Wednesday, March 11, 2015

2015 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Team Penske

Fresh off their first title in eight years, Team Penske looks to win back-to-back title for the first time since 2000-01. Will Power will carry the #1 on his Verizon Chevrolet as he defends his title. Juan Pablo Montoya returns for his second season with the team. Hélio Castroneves is on the brink of making history in his 18th season in IndyCar and 16th with The Captain. Joining the three-headed monster from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is Simon Pagenaud as the Frenchman is in search of silverware of his own.

2014 Team Penske Review:
Wins: 5 (St. Petersburg, Belle Isle 1 & 2, Pocono, Milwaukee).
Poles: 8 (Barber, Belle Isle 1, Texas, Houston 2, Pocono, Milwaukee, Sonoma, Fontana).
Final Championship Position: 1st (Will Power), 2nd (Helio Castroneves), 4th (Juan Pablo Montoya), 5th (Simon Pagenaud).

2015 Drivers:

Will Power
The Australian finally broke through in 2014. While three victories are below average for Power, he completed all but one of the 2,395 laps run in 2014. Power led IndyCar in 2014 in victories (3, tied with Hunter-Reay for most), podiums (7), top tens (15), poles (4), Fast Six appearances (6, tied with Hunter-Reay for most), races led (11), laps led (623) and average finish (6.44). In the categories Power did lead he was at the top of as he was tied for the second most top fives (8. Scott Dixon had 11), had two fastest laps only one behind Pagenaud, Castroneves and Josef Newgarden for the lead and was second in average start (7.64. Castroneves was 6.05).

Numbers to Remember: 4921. Amount of days between Team Penske's last victory with car #1 and St. Petersburg. That victory came on October 7, 2001 at Houston with Gil de Ferran.

16. Power is currently tied for 16th on the all-time IndyCar win list with Ted Horn and Bobby Rahal at 24 career victories.

4. Since being a full-time Penske driver in 2010, Power averages four victories a season.

Predictions/Goals: Everybody believes the floodgates have opened now that Power got his first title. On sheer talent, Power will be a championship contender once again but it will all come down to the difference in aero kits. If Honda comes out and scorches Chevrolet, it could be a long title defense for Power. If Chevrolet continues their dominance of Honda, you can pretty much pencil Power in for being in contention when the series gets to Sonoma. Winning an Indianapolis 500 will put Power in Roger Penske's good graces for eternity and I bet that is on top of Power's list of things to do in 2015 now that he has a title.

Hélio Castroneves
For the second consecutive season, Castroneves finished runner-up in the IndyCar championship and he did it with only one victory to his name. Consistency has kept Castroneves in the fight the last three seasons as he has 38 top tens in the 52 races in the DW12-era. However, since 2012 Castroneves has only 13 podiums compared to Ryan Hunter-Reay's 18, Power's 17 and Scott Dixon's 16 in the same time period. He won at Belle Isle and was within 0.060 seconds of his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.

Numbers to Remember: 5. Hélio Castroneves is five starts away from his 300th career IndyCar start. He would become the seventh IndyCar driver to reach the 300-start milestone joining Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Jr., Al Unser, Michael Andretti and Johnny Rutherford. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis is tentatively set to be Castroneves' 300th IndyCar start.

1.7. Average amount of victories per season for Castroneves.

5. Castroneves ended 2014 with five consecutive finishes outside the top ten after entering the final five races as the championship leader. This is Castroneves' longest stretch of race with out a top ten since 1999-2000 when he finished the final four races of 1999 (Laguna Seca, Houston, Surfers Paradise, Fontana) and 2000 season opener (Homestead) outside the top ten. Twice has Castroneves gone longer than five races between top tens. In 1999, Castroneves had a slump of six races finishing outside the top ten (Milwaukee, Portland, Cleveland, Road America, Toronto and Michigan) and in his rookie season back in 1998, the Brazilian had seven consecutive finishes outside the ten (Michigan, Mid-Ohio, Road America, Vancouver, Laguna Seca, Houston and Surfers Paradise).

Predictions/Goals: This is a defining season for Castroneves. He has been in championship contention the last two seasons by doing the bare minimum. With another teammate, resources will be spread just a little thinner. The last time a driver won an IndyCar title with only one victory or fewer was the inaugural IRL season when Buzz Calkins and Scott Sharp were co-champions. Calkins had one victory and Sharp went winless that year. Expect Castroneves to take a step back in 2015 as Castroneves is set to turn forty on May 10th.

Juan Pablo Montoya
After almost 14 years away from IndyCar, Juan Pablo Montoya returned and it felt as if he Colombian never left. He did struggle on road and street courses at the start but was the best on ovals with a victory from pole position at Pocono be the highlight to his season. He was one of the best drivers on fuel mileage in 2014 and it nearly paid off at the Indianapolis 500 only to have a pit lane speeding penalty end his chance to go 2-for-2 in his Indianapolis 500 starts.

Numbers to Remember: 13.8. Montoya's average finish on street courses. That is improved from 15.5 when he started the 2014 season.

342. Amount of points Montoya scored on ovals in 2014, the most of any driver.

244. Amount of points Montoya scored on road/street courses in 2014, 12th most.

Predictions/Goals: Road and street courses are one area the Colombian clearly has to improve on if he hopes to win the title. He has ovals down pat and should be a contender in all six on the 2015 schedule. While, Montoya should have a fair amount of success and score at least one victory, he won't be in contention for the championship. He should be on the fringe of the top five of the championship.

Simon Pagenaud
After three seasons with Schmidt Peterson and Honda, Simon Pagenaud has jumped ship to Penske and Chevrolet. Since returning to IndyCar in 2012, the Frenchman has finished in the top five of the championship each season. He has also won two races the last two seasons and he scored his first career pole at Houston 1 last year. Pagenaud was the top finishing Honda driver in 2014. This is the second consecutive year in which Honda has lost their top-finishing driver in the championship from the year before. In 2014, Honda lost Scott Dixon to Chevrolet after they won the title in 2013.

Numbers to Remember: 17,444. The amount of days between the last IndyCar victory for car #22 and St. Petersburg. The last victory for the #22 was Wes Vandervoort on June 25, 1967 at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It was the only victory of Vandervoort's IndyCar career.

6. Total victories for the #22 in IndyCar with six different drivers.

0. Amount of times Pagenaud has scored consecutive podiums in IndyCar.

Predictions/Goals: Just like Castroneves, this is a defining season for Pagenaud. After running so well for Schmidt Peterson, a team in terms of funding and resources far behind the likes of Penske and Ganassi, Pagenaud now has all he needs to make that next step and win a championship. There are no excuses as to why he shouldn't win a title. Pagenaud has eight top tens in 17 ovals starts but that is one area in which he will need to improve if he hopes to dethrone Power. His should be in the thick all the way to Sonoma.

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons gets underway on Sunday March 29th. ABC's coverage will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET.