POWER RANKINGS: 2018 Early Team Rankings
Throughout the season, POPULAR OPEN WHEEL will rank the drivers and teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Feel free to comment on the story at the POPULAR OPEN WHEEL Facebook page.
The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season sees a new car, a return to Portland, and two (possibly three) full-time expansion teams thrown into the mix as potential game-changers.
While there is no reason that the best of the bunch in 2017 has no reason to be downgraded from its deserved accolades looking forward to the new year, there are questions to be answered potentially from the team ranked third in my preseason picks, all the way to the low men on the totem pole.
So here’s how yours truly sees the standings list playing out with opening weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida fast approaching.
1. TEAM PENSKE: The dominant force of the past two IndyCar campaigns should be just as potent in 2018. The loss of Helio Castroneves will hurt them in terms of having a veteran leader; however there is plenty of firepower left with Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power around for the remainder of the grid to put up with.
2. CHIP GANASSI RACING: Scott Dixon and Ed Jones provide a solid base to build on, and while the Dubai resident may not open the year with guns blazing, the presence Iceman may not require him to do so either. Unlike Penske however, this is far from a solid placement.
3. ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: If Marco Andretti and Zach Veach can hold their own early and often, Michael Andretti’s arsenal could jump to second, if not first by season’s end. Expect the same results from Ryan Hunter-Reay and an always improving Alexander Rossi.
4. RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN: Graham Rahal is rock-solid on road courses and improving on ovals. His new teammate Takuma Sato could be viewed in complete reverse. They have the package to threaten the big dogs, but must complete the final pieces of the puzzle.
5. DALE COYNE RACING: If the Windy City men can complete the deal to run Conor Daly in 2018, they will feature a strong, one-two tandem led by a once again healthy Sebastien Bourdais. Early returns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past May indicate the organization has found a decent oval package to hold its own against the bigger fish.
6. SCHMIDT PETERSON MOTORSPORTS: If the same Robert Wickens that starred at Road America steps forward at St. Pete, James Hinchcliffe may not have to be the “Mayor” for SPM to get its results. The team must regain oval form from 2016 to become a genuine threat to the above entities.
7. CARLIN: As I mentioned in my article on Trevor Carlin’s new IndyCar entry, it may be best in year one to keep a low profile. However, the potential for a strong open to its top-level tenure is in place, and they have to realize it. 2018 is the prime chance for a breakthrough from both Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball, who were each often overlooked in seats three and four at Ganassi. With Chevrolet owning few powerful cogs in the current machine, this new deal could be thrust into the limelight early and often from the beginning.
8. A.J. FOYT RACING: The team’s output on ovals will improve significantly with the addition of Tony Kanaan, but can the veteran be a constant threat on road courses? The pressure will be off the charts for newcomer Matheus Leist, who must make positive progress if the organization is to avoid the lower areas of the finishing order in 2018.
9. ED CARPENTER RACING: Regardless of who’s behind the wheel, ECR will be potent on the high-speed layout known as Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Beyond that, the jury is out on what this group can do in the remaining 16 rounds. Spencer Pigot will go a long way towards determining their final course of success in 2018.
10. HARDING RACING: Showed glimpses of life in limited outings with Gabby Chaves, led by top-tens at both Indy and Texas. Unknown capability when it comes to road racing. The Colombian only has a single placing in the first ten spaces so far in his IndyCar career on the latter type of layouts, not a positive outlook.
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