With the new IndyCar season starting this weekend it always helps if you have specific drivers and teams to keep track of throughout the season, so here are some of those who I think are worth keeping an eye on in 2016.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Oddly, I am starting with the runner-up of last season, Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished second on countback.
This will be the third season of Montoya’s return to IndyCar and having finished fourth in 2014 and then second in 2015, it will be interesting to see whether he is once again able to mount another title challenge in 2016.
The next driver worth keeping track of in 2016 is Canadian, James Hinchcliffe. He returns to IndyCar having suffered injuries in an accident during practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500 which ruled him out of the rest of the 2015 season.
He will drive once again for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team whom he won the 2015 Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana with. How he performs throughout the season, taking into consideration last season’s accident, will be worth keeping track of. Hopefully he will once again find himself in the Winners Circle at least once during the new season.
Ed Carpenter Racing
Having merged with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in 2015, forming Carpenter Fisher Racing which achieved two race victories thanks to Josef Newgarden, the team now finds itself once again as just Ed Carpenter Racing for the upcoming 2016 season.
Last season the team used four drivers with Newgarden competing in all races whilst Ed Carpenter shared the #20 car with Italian, Luca Filippi. The team also had American, J. R. Hildebrand drive for them at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indy 500.
This season the team will field Newgarden for all races whilst Carpenter will compete in five of the sixteen races.
With Newgarden carrying good form from 2015 and the team having won three races in 2014 when it was last just Ed Carpenter Racing, one hopes that the team will be challenging for race victories once again in 2016.
Although Scott Dixon won the 2015 title ahead of Montoya (second) and Will Power (third), it is important to remember that after the Honda Indy 200, at Mid-Ohio, American Graham Rahal was the main challenger to then points leader Montoya, being only nine points behind.
After two poor results in the final two rounds of 2015 Rahal finished fourth in the Driver Standings, sixty six points behind Dixon.
I hope however that Rahal is once again challenging at the front along with the Penske, Andretti and Ganassi drivers, as well as Josef Newgarden. The more challenging for the title, the merrier.
It’s not just seasoned regulars that should interest you. There are a couple of rookies who are also worth looking at, the first being Max Chilton who will compete in the full 2016 season with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Having finished fifth in IndyCar’s feeder series, IndyLights, last season, Chilton finds himself in a perfect team to learn about IndyCar with reigning champion Scott Dixon, and 2004 IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan in the team.
When Chilton entered Formula One in 2013 he was able to finish consistently, something he managed to replicate last season in IndyLights by finishing in the top five for six consecutive races and claiming ten top five finishes out of the thirteen races he started. It will be worth seeing how Chilton performs throughout the season and whether he is able to be consistent in IndyCar.
Lastly, there is Alexander Rossi, another rookie entering the series.
After some debate over whether he would race in Formula One for 2016, Rossi has instead secured a full season drive with Andretti Autosport.
He comes into the series off a competitive 2015 having claimed three victories on his way to finishing second in the GP2 series. He also competed in five Formula One Grand Prix with Manor Marussia, with a best finish of twelfth at the United States Grand Prix.
With former GP2 drivers Chilton and Conor Daly in IndyCar full time, there will hopefully be a good battle between the three throughout the season to see who will finish higher in the Driver Standings.
Rossi is also in a similar situation to Chilton for the upcoming IndyCar season in that he is part of a top team with a former IndyCar champion, 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, driving for the team. Rossi is therefore in a great team to learn more about the series and, like Chilton, it will be interesting to see how he performs throughout 2016.
So there are five drivers and one team to keep track of throughout the upcoming IndyCar season. Although, obviously, they aren’t the only drivers and team worth keeping an eye one. Who will you be keeping track of during the 2016 IndyCar season and why?