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Thursday, December 8, 2022
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Driver-by-Driver Midseason Review of the 2022 IndyCar Season

The start of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
The start of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Image courtesy of Chris Owens / Penske Entertainment

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The 2022 season of the NTT IndyCar Series is near the halfway point with eight races down and nine remaining, which seems like an opportune time see how things are shaping up in the fight for the Astor Cup.

The Top 10

It all starts at the top with Marcus Ericsson.

The 31-year-old Swede was already hanging around the top 10 of the points standings for the early part of the season, but vaulted to first after winning the Indianapolis 500 and claiming a runner-up in the most recent round at Road America.

Uniquely, for Chip Ganassi Racing, who is equipped with reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou and six-time series titlist Scott Dixon, it is Ericsson that has scored the organizations lone win to this point in the season. No one has scored more points dating back to last year’s round at Belle Isle than Ericsson, with stout run of consistency that features three wins, six podiums and 15 top 10s over 18 races.

Will Power leads the Team Penske brigade in the runner-up spot, 27 points behind Ericsson. The 41-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia opened with five finishes in the top four, including two podiums. The streak came to an end with a 15th-place result in the Indy 500, but the 2014 IndyCar champion bounced back with a win at Belle Isle and temporarily held the championship lead until a run-in with rookie Devlin DeFrancesco relegated him to 19th at Road America.

Sitting third is Josef Newgarden. The positive is the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet is the only driver to score multiple wins – three – through the opening eight races, already bettering last season’s number of trips to Victory Lane (two). However, the negative drawback is it has been a case of feast or famine as he has also endured four finishes of 13th or worse. Considering this year’s run comes with a new race engineer in Eric Leichtle, the favorable thought is the pair will resolve any issues and find be more of a regular for top 10s in the second half.

Josef Newgarden wins at Road America
Josef Newgarden collected the 23rd victory of his NTT IndyCar Series career in a thriller at Road America. Image courtesy of Joe Skibisnki / Penske Entertaiment

Pato O’Ward rebounded from a rough early opening to the season to win at Barber Motorsports Park in early May, and nearly capped it off with a win in the Indy 500 before settling for second. Despite a lowly 26th-place finish at Road America, the 23-year-old Mexican and pilot of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet sits fourth in the championship standings.

The aforementioned Palou and Dixon occupy fifth and sixth, respectively.

Palou, driver of the No. 10 CGR Honda, began the season with three podiums in the first four races, which has since gone off the rails with two uncharacteristic finishes of 18th (Indy Grand Prix) and 27th (Road America). Even still, the 25-year-old Spaniard remains within striking distance – 47 points, to be exact – of teammate Ericsson.

Meanwhile, Dixon undoubtedly owns the biggest heartbreak of the season after a late pit road speeding penalty derailed a dominant run to potential victory in the Indy 500. Instead of kissing the famed Yard of Bricks for the second time in his legendary career, the 41-year-old Kiwi was left with a 21st-place finish. Considering “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” paid double points, the result is the biggest difference between being a frontrunner for a seventh title and sitting just outside the top five of the points standings. Regardless, though, Dixon and the rest of the No. 9 CGR crew remain steadfast at improving their overall qualifying to make Sunday drives a bit easier, as the group have just one podium and two additional top fives to show for their efforts thus far.

There is nothing sensational or flashy with Alexander Rossi sitting seventh in the standings, but the early attention made it seem far worse than the results show. By no stretch has the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda been a force like it’s 2018, but back-to-back podiums are starting to show the possibility of tapping into past dominance. That said, it is a unique situation as Rossi, who is the only Andretti Autosport driver in the top 10 of the championship standings and departing the team in favor of Arrow McLaren SP next season. With another half of the season to play for, it will be interesting to see if Rossi can continue to rise in form and if the support – team debriefs, meetings, etc. – from the organization remains.

It’s hard to find another driver who has put up with more than Felix Rosenqvist. The 30-year-old Swede’s name has been a mainstay in rumor mill, with speculation surrounding his seat at Arrow McLaren SP beyond this season. It obviously didn’t help when he failed  to find the top 10 in any of the four races to start the year, but he has rebounded well and collected top 10s in every race since the Indy Grand Prix to vault to eighth in the standings.

Sitting ninth is sophomore sensation Scott McLaughlin, who started 2022 off with a bang by claiming his first career IndyCar win on the Streets of St. Petersburg, and did so by fending off a late charge by Palou. Then came the next race at Texas, which saw his claim for back-to-back victories fall short in the final corner of the last lap after an outside pass by teammate Newgarden. However, it has been a struggle to find consistency since then with only two tops 10s over the last six races.

The final spot of in the top 10 belongs to Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud. There was little doubt it would be a challenging season in transitioning from Team Penske to MSR, which is on par of what the 38-year-old Frenchman expected. That said, a runner-up result in the Indy Grand Prix has highlighted his eight races to start the year, with an additional trio of top 10s providing promise more positive results could be on the horizon as the team continues to grow together.

Outside Looking In

Colton Herta is the first guy on the outside looking, but only trails Pagenaud by one point to place 11th in the standings. The first half of the season has been a mixed bag of results for the 22-year-old Californian. The first of two drawbacks came at Long Beach, where he started on pole and led 28 laps before crashing out after 55 of 85 laps. Then during final practice for the Indy 500, his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda went airborne in a wild crash that resulted in having to go to a backup car for the race that ultimately ended prematurely with a mechanical issue on Lap 129 of 200. The positive was a brilliant display of driving in a dreadfully wet Indy Grand Prix, where he navigated the tricky conditions to take victory. Overall, there is only one win and two additional top fives to this point despite showing flashes of unrelenting pace.

In 12th is Romain Grosjean, who hasn’t quite tapped into being a routine frontrunner in his first full-time season – second overall – in IndyCar. The transition to Andretti Autosport has seen the ex-Formula 1 veteran deliver a blend of strong drives and pull-your-hair-out moments. The good was stout closing drive to the finish at Long Beach, where he hounded Newgarden for the win late before settling for second. The bad outweighs much of the early part of the season, with crashes in practice or the race at St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis 500. A late run-in with Graham Rahal at Barber Motorsports Park and some thoughts towards race officials at the end of Indy Grand Prix also added to the early season drama for Grosjean. While the oval results have not been favorable (26th at Texas, 31st at Indy 500) for the 36-year-old Swiss-born Frenchman, he has remained a threat at every road and street circuit round with three top fives and an additional top 10 to date. With three oval events over the next nine races, though, something needs to change if he is going to make a serious push in the championship standings.

Ed Carpenter Racing teammates Conor Daly and Rinus VeeKay in 13th and 14th, respectively. The duo have rotated results, with VeeKay catching fire in the first four races with one podium and three top 10s before cooling off in the last four, while Daly has hit on some solid results as of late.

It was a miserable start for Daly, with finishes of 21st (St. Pete), 18th (Texas), 12th (Long Beach) and 19th (Barber) to start the year. However, a fifth at the Indy Grand Prix followed by a sixth in the Indy 500 has helped restore balance to an otherwise challenging season.

Conor Daly sits 13th in the IndyCar standings after Road America.
Conor Daly has climbed out of an early season deficit and now sits just outside the top 10 in 13th after 8 of 17 races. Image courtesy of Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment

For VeeKay, the highlight is also bittersweet as his strong showing at Barber, where he started on pole and led a race-high 57 of 90 laps, ended with a third-place finish. Since then, the 21-year-old Dutchman has failed to score a top 15 result, including crashing out and finishing last (33rd) in the Indy 500.

Sitting 15th in the championship standings is Graham Rahal. Despite having more top 10s than the two drivers directly ahead of him, trails due to not yet having that one signature race that has delivered a podium or top five. The term “challenging” doesn’t quite do justice to what the 33-year-old Ohio native (and the rest of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, to be honest) have endured thus far. The victim of a crash at Texas and early disaster at Belle Isle have made the year an uphill climb for Rahal and the rest of the No. 15 crew. However, Rahal has driven to a pair of seventh-place finishes (St. Pete, Long Beach) to mark a current season-best to date. Those results added with a pair of eighths at Barber and Road America provides some optimism the group can right the ship for the back half of the season if they can find a smidge more pace on race weekends.

Best of the Rest

Christian Lundgaard follows directly behind Rahal, his RLL Racing teammate, and currently holds top rookie honors at 16th in points. The 20-year-old Dane has a best finish of ninth, which came at the Indy Grand Prix. Overall, the pace has been progressive despite dips in results at Long Beach and Barber, with a most recent finish of 10th at Road America helping steer his season upwards.

A pair of veterans and multi-time Indy 500 winners are 17th and 18th, with MSR’s Helio Castroneves ahead of Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Takuma Sato. The finishes for both are nearly identical, which is evident by the three points separating them (136-133) in the standings. Additionally, each have scored two tops 10s, with best a best finish of seventh (Castroneves – Indy 500, Sato – Indy Grand Prix).

Rookie David Malukas, pilot of the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports Honda, is 19th. While the stats won’t show a top 10 finish, it isn’t for a lack of pace as the 20-year-old from Chicago, Illinois has been knocking on the door with two 11th-place results (Texas, Belle Isle). Perhaps even more impressive is, when factoring in his 12th at the Indy Grand Prix, it marks three top 12 finishes at each track discipline – oval, road course, street circuit – in IndyCar. As he continues to gain experience in North America’s premier open-wheel championship, more promising results will almost certainly start to show.

Jack Harvey holds 20th in the overall points picture. The move from MSR to RLL has been a rough one for the 29-year-old Briton. The most obvious setback the crash in final practice at Texas that sidelined him for the race, where he was forced to watch Santino Ferrucci drive his No. 45 RLL Honda to a ninth-place finish. Harvey has failed to produce a top 10 so far this season, with a trio of 13th-place finishes (St. Pete, Indy Grand Prix and Road America) his best result in seven starts.

Rookies rest in spots 21-23, with AJ Foyt Racing’s Kyle Kirkwood leading Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing and Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport’s DeFrancesco.

No first-year driver dazzled quite like Kirkwood did around the high banks of Texas. Making his second start in the series and first on an oval, the 23-year-old Floridian provided breathtaking restarts and brave passes and looked like someone ready to put the famous No. 14 for a magical ride into the top five or possibly more. Although it ended in tears with a Turn 4 crash after 113 of 248 laps, everyone was put on notice by the performance. Kirkwood, last year’s Indy Lights champion, rebounded to a 10th-place finish the next race at Long Beach, which remains his best finish of the season. With four of his last five finishes being 20th or worse, there is urgency to find more positive results in the remaining nine races. That all said, he is already confirmed to replace Rossi at Andretti Autosport in 2023.

Ilott and JHR have been one of the early surprises of the season. The records show mostly undesirable finishes but the pace has been there in practice and qualifying at several of the venues, which provides optimism of something special in the works if they can nail it down on race day. Ilott, who is also a reserve driver for Alfa Romeo in Formula 1, currently holds the best finish by a rookie this season with his eight-place effort at the Indy Grand Prix. The 23-year-old Briton was forced to miss Belle Isle after sustaining a broken right hand in a crash in last month’s Indy 500. Although not 100 percent healed, he returned and put in a gutsy performance to finish 11th at Road America.

Callum Ilott rebounded to finish 11th at Road America despite a broken right hand.
Callum Ilott delivered a gritty drive to finish 11th at Road America despite a broken right hand. Image courtesy of Chris Owens / Penske Entertainment

DeFrancesco has been the focal point of several moments, but mostly not for positive reasons. At Texas, the 22-year-old Canadian was part of on-track incidents with Sato, along with triggering a three-car crash that also collected Castroneves and Rahal. The latest stir was his dust-up with Power at Road America, where he clipped the back of the Team Penske pilot and sent him into the wall in the early running. There has been some decent flashes of pace shown by DeFrancesco but not enough to put in an established performance. A lowly 17th at Barber is his best run to date, with five finishes of 20th or worse.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is 24th in the standings. Much like Grosjean, he is also currently in the midst of his first full-time season. The 46-year-old California native was stout in his first-ever oval start in IndyCar at Texas, charging late to a sixth-place finish – his best result in the series to date. Reality returned the following race weekend at Long Beach, where he sustained a broken right hand in a practice crash but soldiered on before a crash in the race ended the admirable effort. In the build-up to the Indy 500, he was sensational as pace in the practices further added to the hype that turned into a sixth-place effort to break into the Fast 12 on Day 1 of qualifying before settling for the final spot in the group the following day. However, it was a learning venture for Johnson, who unlike the rest of his CGR teammate, was in a slow freefall from the drop of the green flag until crashing out after completing 193 of 200 laps. With the exception of his result at Texas, he has finished 20th or worse in each of the seven races.

Tony Kanaan’s third-place finish at the Indy 500 – his lone start of the season – has him 25th in the standings. Ferrucci sits 26th after collecting two top 10s in three starts, all of which came with three different teams (RLL at Texas, Dreyer & Reinbold at Indy 500 and JHR at Belle Isle).

Dalton Kellett is 27th, and stands as the last driver to make every start this season. Despite improved pace in some of the practice sessions and qualifying, it hasn’t quite yet converted into results on Sunday yet as 17th at Texas standing as the 28-year-old Canadian’s best finish so far this season.

With only two appearances this season, JR Hildebrand holds 28th and has balanced the oval portion of schedule for the No. 11 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet occupied by Tatiana Calderón on the road and street events. For his part, Hildebrand has been solid and helped deliver respectable results of 14th at Texas, followed by 12th in the Indy 500.

Coincidentally, Calderón is tied with Hildebrand on points at 53 apiece but is listed as 29th in the standings due to by virtue of a best finish tiebreaker. The transition from competing in the World Endurance Championship and select Super Formula races in 2021 has been slow for the 29-year-old Colombian, but progressive. She captured a 16th-place finish on the Streets of Long Beach, which marked just her second-ever start. The best run of the season came at the Indy Grand Prix, where she climbed from 25th to 15th at the time the checkered flag fell.

The remainder of the standings are held by drivers that have run two or less races and also without a finish in the top 10, led by driver / owner Ed Carpenter in 30th. Juan Pablo Montoya, Marco Andretti, Sage Karam, Stefan Wilson and Simona De Silvestro sit 31-35. Only Carpenter and De Silvestro are set for additional races for the second half of the year.

RankDriverTeamMakePointsWins
1Marcus EricssonChip Ganassi RacingHonda2931
2Will PowerTeam PenskeChevy-271
3Josef NewgardenTeam PenskeChevy-323
4Pato O'WardArrow McLaren SPChevy-451
5Alex PalouChip Ganassi RacingHonda-470
6Scott DixonChip Ganassi RacingHonda-690
7Alexander RossiAndretti AutosportHonda-750
8Felix RosenqvistArrow McLaren SPChevy-900
9Scott McLaughlinTeam PenskeChevy-941
10Simon PagenaudMeyer Shank RacingHonda-960
11Colton HertaAndretti Autosport with Curb-AgajanianHonda-971
12Romain GrosjeanAndretti AutosportHonda-1190
13Conor DalyEd Carpenter RacingChevy-1220
14Rinus VeeKayEd Carpenter RacingChevy-1320
15Graham RahalRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda-1340
16Christian LundgaardRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda-1530
17Helio CastronevesMeyer Shank RacingHonda-1570
18Takuma SatoDale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware RacingHonda-1600
19David MalukasDale Coyne Racing w/ HMD MotorsportsHonda-1700
20Jack HarveyRahal Letterman Lanigan RacingHonda-1880
21Kyle KirkwoodAJ Foyt EnterprisesChevy-2000
22Callum IlottJuncos Hollinger RacingChevy-2030
23Devlin DeFrancescoAndretti Steinbrenner AutosportHonda-2070
24Jimmie JohnsonChip Ganassi RacingHonda-2080
25Tony KanaanChip Ganassi RacingHonda-2150

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