The new Verizon IndyCar Series season is upon us, and everyone will be looking to stop Team Penske, who locked out the top three in the championship in 2016 and took Simon Pagenaud to his maiden title.
Pagenaud switches from the #22 to the #1 in 2017 and will be looking to take the confidence from his championship winning campaign into the new season, although his three team-mates and those outside of the team will be hoping to be the one to start the season on a high.
Will Power took the fight with Pagenaud to the wire last season despite being forced to sit out the opening race of the year due to injury and admitting that he was not at the top of his game for the first half of the season as a result, and the Australian will be looking for a clean start and a possible second title.
Helio Castroneves finished third last year but has gone two seasons without a win, while the fourth Penske car is now in the hands of Josef Newgarden, who has come in to replace Juan Pablo Montoya. Newgarden moves across from Ed Carpenter Racing and is widely regarded as a tremendously talented American driver with championship-winning potential. Uniting him with a team that has title winning pedigree may just be a match made in heaven for Newgarden.
For Chip Ganassi Racing, the off-season saw them switch from Chevrolet power to Honda, while long-time sponsors Target have left, but the driver line-up remains a constant, led again by four-time series champion Scott Dixon, but ably assisted by Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton.
Dixon won twice in 2016 at Phoenix and Watkins Glen, but with Honda having only won twice all season last year, it is a big gamble for Chip Ganassi to make the switch, although if any team can make it work it would be Chip’s.
Kanaan, series champion back in 2004 and Indianapolis 500 winner in 2013 has, like Castroneves, gone two seasons without hitting victory lane, although his consistency in securing top ten results shows he is still fighting fit and ready.
Kimball continues with the team for a seventh consecutive season, but has only one win to his name in that time, although he matched his best championship finish of ninth last year after eleven top-ten finishes.
Former Formula 1 racer Chilton returns for a second season, and will be looking to build on the pair of top ten finishes he achieved in 2016, but needs to become a regular front-running performer this season to prove he belongs in the American open wheel scene.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out there following pre-season testing,” said Chilton. “I enjoyed driving at St. Pete last year, I was on for a top 10 finish in my first IndyCar appearance before we suffered some overheating, leading to a long stop.
“I’ve got more experience to call on this year and feeling good going into this weekend and encouraged by our test program. Hopefully we can be up the sharp end come Sunday afternoon.”
Andretti Autosport have retained the services of both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti for 2017, while Takuma Sato makes the switch from AJ Foyt Racing, with Carlos Muñoz going the other way. Andretti’s partnership with Bryan Herta’s outfit continues into 2017 as well, with 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi once again on board the #98 machine.
It was a disappointing 2016 for the Andretti team, with only Rossi’s victory at Indianapolis – thanks to a fuel economy run – to show for their efforts. Outgoing Muñoz was the best placed in the championship in tenth, just ahead of Rossi and Hunter-Reay, while Marco endured a terrible year, finishing only three times inside the top ten all season long.
Sato joining the team could add excitement, but the whole team need to work out how to get the best out of the Honda package or else they will be finding themselves enduring another tough season.
Sato’s former team AJ Foyt Racing have made the switch from Honda to Chevrolet power in 2017 in order to try and halt the slide down the field that saw both Sato and Jack Hawksworth struggle last season. Indy 500 specialist Muñoz comes – the Colombian has two second place finishes there in four attempts – as does Conor Daly, who returns to the team that gave him his Indy 500 debut back in 2013.
The all new line-up and new engine and aero deal with Chevrolet are a big risk for Foyt’s stable, but they could not afford to do nothing after their lacklustre performances last year. They could be a dark horse for a race victory or two this season.
Another team that could be in the same position is Dale Coyne Racing, who have secured the services of Sebastien Bourdais and 2016 Indy Lights champion Ed Jones in 2017.
Former Champ Car champion Bourdais moves from the now defunct KV Racing Technology team after four wins in three seasons for the outfit, and his move reunites him with the team that gave him his IndyCar return back in 2011,
“Thanks to Dale we’ve put together a good group of people and it’s been going well so far between the engineers and the technical team,” said Bourdais. “It’s always hard to know exactly where you stand going into the first race of the season, but I really think we have the potential to do well and everyone is anxious to see what we’re going to do.
“That’s exciting, and a little stressful all at the same time because it puts pressure on everybody. Going up against the big teams is what makes it an interesting challenge.”
Dubai-born Jones steps up to IndyCar on the back of his Indy Lights triumph, having taken a pair of victories last year with Carlin Motorsport, a team that have looked into moving into IndyCar themselves.
“It’s great to finally be so close to the race now,” said Jones. “Preseason testing has gone pretty well. I feel very comfortable in the car, even though I haven’t had that much time.
“I’ve worked well with the team and got along with everyone. I think they’ve taken massive steps forward from where they were last year and I’m really looking forward to getting going.”
Schmidt Peterson Motorsport return with an unchanged line-up of James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin, with team owner Sam Schmidt already admitting that he would be disappointed if both drivers didn’t find their way to victory lane.
The Mayor of Hinchtown is one of the most popular drivers on the whole grid, and took a well-received pole position at the Indianapolis 500 last year, a year after almost losing his life in a horror crash at the same track. Aleshin showed towards the end of 2016 just what he was made of, taking a pole of his own at Pocono Raceway and almost taking victory at Mid-Ohio before a disastrous pit stop ruined it all.
The loss of Newgarden for Ed Carpenter Racing to Penske will have been hard for the team, but JR Hildebrand has been brought in for his first full-season ride since 2013. He has been a regular Indy 500 rider for the team ever since, but now has a lot of pressure on his shoulders to match the achievements of Newgarden, who was a three-time winner in the championship in the past two seasons.
The second car is once again split between team owner Ed Carpenter, who will run the oval races, and Spencer Pigot, who will take the reigns of the #20 car for the street and road courses.
The final full-time entry on the grid is from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for Graham Rahal, with the American becoming a regular front runner in the past two seasons, coming close to the title in 2015 before winning the race in Texas last year.
“St. Pete has been good and bad for me,” said Rahal. “After getting the win my first year here, I came back and got pole but there have been ups and downs since then. We’ve had times when we’ve been really strong a St. Pete and we’ve had times when we’ve struggled.
“We need to work hard to maximize what we have, and work hard to start off this season really good because if we want to be champions, it has to start at St. Pete.”
Rahal will be joined at a select few rounds by veteran Oriol Servia, who will offer a strong technical feedback to the team, who have pretty much been a one-car entry for the last few seasons.
The depth of the strength of the IndyCar Series is extremely deep, you could say that there is not a driver in the field that could not be fighting for race wins in 2017. The action begins this weekend around the streets of St. Petersburg, with the calendar pretty stable from that seen in 2016, with an oval race at Gateway Motorsports Park the only addition.
The tyre rules have also slightly changed, with the red-walled Firestone tyres now able to be tested before qualifying for the first time. It is also the last season of the different Honda/Chevrolet aero kits, with a generic aero kit coming in for 2018.
But it is time to get the action started!
2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Full-Time Entry List
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2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Calendar
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