Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe
Special feature

Five IndyCar subplots to follow in 2022

From veterans’ prospects to rookies’ hopes, plus the chances of a new championship-winning team, here’s what will set the agenda in the upcoming 2022 IndyCar Series that commences this weekend

Hélio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing Honda

Hélio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing Honda

IndyCar Series

The 2022 IndyCar Series gets underway this weekend in St. Petersburg, with a 100-lap race around the 1.8-mile Florida street track.

With 26 cars split 11/15 between Chevrolet and Honda for the final season of the 2.2-litre V6 engine formula before 2.4-litre hybrid engines arrive for 2023, the chess pieces have been assembled on the board ready for a stirring season of action.

Autosport spoke to second-year driver Romain Grosjean and his new Andretti Autosports boss Rob Edwards for the magazine's season preview, but there are plenty more pressing questions that await the new campaign.

We've picked out five topics to follow over the course of the 2022 season.

1. Will the Castroneves-Pagenaud combo take MSR to the front?

Hélio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing Honda

Hélio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing Honda

Photo by: IndyCar Series

“Jack Harvey’s a very good driver, but why was he so excited to leave Shank and go to Rahal’s team?” remarked one entirely objective paddock luminary to Autosport last week. “I think he needed to be a bit more patient, give it another year – because I reckon he’s quit Meyer Shank at exactly the wrong time, and he’s going to be kicking himself…”

PLUS: Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up?

This comment came just a couple of days after new recruit Simon Pagenaud and former part-time – now full-time – MSR driver Helio Castroneves finished 1-2 in a 14-car test at Sebring, and just a couple of weeks after the pair helped MSR win the Daytona 24 Hours. Yes, our observer may be right about MSR hitting its stride in 2022.

Pagenaud (who turns 38 in May) and Castroneves (who’ll be 47 the same month) wouldn’t have been everyone’s picks for a team expanding to two full-time entries for the first time. Notwithstanding his brilliant fourth Indy 500 victory, Castroneves needed his other five IndyCar outings last year to blow the rust off on road and street courses. And, frankly, we still don’t know if that task is complete, and whether he can get back to the form he showed at Team Penske before ‘The Captain’ moved him across to his IMSA squad for three years.

Read Also:

There are question marks over Pagenaud too. When he’s confident, the 2016 champion flies – he can’t help excelling at Indy (where he won in 2019) and Toronto, for example. But since the universal aerokit was introduced in 2018, he never looked a consistent match for erstwhile Penske team-mates Josef Newgarden and Will Power.

Pagenaud can remedy that. He’s already adapting to the Andretti/MSR-derived ‘family’ of set-ups, and he’s enjoying the Honda’s progressive power delivery, and working with his new race engineer Garrett Mothersead.

“It’s difficult for me to express too much about it because I don’t want to betray anyone at Chevy and I respect them and all the success we had,” says the Frenchman. “But… the set-up is drastically different to what I used to run with Chevy and Penske. I was talking to my engineer Garrett because I have been shocked by some changes that he makes that work really well but didn’t work well for me in the past.”

Asked if he was a dark horse for the IndyCar title, Pagenaud responded: “Yes, I would like to be seen that way.”

2. Can Palou defend his crown?

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Alex Palou is one of the many novice IndyCar drivers who, upon changing teams, have discovered that despite the series comprising spec Dallaras, set-up philosophies can vary markedly from squad to squad. But we can safely say that he adapted swiftly in his switch from Dale Coyne Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing for his sophomore IndyCar season in 2021. He won first time out with CGR, and the fact that he went on to earn two more wins, five other podiums and the championship is the stuff of modern-day IndyCar legend.

PLUS: Ranking the top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2021

Without grid penalties for early engine changes (three times he suffered last year) it would have been easier so, assuming he’s got those misfortunes out of the way, he now has to focus on improving his own qualifying performances. It’s not that he was sluggardly by any means but, as his race engineer Julian Robertson says: “If you want to beat them all at the end of the race, the easiest way is to start ahead of them by beating them all in qualifying.”

Robertson also cited ovals as an area where Palou needs to gain experience. His runner-up finish at Indy last year was deeply impressive, but he needs more miles under his belt at Texas Motor Speedway and Gateway – and the returning Iowa Speedway.

“He and I don’t have much experience working together at ovals,” says Robertson. “That’s an area where we can target a step forward. And that becomes more important with Iowa being thrown back in the mix, and as a double-header: a lot of points available there. Iowa is a tough track, and we as a team have had our ups and downs there.”

If anyone can learn and improve at breakneck speed, however, it’s the reigning champion. It would be a shock were he not in the title hunt come September.

3. Is Arrow McLaren SP consistent enough for a title challenge?

Felix Rosenqvist , Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet

Felix Rosenqvist , Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet

Photo by: IndyCar

For some, this is perhaps the biggest question of all. Partly that’s driven by most people loving Pato O’Ward’s combination of sparky personality and derring-do on track, partly it’s a love of McLaren’s rich heritage… But it’s possibly also because so many observers are desperate for some team – any team – to break the Ganassi-’n’-Penske nine-year stranglehold on the IndyCar championship.

As one engineer from a rival team remarked: “You keep writing that IndyCar is the most open series, and it’s the most competitive it’s ever been, but it’s always the same two teams who come out on top at the end of the year.”

Can Arrow McLaren SP end this streak? The team’s extremely front-end-positive set-ups in 2021 proved a double-edged sword, ‘turning on’ the Firestones for late-race restarts, but frequently punishing them over a whole stint. There were even times when O’Ward couldn’t take advantage of his tyres warming up swifter than those of his rivals because he had to be mindful of having enough grip 20 laps later.

But AMSP, if it hasn’t already become one of the top-echelon teams, is on the cusp of doing so, and some extremely intelligent folks on either side of the Atlantic have been using their grey matter to find alternative set-up solutions that are kinder to the rubber.

Craig Hampson’s ever-increasing influence over Felix Rosenqvist’s car last year appeared to pay dividends in the final third of the season. The Swede hadn’t liked the team’s road/street set-up philosophy and had been off O’Ward’s pace. And then, as his car was made less ‘nose-heavy’, and more like the set-ups he was used to from his Ganassi days, Rosenqvist started to flourish. With Hampson as his race engineer for 2022, he may become the star we expected.

4. How will the rookies fare?

Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing

Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing

Photo by: IndyCar Series

It’s worth keeping an open mind about Andretti Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco, while Kyle Kirkwood has the talent and fresh approach that could breathe new life into AJ Foyt Racing.

Read Also:

For one of his team-mates (on road and street courses), Tatiana Calderon, 2022 will be an uphill struggle because she’s yet to prove herself in ‘big’ open-wheel cars, despite her competence in sports-prototypes.
David Malukas kept Kirkwood under pressure during the 2021 Indy Lights season, which says a lot about the 20-year-old from Chicago who has looked strong in testing for Dale Coyne Racing. He is deeply determined and eager to learn from veteran team-mate Takuma Sato.

Christian Lundgaard was startling in his one-off outing with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing last year, and is expected to be right on pace with team-mates Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey. He’s surely the hot tip for Rookie of the Year.

Callum Ilott ran three races for Juncos Hollinger Racing last year and showed the flashes of promise you’d expect, given his and his team’s junior formula credentials. But both will struggle to overcome the impediments caused by being a one-car outfit.

5. Are there wins in the fortysomethings?

Will Power, Team Penske

Will Power, Team Penske

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

For both Scott Dixon and Will Power, 2021 was a scrappy, aggravating season, that resulted in only one win apiece (although there woulda/coulda/shoulda been at least one more for each), and at times both were left puzzled by being outperformed by a team-mate.

For Dixon, this was more troubling since it went on for much of the year, with Chip Ganassi Racing stablemate Alex Palou regularly outpacing him in qualifying and races, at least on road and street courses.

Power’s troubles in comparison to Team Penske partner Josef Newgarden were more sporadic, and appeared to afflict him in the middle third of the year, but then he got his act together not only in terms of set-ups but also his mental approach to qualifying. He stopped bailing out of any flying laps where he felt he’d made an error and instead pressed on, and thus re-established himself as a top qualifier.

Anyone who thinks these Antipodean rivals are spent forces should think again. Between them they have 91 wins, and that’s because they’re always learning, always seeking ways to improve. They also drive for teams where there are enough facilities and research resources to tailor their set-ups to suit, to plough slightly more individual furrows should that prove necessary.

Read Also:

Helio Castroneves, as stated elsewhere, still needs to prove he’s back on the pace, although practice at Portland and qualifying at Long Beach last year suggest yes, he has still got it. But there is another Indy 500 winner who needs a big year, and that’s Takuma Sato.

Following four years and four wins – including his second 500 triumph – at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, he has moved to Dale Coyne Racing after a subdued 2021. Sato has had only one test day with the team heading into St Petersburg, but he has the experience, skills and motivation to boost himself and his team forward.

Takuma Sato, Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda

Takuma Sato, Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Be part of Autosport community

Join the conversation

Related video

Previous article Graham Rahal expects to take over RLL IndyCar team “someday”
Next article Autosport Podcast: Al Unser Jr on his ups and downs and IndyCar 2022

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe