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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

IndyCar Preview: Season Opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg

*Dan Wheldon:*
It’s impossible to start any kind of INDYCAR season preview without mentioning Dan Wheldon not least with the race this weekend in his adopted hometown. It is still hard to believe he is not with us. May he rest in peace and may God bless his wife and two small sons.

*This Weekend:*
This Sunday afternoon on the 14-turn 1.8-mile temporary street course of St Petersburg, FL the 2012 INDYCAR Series season will kick off a six month, 16-race schedule which includes stops in Canada, Brazil and, for the first time in series history, Qingdao, China. Track-wise, five of the 16 races are on ovals, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Iowa, Texas and Fontana (host of the last race of the year), while the remaining 11 races are divided between permanent road and temporary street courses.

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Dan Wheldon was instrumental in the testing and development of the new IndyCar chassis, a car now called DW12 in his honor.

*What’s News?*
Not only is there a new chassis the Dallara DW12 – named in honor of the primary test driver, Dan Wheldon, which gives the cars a radically different look; there are also new engines with the 3.5 liter V8 engines being replaced with 2.2 liter turbocharged V6 engines; two new engine manufacturers, Chevy and Lotus, alongside the encumbent Honda engines; a new race director, Beaux Barfield, replacing the much maligned Brian Barnhart as the head of Race Control, and of course new team-driver combinations. In short, 2012 is shaping up to be one of the most open and beguiling seasons in years with no-one really sure who will have the upper hand.

*Track Preview:*
This will be the eighth race run at St Pete’s. The inaugural race was won by Dan Wheldon and the remaining six races were won by Helio Castroneves (2006, 2007), Graham Rahal (2008, his maiden victory), Ryan Briscoe (2009), Penske team-mate Will Power (2010). Dario Franchitti won the season opener last year.

*What’s the Points:*
In the coming weeks, this particular segment of the previews will be of great interest. But before the drop of the first green flag of the season it’s redundant. Right now every driver can dream it will be their year, their turn to beat the odds. For now, though, they all start on zero.

*Featured Driver: Rubens Barrichello*
In his 19 full years as a Formula One driver, Rubens Barrichello competed in 322 races. He won 11 times, snagged 14 poles, stood on the podium 68 times and finished runner-up in the season standings on a couple of occasions. He also has 1,500,000 Twitter followers which is a stat I’ve seen almost everywhere Barrichello’s name is mentioned: such is the power of Social Media in today’s always-on, 24-7 world.

*Any Other News:*
This year the INDYCAR Series has a new broadcast partner with the acquisition of the Versus Channel by the NBC Sports Network, who will televise 11 of the 16-race schedule. The remaining five races, including the first and last races of the year and the Indy 500, will be shown on ABC.

*Next Up:*
The season opens up with back-to-back weekends. Next Sunday it’s the turn of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, a 15-turn, 2.38 mile long permanent road course. Two weeks after the series heads to the iconic Streets of Long Beach course before a trip out to Sao Paulo at the end of April. Then, in the month of May it will be time for the greatest spectacle in Motor racing, the 96th running of the Indy 500.

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