In the final weeks of the year, Jason McVeigh takes an alphabetical look through the highs, lows, ins and outs of the 2016 Indycar season.
A is for Andretti
Marco Andretti to be exact. Just whenever the 3rd generation star thought it couldn't get much worse, after a few very lacklustre seasons, Marco ended 2016 with only 3 top ten finishes and a career worst equalling 16th place in the championship. While some blame can go to the Honda engines that powered him, Marco himself knows all too well that his performances just don't match his spot on such a quality team, even going so far as to admit that no other team would want him if he wasn't to drive for the family team. So what happens going forward? Well, it's hard to imagine 2017 could possibly be as bad as this year and there is still no one who wants to win at Indy as bad as Marco Andretti does. Maybe 2017 will be his year.
B is for Boston
Or lack of Boston rather. Big plans were afoot to run the inaugural Grand Prix of Boston on Labour day weekend in September but issues with the City when it came to funding forced the cancellation of the race. After a one and done return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway a few years ago, once again Indycar fans in New England were left in the cold. A replacement race was sourced in New York state at Watkins Glen but there were still a lot of disappointed folks who were looking forward to seeing Indycar's zip around the streets of the Boston Seaport District.
C is for Chevy
Another season and another year of Chevrolet dominance. How dominant you ask? How about 13 Pole Positions and 13 race wins! The bow tie brigade didn't return to Indycar just to be subservient to Honda and 2016 was a landmark year for the American manufacturer. The disparity between the 2 engine suppliers was striking, in fact, the lone blemish on Chevy's season was not taking victory at the Indy 500, something i'm sure they'll look to rectify next year.
D is for Dreams do come true
What do you do if you're an underfunded race team close to shutting it's doors or a talented young American racer who just lost his Formula one ride? Well, if you're Bryan Herta Autosport and Alexander Rossi, you join forces, move into Michael Andrettis garage and then go win the Indianapolis 500 together. It can be talked about and debated about the late race win and the fuel conservation but a win is a win and there is none bigger than winning at Indy. The emotion on the faces of Herta and Rossi said all when they were in victory lane at The Brickyard on a day that was surely vindication for both.
E is for Exciting
I'll just let the video do the talking here...
F is for Fast Frenchman
7 Pole Positions, 6 races with most laps led, 5 race wins and 1 Championship. No one had a season quite like Simon Pagenaud in 2016. After a mediocre first season with Team Penske, the Frenchman bounced back in spectacular fashion this season and for almost all of it, seemed like he was in a league of his own. Even though Will Power was still in with a chance when the finale at Sonoma rolled around, most people knew that he had an uphill fight to get there and as expected, he didn't get there and Pagenaud won his first Indycar series Championship. Although back to back titles is a big ask, Simon has the talent and the team to do it and if his 2017 is anything like his 2016, he's going to do it and do it easily.
G- Gone But Not Forgotten
With heavy hearts, the racing world said goodbye to Bryan Clauson in 2016. A talented young sprint car driver who competed at several Indy 500s, Clauson was everything that the future of Indycar racing should be; young, fast and fearless as well as someone who understood history and the importance of Indianapolis. At the time of his death, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said "Anybody who witnessed Bryan behind the wheel of a racecar can attest to his elite ability, relentlessness and unbridled willingness to race anything on wheels. While he'll be remembered most as a legend of short-track racing, his participation in the Indianapolis 500 exemplifies his fearlessness, true versatility as a competitor and the pure depth of his talent as a driver."
H is for Halmatro Safety Crew
These guys literally cannot get enough credit every year. The work they do in Indycar literally can mean the difference between life and death but 2016 was an extra special year for one team member, Mike Yates, who after 30 years on the job called it quits after the seasons end. “They say when you’re ready, you know you are,” said Yates, 66. “I think I’m ready now. I’m going to miss the guys, the safety team, because they’re the best bunch of guys around, not only professionally but their personal lives. They’ve all got it together. It’s a privilege to be a part of that group. I’ll still be around. We’ll have our meetings; we just won’t live together on the road anymore.”
I is for Indianapolis
Indianapolis is still the crown jewel and although the open wheel split of 1996-2008 did its fair share of damage to the speedways standing as THE race it has since returned to sell-out crowds and excitement that made it that in the first place. This year saw the 100th running of the event and although there have been better races, in a month that was all about the history of the race, what better nod to the future than having a young American win his first race at the hallowed brickyard. Here’s to 100 more.
J is for Juan Last Time
2016 may go down as the final full time Indycar season in the illustrious career of Juan Pablo Montoya and while it was fairly uneventful besides his one lone win at the season opener in St Peterburg, you could do worse things than ride it out as part of the Team Penske juggernaut. Juan will be back next year for an Indy 500 only outing but for those of us who saw him burst onto the scene in 1999 with Chip Ganassi, seeing the Colombian hang up his helmet full time is bittersweet but what a career it’s been, don’t be surprised if he adds another Indy 500 win to his resume someday though.
K is for Kissing the Bricks
Still what every driver dreams of and this year it belonged to Alex Rossi...
L is for Letterman’s Beard
I’m not saying that David Letterman’s sweet new beard is the sole reason that his driver Graham Rahal is doing amazing things with a little one car team but there is a distinct correlation between Graham’s uptake in performance and the growth of Dave’s facial hair. If he keeps it going, young Rahal may be your 2017 Indycar Champion. Also, Graham seriously needs to consider a moustache of his own, Check out that cardboard replica of him just over Lettermans’s shoulder!
M is for Missing Milwaukee
Whilst it was great to see Road America finally return to the Indycar schedule, it sadly may have come at the expense of another historic track in Wisconsin and that’s the Milwaukee Mile. What was once the annual follow up race after Indianapolis, Milwaukee has seen a lot of changes throughout its years, bouncing back and forth between CART and the IRL and switching dates between Spring and Summer. For the last few years Milwaukee seemed to have found a settled place on the calendar but promoter issues prevented it from running this year and it won’t return in 2017 either. When you look at the list of names who have won at The Mile, it’s a shame to think that some of the current generation of Indycar drivers may not get to add their names to the list.
N is for New Blood
7 men stepped into cars either full or part time that were classed as rookies for the 2016 season but when you take into account the age of the entire field in general, the future of Indycar looks quite bright. Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, Alex Rossi, Max Chilton, Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot, Mikhail Aleshin and Josef Newgarden are all in their twenties and James Hinchcliffe is the old man at 30 Years of age. While we are going to miss the likes of Kanaan, Dixon, Bourdais and Montoya when they all decide to hang up their helmets, there is a wealth of talent waiting in the wings and 2016 gave us a good taster of that.
O is for... OH C**P!
… which is exactly what the two friends in the previous picture must have been thinking when this happened between them on Lap 42 of the Texas race in June before it was stopped due to rain. The fact that Newgarden only suffered a broken shoulder and hand incident and Daly walked away unharmed, speaks to the safety of the Dallara cars as well as the SAFER barrier at the track. None the less, the state of the cars still shows just how dangerous Indycar oval racing is and is testament to the bravery of those who do it.
P is for Phoenix Rising
After 11 years, Phoenix returned to the Indycar series schedule and in the process ticked several boxes that people had been calling for, namely; more classic tracks and more ovals. While the desert has hosted better races than the 2016 edition, just the fact that Indycar's are once again racing on the track that they first raced on in 1915 is a big thing. Here's hoping that it's back to stay.
Q is for Qualifying
Sure the Indy 500 qualifying format has changed over the years and the current one may not be to everyone's taste but there is something quite pure about a man and a machine going on track and being told to make it go as fast as you can. This year it was James Hinchcliffe who topped the speed chart at 230.760 mph and the fact that he did it 1 year after almost losing his life at the fabled track was enough to choke up even the most hardened of race fans and was proof that even qualifying can tell some pretty cool stories.
R is for Rookies
Rossi, Chilton, Daly, Pigot, Brabham and even RC Enerson. 2016 was a pretty good year for the men carrying the (R) beside their names. While Chilton had a tough year, he showed occasional flashes of ability as did Brabham in his brief outings with KV. Spencer Pigot showed some great pace on his limited schedule both with ECR and RLL and RC Enerson came from out of nowhere and shocked a lot of people with how well he handled himself in his few outings with Dale Coyne. Stars of the class though we're undoubtedly Conor Daly who turned a lot of heads, not least of which was AJ Foyts who signed the young American for 2017, and Alex Rossi who won some little race in May. Years from now we could look back and say that 2016 gave us our first glimpse of drivers who can someday be fighting for championships.
S is for Sage Karam
With the limited rides that are available in Indycar, it goes without saying that some good drivers will be left out but for me, there is one that should have a ride and that is Sage Karam. After a full season with Chip Ganassi Racing where he damaged as much equipment as he did friendships, Sage was left with only an Indy 500 outing with Dreyer and Reinbold in 2016 where he finished a very disappointing 32nd. As someone who has been watching American Open Wheel racing since the 90s, Sage Karam is as close to Paul Tracy as i've seen and this sentiment has been echoed by PT himself. He's fast, fearless and doesn't seem to care what anyone thinks, all of which are things that are sorely needed as Indycar strives to market its drivers. The fact that Karam is only 21 and is also American should have Indycar teams reaching out in droves. Alas, that's not how the lay of the land is at the moment and often times, talented drivers are shunned in favour of those who bring more funding. I just hope we haven't seen the last of Sage in an Indycar and Paul Tracy agrees.
T is for Team
And in 2016, there was no better team than Team Penske. 10 wins out of 16, 11 Pole Positions, 8 Races with Most laps lead and 1 Championship all attest to how dominant the Captains Crew were this season. When the final race of the season rolled around it was no surprise that it was 2 Penske drivers, Power and Pagenaud who were the last 2 men still eligable to lift the Indycar crown. Although Juan Montoya had a down year, all 4 of the Penske men, rounded out by Helio Castroneves, we're a threat at most races and by adding Josef Newgarden to the ranks for next year, look for this storied franchise to continue their winning ways.
U is for Under the surface
Ed Jones, Aaron Telitz and Anthony Martin. Remember these names because quite possibly they could be winning Indycar races someday. These are the 3 men that took championships on each rung of the Roady to Indy ladder in 2016. Jones, your Indy Lights Champion has already signed on with Dale Coyne to race in Indycar in 2017 and be on the lookout for Telitz, your reigning Pro Mazda Champion, to make some waves when he moves up to Indy Lights next year with Belardi Racing and likewise for USF2000 Champ Martin wherever he lands. The Mazda Road to Indy does a lot for the future of Indycar and we all owe it to ourselves and the sport we love to show some support to these talented youngsters bubbling under the surface.
V is for Verizon
In this day and age, a good title sponsor is a must for a series and Indycar has a good one in Verizon. Not content with just sponsoring Will Powers car, Verizon took on series sponsorship in 2014 and they deserve a lot of credit for their commitment to the series. At a time when even the mighty Nascar had to downgrade to a smaller deal with Monster Energy than they had with Sprint, Verizon and Indycar continue what has been a good partnership that seems to have been beneficial for both. Lest we forget it's not too many years ago that rumours swirled about how the series was in dire financial straits. Since Verizon came on board that talk has all but disappeared so thumbs up to the communications giant for that
W is for Wins List
Sometimes unfairly labelled as "Boring" or worse "A Fuel Saver" the fact remains, Scott Dixon is one of the best drivers to ever set foot in a race car. Sure, he's not flashy, doesn't have a big personality but guess what? He wins! More specifically, he wins 40 times. While we may not think it, every time we watch Scott Dixon win a race we are watching history. Right now he stands 4th on the all time win list, 2 races behind Michael Andretti and don't be shocked to see Scott take that number 3 position as soon as next year. Whether or not he can catch Mario Andrettis record of 52 wins or AJ Foyt seemingly untouchable 67 remains to be seen but when you think that the quick Kiwi is only 36 years old, don't put it beyond Dixon to be able to do it. While he had a down year in 2016 he still bagged 2 wins so expect more in 2017 and expect more history to be written about one of the all time greats.
X is for Xenophobia? Not here!
Whilst there will always be calls for more American drivers in Indycar, one of the things the series should be proudest of is how open it has always been in welcoming drivers of other nationalities into the fold and just how much the fans take to those drivers. Look no further than how popular Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan are in the States where they have more or less been adopted as Americans. In 2016, there were 12 Nations represented by Indycar drivers from 5 different continents. The Indycar series really is a melting pot where talent and bravery transcends nationality and it's a damn good thing.
Y is for You'll be Missed
Whilst racing lost its share of talented racers in 2016, Indycar lost a true titan in Carl Haas. The Co-Founder of the insanely successful Newman/Haas team alongside Paul Newman, Haas helped guide a legendary list of names to open wheel glory between 1983 and 2011. Famous for chomping on a huge cigar which he rarely lit, Haas was every bit the racer having been in and around race cars since the 1950s. "The thing that I always appreciated always about Carl was the fact that he was 110 percent racer," Mario Andretti said. "He depended on racing, on the sport, 100 percent for his financial success. Racing was his only focus every day." For younger fans out there who may not be familiar with Newman/Haas, go check them out now. 107 wins and a who's who of driving talent, you owe it to yourself and the great Carl Haas to find out about them.
Z is for Ummmm, well, that yellow bolt of lightning kind of looks like a Z... I guess...
Ok, so I struggled for a word here but the fact remains, I am really going to miss seeing this car. Long time Ganassi sponsor Target announced that 2016 would be their last hurrah in Indycar and although we live in an age where sponsors come and go, we always thought the one constant was the red machine driven by Scott Dixon. This iconic sponsor was around long before I started watching Indycar and has been driven by some pretty talented racers along the way so it's with sadness, we say goodbye to an all time great sponsor. Thanks Target.
Now, who's #excitedforIndycar2017?
Now, who's #excitedforIndycar2017?