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.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.