By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
After a Verizon IndyCar Series season filled with highs and lows, let’s look at some of the more memorable moments in 2017 both on and off track.
10. New teams on the horizon
The year witnessed two new teams in the series with Juncos Racing and Harding Racing making their debuts at the Indianapolis 500. Ricardo Juncos has been a Mazda Road to Indy stalwart for the past few seasons and after returning to Indy Lights competition in 2015, the Speedway, Indiana-based squad made the move to buy some of the KV Racing equipment before it went to auction and entered two cars for the 500 with longtime driver Spencer Pigot and Colombian Sebastian Saavedra.
Meanwhile, Mike Harding entered a car for Gabby Chaves at Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono ahead of what is expected to be a full-time effort for 2018. Harding employed Larry Curry, along with his son Matt to work the technical aspects of the team while Al Unser Jr. was brought on as a driver coach for Chaves.
Meanwhile, Trevor Carlin has been looking into getting a full time IndyCar program together to add to his open wheel racing empire of FIA European F3, British F4, British F3 and Euroformula Open teams. Carlin have been at the top of the junior level open wheel racing world and moving into IndyCar would only further deepen the talent pool in IndyCar.
9. Josef Newgarden wins at Barber Motorsports Park
In his third race with Team Penske, Josef Newgarden showed everybody why team owner Roger Penske hired him by winning at Barber Motorsports Park. The Tennessee native muscled his way past Scott Dixon for what was effectively second place late in the going and after teammate Will Power had a slow puncture and had to pit, the 2011 Indy Lights champion scored his first of four wins and at the site of his first IndyCar victory in 2015.
The win established Newgarden as a championship contender and validated the road he took to get to the top step of the podium. All those years driving for Sarah Fisher, Wink Hartman and Ed Carpenter manifested themselves with the win in Alabama.
8. Rahal doubles down in Detroit
Graham Rahal didn’t have the season that he would have wanted, but one weekend stands out in particular for the Ohio native. In the doubleheader race weekend at Detroit, Rahal swept with pair of victories, the first since Scott Dixon at Toronto in 2013.
Rahal’s victories were the perfect thing to avenge him from his 17th-place finish at St. Petersburg, and other than that race, all of his street course races were top 10 finishes. It was also sweet for Rahal’s Honda-powered car to win the only Chevrolet-sponsored race weekend on the calendar.
7. Dixon’s tumultuous month of May
Scott Dixon had a wild month of May at Indianapolis. After finishing second at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, attention turned to Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
Dixon was able to put his No. 9 Honda on the pole, but for every peak there was a valley. After qualifying on pole, Dixon went to Taco Bell with Dario Franchitti that night for some late night dinner when the pair of them were robbed at gunpoint by a couple of teenagers.
Then during the race, Dixon was caught up in an incident with Jay Howard after Howard’s car hit the wall after Ryan Hunter-Reay got past heading into Turn 1. Dixon’s car was sent airborne and catapulted into the catch fencing on the interior retaining wall between Turns 1 and 2. The New Zealander got out of his car shortly thereafter. A month of highs and lows ultimately ended with a 32nd-place finish at the 500.
The whole weekend was one full of unexpected twists and turns not only for IndyCar, but for the Mazda Road to Indy as well with Santiago Urrutia and Victor Franzoni winning their respective Indy Lights and Pro Mazda races but the headlining IndyCar guys put on a tremendous show.
It all started with a new track record in qualifying as Will Power went 189.709 mph around the 1.25 mile oval which broke a 20-year-old track record but the drama didn’t end there.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan spun on the warmup lap and on the first lap of the race Power spun after being overtaken by Newgarden. Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato were also caught up in the aftermath.
Then later in the race, there was a daring overtaking move by Newgarden on teammate Simon Pagenaud that resulted in the two making light contact, but both kept going and would finish 1-2 with Newgarden scoring his first oval win for Roger Penske.
It wasn’t just a memorable night for Team Penske. Conor Daly scored A.J. Foyt Racing’s best finish of the year with a fifth-place and Carlos Munoz backed it up with a ninth-place finish. Sebastien Bourdais also made his return to competition with Dale Coyne Racing, finishing tenth in his first race at the Madison, Illinois track.
Overall, it was a sensational return to a track that promises to become a mainstay for years to come.