Filippi gets his chance; JR awaits his next opportunity

0 Comments

A couple months ago when the Verizon IndyCar Series news cycle was at a standstill – some might say after the events of this week it almost would be better to have no news than bad news – I pondered the possibility of CFH Racing having an all-American team of drivers for 2015.

It was a nice idea at the time, but it has now come to pass without that being the case.

Indeed JR Hildebrand, Conor Daly or whoever else was a potential candidate for the vacant road/street course seat alongside CFH team co-owner Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet would have made a lot of sense from a red, white and blue standpoint, but not necessarily a green one.

In Luca Filippi, CFH has a bona fide road and street course ace who hasn’t had a season set in stone in January for years, and someone who is well-positioned to add to the team’s win totals as a potential first-time winner in 2015.

Filippi could well be the Italian incarnation of his predecessor, Englishman Mike Conway – a Jedi knight behind the wheel whose raw speed and high ceiling masks an otherwise quiet, humble, focused and genial demeanor outside the cockpit.

He grew to excel in GP2, particularly in the 2011 season when he switched to the Coloni team midseason and won four races en route to finishing second in points. His test and development skills, which he has showcased for Pirelli and Honda in the past, will also be an asset in 2015.

It didn’t get much press, but Filippi qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six in his first day in an IndyCar in nine months at Houston last June was one of the standout performances of the season, particularly as there were fewer one-off appearances during the year.

With time and proper testing, something Filippi hasn’t enjoyed in his two prior opportunities with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing last year and Bryan Herta Autosport in 2013, he is already a contender to be one of the surprise stars of the season.

The other thing this confirmation provides Filippi is peace of mind as he worked toward this chance. He made a number of mistakes in his first eight IndyCar starts and he only has one top-10 finish to show for it, but consider as a driver looking to prove his worth to the field, he needed to “go big or go home” for the most part. You can rein in a driver who’s got speed to burn and makes the occasional mistake, but you can’t necessarily speed up a guy who is easier on equipment and, detrimentally, easier on the gas pedal.

I’d be surprised if we don’t see him on the podium at least twice in 2015, and if the cards fall correctly as they did for Conway a year ago, in victory lane on the odd occasion.

As for Hildebrand, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him after what was his best potential opportunity fell through once again, and ironically to a driver who he’s linked to more than you might think.

Hildebrand and Filippi split the balance of the 2013 season for BHA after the team and Alex Tagliani went their separate ways, and it was Filippi who had the inside line on that seat all winter before that fell through.

Now it’s Hildebrand, having tested once with the team at Barber last fall, who seemed the perfect fit as a blue-blood, STEM-teaching, MIT-accepted American in the potential all-American driver lineup at CFH, on the outside looking in. He could still be in play for an extra car at the Indianapolis 500, as he was a year ago – CFH will run three cars for that race.

This signing is one of those classic good news/bad news cases that seems to be a common thread in IndyCar these days. Hildebrand has the hard luck story that has befallen others, while Filippi has a long overdue shot beyond a one-off weekend or two.

It is now the Italian’s moment to seize the opportunity he has received.