Photo: Chris Jones
IndyCar begins its 2015 season Sunday on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course running through St. Petersburg, Fla. The 110-lap race, won last year by series champion Will Power (#1 Verizon Team Penske-Chevrolet), will cover 198 miles. Takuma Sato (#14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing-Honda) won the 2014 pole with a time of 1 min, 01.8668 sec. Sebastien Bourdais (#11 KVSH Racing-Chevy) holds the qualifying lap record of 1:00.928.
"I'm really excited to get the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series started and represent the sport as the champion throughout the year,” said Power. “Even though I was able to break through last year and win my first title, I am preparing to go into this season just as hungry as I was before I became a champion. The drive to win multiple championships is just as strong as the drive to win one. To do that, it's important to get off to a good start at St. Pete. Winning there last year in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet was critical to the championship push. Now that I'm in the No. 1 Verizon Chevy for 2015, we need to put the new number in Victory Lane as well."
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the competition debut of aerodynamic bodywork kits designed, manufactured, and supplied by engine makers Chevrolet and Honda. The Dallara IR-12 chassis will be differentiated by their shape on the street course as the manufacturers have designed separate aero kit specifications for road and street course versus short ovals and speedways. "As we are starting to understand the new Chevrolet aero kits, it's clear that they have done a proper job in the design and development of them,” continued Power. “The kits produce massive downforce, low drag, and the cars are absolutely glued to the track. Obviously, as we go along in the year we are going to learn more and more about what we need to push for wins. That is where having a new, fourth car with Simon Pagenaud will be key. His ability to communicate what a car is doing and what it needs is really impressive. He's going to add a lot to Team Penske and I look forward to racing as his teammate for quite a while."
Aero kit competition complements the fourth year of engine manufacturer competition between Chevrolet and Honda with their 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engines.
Five drivers will be driving at St. Petersburg for the first time - Stefano Coletti (#4 KV Racing Technologies-Chevy), Sage Karam (#8 Chip Ganassi Racing-Chevy), Gabby Chaves (#98 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian-Honda), Luca Filippi (#20 CFH Racing-Chevy), and Francesco Dracone (#19 Dale Coyne Racing-Honda).
The first three are Sunoco Rookie of the Year award candidates. Filippi has competed in eight Verizon IndyCar Series races and makes his debut with CFH Racing. Led by co-owners Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher, and Wink Hartman, CFH formed in August 2014 by the intergration of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Filippi will drive the road and street courses in Carpenter’s #20 car for 2015.
Chaves was the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, while Karam, who be the youngest driver to start an Indy car for Chip Ganassi Racing, won the 2013 title. Dracone competed in two races in 2010. "We have been making progress every time we get on track and I expect nothing less heading into the race weekend,” said Chaves. “It is an incredible opportunity that I have here and I will do all I can to get the results we want and deserve. It will be a steep learning curve for me as a rookie but I have a great team around me that will help me with that process. I have complete confidence in them to get us to our true potential."
Tony Kanaan (#10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing-Chevy) seeks to start his 234th consecutive race, which would extend his Indy car-record streak that began in 2001 at Portland. Teammate Scott Dixon (#9) has made 175 consecutive starts. Dixon, the longest-tenured driver for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, is tied with Bobby Unser for fifth on the all-time Indy car victory list with 35. He has three runner-up finishes at St. Petersburg but has not won. The two were co-drivers (along with NASCAR’s Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray) of the overall-winner Team Ganassi entry at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona.
Helio Castroneves (#3 Team Penske-Chevy), who has won the race in 2006, 2007, and 2012, has been the Verizon IndyCar Series championship runner-up the past two seasons. Castroneves finished third at St. Petersburg in 2014.
Simona de Silvestro, who made 65 starts over four Verizon IndyCar Series seasons, returns to the series in an Andretti Autosport Honda (#25) after a year absence to pursue a Formula 1 career.
The 2015 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the 12th Indy car race on the streets of St. Petersburg. Paul Tracy won the inaugural race on Feb. 23, 2003, under CART sanction. Bourdais, entered in this year's race, started from the pole. Bourdais last weekend co-drove to the overall victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring. He is a St. Petersburg resident.