How great to see Juan Pablo Montoya take the first victory of the season. Watching the race I had a feeling of deja vu in watching Will Power dominate proceedings (he led all but six laps for the first 82) but be pegged back; specifically I was thinking of 2013 when a Penske driver looked sure to win, only for Power to be denied and the Andretti of James Hinchcliffe take victory instead. It wasn’t just a memory but an ominous feeling in my mind and sure enough Power was not victorious (but at least he came second this time).
In many ways the first race of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series was an allegory for the off-season leading up to it: a long time in developing, with aero kits the dominant talking point. The multiple cautions because of debris on a street circuit (plus the time taken to clear things up) were foreseen by many. I’m not really into the criticism of this: track clean-up has always been limited by resources and not the skills of the people involved and of course debris cautions is no reason to not have aero kits. The rustiness of all the drivers and eagerness to impress of some no doubt also contributed. But if this is to be a common theme then perhaps some kind of top-down action needs to be take. In qualifying bringing out a red flag earns you a penalty; perhaps in addition to the penalty of needing to pit (in most cases) and additional penalty needs to be given, say a drive-through after the caution period has ended as currently a driver can just join the back of the snake anyway. Of course that would mean stewards deliberating on who caused any incident resulting in debris and that has its own issues, but it’s a thought.
JPM’s victory was something of a statement in a way last year’s oval victories were not. They signified Montoya was back and would indeed be strong on the ovals as could be expected from someone who’d spent so long driving in NASCAR (even if he never won an oval race in that series). But Montoya was a candidate for victory all day long on a street circuit and took his chance when it came. One sample does not a theory make, but JPM has as much claim to being a season-long title contender as anyone else at the moment.
It came as no surprise that Penske were the dominant team, only Tony Kanaan’s 3rd place denying them a 1-2-3-4 sweep. Penske were the major partners in developing the Chevrolet aero kit and they have four of the best drivers on the grid. But there is some hope for the other teams. Kanaan was 3rd as mentioned, Charlie Kimball set the second-fastest lap of the race and James Hinchcliffe’s SPM-Honda was fourth-fastest (although curiously Power set his fastest lap on Lap 9). Development is limited but the teams still have a lot to learn about their new equipment so don’t take things for granted.
It wasn’t the best of days for the rookies and wildcards. Hyped Ganassi driver Sage Karam didn’t perform that well, although an injury added to his being weaker on twisties than ovals. Simona di Silvestro was partly responsible for the incident that took her out of contention for a good result. Stefano Coletti was quietly impressive all weekend but is in a bigger pond than his stellar first third of the 2013 GP2 season. Gabby Chaves also impressed until he was the master of his own demise, but the Indy Lights champion will learn and move on. Francesco Dracone was almost as anonymous as he was before his name was ever mentioned in an IndyCar article – as a supporter of the little teams I worry for Dale Coyne Racing this season.
So there we have it, Round 1 down, 15 to go. IndyCar is rarely predictable and the pecking order rarely stable; it’ll be interesting to see if any of these trends are still apparent come the end of the season.