The NTT IndyCar Series gets the green flag on the 2019 season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. That means it is once again time to get your engines started for the INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone.
Fantrax is the new operational partner with INDYCAR for the fantasy game. Sign up now on Fantrax at fantasy.indycar.com to compete for prizes in all 17 rounds from St. Pete through the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey in September.
The look of the game might have changed, but the end game is the same. As an enrolled “team owner,” you receive a fictional salary cap of $100 to hire four drivers from the event’s entry list. Drivers have individual salaries based on many factors, allowing owners to choose how to spend their salary cap. Do you want two frontrunners and two back markers, or is picking 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.
The top performers for individual races and the season have the opportunity to win some unique prizes. The season champion fantasy player wins a VIP experience for two at an NTT IndyCar Series race of their choice in 2020 valued at $2,500. The second- and third-place finishers each receive a Firestone Racing mini-tire and signed memorabilia from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum valued at $500.
Prizes for the top scorer at each race includes Firestone mini-tires and hats, signed INDYCAR memorabilia and merchandise credits, and more. A complete list of prizes and rules is available on the contest website.
Picking the best INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge squad for the season-opening race is tricky, with no current-year data or results to scrutinize. It means I am relying heavily on last year’s five street-course race results.
All five of those races were won by Honda-powered drivers. Digging deeper, the manufacturer took a dozen of the 15 possible street-course podiums, making me tilt my team this weekend in Honda’s direction.
Alexander Rossi is a tempting choice to lead my Honda-heavy team, but based on past results at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, I’m going to take Ryan Hunter-Reay ($29) as my team leader. The Florida resident has the best average finish (7.2) in season openers of all the drivers in the field, finishing in the top five a total of six times.
St. Petersburg is the site of James Hinchcliffe’s ($25) first trip to NTT IndyCar Series victory lane in 2013 and he finished fourth at St. Pete last year, so he’s on my list as well.
I typically recommend avoiding drivers making their first St. Pete start, but I’m going against that this weekend by taking Harding Steinbrenner Racing rookie Colton Herta ($18). A stellar preseason test combined with an Indy Lights win and three podiums on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit makes me confident that the 18-year-old can collect a solid finish.
After dominating at St. Pete by winning eight of 11 races between 2006 and 2016, Team Penske has only one podium in the last two races. All three Penske drivers finished seventh or worse in 2018.
Despite that, Roger Penske’s drivers are still the safest choice from the Chevrolet camp. I’m picking Will Power ($29). The Australian had two of the team’s three street-course podium finishes last year, is a two-time St. Pete race winner and seven-time pole sitter.