By: Spencer Neff
January 1, 2019 | 8:00 AM
Open-Wheels would like to wish everyone a happy new year. Although 66 days separate us from now and the first day of practice in St. Petersburg, teams have been hard at work in preparation for the upcoming season ever since the checkered flag flew at Sonoma on September 16.
Like many of us do each year, the time has come to set new goals (resolutions) for the upcoming year.
For IndyCar, 2018 could be viewed as a year of transition in several aspects. Ranging from a new aero kit to a new race director, change was a common theme across the paddock.
With a new, full-time television partner and title sponsor, this will be a common offseason talking point once again.
As the series looks to build on the success of the last few years, here are some resolutions I think would be important in continuing IndyCar’s positive trajectory.
Successful Rookie Class
Robert Wickens exceeded expectations during his rookie year before his devastating accident at Pocono in August. Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach also turned in a few strong runs to end the season. Aside from Wickens and Veach, 2018’s crop of newcomers did not see many consistent performances.
This year could change everything. The rebranded Harding Steinbrenner Racing brings Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta up to IndyCar. The duo finished 1-2 in points as Indy Lights teammates in 2018.
Chip Ganassi Racing has hired Felix Rosenqvist to drive alongside champion Scott Dixon next season. Rosenqvist won three Indy Lights races in 2016.
Joining Rosenqvist in the series will be countryman and ex-F1 driver Marcus Ericsson. Ericsson will be driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as Robert Wickens continues his recovery.
After some solid runs late in the season, Santino Ferrucci will be a full-time driver at Dale Coyne Racing in 2019. Sports car veteran Ben Hanley will also run five races with DragonSpeed as driver and team make their IndyCar debut.
With such a diverse group of drivers, seeing them run well could be a boon for the series. This leads me to my next point.
Continue Promoting the Stars
IndyCar and its drivers have done a great job the past few years in regards to increased promotion. From media appearances to fan engagement, IndyCar has made athlete promotion a priority as of late.
With all of that said, there is one issue that needs to be addressed in this department.
As the season wound down, former IndyCar champion Tony Stewart expressed interest in returning to the Indianapolis 500 at some point soon, and of course, Fernando Alonso’s 2019 return to Indy has been well-documented. IndyCar has been understandably keen on promoting these returns.
The big issue, however, is what the series could lose from this. Yes, marquee names at Indy are exciting and bring a potential new crop of fans, but there is a caveat to take from too much focus on these “one-offs”.
With IndyCar’s full-time drivers building a strong and loyal following, it is important that the series makes that the focus. An increased following for the Indianapolis 500 each year is a given.
If the series wants to make those Indy-only fans become full-timers, its focus should also be on full-time drivers. Speaking of full-time drivers…
Increased Indy Lights Participation
Although this item doesn’t pertain to IndyCar itself, it is important for the series. Although the Indy Lights champion has received a $1 million scholarship toward the next IndyCar season, the fields for those races have been sparse. Car counts dwindling to seven or eight has become the norm lately.
The upcoming season presents hope for the top rung on the Road to Indy ladder. For 2019, A.J. Foyt Racing is considering a return to Indy Lights while Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Carlin Racing have also expressed interest in a return.
Indy Lights represents the best pipeline to IndyCar for not only drivers, but teams as well. Since 2017, Carlin, Steinbrenner Racing and Juncos Racing have all developed IndyCar programs after starting off in the Road to Indy.
More opportunities for young drivers and fledgling teams to cut their teeth in the feeder series is a win-win for all involved. Not only will it help them, but it can also bring the potential for increased car counts and new ownership prospects for IndyCar.
More Ovals: Follow Gateway’s Path
In 2017, Gateway Motorsports Park returned to the IndyCar calendar after a 13-year absence. With great promotion from the series, track and sponsors, the race was a major success.
The grandstands were full and fans were treated to an exciting finish. 2018 presented more of the same at the 1.25-mile oval.
One of the main gripes from fans in regards to the schedule is a lack of ovals. Part of the issue is low attendance and lack of promotion. These two aspects are what Gateway has excelled in the last two years.
If IndyCar and its fans want to bring more ovals to the schedule for 2020, taking a page or two out of the Gateway playbook is the way to go.
Wishing Continued Health for Robert Wickens
As mentioned earlier, Wickens sustained several injuries from a violent crash at Pocono Raceway on August 19. Since then, Wickens has moved to a rehabilitation facility in Colorado.
Although he is still paralyzed as a result of the crash, Wickens has shown signs of improvement since then.
Whether it be from himself or his fiancee Karli Woods, Wickens has remained heavily engaged with the public on his recovery.
As he continues to recover, it’s safe to say that all of IndyCar Nation wants all the best for Wickens and his family moving forward.
We would also like to thank him and Woods for keeping us in the loop regarding his injury. The attitude the young Canadian has displayed in the wake of his accident has been phenomenal to say the least.
It remains to be seen if and/or when we will see Wickens behind the wheel again. Regardless, we all hope that Wickens continues to prevail in his rehab.
Header Image By Stephen King/INDYCAR