The title is a lie. There are five general things I’m looking forward to in the 2019 INDYCAR season, but there are many subparts for the five things. By the time you start reading this, I’ll be in St. Petersburg, and here’s hoping the weather is warmer this year!
The biggest, absolute biggest, thing for the 2019 season is going to be the rookie class. There’s Colton Herta for Harding Steinbrenner racing. In 2018 Herta ended the IndyLights season in second place with four wins, three poles, and a twentieth place finish in the test race at Sonoma. Felix Rosenqvist won the teammate lottery and may even challenge Scott Dixon over at Chip Ganassi Racing. Rosenqvist has a racing resume that may rival Scott’s in a few years. In eleven years of racing, he finished in the Top 3 fourteen times. Now that math doesn’t add up until you realize that in those eleven years, he raced in approximately twenty-five different series. He did a stint in Indy Lights in 2016 and won one of the races in St. Petersburg and both races in Toronto. Oh, he’s also done Le Mans and the Rolex 24. Arrow Schmidt Peterson brought on Marcus Ericson as the rookie teammate to James Hinchcliffe. Marcus drove for Sauber’s Formula 1 team from 2015 to 2018. He had six top-ten finishes during his career with Sauber. Dale Coyne has brought over ex-Formula 2 driver Santino Ferrucci. I’m pretty open that I don’t appreciate his attitude. If there’s any open-wheel series that will end someone’s attitude: it’s INDYCAR. I’ve seen Ed Carpenter’s temper. Finally, there is Patricio O’Ward the Indy Lights champion of 2018. He ended the season with nine wins, nine poles, and a ninth-place finish at Sonoma (I can’t make this stuff up!).
As always, one of the biggest things in my INDYCAR season is the Indianapolis 500. We had bumping last year (read that reaction post HERE) and it knocked everyone on their butts. As I write this we have approximately thirty-one seats for the 500 confirmed, and if the one-offs and other rumors happen it can be as large as thirty-eight potential drivers. That’s a hell of a bump day. Given his history with the 500 after setbacks, keep an eye on James Hinchcliffe. Also Fernando is back! I’m not saying he’s Jesus Christ come to save INDYCAR, I’m here to say he makes everything fun. It also gives us an opportunity to bust back out the Alsonso IDGAF scale.
We’ve also got great teams to watch evolve both through this season and others. Juncos is hoping to have two-cars running this season. Ricardo is no fool; he understands having two cars at the same race provides double the data and more opportunity to grow. No official word on who is driving for the team, but Kaiser will test for the team. Meyer Shank Racing increased their races from six to ten for 2019. They’re keeping Jack Harvey as their driver, and if his jump up of fifteen spots at the 2018 Indianapolis 500 is any indication – it’s going to be fun. Harding Steinbrenner Racing is making their debut as a merged team in 2019. It’s been all ready a year of up and downs for the teams, they’ve stuck with Colton Herta as their driver, have a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport, and are going to attempt the full season.
Then there is Dragon Speed Racing. This sportscar team is making the jump over INDYCAR by attempting five races, including the Indianapolis 500, in 2019 with eyes towards a full season in 2020. The team chose their five races to not conflict with the WEC calendar; hopefully, this is not too much for the team to attempt their first time out.
The technology of INDYCAR is always something to watch. Last year we had the new kits for the cars that really put the car in the drivers’ hands. This year, the continuing testing of the windscreen that we saw at a few trials last year would continue. It is going to be front and center as safety discussions continue post-Pocono. I would also not be surprised to see a discussion on changes to the catch-fence to start. And maybe at some point, we’ll get the LED Panels back. We were teased with some fun emojis and it’s probably not a surprise that at some point I want to see a driver use their LED Panel to flip the bird (looking at you Will Power).
Finally, of course, the three drivers I’ll be watching: Alexander Rossi, Zach Veach, and Simon Pagenaud. No one told Rossi the new car was trouble. he man drove like he stole that car at multiple races. Remember back to Phoenix race where an issue put him a lap down and he cut through the field? I do. He was responsible for nineteen percent of the passes in that race – which was approximately fifty-one passes. Of course, there is also his master class on passing during the Indianapolis 500. He officially gained twenty-eight spots, though he was third for a bit (so actually twenty-nine). Within twenty-one laps of the race, he was up six spots. Watching a highlight reel of his passing during that race is amazing. Next year – he’s got it!
Zach Veach has had a great trajectory of learning. Towards the back half of the season, he was not only driving to finish a race but getting aggressive and challenging other drivers. Challenging drivers who were some of the top names in the series. He has two years left on his contract with Andretti Autosport. I anticipate Veach will put his dogged determination to work and will start the 2019 season even stronger.
Simon Pagenaud ended the season in sixth, obtaining two podium finishes, two top-five finishes, and ten top-ten finishes. Moment of truth – I am a huge fan of Simon and the Number 22 Menards. His contract is up at the end of the year, I think he’s going to put on great moves this year to remind everyone he is a former champion, and he’s not going anywhere.