Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves reckons his squad and main rival Target Chip Ganassi Racing are being reeled in by the rest of the IndyCar Series teams.
Although Penske topped the times in the preseason test at Barber Motorsports Park ahead of Ganassi, Dreyer & Reinbold and KV Racing, they also had cars in the top six. Castroneves believes Penske and Ganassi have now reached the limit of the aging Dallara-Honda package's development potential, and with the car set to be used for another two years, the underdog teams will get ever closer.
"I do think that gap is getting closer and closer for several reasons," he said. "At Ganassi and Penske, there's only so much we can do to develop the car and we created a situation that they got to continue to catch us. It's hard for us to improve knowing we have limitations on the rules and things like that. It's less difficult for everyone else as they're finding the same stuff we've found.
"Second thing for those teams, the equipment has been here for so many years. People start figuring out other things as well. So, because of that, I do feel the gap is getting closer and closer. I mean, we saw at Barber, less than a tenth, probably was seven or eight cars. That's crazy."
The Brazilian is still looking for a first major championship title as he starts his 11th year as a Penske driver, but even though he reckons the field is getting increasingly competitive with the arrival of new signings like Takuma Sato, he does not plan to change his style or approach.
"Certainly the new drivers, they are doing extremely well," Castroneves said. "I'm going to approach this season the same way I was approaching the past. It may not be successful clinching the title, but that's outside my control. But at least I'll be competitive."
He is also certain that this weekend's season opener in Sao Paulo will be a huge success, even though he anticipates a few teething problems with the brand-new circuit, which will not be used until practice on Saturday morning.
"A first event always has some bumpy spots or little bit here, little bit there," Castroneves said. "But that's why the IndyCar Series is so great. We go anyway. We race anyway.
"[The track] seems to be great. Especially after Carnival, they are working a record time here to put everything in a great shape. So far, everything is going smooth. I don't doubt it's going to be a great show."