The Verizon IndyCar Series has one of the longest off-seasons when compared to other major racing championships.
It’s now been over four months since Josef Newgarden captured the 2017 championship at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. By now, the drivers and teams are itching to get the 2018 season underway.
With the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg coming up March 11th, there is still a lot of work to be done before the green flag flies. Here are five storylines to follow as the off-season reaches the home stretch, and the Verizon IndyCar Series gets ready to go racing once again…
1) Universal Aero Kit Testing Gets Underway
With a new season comes a brand new universal aero kit for all cars, courtesy of IndyCar’s plans to bring down costs and increase on-track competition. For the past three years, Chevrolet and Honda designed their own aero kits, a competition many felt increased costs and created an uneven playing field.
For the past several months, select teams and drivers have been able to shake down their new kits, through the use of private team testing sessions. As the calendar turns to February, more and more team testing sessions will occur, ahead of the first open test at Phoenix February 8th-10th.
2) Look for “Manufacturer” Teams to Have Early Advantage
Throughout the latter part of 2017, select teams were invited by Chevrolet and Honda to participate in private manufacturer testing sessions. Teams like Penske and Schmidt Peterson were able to prepare kits for the two engine manufacturers, and were some of the first to learn of its unique characteristics.
When practice gets underway in St. Petersburg, look for these teams to have an early advantage. However, with the addition of a new aero kit there is still so much that remains an unknown for all teams. It’s the crew members and drivers that can learn the new kit the fastest who will be the biggest threats early on.
3) Old Faces in New Spaces
Throughout the offseason, we have seen several new driver and team combinations come to fruition. While the 2018 Verizon IndyCar season will see some new drivers entering the series for the first time, a number of familiar names will be lining up on the starting grid with a new team.
One of the biggest moves in the offseason occurred when 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan was announced as the driver of the #14 ABC Supply Chevrolet for AJ Foyt. Kanaan, 42, departs Chip Ganassi Racing after spending the last four seasons with the famed team. The move wasn’t without criticism as Foyt dropped two promising up-and-comers, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly, after a disastrous 2017 campaign.
Other moves announced during the silly season include Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball joining Carlin Racing, and Takuma Sato returning to Rahal Letterman Lanigan.
4) New Teams Looking to Learn Quick
When the action gets underway at St. Petersburg in early March, there will be two new teams embarking on their first ever full-season campaign.
Carlin Motorsport looks to build on the success they’ve found in European single-seater racing as well as Indy Lights. It was in Europe where the team forged a strong relationship with its two drivers for the 2018 season, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.
Harding Racing is the other team making their full season debut at St. Petersburg, however the team did compete in three oval races in 2017. The team is led by Mike Harding and former IndyCar team owner Dennis Reinbold. Gabby Chaves will once again pilot the team’s lone entry.
Another new team in 2018 will be Juncos Racing, who has found considerable success in the Mazda Road to Indy ranks. Juncos won’t be competing full time in 2018, but they will be entering their #32 Chevrolet in at least eight rounds.
5) Will Daly Find a Home?
One of the most popular drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series over the past few seasons has been American second-generation racer Conor Daly. After several years of one-off entries, Daly finally got his first shot at a full-time ride in 2016 with Dale Coyne Racing.
After a disappointing 2017 season with AJ Foyt Racing, Daly’s contract was not renewed, leaving the 26-year-old looking for a new seat.
With just over a month to go before the season opener it seems unlikely Daly will be able to find a full-time ride for the 2018 campaign. At this point there are very few potential seats remaining for Daly, aside from the #19 at Dale Coyne. Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo is rumoured to be the favourite for the ride, recently testing the car out at Sebring. The team has yet to make an official announcement as to who will drive the #19, so at this point anything seems possible.
If Daly is unsuccessful in his campaign to land the #19 ride, it’s likely he may have to try his hand at a number of part time entries for the 2018 season.