By: Tyler Hill
The IndyCar Series is set to begin Sunday, April 18th, Alabama, to be the biggest and most exciting season to date. After the pandemic shortened the season last year, we now have 17 races on the schedule. With new drivers, including some big names in other motorsports, there’s a lot to look forward to this upcoming season.
Driver and Teams ranking (in order of how I think they will finish the season)
1. For Penske, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud will be the usual suspects with full-time schedules in their Chevrolet. The three drivers combine for four championships, and 70 IndyCar wins. They added Scott McLaughlin full-time over the offseason, who won three straight Supercar championships in addition to racing an IndyCar for one race last year. I think they will finish first and lead the field by a solid distance with their speed and consistency if Will Power starts on the right foot.
2. Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, and Ryan Hunter-Reay are full-time drivers under Andretti Autosport. Canadian James Hinchliffe will return to full-time action after only appearing in 6 races in the 29 last year. Marco Andretti will attempt to kiss the bricks in the Indy 500 for the one race he appears in. These four full-time drivers are great and can bring a lot to the table but again, it depends on Rossi’s season as he did not have the most incredible season last year.
3. If it weren't for the fact that defending champion Scott Dixon is on their team, I would honestly rank them near the bottom. Chip Ganassi Racing will field four Hondas. Three full-time drivers including Dixon, Marcus Ericsson from Sweden, and Alex Palou. They will also bring more experience that will hopefully relieve Dixon from leading the team, with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson driving the road courses. Former A.J. Foyt team member Tony Kana will do oval racing, including the Indianapolis 500. If Dixon races like last year and his team members do well, I think C.G.R. will be a lock for a Top 3 spot.
4. Arrow McLaren will field two full-season Chevys, Patricio O’ Ward in the number five and Felix Rosenqvist in the number seven car. Juan Pablo Montoya will drive in the 1st IMS race and the Indy 500 for the Arrow McLaren team. Patrica O' Ward and Felix Rosenqvist last season made a big splash in IndyCar. I have no doubt they will do the same this season.
5. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will have two full-time drivers for Graham Rahl and defending Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. They will also have an extra entry in the Indy 500, with Santino Ferucci behind the wheel of the 45. These two veterans bring experience to the team for this season. They aren’t going to win a championship this year, but I think they can still have a strong season and prove they are a team to be feared.
6. Dale Coyne Racing and Rick Ware Racing will combine to field a full-time Honda in the 51. F1 driver Romain Grosjean will contest the road courses, while Pietro Fittipaldi will contest the ovals in the 51. His other team that has partnered with Vasser-Sullivan will have one full-time car with Ed Jones behind the wheel. Romain Grosjean should get one or two poles and a podium, but this team shouldn’t be one to look out for.
7. Ed Carpenter Racing will run one full-time Chevrolet with Rinus VeeKay at the wheel. Conor Daly will race the road courses in the 20 car, while Ed Carpenter will race the ovals in the 47 car.
8. Onto Meyer Shank Racing, Jack Harvey will be racing full time in the number 60 Honda. Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves will be running the Indy 500 plus the last four road course races of the 6.
9. On the AJ Foyt Enterprise team, Dalton Kellet and Sebastien Bourdais will both drive full time. J.R. Hildebrand will drive the Indy 500 in a tribute livery to AJ’s 1st Indy 500 win. Charlie Kimball will go the 11 in the Indy 500 and the race before that on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.
10. Carlin will have Max Chilton in the 59 for the road courses and the Indy 500.
11. Paretta Autosport will be entering a Chevrolet for the Indy 500 and Switzerland native Simona de Silvestro.
The cars will see the green flag first at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 18, instead of St. Petersburg. Takuma Sato won the last race, with IndyCar racing cancelled the previous season due to the pandemic. However, two Penske drivers (Power and Newgarden) have won at least two races before, with Newgarden winning three. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a Penske car in victory lane on Sunday.
They head off to the streets of St. Petersburg the week after, a week after the date it was supposed to be on. Josef Newgarden won the season finale last season here with Scott Dixon picking up his sixth championship.
For the third straight week of racing, they will head to their first oval for a Saturday/Sunday doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway for the Genesys 300 and Xpel 375. Scott Dixon is a great oval driver and my pick to grab a victory in one of these races.
They will have a week off, then race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They raced here three times last season. Will Power has won on the road course four times before, and Dixon was a force to be reckoned with, so I wouldn't be surprised if any of them win this one.
May 30 will be the date this season for the 105th running of the Indy 500. My pick is Marco Andretti, but I think more realistically, it will likely be Scott Dixon or Josef Newgarden.
Following that, the next race will be a doubleheader on June 13 and 14 on the streets of Belle Island in Detroit. Dixon has won at least one race in the last two doubleheaders.
Road America will be a week earlier this season than average and only have one race instead of the usual doubleheader. We had a great race here last year with Felix Rosenqvist holding off O’Ward for the win, so I suspect we should have another good race this year.
A race on USA’s Independence Day will be held at Mid Ohio. Colton Herta and Will Power each won a race in the doubleheader last season, but Dixon has always been a name to look for here, winning IndyCar races six times at Mid Ohio.
They will head up north to the streets of Toronto on Exhibition Grounds. My home race was not held last year due to COVID-19 concerns, but I hope they still can hold it. Even if it doesn’t mean sitting in the stands on my birthday weekend seeing Jimmie Johnson race, I would be okay. Toronto is a staple to IndyCar's schedule, and they need to hold a race with or without the fans to preserve the magic the course has to offer.
The new street course in Nashville will follow a three-week break for Olympics coverage.
The course has 11 corners and one lap around spans 3.49 km. The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix is the first street course race to be added since Houston back in 2013. We will save what happened there for another day. Practice and qualifying will be huge for drivers and teams to get used to the track. They can pick out what went well and what went wrong to adapt for the big race. This race is one of the most wide-open races for a winner because of how new it is, and anybody is considered a favourite.
Then we will be back for another race at the Indy road course a week later. I feel like one of the lesser-known teams or names will snag a victory, perhaps a rookie? They had some laps already in May. They know what went wrong, what went right, and they can take that experience and head into this race feeling confident. Another wide-open race for Victory Lane in my opinion.
They will be off to Wisconsin the week after for the last oval race of the season: the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway. Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden won a race each in last year's doubleheader.
After another three-week break, they go to Portland. This race was not on the 2020 calendar last year. In 2019, Will Power held off Rosenqvist for victory lane and his 2nd straight win at Portland International Raceway.
A race on September 19th at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. In 2019 this event was the season finale, where Colton Herta finished off his magical rookie season in victory lane and Newgarden won the 2019 series championship.
Long Beach will round out the 2021 season in September, instead of its usual April spot. I have always loved Long Beach and think the race’s usual date getting moved will fit perfectly, and we will have some good battles for the final points of the season.
Three Things to Look for this season
(SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE)
What will Jimmie Johnson Do In His Rookie Season?
Jimmie is on a team with Scott Dixon, a six-time IndyCar champion, so he’s already off to a good start. But the thing that worries me is he doesn’t have as much open-wheel experience coming in as a rookie. In the Cup Series, he never had much success on road courses either, winning only once in 2010, with a few top-five finishes. It’s open-wheel racing, so that I wouldn’t expect too much from him in the first few races for the time being. Maybe after the Indy 500, he will get more experience and start posting a few top 10s and even one or two top-fives. But then again, he is 45 years and has been behind the wheel in motorsports more than anyone and knows how to adapt quickly, so he could be a driver to keep your eye on.
Will Nashville Be A Successful Or a One and Done?
Motorsports seem to be targeting Nashville right now, with NASCAR holding a race there this summer and IndyCar having a street race this season. Perhaps we will see an F1 race ripping around the streets? Fat chance, but let’s not get off-topic. IndyCar did have races at Nashville Superspeedway from 2001 to 2008. This course looks very interesting, especially with the long straightaway right on the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge. Speeds should still be well over 200 mph, and the best spots for passing should be Turns one, two and seven. This track looks promising. Time will tell if it will be successful. Although we saw some failures like Houston and Baltimore’s street circuit, Boston is still not up and running. So maybe luck will hopefully be on our side. Looking at the scenery and the track layout, I think this will be a staple to IndyCar’s schedule.
Will A Road/Street Course Heavy Schedule Improve or Damage The IndyCar Schedule and Reputation?
Maybe it’s just me… but where the heck did all the ovals go? 17 races, and we have a whopping total of four races each at three tracks, including the Indy 500. I love IndyCar and the races at the road and street courses. But the uniqueness and what separates it from Formula 1 is the ovals. A NASCAR Cup race was supposed to occur at Iowa Speedway sometime in the next few seasons, but that dream is on hold for now. An IndyCar race every year does not seem enough to satisfy their needs. A race this season at Richmond was in the works, but that got extinguished quickly. Pocono disappeared after 2019. We had five oval races in 2016, six in 2013, and eleven oval races in 2008. So indeed we have seen the numbers drop. I think this season will still have the potential to be good, and we will see lots of nonetheless. I hope it’s not permanent, and IndyCar can find some ovals to race on to balance the schedule and create a uniqueness found only in IndyCar.
Indy 500 Champion- Marco Andretti
Please, racing gods, let Marco get one. He got pole position last year and he is knocking at the door in perhaps his last race for an attempt at his first brick kiss at the Indy 500. Maybe not the favourite and the strongest in this year’s field, he can lead the race closer to the end and win under caution.
Rookie of the Year-Scott McLaughlin
There may not have been a better class of rookies in years in the history of this sport. We have three rookies, with great experience in motorsports. However, Scott stands out as he has won the Supercars championship in 2018, 2019, and 2020. He also raced in the IndyCar series last season. However, he only raced in St. Petersburg. Another strong contender is former Formula One driver Romain Grosjean, who has made headlines for surviving a fiery crash last year. He has open-wheel experience but has only had test laps so far in an IndyCar. But I think he can adapt quickly and post a few top 10s but won’t match Scott. Jimmie Johnson is our other rookie, an attractive name but has minimal open-wheel experience. However, as mentioned, he has a knack for adapting. The rookie class will be a close finish, but I predict Scott will because he has more experience in an IndyCar than the others.
Season Champion- Josef Newgarden
Even though we have such a wide-open season, one thing can be said with certainty. Newgarden lost the championship to Dixon. He raced well, but perhaps his misfortunes through the season are what cost him. A fire burning within him says to me that he is going to win another championship, overtaking a solid grid and making his adversaries fear him. On both road courses and ovals, he is consistent which is good news in terms of points. He will have his best season yet and gets five wins, 4 poles, and seven podiums to take the championship.