The list of teams and drivers with needs for miracles in the month of May is surprisingly long.
Despite being four races into the new season, it feels like the NTT IndyCar Series season is only a few days old. Yet once Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at Indy is finished, we’ll be past the quarter-distance mark in the championship. So much has happened since Barber Motorsports Park in April, and for a few big names, a lot has already gone wrong.
Between this weekend’s 85-lap road course event, and the double points Indy 500 two weeks later, more than 150 points can be claimed by the time the checkered flag waves on May 30, and it’s here where fortunes will turn.
• Entering Indy, the least popular person for the bottom half of the field is Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. While there’s no guarantee Dixon (151 points) will maintain his grasp on the championship lead by the end of May, he’s off to an ominous start with finishes of third, fifth, first, and fourth to open his title defense. How many championships has Dixon taken through beating up his rivals with consistency? It could all change if the Speedway doesn’t accommodate his wishes, but if the six-timer can string together two quality Indy finishes, he just might bury some of the rivals who are mired outside the top 12.
• First on the season-salvaging list is the majority of Andretti Autosport’s camp, with Alexander Rossi holding 15th in the standings (65 points), Ryan Hunter-Reay in 17th (56 points), and James Hinchcliffe in 19th (44 points). As Hinchcliffe told RACER, there’s no reason to hold out hope for a giant points haul at IMS, but it’s hard to see how the three stay in touch with the championship leaders without successful runs at both rounds. Chipping away at their sizable deficits is certainly possible if Dixon stumbles, but the task becomes close to impossible if the margin widens over the next two weeks. With the championship leader as the benchmark, these are three frontrunners who risk being left in the dust if the cartoon anvil keeps finding their cars.
• If it weren’t for two taps to his behind at the Texas doubleheader, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais would be sitting pretty entering the Indy GP. Seventh after St. Petersburg, Bourdais tumbled to 14th (68 points) thanks to Josef Newgarden at Texas Round 1 and Pietro Fittipaldi in Round 2. There was a fluky randomness with Bourdais’ pair of misfortunes, which makes it easy to dismiss most of what happened. Vaulting back inside the top 10 won’t come easily, but if the No. 14 Chevy’s pace on road and street courses along with the one oval so far has told us anything, it’s that the rebuilding team is genuine player.
• Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist owns the most unexpectedly poor start to the season. Mistakes in the car, on pit lane, and plain old bad luck continue to haunt the rapid Swede, who can’t wait to leave his current position of 16th in the rearview mirror. In terms of a yardstick, AMSP’s Pato O’Ward’s current claim on second with a pole, win, and three finishes inside the top four offer a glimpse of what Rosenqvist has missed out on so far. He’s by no means at fault for all that’s gone wrong, and a strong run at the sharp end of Texas 2 confirmed what was possible before the right-rear wheel fell off leaving the pits. Rosenqvist (58 points) needs to more than double his tally to reach O’Ward (131 points) and nearly triple that to reel in Dixon. A change of fortune must be coming.
• The highlight of Ed Jones’ return to IndyCar is a 12th at Texas 1. Of all the full-timers who appear to be in a make-or-break month, the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan driver stands alone. It’s hard to say exactly what DCRwVS expected from Jones at this stage of the season, but it’s unlikely they envisioned 18th (51 points) as their points position. In a continuing theme that extends well beyond the 2016 Indy Lights champion, Jones has been an innocent bystander for some of the misery that has befallen his entry, but it doesn’t change the reality of the No. 18 Honda being near the bottom of the standings. It’s hard to forget how Bourdais, with a year left on his DCRwVS contract, was dumped after earning nine top 10 finishes and placing 11th in 2019. Santino Ferrucci, his replacement, wasn’t retained after earning five top 10s and 13th overall in 2020. Does Jones have more Indy 500 magic to show? His first Speedway appearance ended with a third, and on his last visit, Jones started fourth. Jones is a beast around the Brickyard, and needs to show it once practice gets under way.
• Closing the roster of drivers who can’t afford to leave Indy in a funk of disappointment is Conor Daly, whose two races with Ed Carpenter Racing delivered two 16ths, and two with Carlin Racing resulted in a painful 21st and 24th. Lacking pace at times, and dead center in the cartoon anvil’s targeting system when his cars aren’t, Daly’s in 20th and can’t say farewell to the month of May without an epic U-turn.
• Circling back to where we started, the championship leader has a healthy 22-point margin over O’Ward in second and 85-plus points over the cluster of beleaguered drivers from 14th-20th. Dixon’s strength through the four opening rounds is creating a mini-panic from Bourdais on down to Daly. All they need is for CGR to swing and miss at the Indy GP to provide a glimmer of hope, and if the adversity extends into the Indy 500, they might be able to exhale and stage a rally over summer to get back in the title hunt. What a strange scenario to consider so early in the season.