I’ve tried to distill all the off season developments into 500 words or less that will get you up to speed on the Verizon Indycar Series before the green flag falls at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
New Name: Verizon replaces IZOD as the title sponsor, and most people are rather bullish about it.
Rules changes: The cars are faster because the rules allow bigger turbos . There were be double points at Indy, Pocono Speedway and Autoclub Speedway with points given for qualifying at the Indy 500. The ten-grid penalty for changing an engine
Championship contenders: The regulars: Scott Dixon, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves. Newly arrived at contender status: Juan Pablo Montoya, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kannan and Ryan Briscoe. Dark horses: Maybe Marco Andretti is ready to compete for a title, but Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Paguenad are the only drivers not with the big three teams capable of mounting a championship run.
Outside looking in: J.R. Hildebrand, Sage Karam, Tristain Vauntier, Peter Dempsey and maybe Conor Daly depending on what happens in GP2 are all hoping for a chance to prove themselves this year.
Different team, same teammate: Although it didn’t appear to be a coordinated move Dragon Racing teammates Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra moved from Dragon to KV Racing. Dragon might be a one-car Indy only effort at this point.
Rookie battle: For the first time in since the merger Indycar has a competitive rookie battle. Mikael Alishen, Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz is the most talented, best groomed rookie in a top-flight drive to come into the series in a long time, and he could rip off a win or two. Carlos Huertos is set up to fail in the second Dale Coyne entry.
Breakout potential: Last year Hincliffe’s and Pagenuad ripped off multiple wins, and this year Charlie Kimball and Munoz are positioned to follow.
The schedule: Similar to last year but packed into five months with, no Brazilian stop and no Baltimore GP.
Sponsors: United Fiber Data replaces Go Daddy on Hinchcliffe’s car. Andretti changes colors from RC to Snapple, but it’s all within the same company. Verizon has expanded its effort to include Montoya’s car for eight races. NTT Data stepped up to full time at Ganassi to sponsor Ryan Briscoe. The National Guard moved from Panther Racing to Graham Rahal at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to replace departing Midas, and there’s a lawsuit about it. Hydroxycut and Mystic e-Cigarettes will split time on one KV racing entry while AFS will return to the sport on Saavadrea’s car
Under pressure: Josef Newgarden is a good driver with a great personality. Everyone likes him, but with all the seats at the big three filled for the foreseeable future this is a big year for him. It’s a contract year with Fisher-Hartman Racing and he either needs to attract a team with bigger funding, land more sponsorship for FHR. Saavadrea is probably brining money to KV Racing, but he needs to start delivering results soon or get branded a poor man’s E.J. Viso.