MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. First up are the defending champions from Team Penske, which had a phenomenal 2016 season with 10 wins, 11 poles and a 1-2-3 in the championship, as Simon Pagenaud romped to his first title.
Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)
1-Simon Pagenaud (Ben Bretzman, Kyle Moyer)
2-Josef Newgarden (Brian Campe, Tim Cindric)
3-Helio Castroneves (Jonathan Diuguid, Roger Penske)
12-Will Power (David Faustino, Jon Bouslog)
What went right in 2016: Almost everything, really. With 10 wins, 11 poles and a 1-2-3 points finish in Team Penske’s 50th season of competition, Penske was first in class by a significant margin.
What went wrong in 2016: By Penske standards, the team was not as competitive at Indianapolis. That will have to change this year. Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished eighth in points last year and would have been lower had it not been for a double points-aided podium finish in the season finale, was inconsistent over the season and Josef Newgarden will look to improve upon that.
What’s changed for 2017: The Newgarden addition in the driver lineup and the crew swap between the Nos. 2 and 12 cars. Montoya continues in a fifth car for the Indianapolis 500, the first time Penske has expanded that far.
What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Keep at the same mantra of “effort equals results,” get all four drivers on the board winning-wise, regain the win at Indy and retain their championship belt. It seems hard to believe, but the last time Penske won back-to-back titles was in 2000 and 2001 with Gil de Ferran. Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Will Power (2014) and Simon Pagenaud (2016) have won Penske titles since.
Tony DiZinno: Penske won’t again win 10 races in 2017; the field is too deep for that. But I’d still expect them to win the championship with Will Power getting on the board for the second time in his career, and I believe all four of their drivers will win at least once this year, for a total of anywhere between six to eight triumphs. They won’t however, win this year’s Indianapolis 500… and I’ll get to who I think will in a later prediction.
Kyle Lavigne: The only way Team Penske’s 2016 season could have been better is if they won the Indy 500. And if Helio Castroneves doesn’t suffer damage to one of his wheel pods late in the race, it may have happened.
Team Penske’s driver lineup is again stacked from top to bottom. Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are proven champions while Helio Castroneves has won everything except a championship. And new addition Josef Newgarden will be nipping at their heels while Juan Pablo Montoya rejoins the group for the Indy 500. While winning 10 races again is a stretch, it’s hard to imagine a “down” year.
Pagenaud and Power seem most likely to challenge for a championship, though any of their full time competitors could do it. Expect the 2017 champion to again come from the Penske lineup.
Luke Smith: Penske enters 2017 as the team to beat, and I don’t see that changing this year. Weak spots are very hard to find, even more so thanks to the addition of Newgarden. I think he can be in the title mix this year, even if it is his first in the ‘big time’. I’ll stick my neck out and say it’ll be between him, Power and Pagenaud fighting for the title come Sonoma – and Helio will win the 500 for a fourth time.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.