The IndyCar Series has seen five different champions over the course of the last six years and is again likely to be a well-contested championship in 2018.
The 17-race season will get underway in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 11th and ends with the Grand Prix of Sonoma in mid-September. Portland International Raceway returns to the calendar for the first time in 11 years to replace Watkins Glen in the only change to last year.
There are more significant changes on the chassis side, where a new universal aero kit, designed to evoke the bodywork design of the 1990s and early 2000s cars, has been introduced. The new kit will provide less downforce than the previous packages and is expected to be more of a handful for the drivers, which should make for an entertaining year.
Josef Newgarden is the reigning champion after a run of three victories in the final six races saw him triumph in an extremely tight, three-way battle for the championship with his Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon. It was his first title and kept up his record of improving his championship finish in each of his six seasons in IndyCar. In 2018, his task will be to maintain his place at the top of the standings.
Since the merger with Champ Car to form a solitary, top-line, single-seater series in the United States in 2008, only three teams have provided drivers’ champions: Andretti, Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske. Those three teams have also won 70% of the races over the last five years, and 79% over the course of the last two. While the field is certainly more equal than in Formula One, it still pays to drive for one of those three organisations.
The USA bookies are holding off on their IndyCar 2018 betting lines just at the moment, but when considering potential champions for 2018, it pays to look first at those with seats at the top teams.
That is particularly the case for Penske. The team won 10 of the 17 races last year, and their drivers have won three of the last four championships. Newgarden will again be joined by 2016 champion Pagenaud and 2014 champion Will Power as Penske downsizes to a three-car operation. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the champion emerges from their ranks.
Andretti only won two races last year but the introduction of a universal aero kit should see them regain some of their previous competitiveness. Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti all stay on from 2017 and are joined by Zach Veach, who produced a couple of very solid guest appearances for other teams last year.
Dixon very much rules the roost at Chip Ganassi Racing. The Australian has been at the team for 15 years, won championships with them in 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015, and over the last five years has taken 14 of the 17 wins the team has recorded. He will be joined this year by 2017 rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones, who will hope to take a maiden victory in 2018.
Outside of those three teams, only three other organisations won races in 2017: Dale Coyne Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Graham Rahal won two races for the last-mentioned team, part-owned by his father Bobby Rahal, and finished an impressive sixth in the championship. He can again be expected to be competitive this year, alongside new teammate Takuma Sato, last year’s Indy 500 winner.
Matheus Leist looks the most interesting of the full-time rookies after adding a fourth-place finish in Indy Lights to his triumph in British Formula 3 in 2016. At 19, he will become the youngest rookie since Marco Andretti over a decade ago. His A.J. Foyt team are unlikely to challenge for victories, but he will nevertheless hope to make a positive impression alongside experienced compatriot Tony Kanaan.
There will also be a new, full-time team entering the series in 2018. Carlin have flirted with joining IndyCar in recent years after first making the jump over to the States with an Indy Lights team in 2015, and the successful British single-seater organisation will finally do so this year. They will run Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball, the former of whom has previously won races with the team in British Formula Three, GP2 and Indy Lights.
In addition to those scheduled to run full or part-time schedules in the championship, the Indy 500 always attracts special entrants. Helio Castroneves, Carlos Munoz and Danica Patrick are already pencilled in for 2018. There will not, though, it seems be a repeat of Formula One driver Fernando Alonso’s appearance last year in a McLaren-Andretti joint effort.