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IndyCar 2018 Preview

Season Opener Sunday in St. Petersburg

March 09, 2018 - 12:57 pm
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By Scott Stiller

The Verizon IndyCar Series Season revs up this weekend with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida.  New is the buzzword surrounding the series as there is a new car, new teams, new drivers and a new race on the 2018 schedule.

The new car ditches the engine manufacturer body kits with the numerous winglets and topside aerodynamic aids for a sleek new body that reduces downforce and moves some of it to the underside of the car.  This should produce less turbulence for the cars in traffic and in theory allow for closer racing.  Less downforce also means an increased emphasis on the teamwork of driver and crew as they work to maximize mechanical grip.

Four new teams will be in the paddock this season: Carlin Racing, Harding Racing, Juncos Racing and Michael Shank Racing.  Harding will have 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves behind the wheel.  Shank will run a part-time schedule with Jack Harvey behind the wheel.  Juncus will also run a part-time schedule with Kyle Kaiser and Rene Binder each driving in four races.  Carlin will have drivers Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball in the seats, they move over from Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ganassi is trimming down from a 4-car team to a 2-car team with 4-time series champion Scott Dixon returning for a team record 17th Season.  Dixon will be joined by 2016 Indy Lights champion Ed Jones, who replaces Tony Kanaan.  Kanaan moves over to A.J. Foyt’s 2-car operation.  Team Penske is slimming down too, going from a 4-car team to 3-cars.  Defending Indy Car Champion Josef Newgarden returns along with former Champs Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.  Helio Castroneves moves over to Penske’s sportcar operation but will return in May for a shot at a record-tying 4th Indianapolis 500 win.  Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan Racing is expanding to a 2-car team by adding 2017 Indianapolis 500 Champion Takuma Sato to the lineup as Graham Rahal’s teammate.

Three drivers new to the series will compete for rookie-of-the-year: Matheus Leist driving for A.J. Foyt Racing; Robert Wickens for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Zach Veach for Andretti Autosport.  A couple of other new drivers running partial seasons include rookie Pietro Fittipaldi, the Grandson of two-time Indy 500 and two-time F-1 Champ Emerson, who will run seven events with Dale Coyne Racing.  Sharing that seat will be rookie, Zachary Claman De Melo, who made one start last year.    Jordan King is another rookie in the series.  King will run the road and street course events for Ed Carpenter Racing.  Carpenter will run the oval events and will add a third car for the Indianapolis 500 for Danica Patrick.

The new race is an old favorite from years past as Portland International Raceway makes its debut on the schedule September 2nd.  Racers will always tell you the next race is the most important race so September can wait as it's time for race Number 1 this weekend using the Streets of Downtown St. Pete and runway of Albert Whitted Airport to make up the 14-turn, 1.8-miles temporary course.

The cars will hit the track for two practice sessions on Friday and a third session Saturday morning.  Knockout qualifying takes place Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.  A half-hour race day warm-up is Sunday morning at 8:45 a.m.  The race will be carried by ABC with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m., followed by the green flag Sunday at 12:40 p.m.