IndyCar Series has plenty of reasons for optimism in 2017

Team Penske's Simon Pagenaud (Eric Risberg/AP)

With the 2016 IndyCar season now officially over, let’s reflect back a little and also look ahead to 2017. There will always be questions about the future and second-guessing of decisions about the race schedule, engine rules, competition, etc. that are made by series bosses.

Unlike others of the recent past, however, there is a generally positive feeling about the series heading into the off-season. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we are seeing positive glimmers regarding the future.

The job that Mark Miles and his lieutenants embarked on a couple of years ago to fix the IndyCar franchise is no different than fixing any sports team, it takes a lot of time and hard work, there are mistakes made, but you correct them quickly when they occur and keep trying to get a little better every day. You have to manage expectations and hold a lot of hands when people get impatient.

This year when the debacle around what was supposed to be a new event in Boston blew up, it was fixed by working a new deal with a fan-favourite track at Watkins Glen and then getting a multi-year renewal done even before the first race took place. That’s about as good a repair job as you’ll ever see.

Only a couple of years ago there was a real concern about how many cars will be on the grid, that’s not the case anymore. Sure Target is leaving the Ganassi team as a sponsor, but there are others coming in and renewing with multi-year commitments with teams and the IndyCar series.

Plenty of hype surrounded the introduction of new body aerokits for the cars. It turned out to be an expensive mistake. During the last two seasons when the new parts were costing money and frustrating just about everyone, IndyCar worked with the stakeholders to find solutions.

Next year will begin the process of phasing out this costly endeavor that didn’t really add anything to the series or competition. And plans are coming together for a new common body kit that may also make it tempting for additional engine manufacturers to enter series competition.

On the driver front there is also plenty of reason for optimism.

Simon Pagenaud claimed his first series championship over the weekend. Pagenaud is a thoughtful, positive person with an excellent sense of humor and a cute dog named Norman who has his own Twitter and Instagram accounts. He’ll be an excellent representative to help publicize the series, especially if he brings Norman on tour with him.

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe is as genuine and kind a person you’ll ever meet along with the perfect personality to carry the IndyCar banner on Dancing with the Stars. Some will wonder about the logic, but this kind of exposure is valuable and necessary.

Josef Newgarden is a young, talented American driver whose contract is up and he’s in high demand by just about every IndyCar team. His decision on which suitor he chooses will impact the other free agents’ options. This kind of discussion in the off-season helps build anticipation for the New Year.

Of course there are also questions heading into next season.

With so much hype and buildup around the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 will there be a big drop off for the 101st? How will the new event at Gateway Motorsport Park perform? How do we get younger, talented drivers into the field to take over for some of the veterans that will be gone in the next year or two? Growing the series’ television audience is also a must.

There will always be questions and new challenges that face the IndyCar series, but after a good 2016 campaign, I’m very excited to get 2017 underway.

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