Unlike the previous couple of years, the 2016 IndyCar series season championship bout has been pretty much a story of domination by Penske and especially Simon Pagenaud. The driver in second place coming into every race has pretty much tripped up in one form or another at every race, allowing for Pagenaud to assert a commanding points advantage. That was until Will Power hit serious form, taking five top twos from the most recent five races including three wins. However, there are 265 points up for grabs in the final four races (266 if you are Carlos Munoz) so anything can and will happen. Two ovals, two road courses, two real championship contenders all remain. Only one can come out on top.
Pagenaud hit back from a dismal first season at Penske in absolutely fearsome fashion – three wins and two seconds from the first five races. However his season started to drop off from then with just one rostrum from the next six races. This was the opportunity for his rivals to pounce but the likes of Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden as well as team mates Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya simply were unable to deliver. It almost seemed as if Pagenaud was cruising to the title, but then he went and stuffed that theory by winning from pole at Mid-Ohio.
Power has returned to his absolute best after a tricky start to the season. Prior to the Indianapolis 500 he was nowhere in the championship and making some costly errors on track. However the 500, in which Power finished as the highest-placed Penske seemed to bring back a bit of confidence. He then proceeded to go on this phenomenal run of results which continues to this day. He has definitely closed up the points gap, but at 58 behind with 265 to play for it is going to be a tall order. However should Power manage a perfect run from now until the end of the season, the title is his regardless of what Pagenaud does.
Still in with some sort of shout of clinching the championship is Castroneves, who sits in third place in the standings. At 111 points behind it will require a lot of winning for him to finally secure his first championship. However for the Brazilian, it has been well over a year since he last won a race. Just behind Castroneves is Newgarden at 120 back, although he will drop more points at Texas, after his nasty shunt there. Newgarden has won a race this season, and has looked generally really strong on the ovals but it is perhaps just too much of a tall order now for him to win the championship.
Level on points are the two vastly experienced Ganassi men – Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Both are 127 points behind and only Dixon has won a race this season. Both still arguably may have a say in the title race still but they will both need some sort of miracle to clinch the championship. All in all, it has been a bit of a disappointing season for the Ganassi squad, with that single win.
Behind the top six is an interesting battle shaping up for seventh between several drivers from several different teams. James Hinchcliffe is having a very solid season in his return from injury, whilst Carlos Munoz has looked the strongest of the Andretti guys at many times this season, and remarkably is not secured for 2017 yet. Graham Rahal is still sticking his Honda-powered DW12 in places it does not belong whilst Charlie Kimball and Alexander Rossi have somewhat surprised too with their fairly strong performances.
In the wrong part of the points table are former champions Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais, all suffering fairly poor seasons by their high standards. In the case of Montoya and Hunter-Reay, they have been simply outpaced by younger team mates and results have been inconsistent to say the least.
Bringing up the rear of the full-time entries are Takuma Sato, Mikhail Aleshin, Conor Daly, Marco Andretti, Max Chilton and Jack Hawksworth. Results-wise this season has been fairly disappointing for A.J. Foyt’s team, but some good pace has been shown by both drivers. Aleshin has had some very good performances on his return to the series but things haven’t quite gone his way at times. Daly has been incredibly impressive in the Dale Coyne entry, arguably the most impressive rookie of the lot. This season has been one to forget completely for Andretti, who has been absolutely nowhere all year long. Chilton has had a solid run in his first campaign, and has been solid if unspectacular in complete contrast to his predecessor Sage Karam.
It’s clear that this season is primarily down to Pagenaud vs Power. Who knows what will happen in the 500 miler at Pocono. Who knows what will happen at the rearranged Texas race. Who knows what will happen at Watkins Glen on the highly anticipated return to the famous circuit. And who knows what will happen at the double points race at Sonoma.
It’s all to play for in the final four races.