The 101st Indianapolis 500 should prove to be one for the ages, with its reputation as a landmark race only reinforced this year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
#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.