Some news updates this morning:
Jay Howard will be in the No. 77 car, the one Tony Stewart’s Foundation is running under Sam Schmidt’s team, for the Indianapolis 500. This will be Howard’s second 500. His first was in 2011, where he started 20th and finished 30th.
Scott Dixon’s car will be sponsored by GE LED light bulbs at St. Pete this weekend. The team is still looking for a season long sponsor and hopes to have something in place by Long Beach..
This will be a year of waiting. We are waiting for the new look car in 2018; waiting to see if a third engine manufacturer is on the horizon. Meanwhile, we should see a year similar to last year. Aerokit development was frozen for this year, meaning Chevy cars will win most of the races, and a Honda will win Indy and likely Pocono and Texas. A Penske driver will win the championship after a tough battle with a teammate.
No season is entirely predictable. There are some wild cards out there. First, there were some significant driver moves. The largest move is Josef Newgarden going to Penske. Carlos Munoz moves to Foyt, joining Conor Daly. Sebastien Bourdais moves into what was Dal y’s ride at Coyne last year. Takuma Sato goes to Andretti replacing Munoz.
The second wild card is teams that switched engines. Chip Ganassi Racing returns to Honda power, and Foyt now is a Chevy team. At the Phoenix test both teams seemed to be still learning their new aero kits and engines. Will Ganassi be the team that makes Honda more competitive the entire season?
J. R. Hildebrand returns to the Verizon Indy Car Series full time with Ed Carpenter Racing, replacing Newgarden. Spencer Pigot will drive the No. 20 on road and street courses.
Will Andretti Autosport have a better year? Marco Andretti seems more focused. Having Bryan Herta call strategy for him is a good move. Herta is a great race strategist. Exhibit A- last year’s Indy 500. Will Alexander Rossi be hurt by having a new strategist? Time will tell. I think there won’t be much of an effect. Ryan Hunter-Reay was in position to win both 500 mile races last year, but some strange things happened. His pit road collision at Indianapolis took him out of contention, and a brief power hiccup late in the race at Pocono cost him the victory there. I think he will win a race this year.
Schmidt Peterson retains James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin. Both drivers were on the verge of winning last year. I look for Aleshin to get his first victory this season. Hinchcliffe should also have a good chance as well. This is one of my sleeper teams.
My other sleeper team is Dale Coyne Racing. They have upgraded the team off the track and Bourdais is a big addition on the track. Coyne is tactical. he knows what his cars need to do to qualify well, and he knows how to get them to the front on race day. If pit strategy falls their way, there could be some good results this year for them. Rookie Ed Jones joins the team. He had two great years in Indy Lights, winning last year’s title. He will need to have patience as he learns to race in IndyCar.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has been the top finishing Honda the last two years. They could very well keep that distinction with a strong start to the year. Graham Rahal will keep his streak of winning races in consecutive years alive.
Ganassi may have a slow start as they figure out the Honda package, but Scott Dixon will likely have a better year than he had last year, when early issues pushed him down the standings. Ganassi will finish the year strong. It will be another solid year for Tony Kanaan. Max Chilton should show some improvement in his second year. Charlie Kimball will continue to be steady.
Team Penske will again lead the pack most if not all the way. It will be another battle between Will Power and defending champ Simon Pagenaud all season, with Power prevailing this time. Helio Castroneves will have another consistent year with several podiums. Josef Newgarden appears to be adjusting well to his new team. Moving Tim Cindric to his car from Power’s car shows that Penske is putting Josef on an accelerated path to success. He may not win a race, but he should have a better season than Pagenaud did his first year at Penske.
It should be an interesting season. There are enough X-factors to provide some intrigue. Enjoy the first race next Sunday from beautiful St. Pete.
Here are my pre-season predictions, with apologies to all my picks. You don’t have a prayer now. These picks are subject to change as the year goes on.
Season Championship- Will Power
Indianapolis 500- Scott Dixon
First time winner- Mikhail Aleshin
Different race winners- 8