2017 Starts on High Note for IndyCar, Points Toward Thrilling Season Ahead

Six IndyCar Series champions. Five Indianapolis 500 winners. Fifteen IndyCar race winners. Fifteen IndyCar pole-sitters. That’s the depth of the current Verizon IndyCar Series field. The talent is undeniable, from the veterans with years of experience and packed racing resumes, to the rookie, sophomores, and third-year drivers whose ability to learn under pressure and apply those lessons in real time is nothing short of astounding. Anyone with an educated knowledge of sports would be hard-pressed to examine this particular series and it’s participants without being impressed.

The season started off at a temporary street circuit, one of three distinct formats of racing in this open-wheel genre of motorsports. The other formats being permanent road courses and ovals. The ovals, as any IndyCar fan can tell you, can also be broken down into three groups if you’re striving for accuracy: super-speedways, short ovals and a triangle. Yes. A triangle. We don’t do “conventional” in this series.

Shawn Gritzmacher / IndyCar

And that idea of non-conventional constructs, is further proven by the results of that first contest. Three of the aforementioned series Champions stood on the podium, with Honda engines reigning supreme both there and in the Top 10. However, it’s only fair to note that Honda is also the majority of the field this season – a point we would all be wise to keep in mind when we go “by the numbers” and progress through 2017.

That is not to make light of the progress that Honda Performance Development has made in the off-season. The strength, horsepower, and reliability of their twin-turbo V8 is significant. It was good enough to pass the reigning series champ and create a multi-second gap lead on the way to the win. It was good enough to help the sole rookie in the field hold a P3 position for multiple laps. And it was also good enough to secure the fastest lap of the race. So while Honda may be outnumbering Chevy this year, they are also showing just cause for why they may end up consistently overpowering them.

Be assured, St. Pete was not a fluke. While there may have been some luck falling on those who benefited from the way the yellows fell, it was talent, strategy, and power that gave them the ability to dominate the pack. It was also that combination of circumstances which yielded the final results.

Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Dale Coyne Racing Honda) discussed these ideas on the Push to Pass podcast this week in addition to his win and the entire team’s efforts – DCR is the shining example of, “It takes a village.” Everyone on the team travels, everyone plays a significant role, and everyone represents a piece of the puzzle that leads to a successful race weekend.

“I couldn’t really be any happier for Honda and Dale for giving me the opportunity to put the band back together and make it happen. Everybody works really, really hard. It’s a great little group… We’re just going to keep on trying.”

The driver of the No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, Simon Pagenaud, was the second place finisher and other half of “the French revolution”, as he put so eloquently after the race. He was very comfortable on the podium, having been on the same step last year to kick off the season that would ultimately become his first career championship year.  

“It’s definitely a champion team for regrouping like they did, understanding the issue we had in qualifying. This morning (Sunday) in the warmup, I was back home in my car. It was great to get that feeling back. The race, the car was fantastic. Bourdais was untouchable today… Fantastic for them. I wish it was P1 for me, P2 for him. Next time maybe. But very happy for him. Very happy for second.”

Scott Dixon (No. 9 GE LED Lighting Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Honda), rounding out the ‘podium of champions’ as it turned out, has had a strange relationship with these streets since the inaugural contest in St. Pete. He’s ended the weekend with a DNF in three consecutive seasons (2008, 2009, 2010), but also achieved P2 finishes just as many times (2006, 2007, 2012). Given those stats, one can tell that he has blatantly lacked consistency at this track through his career, but he’s always been more of a late-bloomer when it comes to making a run for the championship.

“We had good speed and a good GE LED car to overtake. We passed a lot of cars both on strategy and on-track. It wasn’t the day we had hoped for obviously, but it was better than a lot of other results we’ve had here over the years.”

We have a true manufacturers championship battle on our hands this year. Prepare for different teams and drivers to find victory – potentially a record number. In 2014, we saw 11 different race winners and while I know it’s the wrong sport to reference, I can’t help but think we are on par to match those numbers or even better them this season.

So far, so good, with an unpredictable race winner and team in Round 1.

How will everything else pan out over the next 6 months? There’s really only one way to find out – support the series and watch IndyCar every competition weekend. And yes, you can absolutely watch from home. But, if you have the means (even for a single race), make sure you buy a ticket and help pack the track! I hope to see you there.

Feature Photo: Zach Hudson / IndyCar

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