One race down, 16 to go. So what do we know about the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season? Probably not much, but here are 10 things to consider in the wake of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:
- Clearly, Honda’s program is stronger than it was last year, if for no other reason than it already has its first win – Sebastien Bourdais captured the St. Petersburg race – and Chip Ganassi Racing has switched back to the Honda brand. Seven of the top 10 finishers in the season-opening race were on the Honda side of the ledger.
- Honda did more than win the first race of this season; it ended a lengthy drought on street circuits. Its last such win was May 30, 2015 -- when Carlos Munoz won in Detroit.
- This goes without saying, but don’t dismiss Team Penske, which went 1-2-3 in last year’s standings. Yes, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves struggled in St. Pete qualifying, but Pagenaud finished second in the race, Castroneves was sixth and Josef Newgarden eighth. The team will be fine. It might even sweep a podium or two this season.
- Another obvious: Don’t dismiss Pagenaud. Again, the reigning series champion might have not had his strongest effort in St. Petersburg, but he accumulated 41 points, which were only two fewer than last year’s second-place finish in the same event earned him. (He did not lead the most laps in the race this time.)
- Consider the effect of the caution at Lap 26. Without question, it shuffled the field, allowing drivers who had pitted once the fuel window opened at Lap 14 to cycle to the front. Those who gambled by staying out – that’s James Hinchcliffe, Newgarden and Scott Dixon, among others – slid to the second half of the running order. Ultimately, there were plenty of laps to make amends, but the caution for debris – Mikhail Aleshin struck the back corner of Tony Kanaan’s car – altered things and there wasn’t another caution.
- Spencer Pigot is off to an impressive start in his second season. He was on the charge in the Ed Carpenter Racing entry before a fire in the left-rear brake area of his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet forced a long pit stop to change rotors.
- The cars of Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball must be magnetized. It seems they’ve seen more than their share of contact over the years. Their latest was on the season’s opening lap. Whose fault was it? Does it matter now?
- Ryan Hunter-Reay continues to show well in St. Petersburg; he has finished second, seventh, third and fourth in his past four appearances. Throw in podium finishes in 2009 (second place) and ’12 (third) and it’s easy to see why the Floridian likes racing in his home state.
- Hinchcliffe was in the process of leading 21 laps last weekend when the dreaded caution came out for the Kanaan-Aleshin contact. Would Hinchcliffe have won the race without that? Who knows, but if Honda is indeed more competitive, the Canadian is talented enough to win his first Verizon IndyCar Series race since April 2015 (in New Orleans prior to his Indianapolis accident).
- Bourdais might win yet another series title. Is it likely? No. Possible? Probably not. But the four-time Champ Car World Series champion is off to the best start possible (he scored the maximum number of points in St. Petersburg). Even short of a title, this season could be magical for Bourdais, who, believe it or not, is within four wins of Scott Dixon for the active lead. Dixon has 40 (fourth all-time), Bourdais 36 (sixth all-time). Both figure to keep adding to their totals.
The next race for the Verizon IndyCar Series is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9 (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Prior to that, the entire field gathers Tuesday at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama for the second open test of the season.
Curt Cavin is INDYCAR's vice president of communications following 30 years covering the sport as a motorsports journalist.