- Long thought to be the next big thing in IndyCar racing, Josef Newgarden made headlines by making the high-profile switch from Ed Carpenter Racing to Team Penske. How will he do with the resources he'll have available to him?
Sunday's Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the beginning of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar series. Here are three key questions heading into the 17-race season, which wraps up at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17.
How will Josef Newgarden, other drivers fit with new teams?
Long thought to be the next big thing in IndyCar racing, Josef Newgarden made headlines by making the high-profile switch from Ed Carpenter Racing to Team Penske. Newgarden is one of the sport's brightest stars—he's polished, popular, young and enormously talented—and he'll take Juan Pablo Montoya's spot on Team Penske (Montoya will still drive for Penske in the Indy 500). He joins defending series champion Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves on IndyCar's most stacked team, and he'll have all the resources available to him to challenge for the title.
A.J. Foyt Racing picked up two new drivers for this season in Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly. Foyt hasn't been a serious factor as of late, but it's investing in two talented young drivers with potential to elevate the team. Munoz has a win to his name and finished second in the 2016 Indy 500, while Daly should improve in what will be just his second full season. Both drivers are just 25 years old.
Can Honda bounce back after a disappointing 2016 season?
Honda won just two races during the 2016 season—although one of those was Alexander Rossi's Indy 500 victory—as Chevy cemented its status as the premier manufacturer. Honda made a splash in the off-season by reaching an agreement with Chip Ganassi Racing, a team that includes Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton. The team had a "productive" testing session at Sebring International Raceway in December, and Ganassi's transition from Chevy to Honda will be worth keeping an eye on, especially in the early races.
In addition to adding Munoz and Daly, A.J. Foyt Racing also made a manufacturer switch. But it went the opposite way of Ganassi by switching from Honda to Chevy. It's clear Foyt is intent on shaking things up, and they've certainly done so. A successful A.J. Foyt Racing team would be terrific for IndyCar.
How will fans react to the lack of rule changes?
IndyCar's rule changes for this season are relatively minor—there are changes to practice and qualifying schedules, and drivers now have a time limit for using the "push to pass" button whereas before they were limited to a certain number of pushes. This is in stark contrast to NASCAR, which introduced sweeping changes to its race and series format with an eye toward appealing to a generation that doesn't want to spend four hours watching a race.
Perhaps this is IndyCar's way of telling racing fans that its product is healthy and does not need to be fundamentally altered. Whatever the reason, it will be interesting to see how fans react to the lack of changes, particularly in relation to how NASCAR fans feel about their sport's makeover.