Simon Pagenaud was the biggest fish in the free agent market, and Roger Penske went out and caught him. The 30 year old Frenchman, who I think has 5-10 solid years left in him, will look to capitalize on this great opportunity for the defending Indycar champions. Not only does he have to fend off a whole host of competition, but the competition within the team, especially against rival Will Power, will make for some great entertainment.
Who? Well, let me play the role of the average Indycar fan: "OH MY GOD LOOK IT'S ANOTHER NO NAME RIDE BUYING F1 DROPOUT." Easy folks, don't sleep on Stefano Coletti. The 25 year old driver from Monaco replaces Sebastian Saavedra at KV Racing. The only difference between him and Saavedra is that you should expect Coletti to actually be relevant. We saw a glimpse of this at the official Barber test, as following the combined results, Coletti finished P3, only trailing series veterans Will Power and Scott Dixon. Watch out for this rookie, especially on road courses.
Luca Filippi returns to Indycar, and this time, it is for an elongated stretch of races rather than 2-4 races like we've seen in the past. In the past, we've seen Filppi race for Bryan Herta Autosport for a few races and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for some doubleheaders. In the DW12 era, there are few teams that have been worse than BHA and RLL. Now Filippi goes to an established team that has won in the last couple years. Can he deliver the goods in the pivotal Ed Carpenter role as the road course ace.
Linked with Luca Filppi is Josef Newgarden. See, Josef has this weird thing called a "teammate", and this "teammate" will help Josef setup his cars and hopefully increase his chances of winning. His "teammate" is the byproduct of his team owner Sarah Fisher merging with his new co-boss Ed Carpenter. Josef joins forces with a winning team. Can he and his "teammate" make this team into a giant slayer?
Justin Wilson, well, got screwed. Sure he might end up getting a deal together with Andretti Autosport for a select few races, but that's not good enough from a driver that belongs in the series full-time. It's really sad that a guy like Francesco Dracone can get a ride but Justin can't. We all know that racing has a flaw when it comes to money, but damn it sucks.
The most troubling loss from the 2014 full-time field was Mikhail Aleshin. Mikhail, a driver who was instantly deemed a ride buyer not worthy of Indycar, absolutely shined in his rookie season. Unfortunately, Mikhail had a terrible accident in the finale at Fontana. Thankfully, he was okay. But that would be Mikhail's last time in an Indycar, as American sanctions on Russia meant that Aleshin's primary sponsor, SMP Bank, could no longer fund Aleshin in America. A damn shame that Aleshin became a casualty of a political feud because he had the potential to be great.
Yes, I like Conor Daly. He and I converse with each other every now and then, so I have a bias towards him and his career. But I think we can all agree that Conor should be on the Indycar grid this year. Conor was in the running for many seats. Early on, he seemed like a great canidate to take the #14 AJ Foyt Enterprises car, but Foyt retained Takuma Sato. Next on the list was the road course ride that was coupled with Ed Carpenter's oval ride, but that was given to Luca Filppi. His last chance was Aleshin's old seat at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, but this fell through at the last moment to James Jakes. Now, once again, Daly is left without a ride. Hoopefully he gets a shot at the Indy 500 because he is one damn talented driver.
The jury is no longer out on the new brainchild of Mark Miles: the schedule. If the schedule for 2016 calls for another horrendously long offseason, you can bet that Indycar fans might want a new man for the job. I get what he is trying to do, but the last two seasons have been a build up to greater things. It was supposed to happen in 2015. If it doesn't happen in 2016, then I will lose all faith in Miles and the Indycar regime. For now, Miles is in the clear. But if we see the same schedule from 2015 in 2016, then I might give up.
Cone of Shame
Brazil made our long offseason even longer. Political issues saw the reconstruction of the track end, with funding being pulled by the Brazilian government. I'm not disagreeing with them cutting the funding, as funding for the well-being of their citizens comes first, but the fact that the budget wasn't more in order is disappointing. It's also disappointing that Indycar had an earlier date scheduled than last year, a lot of tickets sold, and a title sponsor for the race. Not only did the race cancellation hurt fans in Brazil and across the world, but Indycar's reputation took another hit. These setbacks can't keep happening if the series wants to pounce on an unraveling Formula 1 and an underwhelming NASCAR. Overall, this was the worst thing to happen in the offseason.
As always, let me know what you think!