To say the offseason for IndyCar was an offseason of change would be a gross understatement. The scramble to be on the grid with the new DW12 Dallara and the new 2.2 liter turbo-charged V-6 engines has been interesting to watch unfold as silly-season took many abrupt and surprising turns. With all the seat shuffling and new teams entering the series, the questions arise as to which drivers may have breakout seasons. At this point not a lot is known about which engine will be the strongest, which adds an increased factor of difficulty as to the drivers that may have very successful seasons. But, the 5 drivers below are certainly ones to keep an eye on during the 2012 season.
Rubens Barrichello: First and foremost, all eyes will be on Rubens Barrichello this year. The former Formula 1 star will try his hand at IndyCar, and ovals, for the first time in his career. The veteran of 322 F1 starts, 11 wins, and 14 poles will pilot the #8 BMC/Embrase entry for KV Racing Technology in 2012. The long-time best friend and “brother” of IndyCar champion Tony Kannan brings a wealth of experience in setting up and developing new racecars. Barrichello’s biggest challenges will be on the ovals where has no experience, but expect him to be a podium contender on the road and street courses. A win is certainly not out of the question. The relationship with Kanaan will also make the transition easier and should create a positive environment for the KV teams. On top of the stellar resume’, Rubens is known as one of the most likeable drivers in the paddock. Although he may not be a household name in the US, he should quickly become a fan favorite. @rubensbarrichello @kvracing
Simon Pagenaud: The 2011 “super-sub” finally gets his chance at a full-time IndyCar ride with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The sports-car veteran found himself as the last minute sub for injured drivers Ana Beatriz and Justin Wilson last year at Barber and Mid-Ohio respectively. He also filled in for Simona de Silvestro at Infineon while she was in Switzerland with visa issues. Pagenaud should be fast at the road and street courses, but his lack of experience on ovals will certainly play a role in the final championship standings. However, Sam Schmidt Motorsport sat on the pole for the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, so the team should be able to help the transition to ovals much easier. A win is not out of the question, but also expect him to contend for podiums on the road and street courses. @simonpagenaud @ssmindy
Sebastien Bourdais: Former ChampCar champion and F1 driver Sebastien Bourdais will finally return to full-time open-wheel competition in 2012 with Dragon Racing. However, he will miss the race at Milwaukee due to previous commitments to run the 24 hour race at LeMans. There is certainly no doubt the Frenchman is an incredible wheelman. After a strong run at the end of 2011 with Dale Coyne Racing, Bourdais showed that he not only still has the skill some thought may had been lost, he also showed he can make the best out of imperfect cars with a small team. The biggest question mark will be the Lotus engine powering his #7 ride and the Dragon Racing team itself which has struggled to run well. @dragonracing
Justin Wilson: The likeable Brit finds himself back with Dale Coyne Racing in 2012 and will reunite with former engineer Bill Pappas. Wilson’s 2nd, and last, win came with Coyne and Pappas in 2009. This win currently stands as the only win in the series for the Coyne team. Powered by Honda for 2012, expectations are high for the reunification of the winning combination of Wilson/Pappas/Coyne. The 2012 season-opener at St. Petersburg marks the return of Wilson to the series after missing the last portion of the 2011 season with a back injury he suffered in a freak off-track excursion at Mid-Ohio. Another former F1 driver, Wilson is highly regarded for his technical skill and was rumored, before returning to Coyne, to be in the running for the Andretti Autosport #27 GoDaddy.com ride. If past history and team chemistry are any indication, Wilson should challenge for a win or 2 during 2012, and it could be a breakout year for the Dale Coyne Racing team. @justinwilson22 @dalecoyneracing
Mike Conway: After a surprising victory at Long Beach in 2011 with Andretti Autosport, Conway struggled through the rest of the season and even missed the Indy 500. Moving to AJ Foyt Racing in 2012, Conway looks to improve his fortunes and those of the Foyt team as well that spent recent years mid-pack with Vitor Meira at the helm. AJ Foyt Racing GM Larry Foyt has expressed that the team has refocused its efforts and placed increased emphasis in engineering which he believes will lead to improved results on the track. Also, it has been reported that Conway and the team have been very quick in pre-season testing. 2012 could be the breakout year for Conway that he seemed to be on the verge of in 2011. @mikeconwayindy @ajfoytracing
Ross Bynum (@therossbynum)
NOTE: Past season driver headshots were used as 2012 headshots are not yet available through the IndyCar media site.