2015 Verizon IndyCar Series midseason report

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Blink and it’s over. At least that’s how it feels thus far after just two months for the Verizon IndyCar Series since the season opener March 29 in St. Petersburg.

Barely two months after the first green flag of the season flew, the 2015 season is already half over, following the completion of Round 8 in Detroit on Sunday.

Here’s been the stories thus far:

MONTOYA IS WELL AND TRULY BACK

If last year was the re-acclimation year for Juan Pablo Montoya, then 2015 is the re-assertion year.

As in, the dude is well and truly at the top of his game, operating at the peak of his powers, and fully in championship form.

His qualifying has been the key. In the first eight races in 2014, Montoya’s starting average was 10.6, and he posted only three top-10 finishes (all top-fives). Texas was the eighth race last year, and where he began to turn his season around.

source: Getty Images
Montoya’s on a roll. Photo: Getty Images

However this year, that starting average has improved a full five positions, to 5.6. He has posted five top-fives, seven top-10s and two wins – he’s the only driver in the field with multiple wins, and leading the field in podiums with four.

Team Penske teammate Will Power led the championship at the halfway point last year and brought it home, while prior to that the eventual champion was fourth (Scott Dixon in 2013) and seventh (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, and h/t to @TracksideOnline for that one).

Montoya is well-positioned to win his second open-wheel championship provided he matches his consistency in the second half. The burning desire to win is obvious. He was elated and euphoric after his Indianapolis 500 win; irate and incensed after losing at Detroit this weekend. The passion is clearly evident.

CHEVY’S DOMINANCE AS AERO KITS MAKE DEBUT

There are many stats that prove Chevrolet’s dominance this year, but I’ll point to one that isn’t widely said: Firestone Fast Six appearances.

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Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya in St. Pete. Photo: AP

Seven of the first eight races have been on road or street courses, which means there should have been six Fast Six sessions. One, at NOLA, was rained out and the second race qualifying at Detroit featured just two groups, not the standard Fast Six format.

But in the five standard qualifying sessions, it leaves 30 available spots – six drivers apiece for five races.

And of those 30 available spots, Chevrolet has secured 27 of those 30. The only Honda appearances in the Fast Six this year have been Takuma Sato at St. Petersburg and Detroit race one, and Ryan Hunter-Reay in Long Beach.

Otherwise, it’s been all-Chevrolet. Team Penske itself has 18 of those 27 spots for Chevrolet; Power at Long Beach and Montoya at Barber have been the only two drivers for Penske to not make a Fast Six session and make it all four Penske cars in the Fast Six.

The Chevrolet qualifying dominance inevitably means they’ll have the track position edge on race day, and be able to control the race up front. And while Honda has overachieved on either strategy or fuel mileage, they simply haven’t had the pace to contend – yet – through the opening stanza of the season.

RAHAL’S RESURGENCE

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Rahal’s renewed focus is obvious. Photo: Getty Images

There was an air of confidence emerging from Graham Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team this preseason – almost a swagger – that didn’t seem entirely realistic to the paddock given both driver and team’s performance the last two years.

However, given both pair’s phenomenal start to 2015, I can’t help but wonder if a Humble Pie Shake will be appearing on a Steak ‘n Shake menu anytime soon.

It’s been a welcome surprise to see Rahal and the RLL organization firing on all cylinders as they have, with three podiums and seven top-11 finishes in eight races.

It’s obvious the chemistry is improved; Graham himself has made no secret of his belief in Eddie Jones, Martin Pare and Mike Talbott, who have aided the direction of the team’s setup and engineering. The secret weapon? Stuart Kenworthy is the team’s new shock specialist, having had been with Dale Coyne Racing previous to that.

However it’s all working, it’s working, and the single-car team that could has been Honda’s leading light to open 2015.

PENSKE GREAT, GANASSI GOOD, ANDRETTI HANGING IN

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Chip Ganassi and Scott Dixon in Indy. Photo: AP

Team Penske, as an organization, has been the class of the field. Besides Montoya, Power and Helio Castroneves  are still firing on nearly all cylinders, and Simon Pagenaud has slotted in nicely as fourth driver, although his luck has been rough in the first half.

Of the other two “power teams,” Chip Ganassi Racing has been good but not great, and Andretti Autosport has endured something of a roller coaster as they’ve struggled for outright pace and results this year.

Ganassi has followed the form book. Scott Dixon has been “the guy” and remains the team’s only realistic title contender at half distance. Tony Kanaan started strong but has hit a slight midseason bobble here in the last month, with a crash at the Indianapolis 500 and a tough Detroit now in the past. Charlie Kimball races better than he qualifies; the reverse seems to be true for rookie Sage Karam who has simply made too many mistakes to this point. Karam has a high ceiling but remains a raw first-year driver at this stage.

Andretti, meanwhile, hasn’t had the balance or setup right. Marco Andretti has quietly impressed, Ryan Hunter-Reay has struggled and oddly its Carlos Munoz of the team’s three full-time drivers who has a win to date. You’d hope they’re better – as you’d hope Honda is better – for the second half of the year.

TO QUOTE PAUL HARVEY, THE REST OF THE STORY

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Newgarden’s Barber win was overdue. Photo: INDYCAR

Beyond those four teams, CFH Racing, KVSH Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) – battle of the acronyms – are the three other race-winning teams this year.

One hopes Josef Newgarden’s (CFH) early-season consistency doesn’t fade away after a tough Detroit weekend, while Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH) continues to get better with age. Youngsters Luca Filippi (CFH) and Stefano Coletti (KV) have had more moments of frustration than glory thus far.

SPM’s year has been a tough one. Their new team leader James Hinchcliffe brought a win home at NOLA and remains one of IndyCar’s most popular drivers… but he won’t be driving until he’s medically cleared to do so after a devastating injury incurred at Indianapolis. Still, the fact he’s been released and was treated so well, so quickly by the Holmatro Safety Team, speaks volumes. Other than his third place at NOLA, James Jakes has been consistently anonymous while Ryan Briscoe and Conor Daly look to fill Hinch’s stead in glory.

A.J. Foyt Enterprises remains IndyCar’s team enigma. You never know with Sato or new teammate Jack Hawksworth whether they’ll be top-five on pace or near the bottom of the charts. Their ceilings are high, but the pendulum swing week-to-week is as wide.

As for Bryan Herta Autosport and Dale Coyne Racing, the song remains the same as they’re now the two teams without a podium this year.

At BHA, Gabby Chaves is again doing what he can as a rookie on a single-car team but like Hawksworth a year ago, he can only do so much. Still, he’ll all but certainly take home rookie-of-the-year honors, which would be deserved.

Coyne’s year has been undeniably tough, often down to a rotating driver lineup and with three crew members being hurt this year. For them, a less fluid lineup should provide greater consistency in the second half.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.