Indy 500 winners meet the press during IndyCar winter meetings

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Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves – the four current IndyCar Series drivers that have won the Indianapolis 500 – looked ahead to the upcoming new season in a special press event today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum.

As part of the event, Dixon received a miniature version of the Astor Cup, which has been presented annually since 2011 to the IndyCar Series champion. The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver bagged his third series title with a fifth-place finish in last October’s season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

This year, he’ll be out to defend the championship with Chevrolet power behind him on the No. 9 TCGR machine after running a Honda powerplant for the last eight seasons.

“In some ways, change is enlightening,” Dixon said of the switch today. “Over a two-year period – if you look at the previous four or five years with Honda, it wasn’t the same because there was no [engine] competition – the last two years was a short time, but it was relationships you’d be working on for quite some time.

“The change is what it is, but it makes it interesting, too. The engine is totally different, even though they are very close and competitive on track. The ways they have reached that power and driveability from different directions and that’s quite exciting.”

Also joining Dixon this season at TCGR is Kanaan, the reigning Indy 500 champion, who himself is due a mini-trophy within the next 24 hours.

“…Tomorrow, I go to Detroit to finally get my Baby Borg,” said Kanaan, who recently had his face unveiled on the big version of the Borg-Warner Trophy. “I don’t have my [winner’s] ring yet, which I’m waiting for quite anxiously. A lot of things have happened since [last May]. But I have to say, all the good things that happened was because of the win.”

Kanaan will get his first taste of driving the No. 10 TCGR Chevy – the former ride of good friend and recently retired Dario Franchitti – during a Bowtie manufacturer test on Friday at Sebring International Raceway.

Montoya, the 2000 Indy 500 winner, is returning full-time to open-wheel this year with Team Penske, and after facing the Speedway for the past seven years as a NASCAR driver, he’s eager to get back in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing this May.

“Every year you came here and you’re not in an Indy car, it’s cool, but you want to come to the Museum to see the Indy cars,” he explained. “It’s not the same. The Brickyard [400] is a big deal, but it’s not the Indy 500.

“I never thought I’d be back here to try to get another win. I’m excited and to race here for Team Penske is a hell of a chance [to win].”

Then there’s Castroneves, who will make another bid for his fourth Indy triumph on Memorial Day weekend. He likened the ongoing IndyCar winter meetings to “coming back to school,” and also expressed his hope of making more history at the Speedway.

“It would be amazing and a dream come true to be in the same group as [four-time Indy winners] Rick [Mears], A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr,” he said. “I know it’s a big task, but I have big dreams as well.”

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.