Top 10 Verizon IndyCar Series Moments of 2017

Opinions By: Christian Ryan

10. Introduction of the Visor Cam

Among the biggest issues surrounding the presentation of motorsport is the inability to translate the speed and excitement of the on-track experience onto television screens. IndyCar has taken a major step to solving this with their introduction of the visor cam.

Mounted on the helmet of Graham Rahal, the camera made its regular debut in 2017. Used throughout the race broadcast, the camera provides a live feed of the view from inside the car, including all of the intricacies of driving as well as the tightrope nature of overtaking.

With the profound media attention and success of the visor cam, expect to see more exciting and innovating ways of presenting motorsport beginning with IndyCar for years to come.

 

9. Return of iconic racetracks

Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and as such, once defunct IndyCar events eventually become a source of nostalgia and speculation. 2017 saw the return of Gateway Motorsports Park to the Verizon IndyCar Series, and the reintroduction of The Grand Prix of Portland for 2018.

IndyCar’s return to Gateway Motorsports Park proved to be a defining moment of the season, with a thrilling finish between Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud setting the stage for the title fight at Sonoma. The event marked the first race at the track since 2003, and despite the gap between races, marked the third consecutive Gateway victory for Team Penske.

It was announced that the Grand Prix of Portland would return in 2018, seeing the Verizon IndyCar Series take to Portland International Raceway for the first time since the 2007 Champ Car season. With Sebastien Bourdais winning two of the last four races run in Portland, the Champ Car icon will be one of many veteran drivers and longtime fans welcoming the race back to the series schedule.

 

8. Will Power outlasts wild Texas race

As Will Power stood enthusiastically on top of his Team Penske car in victory lane, claiming the victory in his second home of Texas, there was a great deal of tension in the paddock area.

Undoubtedly one of the most exciting IndyCar races in recent memory, not everyone was as enthusiastic as Power about the results. A series of heavy accidents in the high speed oval saw only 12 of the 22 entries complete the race. Some of the smaller team owners such as Dale Coyne were livid with the racing conditions and financial loss, Tony Kanaan apologized to drivers caught in an eight-car pileup he caused, and Takuma Sato removed himself and Scott Dixon from contention as a pass attempt for the lead caused an accident.

On the opposite end, Power was celebrating his 31st IndyCar victory, matching ninth on the all-time wins list.

“It was very intense,” Powers said, post-race. “I’m so stoked to win in my second home, where my wife is from, Texas. All the family is here, it just feels awesome.”

 

7. New IndyCar aero package

One thing 2017 brought IndyCar is a view of its future. A new aero package has been introduced to great fanfare from divers and fans alike. Harkening back to the days of the CART and Champ Car series, the car improves the look of the series while simultaneously aiming to improve safety and competition.

“It’s definitely a beautiful design that everyone has wanted to see in IndyCar,” Josef Newgarden said of the new design, “and I think it’s going to race well, more importantly. I think it’s going to be even better than the aesthetics from a performance standpoint. It should have a blend of everything everyone would want.”

The new car will also aid competition as drivers get used to the new setup, spelling the perfect opportunity for new drivers like former DTM driver Robert Wickens to make a splash in the series.

“I see it as a big advantage with the new aero package coming in,” Wickens said. “I think it helps me because it levels the playing field a little bit. IndyCar experience will always be IndyCar experience, and I’m not ruling that out at all, but just that every driver will have to adapt in some way I think helps me.”

 

6. James Hinchcliffe back in victory lane

One of the most popular drivers in IndyCar, things were on the upturn for James Hinchcliffe. After a winless 2014 season saw his departure from Andretti Autosport, the Mayor of Hinchtown was the marquee driver at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and had already found his way back to victory lane in the 2015 Grand Prix of Louisiana.

After a lackluster qualifying effort for the Indianapolis 500, Hinchcliffe was finding his speed in post-qualifying practice. From his point of view, he entered turn three, and then woke up in the hospital. Hinchcliffe was nearly killed in Indianapolis’ highest-impact accident, having to have blood continuously pumped back into his system as the impact pierced an artery. While doctors were able to save the driver’s leg and life, he would not return to the track in 2015.

2017 saw Hinchcliffe in a similar position to 2015, two years out of victory lane and with contract questions beginning to surface. At Long Beach, Hinchcliffe beat fellow Indy injury survivor and then-points leader Sebastien Bourdais to the line to stand in victory lane for the first time since his near-fatal accident. With that milestone past, Hinch focused once again on his previous aims of winning the Indianapolis 500 and Honda Indy Toronto.

 

5. Sebastien Bourdais returns from injury

One of the most well-travelled, popular, and successful drivers in IndyCar, Sebastien Bourdais is used to pulling off the impossible. Starting the season strong with a victory off of a last place start in the 2017 season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it was shaping up to be a strong season for Bourdais. However, boasting one of the fastest cars in practice and running the fastest in qualifying, Bourdais lost control and careened head-on into the wall.

Bourdais was transported to hospital, diagnosed with multiple fractures to his pelvis and a hip fracture. With Bourdais out of the seat and former Formula 1 wheelman Esteban Gutierrez taking over his Dale Coyne Racing ride, questions began to circulate about when - or if - the four-time Champ Car champion would return.

Against all odds, Bourdais would make his first appearance at Honda Indy Toronto in July - six races after the accident - to work with the team. Bourdais entered the race’s opening press conference, walking with a cane, and announced that he hoped to be back in the car by Watkins Glen. Instead, Bourdais would return one race sooner, announcing his miracle return with a 10th place finish at Gateway Motorsports Park.

 

4. Fernando Alonso runs Indy 500

Two-time Formula 1 World Drivers Champion Fernando Alonso shocked the racing world when he announced that he would sit out the Monaco Grand Prix in order to compete in the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport. The McLaren Honda Andretti with its trademark McLaren orange scheme quickly silenced any critics of Alonso’s decision, as the F1 icon would lead the race in multiple instances before succumbing to engine failure on lap 180. Despite the 24th place finish, Alonso was named Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year.

Alonso’s incredible performance and ongoing tension with McLaren Honda lead to speculation that he might make the jump to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time. However, as McLaren partnered with Renault (Alonso won his two titles with the Renault F1 team), Alonso extended his stay in Formula 1. Although he will not run the 2018 Indianapolis 500, his competitiveness and enjoyment of the experience will keep him on IndyCar silly season predictions for a few years yet.

 

3. Helio Castroneves ends three-year drought

In his 20th season at the pinnacle of IndyCar, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves had seen second place one too many times. Aside from his four second place finishes in the points championship in his career, Castroneves had stood second on the podium eight times since his last win at Detroit in 2014. As questions began to rise surrounding his future in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Castroneves was hungry for victory.

A rain-heavy Iowa Corn 300 was proving to be Castroneves’ best bet as he would dominate the event, leading 217 laps and surpassing Al Unser to claim fourth in all-time laps led. Known as Spiderman by race fans for his tendency to climb the fence after a win, Castroneves winning move was met by enthusiastic fans as he celebrated the end of his three-year drought.

“Finally everything came together,” Castroneves said in a post-race press conference. “I didn't think that climbing the fence would get a little bit harder this time. But it still had the same feeling looking at everybody's face through the fence and everybody is excited for me. That's a feeling that nobody can take away from you, and that's what motivates me more to come back now and do what I just did.”

 

2. Takuma Sato wins Indy 500

Battling an IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 icon in the dying laps, Takuma Sato had been here before, but he was going to get it right this time.

Coming to the start-finish line for five laps to go, Sato moved to the outside of three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves to take the lead. Going into the first turn, fans and drivers alike had flashbacks to the 2012 race when Sato dove into the first turn to challenge Dario Franchitti for the win only to spin and crash into the turn.

Holding off a hard fighting Castroneves, Sato took the checkered flag to much fanfare, having achieved the elusive crown jewel after heartbreak. Running a season for Indianapolis experts Michael Andretti and Andretti Autosport, Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

“It's such a privilege to win here,” Sato said in the post-race press conference. “So whether it was the first attempt or eighth attempt or you had a drama in the past, it doesn't really matter. You winning today. It's just superb. Just coming onto the top, nothing else.”

 

1. Josef Newgarden wins championship

Six drivers entered the final race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season at Sonoma with a chance to win the title. Among them were defending champion Simon Pagenaud and four-time title winner Scott Dixon. With this competition alone, Josef Newgarden would have steep competition for the championship, despite his four victories.

Newgarden would finish second in the race to claim his first career title, turning his signing with Team Penske into an immediate championship in his first year with the team. His victory signaled a new era, as the young, popular, American driver assumed his place as the face of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“I love the IndyCar Series. I think it's got the whole world in front of it,” Newgarden said after claiming the championship. “It's not one big step, it's going to be little steps at a time, and I think in the next five years hopefully we can be in an amazing place. I think we’re in a good place right now, but we want to be in an amazing place. I'll do my best to carry that flag and help everyone in the Verizon IndyCar Series keep going up.”


*Some quotes sourced from official IndyCar press releases.

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