POWER RANKINGS: Early Pre-Season Driver 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.
With the full-time fleet for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series all but locked up, the time has come to post POPULAR OPEN WHEEL’s first top-ten driver list.
As evidenced by the team rankings revealed last month, Team Penske plays a significant role at the head of the order, but not with the reigning series champion at number one. Although Josef Newgarden enters the new year with the most coveted digit on his Dallara-Chevrolet, this order is based on potential just as much as results. Even though DNFs plagued his 2017 campaign, Australia’s Will Power on paper is still the top man on the circuit.
Not only is the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet pilot the IndyCar’s best on road and street courses, but Power has also improved his stock on ovals during the last two seasons. The glass-half-full is now the entire package, which puts him on equal footing with Newgarden and his other teammate Simon Pagenaud. The talent factor present here should once again flourish, as it did most notably in 2015.
As for the rest of the grid, the order is not as clear. While Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is the popular choice as IndyCar’s best of the rest, Ed Jones is not necessarily the next in the queue. Andretti Autosport has four solid options, led by 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi. Dale Coyne Racing could regain its pre-Brickyard footing in 2018 with a healthy Sebastien Bourdais, plus Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, and Ed Carpenter Racing each holding at least one wild card in their decks.
So how does the first ten appear as the series gets closer to St. Petersburg? See below for yourself.
1) Will Power, Team Penske: If the bad luck and self-inflicted errors can be erased from the scorecard, the “Australian Assassin” is the best option out there. A cleaner slate will make it tougher for his cohorts to catch him in 2018.
2) Josef Newgarden, Team Penske: He was able to limit the bad results and coupled it with a strong run of high placements in the second half to secure the crown. Should be able to avoid the sophomore slump in season two with the Captain, but will it be enough to keep the number one for 2019?
3) Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske: Kind of got lost in the headlines created by the Tennessee-based racer in 2017, yet still fought gamely to defend his title. Will remain a solid contributor, who like his compatriots will earn his share of victories in the campaign ahead. Could face some fire from behind, however.
4) Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing: Outside of his wild ride out of the Indy 500, the Iceman kept the Penske quartet honest in 2017. A little more steam from the Honda engine on the road courses and the Kiwi may be able to get among the current guard at the top of the list.
5) Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport: New number, but still an ever-improving side being shown from the ex-Formula One chauffeur, and not just on The Amazing Race mind you. Rossi is equally capable of taking the battle to the Penske trio.
6) Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing: If the ChampCar king can regain the throne he ascended to before his shunt during Indy 500 qualifying in May, a championship charge is in play. Remember, this is a different squad compared to the one the Windy City-runners portrayed in the 1990s and early 2000s.
7) Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: How the Ohio-based racer and new teammate Takuma Sato get along could influence the number of times the No. 15 Steak N’ Shake Honda is present at the top of the pylon. If things avoid the mountainous humps, those ahead on the table should watch their backs.
8) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport: The 2012 series champion has regressed a bit on the twisty layouts, but has become a common threat at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If the Brickyard pace extends elsewhere, a top-five placing at season’s end is within range.
9) James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: The Mayor’s campaign hit a few snags during the 17-race slate in 2017, but a bounce back could be in order with a helpful push from fellow Canadian teammate Robert Wickens.
10) Max Chilton, Carlin Racing: Re-joining forces with Trevor Carlin could prove to be the springboard for a big jump up the list for the third-year driver. Last year’s Indy 500 was a teaser, now can the next leap forward occur in 2018?
THE REST OF THE BUNCH…
The biggest X-factor out there is Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, who showed flashes of brilliance on the road and street courses; but like preseason number one Will Power, he was plagued badly by DNFs last year.
Ed Jones’ ability to challenge Dixon at Ganassi is a concern, but he did show well at times against Bourdais in 2017. Will that transfer to CGR? We’ll see.
Tony Kanaan could benefit from a change of scenery, but can he succeed at A.J. Foyt Racing when Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz did not last year?
While the 2018 freshman class has some questions left to be answered, the most likely candidate for a visit to the rankings list is Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach. He has the best track record over an extended period in the Mazda Road to Indy formulas when compared to Matheus Leist and former German DTM driver Robert Wickens.
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