At the halfway point in the 16-race 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series, David Malsher assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each driver, and how they should approach the second half of the season.
#2 Juan Pablo Montoya Team Penske-Chevrolet
Current championship position – 9th
Plus: As combative as ever, fast and relentless enough on race day to take on anyone. JPM and race engineer Brian Campe are also very good at minimizing problems they encounter.
Minus: Two solo race-ending shunts in the last three races, and never looks a likely polesitter on tracks where it’s difficult to pass, making his races more difficult.
Going forward: Title hopes probably gone, he has nothing to lose now, which should make him even more ferocious.
#3 Helio Castroneves Team Penske-Chevrolet
Current championship position – 3rd
Plus: Still fast, and had he got the results he deserved at Phoenix, Indy 500 and Detroit 2, he would be far closer to the top than his current 86 point deficit suggests.
Minus: Finally starting to lose the explosive pace of his youth, and sometimes struggles to keep the tires under him.
Going forward: Helio hasn’t won for two years, and this needs to change very soon in order to mount a title challenge.
#5 James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda
Current championship position – 11th
Plus: Thus far, Hinch has usually been contending for title of lead Honda entry with Graham Rahal – in terms of pace, anyway…
Minus: …But translating that pace into hard results has been difficult. The shunt in Detroit race 1, caused by a part failure, cost him a podium, maybe even a win.
Going forward: With HPD’s big step forward in the engine department, Hinch should have more consistent opportunities to shine. However, those same improvements will also increase competition from the likes of Andretti Autosport.
#7 Mikhail Aleshin Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda
Current championship position – 18th
Plus: Fast, brave, plenty of potential.
Minus: Sometimes too fast, too brave, and hasn’t converted that potential into worthwhile results.
Going forward: There’s nothing he can do about his occasional bad luck but also needs to temper his over-aggression.
#8 Max Chilton Chip Ganassi Racing-Chevrolet
Current championship position – 19th
Plus: A smart enough rookie to temper his ambition with caution, but also looks aggressive when comfortable (namely, Phoenix).
Minus: Has struggled for outright pace so that not only leaves him in a poor position on the grid, it also limits strategic options in the race.
Going forward: Natural road courses (which he’s more used to) and ovals (which he appears to have taken to) could yield a podium by the end of the year.
#9 Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing-Chevrolet
Current championship position – 2nd
Plus: One of the IndyCar greats, he has struggled for consistency in terms of results, yet he so often makes the best of what Fate throws his way.
Minus: Might have fought for the Indy 500 win had he not damaged his car on the wall. Aside from that, his opportunities missed have generally been out of his hands.
Going forward: Just keep doing what he’s been doing, knocking on the door of victory at the majority of races. Eventually it will open like it did in Phoenix and he’ll be challenging for a fifth championship.
#10 Tony Kanaan Chip Ganassi Racing-Chevrolet
Current championship position – 8th
Plus: Still charging hard at every race, he should have been an Indy 500 winner. And the move to Ganassi has definitely revived his road as well as street course pace.
Minus: Still not the best at nursing tires or saving fuel.
Going forward: The Kanaan/Ganassi combo has resulted in just one win in two-and-a-half seasons… but he’s far more prominent than that stat suggests. Could easily score a couple of wins before the year is out.
#11 Sebastien Bourdais KVSH Racing-Chevrolet
Current championship position – 14th
Plus: Still blindingly fast on race day – as his Detroit performances showed – and definitely someone who has the experience and brains to carry a one-car team.
Minus: Qualifying performances have not been as consistently strong as expected, and thus maybe didn’t take enough advantage of Chevy’s first-half superiority.
Going forward: Ovals, which rely so much on car setup, will be a major challenge when relying on data from only one car. But expect Seb to be a victory contender at Road America, Mid-Ohio, etc.
#12 Will Power Team Penske-Chevrolet
Current championship position – 7th
Plus: Still potentially the quickest driver over a qualifying lap on road or street courses, and now has the “hasn’t won in a year” burden off his shoulders.
Minus: Silly errors in qualifying have compromised some of his races, and the inner-ear infection that prevented him starting at St. Petersburg had far more knock-on effects than he let on.
Going forward: Like teammate Montoya, Power is out of title contention, so has nothing to lose. Last time he was in this circumstance, at the end of 2013, he scored three wins in five races.
#14 Takuma Sato AJ Foyt Racing-Honda
Current championship position – 16th
Plus: Probably more consistent than he’s ever been…
Minus: …but there are too many anonymous races after looking strong in practice. And who knows what Taku might have achieved had he not smacked the wall at Indy?
Going forward: Retaining his less accident-prone ways but taking full advantage of HPD’s improvements could see him on a podium soon, so long as the team also gains consistency.
#15 Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda
Current championship position – 12th
Plus: The Honda hero of 2015 has done enough this year to show that wasn’t a one-off, and his fighting drives to second at Barber and fifth at Phoenix are two of the IndyCar season’s highlights.
Minus: Surprisingly the team never looked strong at the Indy 500 and Long Beach should not have been the disaster for RLLR it turned out to be.
Going forward: He should be capable of nailing a win or even two, although matching last year’s fifth place in the championship will be difficult.
#18 Conor Daly Dale Coyne Racing-Honda
Current championship position – 15th
Plus: Has taken full advantage of Coyne’s strategy to show off strong raceday pace and good setups; also, mistakes have been few
Minus: Still seeking strong qualifying setups, although Daly had a right to be pissed regarding Detroit 2 qualifying.
Going forward: Keep doing what he’s been doing.
#19 Gabby Chaves (formerly Luca Filippi) Dale Coyne Racing-Honda
Current championship position – 22nd
Plus: Thoroughly competent (albeit, initially ring rusty) from the moment he got in the car for GP Indy. His performance throughout the two weeks of the 500 was impressive.
Minus: Bad luck has been all that has prevented the 2014 Indy Lights champ from showing similar strength to teammate Daly. Being in the car from the start of the season would have helped…
Going forward: In the hope that Coyne retains his services, Chaves should be able to get a couple of top-six finishes of his own by year’s end. Still needs to prove he's as quick as Filippi.
#20 Ed Carpenter + Spencer Pigot Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet
Current championship position: Irrelevant - it's a shared drive
Plus: Carpenter was fast at Phoenix and Pigot ran well in the second Detroit race.
Minus: Ed eventually crashed at Phoenix and seemed bewildered by his lack of pace at Indy. Pigot's feedback to the team will naturally be of limited value for now.
Going forward: For Ed on the ovals, the priority has to be to match teammate Josef Newgarden; for Pigot on road/street courses, it must be to get as close as possible to Newgarden, without overreaching himself. His three races with RLLR will have served him well.
#21 Josef Newgarden Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet
Current championship position: 4th
Plus: Improved consistency from both team and driver in 2016, and Newgy’s performance as top Chevy qualifier and finisher at IMS was excellent.
Minus: Not much, to be honest. He makes the occasional mistake, but it rarely leads to dire consequences.
Going forward: If he keeps on striking the right balance between valor and caution, another win and finishing top five in the championship should be very feasible.
#22 Simon Pagenaud Team Penske-Chevrolet
Current championship position: 1st
Going forward: More of the same and the championship is his. Easily.
#26 Carlos Munoz Andretti Autosport-Honda
Current championship position: 6th
Plus: Really showed his mettle when the team was struggling most, and was also a strong force at the Indy 500.
Minus: Lacks the searing pace of teammate Hunter-Reay and could still use a bit of imagination.
Going forward: Finishing sixth in the championship will be a great achievement, and don’t rule out a win, either.
#27 Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport-Honda
Current championship position: 17th
Plus: Like Munoz, fast when the team is struggling, and still an excellent wheel-to-wheel racer…
Minus: Often struggling for pace, and rarely able to find a setup that suits his style, which demands rear-end stability.
Going forward: He should be a potential winner on all the remaining ovals, but in the dry, his first roadcourse win in 10 years looks as far away as ever.
#28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport-Honda
Current championship position: 13th
Plus: A great opportunist, Hunter-Reay was robbed of a potential win at Indy, should have received a medal for his drive at Phoenix, and generally makes the best of every opportunity.
Minus: Still question-marks over how good he is at helping dig his team out of a hole…
Going forward: The dark days of Long Beach should be behind RHR, given his race pace at Detroit, and there’s just one more street race to go. Elsewhere, there should be no question-marks.
#41 Jack Hawksworth AJ Foyt Racing-Honda
Current championship position: 20th
Plus: Continues to look as strong as teammate Sato…
Minus: …but that often translates as just midfield. Again, the pace is strong sometimes in practice, but there’s little to show for it by the end of the race.
Going forward: If the team continues to remain mired near the back on qualifying, it’s time for JackHawk to persuade Larry Foyt and the team to roll the dice more often with race strategy. It pays off, as Dale Coyne could tell you…
#83 Charlie Kimball Chip Ganassi Racing-Chevrolet
Current championship position: 10th
Plus: Super aggressive but also showing the wisdom of his five-plus years at this level, he’s taken a step forward from his disappointing ’14 and ’15 campaigns.
Minus: Still lacking the outright speed of Dixon… but then that applies to most drivers.
Going forward: With the confidence he displayed at Detroit and both races at Indy, CK should be able to land a couple of podiums this year.
#98 Alexander Rossi Andretti-Herta Autosport-Honda
Current championship position: 5th
Plus: He won quite a big race recently. In terms of the rest of the season, it’s gratifying to see how hard he works, and how annoyed he is that his best result aside from the 500 is 10th.
Minus: His best result aside from the 500 is 10th, despite increasingly impressive pace on road and street courses.
Going forward: He may still yearn for F1, but there’s nothing half-hearted about the way Rossi has tackled IndyCar. His aim over the remaining eight races should be to match teammate Hunter-Reay.
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IndyCar drivers' half-term reports
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