The IndyCar Series starts the second half of the 2008 season on the road course at Watkins Glen this weekend. When the drivers take the green flag for 60 laps of competition on the 3.4-mile Grand Prix circuit, three months will have passed since...
The IndyCar Series starts the second half of the 2008 season on the road course at Watkins Glen this weekend. When the drivers take the green flag for 60 laps of competition on the 3.4-mile Grand Prix circuit, three months will have passed since most of the drivers have driven on a road or street circuit. Of the first nine races this season, eight were conducted on oval tracks. Eight races remain to decide the championship and five of those races will be on road or street circuits.
Drivers transitioning from the Champ Car World Series are expected to shine on road circuits but current point standings may keep them from being championship contenders. Graham Rahal won the race through the streets of St. Petersburg, earning Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing their first IndyCar Series victory but the rising star, and son of Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, is currently 17th in points.
Oriol Servia tops the other transitioning drivers in points, yet he resides in 9th place, 157 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.
With the latter half of the season favoring road course specialists, talented drivers like Servia have their work cut out for them. Servia has shown great promise on the ovals, finishing 6th at Milwaukee and 5th at Richmond, both difficult ovals. But to contend for the championship, Servia needs to score solid finishes on the ovals combined with some stellar work on the road circuits. While that's not out of the question, he'll also need the usual suspects to garner some bad luck.
The usual suspects, the eight drivers from Ganassi, Penske and Andretti Green Racing, occupy the top eight positions in the championship standings.
With three victories, Scott Dixon leads the championship standings by 43 points over Penske Racing's Helio Castroneves. In nine races, Dixon has failed to finish on the podium twice. He was fourth at Iowa.
Castroneves has not climbed the fence in 2008, his traditional victory celebration, yet he's shown consistency similar to Dixon, failing to finish outside the top five only once.
The Ganassi duo are the only drivers to earn multiple victories this season with Wheldon scoring a pair at Kansas and Iowa. Wheldon, third in the standings, is very much in the hunt for the championship, 52 points behind his teammate.
"There's still a long way to go in the championship," said Wheldon. "I've been around this business long enough to know now if you get on a roll, everything's great. But if you're not on that roll, it's really difficult. We've got to kind of maintain that momentum."
The next four positions in the standings are occupied by Andretti Green Racing drivers Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Hideki Mutoh and Marco Andretti, respectively. Kanaan and Patrick have both scored victories, Kanaan at Richmond and Patrick at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.
Kanaan is 82 points out of first place but that might have been different had he not met with an unfortunate series of incidents. With seven laps to go, Kanaan was leading the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway when he was collected by the spinning car of rookie E.J. Viso. He was scored two laps down in eighth place.
Kanaan was leading the Indianapolis 500 when he spun in Turn 3 and was broadsided by another car. The result was a 29th place finish. While running third at Iowa, Kanaan spun with 38 laps remaining and finished 18th.
With his victory at Richmond, Kanaan's luck may have changed. "I knew it was going to turn around," said Kanaan. "I didn't know when. I thought it was last weekend (at Iowa) and I made a mistake. When those kinds of things happen, I have a tendency to actually have more strength to turn the situation around."
Although he enjoyed a healthy lead at Richmond, Kanaan said he was "just sweating with 10 laps to go -- what's going to happen now? It's like, OK, something is going to blow up; it's going to rain. Actually, if it rains, I was going to win, but maybe I was going to spin in the rain."
Ten points separates positions five through eight in the championship. Patrick has 220 and Ryan Briscoe is eighth with 210. Briscoe is one of six different winners in the IndyCar Series in 2008 but incidents at Homestead-Miami, St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis 500 have hampered the young Australian driver in his first year with Team Penske.
Briscoe has made one start in the IndyCar Series at Watkins Glen, driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2006. He finished third.
At the midpoint of the season, 15 different IndyCar Series drivers have finished in the top five. But if history is any indication of what the future holds; Scott Dixon will be smiling in victory lane at Watkins Glen on Sunday. Since 2005 the IndyCar Series has held three races on the challenging road circuit above Seneca Lake. Scott Dixon has won all three.