Happy New Year, 2016. With 2015 in the books, here’s some of the things we look forward to seeing next season across the motorsports landscape, or some additional questions we have, in the non-NASCAR ranks:
- An end to Mercedes AMG Petronas domination. It’s not because it’s bad. We admire all the work and the effort put in by the entirety of the Brackley-based crew. But it would be great to see Mercedes win a third championship in a year where they don’t wipe the floors with the competition. It’s why Sebastian Vettel’s 2010 and 2012 titles stand out versus his 2011 and 2013 romps; the same applies for some, but not all, of Michael Schumacher’s titles. Mercedes, feel free to win again in 2016… but let’s not have it be a runaway.
- A proper Hamilton vs. Vettel title showdown. Combined, these two have won seven of the last eight World Championships dating to 2008, but in none of those years has it shaped up as a one-on-one showdown solely between these two protagonists. Vettel won his primarily against Fernando Alonso, Hamilton’s against Felipe Massa and his teammate, Nico Rosberg. For as great as these two have been, they haven’t had a Schumacher-Hakkinen, Prost-Senna or Hunt-Lauda type of iconic war between just them.
- McLaren Honda to recover. Things couldn’t have gone much worse for McLaren Honda in their first season reunited after 20-plus years apart, thanks to myriad technical woes. Things should be better next year, although to what degree remains to be seen.
- Positive American presence for Haas, Rossi and COTA. We know at least one of the three listed to the left – Haas F1 Team – will be on the grid at Melbourne. The hope is that the other two are also solidified; Alexander Rossi for a first full season with the Manor team, and Circuit of The Americas after its financial travails since this year’s fourth edition of the United States Grand Prix in Austin.
- A dramatic, but safe, 100th Indianapolis 500. Even more than the season at large, the standout race in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the 100th Indianapolis 500. Preparations and buzz will likely be bigger for the series’ marquee event than the season as a whole, at least initially, with the winner set to be serenaded for the rest of the year and beyond.
- Closer Honda vs. Chevrolet battle. Honda was never entirely out of it in 2015 but was never the foremost front runner until the later stages of the season, at best. Put simply, Chevrolet had their measure on the qualifying front and in most of the races, and secured a deserved fourth straight Manufacturer’s Championship.
- A return to winning for Hinch, Castroneves, TK, Pagenaud and more. Although IndyCar boasted nine winners during the 2015 season, these four didn’t really figure in it. Yes, Hinchcliffe won at NOLA, but even he’d admit it was a flukey, rather than standard type of drive to win. The other three were surprise non-winners in 2015. Pagenaud, in particular, must be the early contender with Hinchcliffe to win the unofficial “comeback driver of the year” award, while 40-somethings Castroneves and Kanaan keep on grinding.
- An Andretti Autosport comeback. In a tough 2015, and although combined between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz they still won three races, Andretti Autosport was not really a factor on outright pace most of the year. They’re due for a spring-back next season, with those two and Marco Andretti likely to be better. Andretti made the most of a tough aero package earlier in the year and is a good bet for the 100th 500.
- Standout drives from the youngsters. IndyCar has a good group of younger drivers – the 2014 rookie class survivors, Carlos Munoz and Jack Hawksworth, returnee Mikhail Aleshin, and Conor Daly and Gabby Chaves – are the “next wave” of drivers due for success. You hope one or more of them will make the leap we saw Josef Newgarden make this past season.
- A dynamic Chevrolet vs. Ford battle in IMSA. BoP aside, who will have the upper hand in GT Le Mans? The salivating battle to watch in next year’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is going to be Corvette vs. Ford, although Porsche, BMW and Ferrari may have something to say about that.
- Who emerges best among GT3 cars? GT3 cars will have a major role to play in the North American sports car scene in 2016. With GT3 cars introduced into IMSA’s GT Daytona class, and with GT3 cars headlining in the Pirelli World Challenge GT class, the amount and sheer variety of manufacturer GT3 goodness is going to be something to savor next year.
- LMP1 in WEC tightens up. Porsche dominated 2015; the question is whether Audi and notably, Toyota, can close the deficit next year.
- Can Red Bull GRC continue its growth spurt? A bigger 2015 Red Bull Global Rallycross season followed a good 2014 one. A “racing entitlement program” has been announced and a schedule is yet to be revealed for 2016, but things are interesting here.
- How will NHRA’s new world go? With new president Peter Clifford at the helm, a new TV partner in FOX Sports and several driver and team changes on the horizon, things are-a-changin’ in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
- Peace in the open-wheel ladder system. The Mazda Road to Indy is in full prep for its 2016 campaigns for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 – Mazda and Cooper Tire have made the Andersen Promotions-operated three series possible and chugging along. The debut of the new U.S. F4 Championship, which features Honda, Pirelli and SCCA sanctioning, in late May at Lime Rock Park will be one to watch. Politically speaking, this is something to monitor in 2016, and the hope is both junior open-wheel formulas in North America can coexist peacefully without either inadvertently treading on each other’s turf.