What to watch for: IndyCar at St. Petersburg

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ST. PETERSBURG – After a seven-month offseason since its last race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night, August 30, 2014, the Verizon IndyCar Series finally returns in high gear with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (3 p.m. ET, check local listings) this afternoon.

Defending series champion Will Power is on the pole (Verizon P1 Award) after a record-setting lap, and will lead his three other Team Penske teammates to the green flag.

Here’s what to look for as the curtain comes up on the 2015 season.

THE NEW ERA

New manufacturer aero kits are the major storyline heading into the race, as the 24 cars and drivers entered will race against themselves for the first time. Testing, practice and qualifying are all nice preambles, but today makes the main course.

A SERIES OF FIRSTS

Get your pen and paper ready, because there will be a test on this later… but here’s what’s new on the driver/team/engineer front, year-on-year, heading into this race:

  • New teams: James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), Luca Filippi (CFH Racing), Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske), Jack Hawksworth (A.J. Foyt Enterprises)
  • New numbers: Will Power (1), James Hinchcliffe (5), Luca Filippi (20), Simon Pagenaud (22), Carlos Munoz (26), Marco Andretti (27), Jack Hawksworth (41)
  • New/returning drivers: Stefano Coletti (4), James Jakes (7), Sage Karam (8), Francesco Dracone (19), Simona de Silvestro (25), Gabby Chaves (98)
  • Drivers with new engineers: Scott Dixon (Chris Simmons), Tony Kanaan (Todd Malloy), Marco Andretti (Nathan O’Rourke), Jack Hawksworth (Raul Prados), Graham Rahal (Eddie Jones)

DEBRIS FIELDS?

Thus far there has only been one incident of note, contact between Josef Newgarden and Simona de Silvestro in the warmup that meant the drivers required a new front wing and rear wing assembly, respectively.

We figure if there’s contact, there’s going to be debris winglets from all over the cars making an appearance on track. However, polesitter Will Power said Saturday that you can still “rub” in these cars, without too much issue.

TIRE DROPOFF

Firestone has maintained a similar tire compound for 2015, for the opening races, as both Chevrolet and Honda teams dial in the aero kits and their updated engines. However, tire degradation is expected to be a storyline, likely on the right rear, throughout the day.

STRATEGY PLAYS

One of the hallmarks of any IndyCar road or street races is, as Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush would say, “strategery.” It’s in part what aided Mike Conway to two wins a year ago at Long Beach and Toronto race two in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

If or when yellows come, the question becomes who will gamble and try to gain positions? Team Penske has dominated the weekend on paper, but the beauty of IndyCar is its unpredictability.