The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season provided a multitude of highlights and poignant moments. IndyCar.com asked RACER.com writer Marshall Pruett to provide his top-10 list for the season. Here it is:
1. Dixon’s Wine Country Miracle
Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya looked like a lock for his second Indy car championship as the season finale at Sonoma Raceway beckoned. The 1999 CART title winner led the 2015 point standings from the outset with a win at St. Petersburg, added to it with a big win at the 99th Indianapolis 500 and held the lead as the series took the green flag at Sonoma. Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, in third – a full 47 points behind Montoya – was a longshot, at best, to leapfrog Graham Rahal in second, much less overtake JPM. With double points on offer at Sonoma, it was still a mathematical possibility, and Dixon declared his intentions with pole position on Saturday before the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma got under way on Sunday. The fortunes of Montoya, Rahal and Dixon fluctuated through 85 drama-filled laps. Rahal and Montoya either made contact with other cars or were hit by rivals, and thanks to a flawless performance by Dixon and his TCGR pit crew, the New Zealander shocked Verizon IndyCar Series fans — and drivers — by crossing the finish line first and in pristine condition to earn his fourth championship on a tiebreaker over Montoya. The Kiwi topped off the celebration by crowd surfing on Sonoma’s front straight – following the lead of team owner Ganassi – with the help of a few hundred passionate fans.
2. Montoya’s Brickyard Blitz
Montoya had to wait 15 years between Indianapolis 500 wins. It was definitely worth it as the popular Colombian produced the drive of the year in the final laps of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to sweep past Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon and Charlie Kimball and Penske teammate Will Power to clinch his second win at the Brickyard. Of the many memorable moments from the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, watching the final 10 laps of JPM’s run into the history books at Indy will never grow tiresome.
3. Munoz Becomes the belle of Belle Isle
Montoya wasn’t the only Colombian driver to find Victory Lane this year. Andretti Autosport’s impressive young charger Carlos Munoz used his natural speed, lightning-fast reflexes and crafty race strategy calls from pit lane to master the wet and tricky conditions and lap all but eight cars on the way to his maiden win in the rain-shortened first race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit
4. J-New’s Big Breakthrough
The new union of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing under the CFH Racing banner delivered immediate results. To the surprise of many, it didn’t come from team co-owner and ovalmeister Ed Carpenter. CFH took two wins in 2015 and both came from 2011 Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden, who confirmed his immense talent belonged atop the Verizon IndyCar Series podium with wins at Barber Motorsports Park and on the streets of Toronto. If a couple of bad breaks had gone his way at other tracks on the 16-race calendar, it’s more than likely the Tennessee native would have ended the year with three or four wins to his name.
5. Rahal’s Revival
Rahal’s fans who wondered when the Ohioan would earn his second Verizon IndyCar Series win — after he won on his series debut in 2008 — got their answer in 2015. Rahal added a second and a third win to his tally driving the delicious Steak ‘n Shake-sponsored Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry, and went one step further by becoming Honda’s top performer from start to finish in 2015. A rough couple of races to close the season dropped Rahal from second to fourth in the final standings, but there was no question which driver made the biggest year-to-year turnaround with the help of a talented, tight-knit team.
6. Chevy Can’t Be Stopped
Sixteen pole positions from 16 races, 10 wins, the drivers’ championship, the manufacturers’ championship and the Indy 500. The mighty Chevrolet Racing program reset its own lofty standards for domination, and with its fourth consecutive manufacturers’ title, the “Bowtie” has yet to be beaten in this highly prized category since it returned to Verizon IndyCar Series competition in 2012. Its 2.2-liter, twin-turbo V6 engine was the class of the field, and with its new, in-house-developed aero kit, the iconic General Motors brand demonstrated its ability to master a new discipline through thousands of hours of inspired work. Drivers and teams grab most of the headlines, but in 2015, Chevy deserved a spotlight of its own for propelling those drivers and teams to open-wheel glory.
7. … But Honda Doesn’t Give up
Honda’s struggles with its ambitious aero kit put the proud constructor in a position to dig out from a significant deficit before the halfway point of the season was reached, and with the unwavering commitment from American Honda and Honda Performance Development, the firm rallied to take six wins, including four from the final six races of the year.
8. The Big Man’s Big Day
The late Justin Wilson finished his last Indy car race with a fine second-place run at Mid-Ohio, where he chased home Rahal to give Honda a 1-2 in front of an adoring crowd of Honda guests and employees. With Rahal embroiled in a late-season push for the championship, Wilson, who was helping Honda to develop its Verizon IndyCar Series product with the Andretti Autosport team, was never going to take points away from Rahal by attempting a race-winning pass, but there was a definite feeling the beloved Englishman could have come out on top under normal circumstances. The sight of a joyful Wilson, with his unmistakably tall frame and big, expressive smile, spraying champagne from the Mid-Ohio podium is how he should be remembered.
9. Oriol Overcomes
Indy car veteran Oriol Servia was chosen by the Wilson family to stand in and take Justin’s place at Sonoma, only a week after Justin’s tragic death. With almost no notice, the Spaniard caught a flight from London for San Francisco, had one day to settle into the team and piloted the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda in honor of his fallen friend. Without the ability to work himself into the preferred form of physical fitness and stamina, or to test the car ahead of the event, Servia persevered through a tough opening day, returned to qualify 19th in the 25-car field and proceeded to storm through the field and run inside the top 10 before taking the checkered flag in 12th. It was a gutsy performance which put Servia’s stamina — and heart — to the test. In the end, his efforts made the Wilson family and the fans watching worldwide more than proud of his accomplishment.
10. INDYCAR Family Unites
Beyond the individual accomplishments that were earned by the men and women who comprise the INDYCAR paddock, the most impressive collective effort in 2015 came from the community to raise money to care for Justin Wilson’s family in his absence. Through the establishment of the Wilson Children’s Fund, and an eBay auction featuring hundreds of pieces of memorabilia from various forms of motorsports and beyond, more than a half-million dollars was raised to care for Julia Wilson and her daughters, Jane and Jess. Losing Justin was the lowest point of the year for everyone in the INDYCAR family, and with a chance to give back in his name, drivers, families and, most of all, fans stepped up to care for one of their own.