Romain Grosjean, Andretti, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023

As Andretti seeks F1 entry, can it produce its first IndyCar champion in a decade?


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Yet again, IndyCar heads into a season boasting the largest field of full-time competitors since the reunification of American open-wheel racing in 2008. And that’s only a good thing for a series that isn’t making any sweeping changes in 2023, and has had an off-season littered with negative headlines.

It’s not something to be expected from a championship whose on-track product is very good to excellent almost every weekend, and whose centrepiece race – the Indianapolis 500 – has delivered extraordinary racing that fits its elevated stature. But there have been truly discouraging developments.

When IndyCar introduces hybrid powertrains next year, it won’t be accompanied by a new generation of internal combustion engines as originally planned. The 2.2-litre turbocharged V6 engines that have been the standard of the series since 2012 will remain in use going forward. Nothing is fundamentally wrong with the current batch of ICEs supplied by Chevrolet and Honda, of course. But while the company line pins the indefinite delay of the new engine on the ongoing supply chain shortages which have impacted every corner of motorsport, you don’t have to read too deeply between the lines to see that it’s more a product of a continued fruitless search for a third engine supplier.

IndyCar is jumping in with its own behind-the-scenes reality television show. A great idea on paper, but centred around the one race on its calendar that doesn’t need the extra push in publicity. The series’ rights for racing simulations were strong-armed into an unpopular exclusive contract with a company that has produced almost nothing but assets for a title that they never developed, shutting out a major avenue for younger fans to engage with IndyCar.

Romain Grosjean, Andretti, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
Grosjean is still seeking his first IndyCar victory
On top of all this, one of the series’ most accomplished teams – Andretti – is in an ongoing dispute with Formula 1 just to get into the world championship, where seemingly no amount of financial backing or OEM alliances they’ve put together will overcome the series’ opposition to new competition.

IndyCar has struggled to escape niche status in the American sporting landscape at large, the split of 1996 having long kept it in NASCAR’s shadow, and now F1 has captured the nation’s imagination to a degree never seen before.

And yet, there is still reason to be optimistic that the series that can seemingly do nothing right lately can treat its fans to another incredible season of racing and another thrilling battle for the championship that will go all the way to the last lap of the last race. This is IndyCar’s greatest strength above all.

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The largest full-time field in 15 years

Good health willing, 26 drivers will contest the full 17-race season, and one more full-time entry is shared by two drivers.

Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
Kirkwood reunites with Andretti for second year in IndyCar
Andretti Autosport’s desires to enter F1 are already well-known, as are the aspirations of 22-year-old ace driver Colton Herta. But just two wins for their four-car fleet in 2022 was beneath their standards. The team may not have taken a driver to the title since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, but it has won the series’ blue riband race, the Indy 500, on three occasions in that time.

Kyle Kirkwood, the most hyped prospect the Road To Indy developmental system produced, finally joins the team that had nurtured his success until he actually got to IndyCar last year. Romain Grosjean’s form in his first year with Andretti was largely disappointing in contrast to his rookie campaign, which is something that he’ll need to rectify – while Devlin DeFrancesco needs to show that he’s more than just a financial asset to the team.

IndyCar champions since 2012

2012Ryan Hunter-ReayAndretti
2013Scott DixonGanassi
2014Will PowerPenske
2015Scott DixonGanassi
2016Simon PagenaudPenske
2017Josef NewgardenPenske
2018Scott DixonGanassi
2019Josef NewgardenPenske
2020Scott DixonGanassi
2021Alex PalouGanassi
2022Will PowerPenske

But, absolutely, most of the eyes will be on the magnificently gifted Herta to see if this is the year he can finally mount a consistent championship challenge. Few drivers at his level can take over a race the way that he can at his peak. It’s why AlphaTauri tried to sign him in F1 for 2023 before the FIA’s superlicence rules got in the way.

McLaren’s IndyCar team is expanding and has added free agent and former Andretti man Alexander Rossi to what may be the new “biggest threat to the Penske-Ganassi duopoly”. The charismatic Pato O’Ward has been a consistent championship challenger every year with his diverse skill set and blistering speed – and that, frankly, should be the minimum expectation for a motorsport powerhouse that is investing millions. Felix Rosenqvist retains his place off the back of a resurgent 2022 campaign.

The ridiculous contract dispute between Alex Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing had a happy ending for all parties involved. But it’s an open secret that 2023 will be the last year that Palou spends with Ganassi, for he has a deal with McLaren and F1 desires of his own.

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Alex Palou, Ganassi, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
Off-track drama overshadowed Palou’s 2022 campaign
Ganassi are loaded with four genuinely competitive cars this season, but will franchise driver Scott Dixon continue his elite standard of excellence and win a record-equalling seventh title? Now that Marcus Ericsson has his Indy 500 victory, could he build upon his consistency and enter that elite bracket himself?

The next question in their line-up is whether Marcus Armstrong will become the latest example of F1’s loss being IndyCar’s gain. He’s splitting the renumbered 11 car with two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. While Armstrong will voluntarily sit out the five oval races, he’s got by far the strongest team around him versus the other three Rookie of the Year contenders.

Not that the rest of the 2023 Rookie class lacks intrigue. Four-time Turismo Carretera champion Agustin Canapino, who’s won more titles in Argentina’s super silhouette touring car championship than even the great Juan Manuel Fangio, has made a long-desired jump to IndyCar as team-mate to Callum Ilott at Juncos Hollinger Racing. He’s not expecting to be the next Scott McLaughlin, but the 33-year-old’s form from pre-season testing suggests that he won’t be the next Jimmie Johnson either when it comes to open-wheel converts.

Graduate of the series now known as Indy Nxt, 2022 Indy Lights runner-up Sting Ray Robb has the best name in racing since Will Power and Scott Speed hit the scene. He takes over the Rick Ware Racing-backed Dale Coyne Racing entry, next to team mate David Malukas, who surprised many and competed for 2022 Rookie of the Year honours until the final weekend of the season.

Benjamin Pedersen, Foyt, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
Foyt is fielding rookie Pedersen and returnee Ferrucci
Benjamin Pedersen, an Indy Lights race winner in 2022, has a daunting task if he’s to stand out at perennial minnows AJ Foyt Racing. He’ll be partnered with the ever-controversial Santino Ferrucci, back in a full-time role after two seasons as IndyCar’s super-sub for hire.

Within the rest of the full-time grid, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR have recruited many new staff members to help reduce the strain of their 2022 expansion. Rookie of the Year Christian Lundgaard outperformed the more experienced Graham Rahal by a small margin and Jack Harvey by a bigger margin. Lundgaard’s reward is being swapped into the number 45 car and getting a more lucrative title sponsor, while Harvey needs to prove his worth after a lacklustre first season with his new team.

Ed Carpenter Racing were fortunate to retain the services of Rinus VeeKay long-term, and they’ll hope to see the Dutchman not only gets back to the top step of the podium, but finally put together a consistent season. Journeyman Conor Daly remains in steady employment thanks to ECR and will aim to show that he’s not just an Indy 500 specialist.

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Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
Castroneves is tackling another full season at age of 48
Meyer Shank Racing find themselves at a crossroads in 2023: they’ve just won the Daytona 24 Hours for the second year in a row, and Simon Pagenaud performed well enough in that race that there’s optimism he can finally recapture his title-winning IndyCar form. Even as he approaches age 48, four-time Indy 500 winner Hélio Castroneves is still a major threat to break the record and win the race for a fifth time. But will 2023 be Helio’s final full tour of IndyCar duty, now that Tom Blomqvist is likely waiting in the wings for an open-wheel opportunity of his own after completing the team’s Daytona-winning line-up in each of the last two years?

And then, at Team Penske, the questions are very simple. Can 41-year-old reigning champion Will Power continue to defy the passage of time? After three consecutive runner-up finishes, can Josef Newgarden finally win his third championship? And is McLaughlin now the man to beat after a seismic leap forward in 2022?

It’s the small changes

The engine and chassis remain the same, but there are other changes for IndyCar this season that are worth keeping an eye on.

Shell has become the series’ new fuel supplier, introducing a new “100% renewable race fuel”. It may seem like a superficial change, but Chevrolet and Honda have been testing with it for months, each hoping that they and their respective clients have been able to maximise the performance of their engines with the new fuel blend.

On the subject of sustainability, Firestone’s new guayule rubber “alternate” tyre will now be used at every street circuit after its soft launch in Nashville last year. IndyCar mandates the use of the soft compound “alternate” and hard compound “primary” tyres for all road and street course races – and now, that requirement extends to the 500km short oval race at Gateway Motorsports Park in an effort to diversify strategies and create more on-track changes of position.

Scott McLaughlin, Penske, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club
IndyCar’s venerable DW12 has a host of safety updates
Safety continues to be a paramount focus for IndyCar. They’ve redesigned the steering arm to absorb more impact without breaking, raised the headrest protectors in the cockpit, strengthened the rear wheel tethers, and redesigned the rear attenuator with competitor safety in mind. For wet races, new mandatory rain vanes will dissipate water away from the aeroscreen, and new LED rain lights will also increase driver visibility. These changes are accompanied by the introduction of a new state-of-the-art mobile medical unit at every race.

Teams now have more aerodynamic options at their disposal for virtually every race. Short oval-style barge boards and underwing strakes can now be added at road and street courses. Multiple new options are available for the Indy 500 including underwing wickers and a new rear wing main plane pillar that allows for greater adjustments.

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2023 IndyCar driver line-up

Will Power, Penske, IndyCar testing, The Thermal Club, 2023
Power is out to defend his hard-won 2022 championship crown
14AJ Foyt RacingChevroletSantino FerrucciFull
55AJ Foyt RacingChevroletBenjamin PedersenFull
26Andretti AutosportHondaColton HertaFull
27Andretti AutosportHondaKyle KirkwoodFull
28Andretti AutosportHondaRomain GrosjeanFull
29Andretti AutosportHondaDevlin DeFrancescoFull
8Chip Ganassi RacingHondaMarcus EricssonFull
9Chip Ganassi RacingHondaScott DixonFull
10Chip Ganassi RacingHondaAlex PalouFull
18Dale Coyne Racing w/ HMDHondaDavid MalukasFull
51Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware RacingHondaSting Ray RobbFull
20Ed Carpenter RacingChevroletConor DalyFull
21Ed Carpenter RacingChevroletRinus VeeKayFull
77Juncos HollingerChevroletCallum IlottFull
78Juncos HollingerChevroletAgustin CanapinoFull
5McLaren (Schmidt Peterson)ChevroletPato O’WardFull
6McLaren (Schmidt Peterson)ChevroletFelix RosenqvistFull
7McLaren (Schmidt Peterson)ChevroletAlexander RossiFull
06Meyer Shank RacingHondaHelio CastronevesFull
60Meyer Shank RacingHondaSimon PagenaudFull
15Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHondaGraham RahalFull
30Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHondaJack HarveyFull
45Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHondaChristian LundgaardFull
1Team PenskeChevroletWill PowerFull
2Team PenskeChevroletJosef NewgardenFull
3Team PenskeChevroletScott McLaughlinFull
98Andretti AutosportHondaMarco AndrettiIndy 500
24Dreyer & Reinbold Racing / Cuisick MotorsportsChevroletStefan WilsonIndy 500
66McLaren (Schmidt Peterson)ChevroletTony KanaanIndy 500
44Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHondaKatherine LeggeIndy 500
11Chip Ganassi RacingHondaTakuma SatoOval courses
33Ed Carpenter RacingChevroletEd CarpenterOval courses
11Chip Ganassi RacingHondaMarcus ArmstrongRoad and street courses
16Paretta AutosportChevroletSimona de SilvestroTBC

Few notable changes in otherwise similar schedule

It’s the same 17 rounds in the same locations as last season, and almost in the exact same order.

Detroit’s round has relocated downtown
The biggest change is that the Detroit Grand Prix will take place not on Belle Isle, but downtown in the Renaissance Center district with a new course layout that uses some, but not all of the circuit that was used from 1982 to 1991.

The Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, which has had an eventful first two editions to say the least, now switches places with August’s Brickyard Grand Prix weekend at the Indianapolis road course that again shares top billing with NASCAR’s annual visit to the circuit.

Tying it all together, of course, is the 107th running of the Indy 500 on the 28th May. But for the first time since 2013, the self-styled ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ will no longer pay double points. One event, even the centrepiece event that is billed as bigger than the series for better or worse – will no longer have an outsized influence on the entire, season-long championship table.

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2023 IndyCar calendar

15 MarchSt. PetersburgStreet
22 AprilTexas Motor SpeedwayOval
316 AprilLong BeachStreet
430 AprilBarber Motorsports ParkRoad
513 MayIndianapolis Motor Speedway (road course)Road
628 MayIndianapolis Motor Speedway (oval)Oval
74 JuneDetroitStreet
818 JuneRoad AmericaRoad
92 JulyMid-Ohio Sports Car CourseRoad
1016 JulyTorontoStreet
1122 JulyIowa SpeedwayOval
1223 JulyIowa SpeedwayOval
136 AugustNashvilleStreet
1412 AugustIndianapolis Motor Speedway (road course)Road
1527 AugustGatewayOval
163 SeptemberPortlandRoad
1710 SeptemberLaguna SecaRoad

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Author information

RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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6 comments on “As Andretti seeks F1 entry, can it produce its first IndyCar champion in a decade?”

  1. Go Herta. Can’t wait for this weekend.

  2. 4 time Turismo Carretera champion and 2-time TC2000 champion.

    Canapino’s background is weird in every way. He’s the son of one of the strongest designers in the country, and his father didn’t want him to race. He raced in simulators (back when it wasn’t the thing to do yet), and got himself a ride in the Copa Megane series as a 15 year old. He was instantly fast, won the title a year later, and started shaping his career. In 3 years, he was the youngest champion ever in Turismo Carretera (I attended that race in 2010!).

    And now he’s racing Indycars. Unbelievable.

    1. Cool story/background.

    2. Interesting stuff. It’ll be interesting to see how he does against his highly regarded teammate.

  3. For those on the fence, I heartily recommend checking out Indycars. It’s just like early 90s Formula 1. Drivers wrestling monsters, frequently drifting sideways over really bumpy undulating circuits. The spectacle of seeing them on the in-car camera do this throughout races is so stark in contrast to modern F1, whose drivers rarely make errors during the race or even apply any steering correction, as they’re only pushing about 80%, so hardly ever get near the limit except on an race in-lap or during qualifying.

    Oh, and for those interested, Herta has to come 2nd in the championship this year to get near enough to qualify for an F1 superlicense. A very tall order.

  4. playstation361
    4th March 2023, 16:36

    Really nice circuits on the calendar. Want some time to understand certain things before I start to understand this specific event.

    Its always not just something like what may generate more views and what may not in certain circumstances. Mostly its particularly brand interest which may may cause a viewer to get attracted to something. Nice change always happens which a following of course but there is definitely a good brand involvement.

Comments are closed.