But when rival Ryan Hunter-Reay won a topsy-turvy race in Baltimore, Power’s victory chances suddenly looked more vulnerable.
IndyCar demands versatility from its drivers – the ability to compete on narrow street courses, undulating road tracks and ovals that run the gamut from tight bullrings to howling fast superspeedways.
It was on the latter that Power came unstuck, and not for the first time.
He spun into the barrier while passing Hunter-Reay – if the Penske had collected his rival Power would have been champion – and not even the sterling work of his crew to get him back onto the circuit could prevent the title slipping from him for a third year.
Drivers and teams
It would be wrong wrong to portray last year simply as a championship Power lost. Hunter-Reay put himself on course for the crown with a mid-season hat-trick of victories.
The defending champion will sport the number one on his car for the first time since his boss Michael Andretti used it in 2006.
As well as stiff opposition from fellow Chevrolet user Power, Hunter-Reay can expect competition from Honda-powered Ganassi duo Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, who have six titles between them.
Power’s championship hopes will be bolstered by the slimming down of the Penske operation to just two cars following the off-season ejection of Ryan Briscoe. But Power and Helio Castroneves will be joined at Barber and Indianapolis by AJ Allmendinger.
Allmendinger is returning to open-wheel racing following a spell in NASCAR. He joined Penske’s team last year but was suspended for failing a drugs test, then returned to racing in the category in October.
Despite ending his first season of IndyCar racing with two top-five finishes in the last three races, Rubens Barrichello has not remained in the series for a second season.
That removes a point of interest for crossover F1 fans though there is still Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson to cheer on.
Series veterans Tony Kannan, Oriol Servia and Alex Tagliani all remain while just one new driver enters the fold: Tristan Vautier, the French driver who won the Indy Lights series last year.
On the engines front, Lotus withdrew from IndyCar during the off-season despite having four years of their five year contract left to run. Their 2012 campaign was a disaster, the highlight being the races where the cars they ‘powered’ weren’t black-flagged for being too slow.
|78||KV||Simona de Silvestro||Chevrolet|
|14||AJ Foyt||Takuma Sato||Honda|
|15||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||Graham Rahal||Honda|
|16||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||James Jakes||Honda|
|18||Dale Coyne||Ana Beatriz/Stefan Wilson*||Honda|
|19||Dale Coyne||Justin Wilson||Honda|
|20||Ed Carpenter||Ed Carpenter||Chevrolet|
|22||Panther DRR||Oriol Servia||Chevrolet|
|55||Schmidt Hamilton Peterson||Tristan Vaultier||Honda|
|67||Sarah Fisher Hartman||Josef Newgarden||Honda|
|77||Schmidt Hamilton Peterson||Simon Pagenaud||Honda|
|98||Bryan Herta||Alex Tagliani||Honda|
Changes for 2013
Following a major overhaul of the technical rules last year, continuity is the name of the game this time around.
One of the biggest changes is a controversial plan to use standing starts for one of the races in each of the three double-headers – eschewing the rolling starts that are a traditional feature of IndyCar racing.
The push-to-pass system was the focus of some tweaking last year in an effort to make it harder for drivers to use it defensively.
This year instead of having a set amount of time they can use it for, drivers are limited to ten ‘pushes’ per race, the duration of which is either 15 or 20 seconds each depending on the track.
IndyCar will also use heats to set the grid for the Iowa race although the plan seems excessively complicated.
The 19-round calendar certainly looks better on paper than last year’s 15-race schedule (following the cancellation of the Chinese round). However it has been expanded partly by the addition of three double-header races.
As these all take place on street courses they have the effect of tipping the balance of the championship towards these temporary venues. However the dwindling contingent of oval events has been bolstered by the addition of a race at Pocono.
Together with the Indianapolis 500 and season finale at Fontana, it reinstates the Triple Crown of superspeedway events which featured in the series from 1971 to 1989. The championship organisers have put up a special $1 million prize for a driver who can win all three.
The other new addition to the calendar is the revival of the street race in Houston formerly on the Champ Car calendar. Together with the oval event IndyCar has three races in Texas but is not visiting the home of the United States Grand Prix, the Circuit of the Americas.
Finally, the loss of the Edmonton round means the Toronto double-header is the only venture north of the border to Canada.
The green flag will drop for the first time at the St Petersburg street circuit in Florida:
|1||24th March||St Petersburg||Street||2.89|
|2||7th April||Barber Motorsports Park||Road||3.83|
|3||21st April||Long Beach||Street||3.17|
|4||5th May||Sao Paulo||Street||4.08|
|5||26th May||Indianapolis Motor Speedway||Oval||4.02|
|6||1st June (Saturday)||Belle Isle Park Raceway, Detroit||Street||3.78|
|7||2nd June||Belle Isle Park Raceway, Detroit||Street||3.78|
|8||8th June||Texas Motor Speedway||Oval||2.41|
|9||15th June||Milwaukee Mile||Oval||1.61|
|10||23rd June||Iowa Speedway||Oval||1.41|
|11||7th July||Pocono Raceway||Oval||4.00|
|12||13th July (Saturday)||Toronto||Street||2.82|
|14||4th August||Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course||Road||3.86|
|17||5th October (Saturday)||Reliant Park, Houston||Street||2.46|
|18||6th October||Reliant Park, Houston||Street||2.46|
|19||19th October||Auto Club Speedway, Fontana||Oval||3.22|
ESPN have not confirmed whether they will continue to broadcast every race live as Sky did. “ESPN in the UK and Ireland will bring fans live televised coverage of the season-opening race in St Petersburg this weekend as well as live or as-live coverage of each IndyCar race through July, including the Indianapolis 500,” a spokesperson told F1 Fanatic.
And they are making no assurances about what will be broadcast in the second half of the year: “Details of race coverage from August will be confirmed at a later date,” they added.
Details on how to add ESPN to your television package can be found here.
In America IndyCar is broadcast on NBC Sports Network and ESPN. See the IndyCar website for details.
IndyCar on F1 Fanatic Live
As last year we’ll be following every IndyCar race on F1 Fanatic Live. Look out for the links on the home page during each race weekend.
Over to you
Will you be following IndyCar this year? Who’s your tip for the title?
Have your say in the comments.
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Images ?é?® Chevrolet, Ron McQueeney