With the green flag set to fly on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, it’s once again time sign up for the #INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone – the official fantasy owner game of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
This contest is your chance to prove to your friends and fellow fans that you have superior prognostication skills, luck or, more likely, a little bit of both when it comes to predicting which drivers will succeed in each of the 17 races beginning with Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Sign up now at http://fantasy.indycar.com/ to compete for prizes in all 17 rounds from St. Pete through the season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma in September. You must register for a new account this year even if you have played #INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge in the past.
The rules are simple. As an enrolled “team owner,” you receive a fictional salary cap of $100 to hire four drivers from the event’s entry list. Driver have individual salaries based on a number of factors, allowing owners to choose how to spend their salary cap. Do you want two frontrunners and two back markers, or is choosing four mid-pack drivers a smarter play? Drivers score points for their teams based on order of finish in the actual race. You can even create leagues within the overall contest to go head-to-head with friends, family or co-workers.
If bragging rights among your friends and fellow fans isn’t enough, the top performers for each race and for the season will win terrific prizes. The season champion fantasy player wins a VIP experience at a Verizon IndyCar Series race of their choice in 2019. Players finishing second through fourth for the season win a Firestone Racing replica tire.
Prizes for the top scorers at each race include Firestone Racing tires, an annual SiriusXM All Access subscription, INDYCAR merchandise credits, die-cast cars, INDYCAR Nation memberships, Firestone Racing hats and more. A complete list of prizes and rules is available on the contest website.
Making the driver selections is never easy for the season opener, and this year is made more difficult with a host of new drivers and teams. But we’re here to help.
Because the driver dollar values have reset to start a new season, there are some steals to be had in the $20 range this week. Conversely, a few drivers aren't worth their current salary. Adding to that difficulty is trying to predict which teams and drivers will be the quickest to adapt to the all-new universal body kit.
When talking about the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first choice must fall within the Team Penske trio of Josef Newgarden ($31), Will Power ($30) and Simon Pagenaud ($28). The team has visited victory lane in eight of the 14 races in St. Petersburg, including three of the last four. Of the three, Power, with two wins, seven poles and four podiums, has the best resume for this weekend. Newgarden, who won in St. Petersburg in Indy Lights, has not finished higher than eighth in six tries, making him the likely Team Penske driver to avoid.
St. Petersburg has not been rewarding to Scott Dixon in the past. The tricky street circuit is a track where the Kiwi has yet to win, though he does have three runner-up finishes in 12 previous starts. At the cost of $30, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver feels like an overpriced option.
Graham Rahal won his first career Indy car race at this event in 2008, but with a string of seven straight races outside of the top 10 is a risky proposition, even at a palatable $26 price tag. However, his new Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate, Takuma Sato, feels like a bargain at $20. The Japanese driver has one pole and five top-eight finishes on the shores of Tampa Bay. With talk of rain on race day, Sato is a no-brainer pick.
At only $23, reigning race winner and St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais is another solid value choice driving for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan.
Avoiding rookies for the first race of the year is a solid strategy. Yes, they are inexpensive, and you might get an occasional top-10 finisher like Ed Jones in 2017. But history tells us that, early in the year, rookies are more likely to experience low finishes.
Because it’s early in the season, more proven options are available. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot makes a great value play at $17 because of his past St. Pete success in the Mazda Road to Indy. My selections of Power, Sato, Bourdais and Pigot add up to just $90, so I could upgrade to a higher-salary driver or two but feel good with these picks.
Don’t forget to fill in your tiebreaker by predicting the race winner’s averaged speed. The last five Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg races have averaged 89.6486 mph. If you think the race will see more cautions or if it looks like it will be a wet race, adjust accordingly.