2016 IndyCar Series Preview

IndyCar racing is brilliant. It is some of the best racing in the world. It remains consistently good on a wide variety of tracks. I fully expect this to continue in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series!

If you aren’t watching because of some preconceived notion you picked up despite having watched it for yourself, do yourself a favour and watch it this year.

Okay, St Petersburg (race 1 this weekend) can often have a lot of safety car periods. That’s the nature of the track, just let this week pass by and judge the series over the course of a year.

Misgivings

Back in August and September I honestly though I’d not watch IndyCar any more. The death of Dan Wheldon a few years ago while a colossal shock and terribly, unbelievably sad, didn’t affect me in the way the death of Justin Wilson did. Although DW’s did affect me JW’s was even harder.

I hadn’t really been a fan of Dan. Nothing against him at all, not saying I was against him in anyway and he seemed a great guy, just that I had my favourites.

I was a fan of Justin Wilson. Had been since the Minardi and Jaguar days. His loss left me morose for a while. It was just so unspeakably sad.

To think we could’ve lost Hinchcliffe as well..

But I’ve been a fan of US single-seater / open-wheel racing since 2000. The racing is fantastic. It’s hard to give up.

And I know they are working on safety all the time. They are working on a solution to protect drivers from flying debris. That injury could’ve happened in any open-top race car including F1 – just ask Felipe Massa. It wasn’t anything inherently dangerous about IndyCar which killed Justin Wilson, it was just sheer damned bad luck. This isn’t necessarily the case with Wheldon’s accident, nor Hinch’s, nor even the accident that meant Dario Franchitti had to retire prematurely.

No, it’s a dangerous game but it is being improved all the time.

Competition

The cars are becoming less ‘spec’ as time goes on. Aero kit and engine competition has promoted development and added a new layer of interest. The better-funded teams have the advantage yet the other teams are still in with a shout. The well-funded teams held the advantage in the ‘spec’ era anyway – even with identical kit the teams with money will always be the best. We see this in GP2 and FR3.5 and other single-make series.

I’m glad there is engine competition and minor aero differences. It adds the possibility the pendulum might swing the other way. Chevy may have the advantage at the moment but that may not always be the case.

I do feel the cars have too many aero devices. You can have aero competition without having a hundred winglets on each car. They look ugly and wings ruin racing. But they’re fast though…

Races

The season was condensed last year, it’s good they spread it a little this year. A 7-month offseason followed by week after week of relentless racing just seems a little crazy. Start a little earlier, finish a little later, spread the same number of races out a little. You don’t want teams and drivers – and definitely not fans – suffering from race fatigue. This isn’t NASCAR and we don’t need a race every weekend.

As I say, the variety is tremendous:  short road courses, long road courses, bumpy street courses, short ovals, large ovals. You name it, they race well on it. Track variety is the name of the game in IndyCar and is one of the great strengths of the series.

The addition of Road America and Phoenix, two classic Indycar venues, can only be a positive! Even at the cost of Milwaukee and Fontana. I love both those races but you can’t sustain an event when nobody attends – or when the series schedules a race in California in mid-August. I really hope Phoenix and Elkhart Lake are as good as they were.

Boston is the latest addition to the revolving door of random street tracks. I’m less convinced on this one, so many street races have come and gone over the years. Only Long Beach and Toronto have ‘stuck’ as successful long-term events, add St Pete now. How many street courses failed in the last 20 years?

Drivers & Teams

Team Penske look almost unstoppable (especially at St Pete). Power, Montoya, Castroneves, Pagenaud. A hell of a line-up in their second year as a group. Part of me is surprised Helio hasn’t retired yet but he’s still fast enough for regular podiums. Montoya and Power should battle for the title and Pagenaud should come into his own this year.

Chip Ganassi is as strong as ever. Dixon is surely their lead charge. Kanaan is as Castroneves and not because of their shared nationality – sadly neither are in their fastest years any more. Kimball is improving all the time though possibly not quickly enough – would that change in one of the ‘primary’ cars? Chilton is the new boy from F1 after a year testing Nissan LMP1, his progress will fascinating and perhaps we’ll finally get a read on his real performance level.

Andretti Autosport is the other big team and should represent the primary Honda charge, but didn’t last year. Hunter-Reay never had the promo his championship and Indy wins deserved. Andretti conversely never really fulfilled his potential – I actually think he needs to race for someone else for a year or two. Munoz is very promising indeed and I think my early impressions of him were wrong.
AA linked up with Herta to run Alex Rossi, another ex Marussia/Manor F1 driver. Unlike Chilton, Rossi doesn’t seem to want to be there and is very obviously hoping to go back to F1.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan are running Graham Rahal along with a 3-race stint for Spencer Pigot, 2015 Indy Lights champion. Rahal was by far the best Honda runner last year and impressed me enormously. I’d mistakenly written him off prior to 2015. Something clicked for Graham and the team last year and I hope and expect that to continue.

KVSH are running one car this year but that is for Sebastien Bourdais. The focus on one car could backfire with a lack of data, or their full attention on one car could make for better results in the way it did for Rahal. He’ll rag the car as he always does.

Schmidt Peterson tend to do well with the budget they have. James Hinchcliffe is back, fully recovered after his terrible crash last year. Judging from test times and free practice at St Pete, he’s fully back on the pace which is incredible! His team-mate is the returning Mikhail Aleshin, who got in the wars in 2014, I’m sure he’ll continue to provide entertainment all season though he was good in the SMP Racing BR01 in the European Le Mans Series last year.

AJ Foyt retains Sato and Hawksworth and bolstered them on the technical side. I’d like to see a much better year for these guys. Let’s say of Sato what has been said already for over a decade: calm down and use your head!

Among the rest, Conor Daly is with the usually-underfunded Dale Coyne but I hope he can spring a few surprises. He is joined by Luca Filippi at round 1 and hopefully more races. Luca ought to have a solid drive somewhere and I hope this is the place to showcase his abilities. DCR sometimes to spread their smaller resources a little thin and that could compromise both drivers. But sometimes they work a small miracle.

I think that is all the full-season drivers. There are one-offs at Indy and elsewhere which I won’t bore you with now.

Predictions!

In general I see the championship again coming down to Montoya versus Power versus Dixon. I’d like to think Pagenaud will be in there as well. Perhaps Rahal and Hunter-Reay too.

Ultimately I think it’ll be Power’s year.

I think the racing will be excellent all season, as it usually is in IndyCar!

Even if the Penske and Ganassi cars jump ahead like they used to, the competition among them will be intense and that’s no bad thing. The racing is such that anyone else could influence the result. The midfield will be so jumbled and the odd surprise result still possible, that you can’t go into any race confidently predicting the outcome.

It’ll be a great season!

To honour Justin, it had better be!

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2 thoughts on “2016 IndyCar Series Preview”

  1. Great article, I used to watch Indycar (or whatever it was called a few years ago) a lot but the time differences were too much. Falling asleep mid-race didn’t inspire me.

    They do as F1 should, use tracks that test cars, drivers and teams properly. But the cars look weird now, almost entirely for safety reasons. I think open wheelers have had their day. We now need to accept that properly shrouded wheels, as in open cockpit LMS series cars, are the future.

    From a spectators perspective, they look at least remotely, like road cars, they are safer and they are at least as quick. Most are either beautiful or purposeful, They don’t have daft aero appendages that dominate F1 and contact is less destructive.

    Like

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