An intro to Indycar

The 2019 NTT Indycar season kicks off on March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. If you’re new to Indycar, or just need a refresher on the key storylines and changes coming to Indycar this season, then continue reading this beginner’s guide to the 2019 Indycar season.

The Basics

The 2019 NTT Indycar season will consist of 17 separate races, beginning with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and ending with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. 12 of these races will take place on road/street courses and 5 will take place on ovals, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

20 Different drivers will be racing full time in the 2019 season, with several drivers making part-time appearances for multiple races and close to 40 different drivers in total already announced for the 103rd Indianapolis 500. Scott Dixon will be returning with Chip Ganassi Racing as the reigning champion. Points will be awarded to each driver after each race according to these rules. The driver with the most points at the end of the season will be crowned the 2019 NTT Indycar Series champion.

The NTT Indycar series uses a spec chassis and aero kit, meaning that every driver starts with the same car out of the box, and it’s up to the driver and team engineers to tune the car before every race to try to get an advantage over the other racers. The cars also have separate aerokits for racing on road courses/short ovals and racing on longer ovals. The engines are provided to each team by one of two manufacturers: Honda or Chevy. Lately, the two engines have seemed to be nearly equal in power, though historically Hondas have been better on ovals and Chevys have been better on road/street courses.

New to Indycar in 2019

New Tracks

Two new tracks join the Indycar schedule in 2019. The first is the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. A road course which also hosts Formula 1’s US Grand Prix. The Circuit of the Americas is hosting the Indycar Classic, the second race of the 2019 Indycar season. It will also offer fans the ability to directly compare lap times between Formula 1 and Indycar.

The other new track is actually one with a lot of history in Indycar racing. Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca hosted the Monterey Grand Prix from 1983 to 2004, afterward it was replaced on the calendar with Sonoma Raceway and is returning this year. In 1996 the track’s famous “corkscrew” turns were the site of “The Pass”, one of the most famous overtaking maneuvers in Indycar history. The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be the 2019 NTT Indycar Series season finale.

New Aero Options

After complaints from fans and racers alike in 2018, Indycar will now be providing teams with new front and rear wing aero options for more downforce at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, and Pocono Raceway. These options will help give teams more flexibility in how they tune their cars, and the goal is to help improve racing at these three events.

A New Name

Verizon is out and NTT is in as the new series sponsor of Indycar. Although it’s unknown right now if and how this may affect the experience for fans, it’s a good bellwether for the financial health of the series. The fact that when Verizon left a loyal sponsor of several cars in the series for years said to itself “we want to increase our investment, we think it’s worth it” shows that the series is offering enough benefit to sponsors to not only continue investing in Indycar but to increase that investment.

5 Drivers to Watch in 2019

Of course, every driver has a story going into 2019, and the potential to be the most interesting story of the season, but here are 5 drivers that have a high chance of being the most interesting story of 2019.

Alexander Rossi

Finishing second in the championship standings last year, Alexander Rossi has proven that he has the talent and equipment to be a top contender in the 2019 season. However being fast and having a fast car don’t guarantee a championship. For everything Rossi did right last year, and he did a lot of things right, he lacked consistency and had several bad races which cost him the championship to the more experienced Scott Dixon. This season won’t be about Rossi learning to win races, he’s already done that, it’ll be about him learning to finish in the top 5 even when a race isn’t going his way. If Rossi can learn to finish consistently towards the front in every race, the champion of the 100th Running of the Indy 500 will also become the champion of the 2019 NTT Indycar Series season.

Marcus Ericsson

After 5 years of driving for backmarker teams in Formula 1, Marcus Ericsson is following in the footsteps of many former Formula 1 drivers and moving to Indycar. Ericsson has more experience in an F1 car than any other full-time driver on the grid. The question is whether that experience will translate well into Indycar, especially with no professional experience racing on ovals. Considering how he lead the first practice session at Circuit of the Americas the answer may be yes. Either way this is Ericsson’s shot to prove how good a driver he really is in relatively equal equipment with the rest of the field.

Josef Newgarden

Considered by many to be the best young driver in Indycar for many years now, Newgarden suffered a slight hangover from his championship in 2017. Despite winning 3 races last year (tied with Power, Rossi and Dixon for the most wins in 2018) Newgarden finished 5th in the championship standings and was pretty much off of most people’s championship radars by mid-season. With so many other young, talented drivers arriving in Indycar, Newgarden needs to rebound from last year’s disappointing season and show he still deserves the title of being Indycar’s golden boy. The best way to do that is to win another championship title (and a 500 win wouldn’t hurt either).

Will Power

Newgarden’s Penske teammate Will Power showed an incredible ability to bounce back from adversity last season when he followed a disappointing start to the season (finishing 10th, 22nd, 2nd, and 21st in the first four races) into back to back victories at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and oval, in the process securing his first career Indy 500 win. Power later won again at Gateway Motorsports Park and shed all criticism about his driving ability on ovals on his way to finishing 3rd in the championship standings. Now Will Power will want to take that momentum and turn it into the second championship of his career (the other one being the 2014 season).

Power has been racing in Indycar since 2008, and for nearly all of his career with Team Penske. He’s also already 38 years old, and even good drivers don’t last much longer than that. A single championship isn’t enough for one of the most talented drivers racing for 11 years with the most successful team in Indycar history. Power needs to win another one soon to secure his legacy in the sport.

James Hinchcliffe

“The Mayor of Hinchtown” has been one of the most charismatic and beloved drivers in Indycar for years. He’s central to Indycar’s marketing strategy and is especially popular in Canada, where he was born and raised. However, the only thing backing up that popularity and marketing hype is 6 wins over 8 seasons. He’s certainly a talented driver, an injury sustained at Indy pretty much took him out for an entire one of those 8 seasons, and he’s also never driven in top-tier equipment. On the other hand, his best championship finish is 8th, which he accomplished back to back in 2012 and 2013, and since then his championship finishes have never been higher than 10th. This is all while the equipment around him seems to be getting better and better. He was also completely outshone by his rookie teammate Robert Wickens last year before Wickens’ injury at Pocono left him unable to complete the season and possibly unable to race ever again.

Hinchcliffe clearly has talent, you don’t win 6 races without talent, and the car he’s driving is almost certainly better now than it ever was before, but he’s suffering from a much worse case of the same consistency problem that Rossi needs to work on. Hinchcliffe needs to figure out how to put together a full season, not just a few good races. He doesn’t need to win a championship, a top 5 in the standings will be enough to show significant improvement. It’s not his career on the line, but his marketability and reputation might be.

Championship Predictions for 2019

The New Season Champion Will Be…

While it’s way too early to start picking this year’s champion with any sort of confidence, everyone always has a favorite to win the next championship as soon as the last race of last season is over, mine is Rossi. While Will Power may have more momentum than anyone heading into this year, and Dixon is the reigning champion showing no signs of slowing down, Rossi has shown significant improvement every year he’s been racing in Indycar. To complement that, Andretti Autosport has also been showing improvement every year for the last few years. Rossi may not be driving for Team Penske, but neither was last year’s champion Scott Dixon. If I had to take a guess I’d bet on Rossi and Andretti to cash in on all of that improving they’ve been doing with a championship this year.

The New Indy 500 Champion Will Be…

So there’s a little known racer named Fernando Alonso. He won two Formula 1 World Championships against another little known racer named Michael Schumacher in 2005 and 2006. He then went on to become one of the best drivers in Formula 1 for many years before retiring from F1 for the 2019 season. He has a victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and an F1 Monaco Grand Prix victory. These races are 2 parts of what’s known as the Motorsports Triple Crown (winning each of those 2 races plus an Indy 500). Alonso competed in the 2017 Indy 500 and led many laps before suffering a car failure and having to retire from the race, he missed the race in 2018 but is already confirmed to be entered into the Indy 500 this season.

So what we have is one of the most talented and experienced drivers in the world, who is hungry to win even more glory and fame by becoming only the second man to ever accomplish the Motorsports Triple Crown (the other being Graham Hill), and already has experience from a previous Indy 500 in which he was a front-runner. I’m gonna bet on this guy to win.

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Colin Donaldson is a lifelong sports fan from New England with a special place in his heart for open-wheel racing. He believes Michael Schumacher was the greatest open-wheel driver of all time, and Jimmy Johnson is the greatest stock car driver ever, and trying to compare the two against each other is a fool’s errand. Nowadays Colin roots for Alexander Rossi in Indycar, Chase Elliott and Ryan Preece in NASCAR, and Kevin Magnussen in F1.

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