The 2014 IndyCar Series season begins March 30 with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida, but there has been plenty of excitement for the season off the track already. With announcements that NASCAR champ Kurt Busch will try to add another series to a resume that already includes a run at the NHRA GatorNationals and Simona de Silvestro heading to Formula One team Sauber for a year-long training program, the face of IndyCar – which is also moving forward without a title sponsor after IZOD’s exit at the end of 2013 – is changing in 2014.
NASCAR invasion – Busch isn’t the only driver with NASCAR connections coming to the series in 2014. Juan Pablo Montoya makes his return to open-wheel racing after a 13-year absence. JPM, perhaps best known in NASCAR circles for his jet-dryer incident at the 2012 Daytona 500, will not be considered a rookie with Team Penske due to his past experience, which includes the 1999 CART championship and a win in the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Busch, who tested an IndyCar in 2013 for Andretti Autosport, will be an Indy 500 rookie with the same team as he attempts the Memorial Day “double,” racing back to Charlotte after the 500 for the Coca Cola 600 – 1,100 miles of speed.
New faces at KV Racing – KV Racing Technology lost both of its drivers following the 2013 season, as Tony Kanaan moved into Dario Franchitti’s seat at Chip Ganassi Racing and de Silvestro left for F1. Their replacements both left Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing, which is dropping out of full-time competition for 2014: Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra will remain teammates with KV.
Rookie battle features three – Mikhail Alishin makes his IndyCar Series debut for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, becoming the first Russian to race in the series. He’ll be joined by Columbian Carlos Munoz, who made an impressive debut for Andretti Autosport in the 2013 Indy 500, starting on the front row and finishing second, and British driver Jack Hawksworth, who was the 2012 Star Mazda champ in his rookie season and will drive for Bryan Herta Autosport.
New race, qualifying procedure at Indy – The “month of May” returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the addition of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Brickyard’s road course on Saturday, May 10. One week later, on Saturday, May 17, a new era of qualifying for the 98th running of the Indy 500 is ushered in with the elimination of “Bump Day.” All entries for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” will be guaranteed at least one four-lap qualifying attempt, but the fastest 33 cars will lock into the race on Saturday. On Sunday, May 18, Saturday’s qualifying times are erased for everyone, with drivers in spots 10 through 33 completing another four-lap qualifying run for their starting positions; drivers in spots 1 through 9 after Saturday’s round will compete in the Fast Nine Shootout – also four laps – to determine the pole sitter and the rest of the front three rows.