How on earth do we put the season to date in context?
It opened at Barber with Pato O’Ward taking his first pole and Alex Palou capturing his first win. Then Colton Herta took pole and the win at St. Pete. Rain scuttled qualifying at the Texas doubleheader, and with passing seemingly prohibited in the first race, Dixon cruised from pole but had rookie countryman Scott McLaughlin giving him the business on the way to placing second in his maiden oval race.
Dixon started from pole again due to leading the championship at Texas 2 and appeared to be on the way to a shutout, but then O’Ward chased down everyone in sight and proved passing was indeed an option if you were willing to take risks and catch wiggles and slides at 220mph. So O’Ward won, turned a22 years old a few days later, rode into the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis on a high, and found his team missed the setup window by a mile and struggled all weekend as Romain Grosjean brought the racing world to tears after taking pole.
And if that wasn’t enough, Ed Carpenter Racing, a team that has been somewhat adrift since losing Josef Newgarden to Team Penske in 2017, saw Conor Daly deliver like never before in qualifying to take P6, right ahead of VeeKay. And instead of Daly storming his way to the late lead and winning in front of the home audience, he got clobbered on lap 1 and his teammate broke the internet in Holland while leading home a joyful Grosjean.
Oh, and Newgarden wiped out of a ton of cars at the first race and had a terrible start to the year, but has shot from 23rd to fourth in the standings. Behind him, Pietro Fittipaldi’s bowling ball impression at Texas 2 ensured some of the series’ most popular drivers are buried in the championship.
Plus, Jimmie Johnson and amusing Carvana ads! And young drivers on the rise! And we’ve yet to run the Indy 500… man, I can think of a few seasons that lacked as much change and excitement as we’ve had in the opening 27 days of the 2021 season.
Dixon did well to recover from a bad qualifying run at the Indy GP to come home in ninth and hold onto his championship lead (176 points). Leaving Texas, he held 22 points over second-placed O’Ward, but P2 was reclaimed by his teammate Alex Palou (163), who is 23 points behind.
O’Ward’s rough Indy GP saw Newgarden sneak by as well into third in the points (148) as the Texas 2 winner dropped to fourth (146 points).
Graham Rahal held station in fifth (137) as GP winner Rinus VeeKay was the big mover, vaulting from 11th to sixth (135). Simon Pagenaud was sixth after Texas 2 and is now seventh (130), rookie teammate Scott McLaughlin is unchanged in eighth (123), and teammate Will Power did the same, remaining in ninth (118). The biggest fall belongs to Colton Herta, who went backward from seventh to 10th (117).
And outside the top 10, Jack Harvey – once fifth – is now 13th, Alexander Rossi stepped from 15th to 14th, Sebastien Bourdais went from 14th to 16th, Ryan Hunter-Reay traded 19th for 17th, and Felix Rosenqvist gave up 16th for 18th.
As it’s always interesting to get a feel for which teams are in positions of championship strength entering the Indy 500, here’s your top 10 entries:
Starting 18th and finishing 22nd, Mr. Hinchcliffe was definitely at the race, but definitely wasn’t in the race.
There wasn’t a driver worthy of The Golden Bowling Ball at the Indy GP, but the Cartoon Anvil did wipe out two of the Firestone Fast Six as Conor Daly got ‘Pagen-o’d’ on lap 1, Turn 1 (since ‘Sato’d’ has become a thing, it can be universally applied to every driver), and Jack Harvey was robbed by a double anvil strike on the same lap.
* Ages of the five winners so far this season: 24, 21, 21 (at the time of victory), 40, and 20. Add the ages of Palou, Herta, Dixon, O’Ward, and VeeKay together and divide by five and you get 25.2. Subtract Dixon, and the average age for four of the five winners is 21.5. Is that the lowest among all major professional racing series?
* Five races in and Team Penske has worn out the left and right sides of the podium with five visits so far. But no luck with reaching the top step. Last time that happened? That would be 2013, when a seven-race drought was ended by Helio Castroneves winning at Texas.
* Between Charlie Kimball’s RaceWithInsulin.com Foyt entry and Conor Daly’s NeedleFreeInsulin.com ECR car, did the GMR GP have the world’s first race between dueling Type 1 diabetes delivery devices?
* Similar thread: Anyone notice the carshop.com sponsorship on Team Penske’s cars and the giant carshop.com banner on the infield bridge? I’m guessing the Ganassi team had a ‘No photos of the No. 48 Carvana Honda under that bridge’ order to make sure there’s no confusion between the internet car-buying services.
* A reminder of how competitive IndyCar has become was offered by Arrow McLaren SP. They were everywhere at round 1. Nowhere at round 2. Close to everywhere at round 3. Everywhere at round 4. And nowhere at round 5. One of the key themes to their move up the grid involved consistency, and while it’s still a work in progress, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one or more of AMSP’s drivers make the Fast Nine in qualifying this weekend.
* Sticking with AMSP, is Felix Rosenqvist paying the price for having a different chassis setup preference than his teammate O’Ward? There’s no blame to apply here to the team; it’s a fairly common tale in racing for a new driver to take longer than the team veteran to find their engineering comfort zone. Still, it’s glaringly evident that what O’Ward requires to go fast on road and street courses does not jive with Rosenqvist’s needs behind the steering wheel. His candor after a dispiriting run to 17th shed more light on the subject: “That was a really bad race. We simply didn’t have the pace this weekend, and without that you don’t have the tools to move forward. We need some fundamental changes on that side on the road courses, but we’re pressing on and doing everything we can to find that solution.”
* That’s your 2018 Indy Lights runner-up, 2000 Indy Lights champion, 2018 Indy Lights champion, and 2019 Indy Lights runner-up who’ve won the last four races. We can safely retire any arguments about changing the Road To Indy’s cars and general approach to building IndyCar’s next-generation stars, right?
* Dixon remains the only driver to have finished inside the top 10 at every race, but just squeaked in with a ninth at Indy. All the others have at least one poor finish affecting their championship position.
* Best combined effort of the season from Ed Jones and the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan Honda team, albeit through the first quarter of the race. Starting ninth, Jones was speedy on reds, rising as high as third before his first pit stop. But the move to primaries coincided with a sizable drop in pace and troubles getting past slower drivers on the way to a disappointing 14th. Teammate Grosjean taking pole and finishing second only served to underline the differing fortunes under the DCR tent.
* Making matters worse, Grosjean, who skipped the two ovals in Texas – compared to Jones, who has done all five rounds – vaulted from 21st to 15th in the standings while Jones slipped from 18th to 19th.
* Despite a report stating Marcus Ericsson’s entire No. 8 Honda crew had been changed entering the GP, only one rear tire changer was new to the rotation.
* News of Max Chilton’s withdrawal from the weekend came 30 minutes before the start of Practice 1. At least one highly talented and available driver, who was at the track with helmet and seat ready to go, said his outreach to the team did not receive a response. RACER learned the team held out hope for Chilton to arrive at some point and drive the car, and was prepared to start last if he missed Friday’s on-track action. If it weren’t for the terrible start to the season for the No. 59 Chevy entry, the story would be a non-issue. But with the No. 59 shared by Chilton and Conor Daly sitting 24th and last in Entrants’ points, the team arrived at Indy outside the $1 million Leaders Circle cutoff. By missing the GMR GP, the distance to the safe zone – P22 – was widened.
* Speaking of the Leaders Circle, there’s a tight battle for 22nd between CGR’s No. 48 Honda in 21st (59 points) and Andretti’s No. 29 Honda in 22nd (56). First on the wrong side is the No. 4 Foyt Chevy (48), and in 24th, Carlin’s No. 59 Chevy is in a bad way (31).
* For those who watched qualifying live on Peacock, Will Power confirmed his vocabulary includes words that start with the letter ‘M’ and the letter ‘F’. He also knows how to use them together in a highly amusing manner, for those who aren’t easily offended.
* Hard to say what Mike Shank and Jim Meyer did to make the universe mad at their team, but Saturday’s podium-grade performance that was killed with a wheel gun failure on pit lane and a flat tire moments later wasn’t the end of their misery. It continued on Sunday at Meyer Shank Racing’s home track of Mid-Ohio where their No. 60 Acura ARX-0f IMSA DPi entry had… a slow pit stop, got hit exiting pit lane, and if that eerily familiar scenario wasn’t enough, the timing of yellows meant teams had to do a ton of fuel saving to make the finish. Running fifth in the class of six, MSR driver Olivier Pla pitted with a few laps to go for a top-up and finished last. Racing can be damn cruel at times.