IndyCar’s new season brings in raw, youthful talent and seasoned veterans; Meyer Shank wins Rolex 24 again
Note: This article can be found in the March edition of the New Mexico Motorsports Report magazine.
The NTT IndyCar Series returns to the streets of St. Petersburg on March 5 to begin its 2023 season. Will Power enters as the defending series champion, but expect the competition to be as strong as ever when the green flag waves on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
There will be 27 full-time entries this year on the grid. Among them are the Team Penske trio of Power, two-time champion Josef Newgarden, and Scott McLaughlin, who looks poised to be a championship contender after a three-win campaign in 2022.
Chip Ganassi Racing should also be a title contender as Alex Palou returns for another season after a controversial summer around his plans to join Arrow McLaren versus his existing contract with Ganassi. He won the season finale at Laguna Seca and looked like one of the drivers to beat in the Indianapolis 500 along with teammate Scott Dixon. However, Dixon, the six-time series champion, got burned by a heartbreaking speeding penalty while leading during the final round of pit stops at the 500 last year and ended up finishing 21st after leading 95 laps.
And then there’s Marcus Ericsson, who won the 500 with Ganassi. The Indy triumph was the most significant victory of the former Formula 1 driver’s career. Due to the double-points system at the race, he led the championship for most of the summer.
But one of the rules IndyCar changed for the 2023 season is the double-point format for its marquee event. It has been abolished by the sanctioning body to help teams be rewarded for season-long consistency.
“While double points at the Indianapolis 500 has not altered who won the season-long championship, occasionally it has had a negative effect on the final position of the full-time teams,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “As our entry list grows, this move will provide consistency for teams competing for championship positions while not diminishing the importance of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.'”
There will be a delicate balance between raw rookie talent and seasoned veteran experience this season. Four drivers will run for Rookie of the Year honors, including Benjamin Pedersen, Sting Ray Robb, Marcus Armstrong, and Agustin Canapino. Veterans such as Alexander Rossi, who embarks on his first year as a McLaren driver, Tony Kanaan, who will retire after the 500, and “Spider-Man” Hélio Castroneves will appear on the grid, too.
Speaking of Castroneves, the 47-year-old Brazilian driver has been continuing a career renaissance. He won the 2020 overall IMSA championship with Penske, the 2021 Indy 500 (his record-tying fourth), and three straight Rolex 24s at Daytona.
Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud were teammates at the 24-hour event as they are in IndyCar. They won the overall race with Meyer Shank Racing again, alongside British drivers Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis.
It was a historic weekend for sports car racing as the top prototype class (GTP) was reintroduced as a car that competed for the overall wins at Daytona and Le Mans. The DPi era may have ended, but it didn’t stop the No. 60 MSR Acura from earning the Rolex watches after the clock made two full rotations.
Newgarden ad McLaughlin made their debuts in the endurance race classic. They competed as teammates for the Tower Motorsports LMP2 entry and finished fifth in class. Finishing sixth in the class was Rick Ware Racing, which also featured an IndyCar driver — Andretti Autosport’s Devlin DeFrancesco — and NASCAR driver Austin Cindric.
Jimmie Johnson spent two years racing in an Ally Financial-sponsored DPi in IMSA’s four endurance races and two seasons with Ganassi’s IndyCar team, but he’s returned to his bread and butter of NASCAR as a team co-owner and driver of the newly named Legacy Motor Club (formerly Petty GMS Motorsports.)
As a seven-time champion in America’s most popular series, it felt unusual to see him struggle so mightily in his brief IndyCar career. But let that be a testament to the skill and difficulty of IndyCar racing as the series embarks on the 102nd full year of U.S. open-wheel racing.
Photo Credit: Chris Jones / Penske Entertainment