It’s probably fair to say that the 2016 IndyCar season won’t go down as a classic, with Simon Pagenaud cruising (by IndyCar standards, anyway) to a well-deserved championship and Penske generally having the upper hand, but that’s not to say there weren’t plenty of exciting moments throughout the season. Here are some of the best.
The 100th Indy 500
You can’t ignore it – the Indy 500 this year was a pretty big deal, as it was the 100th running of the race which first started in 1911. With so much hype around the build up to the race there was a worry it might not live up to expectations, but it turned out to be a corker. James Hinchcliffe took pole for the race which almost claimed his life a year earlier, spent much of the first half of the race in a superb battle for the lead with Ryan Hunter-Reay. Townsend Bell, in his traditional one-off appearance, was looking to join the lead battle but a collision in the pits at half distance took both himself and Hunter-Reay out of contention. After a succession of different leaders and strategies it looked likely that the winner would be either Tony Kanaan, Josef Newgarden or Carlos Munoz, with all of the leading group needed a late pit stop for fuel.
The twist came from former Manor driver Alexander Rossi, who in his Bryan Herta-run Andretti car had eked out his Sunoco fuel and nursed his Firestone tyres (gotta get the sponsors in there!) wouldn’t need to stop again. With the help of some slipstream from his team mates and some intelligent driving Rossi coasted across the line to win one of the greatest races in the world on his first attempt. It was a stunning finish, if not quite the out-and-out side-by-side finish that many had been hoping for. That would come later in the year.
Josef Newgarden is Awesome
Newgarden has always been one to watch. As well as having a great sense of humour, he’s also been fast, getting great results for less well-fancied teams. After taking his first wins in 2015, 2016 saw him add a bit more consistency to the speed which had always been present. Then came the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. On lap 42, Newgarden and Conor Daly collided, sending Newgarden’s car into the barriers head first. He was fortunate to escape with just a broken hand and collarbone.
Two weeks after the crash Josef was racing again, finishing an impressive 8th at Road America. He then dominated the next race at Iowa, leading 282 of the 300 laps to take the victory, all with broken bones and less than a month after the crash. Three other podium finishes during the season and a load of top ten finishes meant he finished an impressive 4th in the championship. His speed, consistency and resilience were enough to attract the attention of Penske, who he’ll race for in 2017, replacing none other than Juan Pablo Montoya. At home on all types of circuits, as a young, fast American driver in a championship winning team, he could be just what the IndyCar series needs to boost its audience.
Incredible Finish at Texas
After Newgarden’s accident, the race at Texas had to be delayed because of rain. Not for a few hours, not for a day, but for two-and-a-half months. It would be worth the wait. When the race (which started in June) resumed at the end of August, it went through the typical ebb and flow of an oval race in terms of pit strategies and cautions, the last of which ended on lap 240 out of 248. This meant an 8-lap dogfight to the flag. James Hinchcliffe had led for much of the race but was under severe pressure from Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan, who had already banged wheels which each other. Championship leader Simon Pagenaud also looked interested for a while but with a points lead to think about, wisely backed down. It looked as though Hinchcliffe had done enough to hold on for victory, but Rahal managed to squeeze past on the last lap and hold on to win by just eight-thousandths of a second. This was oval racing at its most exciting.
Classic Circuits Return
When Road America was announced as returning to the IndyCar calendar, racing fans across the world rejoiced. When the planned race on the streets of Boston was cancelled, racing fans rejoiced once more, because it was announced that Watkins Glen would take it’s place.
America has no shortage of incredible road courses, and Road America is one of the best. The long straights and fast corners through breathtaking scenery include ‘The Kink’ – a flat-out, 170mph right-hander with very little run-off. The race itself wasn’t exactly a thriller, with Will Power taking the victory after leading most of the way, though he did have to fend off a late charge from Tony Kanaan. Best of all, however, is that fact that Max Chilton set the fastest lap.
Road America is a great track, though fairly typical of a lot of the great road courses in the world. There is nothing quite like Watkins Glen. The former F1 venue is fast – really fast. Scott Dixon took pole position at an average of 147mph (236.5km/h), shattering the previous track record by more than 5.5 seconds. He totally crushed the opposition in the race too, which ended with several drivers running out of fuel and featured some nasty crashes – including one for Will Power, which seriously dented his championship hopes. It proved to be the last win for Target in IndyCar after 27 years of sponsoring the Chip Ganassi squad. Dixon, the classy guy that he is, donated all of his winnings to the Justin Wilson Children’s fund.
Paul Tracy’s Savage Commentary
The job of a commentator is to describe the on track action in a way that’s informative, exciting and — usually — neutral. In sports a commentary team will often feature someone who took part in the sport, or has hands-on experience of it in some way. In America this person is usually referred to as a ‘colour commentator’. In IndyCar Paul Tracy is that person, and he certainly added some colour to the commentary at Watkins Glen.
Tracy was always a controversial and combative figure when he was driving, so when talk turned to which drivers are going where for next season he wasn’t afraid to offer his opinion on Marco Andretti’s season.
That’s one way to silence a commentary box!