The Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana is a brand new event for the IndyCar Series, but it’s also a chance for new driver and team combinations to test themselves out. In the course of a driver’s career, they might change teams a few times in search of better results.
However, it may not be just a case of a driver switching teams. In some cases, like what happened to Josef Newgarden, you gain a teammate when your team merges with another team in the offseason.
In 2014, Newgarden drove for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. After the season concluded, their team merged with Ed Carpenter Racing to form Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing, a two-car team with Newgarden partnering Luca Filippi on the road/street courses and Carpenter taking over on the ovals in Filippi’s place.
“I think everybody looked at our new group and said ‘Well, that’s just automatically going to be better,’ and it should,” Newgarden said. “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.”
However, some drivers switched teams entirely for 2015 in hope of securing better results, like James Hinchcliffe. The popular Canadian had driven for Andretti Autosport since 2012, but switched to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2015.
His switch was not an easy move, as he went from having three experienced teammates to one who didn’t drive in the series in 2014: James Jakes.
“There are times where four cars’ worth of information is an awful lot to go through, and it’s really easy to confuse yourself and almost over-engineer it and over-think it, so I don’t mind the two-car setup necessarily,” Hinchcliffe said.
Despite driving for one of the most successful teams in IndyCar last year, Hinchcliffe doesn’t see his move as a downgrade.
“I think it’s a lateral (move), it’s different,” Hinchcliffe said. “If you look from a results point of view, they’re very similar in championship position the last couple of seasons, similar amount of wins, things like that.
“So you could argue in a sense it’s a lateral move, but it’s a change of environment, a change of philosophy — I guess you could say — and so far it’s been great.”
The driver that departed Schmidt Peterson Motorsports left for what may be the best team in IndyCar racing in Team Penske. Simon Pagenaud had driven for the Schmidt team for a few seasons with a few wins to his credit, but moving from a race-winning team to a championship-winning team was a major upgrade to the Frenchman.
“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.”
Pagenaud’s biggest culture shock was moving from one rookie teammate to three teammates who had won 500-mile races. The feedback difference alone made Pagenaud a fierce competitor.
Of course, going from one teammate to three or from three to one are huge steps, but going from no teammates to one is just as big, if not bigger.
That’s what happened for Jack Hawksworth as he left Bryan Herta Autosport to join A.J. Foyt Racing. Hawksworth has Takuma Sato as his teammate. Sato has been racing in IndyCar since 2010 and won at Long Beach in 2013.
The results the drivers get with new teams compared to their replacements will get even more interesting at Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana.