Five things to know about what went on at IndyCar Series media day in advance of the season-opening March 30 race at St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Champ Is Here: Scott Dixon wants to drive with his regular No. 9 this year rather than switch to the traditional champions’ No. 1. Either way, Dixon enters as the defending series champion as he chases a fourth championship in 2014. One change is for sure at Chip Ganassi Racing, he won’t have recently retired teammate Dario Franchitti to push him on the track. Tony Kanaan filled the spot to round out an organization that also includes Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball. “It is a big loss, not just for myself, but I think for the team and also for the series,” Dixon said. Dixon, who won it all 10 years after his first championship, has carved out his spot as one of open wheel’s greatest drivers. He had four wins last season and his 33 overall are seventh on the career list. He’s tried not to think about his place in history. “I’m not looking for a goal of a certain amount of wins or championships,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky with the success we have had as a team.” Dixon had plenty of success last season, including a three-race winning streak that helped catapult him from seventh in the standings to his third championship. “I think as sort of a pure enjoyment after the year, this one was probably my pick for the favorite,” he said.
Bourdais On Track: Four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais just might be with the team that can put him in the hunt for a fifth title. Bourdais signed a two-year deal with KVSH Racing to replace Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan. When Kanaan bolted for Chip Ganassi Racing, the door opened for Bourdais to move to the competitive team, one that clearly can compete on ovals. “I expect him to be a contender,” said 2012 series champion Will Power. Bourdais has 31 victories, tied with Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy for eighth on the all-time wins list, but none since 2007. “I could not put a strong enough point on saying that this group can win, that’s for sure,” Bourdais said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take before we do it, but only because competition is so difficult in IndyCar these days.” Bourdais was with Dragon Racing the past two years and did earn three podium finishes. He’s already off to a fast start in 2014, ranking among the top three in test sessions, and was part of the winning team at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. “When I was in Champ Car, everything was going our way. Didn’t matter. Everything was working out,” he said. “Maybe because we were in the best team, working more than the others, generating our own good luck. For sure for the longest time in the last few years it felt like, heck, you know, when is it going to work out?”
Ready For Duty: Graham Rahal has the Army National Guard sponsorship on the No. 15 Honda. All he needs now are wins. He had only one podium finish, and finished 18th in the IndyCar standings in his first season driving for his father’s team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “As a team, this elevates us to a whole new level because it allows us to invest in the people, shock programs that we haven’t had, that the Ganassis, Penskes, Andrettis of the world have,” Rahal said. “It kind of gets us back to that sort of level.” Bobby Rahal and partners David Letterman and Mike Lanigan had been paying for many expenses out of pocket. Rahal is the lone car this season after the team also fielded a car last year for James Jakes. Rahal said he’s open to the team adding another driver. “We’d love to have one,” he said. “We can’t do what we’ve done in the past, rob Peter to pay Paul. If we run a second car for however long, we’re on the same page, it has to benefit the team. We can’t do it just to do it. We have a great opportunity to take our team to the next level. We just need to make sure that we’re not taking a step back by throwing someone out there and creating issues.” One driver he wouldn’t mind adding? Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has the Army National Guard sponsorship in NASCAR. He said his car will have the same stylized number as Earnhardt’s does in NASCAR, per the Guard’s request, and he’d like to partner with Junior on outside projects. “It would be cool,” Rahal said.
Qualifying Changes: With the bump out of Bump Day most years, IndyCar is tinkering with Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Derrick Walker, IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, said the new procedures could be announced next month. “We’re looking at how to make that two days of qualifying mean something, make it worth it for the teams to get out there and do it, compete,” he said. “At the end of the day, make the fans come away thinking they saw something,” he said. “It’s trying to bolster the experience of being in Indianapolis in May without taking anything away from history or qualifying.” Walker also planned upgrades to race control and made a serious investment in equipment upgrades. “We have a lot more views and better-quality views, better replay, trying to capture all the views that are possible,” he said.
Three Colombians: Juan Pablo Montoya’s jump to IndyCar gives the series three Colombians, joining Carlos Munoz and Sebastian Saavedra. “It’s going to be a very proud moment for all of us,” Saavedra said. Saavedra said having two other countrymen in the series was “huge” because sports is booming in Columbia. “Sports in Colombia have been growing exponentially in the past 10 years,” he said. “It’s something that we’re very proud of our athletes. It’s starting very slowly to portray the support from the government, from the public and private enterprises.” All three are from Bogota. Montoya is the only Colombian driver to win the Indianapolis 500 (2000). Saavedra was just a kid and used the win as motivation. “It surely gave a little bit of, `Hey, if you’re a Colombian, you can make it happen,’” he said. They met as teens and now race as rival drivers on the same IndyCar tracks. “You want to be the best of your country, but you also want to be the best in North America,” Saavedra said. “I see the big picture more than just this regional goal.”
Carlos Munoz, Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing, Graham Rahal, IndyCar, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Sebastian Saavedra, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan