It’s a new year, time for a reset for everything, including INDYCAR.
As 2017 unfolds, preparations are already well underway for the Verizon IndyCar Series campaign that officially kicks off in 65 days when practice for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg commences on the downtown streets of the Florida city and a runway of Albert Whitted Airport.
That same weekend in St. Pete, all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires developmental ladder begin their 2017 seasons with doubleheader race weekends.
To bring everyone up to speed, most of the Verizon IndyCar Series driver/team lineup is set for the season – save for a few spots to be determined. Alphabetically by team, here is the roster:
AJ Foyt Racing: A completely new driver lineup is in place with young hot shoes Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz driving for the team owner who collected more Indy car race wins (67) than anyone in history.
Andretti Autosport: Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi return, with veteran Takuma Sato joining the team to fill out its four-car contingent.
Chip Ganassi Racing: Stability reigns as Max Chilton, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball all return to the team. The biggest change is CGR’s switch back to Honda power following three seasons with Chevrolet. The quartet takes to the track for private team testing Thursday at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.
Dale Coyne Racing: Sebastien Bourdais, a four-time Indy car champion with 35 career wins, returns to the team for which he drove in 2011. Ed Jones brings his 2016 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship and accompanying $1 million Mazda scholarship to the team as the second driver. Jones is currently the only rookie for this season.
Ed Carpenter Racing: The boss will continue to drive the No. 20 Chevy at the oval races, with his complement on the road and street courses to be named. JR Hildebrand gets the fulltime nod in the No. 21 car after being an ECR Indianapolis-only driver the past two years.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal looks to continue the momentum built over the past two seasons as the only fulltime driver on the team. Wily veteran Oriol Servia will team with Rahal for the Indy 500 and is seeking sponsorship for additional races.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe dances his way back into the No. 5 Honda for a third straight season. Mikhail Aleshin is expected to be back in the No. 7 car but the agreement has yet to be finalized.
Team Penske: After sweeping the top three spots in the 2016 championship with Simon Pagenaud, new father Will Power and Helio Castroneves, all this powerhouse team did is strengthen itself by adding the fourth-place finisher, Josef Newgarden. The driver Newgarden replaces, Juan Pablo Montoya, will be back with Penske for the Indianapolis 500, giving “The Captain” one of the most formidable lineups ever assembled for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
That leaves only the future of KV Racing Technology/KVSH Racing in the air. Speculation has been rampant on whether the team will stay in Indianapolis, partner with Indy Lights entrant Carlin Racing in Florida or not field a car in 2017, but nothing has been determined.
Meanwhile, in Indy Lights, the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, more seats need to be filled as is normally the case this early in the year. Here are the confirmed drivers:
Andretti Autosport: Nico Jamin, Dalton Kellett, Ryan Norman and Colton Herta (the latter paired with Steinbrenner Racing).
Belardi Auto Racing: Shelby Blackstock, Santiago Urrutia.
Juncos Racing: Nicolas Dapero, Kyle Kaiser.
Expect a rash of additions to the Indy Lights lineup in the coming weeks, including 2016 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires champion Aaron Telitz.