2018 IndyCar Season Preview: The Changes

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The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season ended with Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden clinching the championship at Sonoma Raceway. Since then, nearly six months have passed, and we are less than a week away from the opening race in St. Petersburg. In this article, we will review the various changes that have occurred in the ICS since we last raced and identify some of the variables with the 2018 Indy 500.

The Schedule

16 of 17 race events from 2017 have reupped for 2018. In a game of musical chairs, the Labor Day weekend event held for two years at Watkins Glen will be replaced by a race at Portland International Raceway.

The Teams

Good news! No teams from last year are leaving the series. However, two top teams are scaling down their operations. Because of the loss of sponsor Target, Chip Ganassi Racing is reducing from four cars to two, while Team Penske goes from four entries to three with the departure of Helio Castroneves for Penske’s sportscar team.

Four teams enter the series in 2018. Carlin Racing will pick up the two CGR racers left without a team and will contest all 17 races. Michael Shank Racing plans a part-time program, while newcomer Harding Racing will run the entire season. Juncos also intends to enter the fray at least seven times.

The Drivers

Driver musical chairs is nothing new in racing. Here’s how Indy Car’s played out for 2018:

  • Team Penske sends Helio Castroneves to fulltime sportscar racing, but the popular Brazilian will contest the Indianapolis 500.
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports replaced Mikhail Aleshin with Canadian Robert Wickens. Jay Howard will be their Indy only driver.
  • Dale Coyne Racing – Sebastian Bourdais in, Ed Jones out. Two drivers will split Jones’ old ride – Pietro Fittipaldi and Zachary Claman De Melo. Pippa Mann will join DCR for Indy.
  • Takuma Sato apparently didn’t like driving for Andretti  AutosportSo, he hops over to Rahal Letterman Lanigan after one year.
  • Chip Ganassi Racing will continue to run Scott Dixon and adds 2017 Rookie of the Year Ed Jones after releasing Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton, and Charlie Kimball.
  • Zach Veach takes over Sato’s seat at Andretti AutosportStefan Wilson, who lost his Indy 500 seat in 2017 to Fernando Alonzo, returns for his promised Indy 500 run this year along with Carlos Munoz for his oneoff.
  • Harding Racing debuts Columbian Gabby Chaves in their first year of operation.
  • Michael Shank Racing is not a new team by any stretch of the imagination, but it will join the IndyCar Series running journeyman racer Jack Hawksworth.
  • Hildebrand is out at Ed Carpenter Racing; Spencer Pigot takes over the ride. Jordan King takes over the non-oval driving, while Danica Patrick will drive her swan song with ECR.
  • Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Kyle Kaiser takes his $1 million prize package to newly full-time team Juncos Racing for four races. Is that how far the million will go these days? Joining Kaiser is another rookie, Austrian Rene Binder.
  • Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly depart their slots, replaced by veteran Tony Kanaan and newcomer Mattias Leist, all at AJ Foyt Racing.
  • Rookie team Carlin picked up recent CGR refugees Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.
  • Losing fulltime rides for 2018 after having them in 2017 are J.R. Hildebrand, Mikhail Aleshin, Conor Daly, and Carlos Munoz.

Indy 500

2018 will be the eleventh season run by IndyCar since the “mergification” with Champ Car. In most years, there has been a scramble to gather 33 drivers with a driver count of only 20 something competing in the non-Indy races throughout the season. But for this year, we count 38 entries including three TBAs to contest the much-lauded Indianapolis 500.

This would mean that there would be bumping and potentially five cars and their drivers not making the field. Since many race fans enjoy Bump Day, this could improve the popularity and ratings for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management, or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.

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