Over twelve decades ago, a new sport was born: automobile racing.
Now, the 124th season of motorsport is upon the millions of fans worldwide, with the first professional-level auto race of 2010 set to transpire in just two weeks' time.
Last season, names such as Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson, and Sébastien Loeb stole the show. Who will rise to the top in 2010? Who will fall short? Leave your predictions in the comments section.
Champions: While a close season is expected in Formula 1 with four past champions on the grid, I expect a new face to take the World Driving Championship: Sebastian Vettel. Vettel nearly clinched his first crown in 2009, and the Red Bull team should continue to improve as they did in the second half of last season. Vettel has matured as a racer and it's his time to prove himself against names such as Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Button, and the legendary Schumacher. For the Constructors' title, Scuderia Ferrari appear to be in good shape.
In NASCAR, it's hard to bet against Jimmie Johnson taking his fifth consecutive championship. Notice any weaknesses in this time during the last four title runs? Me neither. Of course, the Sprint Cup is not the only NASCAR title up for grabs, as the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series also have an exciting season ahead of them. In the former, Carl Edwards is hard to bet against, and the new COT to be introduced at select events on the Nationwide calendar, it's hard to discount Edwards' experience with the car in Cup as well as Roush Fenway Racing's resources. In CWTS, I predict more of the same, with Ron Hornaday taking another crown.
In IndyCar, I'll take a gamble on Will Power. His road course form is unbeatable and he's shown at Indy in 2009 and Chicago in 2008 that he's no slouch on the ovals. With a full-season ride for one of the premier teams, there's no fighting the Power.
For the other champions, I predict Sébastien Loeb to repeat in WRC, Casey Stoner to return to glory in MotoGP, Highcroft Racing to take another championship in ALMS, Jason Plato to reach the highest honors in BTCC, and Ganassi to reclaim the Grand-Am crown.
Big Races: The quartet of motor racing glory begins in February with the Daytona 500. I'll take Juan Pablo Montoya. Anyone can win at a restrictor plate, and Montoya will be hungry to get a win after a heartbreaking shutout in the 2009 season. With a stronger program than last year, Eanrhardt Ganassi should pose a considerable threat, and the 42 team has always run well on the plate tracks.
The Grand Prix de Monaco challenges F1's best in the close confines on armco. Monaco's new master Lewis Hamilton should take the historic event, given his prowess at the facility and the expected pace of the McLaren MP4-25 chassis.
In the following week, Speedway, Indiana comes to life as the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race is run for the 93rd time. Betting against Ganassi or Penske would not be wise, so, safe as it is, I'll go with Scott Dixon.
The final of the big four is run in June: the 24 Heures du Mans. While driver lineups are not set, one of the factory Peugeot entrants is my bet. Audi were caught with their trousers down with the R15 and did nothing to pull them back up during the season. Peugeot have the upper hand in car and drivers.
Most Improved: Looking at motorsport as a whole, four names come to mind. Marcos Ambrose looks to have a break-out year in 2010, having shown his potential in the number 47 Camry. With solid runs at all sorts of tracks ranging from Watkins Glen and Infineon to the more traditional stock car circuits Daytona and Bristol to the uncategorized Pocono, Ambrose could be a threat for the Chase.
MotoGP's Jorge Lorenzo did not disappoint in 2009, but inexperience prevent the young Spaniard from staying with teammate Valentino Rossi in the standings. Expect less mistakes in 2010 and more of the brilliant riding fans know he's capable of.
Two of Formula 1's Germans, Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil, also have a shot at being the most improved. Rosberg moves up to the works Mercedes squad and should be pushed to peak performance by teammate Michael Schumacher and boss Ross Brawn. Sutil, on the other hand, remains at his previous team, but with Force India's true potential now known, Adrian has no choice but to improve his form.
Biggest Disappointment: The return of Michael Schumacher. It's hard for it not to be a disappointment if Schumacher does not take the title, and with the competition the 7-time champion is facing, it's not as likely as most think that he will claim an eighth. Schumacher will certainly be a factor, but not in the way he used to be.
With 123 seasons in the books, it will soon be time to write more history. It's hard not to get excited about what new stories, new successes, and new moments await the fans of one of the world's most popular sports.
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