Track Talk: IndyCar Season Preview

 

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January 13th, 2017.

It’s a new year, which means a new Verizon IndyCar season is on the horizon. With private testing well under way, we take a look at some of things making headlines going into 2017.

Familiar faces in new places: A number of key drivers changed teams during the offseason. Takuma Sato and Carlos Munoz swapped places, with Sato moving to Andretti Autosport, and Munoz partnering with Conor Daly (who left Daly Coyne Racing) at AJ Foyt Enterprises. Two former Honda Indy Toronto winners have new homes as Sebastien Bourdais moves from KVSH Racing back to Dale Coyne Racing, where he ran a limited schedule in 2011, and 2015 winner Josef Newgarden, replaces Juan Pablo Montoya at Team Penske.

New season, new cars: AJ Foyt Enterprises hasn’t just overhauled its driver lineup; they’ve also switched from Honda to Chevrolet engines and aero kits. But arguably all eyes will be on Chip Ganassi Racing, which has moved its four-car armada to Honda after a three-year stint with Chevrolet. Considering the parity between the manufacturers there shouldn’t be an issue for either team to get up to speed, but it may take a couple of races to learn both the new engines and aero kits.

JR Hildebrand returns: With the departure of Josef Newgarden to Team Penske, JR Hildebrand gets promoted from Indy 500 only, to full time driver with Ed Carpenter Racing.

And speaking for Ed Carpenter Racing: The last remaining spot on the grid is the rideshare seat shared with Ed Carpenter on the road courses. 2015 Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot, who shared the seat with Carpenter last season, appears to be the front-runner. But another young American, RC Enerson, impressed with his limited debut at Dale Coyne Racing, and could be in the fray.

The rookies: Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham, Spencer Pigot, Dean Stoneman- I could keep going. There a number of gifted drivers waiting for the opportunity to make the jump to the Verizon IndyCar Series, but as it turns out, Ed Jones, the reigning Indy Lights champion, is the only full time rookie on the grid, landing the second seat at Dale Coyne Racing. Could that change before St. Petersburg? Or will Indy be the next time we see a second driver with an ‘R’ next to their name on the scoring sheets?

And speaking of St. Petersburg: The hunt for the 2017 championship starts at the first race in St. Petersburg. No, seriously, if you were following the 2016 season then you’ll know that nothing could be truer. Simon Pagenaud won a series leading five races on his way to the 2016 IndyCar championship, but the efforts of second place Will Power shouldn’t go unnoticed. Going into the final race at the Sonoma Raceway, Power had a very realistic chance of usurping Pagenaud for the championship. A feat even more remarkable when you consider that Power missed the season opener in St. Petersburg due to an inner ear infection. Had he started the race and scored a decent finish, we might easily be celebrating Power’s second championship.

It’s 57 days until the green flag drops on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and we can’t wait for what’s next.

 

Victor Genova is the host of the Media People Podcast and a freelance racing writer. @VicGenova

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