The wait is finally over. The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season is officially set to begin this weekend with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. While the anticipation is huge simply to start off another season, there’s a reason that the hype is possibly slightly higher this weekend.
This weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the first race featuring the aerodynamic bodywork kits designed, manufactured and supplied by Chevrolet and Honda. For the first time since the Dallara IR-12 chassis debuted, the cars will look different for each of the two manufauctures. For this event, it marks the first time the road/street course kit has been used in competition. The teams had a chance to test the kits at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this month, with defending series champion Will Power topping the charts with a lap of one minute and 7.3118 seconds around the 2.3 mile road course.
Though while Power is familiar with his Team Penske team, there are some who come in with experience – but lack of familarity. A list of drivers will be making their debuts with respective teams this weekend.
Luca Filippi joins CFH Racing this season and will share the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet with Ed Carpenter. Filippi will run the road/street courses, while Carpenter runs the ovals. Fillippi has made eight previous IndyCar starts, posting a single top 10 finish in Texas in 2013. This will mark his first trip to St. Petersburg.
“We are all very excited for St. Pete,” the Italian commented. “It will be my first race with CFH Racing and I really can’t wait to get there. Obviously, it’s been a long winter for everyone, but it’s good that we had an opportunity to test the car with the old package and the new aero kit. I think Chevy has done a great job and we are really looking forward to seeing where we are. I think we are going to be competitive and the entire team is really excited about it.”
Simon Pagenaud joins Team Penske Racing, feeling that he needed to join the championship organization if he wanted a shot at the championship. He comes off a strong season that saw him finish in the top-five in points with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Pagenaud has had success in St. Petersburg before, scoring a pair of top-six finishes.
“To say that I’m ready to get to St. Pete would be a huge understatement,” Pagenaud said. “I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve ready to go with my new No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevy team. Making the move to Team Penske has been everything I thought it would be. The resources available to us are second to none, but I also feel that both (engineer) Ben (Bretzman) and I can contribute a lot to the team as well. We’ve already been quite busy with testing over the last few weeks, trying to really hone in on the new Chevrolet aero kit. Chevy did an amazing job with it and we will continue to improve as the season goes along.”
Simona de Silvestro made 65 Verizon IndyCar Series starts, highlighted by a second at Houston in 2013, before leaving IndyCar for a chance to run Formula 1. After spending a couple seasons as a test driver with a team, she returns to IndyCar, driving the No. 25 Honda for Andretti Autosport. She has also had success at St. Petersburg before, scoring a pair of top six finishes.
“I’m really looking forward to St. Pete,” she said. “It’s a place I’ve always done pretty well, and I really enjoy the track, the atmosphere. It’s the first race of the season, so it’s always really exciting, and especially for me, I’m going there after a year away from INDYCAR… It’s going to be great; especially with Andretti Autosport – it’s going to be a new challenge but I can’t wait to start the season with them. Hopefully we’ll get a good result, and I think we’ll do that.”
While these three drivers are in new rides for the new season, they will be ones to keep an eye on simply based on their experience.