Alexander Rossi, Andretti-Herta, IndyCar, 2017

Reunified IndyCar reaches a decade, but where is it going?

2017 IndyCar season preview

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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.

Josef Newgarden, Penske, Gateway, 2016
How will Newgarden fit in at Penske?
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

#DriverTeamEngineNotes
1Simon PagenaudPenskeChevroletFive wins and the title last year, should be even stronger in his third season at Penske.
2Josef NewgardenPenskeChevroletThis is the American star’s big chance. He’s versatile, quick and a likely title contender.
3Helio CastronevesPenskeChevroletThe long-time Penske star begins his 18th season at the team but is still win-less since 2014.
4Conor DalyFoytChevroletHad Coyne’s car running near the front on more than one occasion last year, now has Chevy power.
5James HinchcliffeSchmidt PetersonHondaNo wins on his return from injury last year but took pole for the Indianapolis 500.
7Mikhail AleshinSchmidt PetersonHondaThe Formula Renault 3.5 champion overshadowed his team mate at times last year.
8Max ChiltonGanassiHondaHad little to show for his first year in IndyCar last season despite landing a top drive.
9Scott DixonGanassiHondaLost his title last year after some poor luck and two wins. Honda’s best hope for 2017.
10Tony KanaanGanassiHondaHasn’t been as strong as expected at Ganassi but nearly won at Road America last year.
12Will PowerPenskeChevroletSuspected concussion early last year compromised his season, but he’s as quick as Pagenaud.
14Carlos MunozFoytChevroletLost his Andretti seat despite being their top 2016 points-scorer. Fearless on the superspeedways.
15Graham RahalRLLHondaA win and a second in the last three races elevated him to fifth in the 2016 championship.
18Sebastien BourdaisCoyneHondaThe multiple Champ Car champion and ex-F1 driver could make Coyne winners again.
19Ed JonesCoyneHondaThe only rookie on the grid this weekend, the Indy Lights champion has a partial campaign.
20Spencer PigotEd CarpenterChevroletJones’ predecessor as champion did the non-oval races last year and will do the same this year.
21JR HildebrandEd CarpenterChevroletStill most famous for his heartbreaking near-miss at Indianapolis in 2011. Back for a full year.
26Takuma SatoAndrettiHondaA switch to Andretti should give Sato his best chance of winning a race since 2013.
27Marco AndrettiAndrettiHondaHad a forgettable 2016 which culminated in a poor 16th in the standings. Must improve.
28Ryan Hunter-ReayAndrettiHondaJust a handful of podiums last year for ther 2012 champion as Andretti struggled.
83Charlie KimballGanassiHondaContinued to draw ire for his race craft last year and is yet to repeat his 2013 Mid-Ohio victory.
98Alexander RossiAndretti-HertaHondaLast 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

IndyCar coverage

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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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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  • 36 comments on “Reunified IndyCar reaches a decade, but where is it going?”

    1. The racing in Indycar has been fantastic both before and during the current aero regulations. It’s a shame that racing viewership as a whole has been down. They may never live down the splitting of the series, and will probably never attain their original viewership. That’s what greed gets you.

      Also, if you want to hear what a good-sounding V6 engine sounds like, listen to Indycar.

    2. Matthew John Restaino
      10th March 2017, 12:46

      I still wish Indycar had gone for the Deltawing concept when they chose the DW12 as it’s chassis of choice.

      Would have totally set it apart from anything else.

      1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        10th March 2017, 13:41

        I would have hated that personally… certainly would have made them distinctive though! Cant argue there.
        Speaking of distinctive cars, sad to hear about Ganassi losing the Target sponsorship, end of an era.

    3. Great article , really enjoy these alternative series summaries

      I agree that Kanaan and Castroneves are getting old, but not Dixon – he is as sharp as ever.

      Minor detail but I am almost certain Castroneves joined Penske in 2000 (they wanted Greg Moore, but he tragically died in the last race of 1999). 2017 would be his 18th season not 19th. Still incredible when you think about it – I think he’s hanging around hoping for an Indy victory which would elevate him to the exclusive club of drivers with 4 victories

    4. Tony greedy greedy George, I hope he’s happy now. ‘Look at how popular CART is, I want some of that’. Hello IRL. Hello to the beginning of the end of open wheel racing as being a popular sport in the US. Great work.

    5. Indycar cars look like poop nowdays. I really dislike them.

    6. I got really into Indycar and then it moved to BT Sport. I can’t imagine there are too many Indycar fans in the UK who don’t want to watch F1 so putting both sports behind separate paywalls was beyond stupid.

      For me, it meant that I stopped following Indycar immediately and it also meant that I lost 50% of what I watched on Sky. The end result is that I no longer follow Indycar and no longer have Sky.

      1. Watch Indycar on youtube. I’m sure there are other streaming options.

        IndyCar isn’t nearly as gun shy about their footage showing up on social media.

    7. Hot take…. Honda should pull out of Indycar and throw all their resources at their power unit in the McLaren.

      -Sincerely,
      A sad, long-time McLaren fan.

      1. Honda is not leaving a motorsport where they have a good chance of winning on a regular basis inside their biggest export market. There is little engine development in Indycars now since most details are frozen in place. Honda is throwing everything it has at F1 right now and it’s falling short. Until 2020, McLaren may be sinking to a mid-pack team like Williams.

        1. @photogcw Yeah I agree – Honda won’t leave either sport. They already made the worst decision I have seen in F1 since I have been alive by pulling out of the sport with the eventual Championship winning car sat in their factory.

          Imagine being the person who made the decision to pull out in 2008 and then sitting there and watching Australia 2009……

          1. @petebaldwin “Imagine being the person who made the decision to pull out in 2008 and then sitting there and watching Australia 2009……”

            Thing to consider is that had Honda stuck around they wouldn’t have been guaranteed the same success because a fair chunk of the Brawn’s performance actually came from the Mercedes engine. Not just because of changes they made to the car’s design for that engine (It allowed for better packaging & less cooling) but also because the Mercedes engine was a significantly better engine than the Honda in every area. It had better drivability, Produced more power, Used less fuel, Required less cooling, was more reliable & I gather cheaper to run.

            Under Honda it would have still been a good car but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good a package as it became after the switch to Brawn & Mercedes.

            1. @gt-racer Yeah fair point. They would have still been out front at the start of the season though I think until the others copied Brawn’s diffuser.

        2. I knowwwwwwwwww. I’m just a desperate McLaren willing to go full scorched earth in order to get a competitive engine into an F1 car :'( *sniffle*

      2. @thrillerwa09 Honda could pull out of Indycar & it wouldn’t make any difference to the F1 program as there run by totally different teams of people running out of totally different countries with no input between the 2.

        The Indycar program is run out of the US by HPD (Honda Performance Development) in California. They work on Indycar, All of Honda’s junior category programs (Including Karting) as well as the Sportcar & GT programs.

        The F1 program is run out of Japan by Honda themselves.

        If anything having more of a relationship between the programs may actually be a benefit to the F1 program because it’s becoming fairly clear that the way Honda are running the F1 program in Japan isn’t working as well as what HPD are doing in the states. Not just from a technical side but also from an overall organization perspective.

      3. Not a hot take if it’s true

      4. Because they get to feel awesome for being able to start from last and win somewhere. Bourdais was fun to watch yesterday. He went so deep in the race having barely touched his push-to-pass, while most of his late race threats had already burned through most of theirs. The cautions fit right for them of course, but it was fun to watch it happen, especially driving a Coyne car.

        I can’t stand being a spec series, bring back the customer chassis while allowing teams to go it their own way if they wanted to foot the bill, (Penske, etc.,)… Just have the series construct a mandatory spec safety cell, let’s get back to how it was in the decade before the Split. There’s so much room for next-gen stats for the TV side too here, though.

    8. They make f1 cars look like Maserati 250F’s. Still has the whiff of a ‘sons of’ and has beens about it but while the likes of Lance Stroll populate f1 and they sound like Prius’ we’re hardly in a position to mock.

    9. The series stands at a cross-roads. The present DW12 chassis is long in the tooth but a new chassis may not come until 2019 if at all. At some tracks, the racing can be great while dull at others and downright frightening on high speed ovals. Its growth has stagnated and it’s lacking a respectable television package.

    10. Its funny how I don’t watch any other motorsport – only F1. I think somehow I want to avoid getting interested in anything else because F1 already takes up a lot of my time, I’m so fanatical about it.

      1. F1 has a bad habit of making other race series’ look childish and amateur… “wait so…. you don’t even make your own chassis?!?!”

        It’s kinda like watching high school sports… sure if your kid is playing it’s easy to find interest… but if your gonna pay to watch… you watch the big boys…

    11. Admittedly I’ve watched maybe 2 or 3 races under the current formula, but then again those didn’t necessarily make me want to see more… I’ll watch if I happen to come across it, but I won’t seek it out. And silly as it may be, it’s partly the visuals, I just hate the look of them. I find the cars just don’t look like a serious racing formula.

    12. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
      10th March 2017, 16:45

      I think there are really three things holding IndyCar back from some type of success. The first being ovals. It’s the same issue with NASCAR. Flat out, the younger generation of people as a whole, do not like ovals. They are “boring” and tend to produce very uninspiring races. With IndyCar, the latter is a lot more prevalent than NASCAR, as NASCAR driver’s have a thing about wrecking each other every 15 laps. My personal opinion is that IndyCar and NASCAR both need to move towards a predominately road-course based schedule, or for Indy, maybe even a completely road-course schedule.

      One of the other issue is drivers. Lots of has-beens, 2nd/3rd generations, pay drivers and other drivers who really don’t belong on the grid. This will be hard to change without better funding for the teams. I won’t go through the list completely, but people like Chilton, Marco Andretti, Bourdais, Hildebrand, etc shouldn’t be on the grid.

      The other is the car. Needs refreshed. It was too far of a departure from the Champ/IRL/IR5 cars. I understand why the enclosed the back wheels, but a move away from ovals, towards road-courses would allow Dallara/IndyCar to open the rear wheels back up and have true open-wheeled race cars again. They would also need to figure out a solution that makes the cars attractive again. As much as I hate to say it, people are big on vanity. If they cars aren’t attractive, they won’t watch. Look at F1, the cars are quiet, and we’ve lost a ton of viewers and spectators.

      1. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
        10th March 2017, 16:51

        *issues *they *IR05

      2. @photogcw I disagree about the ovals which have actually produced some of the best, most exciting racing the past few years.

        If they were to move away from ovals it would lose it’s identity & basically become F1 light as Champcar did the past few years of its existence where many of its fans were upset about the loss of ovals.

        As to Nascar, They sell more tickets & get better TV figures for the ovals compared to what they get on the road circuits they run on so I see no reason for them to move away from ovals, Especially given how ovals are that series identity. If they moved away from them then it wouldn’t be nascar & they would lose there fanbase.

        1. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
          10th March 2017, 20:42

          @gt-racer – A lot of the issue with Champ Car was that there were simply too many street circuits. In 2007, there were 8 street (or airport) circuits, out of 14 total races. 9 of 14 in 2006, 8 of 13 in 2005. As avid F1 fans, I think we can agree to the understanding that street circuits are quite detrimental to the quality of racing, without having to rehash that.

          For IndyCar, I would certainly enjoy seeing IndyCar become an F1 light kind of series. Because that’s what the USA lacks. Apart from one race in Austin, the USA doesn’t have much exposure to F1 or really any top-tier series that is a full-fledged road course series. We have the Rolex Series and IndyCar. Rolex being top-tier is debatable and IndyCar is 40% oval. Giving the people a high-quality, top tier racing series that uses legitimate road courses, would be huge, IMHO. Outside of the USA and Canada, IndyCar’s reach is quite limited. I think a predominately road-course based schedule, with appropriately quick, yet appealing cars would certainly help them extend their reach outside of the USA.

          (Going on a NASCAR tangent, I do apologize.)
          For NASCAR, I would obviously agree that a strictly road-course schedule would be detrimental. But having 2 stops in a 36 season (40 with the “extra” races) schedule can’t really be good. Look at the previous road courses races from the last few years, they’ve almost ALL produced great races. While it’s certainly not NASCAR’s heritage, they have to find a way to move forward, and attract new viewers. Yes, it would take some time to attract new people, but you have to give them a reason to invest in NASCAR, not just 2 races. Yea, the good-ole-boys don’t like road races, but truth be told, those guys are slowly dying out, as harsh as it sounds. Running at 1.5mi cookie cutter tracks isn’t going to attract anyone. Even Super-Speedway races are boring. Yea, there’s a lot of wrecks, but it’s a crap shoot. NASCAR is in serious trouble, as evident by the cut-rate deal they gave Monster, the butchered race format and the empty grandstands. Daytona wasn’t even sold out this year until 20 hours before the drop of the green flag.

        2. @gt-racer I wasn’t calling the oval races “dull”. I described them as “downright frightening”, meaning in the close car to car dicing at those speeds.

      3. It would be great for Indycar to return to the mid-/ second half of nighties CART era. It was a fantastic race series, in many aspects better than F-1. I really hate Tony George, he spoiled everything. I have started to watch US open wheels in 1994, and 1995 season with Villeneuve was brilliant. Strong competition, mighty races, tough fight in the championship.

      4. Markus Göpfert
        28th April 2017, 23:58

        At the end, at least one oval race will be left. The Indy500 will probably always remain. Without the Indy500 the IndyCars are no longer INDYcars.

    13. I haven’t been this excited for IndyCar in quite a long time. The quality of racing has been great and the talent up and down the grid is fantastic.

    14. Cannot wait for Sunday. IndyCar is absolutely the most entertaining open wheel series out there in my opinion. Everything about it has a “fun” factor that F1 just lacks. Everyone involved in Indycar seems to WANT to be there and have a genuine love for it, whereas in F1 it often feels like drivers, teams and even fans are participating just because it is Formula 1, more through loyalty than any particular enjoyment or love.

      I don’t want to compare F1 and IndyCar too much, because they really are totally different. It is a shame though that more F1 fans don’t give it a chance because 9 times out of 10 you will get an absolutely stonking race.

      I think this race from last year really sums up why I love IRL: https://youtu.be/YSm3iLEOXkY – the second part of Firestone 600 at Texas:

      – what other series would be bonkers/genius enough to restart a race 70+ days after is was suspended, in the exact same order and with everyone on the exact same setups?
      – the cars under lights and the insane sparks make the first 10 laps some the most visually beautiful, awesome racing I’ve ever seen.
      – no crash-fest or crazy lead swapping (although IndyCar provides plenty of those races), just helaciously close, tight, fast and fair racing. Actually quite terrifying to watch at times for an amateur.
      – tension and drama right to the very last lap.
      – who doesn’t love a series that put whole races online for free?!

      The series may have seen better days, the stands are all but empty, but for pure entertainment and great racing no one does it better.

      1. “Who doesn’t love a series that puts the whole race online for free?”

        Um, me? Free crap is still crap… let me know when they design their own cars… that is an utter deal breaker for me. You can’t truely go racing in the upper tiers driving a car someone else designed…. you might as well be racing Honda civics…

        1. “You can’t truely go racing in the upper tiers driving a car someone else designed”

          Well, ok. But I can still enjoy everything else.

          1. So Group C racing with privateers in customer but full spec Porsches didn’t count? Or Vettel winning his first race in what was effectively a shared chassis with RBR but with a different engine? Even in CARTs heyday there was only two or three chassis manufacturers and I agree that the racing was great. I watch it in Australia and love the racing. Usually the racing is better than F1…

            I actually think indycar had a chance to stand out from the crowd when they chose their last chassis. They have that opportunity again. Imagine if those in charge read all the comments about the new F1 regulations and what F1 fans want, combined these with some of the new safety concepts open wheel racing will adopt over the next decade, such as canopies and maybe wheel covers like the Red Bull X2010 etc. and produced a truly futuristic and fast car? Maybe even doing what Roborace has done and employ a designer like Daniel Simon to give the car maximum visual appeal? I might not like the Roborace car but love his Timelesss Racer Masuccis. I think he could design an amazing 2019 indycar.

            Produce a great looking car, keep the engines simple yet powerful, and if the racing is good then the fans will follow. Given McLarens woes you might even offer a fast Honda powered car to a certain Spaniard…

    15. I’ve watched St Pete, Long Beach and Toronto every year since the Split. Don’t really care for ovals, but neither do many former fans. it’s just an outdated style of racing.
      I enjoy the races, it is fantastically close and the car allows some close quarters racing. The problem has been famously with Race Control but that has improved in the last couple seasons immensely.

      They still have a seriously short season, staying out of the headlines for much more than a third of the year, and it’s not like they need the break to develop a new chassis or anything like that. There have been rumblings about a one maybe two overseas exhibition races early in the year but nothing likely comes out of those before 2020.

      I’d love to see Surfers Paradise back, even if the track they used is no longer possible.

    16. For the poster who commented ” free crap on tv is crap”, I will say this. At 12 00 pm eastern time tomorrow get a laptop or watch it for free, and tell me it wasn’t an exciting race. Indycar is sadly one of the best motor racing series without proper management. If Liberty had rights to them it’d be a world wide audience every week, more money would poor in and they’d be laughing. Too bad Indycar is run by circus clowns, the exact same circus clowns (Brian Frances family) who run NASCAR.

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