The next chapter in the fractious relationship between Will Power and Simon Pagenaud plus Juan Montoya’s title prospects are the focus of part 2 of our 2015 season preview.
Friends… for now
Penske’s Tim Cindric considers Simon Pagenaud and Will Power the future of their IndyCar ambitions. In the short term pairing two drivers who went from best friends to feuding enemies within a season is brave. Their relationship deteriorated after a series of ‘robust’ moves by the 2014 champ that the Frenchman, often quite justifiably, took offence at.
Penske’s two other drivers – Montoya and Castroneves – were on the receiving end of similar last season. Helio seems content to let it pass and Montoya wasn’t going to chuck his toys out the pram straight away after being rescued by Penske. Consequently neither reacted – publicly at least.
Pagenaud won’t jeopardise his big opportunity. Equally he won’t back down now he is with a team able to take him to wins and championship crowns. Both will be at the sharp end for wins this season and pre-season photo calls have presented a picture of strained harmony. Let’s see how long relations remain cordial between the two and how Penske deals with the perhaps inevitable clashes.
Pagenaud will not likely be in title contention coming fresh to a new team this season. His oval form needs some work (coaching from Penske’s resident legend Rick Mears will likely expedite this) but Juan Montoya could well be.
Another (first) IndyCar title?
The Colombian surprised in 2014: in contention for wins by mid season, winning at Pocono and a title challenger of sorts (due mostly to the triple crown mega points from Pocono) by seasons end. It was a great debut season, even by his high standards. Settled and with a season under his belt, the former CART champ should be challenging for the title this season.
Montoya has lost none of the oval technique that took him to a dominant 500 win in his rookie season and numerous other victories. He needs to sharpen up his road and street form however; particularly his speed on harder tyres and longer runs where he struggled relative to series champions Power, Dixon and Hunter-Reay. Qualifying away from ovals is also an area where Montoya needs to improve to match the likely title protagonists.
The 1999 CART champion in good form across all circuits will give us something particularly exciting to watch. His tough, no nonsense approach to racing and willingness to make ballsy moves continues to be a spectacular combination.
Hitting the ground running
One of the talking points from 2014 was how poor the Ganassi squad were in early season. Rocked by the enforced retirement of multiple champion Dario Franchitti and managing the switch from Honda to Chevrolet, they were on the back foot. This allied to changes to the Grand-Am/United Sports Car squad were pinpointed by outgoing champion Scott Dixon as the root of the problem.
Now up to speed on the Chevrolet engine, using the same aero kit as rivals Penske and with a stable driver line-up, Chip Ganassi’s team have no excuses for a similarly shaky start to 2015. Considering Scott Dixon finished 4 of the opening 6 races last season outside the top 10, his third in points was a remarkable turnaround. His two wins and two top 5 finishes in the final four races of 2014 is ominous if the Target cars can pick up where they left off.
In the third and final part of our season preview we’ll look at whether Marco Andretti can finally deliver on his untapped potential, consider Tony Kanaan’s chances and those of IndyCar’s smaller teams.
Credit to Will Power using the number 1 for 2015. It is disappointing that so few drivers now take what was once a coveted badge of success.