Phoenix test, IndyCar, Sebring, 2016

IndyCar adds classic tracks and two ex-F1 drivers for 2016

2016 IndyCar season preview

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The traditional IndyCar season-opener takes place on the streets of St Petersburg this weekend. Not for the first time in its recent history, the tragic conclusion to the previous year’s championship will overshadow the beginning of a new one.

Justin Wilson’s fatal crash in the penultimate race of last year was the second IndyCar death in four years. Its effects have already been felt in F1, where drivers have pushed for the introduction of the Halo. But it also raises difficult questions about the nature of IndyCar racing.

IndyCar drivers pay tribute to Justin Wilson, Sonoma, 2015
Wilson was remembered at last year’s season finale
The breadth of IndyCar’s racing calendar and in particular the five ovals which appear on this year’s schedule has long been the series’ unique selling point. But poor attendance at most of the oval rounds inevitably prompts the question why the series bothers to visit them.

The exception to this is the Indianapolis 500, which will be held for the 100th time this year. It remains the championship’s blue riband race; an IndyCar season without it would be like the World Endurance Championship without the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Underlining the series’ commitment to continue racing on ovals, the second round will see a return to Phoenix. The current breed of IndyCars, equipped with the second generation of their aerodynamic kits, are expected to average over 300kph (190mph) around the track. That’s around 40kph (25mph) faster than NASCAR will lap it this weekend.

There are two further additions to the 2016 calendar. The flowing Road America road course at Elkhart Lake, hailed by some as the Spa-Francorchamps of North Amerca, will host its first top-flight open-wheel race since 2007. A new street race in Boston will hold the penultimate event.

Regrettably, despite the effect it had on the outcome of last year’s championship, IndyCar has not dropped its ‘double points’ rule for the finale at Sonoma.

While all three new circuits make promising additions to the schedule – and Elkhart Lake’s return is truly something to celebrate – the quiet loss of three other tracks shows the difficulty IndyCar is having re-establishing itself. Two ovals have gone – Fontana and Milwaukee – and last year’s new event at NOLA Motorsport Park in Louisiana has failed to last into a second season.

Max Chilton, Ganassi, IndyCar, Phoenix, 2016
Chilton will make his IndyCar debut
On the driver side, the series is bolstered this year by two arrivals from Formula One. The first is Max Chilton, who returns to top-flight racing having aided Carlin’s move into Indy Lights last year.

Meanwhile Alexander Rossi will dovetail his racing commitments for Andretti with reserve driver duties for Manor. Don’t be surprised if he also reappears on the F1 grid in time for October’s United States Grand Prix.

James Hinchcliffe also makes a welcome return from injury another serious crash on an oval, during practice for last year’s Indianapolis 500. His team mate is Mikhail Aleshin, another driver who was badly injured in a crash on an oval, in 2014.

However the full-time driver count has taken a hit compared to last year. Reigning Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot has won promotion but his predecessors Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam are among those without seats.

The gradual dilution of teams like KVSH, which is down to a single car, and Herta, which has merged into Andretti, underlines the harsh economic realities at play. But don’t doubt the traditional 33-strong field will be found in time for Indianapolis.

2016 IndyCar drivers

#DriverTeamEngineNotes
2Juan Pablo MontoyaPenskeChevroletNarrowly missed out on title last year having led the points standings until last race
3Helio CastronevesPenskeChevroletNow in his 18th consecutive season with Penske but hasn’t won a race since June 2014
5James HinchcliffeSchmidt PetersonHondaTook a fortuitous win for NOLA before his first season at Schmidt was curtailed by injury
7Mikhail AleshinSchmidt PetersonHondaBeat Daniel Ricciardo to the 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 title, returned from injury at last year’s finale
8Max ChiltonGanassiChevroletEx-Marussia driver finished fifth in Indy Lights last year and took sole win on Iowa oval
9Scott DixonGanassiChevroletNow a four-times champion, snatched the title away from Montoya with a canny drive at Sonoma
10Tony KanaanGanassiChevroletWinning the 2014 season finale promised to open the floodgates for him in 2015. It didn’t
11Sebastien BourdaisKVSHChevroletTenth for the last two years running but claimed two wins last year and could get back in the mix
12Will PowerPenskeChevroletSix poles but just one win in unsuccessful title defence last year
14Takuma SatoFoytHondaLoyal Honda servant still waiting to follow up on his sole win in the 2013 Long Beach Grand Prix
15Graham RahalRLLHondaWas in contention for the title until the final round in a coming-of-age performance last year
16Spencer PigotRLLHondaLast year’s Indy Lights champion impressed with six wins against a competitive field
18Conor DalyDale CoyneHondaFinally landed the full-time seat he deserves, albeit with one of the smaller teams.
19Luca FilippiDale CoyneHondaGP2 runner-up in 2011 but couldn’t take the title despite starting more races than anyone
21Josef NewgardenEd CarpenterChevroletThe series needs domestic talent with road race savvy and he is it: two fine wins last year.
20Ed CarpenterEd CarpenterChevroletWill only contest the five oval races: Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono
22Simon PagenaudPenskeChevroletPunched above his weight with Schmidt in 2014; punched beneath it with Penske last year
26Carlos MunozAndrettiHondaScored a fortunate win in Detroit last year without which he’d have peaked at fifth
27Marco AndrettiAndrettiHondaThe shine has come off the third-generation Andretti who still hasn’t won a race in the DW12
28Ryan Hunter-ReayAndrettiHondaTwo wins and a second in the final four races saw him leap from 14th to 6th. Needs to hit the ground running
41Jack HawksworthFoytHondaSolid rookie campaign in 2014 but didn’t make the kind of progress expected last year
83Charlie KimballGanassiChevroletEnded the year on the podium but showed little evidence of that kind of pace earlier in the year
98Alexander RossiAndretti-HertaHondaWell-schooled in European racing but previously expressed misgivings about racing on ovals

2016 IndyCar spotters’ guide

2016 IndyCar circuits

IndyCar coverage

The IndyCar season will be screened live on BT Sport’s channels. Sunday’s race will be shown at 4:30pm on BT Sport ESPN.

For coverage details elsewhere around the world see here:

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 21 comments on “IndyCar adds classic tracks and two ex-F1 drivers for 2016”

    1. I hope Montoya can win the title this year. He thoroughly deserves it.

      The usage of Road America is a good thing also, it might open a door for the WEC or even Formula One, as it really is a wonderful track.

    2. I don’t believe Pigot is down for the whole season. As far as I know, he is only (currently) down for St. Pete and the Indy races.

      Losing Milwaukee and Fontana is a real blow for IndyCar, but at least we have two popular venues returning to the series. Boston is a complete unknown as well. I like that there is one road course, one street course and one oval added to the series this year.

      As for the driver line-up, there are some hugely impressive guys there. All of the returning drivers are definitely guys who deserve another shot, and the three full-time rookies (Chilton, Daly, Rossi) are all guys who are strong peddlers. My one concern is regarding Rossi as he already seems to have one eye away from IndyCar before he has even started a race, which probably won’t go down well with either Andretti or Herta (especially as the latter wanted Chaves back in that car). From the immediate reaction I saw on social media, Rossi has seemingly become an anti-hero overnight in the States.

      The lack of full-time entries this year (which is less than what F1 has) is certainly a concern and the aero kits certainly hasn’t helped there. Nor did it particularly help the racing last year (aside from Pocono and Fontana). According to some of the team bosses in an interview with Racer, the aero kits alone cost $1M, which is a large amount of many which could have been spent elsewhere, such as promoting the series and getting fans to actually come to the circuits. Hopefully they’ll scrap them for next year and revert back to the ‘base’ DW12 which we saw until the end of 2014. It’s perhaps a lesson F1 could learn from: piling aero on the cars for the sake of making them a bit quicker does not necessarily solve all (or any) of your problems.

      IndyCar still has a great product. There are a few issues such as cautions breeding cautions and so forth, but it’s very enjoyable to watch. It’s a bit of a shame that they don’t seem to get the levels of fans attending the races as we see in other categories.

      1. Hopefully they’ll scrap them for next year and revert back to the ‘base’ DW12 which we saw until the end of 2014

        I’d like to see that with Honda engine cover.

    3. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
      11th March 2016, 12:25

      And we thought F1 had a bad 2015 season.

      IndyCar is a series completely manacled to its manufacturers and corporate image. The absurd introduction of factory bodykits considered by Chevrolet and Honda as a way of improving their technical and commercial gravitas in line with F1 ruined the on-track spectacle at road races, had a conveniently unspecified role in several aerial accidents and indirectly caused head injuries for a fan in St Petersburg.

      IndyCar’s response? A gagging order placed on all drivers preventing them from “calling into disrepute” the IndyCar brand – which was fortunate given the fact the normally frank Montoya was interviewed live immediately after being robbed of the championship in Sonoma.

      Whilst F1 spent a lacklustre 2015 season in a reflective mood, IndyCar smiled and implemented a commercial censorship. As a result, I will not be watching in 2016.

      1. I don’t agree with the way they hushed the drivers, but if you recall last year in F1 a similar thing happened with respect to complaints about the tires.

        Overall, I’d say the drivers have a positive reaction to the body kits as it has allowed them to drive faster. The racing is still super close, and anyone in the field can win on a given race day.

        As for me, I will be watching every race.

        1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
          11th March 2016, 15:29

          @pastaman This is copied directly from IndyCar’s sporting regulations:

          “9.3.8 Detrimental Competitor Conduct – Competitors must be respectful, professional, fair and courteous to others. At all times, Competitors must not, attempt to, or engage in conduct or statements that in the judgment of INDYCAR:

          a) Threatens or denigrates any Official, fellow Competitor or the IndyCar brand;

          b) Calls into question the integrity or legitimacy of the Rules or their application, construction or interpretation;

          c) Denigrates the IndyCar Series racing schedule or Event(s);

          d) Threatens or denigrates any IndyCar business relationship, including those with sponsors or broadcasters;

          e) Otherwise threatens the integrity, reputation or public confidence of the sport, IndyCar, or IndyCar Series.”

          This crass and totalitarian instrument of public relations is enshrined in black and white in the IndyCar rule-book and is presumably associated with a punishment; something not exactly congruent with an informal and completely ignored nod from FOM back in August.

          As per the driver views on the bodykits, we can clearly not presume to know what they are really thinking. That regardless, the quality of wheel-to-wheel racing on road-courses from the fans’ perspective was a significant step backwards last year, often with the only source of excitement the roulette wheel of gimmickry provided by the exhaustive chains of cautions. So yes, “anyone in the field can win” inasmuch as “driving ability doesn’t matter”.

          It pains me to see a once great series well and truly on its knees.

          1. ‘If driving ability doesn’t matter’ as the critics incessantly crow, how come it’s still the most talented guys in the top five of the championship at the end of every year?

            I’m not a huge fan of the bodywork additions – I’d like to see less reliance on aero and give them an extra 100hp to deal with – but the road course action last year was by-and-large excellent. Barber & Mid-Ohio in particular, even Long Beach and Sonoma where overtaking is traditionally difficult gave us some great battles. Could the bodywork be mandated to better withstand impacts? Sure! Could the caution periods be improved? Absolutely! The series may have pressed the ‘mute’ button on the drivers, but with Indycar being much more integrated into social media and fan interaction than F1 will ever be, there is a greater chance of criticisms being heard. How many fan questionnaires have been slaved over in recent years only for the godheads of F1 to introduce changes that exactly nobody wanted? With F1 looking just as dire for 2016 as it has been for the past couple of years, I’m pumped about the new Indy season. I’m planning on making it to three races this year – something I could never do in F1, even if I had the desire.

            Your loss, brother.

    4. I cannot wait till the Boston race!!

    5. I urge any F1 fan who doesn’t normally watch Indycar to tune in and watch the race from Road America, Elkhart Lake. It’s a real roller coaster, bare knuckle ride of a circuit, not like these namby pamby new F1 tracks. Old fashioned for sure but a real test of man and machine.

      Watch some in car footage from 2002

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UDWrLKucas

      Awsome.

      1. Thanks mate, nice vid and that circuit looks amazing ;) Certainly looking forward to this season, though I felt sick at the end of the last as I’m sure all Indycar fans did. And as always a solid and informative article from Keith. I love how F1 Fanatic covers other racing series!

        1. PS. That Phoenix speedway sunset pic looks fabulous.

    6. Love it, can’t wait for the Month of May already. I wonder if any aerodynamic adjustments will have been made to prevent cars getting airborne when facing the wrong way.

      No Milwaukee, wow – since when has an Indycar season gone by without having a race at Milwaukee?!

      Power and Montoya’s Penskes look pretty rad in silver, glad they’ve funked the livery up from boring black and white.
      COME ON MONTOYA!!!

      1. [QUOTE]No Milwaukee, wow – since when has an Indycar season gone by without having a race at Milwaukee?![/QUOTE]

        2010.

    7. Keith! All the image links are 404! :(

      1. @spawinte Sorry about that – they should be OK now.

    8. Any UK channels broadcasting IndyCar this year. Might have whet my appetite before Melbourne…

      I enjoy IndyCar. Double points aside…

      1. It will be shown on various BT sport channels over the season.

    9. Mark in Florida
      11th March 2016, 17:11

      My wife and I are going to the St. Pete grand prix this weekend. Can’t wait to see the race, it’s a great venue always enjoy the close racing and action. Turn 10 is one of the best spots to see the race. I think that Haas kind of dropped the ball by not trying to sign Rossi. But I would have thought that Josef Newgarden would also have made a good case for a drive.

    10. I remember not too long ago I was entirely down on Indycar. On this very site. Often.

      Now I’m looking forward to it, perhaps even more so than F1. That hasn’t happened in many years for me.

    11. Benson Jutton
      12th March 2016, 4:45

      Yeah the Photo Links do not work. Such a shame, only place to find decent Indycar pics.

      Enjoy the race everyone! and Have a great weekend.

    12. Hey @keithcollantine,
      The circuit for Boston is just north of the pointer, as it goes around the Massachussetts Convention Center. This would make it much easier to identify the circuit as it took me quite a while to pick it up. :)

    Comments are closed.