But here we are, happily in springtime, and anxiously awaiting this weekend's season opener of the IZOD IndyCar Series. They'll take to the Streets of St. Petersburg, where last year Will Power continued his dominance on the twisties with a tremendous winning performance. 2010 series champ Dario Franchitti begins his title defense, and the Penske and Ganassi drivers must face the deepest field this series has seen in years. Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, Ryan-Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway, Simona de Silvestro, Marco Andretti, Oriol Servia, and a host of other drivers should be bringing plenty of heat to the competition this year. The engines are ready to scream to life, the teams eager to show what they worked on through the hard winter, the fans can't conceivably wait one more minute, and the flag is ready to drop. Welcome to 2011 IndyCar--it's going to rock.
Here are the other storylines for St. Pete you’ll want to keep in mind:
Line 'Em Up: OK, so there's no "lucky dog". But we will have double-file restarts and wave-arounds for cars between the lead car and pace car. We'll see what the double-files do for competition, but it should be pretty wild seeing the results for the first time.
Rookie Time: Five “official” rookies will take the green at St. Pete: JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, James Jakes, Ana Beatriz, and Sebastian Saavedra. You don’t want to judge a season on a single race, but it might give us some insight into who’s the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.
Rivalry!: Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti may have some tension between TK’s departure from the team and Marco’s pretty blunt talk in his Racer blog. It'll be interesting if they're close together on the track at some point. It's the sort of actual grudge match that I'm sure the networks and series would love (and honestly, need) to see develop.
KV Racing Returns: Speaking of Tony Kanaan, he leads a three-car KV Racing effort back onto the track. KV absolutely, positively, must eliminate the numerous errors and crashes that gave them the worst IndyCar season in recent memory. Do they have the speed they believe they do? Can those flashes of excellent turn into sustained success? Watch Takuma Sato, EJ Viso, and Tony Kanaan to gauge where this team is compared to last year’s woeful start.
Welcome Back, Mike!: Mike Conway suffered the sort of crash at Indy that none of us watching will ever forget. Who at that terrible moment thought he'd be back in 2011, let alone with Andretti Autosport? Conway's recovery and performance in the #27 car is going to be a focal point for well-wishers and critics alike.
Sophomore Simona: The abrupt loss of their race engineer will hurt this team, but Simona de Silvestro and HVM Racing have seen themselves thrust into the limelight by the popularity and potential of the Swiss Miss. Can they respond with a stellar year? We're about to find out.
AFS Arrives: AFS Racing will be making their IndyCar debut with Rafa Matos in the driver's seat. How competitive will they be? Is this a one-shot for Rafa, or is there more in store? AFS was excellent in Lights; now we get to see how they do in the big cars.
Pole Position: Will Power.
Laps Led: Power.
Winner: Power. Until he doesn't, he is. Simple as that.
Don’t Touch That Dial: During the weekend or immediately afterwards, we could hear an announcement regarding Dan Wheldon’s season plans, as well as those of teams such as Conquest (2nd car) and AFS Racing. Silly Season isn’t over yet; and you can expect a pretty good stream of announcements just around the corner.
GREEN GREEN GREEN GREEN!
Let’s go racing! It is time, friends, for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Enjoy every minute of it. Check back here Monday after the race for a full recap and discussion.