It’s finally time to go IndyCar racing.
We’ve looked at all manner of angles with drivers and their needs, looked into the future with the revealing of Toyota’s interest in becoming IndyCar’s third engine supplier and added to the topic with the emergence of a Toyota sub-brand as the likely badge to be applied to the motors. We’ve delved into the projected Indy 500 entry list, worked through the notable changes among personnel in the paddock, and have dozens of other stories that have gone live during the offseason (click here for the full list).
So with the first practice session of 2022 ready to run, here’s a few remaining thoughts and themes to share as the green flag is being unfurled.
OUR MAN MILLER
This is the first IndyCar season since 1968 that will start without Robin Miller on pit lane or in the media center covering the series that filled his life. We had a few memorials for Miller after he passed in August, and with more than half a year to adjust to his loss, Robin’s absence doesn’t sting quite as much. Nonetheless, kicking off a new IndyCar season without Robin means we’ll miss out on all the arguments and mayhem he loved to create.
We also lost one of Miller’s closest friends during the offseason as T.E. McHale from Honda died in December. Honda Performance Development will hold a gathering in T.E.’s honor today at the hospitality motor coach McHale made possible.
ONE IN THE CHAMBER
The 2021 season presented an odd and interesting dynamic among the leading championship contenders. Despite fielding four full-time cars, Andretti Autosport only had one driver fighting for the title with Colton Herta. Chip Ganassi Racing, another four-car team, ended up placing three drivers in the top six and had Scott Dixon in the title frame early in the season, but it was Alex Palou who served as the only serious title threat for CGR and went on to win the championship.
Team Penske’s four-car operation was also left with a single contender for the title with Josef Newgarden, and the last member of the one-in-the-chamber group was Arrow McLaren SP, which saw Pato O’Ward establish himself as the lone threat within the two-car effort.
Four teams, 14 cars, but only four to five drivers who truly factored into the fight for the championship. By the numbers, it was a largely ineffective year for most of those multi-car teams who were left to rely on a single driver to vie for the title.
We should see some corrective action in the new season as Dixon is expected to give Palou all the business he can handle, and at Andretti Herta is expected to have Alexander Rossi and newcomer Romain Grosjean helping to double or triple the team’s weekly threat. Penske’s Will Power suffered through a year where almost everything went wrong, so the odds favor his return to front-running status next to Newgarden, and Rosenqvist, with a new race engineer in Craig Hampson ready to turn his fortunes around, should give AMSP and proper twosome to wedge into the top five.
With all the time and money spent by IndyCar four top-performing teams to ensure they have more than one driver capable of capturing the championship, we’re in store for a fascinating year where internecine clashes for team leader status will be taking place.
GAINS AND LOSSES:
As we have every season, some of our friends have gone on to new opportunities, others lost their jobs, and the rest, well, we hope to welcome them back as soon as possible. For 2022, here’s the list of gains and losses on the grid.
Lost: Ed Jones and Vasser Sullivan in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Gained: David Malukas in the No. 18 DCR with HMD Motorsports Honda.
Lost: Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy.
Gained: Kyle Kirkwood in the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy.
Lost: Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda.
Gained: Romain Grosjean in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda.
Lost: James Hinchcliffe in the No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda.
Gained: Devlin DeFrancesco in the No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda.
Lost: Max Chilton, Carlin Racing, and the No. 59 Chevy.
Gained: Tatiana Calderon in the No. 11 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy.
Gained: Christian Lundgaard in the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.
SPEAKING OF CALDERON…
For the first time since the 2013 season, the NTT IndyCar Series has a woman racer on the grid for the majority of its races. Tatiana Calderon is set to be the only woman to have regularly competed in IndyCar (outside of the Indy 500) since Simona De Silvestro ran with the former KVSH Racing team in 2013, and when De Silvestro returned in 2015 to for a limited schedule with Andretti Autosport.
If there’s a bigger hope attached to the 28-year-old from Colombia, it’s for other sponsors to follow the example set by ROKiT, the backers of her No. 11 Chevy, by putting their money behind promising women racers and moving them up the open-wheel ladder and into IndyCar. It’s just not something we see that often, so while Calderon is out learning the car, series, and tracks as a rookie, the greatest impact would be for more companies to take an active role in helping to support and deliver the next De Silvestros and Calderons to the top.
Jack Harvey spent one day in his new team, with a new race engineer, between Sept. 26 and Feb 25. One day.
The same is true for Takuma Sato, who recently got to know his new Dale Coyne Racing team and new engineer Don Bricker for all of one windy day at Sebring before turning up to St. Pete for the first race of the year. Most of the veterans got one or two days, and that’s it. A few others, namely the rookies, got a few days in their Indy cars before the new season starts, but not enough to say they know what to expect from their machines when pushed to the limit at St. Petersburg.
Altogether, some of the finest race car drivers on the planet will line up and roll towards the green flag on Sunday without the feeling of being fully ready for the mental or physical challenges that lie ahead. They get one practice session today, another Saturday morning, then qualify, return Sunday morning for a brief warm-up session and go racing at noon ET. It’s a crash course of “instant on” and some drivers are better than others at winding their pulses and synapses up to 12,000 rpm and being fully effective by Turn 1 on lap 1.
NEW RACE CONTROL UPDATES
IndyCar recently announced the introduction of its new EM Marshaling system that will place Formula 1-style LED light panels in the corners, and add more timing loops to race control’s software tracking system, to help its referees to more ably monitor what’s happening on track at any given moment. RACER understands the system will not be installed this weekend, but it should come online later in April or early in May.
RAGING AGAINST THE DYING LIGHT
We have fewer of IndyCar’s old guard represented this season after losing Bourdais and Hunter-Reay, but the 40-plus crowd is no less formidable. Led by Chip Ganassi Racing’s six-time champion Scott Dixon (41) and Team Penske’s Will Power (turns 41 on Tuesday), the pair of Antipodeans should factor in how the title is settled. And they’re joined by the ageless Helio Castroneves (47 in May) from Meyer Shank Racing and Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Takuma Sato (45), along with CGR’s Jimmie Johnson (46) who could be a big player on the ovals.
Once again, we greet a new IndyCar season with the old lions and its younger members ready to go to war for control over the pride. Who knows how many times it will happen in the future, so let’s enjoy the battle of IndyCar eras while it lasts.