Top 10 questions facing IndyCar

Oakville's James Hinchcliffe, last year's IndyCar rookie of the year, qualified fourth for Sunday's...

Oakville's James Hinchcliffe, last year's IndyCar rookie of the year, qualified fourth for Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, first race on the series' calendar. (GETTY IMAGES)

Dean McNulty, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:07 PM ET

Top 10 questions facing the IZOD IndyCar Series at the start of 2012 season:

1: Will new race engines be reliable? All eyes will be on the spanking new engines that have been introduced this season. The Chevrolet and Honda engines have tested well in the off-season with Penske Racing and Target Ganassi Racing respectively. The new Lotus power plant, however, has had real problems mostly because the John Judd built motors were late to the track and thus lag behind its two rivals. The question for all three engines, however, is how they will hold up under race conditions. There has been much speculation on whether IndyCar will see a bunch of engine failures early in the season.

2: Can IndyCar level playing field? It was hoped — at least by IndyCar officials — that with the introduction of new Dallara DW12 chassis it might bring parity to the series. After all, Ganassi has won the past four championships with Penske second each time. When another team squeaks by with a win it has been met with great celebration. With this season bringing in so many new elements, fans have to hope other teams might find their way to the winner’s circle. It might be wishful thinking because the big two look like they won’t give up their advantage without a fight.

3: Can new IndyCar sheriff restore order? The 2011 season saw the IndyCar series lurch from one on-track crisis to another, highlighted by the disastrous decision at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to re-start the race in a downpour resulting in a Keystone Kops-style finish with wrecked cars littering the one-mile oval and Will Power giving a double one-fingered salute to then-rules boss Brian Barnhart. In the off-season Barnhart was removed from his post as chief constable and replaced by Beaux Barfield. Now we’ll will have to wait to see how Barfield handles race rules in his new job.

4: Will IndyCar survive in Detroit and Milwaukee? IndyCar makes its return to Detroit this season at the Belle Isle street course and to the Milwaukee Mile. The question here is after both circuits showed pretty much conclusively in the past that they could not support IndyCar racing, why does the series think it will work this season? The answer might be in the principals behind the two events. Roger Penske, IndyCar’s most influential team owner, is throwing his considerable power behind the Belle Isle race and Michael Andretti is doing the same thing at Milwaukee. If these two guys can’t make it work nobody can.

5: What about Toronto? Each of the past three Honda Toronto Indys have seen improvements in both the on-track and off-track performance by the race promoters. But the question is, will that be enough to keep the race at its Exhibition Place temporary street circuit where crowds are undeniably down from the glory days under the Molson umbrella. There are many in the racing community who think that the Savoree Green team should explore moving the race to the re-developed Canadian Tire Motorsport Park 80 kms east of downtown.

6: Can James Hinchcliffe win this season? The Oakville, Ont., native moves this season into one of IndyCar’s top three teams — Andretti Autosport — with high-profile sponsorship from GoDaddy.com. The pressure will certainly be on Hinchcliffe to put the No. 27 Dallara DW12 Chevrolet in the winner’s circle this season. Hinchcliffe has shown he could win at every level of his development and now after being named rookie of the year in IndyCar last season he must take the next step and win a race.

7: Will we see Paul Tracy race this season? It is a travesty really that the “Thrill from West Hill” was not able to put a full farewell season together with the Michael Shank Racing Indy team. There is still hope in Tracy’s camp that he will be at the Indianapolis 500 in May with SHR, hopefully with a Honda engine. A good result there could mean Tracy will at least be able to get to wave goodbye to his legion of fans in Toronto and Edmonton.

8: Can Rubens Barrichello win in IndyCar? The former Formula One driver with Williams and Ferrari is the most celebrated addition to the IndyCar series since former world champion Nigel Mansell came to Indianapolis in 1993. But Barrichello is hardly in the same class at Mansell. Barrichello spent virtually all of his F-1 career in a back-up role to seven-time champion Michael Schumacher. Barrichello is with a good team at KV Racing Technology, however, and with Chevrolet power it is possible for him to win.

9: Can Dario Franchitti win a fifth IndyCar championship? The 38-year-old Scot has a three-in-row skein going and would love nothing more than to join his NASCAR buddy Jimmie Johnson as a five-time champion. Franchitti still has the fire in his belly and approaches every race as if it is his to win. His two-season battle with rival Will Power will in all likelihood play out again this season, so don’t bet against Frachchitti being on top of the heap when the season ends at Auto Club Speedway in Califormia.

10: Will Danica Patrick’s absence affect IndyCar popularity? Love her or hate her, Patrick was a big, big star in the IndyCar universe most of the past decade. Lots of drivers complained that she overshadowed other more deserving drivers but the fact was she put bums in the seats and eyeballs in front of the television. There is no obvious successor to her in IndyCar this season, but IndyCar shouldn’t lose its core audience with her in NASCAR.


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