Track Talk: IndyCar Season Preview

track-talk

March 8th, 2018

We’re just a day away from the IndyCar season opener! New aero kits, new drivers, new teams, and familiar faces in new places. #TrackTalk previews the 2018 IndyCar season.

New season/New car: IndyCar’s new universal aero kit makes its debut at St. Petersburg, and with a reduction in downforce, a change in setups and driving styles will be required by everyone to master the new car. Some have compared it to the old Panoz DP01 Champ Car from 2008. Not since 2012 have we had every team & driver in the same car. The result? 8 different winners in 15 races.

New season/New teams: A new car isn’t the only thing to celebrate- no fewer than four new teams will be on the grid. Harding Racing moves up to full time status with Gabby Chaves, while Indy Lights team Carlin, will field two entries for Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton. Mazda Road to Indy champions, Juncos Racing, will field a part-time entry shared between 2017 Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, and Rene Binder. Championship winning sportscar team, Michael Shank Racing, will field a part time entry in conjunction with SPM for Jack Harvey.

Can Newgarden repeat? If you look at the stats, Josef Newgarden isn’t likely to repeat. While Team Penske drivers have found their share of success over the years, since 1979 only two drivers- Rick Mears and Gil de Ferran, have delivered back-to-back championships for The Captain. The reigning champ showed plenty of speed in preseason testing, and we think he has the ability to deliver Team Penske’s third consecutive championship.

Rookies! Rookies! Rookies! It’s been a long time since we had this much new blood in the series. Unfortunately, not all rookies are full time, but when you factor in Indy 500 one-off rides and part time drives you get 10(!). We’re going to do a separate article on rookies, but the battle for ROY honours should come down to the only three full time rookies: Robert Wickins, Matheus Leist, and Zach Veach. Veach comes up through the Mazda Road to Indy latter series, while Leist spent most of his time in Europe before turning to Indy Lights last season where he won three races and finished 4th in the final standings. Despite being born & raised in Canada, almost all of Wickens’ career has been spent in Europe- where’s raced (and won) in everything from Formula Renault 3.5 to GP3 to Formula 3. Wickens also served as the reserve driver for the now defunct Maurussia Formula 1 team.

Will a first-time winner break through? Despite how competitive the 2017 IndyCar season was (11 winners in 17 races), no driver managed to claim their first victory. We have to go all the way back to Alexander Rossi’s 2016 Indy 500 win to find the last first-time victor. Will that change in 2018? We hope so, and our pick is Ed Jones. The 2017 rookie-of-the-year finds himself in one of the best seats in the paddock- teammate to Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi Racing.

TrackTalk’s pick for Champion: While history might not be on his side, we think Negarden will repeat. It won’t be easy as we expect his teammate and 2017 runner up, Simon Pagenaud, to be the biggest contender.

Keep an eye on Graham Rahal: Consistently fast in pre-season testing, Graham Rahal has worked wonders in a one-car team and with a manufacturer aero kit that wasn’t always competitive. Rahal gets his first full time teammate (Takuma Sato) in years, and is on equal footing with the new universal aero kit. He’s usually a longshot for the championship going into the final race, but could surprise as the favorite.

Victor Genova is the host of the Media People Podcast and a freelance racing writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @VicGenova

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