What Surprises Will the 2020 Season Hold?

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The 2019-20 offseason has officially ended. This is Race Week and we are only about 48-hours from the first practice session of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. Rather than do a team-by-team breakdown, I think I’m going to simply give my opinion on which teams and drivers will provide us some surprises – both positive and negative – before giving my not-so-educated guess on who will win the championship.

Among the Big-Three teams (Penske, Ganassi, Andretti); I don’t anticipate many big surprises.

All three Penske drivers will contend for the championship, with Scott McLaughlin possibly showing up at a few races other than the already confirmed GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course.

At Ganassi, Scott Dixon will certainly contend for the championship as fellow Swedes Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson will show flashes of what is expected of them. I suspect Rosenqvist will win a race, but probably won’t be contending for the championship in September. The wildcard at Ganassi is Ericsson. He was a typical rookie last year at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports that had his occasional moments. Will he do better in his second season and on a much better team? That will be interesting to watch unfold throughout the season.

At Andretti Autosport, there could be some minor surprises – but I’m not expecting them. Then again, a surprise is not usually expected, is it? Alexander Rossi could struggle, but it isn’t likely. He is the undisputed leader on the team now, and I see no reason why he should struggle this season. Ryan Hunter-Reay is thirty-nine now, and may have begun the descent into the twilight of his career. He finished eighth in points last season, and went winless for the third time over the past four seasons. Nothing indicates that he will contend for the championship going forward.

Some seem to think that Colton Herta may regress this season after winning two races as a rookie. I don’t think so. He is now a full-fledged Andretti driver and only needs to worry about racing and not funding, as his team did last year. He may still be a little young in his development to contend all year for the championship, but rest assured – last year was no fluke.

Bringing up the rear for Andretti Autosport will be the beleaguered Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. Marco is entering his fifteenth IndyCar season. He has two wins in all that time and is coming off a sixteenth place finish in points in 2019. I don’t think anything else needs to be said about that. Veach, on the other hand, showed a great deal of promise as a rookie two seasons ago. But his second season was beyond disappointing – it was awful. He finished two spots behind Marco. Most seem to agree that unless Veach has a miraculous turnaround, this will be his last at Andretti Autosport. It doesn’t help that this is the last year on his sponsor’s contract.

I will also include Meyer Shank Racing as an Andretti team. Jack Harvey finally gets a fulltime ride after three part-time seasons. I expect a couple of podiums, but I doubt that Harvey will give us any surprises – either way – this season.

For the mid-level teams that can’t push their way into the Big Three; you have Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR), Arrow McLaren SP (McLaren), Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) and Dale Coyne Racing (DCR). Each of these teams have won races in recent history, and RLLR won twice last season.

ECR pairs Conor Daly on the non-ovals with rookie Rinus VeeKay in most of the races. For the ovals, Ed Carpenter will step into the No. 20 as usual, but Daly will also be the third driver for the Indianapolis 500. It probably isn’t considered a surprise, but Conor Daly could have a breakout season at ECR. He has shined in very unsteady situations over the past few seasons. Now that he will be with the same team for thirteen races in good equipment, I think we will finally see his talent come through. Ed will always be tough at Indianapolis, but he also proved he can still wheel a car around an oval at Gateway last season. VeeKay will have a typical rookie season. This team may win a race this season.

Dale Coyne Racing seemingly took a step back this season, losing the bulk of its engineering staff. But Eric Cowdin, Tony Kanaan’s longtime engineer, has moved from Foyt to Coyne and that should help. DCR also lost Sébastien Bourdais and has rookie Alex Palou instead. But rookie sensation Santino Ferrucci has a year of experience under his belt. Many think Ferrucci is in for a breakout season. I don’t. I think the changes at Coyne do not work in his favor and he will regress this season. I hope I’m wrong, because I like Ferrucci and see him as a future star. But I don’t think he’ll find success this season.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing returns with the same driver lineup they’ve had since the 2018 season. Takuma Sato absolutely dominated at Barber last season. He appeared to be just as dominant in the early laps at Texas, before running over a crewman on his first pit stop. His evening went from bad to worse at that point. He was blamed by many for the opening-lap melee at Pocono, but followed that with a thrilling win at Gateway.

While Sato had an up and down season, teammate Graham Rahal had a much more consistent season – mostly down. He finished tenth in points and had only one podium – a third at Texas. Rahal has not won a race since he swept the double-header at Belle Isle in 2017. He really needs to step up in 2020. Will he provide a surprise with a win this season? We’ll see.

The biggest wildcard from this group has to be Arrow McLaren SP. There is not much left of the team that started out last season as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, other than the “S” and the “P” – Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Honda became Chevy, and James Hinchcliffe was dumped in favor of two rookies – Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew. But they do have Craig Hampson heading up their engineering corps. This could turn out really well or really bad. I’m not sure that I’m looking for a win from this team. That would be a surprise.

Then there are the cellar-dwellers among the fulltime teams – Foyt and Carlin.

Larry Foyt has been busy replacing the funding, left by the departure of longtime sponsor ABC Supply. He has Charlie Kimball fulltime in the No. 4 car. The famous No. 14 is being driven by committee throughout the season. Sébastien Bourdais, Dalton Kellett and Tony Kanaan will split time in that car at various points in the season. Quite honestly, last fall I never thought both cars would run the full season in 2020, so that’s a victory in itself. Any form of success from this team this season, will be a surprise – albeit a very pleasant one.

Carlin is the wildcard of this bunch. Going into Year Three, they should be a lot further along than they are. The 2019 season was a disaster for Carlin, no matter how you look at it. But just when you thought they were near extinction, they led pre-season testing at Sebring last week. Max Chilton will continue to run the non-ovals this season, along with the Indianapolis 500. But their oval driver for his No. 59 car as well as the driver(s) for the No. 31 car has not been named.

It will be interesting to see which of these two teams has the better season, and if either team will surprise us in a good way.

The championship contenders for 2020 should not have any surprises. They will come from the Big Three and not anyone else. Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi will all challenge for the Astor Challenge Trophy for most of the summer – until two or three separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Who is my pick for the 2020 IndyCar Champion? That shouldn’t be a surprise either. This will be the third year in a row I’ve picked him – Alexander Rossi. They say the third time is the charm. We’ll see.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “What Surprises Will the 2020 Season Hold?”

  1. It was announced yesterday that Daly will drive the remaining oval races for Carlin in Chilton’s car.

  2. Something to look forward too after a dismal news week and an off season that is way too long.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    From my 2020 perspective, I am anticipating than Bourdais will provide the missing technical input that will boost the Foyt team and lead to a full time ride in 2021

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    https://www.yahoo.com/autos/andretti-autosport-trailer-catches-fire-132703626.html

    Previous web site may not activate.

    This one should.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Moderately bold predictions for the 2020 season ranked in order of probability:

    – Poorly applied aeroscreen tear-offs cause 4 or more cautions
    – Hinch finishes ahead of all AMSP entries in each of his 3 races
    – A judgement call penalty takes a driver off the podium
    – At least one Penske driver presses and finishes 9th+ in points
    – The 500 is won on fuel strategy
    – One driver wins a race on each of the series 4 track types
    – Kanaan pulls one final contending top 5 out of his hat
    – A part-timer will win a race
    – A rookie wins a race
    – Daly podiums for both Carlin and Carpenter
    – Marco finishes ahead of Hunter-Reay in the championship
    – Dixon finishes behind both of his teammates in the championship
    – Penske buys NASCAR

  6. Mark Wick Says:

    I haven’t researched this, but I can’t remember an arrangement in which one driver competes for a full season, but with two different teams. As improbably as it may be, wouldn’t it be interesting if Daly wins the championship?

  7. In a world going totally insane, one voice of reason appears to be Roger Penske. Hopefully St. Pete will run this weekend and he is saying the Indy 500 is “day by day.” Exactly the right response.

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