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2017 Verizon Indy Car Pre-Season Notes

Simon Pagenaud. [Andy Clary Photo]

Simon Pagenaud looks to repeat his 2016 Championship run.  [Andy Clary Photo]

 

by Paul Gohde

The NASCAR traveling circus has moved north out of Florida as the Verizon IndyCar troupe moves in to begin its 2017 season. As you read this, the open-wheelers are testing at Sebring as they prepare for their season opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg on March 12.

Indy Car will open 2017 with more races, a smaller grid and a new team replacing a long-time one. Let’s take a look at the upcoming year and add a comment here and there.

  • Last year the season’s grid numbered 22 cars, but with the Jimmy Vasser/Kevin Kalkhoven/James Sullivan-owned KV Racing Technology team having folded late in the off-season, the count is at 21 race-to-race entrants. The Indianapolis 500 needs 33 to satisfy its tradition, but as of March 1 the count is six shy of that number. Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold), Juan Pablo Montoya (Team Penske) and Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) are entered for the 500 only, while Schmidt Peterson, Andretti Autosport and Juncos, which replaced KV, have yet to nominate other Indy drivers. Pippa Mann, Gabby Chaves, Matt Brabham and others are likely to land rides at the last minute as teams add an extra car for Indy. The Mazda Road to Indy was designed as a three-series feeder platform to bring young drivers to Indy Car and they currently have 15 drivers competing at that level. It was also hoped that the series would develop more teams to move up with those youngsters, but only newly-arrived Juncos has answered that call. For 2017 Juncos will likely be a 500-only team with a hope for more later. Carlin came over the Atlantic after success in Britain, but after two seasons in MRTI, they have yet to move up to Indy Car. More IC teams will equal more cars; when that will happen is the question.
  • Indy Car schedules have begun to stabilize after the 2016 Streets of Boston race cancellation debacle. Watkins Glen subbed for Boston at the last minute and along with the addition of Road America and Phoenix, the “old” IndyCar/ CART tracks seem to be returning. The fast 1.25-mile Gateway oval near St. Louis will host in 2017 after a 14-year hiatus. TV likes to have a stable year-to-year schedule for planning reasons as do fans who travel to events, and after years of races that come and go after a season or two, Indy Car seems to be on the right track (pun intended). Now they need to get another race or two in Canada (Edmonton and Mosport?) and perhaps revive Cleveland, Australia and Portland and they’ll have a solid mix of road courses and ovals. Street events like Long Beach and Toronto have had historical success, but high costs and logistical issues have seen new street races such as Baltimore, Houston and Denver provide poor racing and monetary losses for promoters.

And don’t even ask about the idled Milwaukee Mile, although we have talked to a group anxious to return racing to West Allis if IndyCar and the state fair board could provide some help. We’ll find out soon if they’re serious or not.

  • NOTES: Pre-season testing at Phoenix apparently revealed what many feared, that with aero package designs frozen for another year, Chevy would continue to dominate Honda on road courses and short ovals which make up a large share of the series’ races. AJ Foyt Racing will be a Chevy team beginning at St. Pete after years with Honda, while Honda moves to Ganassi for 2017 giving that power plant a stronger chance of winning a few more than the two they captured in 2016. Ganassi’s entry for Scott Dixon remains unsponsored since Target left after 27 years and will likely be funded by Chip and a patchwork of companies…Jack Hawksworth and Juan Pablo Montoya will be missing from the full-time driver ranks though JPM will steer a fifth Penske car at Indy…Series’ rookie and 2016 Indy Lights champ Ed Jones will run a full season for Dale Coyne, while J. R. Hildebrand returns to the Verizon series with a full schedule for Ed Carpenter Racing. It is rumored that Juncos Racing will have its Indy Lights pilot Kyle Kaiser in the cockpit for their Indy 500 inaugural…The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will remain an Indy Car race at least through its 2018 contract and likely beyond despite rumors of a switch back to Formula One…the 101st Indy 500 reports strong ticket renewals after the overflow crowd that attended the historic 100th race last season.
  • We’ll add to these notes next week as we preview the Verizon Indy Car opener; the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

 

 

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Paul Gohde
Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life. Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950's, Paul had no idea what "that noise" was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked. The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner's autograph in the pits, something he couldn't do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked. Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt's first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark's historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them. He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats. Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, "a factor that got me hooked in the first place."
Paul Gohde

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