Chevy seeks St. Pete three-peat; Honda looks to return to top in IndyCar opener

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A less heralded but still key talking point of the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, is which engine manufacturer will emerge on top.

Chevrolet has taken the opening two season-openers since returning to the series in 2012. Helio Castroneves took the 2012 victory and James Hinchcliffe passed the Brazilian to emerge victorious one year ago.

For this 2014 edition, Honda opens up with its new twin-turbo specification for the first time, while Chevrolet is into year three of development with its own version after successive IndyCar Manufacturer’s Championships.

Some of the areas where Chevrolet still sought to improve throughout 2013 and into 2014 included fuel injection, cylinder heads, plenum / inlet system, exhaust headers and calibration, to improve upon an already immensely successful engine.

“Team Chevy is primed, prepared and positive about the start of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season kicking off on the streets of St. Petersburg, said Chris Berube, Chevrolet Racing Program Manager, Verizon IndyCar Series. “Chevrolet has had good results on this circuit the past two seasons since returning to IndyCar competition. With our updated 2.2L twin turbo direct injected V6 Chevrolet IndyCar engines, new formats to the championship points and a race on the road course at IMS to kick off the month of May, there is a plethora of new challenges to look forward to. Top it off with Verizon as the new Series sponsor to engage the fans with leading edge communication technology and this could be the season to remember.”

On the team side, Chevrolet loses Andretti Autosport but gains Chip Ganassi Racing. In total, they’ll have just four teams and 10 cars.

Honda, which has lost technical director Roger Griffiths, has seven teams and 12 cars. The manufacturer’s new engine is designed, manufactured, maintained and developed by HPD.

“We’ve been encouraged by the performance of the new Honda Indy V6 and the improvements we’ve made during the off-season,” said Mark Crawford, HPD Large Project Leader for the IndyCar program. “We believe we have a great lineup of teams and drivers, including a good balance of proven race winners and promising new stars. We’re looking forward to the start of the 2014 season on the streets of St. Petersburg, and taking on the challenge presented by Chevrolet in the battle for the Manufacturers’ Championship.”

Andretti’s group has the highest number of Hondas in the field, with four entries.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.