Indycar

Japanese racing scene gaining popularity

In the 1990s Japan was a viable career alternative for young drivers who found their options limited in Europe. The resident Japanese F3000/ Formula Nippon and Super GT series attracted well known names such as Eddie Irvine, Tom Kristensen, Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz Harald-Frentzen.

During the late 1990s and 2000s the Japanese racing scene suffered a lull in worldwide attention, although in recent years both Japan and America are seeing a resurgance in interest as young drivers from Europe increasingly look further afield to attain a professional racing career. The racing scene seems increasingly focused on money in the last few years, with several Formula One teams struggling for finance, leading to a situation where increasingly a driver’s ability to bring a budget with him determines who is promoted from the junior formula’s.

In response to this Japan is seeing an upturn in popularity as the best young Japanese drivers are now being joined by accomplished and high profile drivers from Europe in their Super GT and Super Formula single seater series. In recent years the quality of the Japanese racing scene has been proven in Europe as long time Super GT and Super Formula drivers Andre Lotterer and Loic Duval led the Audi attack on the World Endurance Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.


Andre Lotterer racing in the Super Formula single seater series last year. Photo sourced from http://www.racingblog.de

Other notable drivers to have turned their careers East to Japan include James Rossiter, Vitantonio Luizzi, Narain Karthikeyan and Andrea Caldarelli. The number of European drivers joining the Japanese scene only looks set to swell in 2015, with rumors that young drivers such as Macau GP winner Felix Rosenqvist, 2009 Formula Renault 3.5 series champion Bertrand Baguette, GP3 race winner Jann Mardenborough and 2013 GP2 champion Fabio Leimer all rumored to be looking for drives in Japan this year. Heikki Kovalainen is the latest driver to defect to Japan as he announced a deal this week to join Team SARD Lexus for the Super GT series this year.

Complementing the increasing European talent is the very best of Japanese driving talent, with the likes of Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima and Takuma Sato returning to race in the Super Formula and Super GT series. Alongside them are the likes of GP2 racer Takuya Izawa and former Indycar racer Hideki Mutoh show that the talent on the Super Formula grid is up there with any grid outside of F1 at the moment.


The Super Formula grid races away from the line at Twin Ring Motegi in 2013. Photo sourced from http://www.supergtbrasil.blogspot.co.uk

Japan is so attractive right now for young drivers as it promises the opportunity to become a professional racing driver rather than struggle to attract finance to continue on the young driver ladder in Europe. Alongside the chance to earn a professional driver there are also copious chances to link up with a manufacture, with Toyota running a LMP1 programme in the WEC, with Nissan joining them in LMP1 this year also. Honda is also returning to F1 and has links with Indycar also, with all of these manufactures assisting or running teams in the Super GT series. Japan is therefore the perfect shop window for young drivers to put themselves in should they wish to put aside their dreams of F1 and become a factory driver for a distinguished manufacture. The future seems increasingly bright for the Japanese racing scene, as it becomes increasingly prominent in international motor sport, returning it to it’s glory days of the past.

What are your thoughts on this article? Please feel free to leave any comments below good or bad.

Indycar rumour mill round-up

This week has already seen some interesting rumours develop relating to potential driver moves concerning the Indycar series. The American open wheel championship has become increasingly popular with drivers over the past few years, with plenty of European drivers now turning their back on the exorbitant costs needed to simply get close to Formula One, yet many of these racers spurn the well supported World Endurance Championship as they want to remain racing single seaters. This leaves the Indycar series as the only alternative prominent single seater championship outside of F1 or the junior categories such as GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 series.

After Carlin announced earlier this week that they would be joining the rejuvenated Indy Lights series next year, with a view to moving up to the Indycar series in the future, this shows the increasingly appeal of Indycar to the European racing community. Firstly whilst it’s not a particularly new rumour it does seem Daniel Abt is looking to move away from GP2 for next year and join the Indycar grid for next year.

He tested for the Andretti Autosport team in late October at Barber Motorsports Park and Abt was quoted as saying about the test¬†“I had a fantastic day with plenty of fun and learned a lot. I didn’t do this test out of boredom, but would like to explore options for next year. The test was a cool experience that definitely whets my appetite for more.” Whilst Abt has current commitments with the new Formula E series, it does appear Abt is keen to change his direction and leave GP2 for the Indycar series next year.

Another former GP2 rival could be joining him stateside, as the American Conor Daly has switched his attentions back to his homeland after running into budget problems during his second year of GP2 this year. Whilst this once again isn’t a revelation it does show how the series is attracting top line American talent not just European drivers for the series, and Daly would need less acclimatization as he finished the 2013 Indy 500 in 22nd position in a one-off deal for the iconic race.

Another top line American driver that is looking to join the Indycar grid in 2015 is Alex Rossi, formerly the Caterham and Marussia reserve driver seems to have given up on F1 after coming very close this year to making his race debut with the Marussia team. Rossi was set to make his debut at this years Belgian Grand Prix in place of Max Chilton, however Chilton was re-installed at the last minute. Rossi has now switched his attention to the Indycar series for next year. Rossi has spent the last few months talking with prospective teams, and hopes to announce a deal with a competitive team in the next few weeks and into the new year.

British racer and GP3 runner up Dean Stoneman is another driver looking to switch from Europe to the American open wheel racing scene, and hopes to secure himself a Indycar test this winter in preparation for a move stateside. Whilst Stoneman himself feels ready to join the Indycar series, he has also stated if needed to he will join the feeder Indy Lights series first to gain experience of the american road circuits and the ovals. Whilst nothing is concrete at the moment, it seems plenty of Indycar and Indy Lights teams will be interested in him joining them next year. Could a potential link up with British team Carlin work out for Stoneman next year?

The final and most exciting potential rumour surrounding the Indycar series recently has been the news former Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jean Eric Vergne is very interested in joining the series, as his next move after being replaced in F1 for next year. The Frenchman has stated he very much is looking at the Indycar series and it seems likely he will have a string of offers to join the series next year. Whilst Vergne may take a season or two to learn the American ovals and road courses, once he gets comfortable Vergne would be a formidable competitor for anyone in the series. Nothing is planned at the moment in terms of tests or significant talks with teams, although it seems likely Vergne’s next stage of his career would be stateside.

What now for Jean Eric Vergne?

First of all, Jean Eric Vergne deserves to be on the grid at the next years Australian Grand Prix. Vergne has shown more than enough potential and results over the past three seasons to warrant a place on the grid in 2015. Vergne has simply become a casualty of the ruthless Red Bull young driver scheme.

Whilst Red Bull have backed him from a young age and gave him a shot in F1 for three seasons, if you don’t show the necessary progress you will quickly be replaced with the next young hot shoe product from the Red Bull line up. With the news last Friday that Red Bull junior F1 team Scuderia Toro Rosso would replace Vergne with their latest prospect Carlos Sainz Jr. For now it seems Vergne has few options to remain in F1 next year, so what options does he have to remain racing next year?

The most likely option it seems for Vergne to remain within Formula One next year appears to be with the Williams team. Rumors began during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend as Vergne was spotted spending a fair amount of time in the Williams hospitality area. Whilst both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa are confirmed to 2015 their reserve driver role is vacant as Felipe Nasr joins Sauber for next year. If this move comes to fruition it’s likely Vergne will get some Free Practice runs next year, and would be well placed to impress as Williams will be looking to replace Felipe Massa in several years time.

It seems the Williams role seems the most likely option to stay in F1 next year, with the only other likely reserve driver role would be with the Red Bull team, although this is unlikely to interest Vergne as there will be very little chance of being promoted to a race drive.

Vergne can be heartened by the thought that he will likely find plenty of offers from other disciplines of motorsport, and can take heart from the example of fellow Red Bull refugee Sebastien Buemi. Vergne was one of the drivers who replaced Buemi at Toro Rosso for the 2012 season, and Buemi became the Red Bull reserve driver before rebuilding his career with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, where he has shown his tremendous speed to claim the drivers title in the WEC alongside Anthony Davidson.

The World Endurance Championship is growing in significance every year with Nissan joining Audi, Porsche and Toyota in competing for wins next year. Vergne would be able to retain a reserve driver role in F1 with a WEC campaign with a manufacture or privateer team.

Another option for Vergne could be the new Formula E championship. The series has a prestigious line up of drivers and teams and is growing with every race in it’s debut season and would be an attractive option for next year. Formula E would be another series which could inter link with his reserve driver commitments should he find a drive within F1.

Other much less likely options would be for Vergne to swap F1 for Indycar, with his single seater skills would be clearly evident as he would likely become a household name in the series. Vergne once adjusted to the Dallara DW12 Indycar could become a multiple series champion such is his skill. Another option could be a top line career in GT racing with prominent series such as the Blancpain Endurance Series or GT classes within the WEC would be a great chance to rebuild his career after F1.

From here it’s not known where Jean Eric Vergne will be racing in 2015, with several options for him it’s up to him and his agent to decide which is his best option for next year. For me the best option would be a reserve driver role in F1 to keep his face known within the F1 community, with a sportscar campaign the perfect chance to show his considerable talent such as Sebastien Buemi has done this year. It would be a shame if Vergne isn’t racing at all next year, as he’s shown in his 3 years at Toro Rosso he deserves to remain at the top line of motorsport, where his talents belong.

Indy Lights on upward trend

After years of struggling with a old car and a decreasing grid, the Indy Lights finally looks to have turned a corner next year with the announcement of a new Dallara race car which has sparked a resurgence in interest in the series. The feeder series to Indycar now appears to have restored itself as a haven for young North American open wheel racers, whilst simultaneously being a viable alternative for frustrated talented young European drivers.

It’s only the middle of October yet already the series has confirmed 10 teams have already agreed to run in the series next year, with likely two cars from each team producing a likely grid of 15-20 cars. This is easily an improvement over the past few years where then entries have been around 10-14 cars. Those already confirming their orders are powerhouse team Schmidt Peterson who have ordered two cars for their Indycar feeder team. Other existing teams to place orders are 2014 front runners Juncos and Belardi racing who have both ordered two cars also. New team McCormack racing have also confirmed their commitment to their series, whilst sportscar team 8star motorsport has confirmed one entry, with the potential for a second also.

Indycar racer Tristan Vautier developing the new Dallara IL15 racer in August.

Existing teams Andretti Autosport and Team Moore are some of the team likely to have placed orders but yet to go public with their intentions to run in the series next year. On the driving front, it appears the quality of the grid will be greatly improved next year. Championship runner up this year Jack Harvey is working on a deal to return to the series next year. He will be keen for the title but will face stiff competition from the likes of 2014 Pro Mazda champion Spencer Pigot, who is likely to move up to IndyLights . Others likely to be returning are 2014 front runners Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham and Luiz Razia. 8Star are also keen to run promising sportscar racer Sean Rayhall if they can find the budget, with young racers Alan Sciuto and Parker Kligerman potentially earning themselves a seat next year after impressive post-season tests so far.

Finally leading the European racing influx so far for next year is Puerto Rican racer Felix Serralles, the only confirmed driver for next year so far. He will join the 2014 champions Belardi racing for next year after some difficult years in the European F3 Championship. Serralles previously proved his considerable talent in the British racing scene, and expect several more racers abandon the cut and thrust money dependent European racing scene for a fresh start at stardom in Indycar.

The final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy scheme is already creating plenty of buzz around the series with an influx of new teams and a new Dallara racer for next year. From here the future looks bright for the Indy Lights series with the support from Mazda providing young drivers the support to move up from the bottom rungs to Indycar, such as with 2014 champion Gabby Chaves and for Spencer Pigot next year. The series will hopefully entice plenty of European racers across to the series with the promise of a part season in Indycar including the a chance at the Indy 500 for the champion surely enough to tempt those disillusioned with the funding required to step up the European single seater echelons below F1. I for one will be eagerly keeping track with the revamped Indy Lights series next year.

For more information on the series please visit the link below
http://www.indylights.com/about/2015-indy-lights

Interview with Indycar racer Pippa Mann

Today see’s a first for this site as we recently completed an interview with Indycar racer Pippa Mann. For the die-hard motorsport fans that don’t know of Pippa Mann, she is a British racer who rose up through the junior single-seater ranks in both Britain and Europe, eventually spending two years in the highly competitive Renault World Series. Despite becoming the first female pole sitter and points finisher in the series her two years in the series were largely frustrating with issues beyond her control.

This severely derailed her career momentum in Europe, before she embarked on a career in the American open-wheel racing scene. After rising through the ranks she began to show promise in her second year of  Indy Lights. 2010 saw her become the first female pole-sitter at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, before picking up a debut win at Kentucky to finish 5th in the standings with a highly respectable 312 points.

From here she carried her career momentum over to the premier Indycar series, where she qualified for her debut Indianapolis 500, despite a competitive field and a small team. From here she has carried on her momentum with successive part-seasons in 2013 and this year, making the Indy 500 both years. She has yet to display her full potential in the Indycar series, although that is down to unfortunate circumstances rather than a lack of talent. Here is the interview in full.

What made you decide to switch your career to America?

In 2008, I was going into my second year in World Series by Renault, and I had really started to get to grips with the car and the formula towards the end of the previous season. I was strong in the off season testing, and everyone, myself included, expected me to have a very good year the following year. But the new car for 2009 and I just didn’t mesh at all. From ergonomic problems I had fitting into it, to the fact it just didn’t suit my driving style with the set-ups we were running on the old car.

It took me all year to start to get comfortable again, and that meant that I just didn’t bring home the results I wanted. I was frustrated. I knew I had probably lost my opportunity to continue racing single-seaters in Europe, and I started looking to potentially race sports cars in 2009. I started to race a Porsche in the UK Cup Championship, and by my second and third race weekends, I was up in the top 10 of that championship on pace on a regular basis and starting to have a lot of fun. I thought my future was probably set, but then I got a call, asking me to come to the US and meet with a team, who were looking for a female driver for one of their sponsors in Indy Lights for the following season.

They had looked at who was racing currently in the US, then decided to cast the net wider to include Europe, and when they did that, I was the only one at the time who was racing in any of the big open-wheel championships in Europe. Given at the time I was the only female driver to have a pole in World Series by Renault, to have scored points and top ten finishes in some of their races, they were interested. So I packed a bag, got on a plane, and I guess the rest is kind of history now!

What has been your racing highlight so far in your career?

I think it probably has to be qualifying for the 2011 Indy 500. It was my first ever IndyCar race, and I had just one day of testing before we started running at the speedway with everyone else. I was with a small team, expanding from one car to two cars, and my team mate was struggling in his first full-time season of IndyCar, leaving my team boss worried he might not make it into the race.

There were 42 cars competing for 33 slots, and my job was simple. I was there to make sure we got at least one of our team cars into those 33 spots however long the odds against us seemed… We made it. Just. I was the only one-off rookie attempting their first IndyCar race at that Indy 500 to make it in.

Several full-time drivers racing all season long, including my own team mate, did not make the show, and yet with our shoe string budget, and two to three guys only working on the car, we made it happen. It’s probably not a highlight that other people expect me to think of, they expect me to talk about my poles in 2010, or winning Kentucky in that year, or even my first Indy 500 itself maybe… But all of those pale into the fact I was not only in my first Indy 500, I earned my way in the hard way, and together we were the little team that could.

What has been the best race of your career so far?

This is a tough question! The easy answer is winning Kentucky in 2010 in Indy Lights, but actually, despite not being a race that many people outside the team would notice, I think the 2014 Indy 500 was pretty special too… We had an issue at one of the pit-stops that put us several laps down at my second pit stop, but the car was fantastic all day long, and I learned so much from the fact we got back out there, and I was able to run in dirty air for the entire rest of the 500 miles.

The guys I was racing against in the first two stints of the race finished 12-17th place, and our goal going in was to try and bring home a top 15 finish. Given our pace was on a par with theirs even after our stop issue, and I was actually still running with that group all afternoon long, just laps down and unable to play – it didn’t come away looking like much on paper, but we as a team were all really pleased with everything but that one bum pit stop during that race.

Then of course the 2011 race itself being my first Indy 500 was pretty special to me too. I actually didn’t have a working water bottle in that race, and was pretty badly dehydrated – I was having searing cramps all up and down my right arm, and particularly in my right shoulder from where you’re muscling the car around the track, but I was absolutely determined it wasn’t going to stop me, and I was going to finish the race in my rookie year. I came 20th.

Have you started looking at your 2015 plans yet? E.g talking with teams?

Yes, absolutely! I think it’s no secret to say that Dale would very much like me to come back in 2015, and I would love to drive for him again too. His team has been the most incredible home for me the past two years at the Indy 500, and I really enjoy working with the great group of people he has put together.

Susan G. Komen also had a great experience this year at their first Indy 500, and they want to come back with us too, so the plan is to bring the pink car back for it’s second Indy 500. Right now I am working hard on the business side of that equation, so that we can put the funding in place to make this all happen!

What inspired you to become a racing driver?

Actually it was pure chance. I got to drive a go-kart on an indoor kart track when I was around 12 years old, and absolutely loved it. That was it. Bitten by the bug, and I’ve never looked back since!

What are some of your earliest memories of motorsport?

Being taken to watch the British F1 race with my Dad at Silverstone, and watching the standing start from the grandstands opposite the front straight. I was a race fan long before I ever got to drive anything, or the thought that I could one day drive had even crossed my mind.

What advice would you give to aspiring drivers?

Be determined. Learn the business side, and be just as determined in that too. Don’t let people tell you you’re not going to be able to make it happen. Expect to work really hard, and expect it to be hard – for most of us this life is not easy, and you have to be prepared to bust a gut 24-7 on the business side, always put time and effort into being prepared physically for when the next opportunity comes your way, and you have to be very strong mentally too.

There may be times when you’re out of a race car for long periods of times in your career, but you just have to keep digging, keep adapting, and be prepared to take on other work and diversify (such as instructing, coaching, etc.) to survive.

Would you ever be tempted to race in other forms of motorsport e.g Sportscars?

Oh absolutely. I think I mentioned earlier on in this interview that I got to race a Porsche a few times in the UK before I moved to the US, and I have never had the chance to drive a GT car since, but I had an absolute blast in those races – it was so much fun. If the opportunity arose, I would love to do some sports car races alongside my commitment to the Indy 500 each year, however with the current licensing system, it’s very difficult for someone like me to get those opportunities.

In terms of license grade I am ranked the same as someone who races IndyCar full-time, and has multiple IndyCar wins under their belt… Yet I only get to race a couple of times a year in open-wheel, usually only on ovals at the moment, and I only have those few races in a GT car in the UK under my belt… So if you were looking at taking on someone with my high a grade of license, you probably wouldn’t pick me!

It’s something a lot of drivers in my position, or similar positions to me in the US are facing right now, and to be honest, it’s something even some of the guys who are coming up through the sports car ranks themselves are facing. I understand why there needs to be a licensing system to make it fairer to the AM drivers who fund a lot of sports car teams, but at the same time, I do wish there was a little more flexibility in the rules. There’s an awful lot of us who would love to race, and who could do a good job, falling through the cracks with this current system.

If you could compete in one motor race that you haven’t already which one would it be?

Ooooh. Good question. I guess I would love to compete in one of the big 24 hour sports car races one day – either Daytona, or Le Mans. That would be pretty special!

Why do you feel there has been a recent spike in European interest for Indycar/Road to Indy scheme?

Drawing from my personal experience, and from recent conversations I actually had with European drivers when I visited Monza to watch the F1 race a few weeks ago, I think that often there is a lot of fear surrounding the unknown that is racing in the US, and racing on ovals in particular.

In Europe, you seem to race a lot of the time thinking you’re in a bubble where sure, motor sport is dangerous, but nothing’s ever going to happen to you… In the US, with the speeds we race, so close to the walls, you can’t live inside that bubble any more, and you have to accept that our sport can be brutal at times. Not everyone can do that, and I think it takes a lot of people some time to get past that mentally.

We strive to make our racing as safe as it possibly can be, but when something goes wrong at 220+ mph next to a wall, it’s unfortunately just physics that sometimes it can go really wrong. So I think that scenario, plus the fact guys find it so hard to believe that we’re cornering faster than they often go in a straight line, makes it tough for Europeans to get their head around. Combine this then with the old thing that someone who hasn’t driven an oval, and doesn’t understand one, thinks “it’s just too corners, how hard can it be?” and you get this odd juxtaposition of opinion surrounding what they don’t really know, but what they think they know about our sport here in the US… For years I think these opinions have all contributed to lack of interest, and not many people being prepared to take the leap.

However recently I think there have been a number of European drivers who have come across and made the transition well, and whom are happy to talk about how much they love IndyCar. I think someone like Conor Daly running the Indy 500 last year, then going back and telling all of his fellow drivers in the series he was racing in Europe a) how much he loved the experience, and b) how hard it actually is to race a car for 500 miles at those speeds in constant dirty air, and how incredible the challenge is… I think that helps educate, and as people start to understand better, there’s less fear of the unknown.

Then right now in the US, we have something which does not exist anywhere else in the world in terms of a concise, direct open-wheel ladder, where every champion gets help towards his crack at the next rung on the ladder. With the new Indy Lights car coming out in 2015, a much needed upgrade on the previous car I raced, that chassis is suddenly much more in line with what European guys have been racing.

The costs are still cheaper than most comparable series in Europe, and with the new championship prize rules, if you win, you’re effectively guaranteed a shot at next year’s Indianapolis 500 in an IndyCar through the prize money scholarship scheme, and potentially a few more races tacked onto that depending on the team, and what other money you’re able to put together too. If you win the GP2 title, there are no guarantees of anything.

In fact most recently Kevin Magnussen came from World Series by Renault, which I used to race, and by passed GP2 altogether on his way to F1. The ladder in Europe is complex, expensive, and winning the title lacks giving you that final push you really want from it. Here, winning means more than getting to write it on your resume. It means that shot I was talking about at the biggest race of the IndyCar season.

That’s a pretty massive prize and incentive right there. I know this is a long answer, but I also want to touch on one final thing before I quit talking about the ladder series. I think it’s very important for people looking at coming over from Europe to IndyCar and the MRTI ladder to look at Indy Lights before IndyCar. My reasoning? Learning the ovals. Learning them in an IndyCar is very hard, and for many drivers who come across it’s a very difficult and tough transition.

However, a season of Indy Lights gives you the opportunity to really get your head around them, and start to get your teeth into them. For the record, as the girl who is currently the only female pole sitter ever at IMS, I certainly didn’t do that in my first year, and I didn’t win a race on them in my first year either.

It took me two years to get comfortable, to learn what I needed from the car, when to push, and when to understand that just doing what you could with what you had was going to be the best decision for your race result. And now, I’m in a position where ovals are viewed as my strong point, and it’s where most of my opportunities to drive an IndyCar come from. If I had tried to rush things, and get ahead of myself, I’m almost 100% certain I would not currently have the opportunities I do to get in the car each year, and so I will always be very grateful for everything Indy Lights has taught me!

That was an amazing interview with British Indycar racer Pippa Mann, she provided some brilliant answers and for more info on Pippa’s latest news and goings on please visit her website http://www.pippamann.com or Twitter account @PippaMann . Please enjoy these great answers!

The Future’s bright for Indycar racing

From the moment the Indycar series and the Champ Car World Series decided to merge again in 2008, after 12 years apart, the Indycar series has been on an upward trend. After over a decade of American open wheel racing being in the doldrums the series now finds itself in very rude health after a fascinating 2014 Verizon Indycar season. What has been the key to the series recent revival?

The first major point for the upturn in the Indycar series is the merger itself. Back in the day, before the hideous split in 1996, the series was arguably a rival for Formula One with a bevy of professional teams and drivers from across the world, including many with experience of F1. Whilst the series had yet to reach it’s peak of the mid-1990’s the combining of the two series has led to an upturn in grid sizes and the quality of those involved in Indycar.


The starting grid sets off earlier this year

For example from the 2007 Indycar there were less than 20 full season entries, and in Champ Car things weren’t much better with Champ Car having 18 full season entries. Now fast forward to the present moment and the Indycar grid has risen slightly from two grids of 18 to a regular full season grid of 23 cars this year.

A second factor behind the revival has been the introduction of a new Dallara DW12 car for the 2012 season. After extensive testing by Dallara in 2011 with the help of the late great Dan Wheldon, the series final introduced a new car to the series for 2012 for the first time in 9 years. The buzz around the impressive new Dallara DW12 car gave the series added impetus and momentum, something that was badly needed and subsequently further enhanced with the announcement of new engine packages for 2012 also.


The Dallara DW12 during it’s development period during the latter half of 2011.

Both Chevrolet and Lotus announced they were joining the series in 2012, and although Lotus quietly quit the series after a disappointing 2012 season, Chevrolet have proved stern competition for the previous Honda dominance. With talk of new aero kits being developed for next year the battle between these two manufactures is expected to heat up further.

A third factor in the development of the Indycar series has been the upturn in driver talent on the grid. Whilst in the initial years of the series merging the driver line-up remained similar to the last years of both series, in the last few years this has changed dramatically. The 2012 season brought a new car and two faces more familiar to F1 fans than American Open wheel fans. The series generated some news headlines when it was announced F1 refugee Rubens Barrichello was join the series in 2012. Although he only raced 1 season in Indycar racing, Barrichello and Jean Alesi, ex-F1 veteran who raced in the Indy 500 that year, set the ball rolling with the F1 connection returning to Indycar.

After being left out in the cold by F1 the talented Paul Di Resta was linked with the vacant Chip Ganassi seat after cousin Dario Franchitti was forced to retire at the end of the 2013 season. Alongside this was a much improved grid in 2014 which contained ex-F1 Wildman Juan Pablo Montoya, who left Nascar to join Penske for the 2014 Indycar season. Alongside him were 5 ex-F1 drivers including Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson for this season. On top of the strong regular season grid, the grid for the centrepiece Indy 500 contained 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve alongside the highly popular controversial Nascar racer Kurt Busch.

Alongside the high profile faces the Indycar grid is being supplemented with an increasingly strong level of young European racers trying their hand at American open wheel racing. Alongside established runners such as the hugely impressive Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais and Mike Conway there has been a recent influx of young talented drivers turning their backs on the European racing scene to pursue a career in Indycar.

Drivers such as Mikhail Aleshin, Luca Filippi and Jack Hawksworth have recently made the jump and their being joined by the likes of one time Marussia F1 driver Luiz Razia and 2012 British F3 champion Jack Harvey who both competed in the feeder Indy Lights series this year. A lot of talented European drivers facing budget problems are attracted to the Mazda Road to Indy feeder scheme, whereby the champions from the U.S Formula 2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights series gain funding and numerous tests to help them progress to the next rung on the ladder. A perfect example of it’s success is Sage Karam, who was the 2010 US Formula 2000 series champion and progressed to take the 2013 Indy Lights crown, guaranteeing him a 2014 Indy 500 drive at least.

http://www.sagekaram.com/files/2014/04/Sage-Actio-May-11.jpg?0d0003
Sage Karam in action during practice for this year’s Indy 500

Alongside the European influx there has been an increase in the amount of North American drivers getting their chance in the series, with drivers such as Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal becoming household names in the series over the last few years. Over the next few years many more young North American and European drivers will be making the jump to the Indy Lights series, with a new car and a much more expansive involvement from Indycar teams sure to attract many young hopefuls to the series.


New 2015 Dallara IL15 Indy Lights car going through testing in the hands of series graduate Tristan Vautier

With rumours of a more international calendar with races in Europe and the Middle East for next year, alongside possible new individual aero kits from some of the teams next season is already shaping up to be a classic Indycar season, whereby champions Penske, Will Power and Chevrolet will be aiming to defend their crown from the challenge coming from Chip Ganassi racing, Andretti Autosport and Honda. Further enhancing the series will be a number of talented new European and North American racers looking to push their way onto the Indycar grid, supplemented by a revived and much more relevant Indy Lights series for international young hotshoes to announce themselves to the Indycar paddock. I for one cannot wait for the new season already.

For more information on the Indycar series or Mazda Road to Indy scheme please visit their official websites below
http://www.indycar.com/
http://www.indylights.com/
http://www.promazdachampionship.com/
http://www.usf2000.com/
http://www.indycar.com/RoadToIndy

Photo credits go to –
Indycar starting grid photo – sourced from http://www.richardsf1.com credit goes to http://www.Motorsport.com

Dallara DW12 Testing photo – sourced from http://www.queers4gears.com credit goes to unknown

Sage Karam photo – sourced and credit goes to http://www.SageKaram.com

Dallara IL15 Testing photo – sourced from http://www.Autosport.com credit goes to unknown

2014 Indianapolis 500 Preview Part 1

After the inaugral Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked the first time the series had raced on the Indianapolis road course, attention shifts now to the most famous hunting ground for American open wheel racing, the Indianapolis 500. Immediately after the Grand Prix last Saturday the paddock has swapped the road course for the hallowed oval as the rookie orientation and practice began this Monday. This week’s practice so far has seen a slow increase in speeds every day as the teams and drivers fine tune their cars and get increasingly comfortable with the unique oval.

The week’s only drama so far has been off-track as leading team Andretti Autosport were forced to draft in previous driver E.J Viso to replace James Hinchcliffe, who was ruled out of practice this week as he recovers from a concussion suffered during last weekend’s road course Grand Prix. This race is sure to throw up plenty of surprises therefore predicting a winner will be almost impossible, however let’s start this preview by looking at the front runners from the 2014 Indycar season so far team by team.

Team Penske :
#2 Verizon Dallara DW12-Chevrolet – Juan Pablo Montoya
So far his 2014 return to the Indycar series has been mixed for the high profile Montoya, who has shown tremendous promise yet has struggled to turn these into decent results in the opening four races. His sole top 5 run so far was a 4th place at Long Beach as he currently sits 15th in the points, something he will undoubtedly improve on over the course of the year. Despite the frustrating start he’s still a contender for a repeat of his dominant 2000 victory in the 500 as the Penske team seem to have a competitive package for the 500. Therefore Montoya will be a useful outside bet for a competitive run next Sunday. With this weekend’s qualifying now complete Montoya impressed with a top 10 starting slot with a solid 231mph run, putting him in a good position for Sunday’s race.

#3 Pennzoil Dallara DW12-Chevrolet – Helio Castroneves
Castroneves has carried his title challenging form from 2014 across into the new season as he has managed 2 podiums from the opening 4 races, putting him 4th in the points going into the 500. Things are not all rosy however for Castroneves as he is already 47 points behind team mate Will Power and therefore Castroneves will surely be looking to close the gap on Power, especially with this being a double points race also. Castroneves is always a contender at Indy and is the only active driver to have won the race 3 times, (2001,2002 and 2009) and can therefore never be discounted as he looks to become a 4 time winner of the great race. Castroneves starts 4th after qualifying with a close 230mph run in the fast 9 shootout for pole.

#12 Verizon Dallara DW12-Chevrolet – Will Power
Power has bounced back from a disappointing 2013 season to currently lead the points standings after a dominant win at the opening round at St Petersburg, before backing that up with solid point scores in the other 3 races. It appears he will be the pre-race favorite based on his early season form however he has not completely dispelled the myth that he’s a weaker oval racer than he is road course driver. This myth appears to be the only knock on him going into the event with it all depending now on whether Team Penske can work their Indy magic again this year and deliver Power a car he can run to victory lane. This definitely appears to be his best chance of victory yet in his 6th attempt. Power impressed by qualifying 3rd, the highest Penske runner too at 230.6mph.

Andretti Autosport:
#25 Snapple Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda – Marco Andretti
Andretti is undoubtedly the most famous surname in American road racing and the latest Andretti Indycar driver is Michael Andretti’s son Marco. So far in 2014 Marco’s showed himself to be one of the leading Andretti Autosport cars as he currently sits 7th in the drivers standings and will along with Castroneves be looking to close on leader Power with a good result here.

Marco would also like to earn some redemption for the Andretti curse at the 500 whereby despite an abundance of talent both granddad Mario and dad Michael were only able to win the 500 once between them. Andretti starts a close 6th after a 230.5mph run in the final fast 9 shootout last Sunday.

#26 Suretone Entertainment Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda – Kurt Busch (R)
One of the more high profile entries for this year’s 500 is Nascar bad boy Kurt Busch, who attempts to become only the fourth driver in history to complete the double of competing in the Indy 500 and the Nascar Coca-Cola 600 later that evening. The announcement of Busch has certainly raised the profile of the race however it must be remembered he’s a rookie and expectations should be kept in check for his race performance. He has shown himself to be a very talented Nascar driver and it will not be a major shock to see him impress in the 500. Busch can be satisfied with his qualifying performance as he starts 12th, the fastest of the rookies, with an impressive 230.7 mph run.

#27 United Fiber Data Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda – James Hinchcliffe
Jovial Canadian James Hinchcliffe could not have had a worse first week of practice for the 500 as he has been ruled out of most of the sessions as he recovers from a concussion in last weekend’s Grand Prix on the Indianapolis road course. The poor weather has also been against him as a lot of the recent sessions have been affected by rain and subsequently curtailed his running. Hinchcliffe is a rising star in Indycar however and despite the poor build up will always be a contender for victories in his current form. Hinchcliffe expertly bounced back from his lack of running so far to answer the critics with a very impressive qualifying run which puts him in the middle of the front row in 2nd for Sunday with an outstanding 230.8mph run.

#28 DHL Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda – Ryan Hunter-Reay
2014 has been an contrasting year for 2012 Indycar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, as he has already taken two podiums including a win at Barber Motorsports Park, yet he also annoyed most of the paddock with his reckless passing attempt at Long Beach which eliminated/delayed the majority of the drivers. Despite this he goes into the Indy 500 3rd in the points and will be hoping to take a first win in the 500 to strengthen his title challenge. Qualifying did not go well for the former champion however as he starts a lowly 19th. Some comfort can be taken however as much like sportscar racing the ultimate qualifying position has little significance as Hunter-Reay could easily claim victory from here, it simply makes his job a lot harder come race day. Watch out for Hunter-Reay on Sunday.

#34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com Andretti Autosport Dallara DW12-Honda – Carlos Munoz
Carlos Munoz will be looking to go one better than his very impressive run to 2nd in last year’s 500 in his debut Indycar race. His impressive run which saw him challenge for the win all race and in fact lead 12 laps himself rightly resulted in him receiving the rookie of the year honors last year. After finishing 3rd in the Indy Lights series last year Andretti Autosport rightly promoted the rookie Colombian Munoz to a full time ride in 2014, with impressive results so far with a podium in Long Beach leaving him 10th in the points going into this weekend’s big race. Munoz immediately carried on his 2013 form with a 7th place qualifying spot putting him in a good position going into the race.

Chip Ganassi Racing:
#8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet – Ryan Briscoe
After a truncated 2013 Indycar season Ryan Briscoe returns to the series in 2014 with top line team Chip Ganassi racing. 2014 has so far seen a solid start from Briscoe who currently lies 9th in the standings going into the Indy 500. The Ganassi outfit are a powerhouse Indycar team and can always be relied on to give their drivers top line cars to challenge for victory. Some work clearly needs to be done to Briscoe’s car however after a difficult qualifying session which saw him fall to 30th on the grid leaving him a lot of work to do in the race if he is challenge for a top 5 result which could really kickstart his season.

#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet – Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon cemented his place amongst the Indycar greats by clinching his third Indycar title in 2013, ten years after his first. Dixon however has a slightly less impressive record at Indianapolis as he has only won the 500 once, in 2008. 2014 presents another opportunity for him to rectify this as he looks solid if unspectacular going into the 500, with two top 5 finishes putting him 6th in the points. Qualifying was not so good for frontrunner Dixon who only managed 11th on the grid, yet there will be plenty of time for him to work his way to the front once the 500 mile race starts. Despite the qualifying position Dixon is still a contender for victory.

#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet – Tony Kanaan
After finally realizing a dream by finally winning the Indy 500 in 2013 after many years of trying, things got even better for Kanaan as he signed with Chip Ganassi racing for the 2014 season. After unfortunate circumstances which curtailed hallowed Scot Dario Franchitti’s career, good friend Kanaan has been promoted to drive the famous #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry in 2014. It’s been a slightly rough transition so far as Kanaan is yet to achieve a top 5 finish and currently lies 13th in the points. Form matters little to Kanaan however as he will be guaranteed to do everything he can to repeat his 2013 victory in the 500. A 16th place starting slot is not ideal for Kanaan but for this racer it provides the perfect storyline as he will look to avoid trouble and carve through the pack to claim repeat 500 victory this year.

#83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet – Charlie Kimball
After a breakthrough year in 2013 as Kimball claimed his 1st Indycar victory, he will be slightly disappointed therefore with his start to the 2014 season as he sits 16th in the points after the first 4 races. Things don’t appear to have improved so far as like team mate Briscoe Kimball struggled in qualifying, winding up 26th on the grid for the 500. As I’ve previously stated however grid position isn’t everything and with a slick Ganassi crew behind him expect Kimball to make up places and a top 10 finish is easily possible for this talented American.