By: Spencer Neff
December 18, 2018 | 8:00 AM
Yesterday, the IndyCar paddock was expanded. DragonSpeed Racing announced they will compete in five IndyCar races in the 2019 season before the fledgling team employs plans to expand to a full-time schedule in 2020.
Powered by Chevrolet engines with Ben Hanley behind the wheel, DragonSpeed will make its first appearance at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10. The team will field an entry at Barber Motorsports Park, Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in addition to the 103rd Indianapolis 500 in May.
Following a path carved by the likes of Michael Shank Racing and Scuderia Corsa, DragonSpeed made its name in sports car racing.
Founded in 2007 by driver Elton Julian, the Jupiter, Florida-based team would not make its on-track debut until the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, where they finished 29th (15th in the GT class).
After a year away, the team entered the Prototype Challenge class of the American LeMans Series in 2013. Utilizing an Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet, DragonSpeed competed part-time and finished sixth in class standings.
The team spent the following two seasons in the Pirelli World Challenge. Behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, Frank Montecalvo won the GTA class title in 2015.
That year also marked a move overseas for DragonSpeed where Julian headed a three-driver team in the PRO-Am Cup for the Blancpain Endurance Series. For 2016, the team hired Hanley and Nicolas Lapierre to drive alongside Henrik Hedman, who previously drove for the team’s Pirelli World Challenge entry.
The trio would drive an Oreca 05-Nissan car in the LMP2 class of the European LeMans Series, winning at Spa while earning three additional podium finishes en route to a fourth-place effort in class points.
For 2017, former CART driver Nicolas Minassian would be hired as the team’s sporting director. DragonSpeed also expanded to a second car, an Oreca-07-Gibson.
That car, under the G-Drive Racing banner, featured Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel as full-time drivers. Ryo Hirakawa drove for the team, but Minassian subbed for him in two rounds. Overall, that car earned five podiums in six races en route to the class title.
In 2018, DragonSpeed entered the LMP1 class with a BR1-Gibson entry. Hedman and Hanley joined the effort, with Pietro Fittipaldi and Renger van der Zande splitting time as the third driver. Roberto González, Pastor Maldonado and Nathanaël Berthon would drive the LMP2 entry while Anthony Davidson would later replace Berthon.
For 2019, DragonSpeed has already announced a two-car effort for January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona as part of their sports car plans. The team will also compete in prestigious endurance events such as the 1,000 Miles of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In addition to Minassian’s time as DragonSpeed’s sporting director, Elton Julian also holds a link to IndyCar’s past.
Julian was teamed with former IndyCar driver Jan Lammers at the Racing for Holland team for the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans. Lammers started 10 IndyCar races in his career.
Hanley also begins his IndyCar career with a connection to a fellow series rookie.
In 2017, Hanley and Henrik Hedman were joined by Felix Rosenqvist for the team’s LMP2 entry at Le Mans (finishing 14th, 12th in class). Rosenqvist (with Chip Ganassi Racing) and Hanley will both make their IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg in March.
DragonSpeed’s foray into the series will be watched with intrigue. The team will look to build upon their prior success in sports cars and grow for the 2020 season.
Header Image by Vision Sports Agency.