By: Tyler Hill
The 2021 IndyCar season was filled with excitement. Despite fewer ovals for racing than some fans would have liked, most can argue that this season was one of the most competitive as we saw nine different winners through 16 highly competitive races. So let's take a look at how it all went down.
Palou gets his first IndyCar win (race 1 Birmingham)
Getting the first win on the 2021 IndyCar season for Chip Ganassi Racing wasn't six-time champion Scott Dixon. Instead, it was the Spaniard getting his first career victory in his second season. He survived a wild opening lap with Josef Newgarden spinning across the track, collecting Colton Herta. Pato O'Ward started from pole and had the fastest lap, but Palou came in first by holding off Will Power zero point four seconds behind him, with teammate Dixon rounding out the podium.
O'Ward holds off Dixon to notch his first Career win, plus a ticket to Formula One testing (race 4, Texas race 2)
There was some fire ignited in O'Ward at the start of the season because F1 McLaren boss Zak Brown promised he would get to test the current McLaren Formula One car if he won one race. O'Ward was up for the task, winning race two of the Texas doubleheader while collecting his first career IndyCar win. Scott Dixon started on pole but had to settle with a fourth-place finish. However, O'Ward made a great pass on Newgarden with 24 laps to go and pulled away with a one-point two-second victory. Graham Rahal came home third place to round out the podium.
Romain Grosjean earns his first career pole and podium, VeeKay grabs his first career win (Race 5 Indianapolis RC)
After struggling in Formula 1 for several years, Romain Grosjean made the switch from Formula One to IndyCar. Heck, he almost won the race if not for VeeKay, who had himself a solid day. Passing Jimmie Johnson and Alex Palou down the middle in Turn Seven on Lap 42, he continued. Two laps later, he passed Grosjean on the front straightaway for third place and eventually, as it played out-the win. Palou was third.
Helio wins a record-tying fourth Indy 500 (Race 6, IMS)
Twenty years after winning his first Indy 500, Helio kissed the bricks and won his record-tying 4th Indy 500 at 46 years old- tying AJ Foyt, and Rick Mears. Lap 33 saw this year's pole winner Dixon go down pit road for emergency service, only for the car to run out of gas and not be able to refire, losing a lap. Alexander Rossi also couldn't refire on Lap 38, losing a lap as well. VeeKay, Herta, and Connor Daly were the ones having an exciting battle for the lead for the first 50 laps of the race. On Lap 119, Rahal had a left rear tire that wasn't tight, causing him to spin and hit the wall hard- taking him out of the race. With 75 laps left, the Palou-Castroneves edge of your set battle began. Palou passed the Brazilian with five laps to go. With two laps to go, Castroneves went to the outside of Palou on the front stretch to take the lead as the winning pass. Simon Pagenaud was third. A thrilling finish saw the Top Five all within one point two seconds of each other.
Marcus Ericsson keeps the good times rolling at Chip Ganassi after Will Power runs into bad luck
(race 7, Detroit race 1)
For any Swedish IndyCar fans, this race was an emotional rollercoaster. First, Felix Rosenqvist had a scary wreck on Lap 24 into a tire barrier, with his car pointed upwards after. It seems like he had a stuck throttle, and miraculously, he had no severe injuries and was released from the hospital the next day. Then, Swedish driver on Chip Ganassi, Marcus Ericsson, got his first career win hours later. However, it came with a bit of luck as Will Power was looking to close out this race and just had to hold off Ericsson. Then, Roman Grojean crashed into the wall with six laps to go and red-flagged the race for the second time. 37 lap leader Power was forced to start at the back as he couldn't get his car to retire. After a significant jump by Ericsson on the restart, he held off VeeKay and O'Ward to cruise to victory lane.
O'Ward passes Newgarden to get his second win on the season (race 8, Detroit race 2)
With 12 laps to go, Grosjean caused yet another race halt as his left front brake caught fire. That caused a late-race restart, and O'Ward was a man on a mission. After being in 16th at one point in the race, he started from fifth place at the restart. He passed two cars (Rahal and Palou) on the first two corners of the restart. With six laps to go, he moved into second with a pass on Herta. With three laps to go, O'Ward took the championship lead by passing the Newgarden on the backstretch to end his dominant day and prevented the two-time champion from winning. An incredible performance by O'Ward. On pole was the Mexican, Newgarden.
Palou passes Newgarden to become the second two-time winner this season (race 9, Road America)
With Newgarden on pole yet again, he hoped to finally break through and get his first win of the season. However, Ed Jones and Newgarden's gearbox had different plans. With four laps to go, Jones' left rear tire went down, causing him to spin out and bring out the yellow caution. With two to go on the restart, Newgarden had problems with his gearbox, causing him to lose drive up the hill and Palou to pass on the front stretch heading into turn one. Newgarden kept dropping back and finished 21st, a disappointing end to another solid weekend for him and Team Penske. Palou, Herta, and Power were on the podium, with Dixon and Grosjean rounding out the top five.
The third time's the charm for Newgarden (Race 10, Mid Ohio)
Newgarden was on pole for the third straight week, but was he going to get passed late in the race for the third consecutive time or was he going to pull through for his first win of the season? Newgarden dominated this race but was seeing flashbacks of the last two races with Ericsson breathing down his neck, but Newgarden beat him by zero point eight seconds at the line to throw the monkey off his back and get his first win of the season. Palou came in third. The performance of the race has to go to Grosjean. He went from 18th at one point of the race to finish seventh.
Chip Ganassi finishes first and second, Hinchliffe gets his first podium since 2019 (race 11, Nashville)
Another Chip Ganassi driver gets two wins on the season. It's Scott Dixon. (Dixon won Texas race one this year) Nope. Marcus Ericsson continued his stellar season and held off teammate Dixon to capture an eventful inaugural race in the Nashville streets. On lap four, Ericsson went right over Bourdais's car. Unfortunately for Bourdais, his car was ruined, and he was out of the race, but Ericsson still had an intact car and somehow rode it to victory lane. Herta started from pole position and led the most laps. Newgarden must have passed on his bad luck as with five laps to go, Herta crashed into the wall, and a few laps before he almost lost it again in the same spot, no more minor. Unfortunately for the hometown boy Newgarden, he finished 10th and couldn't match up to his previous three weeks' success. Hinchliffe grabbed third for his first podium since 2019 at Iowa.
Palou grabs his third win to take the Championship lead (race 14, Portland)
After another crazy opening lap, Palou missed turn two and was forced to go into the emergency runoff to avoid the pileup. With a good strategy and a fast car, he was able to win his third race of the season and was back to leading the championship race. Palou was on pole, and Grosjean had the fastest lap. Scott McLaughlin had another solid Top 10 finish,
Palou wins his first IndyCar Season Championship in his sophomore IndyCar season (race 16, Long Beach)
Colton Herta won his second straight race, and Newgarden and Dixon were on pole, but Alex Palou took his first career championship in his second career season with a 4th place finish in this race. Palou finished with 549 points, had two poles, three fastest laps, had one race where he led the most races and had three wins on the season. O'Ward was the most prominent contender to Palou but had some bad luck, but Ed Jones had different plans, bumping his car and bumping him literally from a chance at the Championship. Grosjean also had trouble denying his chance of getting Rookie of The Year. Better luck next year, boys.
Best drivers of the season that didn't win the Championship
He finished third place for the season championship, had three poles, two fastest laps, never led the most laps in a race, but won two races this season.
Runner up for Rookie of the Year, had one pole, three podiums, one fastest lap. Not a bad first season in IndyCar.
Runner up for Season Championship, had four poles, two fastest laps, led most laps in a race four times, won two times this season.
Three poles, two fastest laps, led most laps in a race four times, won three races this season.
Underperformers Of The Season
Some could give him some credit since he was involved in a terrifying wreck in Detroit, but things haven't gone his way since he was IndyCar Rookie of the Year in 2019. He had two Top 10s this season, including a 6th place finish in Portland.
This was Ryan's worst entire season in IndyCar, a 17th overall finish on the season standings. The champion in 2012, he only had 3 Top 10s this year. A 4th place finish in Nashville's streets was his best result. With him struggling since 2014, he is retiring full-time from IndyCar competition with the conclusion of this season but will run part-time in 2022.
Debatable, but let me explain. For 10 straight seasons, he hasn't finished worse than 5th in the season standings. However, despite having four podiums and one win, he had some trouble in the first half of the season that cost him a 9th place finish, like the late red flag in Detroit, and the engine wouldn't fire. Team Penske will hope Power can bounce back from the 2022 season.
The 2022 season begins on February 27th on the streets of St. Petersburg, with a total of 17 races on the calendar as Toronto's date will be back next season.