2015 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners


INDIANAPOLIS – MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno (yours truly) takes a look through the field of 33 for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

What was meant to be a one or two-sentence description per driver morphed into a two or three-sentence description per each. Whoops.

Still, here’s the field of 33 (2014, 2013 archives). All car drawings are done by Ryan Long, via the INDYCAR Spotters’ Guide.

Row 1

source:  9-Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Dixon’s been strong most of the week in race trim. Provided fuel mileage doesn’t bite him – and it shouldn’t, considering this is Dixon we’re talking about – should bounce back nicely after his accident here last year.

source:  1-Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Power’s as motivated as ever to win this race, driving better than he has at any point coming into the ‘500, and keen to complete a month of May race sweep.

source:  22-Simon Pagenaud, Avaya Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Pagenaud feels very confident about his car in race trim, and is much more comfortable going into his fourth Indianapolis 500. Believe the hype, even in both driver and team’s first 500-mile race voyage together.

Row 2

source:  10-Tony Kanaan, NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Like Dixon, Kanaan should feel confident about his car in race trim. Paired with ace engineer Todd Malloy, they should nail the setup to be in contention throughout for “TK’s” second ‘500 win in his 300th career start.

source:  3-Helio Castroneves, Shell V-Power Nitro+ Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Last year I wrote of Castroneves, “I think this is your guy, or pretty dang close.” Well, 0.06 of a second away from Ryan Hunter-Reay was “pretty dang close” indeed. It’s hard to vary the prediction too much this year as Helio goes for four – again – and is clearly not shaken despite the first major accident of this month.

source:  25-Justin Wilson, The Rolling Stones Honda

TDZ: Wilson’s in a weird spot where he has nothing to lose and everything to gain in his last confirmed drive, for the moment, for Andretti Autosport. As such, the team may opt to experiment with strategy for him if the situation arises; Wilson is a better oval driver than people realize and is as good of a second row “sleeper” as you’ll find.

Row 3

source:  11-Sebastien Bourdais, Hydroxycut-HAUS Vaporizer KVSH Chevrolet 

TDZ: Like former Champ Car sparring partner Wilson, Bourdais isn’t the first guy you’d pick to win the Indianapolis 500 – Bourdais himself even played down his chances on Thursday – but his pace and consistency this month means you can’t count him out. A top-three finish is possible for sure.

source:  27-Marco Andretti, Snapple Honda

TDZ: The other son of a famous father, Andretti has flown under the radar this month. He’ll be hard to overlook on Sunday.

source:  21-Josef Newgarden, Century 21 CFH Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Newgarden’s race record here is abysmal: he’s finished 25th, 28th and 30th in three starts. Anyone in the paddock will attest his skill level is far better than his luck and results here, and his first Indianapolis 500 top-10 should be the target.

Row 4

source:  6-JR Hildebrand, Preferred Freezer CFH Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: The overlooked, talented young American has been just that this month… quietly consistent, clean and near the front of the field in a month-only program. One of Indy’s most famous runner-ups likely won’t end that high up, but another top-10 would be a good result.

source:  26-Carlos Munoz, AndrettiTV.com Cinsay Honda

TDZ: Munoz has matched teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti in banking two top-fives here in the last two years. Much like Oriol Servia, Munoz seems to wear an invisibility cloak on track and you don’t realize he’s there until you look at the final results. Odds-wise a third straight top-five is unlikely, but a top-10 is possible.

source:  20-Ed Carpenter, Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Ed the driver had a scary-looking accident Sunday morning of qualifying. Ed the owner has had his crew repair two cars last week. Ed the driver wants to repay Ed the owner and Ed the overseer of his crew with a win.

Row 5

source:  32-Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

TDZ: One of three under-the-radar drivers to watch that I will pinpoint (will get to the other two further down the order). Servia’s starting higher than he usually does; RLL is typically brilliant on strategy and he’s driving a car with a tribute livery to Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp. A top-five would not shock me in the least.

source:  83-Charlie Kimball, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Until last year when his incident brought the first yellow of the day after 149 laps, Kimball had a pretty good record at Indy with finishes of 13th, eighth and ninth. Barring issues, he’s a lower top-10 contender once more in 2015.

source:  2-Juan Pablo Montoya, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Montoya hasn’t been as strong as I thought he would be this month in practice or qualifying, but I’d expect that to change on race day.

Row 6

source:  28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, DHL Honda

TDZ: Like most of his teammates, RHR has flown under the radar this month, and surprisingly in his case. Still, he won from 19th last year and from 16th, cannot be ruled out.

source:  15-Graham Rahal, Steak ‘n Shake Honda

TDZ: Rahal enters the ‘500 with the most momentum and “buzz” he’s ever had in his career. But like Eminem once said, “If you had, one shot, or one opportunity/To seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment/Would you capture it, or just let it slip?” That’s where Graham is this race. He’s either gonna star, or have the momentum come to a crushing halt. There’s no in-between.

source:  29-Simona de Silvestro, TE Connectivity Honda

TDZ: Here we were hoping that de Silvestro’s scary-looking fuel leak-induced fire on Tuesday would be the worst looking bit of practice week. The fan favorite is back for 2015 after a year’s hiatus, and a realistic goal should be a top-12 to top-15 finish.

Row 7

source:  7-James Jakes, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: Jakes has had a typical Jakesy month thus far: clean and under-the-radar. A top-15 finish should be the goal.

source:  48-Alex Tagliani, Alfe Heat Treating Special Honda

TDZ: I’m tempted to included Tagliani as a top sleeper on Sunday but I can’t fully due to the fact A.J. Foyt Enterprises is running a third car for the first time since 2005. If he mirrors or exceeds his 13th place of a year ago with a one-off crew, that’s the job done and dusted.

source:  8-Sage Karam, Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Chevrolet

TDZ: My top sleeper in the field, and not just because he’s sponsored by a pillow company in Comfort Revolution (which Karam was actually handing out on media day). Karam has been dynamic in race trim all month, has the confidence of a successful ‘500 debut under his belt and should be a quick mover from P21. He may not win it, but I think a top-five is possible.

Row 8

source:  43-Conor Daly, FUELED by BACON Special Honda

TDZ: One of America’s brightest young hopes makes his second ‘500 start in a car that screams red, white and blue. And has the one of best hashtags known to mankind in #FueledByBacon. Conor won’t win it but he’ll be damn fun to watch.

source:  24-Townsend Bell, The Robert Graham Special Chevrolet

TDZ: Along with Karam and Servia, Bell is another driver I have high expectations for (check his month of May blogs here). Prior to his qualifying run he was among the top-five in race trim. The DRR crew is stellar on pit stops and I could see Bell in the top-five or seven in the final laps.

source:  14-Takuma Sato, ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda

TDZ: For having a relative lack of results in this race, Sato’s been impressive more often than not. He was in top-five position last year before a late pit stop shuffled him back. I could realistically see him in the top-10 or 12 if all goes to plan.

Row 9

source:  63-Pippa Mann, Susan G. Komen Honda

TDZ: As last year, if the balance is right she could end top-15. She remains a fan favorite and is racing for a great cause, having just gone over the $50,000 threshold in raising money for breast cancer awareness via her #GetInvolved campaign.

source:  98-Gabby Chaves, Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda

TDZ: With no disrespect to Stefano Coletti, I’ll be surprised if Chaves isn’t your rookie-of-the-year. Great maturity, level-headed, decent race pace and enters the race having won last year’s Freedom 100. People don’t know how good he is … yet.

source:  17-Sebastian Saavedra, AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: In a Ganassi car, Saavedra has been decent this month. If he can match or exceed his 32nd to 15th run of 2014 he’ll be in good shape.

Row 10

source:  41-Jack Hawksworth, ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda

TDZ: It’s been a tough month for Hawksworth, and like several others in the field the goal is simply getting through 200 laps scot-free.

source:  4-Stefano Coletti, KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

TDZ: Coletti has adapted decently well to the Speedway in his maiden oval voyage, but I can’t see him doing much better than a top-20 at best. Has struggled for pace all month.

source:  88-Bryan Clauson, KVSH/Jonathan Byrd’s/Cancer Centers of America Chevrolet

TDZ: Clauson has had a more stressful month than likely he or the team anticipated. It’s good to have both the Byrd family and Clauson back in the race, but realistically a top-20 would be a good result.

Row 11

source:  5-Ryan Briscoe, Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda

TDZ: A tough spot for Briscoe in replacing the injured James Hinchcliffe, but the consummate professional should do his job admirably. Hell, he’s already got Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 wins under his belt this year.

source:  18-Tristan Vautier, Dale Coyne Racing Honda

TDZ: What an odyssey it’s been for Vautier. From no ride to two rides in the span of two weeks, Vautier is the first driver in the modern era to have qualified one car and then raced another one. Expectations are low for a finish but like Davison in the No. 19 car, a top-15 finish would not surprise.

source:  19-James Davison, Always Evolving/Dale Coyne Racing Honda

TDZ: There’s something perfect about Always Evolving and Dale Coyne Racing coming together given the fluid nature of the No. 19 car’s driver situation. And the ‘500 is a case in point, with Vautier qualifying and Davison racing due to conflicts. In his limited laps, Davison’s been damn impressive, and paired with engineer Michael Cannon don’t be surprised if this car evolves into a top-15 finisher.

A deep dive into the new GR Cup as Toyota branches into single-make sports car racing

Toyota GR Cup
Swikar Patel/Toyota Racing Development

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Inside this former textile mill, a retro building built in 1892 with massive floor-to-ceiling windows and sturdy brick, Toyota has planted a future seed with the GR Cup.

Once a hub for making cotton dye, the first floor has been turned into a factory that churned out spec sports cars for the past year as Toyota Racing Development prepares to launch its first single-make series.

The inaugural season of the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Cup will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the first of seven SRO-sanctioned events (each with two races) featuring a field of homologated GR86 production models that have been modified for racing with stock engines.

Under the banner of its Gazoo Racing (a high-performance brand relatively new to North America but synonymous with Dakar Rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah), Toyota will join Mazda, Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini as the latest automaker to run a single-make U.S. series (with Ford recently announcing plans for its own in the near future).

It’s grassroots-level amateur racing for manufacturers that are accustomed to racing at motorsports’ highest levels, but there are many benefits through competition, driver development and marketing despite the lower profile.

“It’s not the easiest thing or cheapest thing to do,” TRD executive commercial director Jack Irving told NBC Sports. “But there’s massive value to be a part of it and have our DNA in the cars. You get to race a bunch and get a bunch of data. You get to engage directly in feedback from the people beating those cars up.”

The GR86s being raced are very similar to the street versions that retail for about $35,000 at dealerships that annually sell several thousand.

“It’s a test of the car and your design,” Irving said. “We take an engineered vehicle designed to spec for the road and then apply our resources to make it race ready. Some of those things cross over.

The first floor of Toyota Racing Development’s Mooresville facility that finished the vehicles for the new GR Cup (Swikar Patel/TRD).

“Everyone approaches it differently. It’s a marketing piece for us. It’s a development piece for drivers. We’re supporting grass roots racing. This is a very long-term deal for us. This isn’t something we’re doing two years and done. It’s got a long-term vision. There’s big value in it, and there’s a lot of responsibility with that, too.

“You’re ultimately supporting it. You’re not just selling cars into a series and hoping it goes well. You have to be involved in a very material way to make sure it goes off well and has your fingerprints and represents the brand.”

Early indications have been solid. The GR Cup cars were rolled out on iRacing in January and immediately became one of the platform’s most popular vehicles (with 212-horsepower engines, the cars handle well and are difficult to spin).

TRD’s GR86 factory floor (Swikar Patel/TRD).

TRD has sold 33 cars for GR Cup with 31 racing in Sonoma, easily surpassing initial expectations.

“Our target was to sell 20 cars in the first year, and we could have sold 50 if not for supply chain issues with some vendors,” TRD president David Wilson told NBC Sports. “We basically came up with the idea of taking the GR86 and looking at what it would take to turn that into a little race car and do it affordably and competitively, and what’s come along with that is just a tremendous interest level. It seems like a market that perhaps has been underserved right now.”

Here’s a deeper look at the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Cup and how the manufacturer built the new series:


The race cars start as production models that are shipped directly from the factory in Japan to a port in Charleston, South Carolina. After being trucked to the Mooresville facility, they are stripped and sent to Joe Gibbs Racing to be outfitted with a roll cage.

Upon return to TRD, the transmission and stock engine is added. The body remains virtually the same as the street version with a slightly altered hood, decklid and splitter for ride height and aerodynamics.

Jack Irving (Swikar Patel/TRD)

The cars mostly are customized to help manage the heat – the stock versions aren’t designed to handle the oil that sloshes around in the high-speed left- and right-hand turns on the road and street courses of the GR Cup schedule. TRD puts about two dozen parts on the cars, using Stratasys 3-D Printers to manufacture many on site (which allows flexibility for adjusting on the fly during R&D). In addition to help with cooling, many of the tweaks focus on allowing a limited number of setup changes.

“You don’t have a lot of ability to adjust these cars,” Irving said. “It was done on purpose. The intent was you have three spring sets, and you can adjust the shocks and do air pressure. That’s it. We seal the engine and components of it. We dyno everything. Everyone is within range to create as consistent a series as we can.

“Some of that is to mimic what Mazda did. They’ve done a really good job with their series. Porsche, Ferrari and other OEMs have done it very well. We had a learning that was easier to go through their book and see the Cliffs Notes version to get where we are.”

After taking delivery, GR Cup teams are responsible for transporting the cars to each track (and can buy up to three sets of Continental tires per event). Toyota brings two parts trucks to each track


After Sonoma, the GR Cup will visit Circuit of the Americas (May 5-7), Virginia International Raceway (June 16-18), the streets of Nashville (Aug. 4-6), Road America (Aug. 25-27), Sebring International Raceway (Sept. 22-24) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Oct. 6-8).

Though Nashville (IndyCar’s Music City Grand Prix) and Indy (SRO’s eight-hour Intercontinental Challenge) are part of weekends with bigger headliners, the GR Cup mostly will be the second-billed series (behind SRO’s Fanatech GT World Challenge) for events that will draw a few thousand. Sonoma had a crowd of about 4,000 last year, and SRO Motorsports America president Greg Gill said its events draw a maximum of about 13,000 over three days.

“There are some iconic venues, and the SRO it’s not IMSA,” Wilson said. “It’s got a different feel to it. It’s not the show. IMSA is kind of the show. I actually think it’s a good place for us to start, because it’s a little bit under the radar relatively speaking. It’s not a venue where you see the grandstands full of fans. It’s very much racers and their families. It’s got a neat vibe to it because it’s kind of small. So for our first effort as a single-make series, it’s the right place for us.”

Toyota GR Cup
The interior of the GR86 that will be raced in the GR Cup (Swikar Patel/TRD).

Though the attendance will be much smaller, Toyota still is bringing a large hospitality and marketing activation area with two 56-foot trucks that will provide a central gathering area for the series.

Teams’ entry fees will include meals there and provide a place to connect with Toyota engineers and other officials.

“I think we have a very different way of engaging with our group of drivers, and this series is similar to that,” Irving said. “Knowing that this isn’t going to get 100K people watching, but we want to have a direct connection with the drivers and understand their feelings about car, how do we make it better and empower them to be brand ambassadors for GR.”


Toyota has positioned the GR Cup as filling a price gap between the Mazda MX-5 Cup (a spec Miata Series known for high-quality racing at very low costs) and the Porsche Carrera Cup

“If you look at the ladder of MX5 to Porsche Cup, the difference in cost is massive,” TRD general manager Tyler Gibbs told NBC Sports. “We slot in closer to Miata than Porsche. We’ll slot another car in potentially in the future above that. It’s a good place for us from a price point perspective. Our road car is slightly more expensive than a Miata, so it makes sense our performance on the car is higher than Miata.”

A GR Cup car will cost $125,000. Full-season costs will vary depending on how much teams spend on equipment and transportation with estimates from $15-35K per event. So a competitive full season probably could be accomplished in the $250,000-$300,000 range.

Toyota GR Cup

“The goal was if you can ‘Six Pack’ it like Kenny Rogers and throw it in the back of a trailer, that would be amazing for us,” said Irving, referencing a movie about being an independent racer in NASCAR. “That would make it more of what we hoped it would turn into, just being as accessible as we possibly can make it.”

Toyota has tried to bridge the gap by posting a purse of $1 million for the season. Each race pays $12,000 to win (through $5,000 for eighth) with the season champion earning $50,000.

“Our hope was if you won, the prize money would cover the cost of that weekend,” Gibbs said. “We’re not all the way there. But almost there.”

Toyota also has posted an additional $5,000 (on top of prize money) to the highest-finishing woman in every race (which dovetails with SRO’s 50 percent female-led executive team structure).

GR86 Manufacturing at GRG before the first 3 cars are picked up.
—Swikar Patel/TRD

“If you’re a female driver who wins, you could get very close to sustainable” and cover a team’s race weekend costs, Irving said.

There are four women (Mia Lovell, Toni Breidinger, Cat Lauren and Isabella Robusto) slated for the full schedule.

The 31 cars will be fielded across more than a dozen teams including Smooge Racing (which fields GT4 Supras in SRO) and Copeland Motorsports (with Tyler Gonzalez, a four-time winner in MX-5 Cup). After a test last month at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, teams began taking delivery on Feb. 24.


Toyota fields Lexus in the GT categories of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship but elected to go with the SRO Motorsports Group (“SRO” stands for Stephane Ratel Organization; Ratel is the founder and CEO) as the sanctioning body for the GR Cup.

With a heavy focus on GT racing, SRO’s marquee events are 24-hour races at the Nurburgring in Germany and Spa in Belgium. In the United States, SRO primarily is focused on GT3 sprint racing, and Gill said it’s viewed as a “gateway to IMSA” and its endurance events.

In choosing SRO, Gibbs said “the schedule was a big part of it.” GR Cup races will be held almost exclusively on Saturday and Sunday mornings in a consistency that would have been difficult with IMSA (which runs a greater volume of bigger series).

“Our people can show up Friday, race Saturday and Sunday and be on the way home Sunday afternoon,” Gibbs said. “For our customer for this car, that was important. They still have jobs and particularly the younger drivers have to go to school. The SRO really fit us. They were very interested.”

Irving also was drawn to SRO’s flexibility with digital media right and free livestreams of races that Toyota can use on its platforms.

Toyota GR Cup
The SR86 in testing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (TRD).

Said Irving: “It’s hard to get a schedule that made sense and having a break between races so an amateur can repair their cars and have a month to regroup was a big deal. The long-term vision of SRO was a big part of that. IMSA runs a lot of classes. How we fit in was difficult. Would they have done things to make it work, yeah. But they just didn’t work for the vision we were doing. This is its own thing for us.”

Gill said the SRO is focused on “customer racing” that balances individual interests against factory programs – while still putting an emphasis on the importance of manufacturers such as Toyota.

“We were very impressed with the development of sports car racing at Toyota and what they wanted to do for the brand and the very strategic way they looked at things,” Gill told NBC Sports. “We had enjoyed real success and had a lot of admiration for the programs that Honda and Mazda developed with sports car racing at the grass roots and entry level. We thought they’d done an excellent job. Toyota has taken it to another level and should be commended because it’s good for the entire industry.”


Irving said Toyota has set a goal of turning Gazoo Racing into the premier performance brand in the United States within a decade, and the GR Cup is part of that thrust.

Gazoo Racing is the baby of Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda, who founded a separate company called “Garage Racing” while racing under a pseudonym for many years.

Toyoda, who eventually would race a Lexus LFA at Nurburgring, eventually transitioned the program into Gazoo Racing (Gazoo translates to photographs in Japanese; Toyoda often took pictures of vehicles he wanted to build and race) as he rose through the ranks of Toyota.

Toyota GR Cup

“The concept of the brand is we’re going to build cars that are fun to drive, not just for accountants,” Gibbs said.
Irving said the intent of GR is “the car is born on track and not the boardroom.” In order to be certified by Toyota for Gazoo Racing, the GR86 had to decrease its lap time by a certain percentage over its street model.

In the long-term, Irving said Toyota could work with another series to adapt the GR86 to endurance races. But in the short-term, there are plans to roll out a “dealer class,” possibly by its COTA round in May.

“That’s our version of a softball league with dealership principals who purchase cars and race against each other,” Wilson said with a laugh. “As competitive as dealers are, we’ll sell a lot of spare parts. It becomes a way to generate competition amongst our dealer body, and we’re going to have some fun with it.”

Toyota GR Cup
Toyota Racing Development’s fleet of GR86s shortly before GR Cup teams began taking delivery (Swikar Patel/TRD).