACT: 19 years of Formula 1 experience rendered Rubens Barrichello ineligible for rookie honors in IndyCar according to new race control czar Beaux Barfield, and ovals aside, he’s probably right. That leaves the class open to two former Champ Car drivers, Simon Pagenaud and Katherine Legge, who receive rookie status again in IndyCar because of the different sanctioning body. Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden will move up from Indy Lights, while Luca Filippi shifts from the European GP2 championship starting at Indianapolis. All have plenty of talent, and with the right luck, could feasibly take the honors. Smart money goes to Pagenaud, however, as his Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports team has the most full-time experience.

Photo credit: Ned Leone

12. Helio Castroneves is revitalized enough to be a consistent performer all season.

FICTION: 11th place in last year’s points should be motivation enough for Castroneves to pick up his performance in 2012. But for all the time he’s spent in the employ of Roger Penske, the popular Brazilian has never shown late-season consistency in his hottest seasons, and never had quite enough sizzle in his more consistent years. It seems a little late in his career to finally pick up a first championship, but keep in mind that Dario Franchitti spent a decade in the sport before his first title. And even if it never happens, Castroneves will still have three Indianapolis 500 wins (at least) to hang his hat on. Don’t expect a title, but that fourth Indy win doesn’t seem out of the question.

11. Lotus will be a distant third in this year’s engine manufacturer race.

FACT: Things look bad for the British engine supplier, which prepares its products at John Judd’s base in England. They got a late start in developing their engine, and the results showed in testing. With a solid driver lineup and what appears to be a conservative plan to gradually work its way up the charts this season, don’t expect too much from Lotus in the early stages of the year. They’ll improve later in the season, but that may be too late to compete with Honda or Chevrolet over the course of the full year.

– Chris Leone

IndyCar Season Preview: Josef Newgarden

Photo credit: Indy Racing Review (CC BY-NC 2.0)

#67 Dallara-Honda, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

Born: December 22, 1990

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Newgarden absolutely destroyed the Indy Lights Series, clinching the championship before the final event and winning the title by 94 points. Newgarden won five of 14 races and three poles to add his name to the long list of talented feeder series drivers employed by Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: The lone disappointment of Newgarden’s season came at Long Beach, which saw him lead 31 of 43 laps but fail to finish the race. With only minutes remaining in the shortened event, driver error forced Newgarden to improperly negotiate a turn and hit a tire barrier.

SEASON OUTLOOK: While Sam Schmidt had looked to promote his top Indy Lights driver to IndyCar for the 2012 season, Sarah Fisher will make Newgarden the first full-time driver in the history of her organization. Fisher’s team, which picked up its first win last season with the departed Ed Carpenter at Kentucky, will rely on the young American (and his $1 million scholarship for winning the Lights title) to make an even bigger dent in 2012.

Fisher’s team is solidly growing, as oil magnate Wink Hartman has added extra financial support and his name to the single-car effort. SFHR also secured a Honda engine deal in late February, bringing the final piece of the puzzle together and helping the sport avoid the nasty public relations black eye that would have come with an engine shortage. The combination of Fisher, Hartman, and Honda bodes well for Newgarden, who won’t suffer the same uncertain fate of many recent Lights champions. He hasn’t landed with the biggest team in the paddock, but he’s with an outfit that will be happy to build around him for the long haul.

– Chris Leone