Season Preview: 2019 NTT IndyCar Series

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The start of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500
Credit: John Cote / Courtesy of IndyCar

After another long off-season, it is almost time for America’s premier single-seater racing series to get back out on the race track. The NTT IndyCar Series will be back to racing in just over a week’s time with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Following that, the 2019 field of drivers will have sixteen further races before the 2019 champion is crowned, with visits to some of the most famous race tracks in the world.

Following the introduction of the standardised aero-kit for the 2018 season, the racing in the IndyCar series has only gotten better. The calibre of drivers on the grid has also kept growing and growing over the last few years, as has the interest from fans not just in the United States, but across the globe. Such is the international following of the series, the new title sponsor for the championship is Japanese telecommunications company NTT, who replace long-term sponsors Verizon for this season onwards.

With another year of scintillating action just ahead of us, here is The Checkered Flag‘s season preview with everything you need to know ahead of the green flag at St. Pete.

Alexander Rossi (USA), Andretti Autosport, 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, Circuit of the Americas Test

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

The schedule

The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series will consist of seventeen-races held at famous race tracks across North America. The season will start, as has been the case for the past eight years, with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg; held on a 1.8-mile temporary street circuit in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Two weeks later, the IndyCar Series will head to Austin, Texas for the newest race on the calendar; the IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas. The venue, now famous for hosting the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, will finally play host to an IndyCar race; with pre-season testing at the circuit in mid-February suggesting that the event should be spectacular.

After Texas, IndyCar will move East to Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park on April 7; the undulating road course that has become a favourite of the drivers over the last few seasonsFrom there, IndyCar will head to the West Coast for one of the most historic street races in motorsport, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The race will be held on April 14; one week after the Grand Prix of Alabama.

After Long Beach, IndyCar will make its prolonged stop at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the month of May. The month will start with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Grand Prix circuit on May 11. After that, all the focus turns to the most important race of the season, the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26; with qualifying being held a week before the race. The qualifying format for the Indy 500 has undergone some changes for 2019, with the most notable change being the addition of the new “Last Row Shootout” session to decide which drivers will not qualify for the race.

The 2019 Indianapolis 500 will be the first of four races held in just three weeks. One week after the biggest race of the season, the IndyCar field will head from one of the fastest tracks on the schedule to the most technical. The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix weekend will be comprised of two races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. There will still be no rest after that though, as the field will be back racing again less than a week later at Texas Motor Speedway under the floodlights.

After a much needed two-week break, IndyCar will be back on track on June 23 at Road America for the tenth race of the season. The following race will be the only event held outside of the United States, as the series heads over the northern border to take to the streets of Toronto, Canada, for the Grand Prix of Toronto on July 14. The drivers will go back to oval racing in the United States a week later for the Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway.

The final five races of 2019 will begin with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 28. Back-to-back oval races will follow after a three-week break, with the short-track of Gateway Motorsports Park playing host to IndyCar a week before the series heads to the Superspeedway of Pocono Raceway for the final oval race of the year.

Two road course races will close out the 2019 season. September 1 will see the series head to Portland International Raceway for the penultimate race of the year. After that, the championship will head south for the final race of the year, which will see the IndyCar series return to the world-famous WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time since 2004. The spectacular circuit will almost certainly provide a fitting end to what promises to be a fantastic year of racing.

Scott Dixon (NZL), Chip Ganassi Racing, 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, Laguna Seca test

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

The Grid

The fantastic calendar for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series is complemented by the superb line-up of teams and drivers that will compete throughout the year. Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Scott Dixon enters the season as the defending champion. He will be partnered by highly-acclaimed rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who will finally make his race debut after several tests over the last few years.

Ganassi makes up one-third of the “big three” IndyCar teams. Team Penske and Andretti Autosport will both enter unchanged driver-line ups in 2019, with Will PowerJosef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud racing for Penske and Alexander RossiRyan Hunter-ReayZach Veach and Marco Andretti racing for Andretti Autosport.

Over the last few years, a number of “dark horses” from the mid-field have routinely stepped up to challenge the “big three”. Last year, the main challengers to the top three teams were Arrow Schmidt Peterson. Sadly, Robert Wickens will remain absent from the grid following his horrific crash at Pocono in August, but James Hinchcliffe will instead be joined by former-F1 driver Marcus Ericsson. If the team are as competitive as they were at points in 2018, 2019 could be an interesting year for Hinchcliffe and Ericsson.

Further potential dark horses could come from multiple teams. Both Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing both picked up a victory each in 2018, courtesy of Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais respectively. Despite those victories, both teams had a pretty lacklustre season compared to what they would have hoped for. Both teams will be hoping to change that this season.

However, both teams will have to keep an eye on Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones, both of whom were right with both RLLR and DCR in the standings at the end of 2018. Both drivers will unite at Ed Carpenter Racing for 2019, with Jones stepping aside for the oval races in a ride-share with team-owner, Ed Carpenter.

Away from the battle for the championship, another interesting fight could come for the rookie of the year honours. The aforementioned Swedish drivers, Rosenqvist and Ericsson, will lock horns with exciting talents such as Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s Colton Herta and Dale Coyne’s Santino Ferrucci for the honours. It is hard to predict who may come out on top just yet, but Herta, in particular, showed promising pace at the pre-season test at COTA last month.

Next, look out for a number of teams and drivers who will be hoping that 2019 will see them make strides up the grid order. A.J. Foyt Enterprises, for example, had a very tough 2018 season with Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist. Both will be hoping to take the team back toward the front of the grid.

Additionally, keep an eye on the British team, Carlin. The squad are entering their second season in IndyCar this year and will be hoping to continue to build off of a respectable debut campaign last year. The same can be said of Harding Steinbrenner Racing, who had a fantastic end to 2018 at Sonoma courtesy of Patricio O’Ward, who sadly split from the squad last month. Nevertheless, the potential is there for the team to create some surprises this year.

Lastly, a number of teams and drivers will be competing on a part-time basis over the course of the year. The likes of Juncos Racing and Meyer Shank Racing will compete at multiple races during 2019. They will be joined by the newest team to enter the championship, DragonSpeed. The team, known for competing in endurance racing, will run British driver Ben Hanley in five races this year.

Fernando Alonso (ESP), McLaren Andretti, 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, Indianapolis 500

Credit: Walter Kuhn / Courtesy of IndyCar

The Indianapolis 500

The centrepiece of the IndyCar season will once again be the Indianapolis 500; one of the most prestigious races in all of motorsport. Such has been the trend over the last few seasons, we are expecting to see another long list of entrants for the race, with some entrants that will likely not be announced for another few weeks or months yet.

Due to this, we will once again see the return of “bumping”from the field. During the qualifying weekend, the slowest drivers that place outside of the top thirty-three will not be eligible to race. Furthermore, the aforementioned new “Last Row Shootout” session will almost certainly increase the drama of qualifying, with the slowest drivers desperately duelling it out for the final spots on the grid.

A driver that will be attempting to make history at the Indianapolis 500 will, arguably, be the driver with the most support across the globe. Two-time Formula 1 world champion, Fernando Alonso, will attempt to qualify for his second Indy 500 with McLaren Racing in May and will be hoping to secure the final rung of the famous “triple crown” of motorsports.

Having already won the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 hours of Le Mans, Alonso just needs to win the Indy 500 to join Graham Hill as the only drivers to have won all three races.  There is a high chance that Alonso could be in contention for the win, too, as on his debut in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, the Spaniard qualified fifth and led the race for a long time before sadly retiring with an engine failure.

Many full-time teams elect to run extra cars for the Indianapolis 500. For the second year in a row, IndyCar veteran Helio Castroneves will make his return for the race, as well as the road course race a few weeks prior. Once again, Helio will be aiming to take his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory; a win that would see him join the exclusive club of four-time Indy 500 winners that currently is comprised of A.J. FoytAl Unser and Rick Mears.

Another fan-favourite Indy-only entry will come from the #25 Andretti Autosport Honda, which will be driven by Conor Daly. The American has made five prior Indy 500 starts with teams such as A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing, but this year looks to be his best shot yet. Andretti Autosport has had some of the fastest cars for the last few years, so this could be Conor’s opportunity to really showcase his talents and earn himself a full-time ride once again.

Another confirmed Indy 500-only entry comes from Ed Carpenter Racing and partners Scuderia Corsa. Ed Jones, who will race in the #20 for the road course and street circuits this year, will vacate the car for Ed Carpenter in the oval races, but the team will field the additional #64 Chevrolet so that Jones can race in the biggest race of the year.

The Dubai-born British driver finished third in the race in his rookie season in 2017. He will be hoping that Ed Carpenter Racing, who have a knack for being fast at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, will give him a shot at the victory in 2019.

Finally, two more Indy 500 entrants have been confirmed in the last few days. Sage Karam will return to the race with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, with Pippa Mann also set to return with IndyCar newcomers Clauson-Marshall Racing. More entrants are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Grand Prix of Portland, Portland International Raceway, Start

Credit: Stephen King / Courtesy of IndyCar

The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series will get on-track for the first time at the 2019 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Friday, March 8 for the first practice sessions of the weekend. Final practice and qualifying will be run on Saturday, with the race taking place on Sunday, March 10.

UK Coverage of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series will be provided by Sky Sports F1, with all seventeen races and qualifying sessions set to be shown alongside the Formula 1 coverage.

Be sure to keep up to date with the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series all season-long right here at The Checkered Flag. Be on the lookout for our preview of the season-opening race, which will be published on Wednesday, March 6.

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