IndyCar’s on-track stories to come over the final 3 races

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It might be – scratch that, is easier – to ask the questions yet to be determined in the IZOD IndyCar Series season, and silly season, over the next few weeks before the Shell Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader October 5-6.

It’s been a year for the series that has featured an excellent on-track product for the most part, save for a couple caution-infested wreck fests. Still, there’s a number of things on-and-off track to sort out here between now and Houston. We’ll just rattle them off, starting with the on-track in this post and the off-track in a separate one:

ON-TRACK

  • Can Helio Castroneves finally seal the deal for his first title? The Brazilian leads Scott Dixon by 49, Simon Pagenaud by 70, Marco Andretti by 71 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by 74. Realistically it will be just between the top two if Dixon can claw back the gap, and for any of third through fifth to have a shot, Castroneves must hit trouble in Houston. Thus far the model of consistency, Castroneves has completed all 2,003 laps this year.
  • Will IndyCar tie, or break, the different number of race winners? There’s been 10 so far and with three races left to go, talents such as Dario Franchitti, Justin Wilson and Andretti are among those who haven’t won yet. Consider Ed Carpenter is your defending champion at Fontana and there’s still a good five or six drivers who you could see breaking through to tie the record of 11 (set in 2000 and 2001, in CART), or set a new record of 12 or 13 this year.
  • There’s also a chance IndyCar could hit 20 podium finishers this year. Thus far 18 drivers have and some of the potentials who could but haven’t yet are Carpenter, E.J. Viso, JR Hildebrand, and Oriol Servia.
  • The Manufacturer’s Championship is also up for grabs. Honda and Chevrolet are square on eight wins apiece, and 120 points. Whoever wins two of the next three – first to 10 wins – takes the crown this year. Either Chevrolet defends or Honda has its first since the return of engine competition.
  • Will prior Houston experience pay dividends? Eight drivers projected to race next month have started at Houston in either Champ Car or Formula Atlantic (Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Simona de Silvestro, Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power) and will likely have a leg up from the off. 

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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