2022 NTT IndyCar Series Previewby Jack Gaffney February 26, 2022 0 comments
After NASCAR kicked off their 2022 season last weekend in Daytona, IndyCar is about to do the same this weekend on the other side of Florida in St. Petersburg. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou is set for his first title defense after outrunning Pato O’Ward a season ago. Additionally, after last season’s star-studded rookie class, the 2022 IndyCar rookie class is notably bigger than a year ago. It includes a trio of Indy Lights stars, a pair of Formula 1 prospects, and a former F1 test driver. Of course, there are also the usual suspects in Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, etc. Here we break down the full field before this Sunday’s St. Petersburg opener.
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No. 2 Josef Newgarden
2021 Stats: 2 Wins, 13 Top 10s, 8 Top 5s, 355 Laps Led, Average Finish of 7.3 (2nd in Points)
Newgarden was superb in the back half of last season and could have won his third IndyCar crown in the last five years. The keyword there being could, due to the former champion wrecking out of the Birmingham opener, and a gearbox issue costing him at least a podium at Road America. If not for those two races, Newgarden almost certainly would be entering this season as Champion. Given that he hasn’t finished worse than 5th in points since 2015, the Tennessee native should be considered a premier threat for the 2022 Championship. Newgarden will also be with a new race engineer, Eric Leichtle.
No. 3 Scott McLaughlin
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 5 Top 10s, 2 Top 5s, 5 Laps Led, Average Finish of 13.1 (14th in Points)
McLaughlin enters his second full IndyCar season after making the jump from V8 Supercars. The Kiwi had the expected ups and downs but got close to winning his first-ever oval race in Texas last season. Additionally, McLaughlin finished top 10 in his first-ever Indianapolis 500. In year two, McLaughlin will also have a new race engineer in Ben Bretzman, who was with now-former Penske driver Simon Pagenaud when he won the 2016 title, and 2019 Indianapolis 500. Expect the V8 Supercars legend to be a consistent top 10 guy in his sophomore season
No. 12 Will Power
2021 Stats: 1 Win, 7 Top 10s, 4 Top 5s, 99 Laps Led, Average Finish of 12.4 (9th in Points)
Power a year ago had his worst IndyCar campaign in well over a decade. He only had one win for the first time since 2015 and led under 100 laps for the first time since 2008. His saving grace was the second road course race at Indianapolis, where he led just over 50 laps en route to a dominant win. With two years allegedly left on his current deal, the Australian does not have many chances left to reach the top of the IndyCar mountain once again.
A. J. Foyt Enterprises
No. 4 Dalton Kellett
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Top 10s, 0 Top 5s, 0 Laps Led, Average Finish of 21.3 (23rd in Points)
Kellett made the jump from a partial to full-time IndyCar schedule a year ago. Although the numbers were not impressive, the Canadian picked up a career-best finish of 12th at Gateway. Some other good news for Kellett is that he will get the chance to run on home soil when IndyCar returns to Toronto this summer. Oddly enough, despite the fact Kellett has only run 24 career IndyCar series races, he is the ‘elder statesman’ on this Foyt squad, with two rookies alongside him.
No. 11 Tatiana Calderón
Rookie; Running Road/Street Course only schedule
Calderón, the woman out of Columbia follows in the footsteps of former Indianapolis 500 Champion Juan Pablo Montoya to run in IndyCar. Last year she ran some Super Formula races in Japan, along with an LMP2 run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but may be known for her stint as Alfa Romeo’s test driver in Formula 1. The Foyt team was impressed enough with Calderón after a test at Mid-Ohio to give her a shot in 2022, running every non-oval event.
No. 14 Kyle Kirkwood
Rookie; Reigning Indy Lights Champion
Taking over the famed No. 14 ride for the A.J. Foyt team is the young Kirkwood, who laid waste to the Indy Lights series a year ago. The Jupiter, Florida native won 10 out of 20 races, averaged a finish of 2.9, and won the title over fellow rookie David Malukas. In short, Kirkwood is for real, it’s just going to be a matter of what he can do with what is given to him. If he could end up being a consistent upper midfield driver, that would be a huge win for this team.
Arrow McLaren SP
*- Juan Pablo Montoya to run May Indianapolis Races in No. 6 Car
No. 5 Pato O’Ward
2021 Stats: 2 Wins, 11 Top 10s, 9 Top 5s, 118 Laps Led, Average Finish of 8.3 (3rd in Points)
Despite losing out on the title and second place at Long Beach, O’Ward had a phenomenal 2021. The Mexican driver picked up his first two career wins at Texas and Detroit and was a title contender the entire season. To add on, O’Ward was never lower than third in points the entire season. Starting off his career with points finishes of fourth and third, O’Ward should once again be a threat. The real question is how long does he have left in IndyCar? Yes, he is only 22, but do not be surprised if he makes the jump to McLaren’s F1 team within a few years.
No. 7 Felix Rosenqvist
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 2 Top 10s, 0 Top 5s, 14 Laps Led, Average Finish of 16.4 (21st in Points)
Rosenqvist’s first year with the Arrow McLaren team did not go according to plan. A brutal wreck at the second Detroit Duel cost him a pair of races, but outside of top 10s at Nashville and Portland, he had no other top 10 finishes the entire season. This after a sixth-place points finish in his first year with Ganassi and an 11th in 2020. Some reason for optimism in 2022 is his new race engineer, Craig Hampson, who was on the box for Sebastian Bourdais’ four-peat in ChampCar, also notably with Fernando Alonso for his first Indy 500 run.
*- Marco Andretti to run Indianapolis 500 in No. 98 car
No. 26 Colton Herta
2021 Stats: 3 Wins, 8 Top 10s, 7 Top 5s, 391 Laps Led, Average Finish of 10.1 (5th in Points)
Herta’s 2021 was yo-yo esque, but the highs looked incredibly impressive. So much so that the Andretti’s, who are now confirmed to be venturing into F1, would have potentially had him there this year, that until their initial Alfa Romeo deal fell through. Regardless, the 21-year-old will remain stateside for the time being. The big issue for Herta last year was staying out of trouble. When he did he was maybe the best driver in the series at times but had a knack for running into trouble. If he can avoid that, Herta will be a title contender in 2022 no question.
No. 27 Alexander Rossi
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 9 Top 10s, 3 Top 5s, 2 Laps Led, Average Finish of 12.3 (10th in Points)
Next up for the Andretti bunch is their upcoming free agent, expect that to be brought up 10 times a race by the way. Rossi’s struggles these last few years are also well documented. He hasn’t won a race since the 23rd of June in 2019, and since then, has just six podium finishes in his last 37 races. Not great confidence-wise seeing as he is in a contract year, but we all know Rossi is one of IndyCar’s best. Even if he isn’t back here next year, he should have no issue finding a ride. A return to victory lane will only help his cause.
No. 28 Romain Grosjean
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 6 Top 10s, 4 Top 5s, 14 Laps Led, Average Finish of 16.4 (21st in Points)
Now for the biggest free agent move of the offseason. Grosjean, now formerly of Dale Coyne Racing, enters year two stateside after an 11-year career in Formula 1. With Andretti, he slots into Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL ride for at least the next two seasons. Despite initially being slated to be a non-oval driver, Grosjean ended up racing at Gateway in the back half of the season, finishing 14th. With a notable uptick in equipment, Grosjean should realistically improve in 2022, despite this being only his first full season. His oval progression will ultimately decide his championship-contending status.
No. 29 Devlin DeFrancesco
You won’t find many better stories than one Mr. DeFrancesco. Born 15 weeks early, he defied his doctors’ expectations and made it through. Just under a month ago, DeFrancesco was a part of the Dragon Force LMP2 winning team in the 24 Hours of Daytona, alongside IndyCar drivers Herta and O’Ward. Last year, he ran in the Indy Lights series with the Andretti team, placing sixth in points with a pair of podiums. Hard to say what DeFrancesco’s real expectations are for 2022, but he is nothing else but a fighter. Just ask his friend Mike Tyson (yes that one).
Juncos Hollinger Racing
No. 77 Callum Ilott
The F1 world’s loss is Juncos Hillinger’s gain. Ilott, who somehow was passed up overseas, is now stateside with IndyCar’s lone full-time single-car team. That enough creates issues, which aren’t on Ilott. Based on that, we may not be able to fairly evaluate him compared to most of his IndyCar peers. Regardless, this JHR team has themselves a world-class driver, now it’s just a matter of giving him a good shake. Ilott, for context, finished second in the 2020 F2 Championship to Mick Schumacher.
Ed Carpenter Racing
*- Ed Carpenter set to run Indianapolis 500 in car No. TBD
No. 20 Conor Daly
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Top 10s, 0 Top 5s, 40 Laps Led, Average Finish of 16.6 (18th in Points)
Despite a season with no top 10 finishes, Daly was given a multi-year deal to drive his boss’ former ride, which is now a full-time entry. He ended up having a strong showing at the Indianapolis 500, leading nearly a quarter of the 200 laps. That did however account for his entire laps-led production. Daly also only started four races all season in the top 10, which also needs to improve in 2022.
No. 21 Rinus VeeKay
2021 Stats: 1 Win, 6 Top 10s, 2 Top 5s, 71 Laps Led, Average Finish of 14.5 (13th in Points)
2021 was a tale of two halves for the Dutchman. To open the year, VeeKay was excellent, picking up top 10s in 6-of-8 races to open up the year, along with a win on the Indianapolis Road Course over Grosjean. The VeeKay was injured in a cycling accident and was not the same after missing one round. He closed out the year with a sub-top 15 finish in his final seven outings. Assuming he is fully healthy, VeeKay should be back to his first half of 2021 form.
Meyer Shank Racing
No. 06 Helio Castroneves
2021 Stats: 1 Win, 2 Top 10s, 1 Top 5, 22 Laps Led, Average Finish of 16.3 (22nd in Points) (Indianapolis 500 Winner)
Castroneves is back to a full-time IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2017. The 46-year-old also is looking to stand alone with a potential record-breaking fifth Indianapolis 500 win. Castroneves has also had a big offseason, winning the overall classification of the 24 Hours of Daytona with this Meyer Shank team. For the icon, however, this is the second year in a row he has won the event.
No. 60 Simon Pagenaud
2021 Stats: 1 Win, 9 Top 10s, 3 Top 5s, 12 Laps Led, Average Finish of 10.7 (8th in Points)
The Meyer Shank operation with Castroneves and Pagenaud, a pair of former Penske Champions, should be a blast to watch. His last pair of seasons at Penske weren’t particularly standout ones. Pagenaud had average finishes of 10.6 and 10.7 respectively and had one win between 2020 and 2021. How quickly he can acclimate himself to this Meyer Shank team will be worth watching.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
No. 15 Graham Rahal
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 11 Top 10s, 7 Top 5s, 65 Laps Led, Average Finish of 9.9 (7th in Points)
Rahal had a golden opportunity at his first Indianapolis 500 win a year ago ripped away through no fault of his own. On what would have been his second to last pitstop, his left rear tire wasn’t secured and it came off as he was making his way to re-entering the track. Although a soul-crushing result, seeing as he hasn’t won since 2017, Rahal did not have a bad year in 2021. Although not big in the grand scheme of things, his 65 laps led were his most since 2017. Entering 2022, if Rossi is the most due for a return to victory lane, Rahal is easily No. 2 on that list.
No. 30 Christian Lundgaard
Lundgaard, who last year was Alpine F1’s test driver, is now with the team that opened his IndyCar door for him. Last year, he tested a car for RLL at Barber Motorsports Park. Not even a month later, the Danish driver made his IndyCar debut at the August Indianapolis Road Course race. That day Lundgaard finished 12th, a solid showing in a new car for him. He also has two career F2 wins to his name, both coming in 2020. Like with Ilott, this is a great get for not only RLL but for IndyCar. The more world-class talent the better.
No. 45 Jack Harvey
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 5 Top 10s, 2 Top 5s, 6 Laps Led, Average Finish of 13 (12th in Points)
The Englishman Harvey enters full-time season number three in IndyCar at 28 years old. RLL is his new home after spending the previous two seasons with the Meyer Shank team, finishing 15th and 13th in points those two seasons. Last season he had to watch as Castroneves won the team their first race, stinging a little more is the fact that it was the Indy 500. Now driving for Bobby Rahal, he gets a fresh start and a potential long-term home. However, he has to continue to improve as he has these last two years.
Dale Coyne Racing
No. 18 David Malukas
Malukas was one of the bigger surprises in the motorsports realm a year ago. After a winless 2020 in Indy Lights, he came storming out of the gates in 2021, picking up seven wins, and almost stole the title from Kirkwood. His sudden ascent has earned him a ride at Dale Coyne for this IndyCar season. It may not be meant to be in year one, but keep an eye out on the Chicago native. The team already has him locked up on a multi-year deal for what it is worth.
No. 51 Takuma Sato
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 8 Top 10s, 1 Top 5, 21 Laps Led, Average Finish of 12.2 (11th in Points)
The two-time Indy 500 winner joins the DCR program after a four-year stint with the Rahal team. Sato, who just turned 45 years old just last month is also entering 2022 off of his first winless season since 2016, and his first sub top 10 points finish since 2018. He is obviously closer to the end than the beginning, but it is nice to see Sato keep going. Who knows, maybe he can pull a rabbit out of the hat and snag another Indianapolis 500 win this year.
Chip Ganassi Racing
*- Tony Kanaan running ovals in car No. TBD
No. 8 Marcus Ericsson
2021 Stats: 2 Wins, 12 Top 10s, 3 Top 5s, 45 Laps Led, Average Finish of 9.1 (6th in Points)
Ericsson made a dramatic jump from 2020 to 2021. He picked up a pair of wins at Detroit and Nashville and was an issue at Long Beach away from ending the year with 10 straight top 10s. Jumping from 12th to 6th in points isn’t too shabby either. Hard to say if Ericsson will be able to repeat his results with the reshuffling at the top of the board, but he is worth keeping an eye on. That comeback he pulled off at Nashville last season was remarkable.
No. 9 Scott Dixon
2021 Stats: 1 Win, 12 Top 10s, 9 Top 5s, 401 Laps Led, Average Finish of 7.4 (4th in Points)
It feels like it tells you all you need to know about the Iceman when his 2021 was considered ‘an off year’. One of open-wheel racing’s all-time greats still has the opportunity to become IndyCar’s all-time leader in wins and championships, and he can clearly still hang with the young guns. As of now, he is one win off of tying Mario Andretti for the second-most wins in IndyCar’s history at 52, and a title would tie him with Foyt for the most ever with seven. Even with a teammate as a legit title threat like Palou, Dixon should be in the thick of things still.
No. 10 Alex Palou
2021 Stats: 3 Wins, 12 Top 10s, 10 Top 5s, 137 Laps Led, Average Finish of 7.3 (IndyCar Series Champion)
Chip Ganassi lives and dies by the statement, ‘I like winners’. Whatever he and his team saw in Palou in his rookie season in 2020 was right on the money. The Spaniard never fell out of a top-three points spot all year, and only had four results outside of a top 10 spot. Palou additionally came very close to an Indianapolis 500 victory over Castroneves, but the Series Championship is hardly a consolation prize. His key trait has been consistency, and if Palou can keep that up, he’ll give himself a good shot against a tough field in 2022.
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson
2021 Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Top 10s, 0 Top 5s, 0 Laps Led, Average Finish of 21.1 (26th in Points)
The results did not look good for the seven-time NASCAR champion in his maiden IndyCar voyage, but Johnson did somewhat improve at the end of the year. Now he will embark on his first full season, including the oval portion of the schedule he skipped out on last year. Johnson should hopefully be better with his road course acumen. What will be interesting to see is how he runs ovals in an open-wheel car. His last years in NASCAR were far from great as it is, and the two cars couldn’t be more opposite.
2022 IndyCar Series Preseason Top 10 Power Rankings
10. Graham Rahal
9. Rinus VeeKay
8. Will Power
7. Marcus Ericsson
6. Romain Grosjean
5. Pato O’Ward
4. Alex Palou
3. Scott Dixon
2. Colton Herta
1. Josef Newgarden
Preseason IndyCar Series Championship Pick: Colton Herta
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images