Monday , 24 June 2024

2016 IndyCar Season Preview

2015 saw Scott Dixon snatch his fourth title from the clutches of Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal at the final round at Sonoma, albeit via the method of completely unnecessary double points. With both Honda and Chevrolet bringing brand new aero kits, three new/returning tracks and three highly-anticipated rookies joining the series full time, the 2016 IndyCar season is shaping up to be an interesting one with plenty of questions to be answered, such as: “how will Team Penske’s quartet bounce back from defeat last season?”, “how will Max Chilton, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly fare in their first full season?” and of course “who will benefit from Road America, Phoenix and Boston joining the calendar?”.

Full-time Entries

Somewhat concerning, is the lack of full-time entrants in IndyCar this season. Just 21 cars are entered for the entire campaign, which is less than what the likes of F1 have this year. As mentioned, three rookies join the series full-time but otherwise the field is comprised of current and future IndyCar legends and many mainstays in the series too. Even Dale Coyne Racing has a very strong pairing, as opposed to the team they started 2015 with.

Team Penske

2. Juan Pablo Montoya – 2nd in 2015 (2 wins) – 1999 CART Champion

Montoya will be hoping to bounce back from the loss of a championship last season on countback (and double points). He started 2015 really well and took his second 500 in typical Montoya fashion, but went somewhat off the boil after that, rarely challenging for wins. He also got involved in unnecessary tangles with one of his team mates, albeit not really his fault in either case. To mount a stronger title challenge in 2016 – he will need to deliver some stronger qualifying performances which will help as well as keeping a strong momentum throughout the season.

3. Helio Castroneves – 5th in 2015 (3 second places) – 2nd in 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2014

2015 hardly went to plan for Castroneves, who ended his campaign winless for the first time since 2011. He had four poles last year and was unable to convert any of them, and managed to get penalised for unnecessary contact at Indianapolis. To fight for the title again, he will almost certainly need to get back into the winner’s circle, as well as having a strong finish to the year. Once again, he had a poor run in the final part of the season, having four races outside of the top 10 last year.

12. Will Power – 3rd in 2015 (1 win) – 2014 IndyCar Champion

Power’s year with the number 1 did not yield a second championship. Five poles yet just one conversion is not the sort of form which yields a second title. He also got caught up in needless accidents. This year, he will need to continue his strong qualifying form but there needs to be fewer retirements as well as less off-days as he had at Long Beach.

22. Simon Pagenaud – 11th in 2015 (2 third places) – 3rd in 2013

Pagenaud’s first season at Penske was incredibly tough. Ending in a pretty lowly 11th place is not where the Frenchman should be. Whether the pressure got to him last year or what is tough to tell, but he will need a much better second season. There were flashes of speed though.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

5. James Hinchcliffe – 23rd in 2015 (1 win) – 8th in 2012 and 2013

After being quite literally kebabed at Indianapolis in May, Hinchcliffe returns after making a miraculous recovery. This will be his first full season at SPM, but in a new team mate, he at least has someone who knows the team fairly well. Hinchcliffe will be even more determined than ever to start delivering strong, consistent results.

7. Mikhail Aleshin – 33rd in 2015 (1 10th place) – 16th in 2014

Another welcome returnee to IndyCar is the series’ first Russian driver – Mikhail Aleshin. After having his season cut short at Fontana in 2014, Aleshin is back in an IndyCar full time having made a one-off appearance last season and competing in sportscars. His knowledge of the circuits will be much better than was the case in 2014 and he did a very good job back then considering his inexperience. He has an experienced team mate and this will definitely help, as well as being at the team he drove for in 2014.

Chip Ganassi Racing

8. Max Chilton – Rookie – 5th in Indy Lights (2015)

Former F1 driver and GP2 race winner Max Chilton makes his debut in IndyCar this year, in place of Sebastian Saavedra/Sage Karam. Chilton made the unconventional switch from F1 to Indy Lights last year, but this paid off handsomely. He now knows most of the circuits and he took a win on an oval too, which helped him get the gig with Ganassi for this year. Like names such as Mansell and Wilson before him, can Chilton leave F1 to make a name for himself in America?

9. Scott Dixon – 1st in 2015 (3 wins) – 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015 IndyCar Champion

Ganassi’s star driver and IndyCar’s Iceman Scott Dixon will be looking to make it five championships in 2016, and the first time he will have won two on the bounce. Either always there or thereabouts, it is almost certain that Dixon will feature for race wins this year, and also likely that he will feature in the championship bout. He’s the clear number one at Ganassi and delivered some strong performances when it counted at the double points races, and that’s the sort of form Dixon must show to feature again this year.

10. Tony Kanaan – 8th in 2015 (2 second places) – 2004 IndyCar Champion

By Kanaan’s standards, 2015 was not particularly spectacular. Whilst some strong drives yielded a number of podiums, he rarely was there in qualifying, and there were a number of rounds where he scored badly. How Kanaan performs may determine how strong Dixon’s run to the championship is, especially as last year he managed to take points from the Penskes when Dixon did not.

83. Charlie Kimball – 12th in 2015 (2 third places) – 9th in 2013

How Kimball performs this year will be interesting to see. With a rookie in Ganassi’s roster again this season, Kimball cannot really afford to slip to being the fourth driver at the great team. He took two thirds last year – both at the double points races. He did have a really strong run at Indianapolis, but the days where he performs just seem far too infrequent really for Kimball to feature much this year.

KVSH Racing

11. Sebastien Bourdais – 10th in 2015 (2 wins) – 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Champ Car Champion

Bourdais is well and truly back. He delivered two very fine wins last season and simply walked over his rookie team mate. With just one car at KVSH this year, the team can focus solely on Bourdais, who could well be an outside bet at the title (a one car team nearly managed it last year after all). For that to happen, Bourdais will need to rely heavily on his road course talents, improve on his qualifying and ensure that non-finishes are almost non-existent.

A.J. Foyt Enterprises

14.Takuma Sato – 14th in 2015 (1 second place) – 13th in 2011

Takuma Sato is forever a fascinating driver to watch – either spectacular or in the wall, a single podium last year was his only trip to the top five. He generally had the edge over his less experienced team mate, and ironically retired less than him too. Sato is always capable of brilliant things, and on his day he is brilliant. He just needs to stop hitting things.

41. Jack Hawksworth – 17th in 2015 (2 seventh places) – 17th in 2014 and 2015

Hawksworth’s first season with A.J. Foyt was not the most dramatic or the most spectacular. We arguably saw more flashes of speed in his rookie campaign so he will be hoping that 2016 is a bit more like 2014 (with perhaps some better rewards) than 2015.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

15. Graham Rahal – 4th in 2015 (2 wins)

Rahal was many peoples’ driver of the year in 2015, having finally come of age and nearly taking an unlikely title against the Penskes and the Ganassis. Should Rahal deliver these drives on race day again, and improve on his qualifying performances (only one of the top five last year not to sit on the pole), there is no reason why Rahal cannot feature for race wins and the championship again this year. There was some restructuring at RLLR last year, and this clearly helped.

Dale Coyne Racing

18. Conor Daly – Rookie – 28th in 2015 (1 sixth place)

Daly makes a full-time switch to IndyCar having raced part-time last year (including a single, unlikely, yet impressive race with Coyne at Long Beach). With him in for the full season, there is finally some continuity at Dale Coyne, which is good to see. Daly seemed right at home in IndyCar in the races he did last year, as opposed to his time in GP2, where he struggled with smaller teams. Daly is the full-time rookie in the smallest team.

19. Luca Filippi – 21st in 2015 (1 second place)

Filippi is confirmed for the first race with Dale Coyne and is ‘close’ to securing a deal for the full year. He will make his oval debut this year, having only done the odd race here and there until last year, where he took over the #20 car on the road and street courses, where he nearly snatched a win from his team mate at Toronto. Filippi is a very quick guy who delivered some strong results in GP2, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the ovals.

Ed Carpenter Racing

21. Josef Newgarden – 7th in 2015 (2 wins)

Another breakthrough story in 2015 was the rise of Josef Newgarden. Having been under Sarah Fisher’s supervision over the last few years, he switches to the Ed Carpenter side of the project, after Fisher left ownership duties. He had four really, really strong drives last year and should the retirements be less frequent, he could feature for the championship this year.

Andretti Autosport

26. Carlos Munoz – 13th in 2015 (1 win) – 8th in 2014

Bar his win, Munoz had a very anonymous season last time around, which almost seemed a bit uncharacteristic of him. He ranked lower than he did in 2014, which was his first full season, so he is another driver who will really need to perform more to how he did in his rookie campaign than his 2015 campaign.

27. Marco Andretti – 9th in 2015 (1 second place) – 5th in 2013

The third-generation Andretti is still seeking that illusive Indy 500 win, having come so close in his rookie attempt. The last few seasons from Andretti has been a case of usually being thereabouts in races, but never quite there. He has finished ninth for the past two seasons now, and around there is where Andretti is likely to feature again this year.

28. Ryan Hunter-Reay – 6th in 2015 (2 wins) – 1st in 2012

After an abysmal first two thirds of the season, Hunter-Reay rocketed himself to sixth in the championship with two wins and a double points second place in the final four races. He seemed to struggle to get his head around the aero kits at the start of the year and a few moments of complete madness prevented him featuring in the championship fight. There’s every possibility Hunter-Reay could feature more frequently this year, but it all depends on which Hunter-Reay we get.

Bryan Herta Autosport with Andretti Autosport

98. Alexander Rossi – Rookie – 2nd in GP2 (2015)

Having missed out on a F1 campaign, Alexander Rossi will make his debut in IndyCar in place of Gabby Chaves at Bryan Herta’s team, with support from Michael Andretti. Rossi has very little knowledge of the tracks or the car, and it will look to be a pretty tough challenge for him. He will also be doing duties as Manor’s reserve driver, which will result in a lot of travelling. It does hint that his rookie IndyCar campaign, could well be his only IndyCar campaign.

Additional Entries

Grace Autosport

TBA. Katherine Legge – 37th in 2013 – 15th in Champ Car in 2007

IndyCar’s first all-female team will take part in the Indy 500 this year, with former Champ Car and current IMSA driver Katherine Legge at the wheel. Legge raced the 500 as recently as 2013, and made an appearance in 2012 as well.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

16. Spencer Pigot – Rookie – 2015 Indy Lights Champion

Reigning Lights champion Pigot will run at St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis races. He is not scheduled to run at any other events however.

Ed Carpenter Racing

20. Ed Carpenter – 27th in 2015 (1 sixth place) – 12th in 2009

Carpenter returns to the ovals this year, but does not have a stand-in for the road and street courses, so the #20 will solely run in Carpenter’s hands (and feet). His campaign last year was very patchy, as he seemed to struggle more than most to adapt to the aero kits. He also had a few big shunts which did not help matters.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

24. Sage Karam – 20th in 2015 (1 third place)

Karam, who had a really solid rookie campaign, has secured a seat in the Indy 500. He took a podium on an oval last year.

PIRTEK Team Murray

61. Matthew Brabham – Rookie – 4th in Indy Lights (2014)

Brabham is one of the most famous names in motor racing. Third generation Brabham Matthew will run at the Indianapolis races.

Dale Coyne Racing

63. Pippa Mann – 29th in 2015 (2 13th places)

Oval specialist Pippa Mann will continue making regular appearances at Indianapolis, running in the 500 with Dale Coyne again this year.

Jonathan Byrd’s Racing

88. Bryan Clauson – 39th in 2015 (1 31st place)

Bryan Clauson will make his one and only start of the year at Indianapolis. Clauson is more famous on the dirt oval scene.

Lazier Partners Racing

91. Buddy Lazier – 40th in 2015 (No races started) – 2000 IndyCar Champion

2000 IndyCar champion and 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier will attempt to qualify for the 500 again this year, having failed to do so last year.

Track changes

Three tracks are out and three tracks are in (two returning, one new) for IndyCar in 2016. The series will not return to Louisiana, having contested just one race there last year, and the Milwaukee Mile and Auto Club Speedway at Fontana have also been dropped. In its place, the Phoenix International Speedway returns after a long absence, as does the popular Road America course. The other new track is the Grand Prix of Boston, on the new Seaport District Circuit. This means we have one new oval, one new road course and one new street course to enjoy this year.

Rule changes

There are not really any major rule changes to speak about, however the series will likely see a revised qualifying format for Indy, an attempt to make caution periods shorter and a bit of equalisation in the aero department between Honda and Chevrolet.

The IndyCar season starts this weekend at St. Petersburg. Details on how you can watch the series in the UK can be found at IndyCar UK. LINK

About Craig Woollard

Motorsport historian and journalist Craig Woollard has had an unusual path to a career in motorsport. After graduating from the University of Essex with a degree in mathematics in 2013, he changed his career path immediately after discovering a talent for writing. After occasional freelance work in 2015 and 2016, he joined the Autosport Academy for 2017. In the same year, he became an archive digitiser at Motorsport Images - which is his full-time job to this date.

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