IndyCar team-by-team mid-season review 2022
With eight races down and nine to go, it’s time to reflect on who has been excelling and who’s been sub-par in the first half of the 2022 IndyCar season
Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda
It’s hard to knock a team that has started the 2022 season in roughly the same way as it ended the last, with three of its drivers in the top six in the championship, one of them leading. The down side is that they have scored only one win so far: the upside is that it was the Indianapolis 500.
That performance from the Ganassi team as a whole was pure class, the squad very clearly proving to be Honda’s difference-maker. Four of the five Ganassi cars started in the front two rows, all five cars led laps, totalling 163 of the 200, and while there was shock at how Scott Dixon missed out through an infinitesimally small mistake and another at how Fate tripped Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson delivered in superb fashion.
If there have been disappointments, it was in CGR’s initial pace at St. Petersburg, and maybe at Texas Motor Speedway, too. But that St. Pete weekend was a prime example of what happens when massively talented engineers work their butts off in times of crisis: they can produce a big mid-weekend turnaround, one of the team’s long-time specialties. The Ganassi cars were nowhere in first practice, but inched up the times with each session. By Sunday, Palou was able to finish just half a second behind the winner.
Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Ericsson is well worthy of his top spot in the championship at the moment. Aside from a gaffe while in a podium position at Long Beach, he’s made no crucial mistakes on race days, driving with the self confidence that race engineer Brad Goldberg has bred in him since the Swede joined the team in 2020. His qualifying pace is still not quite what it should be but few – if any – drivers out there are nailing it every time in qualifying these days. Hence eight polesitters in eight races.
Despite the lack of wins, Palou is putting up a strong defence of his crown, but he’s made a couple of small but crucial errors. Most recent was rubbing against his team-mate Ericsson at Road America and breaking his front suspension, but that spin onto the grass in the damp conditions at the start of the GP of Indy – and then stalling – proved costly too. Nonetheless, if he can return to the state of composure we saw from him throughout 2021, he should be a very solid title contender through to the last round.
Dixon’s qualifying struggles (everywhere except Indy) have been an extension of what we saw quite regularly in 2021, where tying all his best sectors together remains a bugbear. And it’s getting ever harder to reach the front from a mediocre grid slot, which is the main reason why he has only one podium finish to his name. Nonetheless, he’s less than 70 points away from Ericsson in the standings with nine rounds still to go. His problem is that means he’s only sixth, and outscoring five very talented drivers in that space of time will prove tricky.
Jimmie Johnson’s decision to run the full season this year is paying off, in that while he’s still struggling on road and more particularly street courses (his Long Beach weekend was horrible), he’s looked more than fine on ovals. His sixth place at Texas deserved all the hype it received, and his confident bounce-back from a couple of truly heartstopping moments in practice and qualifying at Indy proved what stern stuff he’s made of. He still has many hurdles to overcome, but his persistence is to be admired, as is his utter honesty with himself, the Ganassi team and the rest of us.
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
How many times over the last 10 years, since the arrival of the Dallara DW12, have we heard drivers, crew chiefs, team bosses, series bosses and media folk banging on about how tight and close things are in IndyCar, how on any given weekend 20 of the 26 cars qualify within one second, and/or have a legitimate shot at winning the race? And yet Team Penske-Chevrolet has won five of the first eight races in 2022. Interesting to rewind 12 months and note that after nine races, The Captain’s squad had won none. There were extenuating circumstances, but still, that was a weird one.
The run of success in 2022, by contrast, does not feel anomalous at all. Penske has improved its street course package, particularly improving its traction, and this has been hugely enhanced by Chevrolet’s efforts to offer engine maps that improve the progressiveness of its power delivery out of turns that are 90 degrees or tighter. (Three different Chevy drivers have told Autosport that they wouldn’t have qualified as high up as they did at various races if they had been running their engines in Chevy’s 2021 spec/engine-mapping format).
Will Power leads the team in terms of points, sitting second in the championship, 27 markers behind Marcus. He says that his policy of throttling back from trying to achieve the impossible, to instead focus on making the most of what he has, began in ’21 and that we didn’t see it because his luck was too poor for it to translate into results. This year, Power’s determination to make better racing decisions has seen him score six top-four finishes in eight races, including that brilliant win in Detroit… when he did, in fact, achieve the impossible by making a set of Firestone alternates last at competitive speed for 20 laps when others struggled to go eight laps without their rubber falling off the proverbial cliff.
The reason Power would slip to an A-minus were I grading the drivers in such a manner is that he’s still having those qualifying sessions where he puzzles himself by missing the cut. Long Beach and Detroit were forgivable – he got blocked on his potentially fastest laps – but starting only 19th at Barber and 15th at Road America were baffling, and he needs to ensure that stops happening if he’s to finally nail his second championship.
Team-mate Josef Newgarden is his usual rapid and irrepressible self and is only five points behind his team-mate. He deserved all three of his wins – that opportunistic charge past Scott McLaughlin on the last lap at Texas Motor Speedway; the quite brilliant execution by he and his strand of the team at Long Beach that saw him triumph on a weekend when the Penske-Chevy package was probably only third best; and then last weekend’s triumph at Road America, when he and the car seemed in perfect harmony throughout, so he was able to answer any challenge thrown his way. He’ll still be in the championship mix into the final couple of rounds.
McLaughlin startled everyone, not least his team-mates, with a wonderful drive to pole and then victory lane in the season-opener at St. Petersburg, and so it’s clear that he and his race engineer (and buddy) Ben Bretzman have chimed well together. Another season of oval experience might have seen McLaughlin hold off Newgarden at Texas, too.
There have also been some high-profile errors – clipping a wall at Long Beach, crashing out of the Indy 500, losing a lap down an escape road at Detroit – but don’t let this disguise the fact that McLaughlin has eradicated the chances of him being shifted sideways into the Penske Porsche IMSA/WEC program. In terms of outright pace, the three-times Supercars champion and IndyCar sophomore is the most improved driver of the season by far.
Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet
Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
The McLaren-Sam Schmidt-Ric Peterson-owned team has turned IndyCar’s Big Three into a Big Four over the past couple of seasons. But equally apparent is that its peaks-’n’-valleys routine from 2021 has lingered on into ’22, and no longer can that be blamed on setups that deliberately warm up but also overheat the tyres rapidly. The team has backed off from that setup philosophy, which they had adopted in order to enhance pace in qualifying and on restarts. Yet still there are days when the orange and black/blue cars are just not quite there.
They were completely anonymous on the streets of St. Pete, bounced back in Texas with Felix Rosenqvist on pole, but lost out due to pitlane errors from the drivers and a mechanical DNF for the Swede. Long Beach – OK but nothing special, Pato O’Ward delivered a beautifully judged win at Barber, the pair should have been fourth and fifth in the Indy Grand Prix, either driver might have won Indy had not Ganassi been so magic, at Detroit they were OK but not as good as fellow Chevy runners Penske, and at Road America they were probably only fourth-best team overall, behind Penske, Andretti and Ganassi.
If you’re one of the top four teams, but the field is as tight as IndyCar in this era, you can’t expect to contend for poles and wins every weekend. But still, there’s a lack of consistency that could even eliminate O’Ward from championship talk sooner than the final round.
O’Ward is regarded as a unicorn within AMSP, and it’s not hard to understand why: he can dance a car on the precipice of disaster without going over and deliver poles and wins. Since 2020, he has also shown a remarkable maturity in judging how to handle any given racing situation. But it took Arrow McLaren SP’s decision to sign him through to the end of 2025 to get him back to his best after the mental blow of learning that fellow IndyCar young gun Colton Herta would be testing a McLaren Formula 1 car this year.
O’Ward’s subsequent decision to declare to the world that he was open to persuasion, contract-wise seemed to affect his equanimity. Once he shoved it all to the back of his mind and instead focused on the race-to-race task at hand, he recovered the affable and amusing persona we’ve all come to enjoy, and his driving returned to normal (in other words, on a higher plain than most), helped in part by the calming influence of AMSP team president Taylor Kiel.
Rosenqvist has continued to show the signs of progress first detected when the team’s R&D man Craig Hampson took over the #7 car as race engineer last summer – a situation enhanced by the team electing to go for a more ‘neutral’ setup. It’s no surprise whenever Rosenqvist is a tenth or two behind O’Ward in practice and qualifying, but it’s also not shock when those roles are reversed. It would probably take only the confidence-booster of a win to see Felix regularly sparring with Pato for preeminence within the team. He should have done enough to earn himself a third year at AMSP. Being close to – and occasionally beating – a driver as fast as O’Ward deserves praise… and a contract extension.
Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport Honda
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
One day, there should be a no-holds-barred story about this team: the ups and downs as described by Michael Andretti, team president JF Thormann, current COO Rob Edwards, part-owner of one car Bryan Herta, and its many drivers and race engineers could turn it into an instant classic in print and on screen. There’s so much brilliance balanced out by spasms of dysfunction.
Colton Herta is a truly excellent driver, no question, and he puts in the work between races, even if he doesn’t admit to it. He is most definitely not someone who expects raw talent alone to send him into orbit results-wise. But to sit only 11th in the championship despite pole at Long Beach and victory in the GP of Indy is far less than he expected of 2022, having finished third in the 2020 championship and having taken three wins in ’21. Of course, crashing in practice and being rendered an also-ran and DNF at double-points Indy is a huge blow, that means the title – indeed, even a top-three finish – appear to be very unlikely for him this year.
But not for Alexander Rossi. He may be almost 100 points down from leader Ericsson, but his consistency in recent races cannot be ignored. Fifth at Indy, second at Detroit, third at Road America – suggest he’s on the cusp of a win, more than three years since his last. His commitment for 2023 lies with Arrow McLaren SP, but Rossi would like nothing more than to defeat the AMSP drivers and lay down a marker for next season, as well as reminding his current team what they’ll be missing.
Romain Grosjean is a massive talent, but he looks expensive right now, whomever you believe dropped in the most to fund his ride with Andretti. Seven-figure sums to land a guy who is currently only 12th in the championship, with a solitary podium finish and three heavy crashes to his name is not what anyone expected from this deal. Grosjean could win next time out at Mid-Ohio, or Toronto, or the second race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course – he’s got that potential, no doubt about it – but he could also throw it away like he did at Indy, or look anonymous, as at Detroit.
Devlin DeFrancesco has several rough edges to smooth out in terms of temperament and instinct, and he’s nobody’s definition of a mega talent, but he’s OK, he’s a nice lad who shows his gratitude to his team, and he’s not out of his depth. IndyCars suit him better than Indy Lights cars and a top five is within his grasp before the season is out. Next year could see him land a podium.
Meyer Shank Racing-Honda
Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing Honda
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Simon Pagenaud took the runner-up spot in the wet Grand Prix of Indianapolis – up from 20th on the grid – and so far this year that has been the team’s only podium finish. He and team-mate Helio Castroneves qualified third and fourth for the Detroit Grand Prix, another highlight, but too often their cars have looked thereabouts but not right there. These former Penske team-mates work together harmoniously, and work hard, too – 47 wins between them has not blunted their desire. But being technical partners with the four Andretti drivers is a double-edged sword in terms of direct comparisons and it’s rare for the fastest MSR car to be ahead of the fastest AA car.
Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet
Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Like MSR, Ed Carpenter Racing has blown hot and cold this year. Rinus VeeKay started the year in impressive style with that very mature drive to sixth place in St. Petersburg, and three races later he nailed pole position and a podium finish at Barber Motorsports Park. Since then he’s been on slim pickings, the nadir being crashing and posting a first retirement in the Indy 500 after starting on the front row. There’s a potentially great driver here fighting to strut his stuff, but in his third year in the series, he also shares the responsibility helping to steer ECR out of the midfield rut into which it sometimes stumbles.
After struggling in the season’s first quarter, Conor Daly has appeared more than competent and occasionally inspired in recent weeks. His run to fifth in the rain on the GP Indy road course was the finest drive in his almost 90-race IndyCar career, while his climb from 18th to sixth two weeks later in the 500 was also worthy. But he’s in an invidious position, in that he often compares best with VeeKay when the car setups are off, when neither of them have a chance of cracking the top five.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Barber 2019, the last time this team outpaced its rivals on a road/street course for in qualifying and the race, is a long time ago now and it’s hard to see how RLL gets out of this dip in form. Graham Rahal has always been a better racer than qualifier, but even so, his average grid slot of 17th this year means he’s simply having to do too much work on race days. From that perspective, his two sevenths and two eighths are commendable. But he is a guy who finished in the Top 10 in the championship for the last seven years, and yet currently sits only 15th.
Certainly, adding a third full-time entry has not been the magic bullet for RLL, although both rookie Christian Lundgaard and new arrival Jack Harvey have shown flashes of pace, and the former leads the rookie standings. But it’s a rare weekend when such speed is sustained across all three days. There is much work to be done here.
Dale Coyne Racing-Honda
Takuma Sato, Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
Former RLL driver Takuma Sato must look back with zero regrets, and he has performed exactly how we expected an open-minded veteran to perform at Dale Coyne Racing, his eyes opened to the potential of his Coyne with RWR car on ovals and street courses. He qualified third at Texas Motor Speedway, second at Detroit, and was one of the stars throughout practice at Indy until the Ganassi team put everyone else into perspective. Sato lies only 18th in the championship because his pace has translated into just a couple of Top 10 finishes.
His relationship with rookie team-mate David Malukas is a growing and helpful one to the team, for the pair compliment and complement one another and are never far apart in terms of pace. In fact, Malukas has looked every bit as promising as he did in Indy Lights, and if there have been a couple of mistakes – St. Pete and Long Beach spring to mind – so too he has overperformed at times. Given his relative lack of experience on ovals, who expected the youngster from Chicago to outqualify two Penske cars at Indy?
There have been a couple of pitlane blunders in the heat of the moment, but generally Malukas learns from his errors. After those shunts at earlier street course events, one wondered how he’d cope at Detroit… and then he got through to the Firestone Fast Six.
AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet
Kyle Kirkwood, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
It’s very tough for Malukas’s former Lights title rival, Kyle Kirkwood, when it comes to road and street tracks.
Team-mate Tatiana Calderon is still trying to bring herself up to pace in an IndyCar so her data and feedback is of limited use to her fellow rookie, particularly because, unlike Kirkwood, Calderon is also having to learn the majority of the tracks.
Kirkwood can look to full-timer in the #4 car, Dalton Kellett, who is looking evermore competent (fewer spins) and was actually very decent at St Pete and on ovals – but his improvement rate is steady rather than startling.
That said, Kirkwood’s pre-season positivity in stating that AJ Foyt Racing’s setups felt pretty much as good as those of Andretti Autosport (for whom he tested three times pre-season and for whom he will depart at season's end) has been justified.
Once he’d dialed out the neutral-to-understeer setup preferred by his predecessor in the #14, Sebastien Bourdais, Kirkwood was able to exploit Foyt’s improved shock-and-damper program for street courses, and he could have scored a top-eight finish at Detroit without his little-error-with-big-consequences on cold tyres.
Calderon’s potential probably shouldn’t be judged until season’s end, but she certainly isn’t a liability and now has a full understanding of the task ahead of her should she wish to stay in the series. Importantly, too, there are signs of progress.
JR Hildebrand is her dependable oval-track ringer and can be expected to prove a huge boon for Kirkwood, Kellett and the team at Iowa Speedway and Gateway’s World Wide Technology Raceway, given his bravery but also analytical approach.
Juncos Hollinger Racing-Chevrolet
Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet
Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images
Callum Ilott has been far more prominent than his solitary top-10 finish would suggest, impressing with his speed in practice and qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park (11th), GP Indy (seventh) and Road America (12th). Taking into account his lack of oval experience pre-2022, his 19th on the grid in Indy’s field of 33 is also rather impressive. He is, of course, running solo with a team still finding its feet at this level, but there are definite signs it’s paying off and that’s gratifying: Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger, despite lacking the resources of their experienced rivals, nonetheless targeted a driver bestowed with talent rather than dollars for its single entry. One shouldn’t be biased… but it would be a true pleasure to see this group land a podium before the year’s out.
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