Commentary

A look at the 2014 IndyCar grid

Originally Published: March 26, 2014
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

Juan Pablo MontoyaJeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesJuan Pablo Montoya is ready to get his open-wheel career back on course.

A team-by-team look at the IndyCar Series grid as the season gets underway:

CHIP GANASSI RACING


Ryan Briscoe: No. 8 NTT DATA Chevrolet

Scott Dixon: No. 9 Target Chevrolet

Tony Kanaan: No. 10 Target Chevrolet

Charlie Kimball: No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet

2013 IndyCar results: Dixon first, Kimball eighth, Kanaan 11th (with KV Racing), Briscoe 26th (with Panther Racing)

2014 outlook: It feels like 2000 all over again, because Chip Ganassi has changed engine manufacturers after winning an Indy car championship with Honda. Ganassi has never been afraid to make equipment changes, and switching to two-time defending IndyCar Series manufacturers' champion Chevrolet is far from a gamble. But Ganassi was unofficially Honda's lead team, and that status won't happen with Chevy when chief rival Roger Penske co-owns the company that builds the engines.

Then again, Ganassi and managing director Mike Hull are confident that their team can compete with anyone when given equal equipment. There's a change in the driver roster, too, with the retired Dario Franchitti replaced by Indy car veteran Kanaan. Franchitti is maintaining an involvement with the team, likely similar to the engineering advisor role that Rick Mears plays at Team Penske. Ganassi is going back to running four cars, with Briscoe returning to the team that gave him his start in Indy cars in 2005.

He'll be teamed with 2013's most improved driver, Kimball, while three-time IndyCar Series champion Dixon is the glue that holds it all together. This is Dixon's 13th season with the Ganassi organization in what has been a very successful partnership for the team and IndyCar's active wins leader.

Quotable

Briscoe
Briscoe

Briscoe: "Everything I wanted after I didn't get a full-time ride last year has sort of come true now.

"It's really the perfect scenario. It was a bit of a roller-coaster ride to get here, but things have worked out. I'm really excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge chance to run with Chip this year. We're working really hard on being strong. I'm working hard on being on top of my game and hopefully competitive."

Dixon
Dixon

Dixon: "Lots of changes, but I'm confident in the season. We'll have to see how big that change is as we get through the year with different drivers and different combinations.

"As a friend, it's going to be great to have Dario around. He'll be sorely missed on the track. On the 9-car side, we need to start the season off a little bit stronger. Looking for strong results straightaway in St. Pete, and Long Beach has been definitely not a great track for results for us in recent history."

Kanaan
Kanaan

Kanaan: "There's a lot of history in that 10 car, especially with my friends Dan [Wheldon] and Dario [Franchitti]. The expectations are the highest possible, but I don't have a problem.

"I'm in a very good place, and I am extremely confident in my capabilities. I've just got to work and try to find out what's good for me and go forward. The team and results speak for themselves. It definitely gives me better peace of mind to just be able to think about the race car."

Kimball
Kimball

Kimball: "All the way along, Chip [Ganassi]'s advice has been to build the foundation for a long-term career, not one-year flash in the pan.

"To get the victory at Mid-Ohio and get the win by going fast -- not catching a yellow [flag] at the end, but winning by outright speed -- cemented my confidence level, for sure. We know coming into this season we've prepared as a team, and we know we can win because we've done it. That lays the groundwork to have a great year."

TEAM PENSKE


Juan Pablo Montoya: No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet

Helio Castroneves: No. 3 Shell/Pennzoil/Hitachi/Auto Club Chevrolet

Will Power: No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet

2013 IndyCar results: Castroneves second, Power fourth, Montoya did not compete

2014 outlook: Team Penske has earned more race wins and championships than any other Indy car team, but Roger Penske's last driver to win the title was Sam Hornish Jr. back in 2006.

There has been a Penske driver in the championship mix almost every season since, and race wins have remained plentiful, yet the overall season crown has been elusive. It's also been five years since a Penske driver triumphed at Mr. Penske's beloved Indianapolis 500, which is part of the reason Montoya has been brought in. Penske and team president Tim Cindric are betting that not only will a rejuvenated Montoya push perennial championship contender Power to new heights, he will also maintain the magic that was on display when he won the Indy 500 in his only Indy car start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Power is the obvious championship favorite, especially now that he has a superspeedway race win on his résumé. Castroneves, also still searching for his first championship after falling just short again in 2013, enters his 15th season as a Penske driver.

Quotable

Montoya
Montoya

Montoya: "I'm really excited. I feel like I'm not where I want to be yet with the car, but I feel we have come a long way.

"It's hard because the new tires are different than the ones I've been used to the last three years. I feel like we [are] gaining on it. It's good to have a guy like Will on the team that's really quick and gets the job done. Helio has a lot of experience. I felt like I brought a few things to the team already to make the cars better. We've gotten a little bit better, so I'm pretty happy."

Castroneves
Castroneves

Castroneves: "Last year is gone. Yesterday's news. Now, we're in 2014. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We're ready.

"Certainly, we did our job last year. Unfortunately, [there were] circumstances outside of our control, and the championship didn't happen. But right now, that's the attitude I'm going with in 2014: give ourselves an opportunity. That door will open one day."

 

Power
Power

Power: "I had spent three years being very conservative, feeling the pressure of leading the points. It actually taught me you just need to race hard no matter what. At the end of the year, it was fun. You can just race hard. It does not matter.

"In fact, the results came a lot better when I did that. We've had a couple test days with the three cars and actually found some pretty good stuff. I feel as though we're going to be pretty competitive. You just can't be lazy. You've got to work hard in this game if you want to continually be competitive. So that's our plan."

SCHMIDT-PETERSON MOTORSPORT


Mikhail Aleshin (Rookie): No. 7 Honda

Simon Pagenaud: No. 77 Honda

2013 IndyCar results: Pagenaud third, Aleshin did not compete

2014 outlook: This small but powerful team broke through to win two IndyCar Series races in 2013 with rising star Pagenaud. After his cars dominated Indy Lights competition for several seasons, Sam Schmidt took a steady approach to building an Indy car program.

His smartest decision might have been joining forces with Pagenaud, who, along with being a fast and aggressive driver, has a long history working with Honda on engine development. For the second season in a row, the Frenchman will have a rookie teammate. This time, it's 26-year-old Aleshin, the first Russian driver to compete in the IndyCar Series.

Quotable

Aleshin: "The most interesting part for me will be races on ovals because that's what I haven't done at all in my life. I just did one test day in Homestead for my rookie test. It was much better than any of my expectations in the end, the feeling of racing on ovals.

"But, the thing is, I don't know any of the tracks except Sonoma. I will need to prepare maximum as I can before every race. How fast I will learn, that will be the most important part for me this year."

 

Pagenaud
Pagenaud

Pagenaud: "I think 2014 is about to be an incredible year. I'm very excited about it. I know everybody's working really hard, every team, every driver, so the level is going to be even higher than it is last year.

"As a driver, it's about finding what you can improve of yourself to come back and be stronger, what to do to basically be faster is the key. It's been interesting to be able to develop the engine with Honda, and I'm very glad to be part of it. I think we're about ready for the start of the season. I feel a lot more confident, a lot more 'one' with my car than I was last year."

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT


Marco Andretti: No. 25 Snapple Honda

James Hinchcliffe: No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda

Ryan Hunter-Reay: No. 28 DHL Honda

Carlos Munoz: No. 34 AndrettiTV Honda

2013 IndyCar results: Andretti fifth, Hunter-Reay seventh, Hinchcliffe eighth, Munoz 28th

2014 outlook: With Team Penske and Ganassi Racing signed to Chevrolet, Michael Andretti had two choices: stay with Chevy and be perceived (but not treated) like the Bowtie Brigade's No. 3 team, or change to the Honda camp, take over unofficial No. 1 status, and hopefully rekindle the magic of a strong and successful run from 2003 to '05 when what was then called Andretti Green Racing was really Honda's lead team.

Andretti went for the latter, perhaps reasoning that if the new twin-turbo Honda engine is a gem, it will be easier to beat Ganassi and Penske if he doesn't join them. Three-fourths of the driver lineup is back, led by the fast and dependable 2012 IndyCar Series champion Hunter-Reay. Hinchcliffe won three races but didn't have much to show for the rest of his season, while Marco Andretti finished a career best in the championship but failed to win a race. The fourth car has been rebooted, with Indy 500 rookie of the year Munoz in for the erratic E.J. Viso.

Quotable

Andretti
Andretti

Marco Andretti: "I think 2013 was a good start to the direction I wanted to go. We confirmed a lot of my work is in the right direction anyway. We just need to keep plugging away with that, and we have. I think I made gains since.

"I'm more confident going into '14 than I was '13. This year the goal has to be to capitalize where we're dominant because I think that's what really took us out of the championship the second half of the year last year. The races we know we can win we just have to win. If we're able to do that, string a few together, I think we can be champions."

Hinchcliffe
Hinchcliffe

Hinchcliffe: "Last year we had the pace early but not the consistency. If you look at the second half of the year, we were actually way more consistent than people realize. I think as a team, we lost a little bit of pace.

"We weren't qualifying as well. At the end of the year, we had that good, never-give-up attitude, pulled some decent results out of some bad situations, but we didn't have the overall pace at that point of the year. So we actually ended the year on more of a high than people realized, which is fine. As long as we know it, and know what we were doing to get that, that could put us in a good position for this year."

Hunter-Reay
Hunter-Reay

Hunter-Reay: "I'm looking forward to 2014. A lot of new challenges coming at us. This series is ever evolving. The competition is getting tougher.

"Penske added a car, Ganassi [went] back to four with T.K. [Tony Kanaan] and Briscoe over there. It's going to be tougher every year. We've been working with Honda, and it's completely different than the single turbo, the drivability side of it. Honda has a lot of work to do just to catch up to what Chevy has been used to, but I think it's going to be great this year. It's going to be very tight."

Munoz: "I don't like the word 'idolized,' but [Juan Pablo Montoya] was a symbol for me when I was a kid, an example for me and many Colombian drivers, to follow him.

"It's a strange feeling when you're small. You're looking at him as a big driver, but once I'm here, you just put your helmet on, and everyone is the same. You don't think, 'Who is this guy?' or 'What has he done?' For sure, it will be great for us to be fighting each other in the top positions."

DALE COYNE RACING


Justin Wilson: No. 18 Boy Scouts of America Honda

TBA: No. 19 Sonny's BBQ Honda

2013 IndyCar results: Wilson 6th

2014 outlook: How many IndyCar team owners have come and gone in Dale Coyne's 30-plus years in the sport? DCR somehow seems to get more from less than any other outfit in the paddock. The key to Coyne's success in recent years is his employment of some really top-class drivers who found themselves at career crossroads, including Bruno Junqueira and Wilson.

In his second stint with the team, Wilson didn't win a race last season but was consistent enough to finish sixth in the championship. Engineer Bill Pappas has moved to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, so Wilson will be working with Michael Cannon. As for his teammate, Coyne is honoring a longstanding tradition by not announcing his identity until the day before the season starts.

Quotable

Wilson
Wilson

Wilson: "We didn't expect to finish sixth in the championship at the start of last year, and obviously, now this year, we want to build on it.

"We have a lot of new personnel at Dale Coyne Racing, including my engineer Michael Cannon, so we've got to learn each other and try and not make the usual mistakes, try and keep building on what Michael learned from the last couple years and what I learned from the last couple years. Hopefully, we can build on that and win races. We came close to winning a couple races last year and we didn't. Want to change that around this year and at least win one, if not multiple."

KV RACING TECHNOLOGY


Sebastien Bourdais: No. 11 Mistic/Hydroxycut Chevrolet

Sebastian Saavedra: No. 17 AFS Honda

2013 IndyCar results: Bourdais 12th, Saavedra 21st (both with Dragon Racing)

2014 outlook: After a couple of part-time seasons and a less-than-satisfactory season with Dragon Racing, Bourdais is getting his first proper shot at competing for a unified Indy car championship. The four-time champion under Champ Car sanction unsuccessfully pursued a Formula 1 career, and, after finally making the decision to return to Indy cars on a full-time basis, Bourdais has had difficulty finding the kind of comfortable, competitive situation he had with Newman/Haas Racing from 2003 to 2007.

KV Racing doesn't have an understated movie star and a quirky racing lifer as team owners, but Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser run a solid racing team and know how to have a good time. Second driver Saavedra follows Bourdais from Dragon and is also hoping that an upgrade in team produces improved results.

Quotable

Bourdais
Bourdais

Bourdais: "I'm really feeling very fortunate because I got a great group of guys around me. They've been working really hard all winter, and it's really paying off.

"It's been the hardest winter in terms of work that I've seen my team go through in a long time. It makes you feel great because you know the level of preparation is quite high. We've made a lot of progress on all fronts. It's probably not going to be perfect right off the bat, but it's a two-year deal, and I'm excited to see the progress we made. Hopefully, we can hit the ground running and just keep on getting better."

Saavedra
Saavedra

Saavedra: "I'm very happy that the KV-AFS Racing program has come together. It gives us a lot of positive energy going into the season.

"I think I respect Bourdais a lot, and he respects me. I think that's the key to building a great partnership with your teammate. I think we were able to understand each other and see, development wise, that we needed each other to move forward. We built a really great relationship last year."

SARAH FISHER HARTMAN RACING


Josef Newgarden: No. 67 Honda

2013 IndyCar results: Newgarden 14th

2014 outlook: Sarah Fisher and partner Wink Hartman have a beautiful new race shop on Main Street in Speedway, Ind, but they still hold the same kind of homey team barbeques and pitch-ins that were commonplace at SFHR's old digs a couple miles away on Rockville Road.

This close-knit squad doesn't have the budget of the rest of the paddock, but it has a strong sense of family spirit and a very personable and talented driver in Newgarden. If they keep putting themselves in position to win, this combination can add to the victory Ed Carpenter scored for SHFR at Kentucky Speedway in 2011.

Quotable

Newgarden: "In 2013, we were able to finish races but weren't as quick as we were in 2012. Moving into year three, we have to have a fast car and be able to finish races well, call good races, have good pit stops.

"I've got to keep it out of the fence, keep it from getting tangled up. Everything has to kind of come together for year three. If we do that, I think it's realistic that we could be a top-ten championship car. I believe we can do that. With a little bit of luck, we can have better speed this year and put ourselves in good positions to finish well."

ED CARPENTER RACING


Ed Carpenter: No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet (ovals)

Mike Conway: No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet (road races)

2013 IndyCar results: Carpenter 18th, Conway 23rd (with Dale Coyne Racing)

2014 outlook: Carpenter is a fine race car driver and an even smarter team owner -- one who realized that his team would have a greater chance of being successful in the IndyCar Series' increasingly prevalent road and street races with somebody besides himself behind the wheel of the ECR Chevy.

There are few better oval drivers than Carpenter, the winner of two races and defending Indianapolis 500 pole sitter. He's also a very decent road racer, but when Conway -- also a two-time IndyCar race winner -- made it known he was looking for a road racing-only program, Carpenter benched himself as the driver in order to chase wins as a team owner.

Quotable

Carpenter
Carpenter

Carpenter: "I want to be able to race as long as I can and do it well. At the same time, the race team is something that I see as my future beyond driving, whenever that day comes. It's certainly a business that I want to be successful for long after I'm driving.

"That's kind of where the decision came from, just to make sure that we're doing everything we possibly could to position the team well and in a strong place to deliver for all our current partners. A lot of what we've been doing is really getting Mike comfortable with our team and, at the same time, us getting comfortable with Mike. It's gone well, and I feel like he's made a lot of progress."

A.J. FOYT RACING


Takuma Sato: No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda

2013 IndyCar results: Sato 18th

2014 outlook: Sato and A.J. Foyt seem like an unlikely pairing, yet together, they are IndyCar Series race winners.

Sato broke an 11-year winless streak for the Indy car legend's team with his 2013 Long Beach Grand Prix victory, and the Japanese ace nearly won again a few weeks later in Brazil. But most of the rest of the season was forgettable. Hopes this season could rest on the competitive level of the new twin-turbo Honda engine.

Quotable

Sato
Sato

Sato: "This year, obviously, we are trying to be competitive on as many circuit[s] as possible and try to keep up all the points. That's our target.

"We know we can win races. Obviously, it's going to be competitive, but, as an organization, we can win the race. We learned a lot. It's continually working. From the first year to the second year, it's always better. I'm definitely looking forward to coming to the second season for A.J. Foyt Racing."

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING


Graham Rahal: No. 15 National Guard Honda

2013 IndyCar results: Rahal 17th

2014 outlook: RLL's commercial team scored a coup by landing the lucrative U.S. National Guard sponsorship that was the province of Panther Racing since 2007. It's the next-to-last component that Rahal needs to develop into a major American star; the last, of course, is a series of dominant race wins.

Bill Pappas, the veteran engineer most recently with Dale Coyne Racing, has been recruited to give Rahal cars he can be confident in. Living the good life in a very public romance with drag racing star Courtney Force, the only thing missing in Rahal's life is a few more trophies for the mantle.

Quotable

Rahal
Rahal

Rahal: "I think having the National Guard on board is going to help elevate us to a different level we haven't been in many years, probably since the team was a Ford factory team or funded by Miller or Shell in the old days.

"Everybody's excited about it. Our engineering staff is completely new for this year across the board pretty much other than Eddie Jones has stayed on board. A lot of new faces. This is going to allow us to continue to invest in those sorts of people we need, shock programs, that sort of thing. I hope we can see performance gains right away."

PANTHER RACING


TBA: No. 4 Chevrolet

2013 IndyCar results: Oriol Servia 22nd, JR Hildebrand 25th, Briscoe 26th

2014 outlook: Panther fought to the closing bell and then some to keep the National Guard money, and after the decision in favor of Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Panther sued RLL and IndyCar.

Panther has also relinquished its position in IndyCar's Leader's Circle fund and is not expected to field a car in 2014.

BRYAN HERTA AUTOSPORT


Jack Hawksworth (Rookie): No. 98 Barracuda Networks Honda

2013 IndyCar results: Alex Tagliani 24th, Luca Fillippi 32nd

2014 outlook: After winning the 2011 Indianapolis 500 with driver Dan Wheldon, Bryan Herta Autosport has not found the same level of success since entering full-time competition in 2012.

The team's relationship with Tagliani soured mid-2013, and the rest of the season was spent auditioning Fillippi and Hildebrand. To some surprise, the team's 2014 seat went to 23-year old Indy Lights graduate Hawksworth, who might spring the occasional surprise.

Quotable

Hawksworth: "I am absolutely delighted to be racing for Bryan Herta Autosport in the 2014 IndyCar Series. It has been a dream of mine for many years, and I can't wait to get started.

"We had a great first test in Sebring that has given us a solid foundation on which to build our campaign. There's a lot of talent and potential in the No. 98 team. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it and look forward to an exciting year ahead."

Notable Part-timers


Servia will race the Indianapolis 500 and three other races (Long Beach, Alabama and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis) for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing; 1995 CART series champion Jacques Villeneuve (Schmidt Peterson Motorsport) will set a record by running the Indy 500 a record 19 years since his last (victorious) start; Sprint Cup star Kurt Busch (Andretti Autosport) will attempt to "do the double" by competing at Indianapolis and in the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 on the same day; other Indy-only programs have been announced for Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing), Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) and Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Racing).

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