The new IndyCar season is just a matter of weeks away and, with testing in full swing, here’s a look at what to expect in the season ahead.
Before we get onto 2018, let’s take a quick look back at 2017.
Four drivers dominated while Penske reigned supreme once more on the team’s front. Those four drivers were Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves (all Penske) and Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi) with the former being crowned champion after an edgy duel at the season finale at Sonoma.
The other Penske, Will Power, had horrendous bad luck all season long with bad result after bad result ruling him out of any chance of a performance to resemble 2016.
Elsewhere, IndyCar veteran Sebastien Bourdais started with a season that was almost too good to be true and, unfortunately for both the Frenchman and team Dale Coyne, it was. A monster crash at the Indy 500 left Bourdais with a fractured pelvis, all but ending his season.
Speaking of the Indy 500, a certain Fernando Alonso made a headline appearance only for his Honda machinery to let him down once more while it was ex-F1 driver Takuma Sato who took the victory.
Let’s have a look ahead at what the season has in store…
Penske come into 2018 as the team to beat after an incredibly successful past couple of years. Back-to-back titles with first Pagenaud in 2016 and then Newgarden in 2017 means that Penske have some living up to if they’re to top that.
For Newgarden, the golden boy of IndyCar, anything short of a title challenge will be considered a disappointment, following his remarkable 2017 season. Few would ever doubt Newgarden’s talents, he’s a driver who’s been looked at by multiple F1 teams and is widely considered to be one of the best on the IndyCar grid. However, very few people expected him to triumph in his first year at Penske; sure, he’d won a race at Ed Carpenter Racing the year previous but even so, a year of learning was expected from Newgarden. No one seemed to tell him that though as the young American gave his much more experienced teammates a proper wake-up call.
2016 champion Pagenaud will be looking to act upon that wake-up from Newgarden in 2018. Many expected the Frenchman to put a very strong fight for his title and maybe even retain it however, we expected him to be fighting against Power, Dixon, Castroneves and Graham Rahal – in other words, the old guard. Yet no, Pagenaud had to attempt to fend off attack after attack from his new teammate as well as all the older drivers. This accumulated to a blow out at Gateway where Newgarden infuriated Pagenaud by passing in very close quarters through Turn 3. Keeping his head wasn’t one of Pagenaud’s strong points in 2017 so that’ll defiantly be something he’ll want to change for the upcoming season if he’s to put Penske’s youngster back in his place.
Will Power was often forgotten during 2017; after a matter of races he became irrelevant to the championship following a streak of incidents and failures. After taking Pagenaud right down to the wire in 2016, this came as a massive disappointment to both Power and Penske but, given his clear talent, it’s a season that everyone expects him to come back stronger from. They call those tough seasons “character building” and they are needed every once in a while, to keep a driver in check – Power will be hoping that all that is consigned to the history books as he bids for his second title.
Penske is just three-man team in 2018 after Castroneves, as they did with Juan Pablo Montoya last year, was transferred to Penske’s sports car campaign. It was felt that Castroneves’ time in IndyCar was up and, unfortunately, the Brazilian leaves the series having never won a championship.
Chip Ganassi Racing
Ganassi has a fresh look to it for 2018 after Max Chilton, Tony Kannan and Charlie Kimball all parted ways with owner Chip following multiple high-profile fall outs. Their star driver, Dixon, however, is staying on for another year with Chip and his team. The title is very much on their agenda while the full support of the team is expected to be but behind Dixon, rather than Ed Jones.
Dixon comes off the back of a mixed but mostly successful season; his huge, aerial crash at the Indy 500 and subsequent ankle injury hampered his outings at Detroit and Texas – damaging his titles hopes as a result. Despite this, he found himself leading the championship for six races during the mid-season before being eventually passed by Newgarden. He’ll be hoping to keep his feet, well car, firmly on the ground this season while putting in a strong challenge for the title. The 37-year old is still looking for his record-breaking fifth title.
Alongside the vastly experienced Dixon will be 2017’s rookie of the year, Jones. 2017 should’ve been the year that Jones learnt his craft in IndyCar alongside Bourdais at Daye Coyne however, that all went a bit wrong, what with the Frenchman’s Indy 500 crash. Suddenly, Jones found himself having to lead a team with the merry-go-round of drivers in the #18 car; a hard ask for anyone, let alone a rookie. Nonetheless, Jones showed immense maturity and skill, delivering some very impressive results and landing himself a seat at Ganassi. 2018 should be a continuation of the learning with Dixon clearly the teams number 1 driver.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL)
The once solo affair of RLL is expanding to two full-time cars for 2018 with long-time driver Rahal (his father Bobby Rahal co-owns the team, if you were wondering) being partnered by the 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato.
Rahal is a very respected figure in the paddock and it’s a wonder how he still doesn’t have a title to his name. He put in a relatively strong showing for 2017 with his only two wins coming at Detroit, a track that he’s dominated at for as long as anyone can remember. The car was just never quite there and Rahal got into a few incidents that he need of not. With another car to draw data from, the hope is that RLL will be much more competitive in 2018.
Alongside Rahal will be Sato who jumped ship from Andretti after the owners dithered around as to whether they were going to stay with Honda or not. Sato’s highlight of 2017 was by far and away his unexpected win at the Indy 500 over Castroneves. He’s expected to back up and maybe challenge Rahal for 2018, providing valuable data and track time for the team in the meantime.
Andretti, if I’m being honest, were a bit of a disappointment last year; yes, they won the Indy 500 and yes, they ran Alonso but their highest placed driver in the championship was only seventh. Clearly, improvement is needed at Andretti if they’re to restore their place as title challengers, if not winners.
Alexander Rossi finally secured his second win in IndyCar in 2017 at Watkins Glen to go along with his rather fluky 2016 Indy 500 win. This was an important milestone for Rossi because it proved the doubters wrong, he showed that he could win a race purely on ability, rather than clever strategy and luck. This and more is expected of the ex-F1 driver as he looks to spearhead Andretti’s title challenge.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti will line up alongside Rossi again with both drivers hoping to keep Rossi in order, reminding the world that Andretti isn’t just a one-man band.
The RLL bound Sato has been replaced by IndyCar rookie Zach Veach who makes the step up after three seasons in Indy Lights. It’s expected to be a learning year for the young American and, with three experienced teammates alongside him, that should be easier for him than some.
Keep an eye out for part two with the second half of the teams…