10 March 2016 – IndyCar's 2016 campaign kicks off around the streets of St. Petersburg this weekend. Ahead of the season-opening event, GPUpdate.net poses five key questions and ponders the potential outcomes.
Will Chevrolet's dominance continue?
Having won two-thirds of last year's races as well as dominating qualifying, Chevrolet-powered cars clearly had the advantage – so much that in the off-season, IndyCar officials allowed Honda to adjust their aero kits beyond the usual amounts allocated to each team. However, if the unofficial testing times are any indication (Phoenix saw speeds averaging 188mph), we may see more track records set this season, but will any be broken by a Honda?Will Scott Dixon's great run go on?
The four-time and defending IndyCar Series champion is second only to A. J. Foyt in number of titles (seven to four), and despite racing in the league for nearly 15 years, the Kiwi appears stronger than ever. Hinting that he would love to contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Dixon came off three wins in seven top-five finishes last year to claim the title in the final round at Sonoma, adding to his total of 37 career victories. In fact, the Ganassi driver has won at least one race every year since 2004.What impact will new drivers have on the series?
The grid welcomes a few "new" drivers this season, but none of them are really that green. American Alexander Rossi, replaced for 2016 at Manor Racing in Formula 1, will step into the fourth Andretti Autosport car. He'll tentatively run a full season, even though he was recently named as Manor's reserve driver.
Chip Ganassi also welcomes some F1 experience in the form of Max Chilton. Another former Manor driver, Chilton found success in Indy Lights last year. Conor Daly earned a full-time ride with Dale Coyne this season, Matthew Brabham will contest the Indy 500 for PIRTEK Team Murray, and Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot will race this weekend and twice at Indianapolis (for the Grand Prix and the 500) for Rahal Letterman Lanigan.
Several drivers return to the series, with some running partial schedules. Bryan Clauson, Katherine Legge, Pippa Mann, Luca Filippi, Buddy Lazier and Sage Karam will all get stints in the cockpit, while Mikhail Aleshin returns full-time with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Sarah Fisher will also return to the track, but not as a racer. After her portion of the team was bought up by Ed Carpenter Racing in the offseason, Fisher will begin to take over pace car duties for 77-year-old Johnny Rutherford, starting in St. Pete.Who will adapt to the new tracks the quickest?
IndyCar heads to three tracks this season that weren't on the 2015 calendar, two of which are well known in series lore. Phoenix and Road America return to the schedule after many years, and in September, Boston will host its first race. Officials are also discussing the possibility of having a non-points race (like the once-popular Surfers Paradise event) in China after the season as well, but no decision has been made.
Teams were able to test on Phoenix and Road America earlier in the offseason, but Boston will truly be unchartered territory for most of the field, perhaps providing ample opportunity for an upset.Where will the push for more safety take the series?
Reigning champion Scott Dixon spoke about the need for IndyCar to rethink some of their safety measures. Citing bodywork that also causes dirty air, Dixon said these outboard winglets become dislodged in accidents, greatly increasing the risk of another accident like Justin Wilson's, where bodywork struck and killed the Englishman last year at Pocono. Renault F1 driver Jolyon Palmer said a halo system, which is currently being investigated by Formula 1, would be more applicable to IndyCar – a sentiment with which Dixon agrees.
With such emphasis being placed on topics like driver protection and tethered bodywork, where will the series choose to go with its push for safety while continuing to grow the IndyCar product?
Some of these questions may be answered when the cars hit the track this weekend, but many more will arise as the latest chapter in the series' history books is written in St. Petersburg to kick off the 2016 season.Written by: Greg Woods