INDYCAR Season Preview: Scott Dixon Chasing History; Stacked ‘Rookie’ Class; Highly Competitive Field
BIRMINGHAM, AL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The green flag drops on the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park and the season is full of storylines race fans are going to want to watch and follow until the checkered flag falls at Long Beach in September.
PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, the reigning and six-time Series Champion, is seeking a record-tying seventh title in 2021. A seventh title would tie INDYCAR legend AJ Foyt for the most Championships in the history of the sport. Foyt won the last of his championships in 1979, which means his mark has stood unmatched for 42 years.
Dixon started 2020 with three-straight wins to propel him to his sixth title. Speaking of wins, Dixon sits third on the all-time wins list with 50-career wins. Mario Andretti is 2nd all-time with 52-wins so Dixon could pass Mario this season. Foyt is first with 67-career wins so ‘Super Tex’s’ win record is safe, for now.
“Building on 2020, we had a pretty good start,” team owner Chip Ganassi told Pittsburgh Racing Now about Dixon’s start in 2020. “With his fast start of the season, it was a fast start for our team. If we can do that in ’21 I’ll be stunned. Fingers crossed.”
In addition to Dixon, CGR has Marcus Ericsson returning in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda. Alex Palou joins the team in 2021 taking over the No. 10 Honda and a rookie is going to splitting time with Tony Kanaan in the No. 48 Honda.
The 2021 INDYCAR rookie class is deep, talented and loaded with all kinds of experience. Joining the series in 2021 are seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, who is driving the road and street course schedule for Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing; three-time Australian Super Cars Champion Scott McLaughlin, who is driving the full schedule for Team Penske with sponsorship from Pittsburgh-headquartered PPG Paints; Long time Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean is competing for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing.
“This might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing that we see something like this,” said INDYCAR President Jay Frye. “We’re really excited. The good thing about these three is they’re great people on and off the track. They’ve taken this very seriously. It’s going to be amazing to watch their progress over the course of the year. Really excited to have them.”
“Any team owner would want Jimmie Johnson on his team,” said Ganassi. “He’s a damn hard worker. He set the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in and my hats off to him. He’s always on the simulator, on the computer, on the phone making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team. The guy doesn’t slow down.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES isn’t slowing down either as Team Penske returns with a 4-car lineup featuring former Series Champions Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud along with the rookie McLaughlin.
Andretti Autosport returns with a 4-car full-time lineup led by former Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The pair will be joined by Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe, who returns to full-time competition in 2021. Marco Andretti will run a fifth entry in the Indy 500.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will field two full-time cars for two-time 500 winner Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal. RLL will field a third car in the 500 with Santino Ferrucci behind the wheel.
Arrow McLaren SP is on a mission in 2021 to join the ‘Big 3’ (Ganassi, Penske, Andretti) as one of the teams to beat week in and week out. Pato O’Ward returns for his second season with team and starts on the pole position Sunday. O’Ward will be joined at AMSP by former CGR driver Felix Rosenqvist. AMSP will field a third car in the 500 for two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s 10th season of competition finds Conor Daly running the road and street courses and team owner Ed Carpenter in the cockpit for the oval events. Rinus VeeKay remains the team’s full-time driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet. The trio will again make up ECR’s three-car lineup in the Indianapolis 500.
Four-time Champion Sebastien Bourdais leads AJ Foyt Racing into 2021 as the affable Frenchman returns to full-time INDYCAR competition in 2021. Joining Bourdais all season long will be second-year driver Dalton Kellett, who made eight starts in 2020. Veteran Charlie Kimball will be joining the team for the GMR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500.
Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan will field a car for Ed Jones, who returns to INDYCAR full time in 2021. In addition to Grosjean, DCR with RWR will field an additional entry in selected events in 2021. Cody Ware participated in the recent Indy 500 open test for the team.
Meyer Shank Racing begins its second full-time season with Jack Harvey behind the wheel of the teams full-season entry. Helio Castroneves will be competing in six events including the Indy 500, an event that Castroneves has won three-times.
The schedule is packed with action as the global pandemic has moved a couple of events from their traditional dates to new dates. The season starts with six races in seven weeks.
“I get particularly excited about the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule,” said Mark Miles, Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO. “I think it’s a really, really potent start that will get our fans refocused on the INDYCAR SERIES. Can’t wait to be in Alabama at Barber this weekend, but we go from there in consecutive weekends, as everybody knows, to St. Pete. That’s going to be really terrific to be back there, to the Texas Motor Speedway. We have a weekend off, and then we’re at May. We know what May brings. We’ve got the two races and the time trials in between, and all the exciting practice, Fast Friday, Carb Day, all the exciting things in between.”
One addition to the schedule is the inaugural Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee.
“I hear every day from fans who want to know how they get their tickets for Nashville,” said Miles. “The anticipation there is fantastic. We think it’s going to be a great event, a terrific addition to the series.”
The green flag drops on the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBC. The race can be heard on the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Marcus Ericsson wins the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson is letting the rest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES know he is going to be a driver to deal with in 2023 after winning the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding.
Ericsson passed Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward with two-laps-to-go to take the lead and put the throttle down to a 2.4-second victory at the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit.
“I think we had a really good weekend from the get-go,” said Ericsson. “I was very excited to come here because yes, it’s been an amazing off-season. I got to experience so many cool things and celebrations with the Borg-Warner trophy. And winning the 500 is a win that keeps on giving.
People were worried, kept telling me you need to focus and you need to not get carried away. For me, all those celebrations, all those things I got to experience just gave me more energy, gave me even more hunger to win more and win again in the speedway and also to win the championship.”
O’Ward was leading coming onto the front straightway when the No. 5 Chevrolet’s engine stumbled giving Ericsson the opportunity to take advantage.
“It shut off with a plenum fire. You have to let off, get back to it, and then it kind of like — perfect timing,” said O’Ward sarcastically. “Sadly, just very annoying to give it away like that. Nothing else I could have done.
“I felt bad for Pato, but we were there to pick up on it,” said Ericsson. “If I wasn’t putting pressure on him and hunt him down, he would have been fine and we would have been second. But we were there right on his gearbox, and we got past.”
Six time INDYCAR Champion Scott Dixon brought the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda home with a podium finish in an eventful day which saw the ‘Iceman’ survive first lap contact with Felix Rosenqvist, a race control review that moved him back four spots when the 9-team was looking like the leaders as they came off pit road and the caution came out.
“It was a pretty smooth day,” said Dixon. “I think how the cautions fell kind of played to us until that untimely one. I think we would have clearly got the lead there, and it would have been kind of smooth sailing, I think. Strategy-wise we didn’t have to go super long on the reds, and then we could have pitted early for the blacks, and kind of got out of being in a bad situation for going long and getting caught on a yellow later. Still take great points. A third-place finish is fantastic here, considering how the day was. Huge credit to the team.”
Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi came home fourth in his first race with his new team and Calllum Ilott gave Juncos Hollinger Racing a fifth place finish.
The green flag was barely back in the starters stand when Dixon and Rosenqvist came together in Turn 3 as Rosenqvist tried to avoid a spot where the left wall encroaches the track. The contact slowed Rosenqvist and traffic stacked-up behind him triggering a 5-car pileup.
Andretti Autosport’s Devlin DeFrancesco got the worst of the incident, getting T-boned by Benjamin Pedersen. Meyer Shank Racing teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud as well as AJ Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci saw their day come to an end as a result of crash damage. The crash cleanup forced a 19-plus minute red flag. No one was seriously injured.
The #FirestoneGP is red flagged after this lap 1 incident.#INDYCAR // @GPSTPETE pic.twitter.com/7s50XtKiTi
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) March 5, 2023
Pole-sitter Romain Grosjean led the field back to green and cruised out front until hit made his first pit stop on Lap 32. During that green flag pit cycle, Dixon jumped into the lead by staying out on the harder primary Firestone tires. Dixon hit pit road on Lap 35 when the caution came out for Conor Daly.
Dixon looked to be the leader but INDYCAR race stewards reviewed the timing and scoring data and moved Scott McLaughlin, Grosjean, O’Ward and Ericsson ahead of Dixon. NBC Sports video confirmed that Dixon did not cross the timing and scoring line on pit road ahead of the other four.
So often in racing caution flags cause more cautions and that was the case Sunday in St. Pete as the Lap 41 restart saw Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay got into the marbles and slid into the tire barrier. The No. 21 Bitnile Chevrolet rebounded off the tires right into the path of a hard charging Jack Harvey and Kyle Kirkwood, who had nowhere to go. The contact sent the No. 27 AutoNation Honda airborne.
The carnage continues on Lap 50 when Team Penske’s Will Power sent Andretti’s Colton Herta into the tires. Power was penalized for avoidable contact.
Full course caution again in St. Pete.
This time, @ColtonHerta is in the tire barrier.#INDYCAR // #FirestoneGP pic.twitter.com/1z6qDiv25G
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) March 5, 2023
The next 20-laps saw hard racing between McLaughlin and Grosjean as those behind started to pit early hoping for a caution to flip the field. The caution came out right after the two leaders made pit stops and Grosjean figured it was time to take advantage of McLaughlin’s cold tires. McLaughlin thought otherwise and the No. 28 DHL Honda and No. 3 Dex Imaging Chevrolet in the tire barrier.
.@smclaughlin93 and @RGrosjean make contact… Again.#INDYCAR // #FirestoneGP pic.twitter.com/9FKkCiff5C
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) March 5, 2023
In all there were 6-caution flags for 26-laps and a red flag for 19-minutes.
The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race is April 2nd at Texas Motor Speedway.
Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta lead INDYCAR field to green in St. Pete season opener
ST. PETERSBURG, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Andretti Autosport teammates Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta will lead the NTT INDYCAR SERIES to the green flag in Sunday’s season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding.
Grosjean’s fast lap of 59.5532 seconds in the No. 28 DHL Honda on his final trip around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit edged teammate Colton Herta, who qualified second at 59.9687 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
The pole position is the second of Grosjean’s career and first since May 2021 at the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Thankful for the team,” said Grosjean. “We worked really hard from a tough season last year. There were some better days, but today is a good one. Having three of us in the Fast Six, locked in the front row, is pretty impressive to start the season.”
“We did a lot of hard work over the winter,” said team owner Michael Andretti. “We felt pretty optimistic, but you never know what you have until you get it on the racetrack. Seems like it’s showing the way we hoped it would. Great start so far.”
Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward will start third in the No. 5 Chevrolet after a fast lap of 1:00.0163.
“Man, those Andretti cars are quick around here,” said O’Ward. “We knew that coming into the weekend. I’ve got to say the team arrived here with such a good package for me compared to last year. Last year we truly started on the back foot. We’ve got a car to fight with tomorrow.”
2022 Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson led Chip Ganassi Racing’s efforts as the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda qualified fourth with a quick lap of 1:00.4435.
“I’m really happy with our results and our performance,” said Ericsson. “I think it shows all the hard work we put in this offseason as a team. For myself, I’ve been focusing a lot on qualifying, trying to be better there and improve our qualifying form and this is a great start to that and to the season. I’m really happy, grateful and looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
Ericsson’s teammates are not far behind him. Alex Palou will start 7th in the No. 10 American Legion Honda with Scott Dixon two spots behind in 9th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda. Rookie Marcus Armstrong rolls off 11th in the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda as he makes his first career INDYCAR start.
The green flag will drop at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage available on NBC beginning at noon.
Josef Newgarden tops first INDYCAR practice as Laguna Seca
MONTEREY, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is starting INDYCAR Championship weekend off on the right pedal by leading the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice session on Friday.
Newgarden’s No. 2 Hitachi Chevy turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 11.4103 seconds (112.824 mph) around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course circuit with Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta second-quickest at 1:11:8266 (112.170) in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
“Yeah, just a tricky session,” noted Newgarden. “There was a lot of people going off, there was a lot of dirt on the track, so it was quite difficult to put it together. So not a very straightforward session. But I think very productive in a lot of ways. It’s not a lot of running, and you’re trying to make the most use of just a couple runs, and I felt like we did that, so I was happy about that.”
Championship-leader Will Power was 7th quickest, 1:11:9858 (111.922) in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy. Power leads Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon by 20-points heading into Sunday’s season finale.
“Tough track, man,” said Power. “Very low grip. You get one lap on tires, and they’re gone. It’s hard to get a read because the car changes so much over a run.”
Championship contender Marcus Ericsson was tenth fastest in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 1:12:0803 (111.775) and trails Power by ??-points in the title fight.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be a high-deg (tire degradation) race, and it seems to be that way,” said Ericsson. “Usually our team and myself from my experience, we’re usually pretty good at that. Yeah, the tires seemed to degrade quite quickly here. It was the same in the test and the same today in practice.”
Last weekend’s winner Scott McLaughlin was next in line with a 1:12:0877 (111.764). McLaughlin has an outside shot at the title as he sits ??-points behind Power.
Dixon, the six-time series Champion, was 17th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at 1:12:3911 (111.295) despite a team test at the track a few weeks ago.
“It’s going to be a pretty high-deg race, man,” said Dixon, who can tie INDYCAR Legend A.J. Foyt for all-time Championships with a seventh.