The 2007 IndyCar season kicks off with Saturday night's XM Satellite Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here's an overview of the entire field for the race:
A.J. Foyt Enterprises: Legendary racer Foyt brings a single-car effort into the new season with Englishman Darren Manning behind the wheel. Manning returns to the series after a one-year absence, joining a Foyt team that originally was one of the powerhouses of the league, but now is more of a mid-pack team.
Manning is a former F1 test driver who did a brief stint in the old CART series before running two seasons for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Often characterized as being somewhat erratic on the ovals, Manning should excel next weekend on the St. Petersburg street course as well as the other road courses.
Andretti Green Racing: This powerhouse team will field four cars this season. Danica Patrick joins Dario Franchitti, 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan and sophomore sensation Marco Andretti on the AGR roster.
Both Kanaan and Franchitti are veterans of the former CART series, where they displayed an expertise on a schedule mixed with ovals, street courses and road courses, giving them an edge on the competition this year.
Patrick must win a race this season or she will continue to be labeled as all show and no go. Andretti easily has the skills and equipment to run the table on the series, winning six or more races and being an early favorite for the series title – as well as its keystone race, the Indy 500.
CURB/Agajanian/Beck Motorsports: This is a recent conglomeration of three of the league's long-standing teams.
Behind the wheel is veteran driver Alex Barron, who also returns to the series after a one-year absence. Barron is another veteran of the CART series, having driven for both Dan Gurney and Roger Penske. His most recent ride in the IndyCar Series was in 2005 with Eddie Cheever's team.
In 2006, Barron returned to the Champ Car Atlantic Series, where he won the title in 1997, for a one-year stint with the Polestar Racing Group, finishing 14th in points.
Barron is capable of winning races if he's got the right equipment. He has two career IndyCar wins.
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Another one of the series' long-standing teams returns this season with a two-car effort.
Aside from winning the 2004 Indy 500, Buddy Rice leaves three mediocre seasons with Rahal-Letterman Racing behind to join Sarah Fisher at Dreyer & Reinbold.
Rice is also a former Atlantic Series champion (2000), competing two seasons with Team Cheever (2002-03) before moving to Rahal-Letterman.
Fisher's history in Indy car racing has been filled with excitement and unfulfilled promise. She came to the series after a solid career as a teenager in sprint cars, becoming the first full-time female driver in the IRL in 1999 while also becoming the youngest driver in IndyCar series history at 19.
The following year she became only the third woman to qualify for the Indy 500, and in 2001, she finished second at Homestead, which still ranks as the best finish by a woman in Indy-style racing.
Her path back to IndyCars was expected after her failure to gain a foothold in stock cars. Fisher should do well with Dreyer & Reinbold, which isn't one of the series' better-financed teams, but a well-organized and well-run one.
Panther Racing: When this team had Sam Hornish Jr. as its driver, it scored two series titles (2001-02). Since then, its fortunes had faded.
But after the signing of Brazilian Vitor Meira last season, the team has rebounded into a real contender.
Meira's runner-up finish at the 2005 Indy 500 caught a lot of attention, and his performance at Panther should come as no surprise. He is a traditional Brazilian driver in the Emerson Fittipaldi and Gil de Ferran mode. He's very aggressive, but very smart.
Panther has worked to give him a good car at every race, good enough to lead laps and contend for the win. Meira should score his first career IndyCar victory in 2007.
Joining Meira at Panther is Honda factory driver Kosuke Matsuura.
Rahal Letterman Racing: Former driver Bobby Rahal's joint venture with television personality David Letterman is a two-car effort in 2007 with Jeff Simmons returning behind the wheel of the Ethanol-sponsored ride. He's joined by veteran IndyCar racer Scott Sharp.
Simmons joined the R-L team after driver Paul Dana was killed in the season opener one year ago. Simmons has since struggled to get comfortable with Rahal's operation, but this season should be much better for the former Indy Pro Series race winner.
Sharp brings a long resume of IndyCar racing to the R-L team in his pursuit of his lifelong goal – an Indy 500 win. He's come close a few times and this season could easily provide another opportunity for him to put his face on the Borg-Warner trophy.
Roth Racing: Team owner Marty Roth once again brings his independent and low-budget operation to the IndyCar series with the hopes of running a full season in 2007.
Canadian-born Roth spent two seasons (2002-03) in the Indy Pro Series with a best finish of sixth. He moved up to the IndyCar series in 2004, running part-time schedules.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Former series champion Scott Dixon (2003) returns along with 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon for Chip Ganassi's formidable organization.
Despite several race wins and his series title, Dixon has never been the kind of stellar driver usually associated with Ganassi teams.
Wheldon, on the other hand, has been impressive behind the wheel of an Indy car. The series' 2005 champion, Wheldon lost the 2006 series title to Sam Hornish Jr. on a tie-breaker (Hornish had more wins).
Wheldon's stated desire isn't another series title, but another Indy 500 win. He could do it in 2007. He also has his eyes on a possible future in NASCAR, based on how well Juan Pablo Montoya does.
Team Penske: Clearly the team to beat again in 2007, Roger Penske's formidable open wheel operation drops the Marlboro sponsorship from its cars this season but retains funding from parent company Philip Morris USA.
Two-time Indy 500 winner (2001-02) Helio Castroneves comes off a stellar season, tying teammate Sam Hornish for a series-high four victories.
Despite showing his expertise on the ovals, Castroneves is an ace on the road courses and is a sure shot to win at least one of those races this season, perhaps when he returns to Mid-Ohio, where he's won before (2000).
2006 Indy 500 winner Hornish is perhaps in his final season as an IndyCar driver, having already begun the transition into a full-time career in NASCAR. That doesn't mean he'll sit back. Look for Hornish to be the favorite once again at Indy now that he's figured out how to win there.
Vision Racing: IndyCar Series founder and Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George's own team will have three cars at the season opener, including stepson Ed Carpenter, A.J. Foyt IV and Tomas Scheckter.
Carpenter has never been more than a field-filler, which is what Foyt IV also is now. There won't be much expected from either driver this season.
Scheckter has driven for Ganassi and Panther and was erratic at both places. The son of famous F1 driver Jody Scheckter, Tomas should be a top-10 finisher for much of the season.