The 2017 IndyCar season will be the championship’s tenth since the long-running war between the rival Indy Racing League and Champ Car series came to an end.
At the time no one seriously expected the series would quickly return to the high of the late eighties and early nineties. At its peak America’s top single-seater championship was a credible rival to Formula One in terms of the standard of drivers it attracted.
But the slow progress the championship has made over ten years raises questions over where it is heading – and whether it is going anywhere at all.
This year’s championship, which begins at St Petersburg on Sunday, will be the sixth for the DW12 chassis. Its introduction brought a step improvement in both safety standards and the quality of racing.
However an attempt to reintroduce aerodynamic development via manufacturer-designed ‘kits’ in 2015 proved a costly mis-step. The racing suffered, the competition became more one-sided and expenses rose.
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For this year the kits have been frozen in the same specification as they were 12 months ago, pending the return to a single configuration from next season. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this was a needless waste of teams’ limited resources. The field has shrunk from 26 starters to 21 since the DW12 came in, with KV racing the latest to call time.
On the upside the quality of racing seldom leaves fans wanting. The series still enjoys one of the best rosters of drivers outside F1 even if some of its stars – Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves – are starting to look a little long in the tooth.
Simon Pagenaud’s championship success last year was fresh evidence of a new generation breaking through. He can expect the fiercest competition for his title to come from within Penske’s crack four-man squad. Will Power, who took the title fight to the final round last year despite being ruled out of the first race due to injury, will surely be up there again in his quest for a sequel to his 2014 crown.
The most intriguing change of the off-season is Josef Newgarden landing the full-time Penske seat vacated by Juan Pablo Montoya. Newgarden was a consistent challenger with Ed Carpenter’s much smaller team last year and has been handed the opportunity of his career by Roger Penske.
A further off-season development is another signal of IndyCar’s less than robust health. Ganassi’s cars will no longer appear in the colours of long-time sponsor Target. Those who recall the glory days of Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi will especially regret the ending of the association just before the team reunited with engine supplier Honda.
Last year Honda’s aero kit was the weaker of the two everywhere bar the superspeedways. Ganassi may fancy their chances of taking their first Indianapolis 500 victory for five years, but the move could rule them out of a title challenge until the standard kits arrive next year.
2017 IndyCar season drivers
|1||Simon Pagenaud||Penske||Chevrolet||Five wins and the title last year, should be even stronger in his third season at Penske.|
|2||Josef Newgarden||Penske||Chevrolet||This is the American star’s big chance. He’s versatile, quick and a likely title contender.|
|3||Helio Castroneves||Penske||Chevrolet||The long-time Penske star begins his 18th season at the team but is still win-less since 2014.|
|4||Conor Daly||Foyt||Chevrolet||Had Coyne’s car running near the front on more than one occasion last year, now has Chevy power.|
|5||James Hinchcliffe||Schmidt Peterson||Honda||No wins on his return from injury last year but took pole for the Indianapolis 500.|
|7||Mikhail Aleshin||Schmidt Peterson||Honda||The Formula Renault 3.5 champion overshadowed his team mate at times last year.|
|8||Max Chilton||Ganassi||Honda||Had little to show for his first year in IndyCar last season despite landing a top drive.|
|9||Scott Dixon||Ganassi||Honda||Lost his title last year after some poor luck and two wins. Honda’s best hope for 2017.|
|10||Tony Kanaan||Ganassi||Honda||Hasn’t been as strong as expected at Ganassi but nearly won at Road America last year.|
|12||Will Power||Penske||Chevrolet||Suspected concussion early last year compromised his season, but he’s as quick as Pagenaud.|
|14||Carlos Munoz||Foyt||Chevrolet||Lost his Andretti seat despite being their top 2016 points-scorer. Fearless on the superspeedways.|
|15||Graham Rahal||RLL||Honda||A win and a second in the last three races elevated him to fifth in the 2016 championship.|
|18||Sebastien Bourdais||Coyne||Honda||The multiple Champ Car champion and ex-F1 driver could make Coyne winners again.|
|19||Ed Jones||Coyne||Honda||The only rookie on the grid this weekend, the Indy Lights champion has a partial campaign.|
|20||Spencer Pigot||Ed Carpenter||Chevrolet||Jones’ predecessor as champion did the non-oval races last year and will do the same this year.|
|21||JR Hildebrand||Ed Carpenter||Chevrolet||Still most famous for his heartbreaking near-miss at Indianapolis in 2011. Back for a full year.|
|26||Takuma Sato||Andretti||Honda||A switch to Andretti should give Sato his best chance of winning a race since 2013.|
|27||Marco Andretti||Andretti||Honda||Had a forgettable 2016 which culminated in a poor 16th in the standings. Must improve.|
|28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti||Honda||Just a handful of podiums last year for ther 2012 champion as Andretti struggled.|
|83||Charlie Kimball||Ganassi||Honda||Continued to draw ire for his race craft last year and is yet to repeat his 2013 Mid-Ohio victory.|
|98||Alexander Rossi||Andretti-Herta||Honda||Last year’s shock Indy 500 winner narrowly missed a place in the championship top ten.|
2017 IndyCar season spotters’ guide
2017 IndyCar season calendar and circuits
The IndyCar season will be screened live in the UK on BT Sport’s channels. Sunday’s race will be shown at 4:00pm on BT Sport ESPN. The American broadcast will be shown live with Ben Evans and myself continuing the coverage during all ad breaks which happen during green flag running.
For coverage details elsewhere around the world see here:
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