Roger Penske and Josef Newgarden

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – As INDYCAR prepares to launch the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, it was fitting to look back one last time at a thrilling 2017 campaign.

The INDYCAR community gathered Thursday night at the Birchwood, a few blocks from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course, to welcome in the highly anticipated season featuring a new-look car, new teams and new challengers for the championship. It also provided the opportunity to honor last year’s champion, Josef Newgarden, a long-time series favorite, Helio Castroneves, and their team owner, Roger Penske.

Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, served as host for the event.

“People are stoked to be in St. Petersburg, Florida, and get to the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship,” Miles said. “There’s so much anticipation and excitement about this year and this series that it’s palpable.”

Miles celebrated the championship that Newgarden won in 2017, in his first season driving for Team Penske. Newgarden is already focused on 2018, with the competition debut of the universal aero kit on all cars taking place this weekend.

“In looking forward to 2018, I think we’ve got a pretty incredible opportunity as a series and a platform going forward,” Newgarden said. “I’m really excited about the new car. I think if you ask anyone in here, they’re pretty excited about what we have.”

After 20 seasons in Indy cars, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves has moved full time to drive for Team Penske’s sports car operation this year – though he will return in May for the two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. INDYCAR honored the Brazilian with a framed photo depicting Castroneves making his popular fence climb that he performed after each win.

“I’m not retiring yet,” Castroneves reminded the crowd. “Still coming back at the Indy 500, so you competitors watch out.”