IndyCar

SEASON PREVIEW: 2020 IndyCar Series

11 Mins read
Credit: Jonathan Ferrey (Getty Images) / Courtesy of IndyCar

The wait is finally over. In just one week’s time, the NTT IndyCar Series returns for the first of seventeen races that will make up the 2020 season. The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will kick the season off, with twenty-one drivers set to fight it out all year long for the 2020 championship crown and many other drivers to make appearances during the course of the next few months of racing.

The headline change heading into the 2020 season is the introduction of the Aeroscreen to the IndyCar Series. In the wake of rapid safety enhancements in recent years in single-seater racing, IndyCar has turned to the Aeroscreen canopy cockpit protection instead of the more widely used HALO device.

With only a handful of days of testing for the drivers to get used to running with the Aeroscreen, it will certainly be interesting to see how the drivers acclimatize in their first few races with the canopy.

Away from the intrigue surrounding the Aeroscreen, an exciting driver line-up and an eclectic mix of locations on the calendar will undoubtedly make 2020 yet another fantastic season to watch. Here is The Checkered Flag‘s season preview with everything you need to know ahead of next weekend’s season-opener in Florida.

Credit: Steve Snoddy / Courtesy of IndyCar

The schedule

For the tenth year in a row, the NTT IndyCar Series will head to the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, for the first round of the year. The now traditional starting point has played host to a number of sensational races throughout the years, most recently including the controversial end-of-race crash between Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens in 2018 as well as last year’s domination by eventual 2019 series champion, Josef Newgarden.

Three weeks later, IndyCar will make the road trip to Alabama’s superb Barber Motorsports Park circuit. The track has become one of the favourites of both drivers and fans, with superb elevation changes making for a very tricky but enjoyable race. Last year, it was Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Takuma Sato who came out on top with a surprise victory in Alabama.

The third round of the season will see the drivers taking part in one of the most famous street races in all of motorsports. The Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place on April 19, with the drivers hoping to put a stop to Alexander Rossi’s run of victories in his home state, with the Californian having utterly dominated the last two races held on the famous streets.

April 26 will see IndyCar race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, for only the second time. Last year’s inaugural IndyCar race at the circuit was an incredible one, with the teenage rookie, Colton Herta, grabbing his and Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s maiden IndyCar victory. Team Penske‘s Will Power looked on course for a comfortable win in the race until mechanical failures ended his day during a late pit-stop.

The month of May is undeniably the most important month of the IndyCar series calendar. On Saturday, May 9, the drivers will take to the Grand Prix circuit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the starter of the IndyCar meal that is the month of May. After that, the attention of the drivers will switch to the biggest race of the season, the main course, the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. Qualifying will take place on the weekend prior to the race, with only thirty-three drivers able to secure a spot on the grid for the famous race on Sunday, May 24. Simon Pagenaud will return to Indianapolis as the defending race winner of both the Grand Prix and the 500.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

If those races weren’t enough for the month of May, the teams and drivers will have less than a week to hightail it to Detroit’s Belle Isle street circuit for a doubleheader weekend; a truly difficult task that serves as a superb dessert to compliment the action in Indianapolis. Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon will enter Detroit as the two race winners from last year.

Texas Motor Speedway will play host to the first night race of the 2020 season on Saturday, June 6. The speedway will see many drivers seeking oval redemption should the Indianapolis 500 have not gone as they would have hoped. Last year, it was Josef Newgarden who would don a Stetson and fire off a pair of six-shooters in victory lane at Fort Worth.

The tenth round of the year will see the drivers head to another iconic American race track. Wisconsin’s Road America will host the 2020 REV Group Grand Prix on Sunday, June 21, with Alexander Rossi hoping to repeat his dominant win in the event from last season.

The eleventh round of the season will see the drivers head into the relative unknown. The one alteration to the calendar for this year saw Pocono Raceway dropped in favour of a series return to the short track at Richmond Raceway in Virginia. The last IndyCar race held at Richmond took place back in 2009, with Scott Dixon taking the chequered flag.

IndyCar’s only race outside of the United States will take place on Sunday, July 12, with the teams and drivers hopping over the northern border for the Honda Indy Toronto in Canada. Last year’s Canadian adventure saw Simon Pagenaud take the victory. The series will jump back across the border for the Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway just six days later.

August 16 will see the series return, once again, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, for the fourteenth round of the season. The circuit is yet another fan favourite in IndyCar, with the twists, turns, peaks and troughs seeing a number of dramatic races over the years; including a fantastic photo finish between last year’s race winner, Scott Dixon and his rookie team-mate, Felix Rosenqvist. The final oval race of the 2020 season at Gateway Motorsports Park, will take place just six days later, with Takuma Sato hoping to get a second successive win under the lights in Illinois.

The penultimate round of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series will take place at the superb Portland International Raceway in Portland, Oregon. Since returning to IndyCar in 2018, the Grand Prix of Portland has often shown the potential to really shake things up with a crazy race just before the season finale. Last year’s race in Oregon was won by Penske’s Will Power.

Last, but certainly not least, the NTT IndyCar Series will head back to California for the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday, September 20. The historic circuit returned to the IndyCar calendar last year and failed to disappoint on its return, with Colton Herta claiming a sensational victory whilst Josef Newgarden claimed the championship with an eighth-place finish.

Credit: Jonathan Ferrey (Getty Images) / Courtesy of IndyCar

The Grid

It doesn’t matter how good of a race schedule you have if you don’t have a great roster of drivers. Thankfully, the NTT IndyCar Series doesn’t have to worry about that!

After claiming his second title last year, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden will enter 2020 as the defending champion; spearheading an unchanged line-up for Penske that also includes another two former champions. Simon Pagenaud and Will Power will remain in the Penske camp this year, with all three drivers knowing that anything other than being in contention for the title would be a disappointing outcome for 2020.

Newgarden, Pagenaud and Power will be joined by a potential future full-time team-mate for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Virgin Australia Supercars champion, Scott McLaughlin, will make his IndyCar debut at the Indianapolis road course, with rumours pointing towards a full-time move to IndyCar next year for the New Zealander.

It’s also another year of driver continuity at Andretti Autosport. Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Zach Veach remain in the team’s primary full-time cars; with Marco Andretti also continuing on in the Andretti Herta #98 Honda.

For this season, Andretti will also welcome Harding Steinbrenner Racing into its stable; with Colton Herta now a de-facto Andretti driver after a stunning rookie season last year. With full-on Andretti machinery, Herta could easily find himself in contention for the title in his sophomore season.

Another full-time Andretti affiliate driver will be Britain’s, Jack Harvey. Jack remains behind the wheel of the #60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda, with the team now receiving technical support from Andretti after losing their partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson at the end of 2019. With Harvey and MSR running full-time for the first time in IndyCar; expect to see the pairing causing regular upsets throughout the season after some brilliant performances part-time last year.

Andretti will, unbelievably, have a seventh driver under their roof for three races this season. After losing his ride at the end of last year, James Hinchcliffe will compete on a limited schedule this year. The Canadian will race at the Indy GP, the Indy 500 and at Texas Motor Speedway and will be wanting to get the best possible results out of his part-time campaign.

The final of the ‘big three’ teams in IndyCar is Chip Ganassi Racing. This year, Chip Ganassi Racing expands back to a three-car team after running with just two cars for the last few seasons. Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist remain with the team; with Felix hoping to challenge for victories after a strong debut season that saw him walk away with rookie of the year honours in 2019.

Dixon and Rosenqvist will be joined by Marcus Ericsson for 2020. After losing his ride in Formula 1 for 2019, Ericsson somewhat surprised with his raw pace on numerous occasions last year; including at Detroit where he scored his first podium finish. With experience now under his belt, it will be very interesting to see what Ericsson can do; especially now that he is with a team as competitive as Ganassi.

Credit: Jonathan Ferrey (Getty Images) / Courtesy of IndyCar

Perhaps the biggest change made to any pre-existing team during the off-season came from the team formally known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson. The team entered into a partnership with McLaren Racing and has since become Arrow McLaren SP. The team also made wholesale changes to its driver line-up, with both James Hinchcliffe and the aforementioned Marcus Ericsson being ousted in favour of a fresh and young line-up in the form of Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew; the last two Indy Lights champions. In their former guise, Arrow Schmidt Peterson were regular ‘dark horses’ throughout the IndyCar season. Now that McLaren is onboard, the team will expect nothing but excellence.

Another potential race-winning team with a changed line-up for 2020 is Dale Coyne Racing. The team made the somewhat surprising decision during the off-season to ditch multiple former-champion, Sebastien Bourdais and promote his 2019 rookie team-mate, Santino Ferrucci, into the cockpit of the #18 Honda. Ferrucci showed excellently in the oval races of the 2019 calendar, but lacklustre road and street course performances prevented him from challenging for the rookie of the year title. The young American will be hoping to improve this time around.

Ferrucci will be partnered by an exciting new driver to the NTT IndyCar Series. After a few years racing in Japan’s Super Formula series, Spain’s Alex Palou will make his debut and promises to surprise those who do not yet know his name.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is one of the only teams that will have no changes or additions to their full-time drive line-up for 2020. Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal will continue on with the team, with both hoping for victories during the course of the coming months of racing. Sato was able to notch up two victories last year – one at Barber Motorsports Park and another at Gateway – whilst Rahal will be hoping to get his first victory since 2017. The pair will be joined by a further team-mate for the two Indianapolis races this year, with Spencer Pigot hoping to make the most of his limited opportunities this year to try and work his way back onto the grid full-time in 2021.

Ed Carpenter Racing will continue their setup of having one full-time driver partnered by a joint effort in a second car. Team owner, Ed Carpenter, will continue racing the oval rounds of the calendar in the #20 car, with fan-favourite Conor Daly taking over the reins for the road course and street circuit races. The sister #21 car will be driven full-time by Dutch rookie, Rinus VeeKay. Rinus will be hoping to impress after finishing runner-up in Indy Lights last year to fellow graduate, Oliver Askew.

A.J. Foyt Racing will have a similar setup to Ed Carpenter Racing this year. Charlie Kimball moves to the team to drive the #4 Chevrolet full-time; replacing the car’s former driver, Matheus Leist. The #14 car will be driven by its former resident, Tony Kanaan, for the oval races this season; but the Brazilian veteran will share the ride with both Sebastien Bourdais and rookie Dalton Kellett. Bourdais will race the first three races and the penultimate race at Portland, with Kellett behind the wheel for the remaining road and street course rounds.

The final full-time team on the grid will be Carlin; who continue to find their feet in IndyCar after joining in 2018. Max Chilton is the only confirmed driver for the two-car squad so far; with the British driver only racing in the road course and street circuit races with the exception of the Indianapolis 500. The other driver of the #59 Chevrolet has yet to be confirmed, as has the identity of the driver of the second Carlin Chevrolet. Both Felipe Nasr and Sergio Sette Camara drove the second car at the pre-season test at the Circuit of the Americas, but neither of the two drivers has officially been signed just yet.

Two teams will contest the season on a part-time schedule this year. DragonSpeed are set to race the season-opener once again with British driver, Ben Hanley. The team are also slated to race on a further four occasions during the year, but the team has not confirmed that Hanley will be driving in those races.

Finally, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing are set to make their return to IndyCar racing on road courses and street circuits after several years of only racing in the Indianapolis 500. Sage Karam will drive the team’s #24 Chevrolet on four occasions this year, starting with the season-opener at St. Petersburg. A second driver for the Indianapolis 500 has yet to be confirmed.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

The Indianapolis 500

As always, the crown jewel of the NTT IndyCar Series will be the Indianapolis 500; one of the most famous and historic races in the entire world. This year’s race will be the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500; with thirty-three drivers battling it out for a shot at adding their name to the history books.

The entry list for the Indianapolis 500 is, once again, expected to be over thirty-three drivers. This means that we will once again see a number of drivers fail to qualify for the race and be forced to spectate.

Aside from the full-time drivers who will compete in every race of the season, a number of drivers will make one-off appearances specifically for the Indy 500.

For the third time, the most notable attendee for the Indianapolis 500 will be two-time Formula 1 world champion, Fernando Alonso; who continues to seek an Indianapolis 500 victory so that he can complete the famous “triple crown” of motorsport. Alonso will race a third car for Arrow McLaren SP in the race and will be hoping for a much greater result after failing to qualify for the race last year.

A fan favourite and legend of IndyCar, Helio Castroneves, will also be returning for this year’s Indianapolis 500. The Brazilian moved from Team Penske’s IndyCar squad to their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program for the 2018 season but has returned for the 500 every year since to try and win the event for the fourth time.

The aforementioned James Hinchcliffe will also be one to watch at the Indianapolis 500. Hinchcliffe has a love/hate relationship with the Indianapolis 500, with low points including a severe crash in qualifying for the race in 2015 and high points such as qualifying on pole for the race just one year later. With a best prior finish of sixth-place, Hinchcliffe will be hoping to get to victory circle this time around in his part-time Andretti entry.

A number of further entries for the 500 are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. During the qualifying weekend – held one week before the race itself – the drivers outside of the top thirty on the first day will be forced to take part in a “Last Row Shootout” session. The fastest three drivers in this session will take positions thirty to thirty-one to thirty-three, with the remaining drivers being bumped from the field and unable to race in the 500.

After qualifying, the thirty-three confirmed drivers for the race will be solely focused on the five-hundred miles and two-hundred laps that separate them from glory; a glory equal to, if not greater than, winning the IndyCar championship itself.

The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series will kick-off with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, on Sunday, March 15. The 2020 Indianapolis 500 will be the sixth round of the season and will take place on Sunday, May 24.

Coverage of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series in the United Kingdom will, once again, be provided by Sky Sports F1; who will show every race and qualifying session live. In the United States, coverage will be provided by NBC and NBCSN, with further coverage also provided on NBC Sports Gold.

Be sure to keep up to date with the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series all season-long right here at The Checkered Flag.

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