IndyCar Season Kicks Off in St. Pete

Here are 5 things to look for in 2017

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - Day 2
Brian Cleary / Contributor;Getty Images

It's no secret that we like IndyCar racing here at The Drive. Fast cars with no power steering and access to the drivers beyond an F1 fan's wildest dreams are a winning combination in our book. So as IndyCar kicks off their 2017 season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, here are the five stories we're following. 

Ganassi Back With Honda

Chip Ganassi Racing has made the switch from Chevrolet back to Honda engines for 2017. Despite Honda's 2016 struggle—they won only two races—Ganassi hopes to take the fight to Penske Racing's Chevrolet powered cars. And, thus far, they seem to be accomplishing that. While many predicted a Chevrolet sweep in qualifying, Dixon stuck the car in P2, just behind Penske rival Will Power, and his fellow Honda powered entrants made up four of the Firestone Fast Six cars in qualifying.

Penske Poach Newgarden

One of the standout stars of the last few years, and a young American to boot, Josef Newgarden was picked up by Penske racing for the 2017 season. What the Tennessee native can do with the sport's top team remains to be seen, but if Simon Pagenaud's dominant 2016 championship performance is any indication, you can expect him to fight for wins at every step of the way. He's even shown speed in his first outing for the team, qualifying P4—ahead of teammates Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves.

Reds For Practice

The grippier FIrestone red tires, as opposed to the primary blacks, are now being allowed in practice sessions for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Previously, the tires were only available for qualifying and drivers and teams had no idea how their cars would react on the different compound. The change in tires would frequently result in guys that were fast on the primary compound dropping to the back of the pack once they stuck on the alternate reds. 

Breaking Away From Brembo

IndyCar teams struggled with Brembo brakes in 2016 with many teams reporting consistency issues with the manufacturer's brake disks. To rectify the issue, the series switched to Performance Friction Corporation brakes for 2017 and, while teams are happier with the consistency from pad to pad and disk to disk, the increased friction of the material has caused brake overheating issues on several cars here at St. Pete. Look out for that to be a major story during the race, and if the overheating isn't fixed, the rest of the season.

A Long-Term Plan, Finally

Ever since the merger of IndyCar and Champ Car in 2008, the series has faced an uncertain future. Deals were done year-by-year for teams, drivers and manufacturers. But for 2017 IndyCar, has started the season with an actual, legit long-term plan. Engine-makers Honda and Chevrolet have both signed multi-year agreements to stay in the sport, along with tire manufacturer Firestone and chassis builder Dallara. The IndyCar formula will remain the same and fans of the sport will, hopefully, continue to get the same excellent racing that formula brings. 

You can catch the FIrestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Sunday, March 12th, at 12:00 pm Eastern on ABC.