DragonSpeed confirm entry with Hanley at St. Pete

by Jordan Groves

DragonSpeed has confirmed that they will be returning to the NTT IndyCar Series grid for the 2020 season opening race, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The team will once again field British driver Ben Hanley in the #81 Chevrolet, but team principal Elton Julian commented yesterday that the team may field different drivers throughout the year.

DragonSpeed, a team with a long and successful history in sports car racing, made the jump into the NTT IndyCar Series at the beginning of the 2019 season on a planned five-race program with Hanley at the wheel.

After two trouble-free races at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park – the first of which including a twelfth-place grid spot after fortune favoured the team in qualifying – Hanley and DragonSpeed would face their greatest challenge; their first oval race at the Indianapolis 500. Hanley would qualify for the race and take the #81 car to twenty-seventh on the grid, beating out entries from much more experienced teams such as Chip Ganassi Racing and Carlin.

However, the race would fair much differently for Hanley and DragonSpeed, with the #81 Chevrolet being forced to retire from the race on lap fifty-four due to a driveshaft failure. Ultimately, this would prove to be DragonSpeed’s last race of the year, with planned appearances at Road America, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca all falling by the wayside. The team cited numerous reasons for their absences, including needing rest and recooperation after a brutal race at the World Endurance Championship‘s 24 hours of Le Mans, as well as Visa issues prior to the Road America race.

Now, however, the team look to be back on track; no pun intended. The team confirmed just before Christmas that they would be embarking on a six-race schedule for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, comprising of St. Petersburg, Long Beach, the Indianapolis 500, Texas Motor Speedway, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca.

Speaking yesterday after confirmation that he would be attending the season-opener, Ben Hanley spoke of his excitement to get back in an IndyCar; especially as he and the team will have some experience under their belts this time around.

“I can’t wait to get back in the No. 81 machine for another crack at St. Pete,” said Hanley. “After the thrash required just to make it to the track last season, we’re coming back in a much more settled situation. I don’t know if we can repeat the combination of luck and timing that put us 12th on the grid in 2019, but we will be much better prepared this time around and should be stronger throughout the weekend.”

Credit: Walter Kuhn / Courtesy of IndyCar

Team owner, Elton Julian, commented yesterday that he was glad to have Hanley – a long term DragonSpeed driver – back in the car for the sake of “continuity” as the team continues to find its feet in IndyCar. However, Julian would go on to state that it is possible that other drivers will get behind the wheel of the #81 Chevrolet during the season.

“The continuity represented by having Ben in the car at St. Pete is a real boost and for the fifth year in a row he remains the lead driver across all of our programs,” Julian said. “That said, the realities of life as a young IndyCar team might see us running other drivers at the same level as Ben, perhaps with more IndyCar experience, during the year. But committing to Ben as the test and race driver for the launch of our 2020 effort is clearly the best way to get our season off to a strong start.

Potential candidates to make an appearance in the #81 car are not known as of yet, but there would be no lack of talented and experienced drivers on the side lines with the recent losses of James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais and others from the full-time IndyCar grid. However, DragonSpeed may look within their own ranks for another driver, with the team’s IMSA driver Colin Braun having previously raced on ovals in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series.

Julian also commented yesterday how there were still undoubtedly going to be some challenges when the #81 Chevrolet next takes to the track. Unlike other teams who have been taking part in numerous tests over the off-season, DragonSpeed has not turned a wheel. This means that they have yet to run any laps with the new-for-2020 Aeroscreen:

“We haven’t had the head start of some teams in testing the new IndyCar Aeroscreen and are pushing hard to get it in time to maximize the limited track testing allowed to us as a part-time entrant while making some time in between for data analysis and shaker rig testing.”

Official testing has already begun ahead of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, with teams such as Team Penske, Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Ed Carpenter Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing all taking to the track at Sebring International Raceway yesterday. Further testing will take place over the next two months before the teams and drivers head to St. Petersburg for the opening round of the season on Sunday, March 15.

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