Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Five Predictions for 2015

The 2015 Indycar Season is upon us! I dig down into my inner crystal ball and attempt to make five predictions for the upcoming season! Let me hear what your thoughts are on what I have to say:

1) Will Power will not win the championship
Will Power, whom as many of you are aware I'm not a big fan, had a great 2014 season. He finished all but one lap on the season, an impressive feat. He also beat his teammate Helio Castroneves by 62 points in the championship, which was incredible. I was really happy to see the passion that he exuded when he won the championship and some of my ill feelings have receded, but I think 2015 will be a much different story for Power on the track. History tells us that dominant champions can and usually do have a rough next season. Three examples I will use to prove my points are Nigel Mansell (champion in '93, struggled in '94), Juan Pablo Montoya (champion in '99, struggled in '00), and Scott Dixon (champion in '03, struggled in '04):

Driver
Year
Points
Pos.
Wins
Poles
Avg. St
Avg. Fin
Change
Led
Nigel Mansell
1993
191
1st
5
7
2.9
6.3
-51
603
Nigel Mansell
1994
87
8th
0
3
3.3
12.3
-144
103
Juan Montoya
1999
212
1st
7
7
5.0
8.0
-61
954
Juan Montoya
2000
126
9th
3
7
4.1
12.7
-172
820
Scott Dixon
2003
507
1st
3
5
3.2
7.1
-62
748
Scott Dixon
2004
355
10th
0
0
9.9
10.4
-9
3

As you can see, the dominant championship years that these three legends had were swiftly followed by years of complete mediocrity. Will Will Power fall into the same trap that has claimed so many past champions? I predict he will.


2) Curtains on Castroneves
Like Power, it's no secret that I'm not the biggest fan of Helio Castroneves, but I can unbiasedly state that I think retirement is in Helio's future. 2015 will be Helio's 15th season with Team Penske and 17th in Indycar. He's had a very good career, winning three Indianapolis 500 and racking up on a truck load of wins. But without a championship title, I have a very tough time putting him in the same category as the active greats like Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Tony Kanaan. Not only that, but he has very nearly twice as many career poles (38) than career wins (23), something that I find statistically unsettling. What I take away from that is he qualifies better than re races.

But enough about me trying to convince you about my feelings on Helio; I think he'll either retire or leave Team Penske after 2015 because a) his age b) his lack of championships and C) Team Penske's expansion. Helio will have a tough time competing against his powerhouse teammates: Will Power is coming off a championship title, Juan Pablo Montoya was a boss in the second half of 2015, and I see no reason why he would be slow in 2015, and newly minted teammate Simon Pagenaud will look to shine for his new boss. I just don't see Helio out-competing all four of his teammates. And I also don't see the four car dynamic continuing for many years, so which driver gets left out will be interesting to see. I'm sure another consistent year is on-deck for Helio, but I don't see him winning the championship or returning to Penske in 2016.


3) Carlos Munoz will not have a sophomore slump
One guy who really impressed me in 2014 was Carlos Munoz. He didn't have too many flashy performances, and he had some moments to forget, but from what I saw, I see Munoz as someone who could challenge for a championship in the next five-ten years. He outpaced two of his veteran teammates in Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe, and once again put on a great show at Indianapolis. The biggest problem facing Munoz is out of his control, which is money and sponsorship. If Michael Andretti can keep his seat funded and Munoz in the car, I see no reason why Munoz couldn't win a championship or two and a couple Indy 500s in the next couple decades. He's quick on ovals and road courses, consistent, and can keep his nose clean. Those are qualities you don't find for many 23 year old drivers.

Carlos Munoz - Iowa Corn Indy 300: Day 1
Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America

4) Graham Rahal will continue to struggle
Graham Rahal has been having a rough go at things every since joining his dad at Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing. After coming off two solid years at Chip Ganassi Racing, Graham left to take the place of Takuma Sato at RLL in 2013. Since that move, Graham's reputation has tanked, RLL has struggled in just about every area, management continually hires and fires big named employees, and the team has gained an uncanny sense of optimism. If you've been following Graham on Twitter during the last two seasons, you notice that he always tweets about having good chances to win, when in reality we all know his chances are usually not too good. Now, I know that pessimism doesn't get you very far, but the team needs humble themselves and realize that their shit doesn't smell like peaches. Before I get to an example of this, I'll say that anything over a 16th place finish in the championship would be a virtual win for the team and Graham, but I'm not holding my breath. Here's the example of empty optimism right before the season finale at Fontana last year (sort of like a before the weekend and after the weekend display):



5) Battles everywhere
There are so many intriguing battles that will be taking place throughout the Indycar paddock:

Honda vs Chevrolet
Let the aero kit era of Indycar begin! After years of politics and deliberation, aero kits will finally be introduced to the Indycars in 2015. Each engine manufacturer has spent considerable time developing kits to give their cars a competitive advantage over each other. Who will prove to best on the ovals, road courses, or both? Honda is led by Andretti Autosport and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, and Chevy is led by Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. I predict Chevrolet comes out on top.

ROY
We are going to be graced with another great rookie class for 2015. 2014 saw a great battle between Carlos Munoz, Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin, and Carlos Huertas. This year, we got Gabby Chaves, Stefano Coletti, Sage Karam (hopefully), and Luca Filippi (sort of). Karam is only signed on for St. Petersburg as of now, but that can and most likely will change as the season continues. Filippi takes over the Mike Conway role at Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing as the road course specialist. If Karam gets a full-time gig, I fully expect him to come out on top. If not, then I give the bid to Coletti,

Penske vs Ganassi
Will Power + Juan Pablo Montoya + Helio Castroneves + Simon Pagenaud vs. Scott Dixon + Tony Kanaan + Sage Karam (hopefully) + Charlie Kimball. Need I say more? This should be epic.

Championship
To go along with Team Penske and Chip Ganassi, I expect a great fight for the title. Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, Carlos Munoz, and Marco Andretti look to go for a championship hunt. Darkhorses like Josef Newgarden, Stefano Coletti, James Jakes, and Jack Hawksworth look to ingratiate their names into the hunt. My predicted top five in order?

1) Simon Pagenaud
2) Ryan Hunter-Reay
3) Scott Dixon
4) Juan Pablo Montoya
5) Will Power

Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay - Grand Prix of Indianapolis
I got Pagenaud over RHR (Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images North America)

Another prediction I am willing to make is that I think we are in for one hell of a 2015 season! Let me know if you have any predictions that you'd like to share!

-Matthew Hickey

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