Photo Credit: IndyCar (featured image), IndyCar (team logos)
10. , , , , Young and Inexperienced Drivers
If everything goes like it looks like it currently will in terms of who is driving, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series lineup will be 0 of more than 20% of rookies and second-year drivers. Confirmed rookies and second-year drivers for the 2017 season include Conor Daly, Max Chilton, Ed Jones (rookie), Spencer Pigot, and Alexander Rossi, while there is still one seat left at KVSH Racing that may also very well be filled by a young and inexperienced driver. Will these young and inexperienced drivers shoot to the top of the standings this season, or will this season more of a talent-developing season that sees these younger drivers fail to get anything going result-wise?
9. The Return to Gateway
For the first time since the 2003 season, the Verizon IndyCar Series will race at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. The thin-shaped 1.25-mile oval is one of its kind on the current series schedule, so it will be interesting to see how the new DW12 chassis and the aero kit packages from both Chevrolet and Honda take to and respond to the low-banked oval track. It will also be interesting to see which drivers perform well here since only three of the series full-time drivers have ever raced here before. With this race being the final oval race of the season and third-to-last race on the series schedule before the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion is crowned, it will also be interesting to watch.
8. Alexander Rossi Looks To Solidify Himself As A True Contender
Lots of people think that Alexander Rossi’s 2016 Indianapolis 500 victory was a fluke due to the fact that when he won, he was on a different fuel strategy than everyone else and ran out of fuel shortly after crossing the finish line. However, he came into the pits the same number of times as the rest of the drivers in the top 4 did over the course of the race. He also ran well at other oval tracks such as Pocono and Iowa as well despite only having one victory in his rookie season. Will Rossi put on a strong showing in the 2017 season to prove that he is a legitimate top IndyCar driver, or will he give critics more reason to believe that his victory at Indianapolis was a fluke?
7. , Helio Castroneves’ and Tony Kanaan’s age
Both Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan will suit up for yet another season in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but just as the speculation goes each season, no one knows if their age will allow them to return of prevent them from returning to the series in the following year. Castroneves will turn 42 before the Indianapolis 500, while Kanaan just turned 42, and neither driver has won a race since the 2014 season. Will 2017 be either one of these drivers’ final seasons, or will they decide to return for the 2018 season once the 2017 season concludes?
6. Will Power’s Health
Will Power, who won the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship and has not finished lower than 4th place in the championship standings since the 2009 season, was diagnosed with multiple concussions last season after two hard crashes at St. Petersburg and Watkins Glen, respectively. Both crashes definitely carried heavy impacts and G-force loads, but it is rare that a driver is forced to miss a race due to a single-car crash on a road or street course, which Power was at St. Petersburg. Power will be 36 years old when the 2017 season begins, so should he end up being a part of another hard crash, will he continue his racing career, or will he decide to end it?
5. Marco Andretti’s (Seemingly) Never-Ending Quest for a Victory
Marco Andretti has not won any Verizon IndyCar Series races at all since he won at Iowa Speedway in the 2011 season, which was 93 races ago, the longest active winless streak among current drivers. If he wants to avoid being considered one of the most over-hyped drivers in series history, he will need to start by winning at least one race. Will the seemingly never-ending quest for a victory end in the 2017 season for Andretti, or will he complete his 6th straight full season without a win and continue his win drought?
4. Simon Pagenaud’s Championship Defense
In the 2016 season once he really adapted to Team Penske after his transition to them in the 2015 season, Simon Pagenaud dominated the Verizon IndyCar Series championship and won by an all-time record of 127 points over teammate Will Power. Is he set up to do the same and continue his dominance, or will he take a step back and have the 2017 season be a disappointment for him?
3. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Switch to Honda Engines and Aero Kits
Chip Ganassi Racing last used Honda engines in the 2013 season, when their driver Scott Dixon won the championship. In the three seasons since, however, the team has gone with the Chevrolet engines, and they used the Chevrolet aero kits in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Will Chip Ganassi Racing’s success with Honda pick up from where they it off in the 2013 season, or will the series continue to be dominated by the drivers of the Chevrolet-powered cars, who have won 24 of the series past 32 races, leaving Chip Ganassi’s drivers in the rearview mirror?
2. JR Hildebrand’s Return to the Series
If there is anybody more hungry to do well in the Verizon IndyCar Series than JR Hildebrand, someone should probably let me know. For the first time since the 2012 season, Hildebrand will have a full-time ride as he searches for his first career series victory and looks to avenge his heartbreaking 2nd place finish in the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Will he have success in his return to the series, or will his return be one to forget for him and Ed Carpenter Racing?
1. Josef Newgarden’s First Season with Team Penske
Josef Newgarden is naturally one of the favorites to win the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, as he was doing well even before coming to Team Penske. But just like with Simon Pagenaud in the 2015 season, Newgarden and Team Penske may experience early growing pains together, as the step up from a smaller to bigger team does not always go well at first. Will Newgarden and Team Penske start off with a bang, or will it take Newgarden to adapt to the new team before he starts doing well just as it did for Pagenaud in the 2015 season?