Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
2008 IndyCar Season Preview
Every race over the past two seasons has been won by a driver representing one of three teams, but that figures to change in 2008 with a stronger and even more competitive IndyCar Series championship.
Those three teams - Andretti Green Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske - have dominated the IndyCar Series since 2005 -- winning the last three championships and 45 out of 47 races.
And while former champions Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. are no longer in the series, there's plenty of fresh talent arriving to take their places.
With the long-awaited unification of open-wheel racing, some of Champ Car's best shoes will be stepping into the spotlight alongside returning IndyCar veterans.
Justin Wilson finished second to four-time champ Sebastien Bourdais the past two years in the Champ Car World Series and the 30-year-old Brit has moved into his seat at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing next to Graham Rahal, son of former Indy 500 winner Bobby.
"It's hard to know what kind of goal to set, but the first few races will be bloody difficult," said Wilson, whose oval-track experience consists of three races. "We can only judge the competition when we get there but we have to be realistic.
"I don't want to overestimate or underestimate our chances. I'll just do my best and I know this is an excellent team."
Only 19, young Rahal turned in an impressive rookie campaign in 2007, with four podiums and a fifth-place finish in the final point standings.
"Obviously, it's exciting for the fans to have the Andrettis, Foyts and Rahals racing against each other again, but I'm just focused on the task at hand," said the son of the three-time CART champion.
"Do I expect to run with them initially? No. I'd love to say 'yes,' but I've got to be realistic about my lack of oval-track experience, which [consists of] one start in [the] Star Mazda [series]."
Will Power, whose sophomore season saw him score a pair of victories and five pole positions, has joined veteran Oriol Servia at KV Technologies.
Those four should provide some formidable competition for former IRL champs Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon -- on the road courses and street circuits, anyway.
"We've got a lot to learn about ovals and I think we all know it's going to be a pretty big challenge, but I'm hopeful we can be near the front in the road races," said Power, who has only one start on an oval track.
"We don't know these IRL cars or tracks, so it's going to take awhile, but having one series is the best thing for everyone."
Dixon came within two turns of securing his second title but ran out of fuel on the last lap of the '07 finale at Chicago. The '03 IndyCar Series king picked up four wins and led 13 of the 17 races, but lost the crown by 13 points. He returns for another run with Chip Ganassi, along with 2005 champ Wheldon, who won twice in 2007.
Kanaan, the title winner in 2004, made the most trips to victory lane (five) last year and looked like a sure winner at Indy before the rains shortened the race. But two DNFs [did not finish] ended up costing him a chance at his second crown for the AGR team.
"I think we're all happy to have everyone in one series and it should make things more competitive and more interesting," said Kanaan.
Helio Castroneves only made it to the Winner's Circle once in '07 and is still searching for his first championship, but is always a threat as he returns for a ninth year with Roger Penske.
Danica Patrick ran strong all year and notched three podiums, including a second at Detroit's tricky road course. She showed marked improvement on the road circuits to match her already strong oval-track results. Marco Andretti had a so-so sophomore season but is expected to bounce back strong.
With Anthony Foyt IV joining Ed Carpenter again at Vision Racing, the IRL will have an Andretti, Foyt and Rahal to market, along with Ms. Patrick and television's Dancing With The Stars winner, Castroneves.
"I think our series has a good chance to make some noise in 2008," said Castroneves. "We've got more cars and stars and some exciting new venues. I can't wait to get started."