Monday, October 2, 2023

BARNES: Five Takeaways from the 2022 IndyCar Season

Will Power, the 2022 IndyCar champion
Will Power utilized consistency en route to claiming the 2022 IndyCar title. Image courtesy of Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment

A little more than a week removed from the official in the books end of the 2022 season for the NTT IndyCar Series, which saw Team Penske’s Will Power hoist the Astor Cup Trophy for the first time since 2014.

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While there are several unique topics to highlight from an eventful year, here are my five after a wild 17 rounds.

  1. Will Power

This year’s version of Will Power throttled to becoming the all-time pole winner, passing the legendary Mario Andretti with a memorable qualifying run at the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and also utilized a calm approach to master consistency to claim the championship. In all, the 41-year-old Aussie scored just one win in 2022, but nine podiums and three fourth-place finishes in addition to five poles.

While Power has always been one to push for wins, the methodical approach unlocked a new version the now two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, which could pose problems for many in the coming years.

2. Penske Stranglehold

In all, the trio of Team Penske pilots won nine of the 17 races this season. While Power had the aforementioned one win, Josef Newgarden led the way with season-high – and career-best – five victories. Scott McLaughlin showcased his intentions after a sophomore season to remember by capturing three wins. The performance also put all three drivers in the top four of the championship standings, with only Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon breaking up a potential sweep.

3. Magnificent Marcus

The winner of the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500, Marcus Ericsson continued to demonstrate his growth in North America’s premier open-wheel championship. In his fourth season in IndyCar, the 32-year-old Swede took home a monumental victory in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ for just his third-ever win in the series. At one point, he appeared the best driver out of the Chip Ganassi Racing camp to threaten the Penske trio. While there were struggles in last half of the season with only one top five finish in the last nine races, Ericsson still managed to finish sixth in the overall points standings – tying his career-best mark from 2021.

4. Rise of the Felix

While the Alex Palou saga was front and center for everyone, and rightly so as he came into the year as the defending IndyCar champion, caught in the middle of everything was Felix Rosenqvist. The Swede’s time at Arrow McLaren SP has been a tumultuous one. In 2021, a hard crash in the opening race of the doubleheader at Belle Isle forced him to sit out two races and ended up without a top five result in any of the other 14 contested races. Coming into this year, there was the pole in the second race of the season at Texas, but it came undone with a mechanical issue, which was a theme in several races for Rosenqvist throughout the year. Despite the outside noise and uncertainty over Palou taking his spot on a team for the second time (having also done so at Chip Ganassi Racing after 2020), Rosenqvist showed strong mental toughness and scored one podium, three top fives and two poles en route to eighth in the title race – directly behind teammate Pato O’Ward.

No doubt there will be expectations for even better results as he comes back for another term with the squad next year. As long as the progression continues at the same rate, Rosenqvist could be poised for a long-awaited return trip to Victory Lane in 2023.

5. Rambunctious Rookies

If the rookie class of 2022 is any indication of what to expect moving forward, the NTT IndyCar Series is only going to improve on its already fierce competition.

There was Callum Ilott wielding strong qualifying and practice pace for the ultimate underdog and only full-time single-car outfit in the series in Juncos Hollinger Racing. Ilott posted two top 10s on the year, which really don’t put a deserving scope on what was a stout rookie campaign, but certainly something to build on as they grow to a two-car team in 2023.

Then, 2021 Indy Lights champion provided the fireworks early and took the famed No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet for a wild ride at Texas, being the show before ultimately finding the wall. While that potential podium effort was spoiled, it was somewhat redeemed the following race with a 10th-place finish at Long Beach. During the month of May, a possible top 10 and top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500 was undone on a final pit stop, relegating him to 17th. While there were flashes of pace the rest of the year, it was those three events that stood out and perhaps provided a glimpse of what to expect as he moves to Andretti Autosport next year.

David Malukas was proof that it isn’t necessarily how you start, but how you finish. The 20-year-old throttled to some daring passes, eventually scoring his maiden top 10 at Mid-Ohio in July. That result was only a precursor of things to come as two more top 10s, including a sensational runner-up finish at World Wide Technology Raceway. Whatever Malukas and the Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports group hit on by the mid-point of 2022, they’ll likely only improve moving forward.

Lastly, Christian Lundgaard became that quiet force that put his No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda in the midst of the frontrunners on several occasions late in the year. A 14th-place finish in the championship standings and Rookie of the Year honors was aided by seven top 10s, including runner-up at the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The 21-year-old Dane also ended the year with a strong fifth-place finish in Monterey. Although his oval prowess needs refining – he did collect one top 10 (10th) in Race 1 at Iowa – RLL Racing have a young driver that could develop into a championship threat and the nagging thorn for bigger teams, much like teammate Graham Rahal was from 2015-2017.

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