Ryan Hunter-Reay
2015 IndyCar Series season preview
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Chris Symeon - Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Seven months after running its last race, the Verizon IndyCar Series is back on track with its 2015 season opener this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

IndyCar teams have been testing the past several months, including test sessions to familiarize themselves with IndyCar's new aero kit for the Chevrolet and Honda-powered cars this month. IndyCar's aero kit program is aimed at improving on-track performance, particularly with advancements in speed, innovation and safety. The cars will look quite different for each manufacturer this year.

"It's almost like you're starting with a new car," said Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion and last year's Indianapolis 500 winner. "To make the DW12 (Indy car) kit work in its format, you had to make it turn and do things a certain way. Now the aero kit puts load on the car in a certain way and its own way. It's a work in progress, which is what testing and development is about."

During a two-day test session last week at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, the best lap times of 21 of the 23 drivers who participated were separated by less than one second.

"I think both cars (Honda and Chevrolet) are very different, which for the fans and series will be exiting," Chip Ganassi Racing driver and three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon said. "I don't care what the car looks like as long as it's fast."

Regulations for the aero kit were announced by IndyCar in July 2013, and manufacturer on-track testing began last October. In addition to Barber Motorsports Park, teams have tested it at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, which is a new track on the series schedule this year, Texas Motor Speedway and Sebring International Raceway in Florida.

The new aero kit makes its competition debut in St. Petersburg.

"It will add a lot of performance to the competition. Records will be broken," IndyCar president of competition and operations Derrick Walker said.

This year's IndyCar calendar features 16 races compared to 18 during the 2014 season. The series was scheduled to run its season opener in Brasilia, Brazil, on March 8, but it was canceled after government funding for the event was withdrawn in January.

The season will conclude on Aug. 30 on the road course in Sonoma, California. The Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 24.

There were a series-record-tying 11 different race winners and 10 different pole winners last year. Will Power from Team Penske won three races en route to his first IndyCar championship. Power had placed second in the point standings each year from 2010-12 and then finished fourth in the rankings in 2013 before he claimed his maiden title.

"To finally get it, get the monkey off the back, it's given me more motivation this year," Power said. "I don't have to worry about that. I know I can do it. Hope to back it up this year."

Team Penske now has four full-time teams in the series, with Simon Pagenaud joining the organization after he had three great seasons with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Pagenaud will team with Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya.

"I've personally been working hard to get to this in my career," Pagenaud said. "I'm here now, and the pressure is off. I want to enjoy it."

Castroneves is scheduled to make his 15th start in the Indy 500 later this season. Last year, he came up 0.06 seconds short of winning that race for a record-tying fourth time.

"Last year was exciting, really cool, to hear so many people saying about what a great race," Castroneves said. "The end was terrible, but the race was really cool. To be in that challenge, fighting for the win, have that opportunity, it was just awesome."

Team Penske is figured to be the dominant team in IndyCar this year, with all four of its drivers battling for the championship throughout the season.

"I think it's going to be a tight inner team battle," Power said. "I think the team is going to be the strongest it's been for a number of years this year."

This past season, Castroneves finished second in the championship standings, 62 points behind Power, while Montoya, in his first season back in IndyCar since 2000, placed fourth in points (85 behind Power). Pagenaud was fifth (106 behind Power).

"I think all four of us understand that number one is Team Penske, the team winning, working together to get that," Montoya said. "It's all about developing the car."

Double points will be awarded for just the Indianapolis 500 and the season finale in Sonoma. Previously, double points were awarded for the three 500- mile oval races (Indy, Pocono and Fontana, California).

Standing starts for road/street courses have been eliminated this season after the series experienced numerous difficulties with it the past two years. Qualifying groups for the road/street course races will be determined by the final practice session held prior to qualifying. The groups had been decided by the first practice session.

Detroit (the last weekend in May) will host the only doubleheader in IndyCar this year. Houston has been dropped from the schedule, and Toronto now has one race.

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