It’s seems like forever since the last race of the 2014 IndyCar Series season but it’s only been about two months. With four months still to go before the start of the 2015 season, the picture is starting to clear but there are still plenty of pieces needing to fall during this edition of silly season. However, two of the biggest pieces are in place for 2015 onward.
Let’s start with the new homes of the two biggest pieces in the 2014 silly season.
The first domino to fall was Simon Pagenaud. What was expected to be a choice between his then-current team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Andretti Autosport turned out to have an unexpected player jump in late to snag the talented Frenchman.
Pagenaud will spend 2015 and a few season afterwards driving for Roger Penske in the Team Penske #22. The Captain was so keen on getting Pagenaud into the fold that he’s adding a fourth car to the stable before officially announcing sponsorship for Pagenaud’s car.
That means that last year’s championship team has three championship drivers (#1 Power, #2 Montoya and #3 Castroneves) and another one who very well could win a title given a little help on ovals and the best equipment on the grid (#22 Pagenaud). I don’t want to say that Roger could have four of the top five spots in the championship next year but I wouldn’t be shocked it that happened either.
Elsewhere, it was between SPM and AA for James Hinchcliffe’s services. Unlike with Pagenaud, one of the expected frontrunners did sign the Mayor of Hinchtown.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports signed Hinchcliffe to replace Pagenaud as the pilot of the #77 SPM Honda. While Chip Ganassi Racing has an opening in the #8 car formerly driven by Ryan Briscoe and Chip was looking to sign Hinch last year, it’s believed Honda Canada stepped in to make sure that Hinch doesn’t leave the Honda stable of drivers. From there, it was likely that the secured funding of the #77 was the deciding factor in Hinch’s choice.
So what is still open for drivers to take next season?
Well, I just mentioned the Ganassi #8 and the Andretti #27 as being open. Andretti will be testing Formula E and GP2 driver Daniel Abt and Pro Mazda driver Dalton Kellett this week in Indy. Andretti was also rumoured to be considering Sam Bird, a Formula E and former Mercedes F1 test driver. He also has ex-F1 driver Franck Montagny and Charles Pic in his Formula E stable and Matthew Brabham in Indy Lights should he need to dip into that well to fill the #27.
Bryan Herta Autosport is without a driver for 2015 at the moment. Jack Hawksworth has departed the team and is expected to be one of two drivers in a two-car AJ Foyt Racing team. For his part, Herta plans on having the #98 racing full-time next year along with a second car for the 500.
Dale Coyne Racing hasn’t announced either driver for next season. AFS hasn’t announced who it will be partnering with next season. Rahal Letterman Lannigan is likely still looking for someone to drive and fund their second car which will be harder without the National Guard sponsorship. And CFH (Carpenter Fisher Hartman) Racing is reported to be looking at fielding a third car with rumours of JR Hildebrand getting a full-time ride with Ed Carpenter either running ovals in a third car or ride-splitting with an unsigned road course ace.
By the way, you might have noticed that I’m calling it Schmidt Peterson Motorsports instead of Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. That’s because Davey Hamilton is going off on his own.
Hamilton has left the team after partnering with Sam Schmidt for three years. When he joined the team, he brought along a full-season sponsorship from HP but that dried up after last season. Now, he’s going off on his own and looking for a new partner to field a team.
The reasoning behind this is that Hamilton is believed to have some sponsorship lined up for a new full-time program. It doesn’t look like SPM has the capacity for new sponsors or cars with Oculus (whose CEO is the Peterson of SPM) sponsoring Hinchcliffe’s #77 (among other backers) and Mikhail Aleshin having his own backing in the #7.
Rumour has it that Hamilton has another tech company ready to back his new effort. A report out of Sonoma indicated that there was a Dell sponsored showcar in his hospitality suite so Dell is the hot rumour right now. Regardless of who it is, it’s great news for the series to get a new car and sponsor onboard. Hopefully this continues and more new cars and sponsors come into the sport in the near future.
Last season, it sure looked like Indy Light was on death’s door. The series had only ten entries that ran the whole season which made for some pretty poor looking races.
For the upcoming 2015 Indy Lights season, the introduction of the new IL-15 Dallara chassis has reinvigorated life in the series. There are ten teams who have registered for next season. This has series promoter Dan Anderson projecting between 15 and 20 cars running next season.
It doesn’t sound like a whole heck of a lot but feeder series aren’t always the easiest to fill the field, fill the stands and find sponsorship for. Ask NASCAR who trimmed their Nationwide Series to a 40-car field and still aren’t always filling it up. The 36-car Camping World Truck Series has the same issue too. Regardless of the final field size, Lights having more than 10 cars is a big plus for the series going forward. IndyCar can’t keep using the F1 ladder series as its feeder program forever, after all.
There are a few funny things about that little note on his website. First, the race hasn’t officially been announced though it has been rumoured for a couple of years now. Second, the race is dates for February 22 which is also the same day as the Daytona 500. That’s counteracted by fun little fact number three: The race is scheduled to start at 2:00 AM EST. Well, that’s one way to avoid competing with NASCAR. It’s just too bad that no one in America will be watching.