ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Is there anything in major league North American auto racing that Chip Ganassi’s outfit didn’t win in 2010?
24 Hours of Daytona? Check.
Daytona 500? Check.
Indianapolis 500? Check.
Brickyard 400? Check.
IZOD IndyCar championship? Check.
Oh, wait, there was one big race Ganassi failed to win. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
That honour went to Penske Racing — for the fourth time in five years.
In fact, those two teams pretty much divided up holding the trophy on the top step of the podium last season.
And the snapshot of Ganassi and Penske sharing the spoils of IndyCar racing is all too frustratingly real for the other 23 or so teams that will line up Sunday afternoon on St. Petersburg’s temporary street course.
The numbers don’t lie: Of 15 races on the 2010 IndyCar calendar, Ganassi and Penske managed to win 13 between them.
The only team to break through the stranglehold those two powerhouses held was Andretti Autosport, with wins from Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The bad news for the also-rans is that things don’t look to change much this season.
Ganassi is back with his big duo of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, with superstar in the making Graham Rahal and rookie Charlie Kimball added to the mix this year.
Penske hasn’t changed a thing, with Will Power now clearly the No. 1 driver in that garage after his five-win season in 2010.
He joins Helio Castroneves — who will have to up his game this season to keep his paycheque from Roger Penske coming — and Ryan Briscoe.
The gamesmanship, however, has already begun with Franchitti telling anyone who will listen that Ganassi’s Honda Dallaras were crappy in tests two weeks ago at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park.
“I think we struggled from the moment we got here,” the charming native of Scotland said. “Scott has been fine and we need to work on our setup.”
To hear Franchitti tell it, his No. 10 Ganassi machine was so slow, it might have trouble qualifying at the opening race.
“It’s up to myself and the engineers on the Target team to get this figured out,” Franchitti lamented. “We’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Don’t believe a word of it.
Franchitti is as good a driver as there has been in IndyCar over the past decade — his one disastrous season in NASCAR aside — and when the race starts on Sunday you can bet the mortgage that he will be in the hunt for a win, right alongside his teammates.
He will have to knock off Power, however, who comes back to Florida as defending race champion. And the affable Australian has no intention of giving up his crown without a fight.
“It has been such a long off-season,” Power said in a team release. “All three Team Penske cars had a great test at Barber and the crew is ready to go.
“I am excited to finally race again. I’m looking forward to trying to defend our win at St. Pete and the competition is going to be fierce.”
There will be some changes this year from Power’s win in 2010, with IndyCar adopting double-file retstarts after cautions and a new rule that the pole-sitter can’t take off until he or she is within eyeshot of the green flag.
That should make for some interesting moments on Sunday.
As for the also-rans, Kanaan — for years the mainstay at Andretti Autosport — is back but with a new team. He signed a deal with GEICO sponsorship to drive for Jimmy Vasser at KV Racing Technology.
Vasser seems to think that will vault his team up there with Ganassi, Penske and Andretti.
“Tony is a winner,” Vasser said. “For me, it’s almost like if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. We’re thrilled to death to get Tony Kanaan.
“It legitimizes us a little bit more. We’ve been working hard over the years to position ourselves with the likes of Ganassi and Penske.
“Next stop for us is winning races, building.”
Nice thought, Jimmy, but the smart money says that Kanaan isn’t going to make your team much better than it was last season when the two youngsters took turns making wrecks out of perfectly good race cars.