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From the Marbles

Your handy guide to the 2011 open-wheel season

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Both major open-wheel series kick off Sunday when the Izod IndyCar Series races at St. Petersburg and Formula 1 races at Melbourne, Australia.

The Melbourne race was supposed to be the second F1 race of the season, but protests in Bahrain made the decision to postpone (and possibly cancel) the original season opener that was scheduled for March 13 a no-brainer.

St. Pete marks the return of Danica Patrick to the IndyCar Series and it could also be her final trip to the Florida city on the Gulf of Mexico if she makes the transition to NASCAR in 2012.

Other things to watch in 2011:

-- Narain Karthikeyan moved to Formula 1 from the Camping World Truck Series and that seems like quite a leap, doesn't it? The Fastest Indian in the World's Hispania team didn't do any preseason testing and it showed Saturday in qualifying where Karthikeyan was the slowest of the 24 cars that made qualifying attempts. In fact, he was so slow that he missed the race.

-- Karthikeyan missed the race because F1 reintroduced the 107% rule, which states that the entire field must be within 107% of the pole-winning speed in order to be able to race. Of course, with it being F1, it ultimately comes down to the final discretion of officials (and you thought NASCAR played favorites) but Karthikeyan was over 11 seconds slower than defending world champion Sebastian Vettel. Hispania's exemption request of "exceptional circumstances" to allow Karthikeyan and teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi to race was denied.

-- Graham Rahal has a full-time ride in the IndyCar Series thanks to a pairing between legendary drag racer Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Chip Ganassi. The Ganassi satellite team for Rahal and teammate Charlie Kimball is housed in Prudhomme's shop. Rahal won the St. Petersburg race in 2008.

-- Will a non-Ganassi or non-Penske car win a race this year in IndyCar? Only two cars not from either stable won a race in 2010, and those were the Andretti Autosport cars of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan. At one point, AA was on the same level with Penske and Target Chip Ganassi. Now they're a clear-cut No. 3. To say that the series needs Andretti Autosport or another team to be a serious contender is a massive understatement.

-- Speaking of Kanaan, he's with KV Racing after parting ways with Andretti Autosport rather unceremoniously. Marco Andretti was rather blunt in talking about Kanaan, and Kanaan's relationship with Patrick wasn't warm and fuzzy either. The 2004 IndyCar champion originally got a ride with de Ferran Dragon Racing for 2011 but didn't have enough funding for the full season and was able to score a late deal with KV.

-- Dan Wheldon, the 2005 champion and Paul Tracy don't have full-time rides. Tracy has funding for the Canadian races and the Indianapolis 500 with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing and Wheldon announced a deal with Bryan Herta to run the 500.

-- Will anyone dethrone Red Bull Renault in F1? Vettel was three-quarters of a second faster than Lewis Hamilton in Saturday's qualifying. If Vettel is dethroned by someone who isn't Mark Webber, his teammate, it will come from series stalwarts McLaren Mercedes (Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button) and Ferrari (Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa).

-- Farewell, current IndyCar chassis. The series goes to their version of the COT next year, which should mean that there are a plethora of good chassis available for drivers to take the $5 million challenge in the season's final race at Las Vegas. But will scheduling allow anyone competitive to take it?

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