Cold Winter Months Yield Hot-off-the-Press IndyCar Announcements

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Most people don’t think of December as a motorsports kind of month. Those people would be wrong. The Race of Champions took place this past weekend in Barbados, announcements throughout multiple series are dropping on a daily basis for the 2015 season and on December 11-13 in Indianapolis, the Performance Racing Industry show took place at the Indiana Convention Center. The Verizon IndyCar Series had three packed days of panels, interviews, announcements, and program updates at PRI 2014. Let’s take a look at a few of the big stories from the event!

Partnership between CFH Racing & State of Indiana

Ed Carpenter Racing & Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing merged in August of this year to create the new Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing team, with two drivers on board – Ed Carpenter, the only individual to pull double-duty as a driver & owner in the current IndyCar field, and Josef Newgarden, who enters into his 4th year as a full-time driver when the season kicks off in Brasilia in less than 3 months.  Mike Conway, who drove the road courses & street circuits from ECR in 2014, will not return to the new team next season. Conway will more than likely drive for Toyota Racing in the FIA WEC series for 2015, leaving an open seat at CFH. The next occupant of that seat is currently being decided by CFH, but the two most obvious and likely candidates are JR Hildebrand, who piloted ECR’s No 21 car in the 2014 Indy 500 and Simona de Silvestro who recently made the announcement that she is looking to come back to the IndyCar series for 2015. With the opportunity to have a “home-grown American race team”, Hildebrand could have an advantage over de Silvestro, but that remains to be seen and we should have an answer by mid-January. Either way, it seems fans will be happy to see either of these drivers back in the series with an opportunity to show their abilities, even if it is only for 2/3 of a season.

PRI Show 2014, Indianapolis IN, 12/11/14 - c/o Chris Owens, IndyCar
PRI Show 2014, Indianapolis IN, 12/11/14 – c/o Chris Owens, IndyCar

The State of Indiana sees how hard this team has worked since its merger in addition to the work they did separately in past seasons. Since Indiana is known as “the state that works”, and motorsports have such a strong presence in the economy, higher education opportunities, and communities of Indianapolis specifically, partnering w CFH simply makes sense. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation will be an associate sponsor for the CFH Racing cars at 3 of the biggest races of the 2015 season: both races in Indiana – the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis & the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, in addition to the season finale – the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Mazda Powers All 3 Tiers of Road to Indy

The AER development engine in the new IL-15 Dallara chassis for the Indy Lights series, will wear the Mazda badge in 2015, extending the manufacturer’s involvement to all 3 levels of the IndyCar driver development ladder program. The excitement surrounding this new car is continually fueled by new driver signings, team announcements, and now engine manufacturer news during this long off-season.

“Mazda does more for open-wheel racing in North America than any other manufacturer, and their full involvement in the Mazda Road to Indy is great news for all.” – Dan Anderson, CEO & Owner of Anderson Promotions

The field continues to grow and I, like many of you, look forward to the news that will certainly continue right up until the season starts at the end of March on the streets of St. Petersburg, FL. This extension of Mazda’s support and their pride in being a foundation in the racing careers of so many current IndyCar Series drivers makes me wonder if they could be a future engine manufacturer for the IndyCar Series itself. Fans of the series have commented for quite some time about having more engine competition. Wouldn’t this be a natural and logical progression for Mazda?

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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Line-Up: IndyCar & Indy Lights

Back in September, James Hinchcliffe announced he was moving from Andretti Autosport to SPM in a way that only the Mayor of Hinchtown could. But who will join him? The team confirmed that SPM would run two cars in 2015 but that other seat will be filled based on the testing that happens this coming week at Sebring International Raceway in sunny Florida. There are three confirmed drivers to test for that seat, all of whom come from a GP2 background: Davide Valsecchi, Stefano Coletti & Rodolpho Gonzalez.

One of my favorite off-track moments of 2014. Hinchcliffe, Aleshin & other drivers pose for a 2torm-induced selfie in St. Pete's, FL
One of my favorite off-track moments of 2014. Hinchcliffe, Aleshin & other drivers pose for a storm-induced selfie in St. Pete’s, FL

Upon hearing this announcement, I immediately wondered what would happen to Mikhail Aleshin. I had hoped he would be staying with SPM, feeling that he would be a great teammate to Hinchcliffe. After quite a scary end to his 2014 season in Fontana during a night practice, the first Russian driver in the IndyCar Series seemed focused on his health and getting back in shape to race by the start of the next year – his name being left out of SPM discussions regarding 2015 and the financial issues tied to the political struggles in Russia, make me a bit weary. Given the strong start that he made in the series and his popularity with fans, I hope to see him back in a car in 2015… but sadly, it is unclear at this time if he will return at all.

Besides Hinchcliffe, there is one other driver who has a set seat with SPM in 2015. That driver is Ethan Ringel, who was confirmed for SPM’s Indy Lights team back in October. Ringel, at the age of 20 has had more than a dozen starts in GP3 and also ran in the Atlantic Championship Series before deciding to bring his career to the United States. Ringel admitted to be enticed by Indy Lights series but wanting to wait for the new chassis before making the move. Ringel is not the only European-based driver to show interest in the top tier of the Mazda Road to Indy thanks to this new chassis. We are sure to see a nice-sized field for Lights in 2015 and a vast improvement to the size of the field we saw the past couple seasons. The increase in volume of cars on the grid and the high level of driver talent behind the wheels of the IL-15 Dallaras will prove that IndyCar and the Mazda Road to Indy are THE series to watch in 2015… and beyond.

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