Photo Credit: The National (featured image), IndyCar (logos)
There are still just over four months to go until the opening race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series is held on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, but with lots of news coming out about the upcoming season and how many of the teams’ driver lineups will look, it is only appropriate to start making some bold predictions about what we will see in this upcoming season since in every season of IndyCar racing, many unexpected things happen.
5. Drivers of Honda-powered cars will win more than six races.
Since Chevrolet re-entered the series as an engine manufacturer in 2012, drivers of Honda-powered cars have won more than six races in a season just once in the five seasons since, and that was in the 2013 season. In the aero kit era, the highest total of victories was six in the 2015 season. With Honda having scored only two victories in 16 races during the 2016 season, Chevrolet clearly has the upper hand, but with Chip Ganassi Racing switching from Chevrolet to Honda engines for their four drivers, that total should improve for Honda. After all, when the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers last drove Honda-powered cars, it was during the 2013 season, when drivers of Honda-powered cars won nine races, with five of those victories going to Chip Ganassi Racing drivers. With a strong driver lineup in 2017, Chip Ganassi Racing may very well be able to put its drivers in victory lane to rack up some wins for Honda this upcoming season.
4. Marco Andretti will finally end his win drought.
Saying a guy will win one race should not be considered bold, but in this case, it is. The last time Marco Andretti won a race….I’m not even going to start. You can read all that’s happened since then HERE. But the Chicago Cubs’ World Series drought just ended after 108 years. With Andretti’s streak at 92 consecutive races without a win, dating back to 2011 (sigh), 108 races would take us to Sonoma in the 2017 season finale, one of two tracks he’s won at before. Coincidence? Also, the last time Andretti finished 16th in the championship aside of the 2016 season was the 2012 season. The following season, he broke out for a career high 5th place finish in the championship standings. Having been the only driver to finish every race last season, things may very well finally start to click for him again this upcoming season.
3. Charlie Kimball will finish in the highest position in the championship standings of all Chip Ganassi Racing drivers.
Chip Ganassi Racing will consist of former IndyCar series champions and Indianapolis 500 winners Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan as well as Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton this upcoming season, just like it did last season. With Scott Dixon’s career appearing to be on the decline, which you can read about HERE, and Tony Kanaan not having had a super standout season in over a half decade, Charlie Kimball, who appears poised to have a breakout season, which you can read about HERE, may very well end up at the top of the championship standings among Chip Ganassi Racing drivers come the end of the 2017 season.
2. Alexander Rossi will repeat as Indianapolis 500 champion.
The boldest part about this prediction is that we have not seen a back-to-back year winner of the Indianapolis 500 since Helio Castroneves did it in 2000 and 2001. People think Rossi won this past year’s Indianapolis 500 on fuel strategy alone. Wrong. He came to the pits for service the same amount of times as 2nd through 4th place finishers Carlos Munoz, Josef Newgarden, and Tony Kanaan. He also ran strong on every other oval track the IndyCar Series went to the rest of the season, proving that he really is a solid oval track driver and his win at Indianapolis was no fluke. He may very well end up back in Victory Lane following the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 next May, although the chances of a back-to-back winner of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” are slim.
1. JR Hildebrand will finish higher in the final championship standings than Josef Newgarden.
Those of you who’ve read my article about Josef Newgarden’s transition to Team Penske and comparing it to Simon Pagenaud’s in 2015, which you can see HERE, know that I’m not high on Josef Newgarden this upcoming season. Sure, I think eventually Newgarden will be the championship favorite on a yearly basis, but not in this upcoming season. In fact, his replacement at Ed Carpenter Racing, JR Hildebrand, may very well end up higher in the championship standings than he (Newgarden) will. Despite not having a full-time ride in the series since 2012, Hildebrand is a well-rounded driver at all types of tracks with far less pressure to perform well for Ed Carpenter than Newgarden has to perform well for Roger Penske. Stranger things have happened, as Hildebrand knows all too well…