IndyCar is back this weekend after a seemingly endless Winter break which started all the way back in August with the 2015 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. For those familiar with IndyCar, the series will look significantly different this year with the introduction of aero kits. For those not-so-familiar with the series, 24 drivers will line up on the grid (that’s nine more than F1 managed at their season-opener!) for what promises to be a really exciting race on the streets of St. Petersburg. Three former winners will take part in the event, but no driver has won the event two years in a row for almost a decade. This event will well and truly be wide open, as we expect the lap record to be obliterated, but at this stage of the game, I would expect one of the four Penske drivers to draw first blood in the 2015 campaign.
The circuit itself is a pretty neat one. The lap begins on a runway, before a heavy braking zone into Turn 1. A fast sequence of corners follow before the circuit suddenly becomes a full-on street circuit. The cars will go through Beach St., Central Avenue and Bay Shore Drive before heading onto Dan Wheldon Way, named after the great 2005 champion who lost his life in 2011. After this, the circuit returns to the airport where the final tricky hairpin is preceded by a tricky fast chicane.
Simon Pagenaud takes us through the circuit via the awesome helmet camera:[YouTube link]
The obvious name to be looking out for here is Will Power. Power is the reigning champion and has finished each of the last six races in the top ten. What use this will be however is somewhat questionable as we have cars which will behave very differently here. Power is traditionally phenomenal on street courses and he did win here last year. He is a clear choice for the betting kind.
Despite his form, Power is not the man who really shone in the second half of last season, as Scott Dixon is. Dixon was simply incredible at times last season, especially coming from 22nd and last on the grid to win at Mid Ohio. He has finished each of the last eight races in the top seven, staggering form in this series. With five top threes in the last seven races, team mate Tony Kanaan is certainly one to watch too. If Ganassi can hit the ground running here, it will make up for the disappointment of 2014.
Former ‘GP St. Pete’ winner James Hinchcliffe, Luca Filippi Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden are all three names I will be keeping a big eye on, as they all join new teams (or merging with a team in Newgarden’s case). They all had very much different stories in 2014, but all need to make a pretty big impression this year, so a strong result here would be a very good start to that.
Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay will both need really consistent years this year. Castroneves had a dismal time in the final few rounds of last season, whilst Hunter-Reay paired the high of winning the 500 with the low of crashing into his team mate in 2014. These are two drivers who must find some form, and starting well is a very good way to do just that. Juan Pablo Montoya will be looking to improve on his qualifying as that was his biggest issue last season. His Formula 1 experience of high-downforce cars may come in handy this season.