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Indy Car: A Look Ahead-Part One

Josef Newgarden. [Andy Clary Photo]

Josef Newgarden joining Team Penske has been one of the biggest news stories so far in the Verizon IndyCar Series off season.  [Andy Clary Photo]

 

by Paul Gohde

NASCAR may still be running its Chase races as the leaves are turning and the furnace clicks on occasionally, but the Indy Car world is already gearing-up for its 2017 run with almost daily news of schedules, drivers, teams and cars. Some of it is good, some surprising and some-rather disappointing. Let’s take a look.

  • Drivers: With other sports, player movements are a normal part of the off-season, but trading drivers isn’t part of the motorsports landscape. Josef Newgarden left Ed Carpenter Racing to sign with Roger Penske, the biggest off-season news so far, replacing veteran Juan Pablo Montoya who moves on after winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2015. Montoya doesn’t jump teams easily, having been with only Ganassi and Penske for his 5 seasons in Indy cars. But Roger wants to win, was likely not happy when the team didn’t capture the iconic 100th 500 in Team Penske’s 50th anniversary season, and JPM was dropped. “We are always trying to build toward the future,” explained Penske, and the 41-year-old JPM just wasn’t part of that future. Will Power, Helio Castroneves and 2015 Indy Car champ Simon Pagenaud will stay for another season. Helio, who’s been with Penske since 2000, may be the next to join JPM if he doesn’t win regularly in 2017, having not won since Belle Isle-2 in 2014…In other driver news Sebastien Bourdais returns to Dale Coyne with a beefed-up roster of engineers, while Tony Kanaan will remain at Chip Ganassi and 2016 Indy winner Alexander Rossi has re-signed with Andretti-Herta Autosport. Scott Dixon’s Ganassi mount also needs a major sponsor with long-time supporter Target having departed after a long run…The move by Honda back to Ganassi’s team begs the question of where do the four Ganassi Chevy engines that are now free-agents end up? The industry is saying perhaps AJ Foyt’s team (two cars), but where the others land has an answer that may be in discussion as we write…Young talent such as Spencer Pigot, Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, Matt Brabham and RC Enerson may have trouble moving into Indy Car rides regularly with the limited number of cars that are available. Veterans Ryan Briscoe, Conor Daly and JR Hildebrand may also be looking come March.
  • Tracks: The 2017 schedule was announced before the end of this season; something unusual for Indy Car. If you liked the 2016 calendar, next season looks very similar with one addition. Gateway Motorsports Park, near St. Louis, is back on the list after a 12-year absence. Seven Cart/IRL-Indy Car races have been run on the 1.1-mile egg-shaped, varied-banked oval (1997-2003), but August 26th will find the Verizon Series back in the shadow of the Gateway Arch…Road America and Watkins Glen are back after successful events in 2016…2018 has rumors of Portland, Mosport, Montreal, Edmonton and Australia rejoining the calendar. One or two of those would be great additions…Sonoma’s wine-country road course has been the scene of the season-ending, double-points championship event for several years now, but many want that race to be run on an oval instead. Others wish the season-ender would be held in the Midwest, perhaps at Road America in September someday…We’ll talk about the future of the endangered Milwaukee Mile next time.

 

  • Aero Kits: Introduced by Indy Car in 2015, the devices were supposed to give Chevrolet and Honda Indy cars some individual fan identity and challenge race engineers to gain an aero advantage over their competition. Chevy gained a huge advantage over Honda and fans really couldn’t tell the difference between the two (except Chevy was usually ahead) at high speeds. In the end the exercise cost teams millions of dollars and likely discouraged any new teams or engine manufacturers from entering the series. 2017 will see a freeze on any aero kit development while the 2018 season will bring a universal aero kit to all competitors. “This announcement follows an extended dialogue with Chevrolet, Honda, our teams and stakeholders. This decision focused on what is best for the future of the Verizon Indy Car Series,” explained Jay Frye, president of Indy Car competition and operations.

 

Next time we’ll focus on Indy Car safety, the 100th Indianapolis 500 and the event’s future, the Milwaukee Mile and 2017 teams and likely grid numbers.

 

 

 

 

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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.”