As the Verizon IndyCar Series gets set for the 2017 season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, here are a few drivers to keep an eye on, and who might end up in victory lane.
Will Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet for Team Penske, is probably the favorite heading into the race. The Australian driver is a two-time winner on the street course with his first win coming in 2010, and most recently winning in 2014. He also has two runner-up finishes at St. Pete. Power was forced to miss last year’s running of the race due to an illness, but will look to redeem himself this weekend. So far this weekend, he has been second in both practices, and will more than likely be a contender for the pole.
Four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon has never won at St. Pete, but he could get the monkey off his back this weekend as long as things go right for him. The Chip Ganassi Racing has a new sponsor this weekend in GE LED Lighting, and would like nothing more than to put them on the top step of the podium. That is very possible for Dixon, who has finished second in this race three times. Even though CGR has moved from Chevrolet engines to Honda engines, Dixon should still run well, and will be able to provide good feedback for Honda.
Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet for Team Penske, has won the race three times in 2006, 2007 and 2012. He also has nine top-10 finishes. Castroneves, like his teammate Power, also seems to qualify well at road and street courses. He will surely be a front runner in racing for the pole position.
Much like his teammate Dixon, Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, has competed in all 12 races at St. Petersburg. Despite not winning at the track, Kanaan has had a good run at the St. Pete landing on the podium six times out of 11. He’s also finished inside the top-10 each time he’s raced at the track. The veteran driver also qualifies well, and will be another front runner aiming for the pole position. This is his first time driving a Honda powered engine, but despite being new to the manufacturer, he should still do well and give Honda some amazing feedback.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, comes into St. Petersburg hoping to deliver a strong run for his home crowd as he hails from Fort Lauderdale. RHR has raced in eight races at St. Pete, and in those eight races, he has finished on the podium in half of them. Out of all of his Andretti teammates, he usually qualifies and races the best on street and road courses, and he more than likely will have a good shot at the pole and the win on Sunday.
It would be remiss to overlook a newcomer to Team Penske this weekend as one of the brightest IndyCar talents, Josef Newgarden, makes his debut for the team after being in the Ed Carpenter Racing camp. Newgarden, an ace on road and street courses, takes over the No. 2 car for Juan Pablo Montoya this weekend. Although he’s never finished on the podium in the Florida street race, he finds himself in new, competitive equipment. This might just be his weekend to shine.
With the talent pool so deep in IndyCar, it’s tough to pin it down to just a few contenders for Sunday’s race, but these six, along with reigning champion Simon Pagenaud, are probably the drivers to watch.