2018 IndyCar preview: New year, new car

From ESPN - March 9, 2018

The 2018 IndyCar season opens in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC), and one thing people will notice right away: There's a new car.

The 2018 car, designed by IndyCar and Dallara, looks different. The front wing has been reshaped, the side pods have been moved forward to create a more longneck shape, the engine covers are lower and the bumper pods behind the rear wheel are gone. There's a lot of throwback -- and additional crush protection -- in this car.

The cars will drive differently. Much differently. They are a handful, at least at the moment.

"It's quite difficult to put a finger on it yet, on exactly what the car does in every situation," 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud said during a test at Phoenix. "It seems to be doing different things at different tracks -- I think the problem is we have been used to having so much downforce, it's been overshadowing everything [else]."

The change in downforce -- the 2018 cars have approximately 20 percent less downforce than a year ago -- could result in different winners and losers.

"[It gives us] the opportunity to showcase the drivers now because the downforce was so high on the existing cars in '17 and before," said team owner Roger Penske. "I know all the drivers that have tested it, both on the Honda side and the Chevy side, are giving us great reviews."

Penske likes it for another reason -- the aerodynamic kits that are placed on existing chassis cost $100,000-$200,000 apiece rather than $400,000-$500,000.

New faces, new places

Chip Ganassi Racing went from four cars to two, keeping Scott Dixon and adding Ed Jones, while Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball have all departed.

Kanaan will drive for A.J. Foyt with rookie teammate Matheus Leist, giving that team an all-Brazilian lineup. Former Foyt driver Carlos Munoz does not have a ride except for the Indy 500 with Andretti. Chilton and Kimball will race for a new team owned by Carlin Motorsports as it expands its program from the IndyLights series.

Roger Penske also has cut back his number of cars from four to three, which resulted in Helio Castroneves moving to the team's sports car program. Castroneves will drive in an additional Penske car for the Indianapolis 500.

At Andretti Autosport, Zach Veach moves up to full-time competition as a rookie, replacing Takuma Sato, who has joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which expands to two full-time cars.

Replacing Jones at Dale Coyne Racing will be rookies Zachary Claman DeMelo and Pietro Fittipaldi (Emerson Fittipaldi's grandson). Coyne keeps Sebastien Bourdais in a car that he will now co-own with Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan.

Spencer Pigot will now be a full-time driver at Ed Carpenter Racing while rookie Jordan King fills Pigot's role as a road-course driver in the car split with Carpenter driving the ovals. JR Hildebrand, who drove for the team last year, does not have a full-time ride.

Rookie Robert Wickens has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as a teammate to James Hinchcliffe. The team had several drivers in that car a year ago.

One future part-timer

One new track

New No. 1

Races to watch, other than Indianapolis


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