SEASON PREVIEW: 2020 NTT IndyCar Series

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

After several months of delay, the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series is finally set to get underway this weekend with the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. Back in March – when this year’s championship was originally set to begin – there was already much anticipation from drivers, teams and fans. Now, thanks to the enforced break due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, anticipation is even higher for what could be one of the most intense and exciting seasons of IndyCar racing we have seen in a long time.

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; especially after having spent the last few months out of the cockpit away from any real-life racing.

Away from the intrigue surrounding the Aeroscreen, an exciting driver line-up is set to do battle with each other, with series veterans mixing it up with exciting rookies and young drivers. To add even more intensity to the mix, the original seventeen race calendar has been reduced down to just fourteen events, including six races that will make up three double-header weekends.

To get you up to speed, here is The Checkered Flag‘s season preview for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, originally published back in March, but with changes made in light of the various changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

The schedule

The biggest change that we have seen to this year’s NTT IndyCar Series season due to the delay is, of course, the schedule. At the start of the year, seventeen races were set to be held during 2020 at fifteen different locations across the United States and Canada. Now, due to factors including various states reopening at different races, as well as difficulties in conducting and rescheduling races held on street circuits, several planned races will now not take place.

Originally planned races at Barber Motorsports Park, Long Beach, the Circuit of the Americas, The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Richmond Raceway and the streets of Toronto will now, sadly, not take place in 2020. To make up for the seven races that were due to be held at these locations, a number of locations that remain on the calendar will now host doubleheader events, including Iowa Raceway, Road America and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Additionally, the Grand Prix circuit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will play host to two IndyCar races this year, one in July and another in October.

The reshuffled 2020 calendar will begin this Saturday, June 6, with the season-opening Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. The event will certainly be an interesting one, as drivers try to shake off the cobwebs and get ready to race at one of the fastest tracks on the calendar. As it stands, this is the only event that is confirmed to be taking place without fans in attendance. Practice, qualifying at the race will all take place on Saturday.

Almost a month will pass before the NTT IndyCar Series gets back underway with the second round of the season. There had been plans for a race to be held during this time, however, rescheduling difficulties after the cancellation of the Grand Prix of Toronto has left this space vacant. When the series does return on Saturday, July 4, it will be at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit. The event will be a memorable one, as it will be the first time that IndyCar has shared a race weekend with both the NASCAR XFINITY Series as well as the NASCAR Cup Series.

The third and fourth rounds of the season will take place at Road America, with the famous road course playing host to a doubleheader weekend on Saturday, July 11 and Sunday, July 12. The teams will then have to rush from Wisconsin to Iowa for another doubleheader event just a few days later at Iowa Speedway on Friday, July 17 and Saturday, July 18. This will cap off a busy fourteen days for the IndyCar teams and drivers, with five races taking place during the two weeks.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

The teams will then head to the spectacular Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the seventh round of the season on Sunday, August 9. The circuit in Lexington, Ohio, played host to a fantastic race in 2019 that saw Chip Ganassi Racing team-mates, Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist in a near photo-finish at the chequered flag. This year, the end of the event will mark the halfway point in the condensed calendar.

The most important race on the calendar and one of the biggest races in all of motorsport will be the eighth round of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series. The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place on Sunday, August 23; marking the first time in history that the Indianapolis 500 has taken place outside of the month of May. Qualifying for the storied event will take place the weekend before the race on Saturday, August 15 and Sunday, August 16. Last year’s race was memorably won by pole-sitter, Simon Pagenaud after a tooth and nail fight with Alexander Rossi in the final few laps.

Less than a week after the Indianapolis 500, the IndyCar teams and drivers will be right back to work with what will be the final oval race of the season at the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Saturday, August 30. Another spectacular race last year at the short track just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, saw Takuma Sato take an unlikely win in a photo-finish with Ed Carpenter after a late caution blew the race wide open.

The tenth round of the season will take place at Oregon’s Portland International Raceway. The circuit has played host to two phenomenal races since returning to IndyCar in 2018, with last year’s race being won by veteran Will Power after taking the fight to rookies Felix Rosenqvist and Colton Herta.

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will host the eleventh and twelfth rounds of the season on Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20 after having originally been scheduled to host the season-finale for 2020. The famous road course in Monterey, California, will undoubtedly see superb racing during its doubleheader weekend, with last year’s tense title-deciding race seeing Josef Newgarden take the championship, whilst Colton Herta took the second win of his rookie season.

For the first time since 2013, the NTT IndyCar Series will stretch into the month of October. Two races will be held in October to close out the 2020 season, with the teams and drivers heading back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit on Saturday, October 3 for the INDYCAR Harvest GP.

The fourteenth and final race of the season will be held a few weeks later on Sunday, October 25, with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg playing host to the season finale for the first time in its history after having been successfully rescheduled. The Floridian streets had been due to host the season-opening race back in March. The exciting street circuit will undoubtedly provide an exciting conclusion to what will likely be an intense 2020 season.

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 were set to be joined by a rookie team-mate for at least one race during this year’s season. After a number of successful tests for Penske early this year, Virgin Australia Supercars champion, Scott McLaughlin, had been scheduled to race for the team at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. However, due to the event being postponed, McLaughlin’s debut is now up in the air due to his commitments in Australia. Both of the new race dates for the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit events do not clash with Supercars races, however, the October 3 race would come just over a week prior to the biggest race of the Supercars season, the Bathurst 1000. Meanwhile, the July 4 race would take place just six days after McLaughlin is due to race at Sydney Motorsports Park.

Andretti Autosport will be continuing with four of their drivers from 2019. 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 season-opener at Texas Motor Speedway, as well as the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit and the and the Indianapolis 500 in August. James 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 consistently competitive as Ganassi.

Credit: Chris Graythen / 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. He will certainly have a lot of pressure on him in this weekend’s season opener as he contests his first IndyCar race, his first oval race and his first night race all in one event!

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 is scheduled to race at Portland and St. Petersburg, with Kellett behind the wheel for the remaining road and street course rounds. Kellett will also be racing in an additional third A.J. Foyt Racing car at the Indianapolis 500.

The final full-time team on the grid will be Carlin; who continue to find their feet in IndyCar after joining in 2018. Former Formula 1 driver and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship winner, Felipe Nasr, is expected to contest a number of rounds during the 2020 season in the #31 car after testing with the team at the Circuit of the Americas. However, the British team confirmed earlier today that the #31 car will not be racing in the season-opener this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second Carlin Chevrolet, the #59 car, will be shared between Max Chilton and Conor Daly. Chilton will drive the car for the road and street circuit races, as well as the Indianapolis 500. Conor Daly will take over the reigns of the #59 car for the remaining oval races, thus allowing Daly to contest the full 2020 season driving for both Carlin and Ed Carpenter Racing.

Two teams are looking to contest the season on a part-time schedule this year. After making their debut last year, DragonSpeed are looking to contest at least the Indianapolis 500 as well as any other possible events. However, the schedule changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic may prevent the team from entering many races as they continue to juggle their IndyCar aspirations with the various endurance racing entries. Ben Hanley, who drove for the team last year, is expected to race at some point this year, but the team are also looking to bring in other drivers on occasion, including, reportedly, Colin Braun.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing were also looking to enter other events this year outside of their usual appearance at the Indianapolis 500. Sage Karam had been set to take part in the original season opener at St. Petersburg, but that has now been thrown up in the air by schedule changes.

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 with the added accolade of becoming the first driver to win the race outside of the month of May.

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 new team will also be looking to make their IndyCar debut in the Indianapolis 500 this year. Top Gun Racing will be attempting to qualify for the race in August with American driver, RC Enerson, in the #99 car. The team has yet to confirm further details regarding its entry, including its engine supplier. Enerson has raced four times in the NTT IndyCar Series, including one race last year at Mid-Ohio with Carlin.

Further entries from teams such as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing are expected to be confirmed in the coming months. So far, thirty-one entries are confirmed for the race. If – but more likely, when – the entry list exceeds thirty-three drivers, it will become necessary for all the drivers to secure a spot on the grid in qualifying.

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 Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, June 6. The 2020 Indianapolis 500 will be the eighth round of the season and will take place on Sunday, August 23.

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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Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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