It has already been more than one month since the 2018 IndyCar season ended, but with nearly four months until the 2019 season is scheduled to begin, let’s review the good, the bad and the ugly from 2018. Shared from Beyond the Flag.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon won his fifth career IndyCar championship and his third in the last six seasons in the 2018 season to propel him to second place on the all-time championships list behind only seven-time champion A.J. Foyt.
Dixon became the first Honda driver to win the championship since he won his third career championship back in the 2013 season. When he won his fourth career championship in the 2015 season, he drove a Chevrolet-powered car.
Honda drivers, meanwhile, earned 11 victories in the 17-race season, while Chevrolet drivers earned just six. Coming into the 2018 season, a total of 101 races had been contested since Chevrolet re-entered IndyCar in the 2012 season as the second engine manufacturer.
Of those 101 races, Chevrolet drivers won 67 of them while Honda drivers won just 34 of them. From the 2012 season through the 2017 season, the highest amount of victories earned by Honda drivers in a single season was nine (2013), whereas the lowest amount of victories earned by Chevrolet drivers was 10 (2013, 2015 and 2017).
Road and street course racing
The introduction of the new UAK18 aero kit led to some of the best racing that IndyCar has seen in road and street course races, and with there having been 11 road and street course races (six road courses, five road courses) on the schedule and only six oval races, this provided a huge boost to the on-track product as a whole throughout the year.
Aside of the dominant performances by Josef Newgarden in the road course races at Barber Motorsports Park and Road America, there was not a single road or street course race on the schedule that did not feature different drivers on different strategies and multiple drivers with great chances of winning the race.
Of course, part of Newgarden’s dominance in the race at Barber Motorsports Park can be blamed on IndyCar’s decision to allow teams to refuel the cars after the race was suspended for one day due to rain. Otherwise, there likely would have been several more contenders to compete for the race win, and the rain that came down during the race’s second day likely would have played a much bigger strategy-based role in determining the outcome of the race.
Even Alexander Rossi’s 12.829-second victory over rookie Robert Wickens in the race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was not a product of a boring, caution-free race. There was plenty of passing throughout the rest of the field throughout this race, and Rossi and Wickens were both on different strategies. Wickens’s strategy very easily could have worked in his favor to put him on the top step of the podium as opposed to Rossi.
The 11 road or street course races that took place throughout the 2018 season featured seven different winners, and no driver won more than two road or street course races. There are plenty of talented IndyCar drivers who are capable of winning races, and this year’s road and street course races paired with the new UAK18 aero kit proved it.
Superspeedway racing is only listed as “the bad” because it isn’t quite on the level as road and street course racing, and compared to what it had been in previous years, it was not quite up to par. It was still decent, but it was nothing to write home about.
Over the past few years, IndyCar fans have been “spoiled” with wheel-to-wheel, tight racing action in superspeedway racing. That was not the case this season.
But just because fans were “spoiled” in years past doesn’t mean that it should just be expected that superspeedway racing is going to produce lackluster racing from now on. That is not the goal of IndyCar, nor should it be, as that will not stimulate long-term interest in the series nor will it assist in the retention of the growth that the series has experienced in recent years.
To address the elephant in the room, racing certainly does not need to be pack racing to be good racing. The pack race at Texas Motor Speedway in the 2017 season was an exhilarating race, but the race winner, Will Power, led 180 of its 248 laps and just seven cars finished the race without crashing.
To make it clear, the superspeedway racing that took place in the 2018 season is not listed as “the bad” simply because it did not produce this kind of pack racing.
With that in mind, there definitely need to be improvements made to the superspeedway racing moving forward, as the racing produced in the superspeedway races in the first season with the UAK18 left a lot to be desired, and it even frustrated several drivers, and justifiably so.
The Indianapolis 500 still featured 30 lead changes, which would be the highest of all-time if you don’t include the six Indy 500 races that took place from the 2012 season through the 2017 season. Again, fans were certainly “spoiled” during these six seasons.
But only a small fraction of those lead changes took place as a result of on-track passes for the race lead. The race featured 15 leaders, which was tied for an all-time record, yet only five of those leaders led more than seven laps of the race. In fact, nine of the 15 leaders led four laps or fewer. Yet two drivers, the top two finishers, combined to lead 125 of its 200 laps.
The final restart of the race took place with only seven laps to go, yet Will Power managed to win by 3.159 seconds over second place finisher Ed Carpenter, which was the largest margin of victory in the Indy 500 since Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2000 Indy 500 by 7.184 seconds over second place finisher Buddy Lazier.
The race at Texas Motor Speedway featured slightly more action that the Indy 500 did as a whole, but it was still pretty much a foregone conclusion that Scott Dixon would win it once he took the lead. He led 119 of its 248 laps and won it by 4.294 seconds despite the fact that the final restart took place with 33 laps remaining.
Truth be told, there was really no need for two-thirds of the track in the turns. There was only one real racing groove, unlike in years past, and that did not change throughout the race, which prevented the potential of more passing.
Yes, Pocono Raceway is a superspeedway that very well could have been discussed in the previous section, as the racing produced in it was affected in a big way by the new UAK18 aero kit.
However, this year’s race at the three-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) triangle in Long Pond, Pennsylvania deserves its own slide(s), and for many reasons that fans would prefer not to discuss.
Formula 1 doesn’t race on ovals. But if it did, you’d get what happened at Pocono Raceway: minimal passing, manufactured hype via differing pit strategies, a result that is determined by if not before the race’s halfway mark and a small fraction of the field finishing on the lead lap.
That’s not even bringing up the reignited catch fence and head protection debates, which I will also discuss later in this article.
Alexander Rossi led 180 of the race’s 200 laps. The race featured 11 lead changes, but it featured just two on-track passes for the lead. One of them took place at the start of the race when Rossi passed race polesitter Will Power, and one of them took place after Power came out of the pits ahead of Rossi later in the race and led for a whopping three laps before the eventual race winner blew by him.
Of the 22 drivers who finished the race, which went caution-free for its final 189 laps, four were officially scored on the lead lap. There might as well have been two because two of the four finished literally right in front of Rossi — more than 41 seconds behind him.
For a race that had previously been one of the most exciting races on the IndyCar schedule, this year’s race at Pocono Raceway was a dud and quite possibly the worst race of the season. Add to it the fact that it was marred by the early five-car wreck that has Robert Wickens still recovering from his injuries more than eight weeks later.
Wickens’s car itself certainly did its job to prevent him from being hurt worse than he was or possibly even killed. But the debates that arose as a result of this crash have to do with the catch fence and head protection since his car flew into the catch fence, albeit not cockpit-first, and it flew right over the cockpit of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car.
Is the catch fence really the best solution for keeping cars within the confines of the track during nasty wrecks? Should other options be explored for possible implementation in the near future?
Will IndyCar begin using the windscreen that they have been testing for quite some time? If so, when? Is the halo device that Formula 1 began using this season an option if the windscreen doesn’t pan out?
These are questions that need to be answered. Period. But believe me when I say that those who are in charge are working on answering them as we speak. IndyCar’s safety development is second to none, which is something that is reiterated pretty much whenever a terrible accident occurs and definitely serves as a somewhat of a silver lining when it is.
Aside from the above accident, I felt the 2018 season was one of the most competitive IndyCar seasons in quite some time. It produced many different race winners and very competitive racing.
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