Montoya returns to a condensed and closely-fought IndyCar series

2014 IndyCar season preview

James Hinchcliffe, Andretti, Barber Motorsport Park, 2014The first of 19 races in this year’s IndyCar championship begins on the streets of St Petersburg, Florida this weekend.

It’s the same number of races there are on the F1 calendar. But on IndyCar’s compressed schedule the season finale takes place on the last Saturday in August – when F1 will still has seven races to run.

As with many changes which made to IndyCar in recent years the aim is to shore up its disappointing television audience. As it heads into its seventh year post-reunification, interest in the series bears no comparison with the attention it once attracted.

But the arrival of major names from other series may go some way to address that. Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve – F1 race winners, Indianapolis 500 winners and Champ Car-era champions both – will compete this year.

Villeneuve has an Indy 500-only deal while Montoya is making an overdue full-time return to single-seater racing, eight years after his acrimonious departure from F1. Montoya’s application has been in doubt in the past but pre-season footage shows he’s been busy getting in shape for his IndyCar comeback.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske, Barber Motorsport Park, 2014While Montoya’s spell in NASCAR was something of a disappointment, yielding just two wins on road courses, the same can’t be said of 2004 champion Kurt Busch, who will also make an appearance in an open-wheel racer this year. Busch is to attempt three journeys of at least 500 miles each in one day: the Indy 500 followed by a 500-mile trip to Charlotte where he will start NASCAR’s 600-mile race.

The appearance of these star drivers comes at a vital time for the championship following the retirement of four-times champion and three-times Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti due to injuries sustained in Houston last year.

Happily Franchitti has recovered sufficiently that he will be able drive the pace car at the Brickyard this year. But his accident was a sobering reminder of the work the series needs to do on its safety standards, coming just two years after the horrible accident which claimed the life of Dan Wheldon.

IndyCar has made changes to the Dallara DW12 on safety grounds ahead of its third season with the chassis to improve head and arm protection. The car remains one of the less attractive designs in motor racing – though Formula One has done its bit to help with that this year – but the quality of racing it has created is hard to fault.

It’s hard to think of another top-flight single seater series which produces racing which is consistently as close and exciting as IndyCar’s in recent years. Since 2006, every championship has been decided at the final race.

Tony Kanaan, Ganassi, Barber Motorsport Park, 2014That makes their decision to fiddle with the points system rather surprising. But the introduction of double points at three of this year’s races makes rather more sense than F1′s horrendously unpopular adoption of a similar but significantly different concept.

Double points will be awarded at IndyCar’s three 500-mile races this year, which are more than twice the length of almost every other race on the calendar. At a time when oval races are arguably under-represented on the calendar, and as the series has done something similar in the past, the idea actually makes a lot of sense. The over-generous allocation of qualifying points for the Indianapolis 500, however, does not.

The 2014 series will remain within the USA and Canada as the race on Sao Paulo’s rather uninspiring street circuit has been dropped. Plans are afoot to return to Brazil next year, potentially in the capital city Brasilia.

In place of this event, as somewhat of a surprise, is a new race on a revised Indianapolis road course at the beginning of May to serve as a warm-up for the main event at the end of the month. This has been the subject of considerable debate but it has the advantage of drawing attention to the versatility of cars and drivers who can compete on a winding road course and a 200mph superspeedway.

Those speeds are set to get even higher, as the series owners have said they want to see Arie Luyendyk’s 382.216kph (237.498mph) record from 1996 to fall within the next three years.

While falling lap speeds and the quality of competition remain major talking points in Formula One, IndyCar seems keen to avoid the same problems. But it’s not like the series hasn’t got enough of its own it needs to work on. Hopefully the condensed 2014 schedule and the arrival of some big name drivers will see it take a step in the right direction.

2014 IndyCar teams and drivers

Team Engine Driver Notes
Foyt Honda Takuma Sato Scored breakthrough victory at Long Beach last year.
Andretti Honda Marco Andretti Still racing for grandfather’s team, now with Honda power.
Andretti Honda James Hinchcliffe Blew hot-and-cold last year with three wins and too many DNFs.
Andretti Honda Ryan Hunter-Reay Slumped in second half of 2013, losing chance to retain crown.
Andretti Honda Carlos Munoz Rookie star of last year’s Indy 500 now has full-time ride.
Herta Honda Jack Hawksworth 2012 Star Mazda champion going it alone in Bryan Herta’s team.
Ganassi Chevrolet Scott Dixon Made late surge to third IndyCar title last year.
Ganassi Chevrolet Tony Kanaan Finally won the Indy 500 last year, now in Franchitti’s place.
Ganassi Chevrolet Charlie Kimball The most surprising of the ten different drivers to win last year.
Ganassi Chevrolet Ryan Briscoe Back to a full time seat after losing place his at Penske.
Dale Coyne Honda Justin Wilson Couldn’t repeat 2012 win last year but took four podiums.
Ed Carpenter Chevrolet Ed Carpenter / Mike Conway Carpenter for ovals, Conway for road and street tracks.
KV Chevrolet Sebastien Bourdais Still striving to recapture pre-F1 high, now in Kanaan’s place.
KV Chevrolet Sebastian Saavedra Yet to finish higher than eighth in 40 appearances.
Penske Chevrolet Helio Castroneves Three times Indy 500 winner, three times series runner-up.
Penske Chevrolet Juan Pablo Montoya Won 2000 Indy 500 and 1999 Champ Car title (on points tie).
Penske Chevrolet Will Power Penske’s other three-times championship runner-up.
RLL Honda Graham Rahal Yet to emerge from father’s shadow or follow up on 2008 race win.
RLL Honda Oriol Servia Hugely experienced at this level but just one (Champ Car) win.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Honda Josef Newgarden Fast but occasoinally error-prone, now in his third year.
Schmidt Peterson Honda Simon Pagenaud A stealthy third in the points last year after two wins.
Schmidt Peterson Honda Mikhail Aleshin Rookie treaded water in Formula Renault 3.5 after 2010 title win.

Among those confirmed for the Indianapolis 500 are Jacques Villeneuve, Kurt Busch, JR Hildebrand, Alex Tagliani, Martin Plowman

2014 IndyCar calendar

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69 comments on Montoya returns to a condensed and closely-fought IndyCar series

  1. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 26th March 2014, 12:50

    Sad that Simona won’t be back, but hopeful she’ll make the ranks in F1!

  2. Phil said on 26th March 2014, 13:18

    Actually the first race is in st. Petersburg, which is in the Tampa bay area, not Miami. I know, I live here. Pumped for the season to start!

  3. thecrookedcap (@thecrookedcap) said on 26th March 2014, 13:24

    Andretti Autosport is owned by Michael Andretti, not Mario, so Marco is driving for his dad and not his grandfather.

  4. matt90 (@matt90) said on 26th March 2014, 13:44

    I think road circuits are under-represented now. The street tracks bring racing close to fans, but it’s a shame to see a country with so many great permanent circuits fail to use many of them. Laguna Seca, Road America, Road Atlanta etc.

    The 2014 series will remain within the USA

    What about Canada?

  5. Paul (@frankjaeger) said on 26th March 2014, 13:46

    Can anyone tell me why JPM departed from F1?

    From what I’ve seen he was an absolute beast, seizing opportunities as they appeared

    • R.J. O'Connell (@rjoconnell) said on 26th March 2014, 13:53

      Got fed up with it. Seeing him get decimated by Kimi at McLaren was a real punch in the gut for me.

    • Girts (@girts) said on 26th March 2014, 14:23

      @frankjaeger I just found an interesting F1F article from 2006. According to that, McLaren’s lack of pace, lack of availability of competitive drives elsewhere and Raikkonen favouritism at McLaren were the main reasons for his departure:

      http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2006/11/01/f1-2006-review-juan-pablo-montoya-retrospective/

      That’s more or less what I remember, too. But JPM is certainly one of the most impressive F1 drivers of this millenium, his performances alone make the season reviews from early 2000s worth watching!

      • Steph (@stephanief1990) said on 26th March 2014, 15:08

        He’s just done the Legend series with Sky F1 and basically got sick of F1. He was being hammered by Kimi (although Raikkonen was certainly being favoured at least psychologically). I don’t blame JPM as I imagine F1 can wear a lot of people down after a while and I respect those like him and Webber who can say “I’ve had enough, I’m off” even though I never rated him too highly.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 26th March 2014, 15:31

      Latin temperemant.

    • WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 26th March 2014, 16:28

      @frankjaeger – Seizing opportunities as they appeared? Yes, to alienate those around him. Never did I think it would be possible that a racing driver could make Alonso look friendly, Hamilton look emotionally stable and Raikkonen look diligent, but somehow Juan manages it. And then Sky Sports has the cheek to put him in their “Legends of F1″ series, or as I shall now call it “Only Fools and Bored Racing Drivers”…

      • Paul (@frankjaeger) said on 26th March 2014, 17:29

        @william-brierty Maybe his conducted himself poorly off-track but from what I’ve watched he was definitely something to be reckoned with on-track. His career stats are pretty admirable aswell. I hear he was repeated shat on by favoritism, but then I hear he was a pretty volatile character from people like yourself

        @girts @stephanief1990 Totally agree that F1 can mentally warp drivers and spectators are delivered a false representation of a driver’s traits. Being spectators we are so distanced from the real issues off track. Being a relatively new F1 fan I unfortunately lack the experience of pre-2009 F1

        Plus it always amazes me when I see articles like the above, how long F1F has been actively posting, kudos to @keithcollantine

        • WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 26th March 2014, 18:49

          @frankjaeger – Oh, have no doubt he was fun to watch, in fact during days of scarlett domination Juan was perhaps the best of a short list of reasons why to watch the race, but above all, for me at least, he was frustrating in that he spent much of career wasting his talent. He was a rookie in the same year as Alonso and Raikkonen, and back then was probably just as fast, but through over emotive responses to setbacks and an infamous lack commitment. He had the talent to be a champion, but squandered it, and for that he never gained my respect, although I will admit that I spent much of the 2002 solely focused on Montoya’s Williams.

          • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 26th March 2014, 19:51

            @william-brierty Sorry but I disagree completely.

            Squandering his talent? When did he have an opportunity to be WDC and didn’t capitalize on it? 2003 was out of his control basically. Ok you can say 2005 but I didn’t expect him to beat a driver just as fast and Dennis’ favourite to boot in his first season at Mclaren. Probably he diidn’t either. I thought that 2006 was the year when there gonna be fireworks. Instead Newey produced a dud. Montoya can be excused on being disillusioned with that situation especially when he was blamed for most of it. As if that crash at Indy meant Macca lost a certain victory(not even close)

            Lacking commitment? In what sense? I don’t remember Williams ever blaming him for lack of commitment. He did his share of testing. He brought best results for the most part

            The only place where he was blamed for lack of commitment was Mclaren, and they’re not blameless in that fiasco. He was not the first, neither the last driver they mismanaged. It seems you need to be a very specific type of driver to gel in at Macca and Monty was never gonna be that type

            And although Monty isn’t completely blameless himself for the failure to become WDC and in general to achieve success his talent deserved, it’s also a failure of F1 that they failed to hold on to arguably the most exciting driver of his generation. Note: not the best but the most exciting. The type of driver that gets bums on seats you know. Not another pathetic PR robot who might win races and championships collecting results but will never make you really feel for him. Respect and admire yes, but its the feeling that matters

            I actually admired Monty for sticking 2 fingers to Dennis. Hated his choice of a series to move to though. But I understand that as well. 2006 were still the days of the IRL/Champcar split and both were in pathetic state

          • WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 27th March 2014, 9:02

            @montreal95 Saying that Montoya HAD the chance to win the title but not through errors, which I’m not, is completely different to saying that he COULD have been world champion given the chance. Saying that, Juan’s unforced spin in Oz 2003 and very silly error with Barrichello at Indianapolis would went a long way towards denying him the title that year. However what ultimately ended Montoya’s career was the utterly inevitable personality clash with Ron Dennis, something I completely foresaw at the time, but to say Montoya was not blameless is completely erroneous. Alonso found himself in the same situation in 2007, but instead of being a defeatist and leaving F1, returned to Renault. And also you must remember that McLaren was Montoya’s choice, he also had a Ferrari contract on his table, and had he replaced Rubens for 2005, I think he may have eventually found himself a champion. He was fast enough.

            However speed, dynamism and excitement was never Montoya’s problem, it was commitment. Now that’s not to say he was short of commitment on track, rather the opposite, but off of track his famous disdain for the F1 fitness programme and weekly early exits from the paddock (making him a firm favourite with autograph hunters) suggested a chap who had F1 lower down of a list of things he liked doing, and I always struggled to respect him because of that. Yes, he was engaging, yes, he was rebellious, yes, he was different, but to my mind Montoya serves as an excellent example of the fact that different isn’t always better.

          • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 30th March 2014, 16:59

            @william-brierty First of all, sorry for late reply.

            While unforced errors in Aus and USA cost Monty at most 9 points(probably 7), he lost the title by 11, and by far the most decisive factor was Ferrari International Assistance meddling with tire rules in the middle of the season

            How was to say Monty was not blameless is erroneous? You say he was blameless?

            Alonso chose to return to Renault, Monty chose to leave F1. Unconventional is not the same as defeatist. Kimi also chose to leave F1 after 2009. If you say that any driver for whom there’s nothing in the world but F1 is defeatist than I cannot disagree more. Montoya didn’t like what was happening at Mclaren, he also realistically didn’t see any chance for a top seat in any other team, so he chose to pursue a new challenge instead of going to the midfield Alonso way. Don’t see anything wrong with that

            What has the Ferrari option has to do with it? How could he know Schumi was about to leave at the end of 2006? And going to the same team with Schumacher was no more option for Monty in 2005 than it was for Alesi in 1995(and not for Alonso or Kimi for that matter at any time)

            Famous disdain for F1 fitness program is a non-issue made up by journalists. Maybe he wasn’t Schumacher fit but he was fit enough. Many drivers alike Montoya don’t have a passion for fitness yet they do what is required of them. Having a passion for fitness isn’t a requirement to become WDC

            Early exits from the paddock is also non-issue used by haters to bash Monty. He’s not staying thru the night ala Schumi or Vettel but it’s not like he left before debriefing. Again, going the extra-mile in tech debriefs and staying until they turn-off the lights is not a requirement for WDC.

            I understand you respect the hard workers, and I respect your opinion. However to say anyone who’s not doing extra is lacking commitment is way off the mark. F1 is supposed to be about the driving not about drivers being engineers sitting thru the night to gain 0,05 sec/lap ala Schumacher or Prost or running marathons and Tasmania Challenges ala Button and Webber. That’s what engineers/ olympic athletes are for. No one would pay to watch an engineering exercise, going through math equations. People pay for people like Monty doing their thing on the track

    • Patrick (@paeschli) said on 26th March 2014, 18:03

      @frankjaeger WilliamB’s opinion above is a bit too harsh for me but it’s not really false. He had tremendous speed (that’s why we’re comparing him to Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen) but was rather inconsistent and pretty crash-prone. He was a bit like Maldonado now, except that he had a fan base and was probably faster too. He was too inconsistent to win a championship IMHO, unless maybe in a dominanant car like the Ferrari 2002.
      I liked him, he spiced things up. :)

      • Paul (@frankjaeger) said on 26th March 2014, 18:55

        @paeschli @william-brierty Hmm interesting, thanks for your insights. Always good to piece together F1 of past

      • WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 26th March 2014, 19:37

        @paeschli – Yes, I agree that Montoya is comparable to Maldonado, both have frustratingly squandered their talents and have founds themselves in chains of crashes and setbacks. Just to clear things up, whilst I was no Montoya fan I agree he was thoroughly entertaining to watch, and not just because of the promise of flying debris (that’s what GP2 is for), but because he was genuinely an excellent talent.

        • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 26th March 2014, 20:14

          @paeschli Comparing Montoya and Crashtor Stupidado is like comparing Adrian Newey with Nick Wirth. Not in the same league really talent-wise. Having watched Montoya from 1997 I was amazed at his explosive speed. The guy won F3000 in 1998 in his first season in top team. His season included lapping the whole field at Pau. He then went to CART which was(almost) at its peak with loads of talented drivers and won it at the first attempt. He won Indy 500 at his first try. If not Joss The Loser Verstappen(here’s a driver you can compare Walldonado with) Monty would’ve won only his 3rd F1 race and not by default but on merit against Schumacher and all the rest

          Stupidado took 4 years(+2 years of FR 3.5) to win a championship on GP2/F3000 level. Speed? He might have speed once in 10 races but the rest 9 times he only has stupidity and brain fades. Not to mention the worst attitude I’ve ever seen for an F1 driver-it’s never his fault, everybody’s wrong and he’s right, it’s ok to do dangerous things on the track(He should’ve been banned 5 times before Grosjean’s ban. It’s even ok to blame your team of sabotage.

          Monty was not a PR robot but he never did anything of the sort

          • Jay Menon (@jaymenon10) said on 27th March 2014, 0:27

            @montreal95

            Agree with everything you say mate. I am huge JPM fan. Have been and always will be. I started watching NASCAR because of him for god’s sake!!

            I honestly feel that people in general are hypocrites. They always complain that there arent enough characters in F1 or racing in general, and then you get somebody like JPM and Villenueve…they just cant handle it!

            You know what the best thing about JPM is? His speed for sure, but I value is ability to speak his mind more. What you see is what you get. There arent enough people like that in sport in general.

            Could he have been WDC? Sure. In 2002, the Williams’ single lap pace couldnt be translated into race pace…and in 03, if it wasnt for the mysterious challenges to Michelin’s legality…who’s to say what could have happened?

        • bull mello (@bullmello) said on 26th March 2014, 21:15

          I don’t find Montoya/Maldonado a very valid comparison. JPM has actually accomplished some pretty good results overall even if you look at just his F1 career.

          JPM = 95 Grand Prix, 7 wins, 30 podiums, 13 pole positions

          Maldonado = 59 Grand Prix, 1 win, 1 podium, 1 pole position

          Not to mention his CART Championship and his Indy 500 win.

          It is somewhat understandable that people would compare driving styles, but JPM does have the stats to back up his driving style where Maldonado makes many errors in driving judgement that don’t even have anything to do with challenging for good results. I would argue that JPM has a driving style that is aggressive and sometimes volatile, but generally with a purpose. There are also times when he has simply dominated races and never put a foot wrong. Maldonado on the other hand has plowed other cars off the track whilst just going to the pits.

          Anyways, I’m glad JPM is headed back to single seaters on a good team and I will be watching.

  6. Oh Oh Oh, I can’t believe I get a chance to do this:

    “The 2014 series will remain within the USA…” Toronto is in Canada so the series is not remaining in the USA this year.

    There I did it, someone was wrong on the internet and I fixed it. :-)

    • Ahh, @matt90 beat me by 3 seconds.

      I answered the survey saying I would only be following F1 this year, but there are a lot of interesting looking races in IndyCar this year. I’m going to have to pay more attention. I followed Jacque to F1, it will be interesting to following him back to Indy.

  7. R.J. O'Connell (@rjoconnell) said on 26th March 2014, 13:55

    If I can get out of work that day, I am very tempted to head to Birmingham to cheer on JPM, Hinchcliffe, Newgarden and Power.

    It’s taken me a while to be interested in this series again, but after two years of rave reviews I’ll try getting back into it.

    • It took me awhile to get back into IndyCar, but I’m all in now. It’s always close racing with a pretty talented group of drivers. I don’t think I could ever get tired of seeing guys like Kanaan, Castroneves or Carpenter do their thing on an oval.

  8. Damon said on 26th March 2014, 14:25

    Will the series be shown on Sky this year, if not where can it be viewed in the UK?

  9. petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 26th March 2014, 14:56

    Unfortunately, the guys running Indycar make the FIA look intelligent.

    They want to appeal to the UK to get more viewers so what do they do? Put Indycar behind a different pay-wall to F1!

    It’s stretching the budget to get Sky F1 but I can’t get BT Sport as well. If it was on Sky, I’d watch every round but as it isn’t, I most likely wont.

    Well done Indycar.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 26th March 2014, 15:35

      @petebaldwin, it’s probably the free market, not Indycar, BT picking up the consolation prize.

      • petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 26th March 2014, 15:59

        @hohum – Yeah probably. I was really excited about following Indycar until I realised I couldn’t and that’s when I wrote that… haha

        It’s a terrible business decision though. If they had the Indycar shown live on the Sky F1 channel, they’d pick up a decent amount of new fans who have already paid to watch F1. Accepting a higher offer to be on BT won’t benefit the sport at all – it’s just a short-term cash grab.

    • SP (@jb001) said on 26th March 2014, 16:59

      It’s not a cash grab, Sky was interested in F1 and favoured it over Indycar when they still broadcasted the latter.

      • petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 26th March 2014, 20:41

        They favoured it because F1 pulls in a huge amount of UK fans compared to Indycar. The fact remains that you have a huge amount of motorsports fans who have reluctantly taken out Sky contracts in order to watch the F1. Lots of them would watch Indycar as well simply because it is on. Anyone I know who has BT Sports has it either because it was part of a deal and they got it free or cheap or because they are into football.

        If Indycar want to be popular in the UK, they need to appeal to motorsports fans. Frankly, Indycar need Sky more than Sky need Indycar!

        • SP (@jb001) said on 26th March 2014, 22:27

          Refusing to promote the series while it was there doesn’t garner the viewers. Moving it to SS3/4 or the red button at the last minute also doesn’t.

  10. StephenH said on 26th March 2014, 14:59

    I believe it will be shown of ESPN or BT.

  11. WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 26th March 2014, 15:36

    I’ve never been remotely an American motorsports fan, European motorsport always feels more honest and not so sensationalized, but the Montoya-Penske paring may just tempt me again. Where can I get the best TV coverage in the UK?

    • SP (@jb001) said on 26th March 2014, 17:02

      It’s broadcast on ESPN\BT Sport. I would also suggest you don’t use offensive stereotypes of other countries and do some research.

      • Robbie (@robbie) said on 27th March 2014, 12:27

        Well there are certainly many who would claim that F1 specifically must top the global charts in terms of dishonesty, politics, and tabloidism, so it does sound rather funny, again in terms of F1 at least, to hear it called honest and unsensationalized.

  12. There are races in Canada, and I think Marco is running in Michael’s team.

  13. mantresx (@mantresx) said on 26th March 2014, 15:55

    Something interesting I just noticed, look at those tinny sidepod air intakes, on the F1 cars you could put your head right trough them.
    It just shows how much extra cooling these batteries, transformers and electric motors really need.

  14. bull mello (@bullmello) said on 26th March 2014, 16:24

    Because of JPM coming back with Penske I will make it a point to try and watch more Indy Car this season. A nearly lifelong fan, going back to the 1960s, I became somewhat disenchanted after the selfishly forced by Tony George split and have only watched sporadically since when convenient.

    Sorry to see Franchitti retire, but very glad he is still here with us after that horrific wreck. Hope Indy Car safety does improve. Keeping with that thought I wonder how wise it is to have as a main objective of the series to break the speed record of 382kph/237mph. It is not the sheer speed (record breaking or otherwise) alone that keeps me watching Indy Car or F1, rather the excitement of the competition between great drivers.

    I also do lament the omission of such great tracks like Laguna Seca and Road America from the schedule. I would much rather see either one of those courses than another race on a contrived road course at the brickyard.

    Back to JPM, it will be great to see him back in a single seater where he really needs to be. His previous domination of Indy Car and the way he raced against the best in F1 gives me hope for this season of Indy Car to be quite interesting!

  15. Nick (@npf1) said on 26th March 2014, 17:38

    I hope we’ll get to see the JPM F1 and Indycar fans know, rather than the way he was driving around in NASCAR sometimes. I’ve been following NASCAR closer, JPM going to Indycar means I should make it a point of watching races again, rather than highlights..

    I need more time in my weekends..

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