At last! IndyCar is returning this week! So let’s give you a quick run through the order of play.
Runners and Riders
Scott Dixon won last year’s championship almost single-handedly, but for the first time since Dario Franchitti, he has a teammate who has the potential to match him: Felix Rosenqvist. This Swedish badass has won in pretty much every series he’s competed in and Chip Ganassi has been desperately trying to sign him for three years. Expect him to do have the same impact Robert Wickens did last year (no pun intended).
Andretti Autosport returned to form, especially with Alex Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Rossi has carved out a formidable reputation similar to that of Paul Tracy – a no-nonsense hard charger who pulls daring moves. But as we saw at Gateway, he is much more than that, having the patience to let races come to him. RHR reminded everyone how good he is, particularly with his dominance at Sonoma. Expect both to be gunning for it this year with rookie superstar Zach Veach and team stalwart Marco Andretti in tow.
Team Penske had a strange season. Will Power should have been up there for the title after sweeping May but wasn’t nearly consistent enough. Josef Newgarden won three races brilliantly, but didn’t appear on the podium otherwise. Simon Pagenaud was the oddball though; the 2016 champ unable to find the sweet spot on the road and street courses until Sonoma. We know these guys will be competitive because, it’s The Captain, but they need to improve.
Dale Coyne continues to punch way, way above his miniscule budget thanks to know-how. He has a fantastic driver in Sebastien Bourdais with an equally fantastic team of engineers. Seabass will be up there again, no doubt, and expect him to be challenged occasionally by their new driver, Santino Ferrucci. The opinion of him in Formula 1 doesn’t matter here. This kid showed speed in his few appearances last year and could stir a surprise.
Graham Rahal was kind of here nor there last year. Through 2015 – 17 this guy finished 4th, 5th and 6th, with at least one win and several podiums each year. Last year however, he only made the podium once at St. Pete, and that was through sheer luck. He was consistent enough in races, but he wants to be consistently higher up the finishing order and to improve his qualifying. As for his teammate Takuma Sato, he had an okay year. It wasn’t as good as many predicted and many said his win at Portland was lucky, but he was there or thereabouts at a lot of places.
Schmidt’s season was curtailed by Wicky Bobby’s horrendous crash at Pocono. The boy’s on the mend at a truly ridiculous rate of knots, but his teammate James Hinchcliffe needs to get back in the swing of things. After failing to qualify at Indy, he recovered well to win at Iowa, only to fall off again after his friend got battered. This year, he has a new teammate, Marcus Ericsson. I’m not expecting Ericsson to set the world alight like compatriot Felix, but if he can string together some consistent top tens he’ll be laughing.
Indianapolis aside, Ed Carpenter’s team had a nothing year. The only bright spots were Spencer Pigot’s performances at Iowa and Portland. Pigot is back for a second run, as he should; the kid has talent. Joining him is Ganassi outcast Ed Jones, looking to somewhat restore his reputation, who will run the road and street course plus Indy with sportscar squad Scuderia Corsa. Ed will continue with the rest of the ovals.
A. J. Foyt are a laughing stock in many ways. This team has been through 6 full-time drivers in three years and have a driver in Tony Kanaan who, whilst awesome as a guy, needs to retire. When you can only say a guy is competitive at one track (Indy), it might be time to move on. Mat Leist just needs to keep learning.
Carlin had a decent first year, running two cars. However, as has been mentioned previously, they didn’t have the best two drivers. Max Chilton stays on full-time, but Charlie Kimball’s sponsorship money has almost run out, restricting him to just five races. Hotshot RC Enerson will run some others, which is only a good thing considering his speed when he ran for Coyne a couple of years back. If they can snag new free agent Pato O’Ward for the remaining races, they could do nicely.
IndyCar’s other new team, Harding Racing, had a tough time last year. They were running some good little drivers in Gabby Chaves and Conor Daly, but with ancient equipment. Chaves and Daly have been very harshly dumped in favour of Colton Herta, and Indy Lights sensation. Aside from his speed, the main reason for this is because his friend George Steinbrenner IV has taken a stake in the outfit, along with Andretti coming along in a technical partnership. Originally, this team was the feel-good story of the winter as they also had Pato driving with Colton. But a lack of funds resulted in Pato asking to leave to pursue other rides, meaning the winner of Lights doesn’t have a full-time ride, but the guy who was runner-up does. Strange.
Other teams and drivers who are running part-time schedules include Meyer Shank Racing, who are gradually improving with Jack Harvey year-on-year and will be at ten races. Dragonspeed finally have joined the series with patriarch Ben Hanley driving. Considering they only got their car running last week, they can only learn. Finally, Juncos Racing are trying to piece together a programme for their driver Kyle Kaiser and whoever has the most dollars.
As we’ve documented, Sonoma’s gone (yes!) and been replaced by Laguna Seca with Austin also joining. We have a new title sponsor and NBC have an exclusive deal with the series, but the most important innovation has been to do with safety.
IndyCar had been working on the aeroscreen for some time last year, testing with Dixie and JoNew. Since that test at Indy with the 2017 champ no one’s heard a peep about it. Well, it appears the concept has been shelved for the time being in favour of a more immediate solution. It’s the called the Advanced Frontal Protection device and is just a three-inch tall piece of titanium fitted in front of the driver. Designed to deflect debris away from the cockpit, the device will be carried on all cars from Indy onwards. Hopefully this will shut Felipe Massa up.
So, there you are. A short guide to this year’s IndyCar season. There is more to talk about when it comes to the 500, but we’ll come to that when it happens. This season It will equal last year’s I’m sure in terms of excitedment, quality and intrigue, particularly as we’ve had a year with this aerokit to get things sorted out properly. But unlike last year, I’m not making any predictions because I got them all wrong!
See you in St. Pete!