5 ways to spend the IndyCar offseason

With Josef Newgarden crowned 2017 Verizon IndyCar series champion it is a long drag to the start of the 2018 season. St Petersburg awaits on March 11 but in the meantime we have months of zero racing.

You could of course fill the off-season with race replays or fine-tuning your fantasy picks. Instead here are 5 (tongue-in-cheek) ways to spend the IndyCar off-season.

Decide who will join the long list of disappointed Marco Andretti sponsors

The idiom “there’s always next season” could have been coined for the third generation Andretti. Marco finished this season 12th in points and the lowest placed Andretti Autosport driver once again.

At the start of the year hhgregg joined Butterball, Snapple, United Fiber & Data, and Venom Energy drinks on the long list of disappointed sponsors. Following their financial collapse Andretti’s car mostly carried the family’s own-brand sponsorship.

Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport Honda IndyCar
Marco Andretti, St Petersburg (Image: Jones/IndyCar)

By the end of 2017 there were more empty spaces on Andretti’s car than a grandstand at the Sonoma season finale.

Sponsorship dollars are as hard to come by as they have ever been. Despite this and the small matter of Andretti’s last win coming some 6 years ago, sponsors have continued to be found for Marco.

Waste a bit of the off-season deciding who you think will be dazzled by the family name, only to be disappointed by the lack of results.

Predict which driver Charlie Kimball will piss off first next year

‘Calamity’ Kimball has in recent seasons been found, more often than not, at the scene of the accident.

This season Kimball was involved in plenty of on-track incidents and his fellow IndyCar drivers were not slow to put the blame on the Californian. Indeed his nemesis Will Power was less than impressed on several occasions.

Kimball got down to business early in 2017 when he shunted former teammate Graham Rahal on lap 1 of the St Petersburg season opener. Charlie was then drawn like a magnet to Will Power at Long Beach with race ending consequences, once again on lap 1.

Conor Daly and Kimball tangled in Detroit a few months later and the Californian did little to improve relations with the field over the remainder of the season.

Given Kimball’s track record it might be worth putting the name of every IndyCar driver in a hat and just pulling a few at random for this one.

Pick an F1 driver to make the jump full-time to IndyCar in 2018

IndyCar has a love-hate relationship with F1 when it comes to exporting and importing drivers.

For every Juan Pablo Montoya and Emerson Fittipaldi, there’s a Max Chilton or a Tomas Enge. With the axe coming down on a few  F1 careers this season team owners could have plenty of talent to consider for 2018.

IndyCar 2018 Chevrolet IMS
Several F1 drivers could be sampling the new era IndyCar in 2018. (Image: Chris Owens/IndyCar)

Esteban Gutierrez tops the list of potential candidates now that Felipe Nasr has committed to a full season of IMSA. Followed by Jolyon Palmer as his F1 career ends with the arrival of Carlos Sainz at Renault. The Briton’s fall from grace has been spectacular, losing his Renault seat before the 2017 F1 season has even finished.

Palmer ticks many of the same boxes Max Chilton did in moving to IndyCar. Palmer has strong racing pedigree, financial backing from his father and a desire to prove the F1 establishment was wrong to dump him.

To the list we could add Danil Kvyat – the ex-Red Bull protege now out of favour in F1. Given his proclivity for shunts in recent seasons he would be an able replacement IndyCar’s most recent ‘mad Russian’ Mikhail Aleshin.

Another potential candidate could be Marcus Ericssen. The Sauber driver is well financed and could soon be out of favor as Ferrari seek to place two of their junior drivers with the team in 2018.

Draw up a shortlist of drivers to do the 500 with McLaren

Confirmation that McLaren will run Renault engines in 2018 and the continued Indy 500/Spanish Grand Prix date clash means Fernando Alonso will  wait at least another year for a shot at part 2 of his ‘triple crown’.

Despite this McLaren CEO Zak Brown is still making positive noises about McLaren’s interest in the 500 and IndyCar longer term.

With the loss of the Honda connection a repeat of the tie-up with Andretti Autosport is off the table. Options with Chevrolet-powered teams however might be viable given that Renault does not sell automobiles in the USA.

Fernando Alonso IndyCar Indy 500 helmet
One man who definitely won’t be back at Indy in 2018, But who takes his Indy 500 seat?

With Alonso unavailable and McLaren’s reserve driver Jenson Button branding IndyCar “too dangerous”, the team will be looking for a driver if they decide to enter the 500 for the second year in a row.

McLaren’s junior roster features the likes of Lando Norris – European F3 champion – and F2 hotshot Nyck de Vries, plus Japanese Nobuharu Matsushita. But the Honda protege will be most likely heading for the exit at the end of the season with Honda’s engines and crew.

Any McLaren bid for the 2018 Indy 500 is perhaps more likely to feature a reasonably experienced, out-of-work IndyCar driver. Step forward the likes of JR Hildebrand, Gabby Chavez (if he isn’t at Harding full-time) or Oriol Servia as ideal candidates.

The choice is yours.

Try to work out why the series hosts its showpiece season finale at Sonoma Raceway

Last on the list of things to do is trying to work out why IndyCar persists in hosting the season finale there.

Sonoma Raceway IndyCar 2017 grandstands
Sonoma continues to host the IndyCar finale in front of disappointing crowds. (Image: Skibinski/IndyCar)

Lackluster crowds, processional races and a coverage-curtailing time-zone are just a few of the many reasons Sonoma is a terrible choice to host the season climax.

When it comes to understanding why Sonoma is the current venue of choice – aside from the fact California weather in September is pretty nice and sponsors seem to love it – its tough to understand.

In all honesty, this one alone could carry you right through to the 2018 Indianapolis 500.

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