Track Talk: A Forward Look on the 2017 IndyCar Season

The first race is in the bag, and an official test at Barber Motorsports Park just wrapped. Are the St. Petersburg results a one-off? Or is that only the beginning of the status quo for the 2017 IndyCar season? We look back at both in this week’s TrackTalk.

Honda wins: The competition is fierce, but one stat receiving little attention is Honda’s recent record on road and street circuits. The last time a Honda powered IndyCar visited victory lane after turning left and right? Graham Rahal at Mid-Ohio, back in 2015. Does Honda have a better understanding of their aero kit? Or did they find a couple of extra engine ponies over the offseason?

Honda wins part 2: It’s not just Dale Coyne Racing- seven of the top-10 finishers were powered by Honda. Are we seeing a Honda renaissance? Adding Chip Ganassi’s four-car armada during the off-season certainly didn’t hurt.

Honda wins part 3: Strategy assisted Bourdais’ win, but don’t think for a second that this was the only way Honda could have found its way into victory lane. Overall, Bourdais, James Hinchliffe, and Takuma Sato’s Honda-powered IndyCars combined to lead 92 of the 110 laps.

Sebastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing win: Both Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing have a history of punching above their weight. Bourdais has five wins in the last four seasons with a small team like KVSH Racing. Coyne has produced some upsets with the late Justin Wilson, Mike Conway, and Carlos Huertas. Coyne reunited Bourdais with some crew members from his championship winning Newman-Haas Racing days. Could this reunion lead to further upsets? And how many times do Bourdais and Coyne have to win before we promote them from underdogs to favorites?

Takuma Sato: Great with fans, great in a racecar, but (unfortunately) also great at crashing. Takuma Sato picked up where many expected him to be in St. Petersburg- in the wall. But Sato didn’t let this practice crash affect his race. He sped his way into the Firestone Fast Six, qualified 5th, and finished 5th in his debut with Andretti Autosport. A one off? Maybe, but Sato carried this momentum into the Barber Motorsports Park test topping the charts in the first practice session, and finishing the day overall in 6th place.

Juan Pablo Montoya returns: Barber had a slight bump in participants, as Juan Pablo Montoya joined the series regulars. The former two-time Indy 500 winner will be racing a 5th entry for Team Penske in both the Indy Grand Prix and the Indy 500, and used the Barber test as an opportunity to shake off any offseason rust. The downtime didn’t seem to do any harm, with Montoya setting the 4th fastest time out of 22 drivers.

Keep & eye out for Marco Andretti: Marco Andretti had an unforgettable 2016 season- 16th in standings, and a best finish of 8th at Sonoma. Although still early in the season, 2017 seems to be looking up. He raced his way from 15th to 7thin St. Petersburg, and finished the Barber test in 5th- faster than any of his other Andretti Autosport teammates. Racer Magazine’s Robin Miller, credits the move to bring Brian Herta in to call Andretti’s race strategy as the reason for this early success. 

Indy 500 Testing: Next up on the IndyCar schedule- a Honda team test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on March 25th

Up Next: -  We explore how the Chevrolet contingent are performing on the track - stay tuned!

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