We continue our look ahead to the 2015 IndyCar season with a view into the Honda teams.
- 25 - Simona Di Silvestro (SUI)
- 26 - Carlos Munoz (COL)
- 27 - Marco Andretti (USA)
- 28 - Ryan Hunter-Reay (USA)
Consider that in the Chevrolet camp, there are ten Indy/ChampCar championships represented among five drivers, and six Indy 500 wins represented among four drivers. In the Honda camp? Only one championship, only one Indy 500 win, and both of those are held by one man: Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR is clearly Honda's lead driver and is their best hope at taking a consistent fight to the heavy hitters of Chevy. Last year was a bit of a disappointment for him, except for that whole "First American to Win Indianapolis in 8 Years" thing. He also shouldered a fair bit of the testing load, so expect him to have an upper hand on getting to the Honda kit's sweet spot first. Joining him at Andretti is, of course, Marco Andretti, who has now suffered two largely anonymous seasons in a row. His racecraft and focus got better last year, however, and expect something of a rebound for him. Munoz dazzled in his oval appearances as a rookie, and is quick on the road courses, too, but the same flair that made him a marvel to watch also makes him wildly inconsistent, and he will need to learn to save the equipment if he's going to compete for wins. Finally, a warm welcome back to the Swiss Missile, who is at Andretti for at least St. Petersburg, and could potentially run the rest of the season if sponsorship works out. Andretti is a step up from even KV, where she was reasonably successful two years ago, and if the F1 escapades haven't dulled her IndyCar skill, she could play spoiler early on.
- 5 - James Hinchcliffe (CAN)
- 7 - James Jakes (GBR)
For much of last season, it was assumed that Di Silvestro's car was going to remain under the control of Hinchcliffe, who won three races with it in 2013 but struggled last year. But when sponsorship fell through, the Mayor found himself greater stability with Schmidt-Peterson, a team that has been built to championship contender status during Simon Pagenaud's tenure. With Pagenaud off to Penske, it's hard to think of a better spot for Hinch than SPM, where he now has full season sponsorship and an unofficial #2 slot in the Honda pecking order to RHR. Jakes returns to the series for the first time in a couple of seasons. He's ostensibly a pay driver, but he's got legitimate chops, and is a surprisingly good qualifier. He won't contend for wins, but he won't embarrass himself either.
A.J. Foyt Racing
- 14 - Takuma Sato (JPN)
- 41 - Jack Hawksworth (GBR)
A.J. Foyt's team expands back to two cars for the first time since before the merger. Sato looks to rebound from an anonymous 2014 that was a big disappointment after a win and other strong runs in 2013. His F1 experience should serve him well with the additional downforce this season. Hawksworth was a huge gamble that Bryan Herta took last year that paid off rather well, with a very strong run at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He's young and very talented, and not having to worry about where next week's check is going to come from will help a ton. If there's a darkhorse pick to be had in the field this year, it's him.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
- 15 - Graham Rahal (USA)
No driver in the field stands to gain more from the aero kits than Rahal, who has never been able to come to grips with the DW12, despite big changes in his engineering team. The increased grip should put the car back into his comfort zone, and it apparently has, since he was the top Honda in Spring Training. Team part-owner David Letterman is retiring from his graveyard shift job, and will be seen around the track more often.
Bryan Herta Autosport
- 98 - Gabby Chaves (COL)
Gabby Chaves graduates up from Indy Lights to a full-time IndyCar ride, and with him comes a full-season sponsorship for a team that badly needs one after getting burned last year. BHA is not a top flight team, but it's a perfect place for Chaves to learn the big cars without much pressure. He'll need the time, too, as he's the last champion in the outgoing Lights cars, which were built to be similar to the old IR05 cars, and didn't share much of any of the driving characteristics of the DW12.
Dale Coyne Racing
- 18 - Carlos Huertas (COL)
- 19 - Francesco Dracone (ITA)
The last 3 seasons have seen Dale Coyne put a full on pay driver in one seat to partially fund the ride of his old standby star, Justin Wilson. Wilson thought he had a ride with Andretti coming to him, and thus burned his bridges with DCR, only to have the sponsorship fall through and his chances at a full time ride go with it. Huertas was the pay driver last year, a "meh" driver who backed into an unimaginable rainy Houston win. So what does Coyne do? Keep Huertas around, of course! To fund Wilson? Heck no! Instead, he takes the money from an even worse pay driver, that being Dracone, who was last seen in IndyCar dicing with the likes of Marty Roth and Milka Duno, and puts him in the car for four races. The SMH level grew at Barber last week when DCR had Dracone test a car with the old Dallara kit, and subsequently he was four seconds off the pace. Don't be surprised if IndyCar uses the old "Milka Rule" to pull Dracone off the track for being dangerously slow at several races.
The nature of IndyCar means we'll be seeing plenty of other drivers, especially during the Month of May as the field swells to 33 for the Indianapolis 500. The aforementioned Justin Wilson is expected to have a ride for at least that portion of the season, and may end up at Andretti if funding can't be pulled together for a full year for Di Silvestro. Sprint car star Bryan Clauson is getting a second shot at Indy with the help of Jonathan Byrd Racing; oval racing hero and 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier will be back again in his own car; Pippa Mann is expected to take part with Coyne; Jay Howard will drive for Herta; expect CFH Racing to pull together a car for JR Hildebrand; A.J. Allmendinger has expressed interest in doing the double but as of yet doesn't have a ride, and expect several more announcements as Memorial Day draws near.
And with that, it's time to go racing in St. Petersburg. Let's get this party started.