Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Winners and Losers: 2015 Season

Here are your winners, losers, and Cone of Shame "winner" from the 2015 Verizon Indycar Season:

Winners

Scott Dixon
The legend of Scott Dixon contniues. As he continues to win, Scott is establishing himself as one of the greatest Indycar drivers of all-time. Dixon was one of the most consistent drivers of the season, and he led all drivers with three wins this season, including a win at Long Beach, one that has long evaded him. Dixon and Chip Ganassi have one of the best driver-team relationships in Indycar history. Dixon will look to continue his dominance in 2016.


Graham Rahal
After several years of just misery, Graham Rahal put forward one of the best performances by a driver in recent memory. Now driving without a teammate at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Rahal flourished with new staff and the increased downforce from Aero Kits. His six podiums led the series. A career defining win occurred in his home race in Ohio, as it propelled him with a chance to win the Indycar championship. While the championship wasn't in the cards, Rahal has solidly put himself on the maps of contenders for the 2016 season.


Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden has been waiting for a year like this ever since joining Indycar in 2012. After three rough seasons, Newgarden emerged as a championship contender, notching two wins and two second place finishes. The addition of Ed Carpenter and Luca Filippi as teammates seemed to give Newgarden the boost he needed to become a contender. Josef will likely switch teams after 2016, so this year will important to him in order to impress future employers.


Chevrolet
Chevrolet dominated Honda. See below for more details.



Losers

Honda
Honda barely held a candle, again, to Chevrolet. After moments of ups-and-downs since Chevrolet joined the series in 2012, 2015 served as a disastrous year for Honda. Chevrolet won all 16 poles and 10 races, including four of the five top spots in the Indycar championship. This was doubly insulting to Honda because 2015 was the first year of manufacturer Aero Kits, where Honda and Chevrolet got to design Aero Kits to help increase the speed and downforce of the cars. Chevrolet did their homework, and ended up kicking Honda's ass.


Stefano Coletti
Stefano Colleti, GP2 ace who found a ride with KV Racing Technology, had statistically one of the worst seasons in Indycar history. His stats line up with fellow full-time abysmal drivers like Milka Duno, Marty Roth, and Hiro Matsushita, Colletti always showed the pace, even on the ovals. But with only one top-ten finish and ten finishes of 19th or worse (in a field that averaged 23-24 cars), Coletti takes the mark as one of the worst performers in recent Indycar memory.


AJ Foyt Enterprises
AJ Foyt Enterprises made an expansion to two cars, retaining the services of Takuma Sato and hiring second year driver Jack Hawksworth. Neither driver did all that well, and the team stayed in their lower-tier status as a team. Both drivers will return in 2016, but will the results come forth after a second season with the same staff and drivers?


James Hinchcliffe
James Hinchcliffe has had back-to-back seasons with serious injuries. Last year at Indianapolis (for the Grand Prix), Hinch was struck in the helmet by a piece of debris, forcing him to go to the hospital. The concussion served as a scare, but Hinch made a quick recovery. This year, again in Indianapolis, Hinch was practicing for the Indianapolis 500 when his car suddenly veered towards the wall mid-turn. The fifth year driver from Canada was saved by the quick actions of the safety team, as Hinch was bleeding out in the car. Hinch will be back in 2016, but it would be nice to see him make it through the season without any serious injuries.



Cone of Shame




Team Penske
Team Penske entered the final race of the season having three of their four drivers with a chance to win the Indycar championship. All Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Helio Castroneves had to do was overcome a come-from-behind bid by Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal to win the title. While Team Penske looked like a bunch of individuals, Chip Ganassi Racing looked like a team destined to help Scott Dixon win the championship. Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball served as a great supporting cast, while Simon Pagenaud, who had a rough first season with Penske, was marred in the back, Castroneves was irrelevant, and Montoya overcame an incident which saw Power spinning him, only to end up short of the title. Even more discouraging was Team Penske did not win a single race after winning the Indianapolis 500 and three of the first six races. They also claimed thirteen of the sixteen poles on the season. So while they may have been the fastest team, they did not do enough to win the Indycar championship.



Thanks for all of the support in 2015! Bring on 2016.

-Matthew Hickey

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Road to Indy Working

I have long questioned the effectiveness of the Mazda Road to Indy program. Established in 2010, the MRTI was designed to give up-and-coming drivers a chance to start in US F2000, the lowest rung of the ladder and work their way up to the Verizon Indycar Series. After F2000, there's Pro Mazda, and then the Indy Lights series, the long-standing last rung of Road to Indy. Each series awards a scholarship to the champion at the end of the season to help them move up to the next series.

I have questioned not only Indy Lights but the legitimacy of the program. Yes, it does give a lot of drivers the chance to gain experience and work their way into Indycar, sharing paddocks and racing on the same tracks as Indycar. But many drivers get to Indy Lights and then struggle to make the jump into Indycar, or they make the jump and then either fizzle out with lack of results or cannot find the funding to continue.

With the recent driver announcements, it appears now more than ever that the Mazda Road to Indy system is working. Here are success stories that are attributed to the MRTI that race in Indycar today (since the MRTI started in 2010, I am focusing on drivers since then):

Bryan Clauson
MRTI Stats
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Starts: 8

Indycar Starts: 2

Bryan Clauson gained some of the skills necessary to compete at the Indianapolis 500 from his time in Indy Lights. The Indiana native, who is a USAC driver by trade, ran at all of the ovals on the 2011 Indy Lights calendar, and two ovals the next year. This coupled with his years and years of dirt racing make Bryan a viable option for any team looking for a driver for the Indianapolis 500. Jonathan Byrd's Racing seized this moment, and signed him for 2015 and the upcoming 500 in 2016.


Carlos Munoz
MRTI Stats
Wins: 6
Podiums: 10
Starts: 24

Indycar Starts: 37

Carlos Munoz has blossomed into one of the fastest, most aggressive drivers in Indycar. Like others, Munoz came to America looking for a new career path. He earned his shot with Andretti Autosport, and has been affiliated with the team ever since. His career highlight was his first Indianapolis 500 in 2013, where Munoz was a relatively unknown. He finished second and impressed everyone. He claimed his first win in the 2015 season at Belle Isle. Munoz continues to build on his resume and will look to be a factor for years to come.



Charlie Kimball
MRTI Stats
Wins: 0
Podiums: 5
Starts: 28

Indycar Starts: 84

A two year stint in Indy Lights that proved Charlie Kimball could consistently run up front, and this, coupled with sponsorship backing, got Charlie up to Indycar with Chip Ganassi Racing. Two career highlights, a win Mid-Ohio in 2013 and a third place at the 2015 Indianapolis 500, as well as many other highlights demonstrates that Charlie is a mainstay in the series with a large following of fans.



Conor Daly
MRTI Stats
Wins: 9
Podiums: 21
Starts: 32

Indycar Starts: 6

Conor Daly, the 2010 Pro Mazda champion and journeyman driver who has been looking for a way into Indycar, has finally gotten this opprotunity with Dale Coyne Racing and Jonathan Byrd's Racing for 2016. He has raced in Indycar in 2013 and 2015, but with no full-time Indy Lights rides and an unsuccessful attempt to climb the European ladder into Formula 1, Daly has been left searching for a full-time ride into Indycar. Finally, a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders with his deal that was recently announced. Here's hoping he finds success in Indycar after his long journey.


Conor Daly in a Pro Mazda car at Iowa (Photo: JOWT)


Gabby Chaves
MRTI Stats
Wins: 7
Podiums: 31
Starts: 43

Indycar Starts: 16

Gabby Chaves was a fantastic MRTI driver. After a stint in GP3, Chaves came to America in 2012 and found a home in Pro Mazda. After finishing second in the championship, Chaves moved up to Indy Lights in 2013 and again, finished second. Finally, in 2014, Chaves broke through and won the championship and thus got the funding to move up to Indycar. Driving for Bryan Herta Autosport, Chaves looks to be back with the team in 2016.


Jack Hawksworth
MRTI Stats
Wins: 11
Podiums: 18
Starts: 28

Indycar Starts: 33

Jack Hawksworth came over to America in 2012, earning a shot in Pro Mazda. Instant success was found, and Hawk won the championship, giving him a chance to move up to Indy Lights in 2013. Despite not winning the championship, Hawk earned a ride with Bryan Herta Autosport in 2014 and AJ Foyt Enterprises in 2015. Mixed results ensued, but there is no denying that Jack is talented and he belongs in an Indycar.



James Hinchcliffe
MRTI Stats
Wins: 3
Podiums: 13
Starts: 28

Indycar Starts: 74

The Mayor of Hinchtown, James Hinchcliffe, learned many of the skills that have transferred into success from Indy Lights. 28 starts and a second place finish in Indy Lights championship in 2010 gave Hinch the resume he needed to move up to Indycar in 2011 with Newman/Haas Racing. After 2011, Hinch moved to Andretti Autosport, earning three wins for the team. In 2015, Hinch reunited with his 2009 Indy Lights team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to drive the primary Indycar. A fan favorite and a favorite to watch on the track, Hinch is yet another product of Indy Lights and the MRTI.


Josef Newgarden
MRTI Stats
Wins: 5
Podiums: 10
Starts: 14

Indycar Starts: 67

Josef Newgarden has blossomed into one of the best examples of an Indy Lights champion making it into Indycar. Newgarden gradually progressed from his rookie season in 2012 till the point where he was a championship contender in 2015, notching two wins. Sarah Fisher gave Josef his chance, and with Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing on the rise, Josef will continue to blossom in Indycar for years to come.

Josef Newgarden is a shining example of the Road to Indy. Newgarden stood
out in his tenure in Indy Lights (Photo: The Canadian Press)


Matthew Brabham
MRTI Stats
Wins: 18
Podiums: 30
Starts: 47

Indycar Starts: 0

Mazda Road to Indy, well I would go as far as to label him "legend", Matthew Brabham got his deal to move up to Indycar in 2016. Brabham and Pirtek Team Murray signed a deal for Brabham to race twice in May, in conjunction with KV Racing Technology. Brabham won the 2012 US F2000 championship, and 13 of the 16 races in the 2013 Pro Mazda championship. Despite sluggish times in Indy Lights, Brabham has now found the right situation to move up to Indycar in 2016. He joins Sage Karam and Spencer Pigot as three drivers who have gone through every step on their way to the Indycar Series.


Pippa Mann
MRTI Stats
Wins: 1
Podiums: 2
Starts: 27

Indycar Starts: 13

Fan-favorite Pippa Mann continues to be a mainstay in May in Indycar over her Indycar career spanning back to 2011. Having reached some success in Indy Lights in 2009 and 2010, Mann has made a part-time appearance in every season since 2011 (exc. 2012). Her willingness to go above and beyond for fans has made her a favorite amongst the crowd. She will look to continue to feature herself in Indycar, and the Indianapolis 500 (where she has started four times) for years to come.


Sage Karam
MRTI Stats
Wins: 17
Podiums: 34
Starts: 52

Indycar Starts: 13

One of the most controversial drivers to race in Indycar in 2015 was young-gun Sage Karam. Many tout Karam as a stuck up daddy's-boy who needs to learn how to drive. Many would be surprised to know learn that Karam was one of the most dominant MRTI drivers in the program's short history. He is also one of three drivers (to my knowledge) to drive in every ladder of the MRTI and to end up in Indycar (Pigot and Brabham). While he has never landed a full-time role in Indycar, Karam will be racing in Indycar for many years.

Sage Karam on his way to a win in St. Petersburg in USF2000 (Photo: JOWT)


Sebastian Saavedra
MRTI Stats
Wins: 4
Podiums: 16
Starts: 38

Indycar Starts: 63

Sebastian Saavedra serves as an example of longevity in Indycar. Sure, he doesn't have a career highlight to stick his hat on, or glittering results in any season of his career, and he's gotten lucky with sponsorship money. But Saavedra keeps finding ways to stay in Indycar. A successful tenure in Indy Lights, followed by a maturation move in 2012 to step back from Indycar to Indy Lights helped him jump back up to Indycar in 2013 and beyond.



Spencer Pigot
MRTI Stats
Wins: 24
Podiums: 41
Starts: 72

Indycar Starts: 0

A true product of the system, Spencer Pigot will make his debut in Indycar in 2016 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Starting in 2011, Spencer spent two years in US F2000, two years in Pro Mazda, and then a year in Indy Lights. Constant success and pace means the 22 year old American will reach the final rung of the MRTI ladder in 2016.



Tristan Vautier
MRTI Stats
Wins: 10
Podiums: 16
Starts: 36

Indycar Starts: 30

A veteran of MRTI since its inception in 2010, Frenchman Tristan Vautier spent three years working his way up to Indycar, collecting two championships along the way. Despite an unsuccessful rookie season in 2013 and no activity in 2014, Vautier made his way back into Indycar in 2015 with Dale Coyne Racing. His highlight was a very impressive race at Detroit #2, racking up a forth place finish. Vautier has still yet to breakthrough in Indycar, but he is and still stands as one of the best MRTI drivers in its short history.



COMBINED STATS
MRTI Stats
Wins: 115
Podiums: 248
Starts: 477

Indycar Starts: 438




Some drivers on this list ran in all three rungs of the MRTI ladder before getting to Indycar, some raced in a couple rungs before getting to Indycar, and some only ran Indy Lights before getting to Indycar. Any way you slice it, the above 14 drivers and their varying successes and experiences in the MRTI shows that this system is one of the best things Indycar has going for it. I would love to see continued support for the program from teams, fans, and drivers wanting to enter it.


Thanks for reading!

-Matthew Hickey

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Driver-Team Update: December 2016

Here is the updated driver-team lineup for the 2016 Verizon Indycar Season. You can check out November's update here and see what has changed:

CONFIRMED ENTRIES (18 - FT)

#2 Juan Pablo Montoya - Team Penske
Juan Pablo Montoya, the two-time Indianapolis 500 entry, overcame speculation that a FIAWEC switch may be in the cards, and will be back with Team Penske for the 2016 season. This will be the third year for Juan driving with the team (Updated: November).


#3 Helio Castroneves - Team Penske
Helio Castroneves will once again be back with the Team Penske outfit for the 2016 year. Castroneves, who has never won a championship in his sixteen years at Penske, will hope year seventeen will be the lucky season (Updated: November).


#5 James Hinchcliffe - Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
After being sidelined by injury for the majority of 2015, James Hinchcliffe will return to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2016. Hinch suffered an injury as a result of his practice crash at Indianapolis. He was replaced by Conor Daly and Ryan Briscoe for the remainder of the year, but Sam Schmidt assured everyone that once Hinch was ready to race, the seat was his. It's also worth noting that Arrow, the primary sponsor of the #5 car, signed a three year extension with the team that will see the electronics company sponsor the car through 2018. This will be Hinch's second year with the team and sixth in Indycar (Updated: November).


#7 Mikhail Aleshin - Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Much like James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin was sidelined for much of the 2015 Indycar season. Aleshin's demise was sponsor related, as sanctions put on by America against Russia meant that Aleshin could not transfer the necessary funding to race in Indycar. As sanctions began to recede, Aleshin got to race in the season finale at Sonoma. This indicated that he would be back in 2016, and sure enough on December 9th, he and the team announced that the Russian would be back for a second full-time season in Indycar (Updated: December).

The Russian Returns (Photo: Indycar Media)

#9 Scott Dixon - Chip Ganassi Racing
Three-time Indycar champion Scott Dixon will return to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2016 with the sponsorship from Target. This will be Dixon's fifteenth year for the team (Updated: November).


#10 Tony Kanaan - Chip Ganassi Racing
Despite speculation that Tony Kanaan's seat was in jeopardy, Kanaan and NTT Data will both be back for the #10 car under Chip Ganassi in 2016. This will be Kanaan's third year with the team (Updated: November).


#11 Sebastien Bourdais - KV Racing Technology
After a successful second season, Sebastien Bourdais and KV Racing Technology will be back together for a third season (Updated: December).


#12 Will Power - Team Penske
Former Indycar champion Will Power will be back with Team Penske, racing for the squad since 2009 (Updated: November).


#14 Takuma Sato - AJ Foyt Enterprises
AJ Foyt Enterprises and team principle Larry Foyt have retained the services of veteran driver Takuma Sato. Sato will return for a forth season with the team, with varied success. Sato has had some ups, including his first career win, and some downs, as he continues to be a backmarker in most races (Updated: December).


#15 Graham Rahal - Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
After a breakout year, Graham Rahal looks poised to build on a solid foundation at his father's team Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. They should be adding a car for several races this year in the hopes of expanding back to two cars in future years. We have seen in the past that two cars hasn't always made for the best formula for Graham. so hopefully the second car does not interfere with Graham's abilities. This will Graham's fourth full-time season with the team (Updated: November).


#18 Conor Daly - Dale Coyne Racing
Finally, Conor Daly has himself a full-time ride in Indycar. After several years of looking for a job and waiting for the right chance, Conor, with the help of Dale Coyne Racing, Jonathan Byrd's Racing, and Honda has found himself in the hunt for the 2016 Indycar Championship and Rookie of the Year. Daly has been involved with Indycar in 2013 and 2015, but made only six starts in three years (Updated: December).


#20 Ed Carpenter - Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing
Ed Carpenter has retained the services of Ed Carpenter at Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing for the ovals in 2016. This is Ed's fifth season driving for Ed (Updated: November).



#22 Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske
Simon Pagenaud had a tough first year at Team Penske. Despite that, Pagenaud did enough to earn a ride back for the 2016 season (Updated: November).


#26 Carlos Munoz - Andretti Autosport
Carlos Munoz has just been confirmed back for another season with Andretti Autosport. This will make for his third full-time season under Michael Andretti. The very talented Colombian won his first race last year in Detroit, and more wins should be on the horizon in 2016 (Updated: November).


#27 Marco Andretti - Andretti Autosport
Like Munoz, Marco Andretti has also been confirmed for another season with Andretti Autosport in 2016. Many think Marco is due for a Rahal-like breakout in 2016, but with only two wins in his ten years with the team, it's hard to determine if a great season is in the cards for Andretti (Updated: November).


#28 Ryan Hunter-Reay - Andretti Autosport
Ryan Hunter-Reay will be back for another year with Andretti Autosport and DHL. RHR joined the team in 2010 and it has blossomed into one of the best driver-team combinations in racing. Despite a sluggish first-half of last year, RHR finished strong (Updated: November).


#41 Jack Hawksworth - AJ Foyt Enterprises
Jack Hawksworth will return for a second full season with AJ Foyt Enterprises and his third Indycar season. The man from England will look to build on a pretty awful first season with the team that is switching bases from Texas to Indianapolis (Updated: December).


#61 Matthew Brabhan - PIRTEK Team Murray
Straight outta nowhere, former Pro Mazda champion Matthew Brabham, who has long been affiliated with Andretti Autosport, signed a deal with first-time team PIRTEK Team Murray to race both races in Indianapolis in May. The team is run jointly by Brett Murray and KV Racing Technology. This will be Matthew's debut in an Indycar, though he has tested in an Indycar several times (Updated: December).

Brabham driving for Andretti Autosport in Pro Mazda in 2013 (Photo: Indycar Media)


#67 Josef Newgarden - Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing
The most sought after free agent of the Indycar offseason stayed put. Josef Newgarden, who broke out in his fourth season capturing two wins and constantly being in contention for a win, decided it was in his best interest to stay with the team that has groomed him. In another contract year, look for Newgarden to prove his worth so he can catapult himself into a top ride at Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing (Updated: November).


#83 Charlie Kimball - Chip Ganassi Racing
Charlie Kimball will be back for a sixth year with Chip Ganassi Racing. In the six years, Kimball has captured one win. Many are trying to determine if Charlie will ever become a serious championship contender. Hard to tell if that will be next year. Also hard to tell if Ganassi will hard ball him into leaving the team (Updated: November).


#88 Bryan Clauson - Jonathan Byrd's Racing
USAC ace and Indy 500 starter Bryan Clauson will return for a second season to race for Jonathan Byrd's Racing in May. Clauson struggled mightily last year, barely making the field and crashing in the race. The team has joined together with Dale Coyne Racing for the foreseeable future. (Updated: December).



#TBA Spencer Pigot - Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Firestone Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot has secured a deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the opening round of the season at St. Petersburg and both races at Indianapolis in May. Pigot has landed himself in a good situation. Hopefully he can be a positive influence to an RLL team that is on the rise (Updated: November).



TEAMS/ENTRIES EXPECTED TO RETURN


Andretti Autosport #25 
The Andretti Autosport entry that looked to be Justin Wilson's for 2016 and beyond is now in question altogether. Simona de Silvestro and Oriol Servia also occupied the #25 seat in 2015. With Matthew Brabham heading in a different direction, it remains to be seen if the funding for this seat will be found, and who will be driving it (Updated: December).

Has Simona's career in Indycar fizzled out again? (Photo: Indycar Media)

Bryan Herta Autosport #98 
Gabby Chaves is expected to return to Bryan Herta Autosport in 2016 after a strong (albeit conservative) rookie campaign. Don't expect an announcement until later in the offseason (Updated: December).


Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing #6 and #20 
Ed Carpenter is confirmed to continue the oval duties, but Luca Filippi has not been confirmed yet. Filippi was well-received by his team in 2015, and there are no indications that he won't be back in 2016. Carpenter did reveal to RACER this month that the #20 car isn't a sure thing on road courses this year, as funding still needs to be found. This isn't to say that it is likely it will be back, but it is not a sure thing. JR Hildebrand also ran in May with the team. Look for Hildebrand to be back for 2016 with the team (Updated: December).


Chip Ganassi Racing #8 
Sage Karam and Chip Ganassi announced in November that the two were parting ways. Despite this, it sounds like some headway is being made to field a fourth entry for 2016. The driver remains unclear. Some names are out there, but the only one currently worth speculating about is Sebastian Saavedra, who drove for Ganassi in 2015 (Updated: December).


Dale Coyne Racing #19 and #63
Who would have thunk that the most hotly contested seats heading into December would be the two Dale Coyne Racing seats? Dale Coyne. who has had a history of selling his cars to the highest bidder, signed Conor Daly to pilot the #18 car. This shocked many, meaning that the second driver in #19 car could be anyone. Tristan Vautier's affiliation with the team continues to be distant. Pippa Mann is "very likely" to make her fourth Indianapolis 500 start with DCR in May (Updated: December).

Daly in the Dale Coyne car in Long Beach (Photo: Indycar Media)

Dreyer and Reinbold Racing #TBA 
Dreyer and Reinbold Racing fielded a one-off entry at Indianapolis with Townsend Bell. Bell, who journys from team-to-team every May at Indianapolis, could return with the team if they choose to race, but nothing has materialized yet. DRR, a former full-time team, scaled back their operations after 2013. There hope is to get back to full-time some day, but it's tough to see if 2016 will be that year (Updated: December).


KV Racing Technology #TBA
KV Racing has to take a serious look at their second car and determine if they want to go through the effort of finding the funding in order to get a driver in that seat. Stefano Coletti drove the #4 KV car last year and was utterly worthless, which probably added zero benefits to their primary #11 car. If they can't get, no car will be fielded. The team has reached out to Sage Karam and would love to see him drive, but it has to make sense for it to happen (Updated: December).



Lazier Partners Racing #91
Lazier Partners Racing and Buddy Lazier failed to qualify for the 2015 Indianapolis 500, bringing into question whether the team would be back in 2016. Despite this, Buddy assured people that they would be attempting to qualify again next year. At this point, the biggest question isn't if they'll be there. The biggest question is who will be driving. Though, to Buddy's defense, a short engine lease program does not help the team's chances of making the field every year (Updated: November).


Schmidt Peterson Motorsports #TBA
Now that SPM has their two full-time cars sorted out, it remains to be seen if a third car will be fielded at Indianapolis. They will also need a new driver, since their third driver last year, Conor Daly, is slated for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 (Updated: December).



POSSIBLE NEW TEAMS FOR 2016 AND BEYOND


Carlin Racing 
The giant of feeder series team, Carlin Racing, expanded to America in 2015 in the form of two entries in Firestone Indy Lights. The team has their eyes set on Indycar, but it does not look like the team is ready to make that jump for 2016 (Updated: November).

Max Chilton, pictured here, drove for the newly created Carlin Indy Lights team. Chilton
continues to look around for a possible Indycar ride in 2016 (Photo: Autosport)

Grace Autosport 
The all-female led Grace Autosport had their eyes squarely on fielding an entry for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 with Katherine Legge. The team has some things to work out, like partnering with a team for the month, but of the five teams listed here, this is one that I'm most confident we will see this year (Updated: November).


Juncos Racing
Juncos Racing, a long-time Mazda Road to Indy feeder team, is building a new shop and has their eyes on Indycar for the future. This likely won't happen next year, but a potential one-off in 2016 has not been ruled out (Updated: November).


Marotti Racing 
Straight out of left field, Marotti Racing announced they are planning to field a team for the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Will Marotti says he's been wanting to field a team for the Indianapolis 500 all of his life, and the timing is right. He's looking to partner with an existing entrant in order to get a leg up. Right now, he says he's 80% there. As far as a driver for the team goes, it's too early to tell (Updated: November).


Racing Engineering 
The GP2 standout team Racing Engineering has declared that they want to expand their operations to America with an eye on Indycar. Though the team concedes that 2016 isn't likely at all, but keep an eye on this team for the future (Updated: November).



DRIVERS TO WATCH DURING SILLY SEASON

Here's drivers who haven't been signed yet (officially) that we should keep an eye on for the rest of Silly Season:

  • Alex Tagliani
  • Alexander Rossi
  • Buddy Lazier
  • Gabby Chaves
  • Francesco Dracone
  • Jack Harvey
  • James Davison
  • James Jakes
  • JR Hildebrand
  • Katherine Legge
  • Kevin Magnussen
  • Luca Filippi
  • Nelson Piquet Jr.
  • Oriol Servia
  • Pippa Mann
  • Rocky Moran Jr.
  • Rodolfo Gonzalez
  • Ryan Briscoe
  • Ryan Phinny
  • Sage Karam
  • Sebastian Saavedra
  • Simona de Silvestro
  • Stefan Wilson
  • Townsend Bell
  • Tristan Vautier

PROJECTED FULL-TIME ENTRIES: 20-23

PROJECTED PART-TIME ENTRIES: 34-36


Thanks for reading!

-Matthew Hickey

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Driver-Team Update: November 2015

Here is the updated driver-team lineup for the 2016 Verizon Indycar Season:

CONFIRMED ENTRIES (14 - FT)

#2 Juan Pablo Montoya - Team Penske
Juan Pablo Montoya, the two-time Indianapolis 500 entry, overcame speculation that a FIAWEC switch may be in the cards, and will be back with Team Penske for the 2016 season. This will be the third year for Juan driving with the team.


#3 Helio Castroneves - Team Penske
Helio Castroneves will once again be back with the Team Penske outfit for the 2016 year. Castroneves, who has never won a championship in his sixteen years at Penske, will hope year seventeen will be the lucky season.


#5 James Hinchcliffe - Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
After being sidelined by injury for the majority of 2015, James Hinchcliffe will return to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2016. Hinch suffered an injury as a result of his practice crash at Indianapolis. He was replaced by Conor Daly and Ryan Briscoe for the remainder of the year, but Sam Schmidt assured everyone that once Hinch was ready to race, the seat was his. It's also worth noting that Arrow, the primary sponsor of the #5 car, signed a three year extension with the team that will see the electronics company sponsor the car through 2018. This will be Hinch's second year with the team and sixth in Indycar.

Hinch will be back in Indycar in 2016 (Photo: Chris Owens / Indycar Media)


#9 Scott Dixon - Chip Ganassi Racing
Three-time Indycar champion Scott Dixon will return to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2016 with the sponsorship from Target. This will be Dixon's fifteenth year for the team.


#10 Tony Kanaan - Chip Ganassi Racing
Despite speculation that Tony Kanaan's seat was in jeopardy, Kanaan and NTT Data will both be back for the #10 car under Chip Ganassi in 2016. This will be Kanaan's third year with the team.


#12 Will Power - Team Penske
Former Indycar champion Will Power will be back with Team Penske, racing for the squad since 2009.


#15 Graham Rahal - Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
After a breakout year, Graham Rahal looks poised to build on a solid foundation at his father's team Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. They should be adding a car for several races this year in the hopes of expanding back to two cars in future years. We have seen in the past that two cars hasn't always made for the best formula for Graham. so hopefully the second car does not interfere with Graham's abilities. This will Graham's fourth full-time season with the team.


#20 Ed Carpenter - Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing
Ed Carpenter has retained the services of Ed Carpenter at Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing for the ovals in 2016. This is Ed's fifth season driving for Ed.


#22 Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske
Simon Pagenaud had a tough first year at Team Penske. Despite that, Pagenaud did enough to earn a ride back for the 2016 season.


#26 Carlos Munoz - Andretti Autosport
Carlos Munoz has just been confirmed back for another season with Andretti Autosport. This will make for his third full-time season under Michael Andretti. The very talented Colombian won his first race last year in Detroit, and more wins should be on the horizon in 2016.


#27 Marco Andretti - Andretti Autosport
Like Munoz, Marco Andretti has also been confirmed for another season with Andretti Autosport in 2016. Many think Marco is due for a Rahal-like breakout in 2016, but with only two wins in his ten years with the team, it's hard to determine if a great season is in the cards for Andretti.

Andretti in for a breakout year in 2016? (Photo: John Cote / Indycar Media)


#28 Ryan Hunter-Reay - Andretti Autosport
Ryan Hunter-Reay will be back for another year with Andretti Autosport and DHL. RHR joined the team in 2010 and it has blossomed into one of the best driver-team combinations in racing. Despite a sluggish first-half of last year, RHR finished strong.


#67 Josef Newgarden - Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing
The most sought after free agent of the Indycar offseason stayed put. Josef Newgarden, who broke out in his fourth season capturing two wins and constantly being in contention for a win, decided it was in his best interest to stay with the team that has groomed him. In another contract year, look for Newgarden to prove his worth so he can catapult himself into a top ride at Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing.


#83 Charlie Kimball - Chip Ganassi Racing
Charlie Kimball will be back for a sixth year with Chip Ganassi Racing. In the six years, Kimball has captured one win. Many are trying to determine if Charlie will ever become a serious championship contender. Hard to tell if that will be next year. Also hard to tell if Ganassi will hard ball him into leaving the team.


#88 Bryan Clauson - Jonathan Byrd's Racing
USAC ace and Indy 500 starter Bryan Clauson will return for a second season to race for Jonathan Byrd's Racing in May. Clauson struggled mightily last year, barely making the field and crashing in the race.


#TBA Spencer Pigot - Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Firestone Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot has secured a deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the opening round of the season at St. Petersburg and both races at Indianapolis in May. Pigot has landed himself in a good situation. Hopefully he can be a positive influence to an RLL team that is on the rise.



TEAMS/ENTRIES EXPECTED TO RETURN

AJ Foyt Enterprises #14 and #41 
Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth are expected to return back with AJ Foyt Enterprises, but no official announcement has been made. Also, Alex Tagliani made a one-off with the team in Indianapolis, so the team could field three entries for Indianapolis.


Andretti Autosport #25 
The Andretti Autosport entry that looked to be Justin Wilson's for 2016 and beyond is now in question altogether. Simona de Silvestro and Oriol Servia also occupied the #25 seat in 2015. A name that has been mentioned with the seat is former Pro Mazda champion in Matthew Brabham. Brabham tested for the team a couple times last year and has a history with the Andretti team, so if the money came together, he would be a good fit for the team. Overall, this entry will likely be one-offs.


Bryan Herta Autosport #98 
Gabby Chaves is fully expected to return to Bryan Herta Autosport in 2016 after a strong (albeit conservative) rookie campaign.

Gabby Chaves had a memorable year, including the hero that he didn't deserve
but the one he needed at NOLA (Photo credit not given)


Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing #6 and #20 
Ed Carpenter is confirmed to continue the oval duties, but Luca Filippi has not been confirmed yet. Filippi was well-received by his team in 2015, and there are no indications that he won't be back in 2016. JR Hildebrand also ran in May with the team. Look for Hildebrand to be back for 2016 with the team.


Chip Ganassi Racing #8 
Sage Karam had some standout performances in his rookie season with Chip Ganassi Racing. Despite this, Ganassi and Karam just announced that they have parted ways. It's an unfortunate ending to a lineup that could have produced great things if both sides could have clicked. This entry doesn't look like it will be full-time next season, but we may see a one-off or two from some drivers. Sebastian Saavedra drove a couple races for the team last year with AFS Racing backing.


Dale Coyne Racing #18 and #19 
Tristan Vautier, who came in at Indianapolis for Dale Coyne Racing and for the remainder of the season and had some solid performances, was chosen by the team to test at Road America. All indications are that Vautier will have some roll with the team next year, either full-time or a limited schedule. Other drivers like Rodolfo Gonzalez, Pippa Mann, and Rocky Moran Jr. will likely factor into DCR lineup at some point in 2016. But per DCR protocol, we won't know until late February.

Carlos Huertas behind the wheel of a Dale Coyne machine. Huertas has likely seen his last
days in Indycar (Photo: Mike Young / Indycar Media)


Dreyer and Reinbold Racing #TBA 
Dreyer and Reinbold Racing fielded a one-off entry at Indianapolis with Townsend Bell. Bell, who journys from team-to-team every May at Indianapolis, could return with the team if they choose to race, but nothing has materialized yet. DRR, a former full-time team, scaled back their operations after 2013. There hope is to get back to full-time some day, but it's tough to see if 2016 will be that year.


KV Racing Technology #11 and #TBA 
KV Racing is definitely looking forward to retaining the services of Indycar veteran and championship contender Sebastien Bourdais, who had a fantastic 2015 season. However, their second entry driven by rookie Stefano Coletti was a complete and utter bust. The entry did not qualify for the Leader's Circle money (which helps teams field an entry for the whole season), so the second entry, if there is one, will in all likelihood need financial backing from a new sponsor or from a driver's purse.


Lazier Partners Racing #91
Lazier Partners Racing and Buddy Lazier failed to qualify for the 2015 Indianapolis 500, bringing into question whether the team would be back in 2016. Despite this, Buddy assured people that they would be attempting to qualify again next year. At this point, the biggest question isn't if they'll be there. The biggest question is who will be driving. Though, to Buddy's defense, a short engine lease program does not help the team's chances of making the field every year.


Schmidt Peterson Motorsports #TBA and #TBA
SPM got to rotate in several drivers last year, and that gives them options moving forward. James Jakes, Mikhail Aleshin, Ryan Briscoe, and Conor Daly. Mikhail Aleshin seems the obvious choice given his talent and financial backing from SMP Bank. If the Russian bank can continue to fund Aleshin, the seat could be taken. The team will also likely field a third entry for Indianapolis again. Last year it was Daly, who knows who it will be next year.


Daly drove the third entry for Schmidt in 2015 at Indianapolis (Photo: Walter Kuhn / Indycar Media)


POSSIBLE NEW TEAMS FOR 2016 AND BEYOND

Carlin Racing 
The giant of feeder series team, Carlin Racing, expanded to America in 2015 in the form of two entries in Firestone Indy Lights. The team has their eyes set on Indycar, but it does not look like the team is ready to make that jump for 2016.


Grace Autosport 
The all-female led Grace Autosport had their eyes squarely on fielding an entry for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 with Katherine Legge. The team has some things to work out, like partnering with a team for the month, but of the five teams listed here, this is one that I'm most confident we will see this year.


Juncos Racing
Juncos Racing, a long-time Mazda Road to Indy feeder team, is building a new shop and has their eyes on Indycar for the future. This likely won't happen next year, but a potential one-off in 2016 has not been ruled out.

Juncos has had a strong presence in MRTI for years now. Pictured
here is Connor De Phillippi (Photo: Indycar Media)


Marotti Racing 
Straight out of left field, Marotti Racing announced they are planning to field a team for the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Will Marotti says he's been wanting to field a team for the Indianapolis 500 all of his life, and the timing is right. He's looking to partner with an existing entrant in order to get a leg up. Right now, he says he's 80% there. As far as a driver for the team goes, it's too early to tell.


Racing Engineering 
The GP2 standout team Racing Engineering has declared that they want to expand their operations to America with an eye on Indycar. Though the team concedes that 2016 isn't likely at all, but keep an eye on this team for the future.



DRIVERS TO WATCH DURING SILLY SEASON

Here's drivers who haven't been signed yet (officially) that we should keep an eye on for the rest of Silly Season:

  • Alex Tagliani
  • Alexander Rossi
  • Buddy Lazier
  • Conor Daly
  • Gabby Chaves
  • Jack Harvey
  • Jack Hawksworth
  • James Davison
  • James Jakes
  • JR Hildebrand
  • Katherine Legge
  • Kevin Magnussen
  • Luca Filippi
  • Matthew Brabham
  • Mikhail Aleshin
  • Nelson Piquet Jr.
  • Oriol Servia
  • Pippa Mann
  • Rocky Moran Jr.
  • Rodolfo Gonzalez
  • Ryan Briscoe
  • Ryan Phinny
  • Sage Karam
  • Sebastian Saavedra
  • Sebastien Bourdais
  • Simona de Silvestro
  • Stefan Wilson
  • Townsend Bell
  • Tristan Vautier

PROJECTED FULL-TIME ENTRIES: 21-22

PROJECTED PART-TIME ENTRIES: 33-34


Thanks for reading!

-Matthew Hickey

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Top 10 Things We Will Remember From 2015

2015, like most years, was an eventful year for the Verizon Indycar Season. There were lots of ups and downs, gaffs and triumphs, winners and losers (and cone of shame winners). Here are the Top 10 things that I think we will be remembering most from the 2015 Indycar Season:

10. Josef Newgarden's first win / Barber
Josef Newgarden's first win was an absolute treat to anyone who watched it. The young American who has been battling with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for years to be relevant had a breakthrough race, sticking it to the big dogs of Indycar on his way to his first career win. It was an easy win to celebrate for fans across Indycar, as Josef is one of the most likable guys in Indycar. But again, the whole Barber race was an absolute fire cracker of a race. A track that has hosted some snoozers in the past sure put on one hell of a show in 2015.


9. NOLA
NOLA is on this list for all of the wrong reasons. It probably goes down in my books as one of the worst races in the history of Indycar (or even racing). The start of the race was calm on the soaked track in Louisiana. The calmness was followed by caution after caution, making for a terribly boring and uneventful race. The checkers were thrown after it became a timed race, and James Hinchcliffe was declared the winner. Icing on the cake? NOLA turned out to be screwed from the get go, as corruption and financial issues wound up booting NOLA off the schedule for next year. What a joke.

Kanaan gets stuck in the race. I was too lazy to make a metaphor about this spin at NOLA in comparison
 to NOLA no longer being on the schedule for 2016 (Photo: Indycar Media)

8. Graham Rahal makes an epic run
Many will look back at 2015 and smile at the fantastic run Graham Rahal made. He came very close to winning the championship despite many critics who said he wouldn't have a chance. With two terrible years behind him, he and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing completed their complete 180 of a season by finishing fourth in the championship with two wins. I really do hope this is a sign of things to come because Graham can be a fan-favorite if he is known more as a champion rather than Bobby's son.


7. Penske throws away title hopes
In heroic fashion, Team Penske came into the final race with three legitimate chances (Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power, and Helio Castroneves) to win the championship, and all three left with nothing. Power was even generous enough to take out his teammate Montoya, who had the best chance of all of them, along the way. Helio was a non-factor from the start of the race, which lines up perfectly with his championship clinching performances in years past. The fact that neither of them were fast enough to stop Scott Dixon and the well oiled machine over there at Chip Ganassi Racing was frankly embarrassing for Roger Penske. Look for the captain's revenge in 2016.


6. Sage Karam vs. Ed Carpenter
In one corner, you have the willy, seasoned, stubborn, 'I'm never wrong,' team-owner/driver Ed Carpenter. In the other corner, you have rookie, young gun, fast, and correagoues rookie Sage Karam. Karam, who was becoming known more for his off the track antics than on track maneuvers (deleting tweets, referring to Takuma Sato's crash at Indy as 'Japanese takeout,' posing without shirts on Instagram, etc.) needed a result to point at as a highlight of his season. This would eventually come at the expsense of Ed, who was being raced hard, and dirty in his mind, in the late stages at the race in Iowa. Karam came home with a podium, while Ed was left angry. The two exchanged words after the race, and they continue to poke fun at each other to this day.



          


5. Indianapolis 500
Per usual, the Indianapolis 500 was a phenomenal race that many people will look back on as being epic. Great action, drama, and a fantastic finish all made the event great. In the end, Juan Pablo Montoya carved through the field after facing early issues to hold off Will Power for the win. It was an epic dual between two amazing drivers. Both were aggressive, yet knew when to back off. Just add it to the list of great Indianapolis 500s, especially in recent memory.


4. Goodbye Fontana
This one hurts. The 2015 MAVTV 500 may be the most exhilarating race I have ever seen. Many drivers and fans clamored over the returning of pack racing on a fast track. However unintentional it was, Indycar produced a product that got everyone talking about this race. There were media posts about the race weeks after it concluded. Constant two, three, even four-wide racing was seen throughout the race. While the pack would eventually sprawl out through long green-flag runs, many still considered the race unskillful and unnecessary. I think it is one of the best races of all-time. Graham Rahal won, and it will also be remembered for the huge crash we sat at the end between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe. I will miss this type of racing so much, as we probably won't see a race like it for another five years.

Photo: Indycar Media

3. Aerokits
The aerokits that Randy Bernard had envisioned for the DW12 ever since it was selected way-back-when was FINALLY put to use in 2015 to the joy and dismay of many. The pros of the aerokits were they: gave the cars more grip thus making them faster, they gave a chance for Chevrolet and Honda to flex their creative muscles, and it attracted attention from leading engineers and aerodynamicists (and fans who liked innovation) to Indycar. The cons of the aerokits: they cost too much, they can create huge performance gaps between Honda and Chevy, the winglets were too fragile, and they made the cars seem bulky and uneasy on the eyes (if you know what I mean), While I myself am not offering a stance on aerokits here, I am noting that 2015 will be remembered as the year aerokits were introduced to Indycar.


2. Carnage leading up to the Indianapolis 500
The buildup to the 2015 Indianapolis 500 was marred by a series of frightening and nearly fatal accidents. Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, and Ed Carpenter all flipped their cars during practice and qualifying week. All three walked away unhurt. Pippa Mann had a nasty run in with the pit divider wall. While at first it seemed like all she suffered was a limp. it later became apparent that her leg injury was a fracture. She was able to race on. James Hinchcliffe suffered a fluke mechanical failure that saw him crush the wall, causing a piece of suspension to pierce his leg. Hinch almost bled out in the car but was saved by the safety workers. He would not race for the rest of the season. All-in-all, it was a terrible week for Indycar, one that the national media skewered the series for.


1. The loss of Justin Wilson
The death of a driver, as tragic as it is, seems to overshadow the events of a season. Justin Wilson, a veteran to Indycar and one of the most liked guys in the paddock, died in the second-to-last race at Pocono after his head was struck by debris from a crash. His death put a bitter taste if the mouths of everyone as the season concluded. Wilson's death came at the end of the season and began to be overshadow the season, just like Greg Moore's death in 1999 and Dan Wheldon's death in 2011. It leaves a black cloud over the season just like those other two examples because like Greg and Dan, Justin was an amazing driver and an amazing person. It's hard to imagine Indycar without certain people racing in it. As tragic as Justin's death is, Indycar must do their best to learn from the accident and move forward. Sadly, the 2015 Indycar Season will likely be remembered as Justin's final season as a driver, one that many will look back on with sadness.


Photo: Indycar Media