Roger Diez: Changes ahead for open-wheel racing

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Last week I mentioned some of the changes coming to NASCAR for the 2018 season. This week, I’ll address open-wheel changes for next season, specifically the Verizon IndyCar series. Next week, I’ll run down what to expect in Formula One for the coming year.

The most obvious visible change in IndyCar for 2018 is the universal aero kit. After three years of different aero kits for Chevrolet and Honda-powered cars, the series has taken a page from NASCAR’s book and declared all cars to be aerodynamically equal. Dallara has begun delivery of kits to the teams for off-season testing and tweaking. Another change, one that won’t be quite as visually obvious, is a new tire compound from Firestone. The performance gap between black primary tire and the red-sidewall option tire will be widened, giving the red tires more grip but less longevity. This will certainly have an effect on tire management and race strategy.

We will see some new drivers on the grid, some veterans missing, and still others in different rides. Indy winner Takuma Sato is leaving Andretti Autosport to try his luck at Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing, partnering with Graham Rahal. Newcomer Zack Veach will replace Sato on the Andretti squad. Also, former Indy winner Alexander Rossi will swap car numbers with Marco Andretti. I think team owner Michael Andretti is coming to the realization that his kid isn’t living up to the family tradition, and maybe an Indy-winning car number will help.

Chip Ganassi Racing is scaling back from four cars to two. Scott Dixon will be the only holdover, and will be joined by 2017 Rookie of the Year Ed Jones. Tony Kanaan moves over to A.J. Foyt’s team, with rookie Mattheus Leist as his teammate. James Hinchcliffe will remain at Schmidt-Peterson Racing, joined for 2018 by rookie Robert Wickens, who replaces Mikhail Aleshin. Ed Carpenter Racing will have Spencer Pigot teaming with Carpenter, who only races ovals. The road course driver for Carpenter’s car has not been named. Dale Coyne Racing will have Sebastian Bourdais again for 2018, but no teammate has yet been selected. Penske Racing’s lineup will consist of defending champion Josef Newgarden and previous champions Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. Helio Castroneves will not drive full-time next season, but will contest the Indy 500 in search of his fourth Indy win. Other Indy-only drivers include Buddy Lazier, Danica Patrick, and possibly Fernando Alonso among others not yet announced. Conner Daly, Max Chilton, and Charlie Kimball, all full-timers in 2017, have not yet secured rides for next season.

Another change is in the schedule. There will be 16 races next season, including a double-header at Detroit’s Belle Isle circuit in June. The big change is that Watkins Glen has been dropped from the schedule and Portland has been added. The old CART and Champ Car series raced at Portland from 1984 to 2007, but 2018 will be a first for the IndyCar series. I was lucky enough to attend the CART events in the late ’90s and early 2000s as the publicist/announcer for one of the support series, and they put on a hell of a show.

Only 91 days until the 2018 IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg. I’m counting down.


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