ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After an offseason that has lasted since Labor Day weekend and the cancelation of its planned first race, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series kicks off its racing season Sunday with the Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Sunday’s race on the city streets is the first of a season that has seen new body styles, new driver/team combinations and a new race taking place at NOLA Motorsports Park on April 10-12.
So, clearly, quite a bit has changed for 2015.
First of all, the series was shaken up when the opening race in Brazil, slated for March 8, was canceled by the newly elected government, thus extending the already long offseason by an additional three weeks. The teams were granted a small reprieve in that although they were not racing, they had more time to work on their new aero kits they received from their engine manufacturer, either Honda or Chevrolet, during runs at NOLA Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama.
Additionally, the testing allowed for drivers who have switched teams over the offseason to get acquainted with their new teams.
Several drivers made switches, the most notable being Simon Pagenaud moving from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to Team Penske.
This brought Pagenaud from a race-winning team to a championship-winning team that has more Indianapolis 500 victories than anybody else.
“It’s just positive,” Pagenaud said. “I mean, it’s a new team, a great team, the best team on the market with the best teammates.”
That’s notable, considering Pagenaud went from having one rookie teammate to three race-winning teammates.
“We’re all improving ourselves.” Pagenaud added. “Even at the level we’re at, we’re still improving every day.”
There were other driver changes taking place.
Popular Canadian James Hinchcliffe jumped ship from Andretti Autosport to take Pagenaud’s place at SPM, while Jack Hawksworth joined A.J. Foyt Enterprises to partner Takuma Sato.
Hawksworth’s former seat was filled by 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves. Former IndyCar driver James Jakes rejoined the series, taking the seat that was once filled by Mikhail Aleshin.
Chaves won the 2014 Indy Lights championship, in the process earning a monetary incentive to help him secure the drive at Bryan Herta Autosport. The Colombian native is starting his first IndyCar race Sunday.
“The goal is to come out to every race weekend and do the best we can, try to go for a race win. But, I mean, obviously we all know it’s going to be a long year,” Chaves said. ”It’s a long process being a rookie and being a one-car team.
“We’re not expecting anything; we’re really just trying to learn as much as we can, go out there and do the best job that we can do. Hopefully, sooner rather than later it turns into some podiums and race wins.”
Two teams became one in the offseason as Ed Carpenter Racing merged with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to become Carpenter-Fisher-Hartman Racing. The single-car teams became a two-car team with Josef Newgarden piloting the No. 67 car with Luca Filippi driving the No. 20 car on the road and street courses and team co-owner Ed Carpenter taking over the 20 car on the ovals.
“Well, it’s a new challenge in itself.” Newgarden said. ‘I think everybody looked at our new group and said ‘Well that’s just automatically going to be better,’ and it should.
“I think we’ve got a lot of really good people, we had strengths and weaknesses on both sides (of the merger) and I think hopefully we kept all of our strengths and we reduced some of our weaknesses together as one group.
The St. Petersburg race is the first of 16 stops on the Verizon IndyCar Series this year. After the Grand Prix of Louisiana, the tour moves to the popular Long Beach race.