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IndyCar points analysis: 2016 vs. 2017

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The Verizon IndyCar Series has developed a taste for the unexpected. Quite literally, any team and driver could win at any given time. The unpredictable nature of the series generally makes it one of the most entertaining championships across all racing platforms for several years.

A comparison of the points standings after two races between 2016 and 2017 reveals as much. Last year, Simon Pagenaud led the way after a pair of second-place finishes to start the year. Scott Dixon trailed on the heels of his win at Phoenix Raceway. Juan Montoya was third, Ryan Hunter-Reay fourth, and Tony Kanaan fifth. In short, that made IndyCar’s three “powerhouse” teams in the top five.

Things narrowed even more after last year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Pagenaud, Dixon, and Montoya stayed 1-2-3, while Helio Castroneves took over fourth, with Kanaan holding down fifth. That meant Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing held down all positions within the top five. The highest-ranked driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi stables was Takuma Sato, who was sixth in the championship after three races for A.J. Foyt Racing.

The 2017 season is a much different story. Sebastien Bourdais leads the way for Dale Coyne Racing on the heels of a win and a second place to begin the year. James Hinchcliffe sits second for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports following his Long Beach triumph. Pagenaud ranks third, followed by Dixon in fourth and Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden in fifth. That makes four different teams represented in the top five: two from powerhouses and two from smaller underdogs punching above their weight.

What’s more: in 2016, Max Chilton was the top rookie after two races. At the time, he ranked 10th in the standings, and sat 13th after Long Beach. This year, Ed Jones, the lone rookie competitor on the grid, has been a standout, finishing in the top ten in each of the first two races to sit seventh in the championship. Currently, Jones outranks all four of the Andretti Autosport drivers, three Chip Ganassi drivers (Kanaan, Chilton, and Charlie Kimball), and one Penske driver (Will Power), among others.

In fact, the aforementioned Power sits 19th in the standings after finishes of 19th and 13th in the opening two races. It’s Power worst start since 2008, when he finished 25th and 8th for KV Racing Technology in the first two races of the newly merged Verizon IndyCar Series.

The topsy-turvy trend could continue at this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. In seven years, the event has seen five different winners (Power and Hunter-Reay are the only ones to repeat), and frontrunners like Bourdais, Hinchcliffe, Dixon, and Kanaan have yet to win on the 2.38-mile road course.

Practice for Sunday’s race begins Friday at 12:45 ET (11:45 local time).

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Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.