What does the rookie class of 2014 have to offer?
After a 2013 season that saw only one rookie compete full time in the series, we are entering a season with three new full time faces and another returning after a long American open-wheel hiatus. Here’s a breakdown of the new (and returning) drivers competing in the 2014 IndyCar season.
Mikhail Aleshin (Russia) #7, Schmidt-Peterson-Hamilton Motorsports
Aleshin has been in various stages of the European single-seater ladder for over a decade. He started in Russian F3 before doing various forms of Formula Renault 2000, including Formula Renault 2000 Masters, Germany, Italia and Eurocup. He moved to GP2 for 2007 while staying in Formula Renault 3.5 and earning one win in Formula Renault. He has stayed in Formula Renault 3.5 since 2010 after spending 2009 in Formula 2 where he finished 3rd in the overall standings.
Aleshin will have a hard mountain to climb if he is to have any success in IndyCar.
Jack Hawksworth (United Kingdom) #98, Bryan Herta Autosport
Hawksworth finished 4th in Formula Renault UK in 2011 after switching from his original team to another for four race weekends. After that year he moved to the United States where he blitzed the field in what was then known as Star Mazda, winning the championship with eight wins, four second place finishes and skipping the last round of the championship.
In 2013, Hawksworth moved to the Indy Lights championship with Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. He won three races to finish 4th in the championship to Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves and Carlos Munoz.
Dale Coyne Racing tested Hawksworth at Sebring and the Brit was impressive, according to race engineer John Dick in a press release.
“At the end of the day, he was second-quickest of the single-turbo cars. That was quite impressive, considering the only single-turbo car in front of him was on its third day of testing with factory support,” Dick said.
Hawksworth tested for Bryan Herta Autosport at Sebring and managed to give good feedback according to a team source.
Bryan Herta felt the same way.
“Jack really impressed us with a very strong test in Sebring last month. He has had success at every level he has competed in to date and we believe he has the skills to maintain that going into the IndyCar series,” Herta said in a team press release.
Hawksworth will find IndyCar to be a greater challenge than Indy Lights, but who knows, he might get a couple of good results at a few tracks.
Carlos Munoz (Colombia) #34, Andretti Autosport
Carlos Munoz started his IndyCar career about as good as you can by starting and finishing second in his first race: the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Earning Rookie of the Year was just icing on the cake.
He drove for Panther Racing in Toronto and again for Andretti Autosport in Fontana while finishing third in the 2013 Indy Lights championship.
Munoz drove for a couple of years in F3 Euroseries before going to Indy Lights in 2012, winning a couple of races in Indy Lights in his rookie season.
However, his performance at the Speedway last year was all that mattered, and it greatly helped his ability to gain sponsorship for the 2014 season.
“Carlos stepped up this season and showed outstanding potential on track in Indy and Fontana," team owner Michael Andretti said after signing Munoz to the IndyCar Series.
Munoz might have some work to do on the road and street courses, but on the ovals, he might be a force to be reckoned with.
Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia) #2, Team Penske
Montoya’s last IndyCar race was October 30, 2000 in Fontana, CA. He finished 10th with a blown engine before going off to Formula One and then NASCAR.
Roger Penske scored a major coup signing the rapid Colombian to drive for his team and will serve as quite possibly their strongest three car team since the days of Unser, Fittipaldi and Tracy.
But how will Montoya cope with the characteristics of driving an IndyCar after having been out of one for 14 seasons?
Judging by his times at Barber Motorsports Park during spring training, he’s coped well. He finished the first day in second and the second day in ninth position on the timesheets.
$10 on Montoya winning a race this season might not be a bad bet to place in Las Vegas.