Saturday, March 28, 2015

Preview to 2015 IndyCar Season: The Competitors

Photo Credit: Chris Owens

Having already introduced you to the 16 races part of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar schedule, it's time to shed light on the drivers and teams contending for the various trophies. With the entry list for the season-opening race in St. Petersburg posting a healthy 24-car field, drivers connected to the superteams of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport are still the favoured forces to be reckoned with. However, expansion and consolidations for 2015 has the potential of creating some surprising developments as the IndyCar season progresses. 

The following tidbits of information considers the 2015 Verizon IndyCar season as a whole discounting all the special deal put together for the Indianapolis 500.

Reigning Champion Power Accepts #1

Photo Credit: Chris Owens

For only fourth time in 15 years, the defending champion of the IRL/IndyCar Series has decided to accept a special perk. Will Power's 2015 campaign will see the Australian wearing the #1 in competition on his #1 Chevrolet-powered Team Penske entry.

From 2005 to 2012, the championship of the previous year was either unable or reluctant to accept the #1 or #01 they were entitled to run. Winning five championship during that time span, Chip Ganassi Racing chose to retain their normal car number for all-but one occasion. Chip Ganassi Racing's sixth championship won by driver Scott Dixon in 2013 also saw the honour go unused. In 2013, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport gained attention by accepting the #1 after claiming the 2012 IndyCar title. Prior to Hunter-Reay, the last champion to compete with the number was Scott Dixon in 2004.

Team Penske Expands to Four Cars

Photo Credit: Shawn Gritzmacher

For another year, Team Penske has been established as a powerhouse organization for 2015. The Roger Penske-owned race team is being led by the before-mentioned #1 car of reigning champion Will Power. Trusted front-runners Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya have also rejoined their 2014 teams after race-winning runs. The three-car team combined for five wins last season with drivers finishing within the top-4 of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. 

Team Penske expands from a trio to a quartet of entries for the 2015 season. The team successfully charmed two-time 2014 race winner Simon Pagenaud away from the Schimidt Peterson Motorsports ride. A 30-year-old French driver, Pagenaud will become the youngest driver present in the four-driver line-up for Team Penske.

Hinchtown Relocates to Schmidt Peterson Motorports

Photo Credit: Chris Jones

Four seasons in the IndyCar Series, Canada's James Hinchcliffe has established himself as a bright and charismatic star of the open wheel racing series. Earning as much attention as championship drivers, some would point out that Hinchcliffe's on-track performance could be disproportionate to his popularity. Definitely proving himself to be a capable race car driver with three series wins in 2013, his time spent with top outfit Andretti Autosport delivered short on expectations. The 2014 season was among the most forgettable outing for James Hinchcliffe as the team resulting in a 12th place in the year-end series points.

For 2015, James Hinchcliffe welcomes a change of scenery as he left the Andretti Autosport team for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team that Simon Pagenaud won two races with in 2014. Hinchcliffe re-establishes a relationship with team co-owner Sam Schmidt that previous consisted of a 2009 season running in the Indy Lights championship. Owner of Calgary-based Oculus Transport Limited Ric Peterson is also part of the ownership group behind James Hinchcliffe's 2015 effort.   

Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Merge

Photo Credit: Chris Owens

Through the past five years, the superteams of Andretti Autosport, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing has taken the majority of victories on the IndyCar circuit. Other teams in the open wheel series face an uphill battle competing against the organizations boasting heavier funding and peak resources. A tough feat, it seems every season at least one or two of the smaller teams manage to shine through for at least one season. In 2011, the race team owned by former IndyCar competition Sarah Fisher and her husband Andrew O'Gara fielded Ed Carpenter in the tour's oval events and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course race. Struggling to score a top-10 finish in the first nine races, Carpenter and Sarah Fisher Racing performed a massive underdog feat by winning the race at Kentucky Speedway. After 2011, Ed Carpenter departed Fisher's team setting up his own organization. As a driver/owner, Carpenter has managed two wins in three seasons.

Deciding the best way to compete the likes of the superteams is to formulate a new partnership. Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher, Andrew O'Gara and Willis Hartman created CFH Racing as a two-car effort for the 2015 season. Ed Carpenter will drive his #20 car in oval races while Italian Luca Flippi will pilot the vehicle on road courses. Josef Newgarden returns to the #67 as the driver for the full Verizon IndyCar season. The cars of CFH Racing will be powered by Chevrolet engines.

The 2015 Rookie of the Year Hunt 

Photo Credit: Chris Jones

At the start of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar season, only two first-year drivers are committed to run the entire schedule. A 25-year-old native of Monaco coming with an extensive European open wheel racing resume, Stefano Coletti will be driving for the #4 KV Racing Technology car alongside veteran French teammate Sebastien Bourdais. Piloting the #98 car for Bryan Herta Autosport will be the 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves. Chaves is a 21-year-old Columbian driver who won six individual race events Indy Lights over the course of two seasons.

There is two additional drivers who will be starting the opening round for the Verizon IndyCar Series without a guaranteed full-season ride for 2015. Italian Francesco Dracone is scheduled to run to first four races in the #19 car for Dale Coyne Racing. Dracone previously started two IndyCar races for Conquest Racing. Running a fourth car with Chip Ganassi Racing, American driver and 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam is slated to run at St. Petersburg. The opening race for 2015 will be Karam's second time driving an IndyCar in competition. At last year's Indianapolis 500, Sage Karam started 31st but finished 8th in his debut.

Entry List for St. Petersburg IndyCar Opener

Car # Driver Team Engine/ Aero Kit
1 Will Power Team Penske Chevrolet
2 Juan Pablo Montoya Team Penske Chevrolet
3 Helio Castroneves Team Penske Chevrolet
4 Stefano Coletti KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
5 James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
7 James Jakes Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
8 Sage Karam Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
9 Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
10 Tony Kanaan Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
11 Sebastien Bourdais KVSH Racing Chevrolet
14 Takuma Sato A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda
15 Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
18 Carlos Huertas Dale Coyne Racing Honda
19 Francesco Dracone Dale Coyne Racing Honda
20 Luca Filippi CFH Racing Chevrolet
22 Simon Pagenaud Team Penske Chevrolet
25 Simona de Silvestro Andretti Autosport Honda
26 Carlos Munoz Andretti Autosport Honda
27 Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport Honda
28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport Honda
41 Jack Hawksworth A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda
67 Josef Newgarden CFH Racing Chevrolet
83 Charlie Kimball Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
98 Gabby Chaves BHA with Curb-Agajanian Honda

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