Alex Palou, Scott McLaughlin, Scott Dixon

RaceFans’ Top 10 IndyCar Drivers Of 2023


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The 2023 IndyCar season was, in some respects, an unusual one.

A series which often boasts great competitive parity and close championship battles that go down to the final race of the season was thoroughly dominated by one driver making a historic run to the championship. Alex Palou put a lock on the 2023 IndyCar title before the last race, something that hadn’t been done since American open-wheel racing was reunified in 2008.

So the identity of the driver at the top spot in our annual top 10 will surprise few people. The real challenge is determining who numbers two through ten were this season, in what was – despite Alex Palou’s individual dominance – another year with no shortage of quality drivers who were impressive in their own right.

10. Alexander Rossi

There were a handful of drivers that could have landed in tenth place in this year’s rankings. Alexander Rossi got the nod after a solid first season in McLaren’s third full-time entry. While he may have only scored one podium and never started on the front row, his six top-five finishes and 11 top-10s demonstrated excellent consistency, and a contract to how Felix Rosenqvist struggled in his first season at McLaren, two years ago.

Alexander Rossi, McLaren, IndyCar, 2023
In his first year at McLaren, Rossi was consistent but unspectacular
Rossi is not yet back to the championship-contending form he showcased at Andretti Autosport from 2018-19, but he’s laid a firm foundation in year one with the goal of returning to that level of performance in 2024.

9. Will Power

The two-time and defending series champion was not at his best in his title defence. He managed just four podiums and two pole positions on the year, and for the first time since 2006, his first full season in the Champ Car World Series, Power did not win a race. It seemed like the first signs of a driver that’s begun a permanent decline at age 43.

But it must be said that Power was racing through very difficult circumstances throughout the year. In January, his wife Liz suddenly fell ill with an aggressive infection which settled into her spinal column and nearly claimed her life. As her recovery began and progressed, it coincided with Will’s form improving in the second half of the year.

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8. Kyle Kirkwood

There have been a significant chunk of graduates from the Road to Indy ladder that have come up to IndyCar only to have lacklustre careers, leading many to question the viability of feeder series like Indy Nxt when more attractive options from the overseas junior formula ladders tend to excel right away.

Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti, IndyCar, 2023
A fine pair of wins showed Kirkwood’s potential
But Kirkwood is by far the Road to Indy’s greatest prospect, and though some had written him off after a rough first season at AJ Foyt Racing, Kirkwood showcased his real potential with wins on the streets of Long Beach and Nashville. He’s still streaky and prone to accidents, but Kirkwood was by far the best performer of an Andretti team that has lost its way in IndyCar over the past few years.

7. Marcus Ericsson

Ericsson won the opener at St. Petersburg and was one lap (and a contentious, entertainment-driven decision from race director Kyle Novak) away from winning the Indy 500 in back-to-back seasons. Yet again, he was consistently very good in all disciplines, racking up 14 top-ten finishes despite starting on the front row only once all season. His peaks may not be as high as some IndyCar front runners, but his ‘Sneaky Swede’ moniker feels like a disservice to his rock-solid form across four seasons of Ganassi – it’s as ‘sneaky’ as a Bonfire Night fireworks show.

After years of being a pay driver, Ericsson signed a multi-year deal with Andretti where he’ll be paid to race at a high level, and hopefully inject a fresh energy into a floundering giant.

6. Christian Lundgaard

Lundgaard’s pole-to-win victory at Toronto was the culmination of a breakthrough 2023 season for yet another Alpine Academy alumnus who has become a success story – for someone other than the French manufacturer. Through only his form on road and street courses, the Dane was the highest-ranked driver from outside the ‘power four’ teams, in ninth.

Headlined by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s first race win in three years, Lundgaard’s season was highlighted by two poles, eight top-ten finishes, and six Fast Six appearances. If RLL can ever give Lundgaard the oval setups he needs to feel confident in this discipline, he’ll be a perennial title contender.

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5. Josef Newgarden

The two-time series champion finally captured the Indianapolis 500 win that had eluded him in 11 previous attempts, to cement his legacy as an all-time great at just 33 years of age. And Newgarden was perfect on ovals until he washed off the racing line at Gateway and crashed while fighting for a fifth win.

Josef Newgarden, Marcus Ericsson, Indianapolis 500, 2023
Newgarden scored controversial Indianapolis 500 win
A horrid late-season slump dropped him from second to fifth in the points over the final four races, but prior to that, he was in yet another situation where he had to chase the points leader from a long way back to have any shot at the title. Newgarden’s road and street course form dipped significantly in 2023, managing just a single podium at Road America in said races – not what you’d expect from a driver credibly regarded as one of the sport’s best all-rounders.

4. Pato O’Ward

The McLaren IndyCar team goes as Pato O’Ward goes. But for a flash plenum fire and a late-race Safety Car period he would have opened the 2023 season with back-to-back wins instead of ending it as the best in a win-less McLaren team. He made the Fast Six of qualifying ten times in total. His seven podiums were second-best among all IndyCar drivers, and in the final ten races of the season, he never finished outside the top ten.

O’Ward has the talent to be a multi-time IndyCar champion and all-time great, which is why it’s easy to be left frustrated when the red mist clouded his vision at Long Beach, and when impatience led him to crash out of Detroit and throw away an Indy 500 win that could have easily been his.

3. Scott McLaughlin

McLaughlin was one of only two drivers that completed every racing lap this year, quietly overtaking Newgarden as Penske’s top driver once the 2023 championship table was finalised. The year peaked early when he won the Barber rematch against Romain Grosjean after their St. Petersburg duel ended in a dissatisfying double knockout. He was seemingly on his way to a pole-to-win at Nashville until ill-timed safety cars left him to settle for second place. After St. Pete, his only lapses were a sub-par month of May at Indianapolis.

Even with the benefit of Penske resources, the fact that a touring car convert with virtually no single-seater experience is knocking on the door of championship contention after just three full seasons is still remarkable.

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2. Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon, Ganassi, IndyCar, 2023
Dixon showed he’s lost none of his touch late in the season
In the third race of the 2023 IndyCar season, Scott Dixon was pushed into the tyre barriers by a desperate Pato O’Ward while battling for sixth place. He later retired with a mechanical failure, his first retirement in 23 races.

This was the only blemish on yet another excellent season for the six-time IndyCar champion, a year which ended with three wins in the final four races. It was not enough for a historic championship reversal, but he did extend an incredible 19-year streak of consecutive seasons with a race win, put second place in the championship well out of reach, and punctuate an otherwise brilliant 2023 season.

Highlights include the summer race at the Indianapolis road course, where Dixon came back from being spun out on the first lap to rip the victory out of Graham Rahal’s hands in the closing stages; another typical Dixon masterclass of fuel management to win at Gateway from 16th on the grid, capped off by overcoming a harsh penalty for avoidable contact to win the finale at Laguna Seca on an alternate strategy. There was also the methodical drive from 23rd to fourth at Road America.

Take away that awful result at Long Beach and Dixon’s worst finish of the season would have been seventh place at Barber Motorsports Park, and his average finishing position would have been a remarkable 4.0. In any other season, this would be more than enough for Dixon to walk away with a record-equalling seventh IndyCar title.

1. Alex Palou

Alex Palou, Ganassi, Road America, IndyCar, 2023
IndyCar seldom sees the kind of dominance Palou produced
Alex Palou was in a class of his own, to a degree that the sport hasn’t seen in years.

The statistics are simply stunning: Five wins, including a white-hot run of four in five races from the spring Indianapolis road course race to Mid-Ohio. Ten podium finishes. Ten Fast Six appearances in qualifying. He never finished lower than eighth all season. He led a whopping 320 laps on road and street courses, more than double the amount of the next best driver.

In a series built on competitive parity with spec chassis (only the damper technology and engine development remains open), Alex Palou posted an average finish of 3.71 and became the first driver since the 2008 reunification of the sport to clinch the series championship before the last race.

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And it could have been even better. He reset the record for the fastest Indianapolis 500 pole qualifying run in history, and rallied back to a fourth place finish after Rinus VeeKay spun into him at the exit of pit lane. If not for that incident, Palou might also have had his face engraved into the Borg-Warner Trophy.

He did it all with otherworldly pace, with intelligence and savvy beyond his 26 years of age. Ovals are said to be his lone deficiency, but many drivers would beg for the sort of results that Palou posted in those five oval races. On the occasions where he didn’t qualify in the first three rows, he still found a way forward.

Those who didn’t make the cut

After Graham Rahal missed the Indianapolis 500 (then re-entered it in place of the injured Stefan Wilson), he put together some of his most competitive weekends as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing turned a corner on road and street circuits.

Colton Herta, Andretti with Curb-Agajanian, Indianapolis, 2023
It was a largely disappointing year for Herta and Andretti
Felix Rosenqvist’s two poles and two podiums demonstrated the speed that went unrewarded at times during a rocky three-year run at McLaren. He’ll now be tasked to turn Meyer Shank Racing’s sinking fortunes around in 2024. His replacement, David Malukas, was still inconsistent at times, but shows enough raw pace for McLaren to take a risk on the 2021 Indy Lights runner-up.

Colton Herta had opportunities to win races that slipped through his hands at Road America and Mid-Ohio, leaving him winless. Romain Grosjean had another strong start that came completely undone after the month of May – and was frozen out of Andretti at the end of the season, not necessarily for a lack of performance.

Ironically, Grosjean was thrown a lifeline after Juncos Hollinger Racing’s perplexing decision to drop Callum Ilott after a solid second season. Ilott’s rift with Ricardo Juncos was believed to have formed well before the collision at Laguna Seca between Ilott and Agustin Canapino, and the timing of the severance left Ilott frozen out for 2024.

Marcus Armstrong was the Rookie of the Year in a paper-thin class despite only running road and street courses. Outside of a missed podium opportunity at Road America, the podcast host and former F2 driver’s results were solid, but unspectacular. Linus Lundqvist needed just three relief appearances to impress Chip Ganassi and give the previous Indy Nxt champion the full-time opportunity he deserved all along.

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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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4 comments on “RaceFans’ Top 10 IndyCar Drivers Of 2023”

  1. That’s a pretty good assessment. You can see the IndyCar results are a very adequate representation of how good every driver really is (the top-5 order is the actual top-5 from the championship), and so, as opposed to F1, it can be considered a real sport.
    Number 8 is I think quite right for Kirkwood and I suspect he might even be a title contender next season already.
    I’ve been under the impression all season long that McLaughlin has already hit his ceiling and he will be a perennial race winner without seriously contending for a championship.
    Colton Herta is rightfully not there, despite the 10th place in the championship. His career has been moving backwards in the last 3 seasons, each being worse than the previous one.

    And there obviously can’t be enough praise for Scott Dixon, he’s a giant of motorsports and deserves more fame and glory. His 2023 resulted in: 2nd in Indycar WDC, 3rd at Daytona24, 4th at LeMans24. And despite Palou’s dominant season, it was Dixon who had the best finish to the season with 3 wins in 4 last races.

    1. Scotty Mc will only get better, this guys adaptability is unbelieveable, could drive any type of car quick. Supercars and Indy really are chalk and cheese and he has proven he can drive either. He will get an indy title in the near future.

    2. You’re right, the IndyCar results are a very adequate representation of how good every driver really is. Indycar’s points system awarding points throughout the whole field is infinitely more sensible than F1 and I think all FIA series, which instead only rewards only half of the field. It’s so bad, I have to resort to checking the Formula 1.5 Reddit site to view a points standing table that actually reflects reality.

  2. I’d agree. It’s amazing how good Dixon has been for such a long time. I think he gets taken for granted because of it.

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