2014 Verizon IndyCar Series driver preview: Juan Pablo Montoya joins a familiar area of contenders, which includes Scott Dixon, Will Power and Tony Kanaan

Juan Pablo Montoya joins a familiar field of contenders, which includes Scott Dixon, Will Power and Tony Kanaan

By: Autoweek Employees on March 27, 2014

After an extended stay in NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya is returning to IndyCar in 2014.

LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC – Following an extended keep in NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya is returning to IndyCar in 2014.

The Verizon IndyCar Series (and that new title, thanks to the series’; not too long ago signed title sponsor, will get some acquiring used to) begins this Sunday with a host of contenders, pretenders and intriguing storylines aplenty.

Autoweek breaks down the 22-car lineup that will get the green flag on March 30 in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The contenders:

Scott Dixon, Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet: Every single championship pursuit should get started with the reigning champion, and Dixon has won 3 season titles driving for Chip Ganassi. Issue is, these titles have come every single 5 years (2003, 2008, 2013), but that kind does not figure to hold. Dixon remains the elite between the elite with 33 race wins (most amongst energetic drivers) and many years ahead of him. He can win the title again, and he just may possibly.

Will Energy, Crew Penske, Chevrolet: Willy P. seems ready to return to contending form. He’;s coming off consecutive wins in Houston (street circuit) and Fontana (oval) to finish last season. The Fontana win was specifically remarkable offered the 500-mile duration. It was Power’;s initial total-race victory on an oval track. He led 103 of the 250 laps.

Tony Kanaan, Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet: It’;s been a few many years since the Brazilian was a championship contender, but he should be once more in his debut with Chip Ganassi’;s crew. He will be the defending champion of the Indianapolis 500, and he ought to produce a strong partnership with Dixon (plus Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball). Only problems is, Kanaan won only 1 race in 3 many years with KV Racing Technologies, and the No. 10 auto he’;s moved into has not won considering that the 2012 Indianapolis 500. Doesn’;t that raise at least 1 caution flag?

Helio Castroneves, Staff Penske, Chevrolet: It’;s mind-boggling to consider this talented Brazilian has by no means won a series titles regardless of so many years in the hunt. It was virtually heartbreaking to observe his crew falter down the stretch final 12 months, with mechanical troubles in the Houston doubleheader in October amongst the worst of the worst moments. Even now, Castroneves is as optimistic as ever, and he’;s acquired a terrific staff, obviously. He is also creating quite a resume: Twenty-8 race wins and 38 series poles. All he demands is that elusive 1st series title.

Will Power had a strong finish to the 2013 season, including a win at Fontana.

LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC – Will Electrical power had a powerful finish to the 2013 season, like a win at Fontana.

The subsequent tier:

Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske, Chevrolet: It would be effortless to put the series newcomer in the initial group, but he may possibly struggle, also, particularly early. Montoya could be excellent or embarrassing, but much more probably he’;ll be somewhere in in between. Can he beat Power regularly? Dixon regularly? Will he win a single race this season? 2? None? It truly is a challenging call, but it will be exciting to watch.

Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda: The Frenchman in Sam Schmidt’;s auto finished a reliable third in the series standings last yr, but there are more queries this year (and competitors). How will Honda fare in its transition to the 2.2-liter twin turbocharged V6 platform? Will it be behind the Chevrolet? Even now, Pagenaud is worthy of a top-5 finish. He won 2 races final 12 months.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, Honda: Like Pagenaud, the strength of the Honda most likely will be a important issue in the Floridian’;s championship pursuit. Hunter-Reay stays several cuts over most in the field, possessing won final year on a road program (Barber) and a quick oval (Milwaukee), and he was poised to win Indy, too, before Kanaan acquired him on the ultimate restart and the race ended with Dario Franchitti’;s crash.

Graham Rahal is expected to consistently be at the front of the field in 2014.

LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC – Graham Rahal is expected to constantly be at the front of the area in 2014.

The third group:

James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport, Honda: You’;d think that a driver winning 3 races in a season would be a championship contender, but the Canadian wasn’;t. He finished eighth and led only 2 races following the 500 in a feast-or-famine finish. He won at St. Pete, São Paulo (with a terrific pass of Takuma Sato) and Iowa.

Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport, Honda: The third-generation driver has won 2 job races (Sonoma and Iowa) and appears poised for a actual breakout season. His strategy to fitness and detail has in no way been much better, and he wants to win Indy so poor he can taste it. It is conceivable he wins a couple races in 2014.

Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet: This will be an interesting car to view. Briscoe mostly acquired left on the sideline final yr, picking up a trip with Panther Racing after JR Hildebrand was dumped after Indy. But a broken wrist in Toronto was a setback, as was Panther’;s inability to safe sponsorship. The good news is, he landed one of the very best rides available as Ganassi expanded to 4 cars.

Sébastien Bourdais, KV Racing Technology, Chevrolet: There are so several individuals hoping this can be a top-degree pairing. KV is the reigning Indy 500 champion Bourdais is the 4-time Champ Car champion keen for his ideal ride however in the unified sport. Bourdais has been caught on 31 race wins considering that winning in Mexico City in 2007.

Ed Carpenter/Mike Conway, Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevrolet: Carpenter did a intelligent and imaginative thing during the offseason when he hired Conway, a road-course ace, to drive on the non-ovals. Because they will share the No. twenty automobile, neither will win the drivers’; title. But combined, they could win the owners’; title.

Justin Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing, Honda: The common shoe ended last season with a fractured pelvis at Fontana, but it nonetheless was a very good season. He was fifth at Indy and had a late-season stretch of second-, 4th-, third- and 4th-place finishes. Nevertheless, he misplaced 2 essential engineers to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Bill Pappas and John Dick).

Charlie Kimball, Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet: Final yr was a breakthrough with the initial win of the Californian’;s occupation (he won at Mid-Ohio). But he fluctuated from eighth to 14th, proof of the balance the series presents. Kimball may possibly consider yet another step forward this season, but it may not demonstrate in the benefits.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda: This is a take-a-step-forward season for both the driver and his household-owned crew. The $ twelve.6 million National Guard sponsorship provides them everything they want. The stress is on it truly is time to supply.

Takuma Sato is hoping to recapture some of the magic he had early in the 2013 IndyCar season.

LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC – Takuma Sato is hoping to recapture some of the magic he had early in the 2013 IndyCar season.

Soon after that:

Takuma Sato, A.J. Foyt Racing, Honda: Sato won his initial IndyCar race final 12 months at Prolonged Beach, and he was the series factors leader heading to Indy. But issues received tough the rest of the way. The No. 14 car had only one particular best-15 finish in the final 10 races.

Josef Newgarden, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Honda: The series is even now waiting for a breakthrough from the former Indy Lights champion (2011).

Carlos Muñoz, Andretti Autosport, Honda: The Colombian was loads remarkable in finishing second in the 500 final yr, but he was also aggressive in his other 500-mile effort (at Fontana). He crashed trying to use the very bottom line. Persistence will be key for him this yr.

The bottom group:

Sebastian Saavedra, KV Racing Technologies, Chevrolet: Thirty-8 races, 2 top-10 finishes.

Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda: The Russian will be generating his debut in a U.S. race this weekend.

Jack Hawksworth, Bryan Herta Autosport, Honda: He won 3 races, including St. Pete, final 12 months in Indy Lights, but he finished 4th in the standings.

Carlos Huertas, Dale Coyne Racing, Honda: The Colombian examined twice with Panther Racing, but this weekend will be his first laps in Dale Coyne’;s car.

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