It’s been a busy week for racing in Florida. NASCAR is cranking up its 2014 campaign at the Daytona International Speedway, while IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge are testing this week at Sebring International Raceway.
Of course earlier in the week, it was IndyCar at Sebring, for two days with a handful of teams. Some notes from those two days of running and elsewhere in the IndyCar paddock:
- The busiest driver outside of the NASCAR world this week? That would be Justin Wilson, who got two days worth of IndyCar running in for Dale Coyne Racing on Monday and Wednesday, then has shifted into Michael Shank Racing’s Ford EcoBoost Riley Daytona Prototype yesterday and into today. He’ll race it at the 12-hour next month. On day one in the Honda-powered IndyCar, Wilson tweeted, “It was a good first day of testing. The car went well and we are just trying to test a few bigger items.” On day two: “Yesterday’s @IndyCar test was good. Learned a few things. @josefnewgarden was the man though. I think that’s the quickest a DW12 has gone.”
- Wilson’s aforementioned fellow Honda runner, Josef Newgarden, was also back in the saddle this week for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Of note, the SFHR team tested in a black primer car, not in the same livery as adorned the No. 67 car in 2013. The test was Newgarden’s first in the new calendar year.
- A.J. Foyt’s new month of May recruit, Martin Plowman, had his first day of running in the Dallara DW12 on Wednesday, as he took over Takuma Sato’s usual No. 14 ABC Supply Honda. Plowman contested three IndyCar races in the previous chassis in 2011, but had yet to sample the new one after two years in sports cars. Tweeted Plowman after the day, “Fitness wise I held up well…but….G-forces under braking, boy… I feel like my neck is 3 inches longer! Need to change my bio to 5ft 9.”
- Team Penske got in another day’s worth of testing Thursday at Barber Motorsports Park for all three of its drivers, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Will Power. With IndyCar’s official preseason test set for Barber next month, the Penske team has an extra day’s worth of data to sift through in advance of that day. “The reason we can come to Barber and win it is because the cars are really quick here and seem to work pretty well,” said Montoya, via Al.com.
- Simon Pagenaud’s new firesuit at IndyCar media day included both Charter and Valspar listed underneath the series and Honda manufacturer logos. Both companies have past histories in IndyCar with the Panther and Dreyer & Reinbold teams.
- Bryan Herta Autosport posted a generic “great test last few days” and “happy to be back at the track again” tweet after its two days with Jack Hawksworth. But noteworthy there was the fact the car did not run in full livery, with the same dark and light blue color combination with Barracuda not flanking the sidepods or wings. Make of that what you will.
- Panther Racing, which didn’t attend either the Sonoma test on Feb. 12 or the Sebring test this week, has announced its second public relations representative change in the last three months. Panther has not confirmed its 2014 plans as yet.
MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2015 with Marco Andretti, who finished ninth after another top-10 season in points.
Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda
- 2014: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 5th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 12.2 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish
It was a dependable, quiet but usually consistent season from Marco Andretti, who up until the final quarter of the season had actually been his father’s most reliable finisher.
Andretti didn’t necessarily have a ton of standout drives but he was usually there or thereabouts, and by the end of the day he was often at the low ends of the top-10, which earlier this year given the at-times troublesome Honda aero kit package on road and street courses was more of an accomplishment than you’d think. Three top-10 results in the first four races was proof positive of that.
As ever Andretti excelled most on the big ovals. Sixth at the Indianapolis 500 was as good as was possible given the lack of top-end speed; similarly, he probably could have emerged at the head of the field at Fontana, ending third when all was said and done.
His best result was second in the rain at Detroit race one, although coming second to teammate Carlos Munoz had to sting a little bit. Andretti had driven well that race, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with his first win in four years.
The thing that would have been his standout stat of the year, finishing every lap, game unglued with an odd accident on home soil in Pocono. It was a shame to see because Andretti was typically good, if not great, for yet another season.
MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.
Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
- 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
- 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish
You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.
The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.
Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.
More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.