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Indy Car 2016: More Questions Than Answers?

The Chip Ganassi Racing crew get Scott Dixon's No. 9 Chevrolet prepped prior to the open test session at Phoenix International Raceway. [Photo by: Chris Jones]

The Chip Ganassi Racing crew get Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Chevrolet prepped prior to the open test session at Phoenix International Raceway.  [Photo by: Chris Jones]

New drivers, an Indy anniversary, smaller grids and new venues. Those and some others look like the stories that will get the Verizon Indy Car Series onto the track in about three weeks.

With the stock cars gone from Florida after the Daytona 500, the series heads south for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with quite a few changes and several questions hanging in the air.

Following are some items to ponder as the ICS season begins.

  • Cockpit protection for the drivers was an area of concern last season after the freakish accident that claimed the life of Justin Wilson at Pocono. Indy Car is looking at designs to protect the driver compartment while keeping the traditional open cockpit look of the DW12 cars. Formula One is also looking at adopting some form of this protection by 2017, but IC still seems to be weighing its options. Drivers seem to be in agreement that they don’t favor closed cockpits. IC needs to come up with something soon as approval and testing may take us past the first race next year. Can we wait that long and risk an injury or worse?
  • With the 100th Indianapolis 500 due to run in May, the early entry list shows 29 cars committed to the most important 500 since the 1911 inaugural. How many engines Honda and Chevrolet have agreed to supply limits a larger entry as does the lack of sponsors and the funds that they bring to teams. A full field of 33 will likely take the green flag, but with just 21 cars committed for all 16 series’ events (24 in 2015), one has to wonder when we’ll reverse these downward spirals.
  • Oval tracks at Fontana and Milwaukee are off the schedule due to small crowds as Indy Car seems to be heading toward becoming a street/road course series in the future. Replacing those two ovals are a much-awaited June return of Indy cars to America’s National Park of Speed-Road America, and the inaugural run through the streets of historic Boston. A late-season open test at RA drew thousands of fans and hopes are for a large crowd on race day 2016. The Boston race has been plagued by protests over cost, noise pollution and political bickering before a ticket was even sold. Some of that negativity has cooled, but race cars on a temporary course is a harder event to sell than the beloved Boston Marathon.
  • The 500 will break tradition after signing a “presenting” sponsor for its century race. “The Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil” has aroused the ire of some traditional fans. As the series struggles for funding and recognition, any source of extra revenue must be welcomed. Will a naming-rights sponsor be next?
  • The 2015 season saw aero packages added to both Chevrolet and Honda entries as a way of giving those two engine suppliers separate visual identification. At 180 mph it was a bit hard to differentiate the two, but results gave an aero advantage to the Bowtie, while Honda showed improvement at season’s end. Honda won some relief from Indy Car for 2016 as they were allowed major aero changes in an effort to equalize competition. The early season schedule finds four events on road/street circuits along with a return to the high-speed Phoenix mile. Results from the Arizona desert are likely to tell us how Honda vs. Chevy will fare at the 500 in May.
  • Rookies contesting full or partial season rides in 2016 include: Conor Daly (Dale Coyne), Max Chilton (Chip Ganassi), Spencer Pigot * (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) and Matthew Brabham * (PIRTEK Team Murray). *= partial season.
  • A week ago Andretti Autosport released 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves and signed American F1 driver and Indy Car rookie Alexander Rossi for a full season in connection with Bryan Herta Autosport. With Sarah Fisher closing her team, former partner Ed Carpenter will operate alone with Josef Newgarden running full time and Ed competing on the five ovals. Grace Motorsports, an all-female team, is still looking to partner with an existing team for driver Katherine Legge who drove so well in the 24-Hours of Daytona. Dale Coyne has yet to sign a driver to partner with Daly, but early indications point to a revolving door with a varied roster of drivers coming and going race to race.
  • Indy followed the lead of Daytona International Speedway and will be unveiling a remodeled main straight seating area along with revised entrances and a pedestrian plaza along Georgetown Road; all in connection with its hundredth 500.

 

Race one at St. Petersburg will open the 16-race Indy Car season on March 13, and it’s likely that some questions will begin to be answered though more may arise. It should be interesting.

 

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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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