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The top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2022

After a dramatic 2022 IndyCar season, Will Power was crowned champion for the second time last month. But who were the most impressive drivers of the year, and who didn't make the cut despite their efforts? Here are Autosport's top 10 IndyCar drivers of the year

Race Start, Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Race Start, Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Let’s start with those who didn’t make our top 10. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s midseason revival resulted in Graham Rahal progressing from contending for top 10s to fighting for top fives while rookie Christian Lundgaard was able to earn spots in the Firestone Fast Six and claim a runner-up finish in the IMS road course’s second race.

Despite Lundgaard's Rookie of the Year award win, and Rahal proving as strong as ever despite finishing outside the top 10 in the championship for the first time since 2014, neither quite reaches our top 10. They simply didn’t have the car to get enough done at some of RLL’s traditionally strong tracks.

If our top 10 list was based solely on talent, Romain Grosjean would be included - but it’s not, so he’s not. This is about form across the 2022 season, and for too much of that, the former F1 ace and IndyCar sophomore seemed unable to work within the limitations of his Andretti machinery. In fact, there were times when he failed to register those limits, leading to expensive shunts, and whenever he then tried to drive in a more circumspect manner, he became anonymous.

The problem, said Grosjean, was that he and race engineer Olivier Boisson couldn’t get the #28 car to provide enough front-end grip to suit his preferred sharp turn-in technique. He was, however, fast whenever the car was to his liking; at Laguna Seca he qualified on the second row, declaring the car was now how he wanted it. Too late to make an impression on the 2022 season.

Another driver worthy of mention in the nearly-but-not-quite category is Lundgaard’s rookie of the year rival David Malukas. After a self-admittedly shaky start for the Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports racer, the 2021 Indy Lights runner-up barely stopped impressing and outshone veteran teammate Takuma Sato more often than not. He looks set to be a star.

Finally, mention must be made of Rinus VeeKay, a man who knows how to win an IndyCar race but who couldn’t quite achieve the feat in 2022. His pole position and podium finish at Barber Motorsports Park demonstrated what he and Ed Carpenter Racing can achieve when everything works, but those days are too few currently.

Here, then, is the top 10:

10. Alexander Rossi

2022 was another difficult year on the whole for Rossi

2022 was another difficult year on the whole for Rossi

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

When his seventh season with Andretti Autosport appeared set to continue as disastrously as his sixth, Alexander Rossi wanted out. Between bad pitstops and car failures, the 31-year-old Californian was done. Ironically (or coincidentally), things started to improve around the time it was announced he was departing for Arrow McLaren SP. Fifth place in the 500 was followed by runner-up position at Detroit, and a pole position and third place at Road America.

Then came Mid-Ohio, where he made contact with two of his Andretti Autosport team-mates, but two races later Rossi took advantage of Colton Herta’s DNF at IMS road course to seal a win he might have captured anyway. His eighth win had come more than three years after his seventh.

On his best days, Rossi remains a potential winner, and his sheer determination – and talent – should enable that to be shown more frequently at his new team.

9. Felix Rosenqvist

Rosenqvist has done enough to earn himself another season at Arrow McLaren SP

Rosenqvist has done enough to earn himself another season at Arrow McLaren SP

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Felix Rosenqvist retained his focus this year, despite the madness swirling around him as Arrow McLaren SP was ready to ditch him or switch him to McLaren’s nascent Formula E project. Rosenqvist took pole at Texas, outpaced O’Ward in qualifying at Long Beach, took sixth in the wet GP Indy despite being spun by his teammate and losing his front wing, finished a fighting fourth at Indy, and then scored third place at Toronto.

He was hugely unlucky too. He and O’Ward could have scored an AMSP 1-2 at Mid-Ohio, maybe with Rosenqvist ahead having opted for a different tyre strategy, but both cars failed. A couple of rounds later, Felix had pole in the second IMS road course race, but a dragging brake on raceday left him unable to fend off his rivals and he eventually limped home ninth. Closing out the year with a fourth place at Laguna Seca, on a day when his team-mate could manage no better than eighth, was a good confidence-booster going into the off-season. He deserves his third year at AMSP.

8. Marcus Ericsson

Ericsson's Indy 500 win was the only serious highlight of his 2022 campaign

Ericsson's Indy 500 win was the only serious highlight of his 2022 campaign

Photo by: Scott R LePage / Motorsport Images

How often can you expect days in the sun while being directly compared with team-mates six-time champion Scott Dixon and reigning champion Alex Palou? Marcus Ericsson proved you need only one, winning a duel with Pato O’Ward at the Indy 500 to score Ganassi’s fifth Indy 500 win, and its first for 10 years. Ericsson, who has enjoyed ovals since he moved from Formula 1 to IndyCar in 2019, kept his powder dry until the final stint when he demoted the two Arrow McLaren SP cars of O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and then kept his head straight during the race stoppage. He outfoxed O’Ward in those closing couple of laps to deliver a tear-jerking win.

Elsewhere, Ericsson looked as good as his car, which is both a compliment and a curse. Occasionally he outperformed Dixon and Palou but scoring only one top five in the second half of the season caused his title hopes to fade and highlighted a flaw that still needs addressing. Excellent racecraft can’t always overcome qualifying deficits.

7. Colton Herta

It was an eye-catching season for Herta but lacked consistency to mount a title challenge

It was an eye-catching season for Herta but lacked consistency to mount a title challenge

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

What a bizarre year for a driver who is so clearly an ace. Colton Herta, a driver whose composure was raved about in 2020 and 2021, made too many errors in ’22. His shunt at Long Beach – when he responded badly to leading the first stint and then losing out in pitstops – was painfully reminiscent of his frustration at Nashville the previous year. His back-flipping error on Carb Day at Indy led to a heavily compromised car on double-points race day, which forced him to retire early and effectively ended his title challenge by the end of May.

In between times, he scored a brilliant victory in the wet at the Grand Prix of Indy, but forever after he was fighting a rearguard action and there were days when he was outperformed by team-mate Alex Rossi. At Toronto he took his second pole of the year and finished second Dixon, but transmission woes in Iowa 1 - and a halfshaft failure while appearing set for victory in the second IMS road course race - pretty much ensured Herta would be outside the top five at year’s end. Clipping a barrier in qualifying at Portland and twice falling off the track at Laguna Seca also suggested a driver pushing a tad too hard.

That said, the fuss around him is justified and a more composed approach to 2023 should earn him those precious FIA superlicense points.

6. Pato O’Ward

O’Ward impressed at times but wasn't able to kick on from 2021

O’Ward impressed at times but wasn't able to kick on from 2021

Photo by: Barry Cantrell / Motorsport Images

Money dissatisfaction, ill-feeling regarding Herta’s opportunities with McLaren’s F1 test team, and Arrow McLaren SP’s still-flaky performance trends when compared with fellow Chevrolet runners Team Penske, seemed to bring out the worst in Pato O’Ward in the first couple of rounds of 2022. He looked mistake-prone and was tending to overdrive. But in the fourth round he was immaculate on raceday and fully deserved his win, and mere days later he had a contract through to 2025 with improved salary and terms.

O’Ward’s race to second in the Indy 500 was quite brilliant but he tarnished it by unsubtly laying his defeat at the feet of Chevrolet. Consequently, his mechanical DNFs at Road America (Chevy’s fault) and Mid-Ohio (team’s fault) didn’t elicit the same sympathy as they might have done.

His superb Iowa performances – a second place and a lucky win, both times ahead of Power – weren’t enough to prevent his title challenge disappearing with a 12th in the second IMS road course race and a DNF in Nashville (through no fault of his own). For O’Ward this was a frustrating year of treading water, largely due to the team’s capricious form, but he is brave, supremely quick and a future champion.

5. Scott McLaughlin

It was a breakthrough season for McLaughlin at Team Penske

It was a breakthrough season for McLaughlin at Team Penske

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

It’s hard to recall an IndyCar driver’s transformation from impressive rookie to undoubted ace as convincing as Scott McLaughlin’s between 2021 and ’22. Ben Bretzman – formerly Simon Pagenaud’s engineer, but already a friend and golfing buddy of McLaughlin – replaced the sportscar-destined Jonathan Diuguid, and set about answering McLaughlin’s complaints from his first year about struggling for traction on corner exits. Team Penske made strides in this area as a whole, but McLaughlin’s upward trajectory was steepest of all. He outduelled Power for pole at St. Petersburg, and went on to win the race despite intense pressure from Alex Palou, the same driver he’d hold off to win victory number two at Mid-Ohio.

McLaughlin’s only obvious black marks were the spins under yellow, then green, in the wet GP of Indy and then a heavy shunt in the 500. He looked lost set up-wise at Detroit, too.

Penske was foolhardy not to make McLaughlin give up the lead to Power in Portland, but having (allegedly) told him to make way for Newgarden at Gateway, maybe team management members were loathe to hamper him twice in consecutive races.

Whatever the reasoning, Portland gave McLaughlin another chance to he cannot be ruffled by a pursuing rival – a talent that will serve him well in the years ahead.

4. Alex Palou

Palou's attempted breakaway from Chip Ganassi overshadowed his season

Palou's attempted breakaway from Chip Ganassi overshadowed his season

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

What a difference a year makes. Palou went from being everyone’s second favourite driver, with an apparently magical ability to avoid trouble and crush his rivals with his consistency, to becoming someone of questionable judgment off-track and no noticeable progress on it.

Make no mistake, he was still usually excellent – he outperformed Dixon at St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Barber, Mid-Ohio and most obviously of all Laguna Seca. And that last-named race, resulting a 30-second victory margin, was one of the most ridiculously dominant performances by anyone in the last five seasons, and he had to do it from 11th on the grid.

But Palou also seemed capable of those kinds of performances last year. This time around, we wanted to see improved oval performances, and while he was superb at Indy, dueling with team-mate Dixon until suffering very bad luck with the timing of a caution period, his other oval races were lukewarm. There were even days when he was fourth-best of the Ganassi drivers behind Dixon, Ericsson, and Jimmie Johnson. Most uncharacteristically, Palou also blamed the blameless Ericsson for their collision at Road America which put his own car out.

But by then maybe Palou wasn’t in the best state of mind, since he was in the middle of a tug of love between Ganassi and McLaren, with no one to blame but himself…

Yet somehow Palou has landed on his feet; by remaining at Ganassi, he now has a top-rank IndyCar ride and he’s got an F1 test opportunity with McLaren. Given his huge talent, Alex could well make the most of both drives in 2023, but whether on-track success is enough to enable everyone to forgive his off-track imprudence in 2022 is yet to be seen.

3. Scott Dixon

It was a classic Dixon IndyCar year but it wasn't enough for a historic title

It was a classic Dixon IndyCar year but it wasn't enough for a historic title

Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

This could have been your typical Scott Dixon year – shine but get shafted at the Indy 500, then scramble through to finish the year on top. Instead, he dominated Indy until he shafted himself with a slightly too fast entry into the pitlane – literally, 1mph over the limit – and had to wait until Round 10 to score his first victory.

But that drive at Toronto reminded everyone how easy Ganassi’s six-time champion can make it look, while his Nashville triumph was the very opposite. That was a prime example of Dixon making the most of what he’d got, triumphing from a mid-grid starting slot, overcoming the time lost to unscheduled pitstops and driving a very damaged car on worn-out tyres to victory lane. In years to come, this may come to be recognised as one of the greatest of the legend’s 53 triumphs.

On the downside it will concern the Kiwi legend that he was often outperformed by Palou – and it may concern him still more that Palou is now staying at Ganassi! But Dixon will carry on being Dixon The Irrepressible, and may yet have a record-equalling seventh championship in him.

One maxim of IndyCar is that Dixon can never be truly counted out. Remember, 1mph less on pitlane at Indy and he’d have over 70 points more, which would have sealed a second championship...

2. Will Power

Minimal errors and unwavering consistency landed Power the 2022 IndyCar title - but not top spot here

Minimal errors and unwavering consistency landed Power the 2022 IndyCar title - but not top spot here

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Will Power declared that this was the year in which he felt he had to repay his crew for their years of devotion to his cause by winning them a championship and deliberately reined himself in at St. Petersburg, at Mid-Ohio and in the second Iowa race, prudently banking points rather than pursuing victory.

It’s been written here before that in 2021 Alex Palou set the template for how to win the IndyCar war, with eight podiums and an average finish of 7.3, but Power took that to the next level this year with nine top-threes and an average finish of 5.9.

But you don’t lay it all on the line in qualifying and score five pole positions if you’re trying to backpedal your way to a second championship. What he focused on was eliminating significant errors and avoiding potentially damaging situations, and in this he was largely successful.

Aside from stalling in the pits in the Indy 500, Power didn’t make any major gaffes on racedays. Remember, too, that many of his top fives were recovery drives and, at Barber, you can put the blame on him for needing to charge hard from the second half of the grid. But that fourth place was superb, and his poor qualifying position at Road America (which led to a lowly finish after being punted by a backmarker) was also his fault.

At both Long Beach and Detroit, where he won, he was held up on his flying lap in qualifying. At Mid-Ohio, his team sent him into the path of another car in Q1, so he was sent to the back of the grid. Yet, the Australian stormed through to take third, while in the second Indy road course race he was bullied down to 17th in the opening two laps, but on an impossible fuel strategy came through to finish third.

Quite why his team elected not to give him fresh tyres for the final stint at Gateway, no one knows, but salvaging sixth that day was as important as 11th with a crippled gearbox in Nashville.

He doesn’t make #1 slot here because as hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and so while Power might well have won those races where he stuck to his points-collecting policy, we don’t know that he would have done.

1. Josef Newgarden

Newgarden came close to the perfect IndyCar season

Newgarden came close to the perfect IndyCar season

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

When PeopleReady announced it was to give a $1m bounty to the first driver to win on road, street and oval courses this season, many would have put money on Josef Newgarden being the first to achieve it, but probably didn’t reckon on him achieving it by midseason!

His late-race charge at Texas was exhilarating, he wasn’t going to be denied at Road America, but it was his opportunistic Long Beach triumph that impressed his teammate Will Power. “Josef did a great job,” said the eventual champion after finishing fourth, “because honestly as a team I don’t think we were even second-best that weekend. Andretti and Ganassi should have kicked our ass. But once Josef got in the lead, he held off Grosjean and Palou with experience, placing his car in the right way. Solid effort.”

Newgarden should have won both races in Iowa, but a suspension failure pitched him into the wall in Race 2. Yet he still squeezed in a fifth win at Gateway; according to very good Autosport sources, during the rain delay, McLaughlin was asked to let the two-time champ through following the restart. You can argue that he would have won anyway, but there’s a feeling that had he been held up in a battle with his team-mate, Dale Coyne Racing’s David Malukas would have gotten the pair of them, instead of merely splitting them at the chequered flag.

It would be wrong to blame Newgarden’s third straight runner-up finish entirely on the Iowa mechanical issue. He was anonymous at St. Petersburg, Barber and Indy 500 (like Power, he stalled in the pitlane), and made what appeared to be a tactical blunder over tyre strategy at Portland while trying to recover from his grid penalty. He was also knocked out of the GP of Indy. But if one was to look at it in terms of bald stats, rather than how they were accumulated, Newgarden’s issue was that he clocked up only one other podium aside from his five wins.

PLUS: Ranking the top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2021

So, as in 2020, Newgarden was the best but missed out on the title. But in 2019 he clinched the championship when he wasn’t quite the best, so maybe it all works out in the end. And he can take solace from the guy who beat him to the title this time around: Power knows the feeling of being the best driver of the season and falling short on the points table.

Do you agree with our top 10?

Do you agree with our top 10?

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

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