The 2010 season fast approaches, and all the big news swirling around from all the major series does nothing to keep us patient.
So I'll do what many of us enjoy doing at this point in the season: List my expectations for the motorsports I make it a point to watch. And what better way to start than with the series that kicks off the season?
Rolex Sports Car Series
Despite the confirmed loss of the Penske team and the apparent loss of the only good-looking DP (nobody on the Daytona entry list is using a Crawford), there's a few things to look forward to in Grand-Am this season.
The Dinan-BMW engine has always seemed to underperform, but putting it Ganassi's cars could show its true powers. Old CART fans, like me, will recall when Toyota's CART engine seemed underpowered, only to prove itself very capable when it was put in Ganassi's cars.
The Ferrari DP engine continue to receive no further word since the program's development was directly confirmed last year during the Six Hours of the Glen. This will likely become a talking point as the season goes on.
The Stevenson Motorsports Camaro GT.Rs have shown promise at the Roar Before the 24. The new Camaro, a car which by all accounts should look hideous with a rear wing, yet somehow looks absolutely stunning, will certainly be getting a lot of attention throughout the season.
So what do I expect from all of this?
Well, since Grand-Am looks poised to maintain its consistently high car count, I think we can expect one hell of a season.
Ganassi's influence on the Dinan-BMW engine is certainly going to help other teams using it, which could bring about a few new winners (or at least CONTENDERS for a few wins), and we still have the always-competitive SunTrust and Gainsco teams unchanged from last year—which will give them a slight edge over Ganassi.
The GT class is always too close to call. With Farnbacher/Loles, last year's champions, no longer around the door is even more wide open. The GT championship battle will certainly be great to behold.
DP Champion prediction: Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing. Aside from the name on their engine, nothing has changed for them last year.
Though always competitive, SunTrust Racing still seems to be working some kinks out of the Dallara chassis, and if Ganassi's Dinan-BMWs suffer ANY issues, it's going to kill their chances real quick.
GT Champion prediction: Stevenson Motorsports. The GT battle is FAR too close to call, so I'm just going to step up and push for the car I most wanna see take the championship.
NASCAR Sprint Cup/Nationwide Series
I guess I may as well transition from Grand-Am over to its parent company. And holy CRAP is there a lot to talk about.
Let's put Danica Patrick aside for a moment and start out with a recent matter—potential changes to the Cup CoT. There's talk of adjustment to the front splitter and, more significantly, replacing the rear wing with a a blade-style spoiler as the previous cars had.
As someone who feels that 80 percent of the CoT's problems can be written down to that wing, I say go for it. Wings do not belong on ANY closed-wheel oval-tracker.
Danica Patrick has been a huge talking point since before her Nationwide/ARCA program was confirmed. And that's certain to continue throughout the year.
The Nationwide CoT will see its first races this year, and it's certainly more anticipated than the Cup CoT. The Nationwide CoT actually uses front end body work to differentiate the models being presented on track, which led Chevrolet to decide on sticking to the Impala for the sake of potential aerodynamic benefits.
As always with NASCAR, there's much more to look at, but we could be here forever if I didn't move on. So here are my expectations.
Danica Patrick will NOT win a race in ARCA or Nationwide. This is not a slam on Danica's talent—anyone who's watched her race knows she has skill and talent (how much is debatable).
But most of us can agree that people of much BETTER talent than her have struggled to make the jump. She may surprise us with some good finishes, however. In fact, given the equipment she'll have, I will be shocked if she DOESN'T get at least one top-five.
If the wing is removed from the Cup CoT, expect a huge shakeup in the standard order of things.
The Nationwide CoT will produce far more exciting races on its debut than the Cup CoT did.
Cup Champion prediction: Jimmie Johnson if the wing is NOT removed. While Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus definitely have the Chase format mastered, Hendrick Motorsport also has pretty much the best understanding of the CoT on the entire grid. If the wing is removed, Tony Stewart or Kyle Busch.
Nationwide Champion prediction: A Cup regular who decides to run a full Nationwide schedule.
Another series that's had a lot of news in recent weeks and throughout the offseason. New teams, new drivers, and old drivers coming back to the grid.
The worst-kept secret of the offseason was Michael Schumacher's return to the grid with Mercedes GP. The best-kept secret, at least until recently, was the likelihood that USF1 would be ready in time. It's now clear that unless something happens to drain all their funding, there will be no issue.
Once again, keeping the news summary brief, let's dive right into my expectations.
Michael Schumacher will NOT dominate the field. Win a few races? Almost certainly if the car is anywhere near as good as last year's Brawn.
However, Schumi's been out of the cockpit for quite a while and will need time to brush up on his race craft again. He COULD take the title, but it'll be a close fight if he does.
USF1 and Virgin Racing will make Lotus team principal Tony Fernandes pop a few blood vessels. Fernandes a while back expressed surprise when Virgin Racing was developing their car solely through CFD, stating that his experience in the airline industry has shown him enough that he knows it is impossible to make an effective car without wind tunnel testing.
Meanwhile, the racing world knows that the Acura ARX-02a has already proven that to be not true. I expect Lotus F1 to be the slowest of the new teams, while Virgin will be the fastest new team as their car is being developed in partnership with Wirth Research—the same company that designed the Acura ARX-02a.
Virgin Racing has the expertise that built the first pure-CFD LMP in the world to make their car fast.
Regardless of whether I am right or wrong, I fully expect the fastest of the new teams to outrun at least ONE pre-existing team.
The partnering of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will not be a peaceful one if the team is able to challenge for the championship.
Driver's Champion prediction: Cannot predict now on account of too many changes.
Constructor's Champion prediction: See above.
American Le Mans Series
The ALMS has been rather quiet over the offseason, which in this case is a very bad thing due to their impending revamping. We know very little about who will be competing right now on account of no one yet knowing the details of the equivalency formula for the combined LMP class.
Additionally, we currently have only two confirmed LMP-C entries.
At this point, reasonable predictions cannot be made due to lack of information. I can only say the following: If the car counts are reasonable, this should be a very exciting season.
And last but not least...
Izod IndyCar Series
I'm getting rather pumped up about this one, as things are now shaping up to be much better than it seemed at the end of last year.
We have, for certain, 18 full-time entries plus six more probable full-time entries (for a total of 24, if they all go through), plus two confirmed part-timers and three potential part-timers.
There may still be a struggle to fill the field at Indy, but it's looking likely that the field will be plenty large enough at most races.
Every day it gets more and more likely that the Brazil race is going to happen. The layout has apparently been agreed upon and is expected to be presented publicly within the next week (and apparently already has been shown publicly in Brazil).
And not really IndyCar-specific, but an occurrence which has the potential to affect the series has happened in that Comcast, owners of Versus, have purchased a majority stake in NBC Universal.
This move provides a chance of a few IndyCar races getting bumped up from Versus to NBC, and more network coverage can only help the series.
So what do I expect from the IndyCar Series this year?
I don't expect any Versus races to be bumped up to NBC this year, but there's hope for next year.
Someone will finally break the Penske/Ganassi oval stranglehold. And it might not be Andretti Autosport.
With development restricted, Ganassi and Penske's only real advantage has been understanding the cars better and doing to the setup and adjustments better than everyone else.
But when that's all you have, eventually others will catch up. We saw at Kentucky last year how close Ed Carpenter came to breaking the stranglehold, and with the improvements that N/H/L and KV Racing made on the ovals last year, there's no reason to suspect the stranglehold won't end soon.
There will be a closer title fight, potentially between three or more teams. The other teams' best hope for victory still lies on the road courses. And with them comprising half the schedule now, Penske and Ganassi can't count on their oval dominance to win them a championship.
Champion prediction: Will Power or Helio Castroneves. Penske's been title-less since 2006, and with the addition of Will Power, they have a one-car advantage over Ganassi.
This will give them better ability to steal points away from Ganassi when things don't go their way. Helio is as determined as ever, and Will Power is quite possibly the best young talent in the field.
And my prediction on who will break the Penske/Ganassi oval stranglehold? Graham Rahal.
Throughout 2009, he seemed to be the driver most poised to bring about an upset. And driving for N/H/L, which COULD be a three-car operation next year (though it will likely be two cars with one of them split between two drivers), I don't see any reason why this would change.
His contract renewal has not yet been confirmed, but I'd say his return to the cockpit at N/H/L is the worst-kept secret in the offseason for IndyCar.
So what do YOU expect out of the 2010 motorsport season?