In 2020 Honda won the Indycar triple crown: Manufacturer’s title, Driver’s Title (Scott Dixon) and Indy 500 (Takuma Sato). Repeating that feat will be very difficult. The season starts April 18 at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in suburban Birmingham.
We’ll discuss these topics in the form of answers to common questions about the upcoming season.
Can Scott Dixon win back-to-back Driver’s Championships?
Of course he can. He’s still Scott Dixon and the Ganassi team is still the Ganassi team. And he’s won the Indycar driver’s title a total of six times. But he won’t be the favorite, mostly because there is a gaggle of favorites, including (in no particular order):
- Scott Dixon (Ganassi/Honda)
- Josef Newgarden (Penske/Chevy)
- Will Power (Penske/Chevy)
- Pato O’Ward (Arrow-McLaren/Chevy)
- Alexander Rossi (Andretti/Honda)
- Colton Herta (Andretti/Honda)
And that is only the list of those “most-likely” to win the Driver’s Championship. There are only 17 races and if any of those drivers wins as many as three races, that could lock it up.
The other reason Dixon is not necessarily the favorite is that everything about last season is different. Last season There was effectively a new car, since the aero screen changed the physical and aero balance of the car. Plus, there was almost no testing before the races and very little practice. The Ganassi team had a great handle on the car from the green flag of the first race at Texas. Dixon won the first three races and a total of four. He built a big lead and coasted through some rough patches to win the title.
This season will be more like the end of 2020. By then, several teams had caught up to Ganassi.
The two strongest Hondas not run by Ganassi should be the Andretti/Hondas of Rossi and Herta. Andretti got the Aeroscreen car very wrong and it took most of the season to catch up to Ganassi and Team Penske. Herta won the second race at Mid-Ohio, and Rossi should have won the finale at St. Pete.
Can Honda win the Manufacturer’s Title?
The 2020 Manufacturer’s Title was Honda’s third in a row after watching Chevy win five in a row. Because there is a new formula coming in 2023, few changes are allowed in the present engine formula. That makes the state of play fairly stagnant: Honda’s main advantages are driveability and fuel mileage. Chevy probably makes more power in cooler conditions, while Honda probably has a slight advantage as temperatures climb.
Honda’s biggest advantage is that it has two of the three “big” teams: Ganassi and Andretti. Chevy has Penske. Chevy should be helped by the improvement of Arrow-McLaren, and by the development of Rinus Veekay at Ed Carpenter Racing.
Overall, Honda has more good cars in any given race, and that is the advantage.
What has changed at the teams?
Given how short the off-season was, there were several changes to teams.
Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda): Returning veterans Dixon and Marcus Ericsson are joined by Alex Palou (from Dale Coyne Racing) and NASCAR champ Jimmy Johnson. Tony Kanaan will replace Johnson on Ovals.
Andretti Autosport (Honda): Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rossi return. James Hinchcliffe replaces Zach Veach. Marco Andretti is an Indy-only entry.
Meyer-Shank (Honda): Jack Harvey returns for the whole season, partnered with Helio Castroneves for at least six races, including the Indy 500.
Team Penske (Chevy): Simon Pagenaud, Power and Newgarden are joined by Scott McLaughlin from the Penske Australian Super Cars team.
Arrow-McLaren (Chevy): Oliver Askew was let go at the end of the 2020 season, and replaced by Felix Rosenqvist, signed away from Ganassi.
Dale Coyne Racing (Honda): The team lost Alex Palou to Ganassi and parted ways with Santino Ferrucci. Replacing them are returning Indycar vet Ed Jones and ex-F1 driver Roman Grosjean.
Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan (Honda): One of two teams with no changes. Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato return.
AJ Foyt Racing (Chevy): Sebastian Bourdais is back for the full season with Dalton Kellett.
Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevy): The other team with no changes. Rinus Veekay is back for the whole season partnered with Conor Daly on road courses and Ed Carpenter on ovals.
Carlin Racing (Chevy): Max Chilton will run the road/street courses, plus the Indy 500.
Are we through with COVID scheduling messes?
No. But there should not be as many as 2020. Several changes have been made already and there is at least a 50/50 chance of one more.
- The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been moved from March to the end of April (the week after Barber). This is a one-time shift for 2021 and the intention is for St. Pete to move to its regular March date in 2022.
- The Grand Prix of Long Beach moved from April to Sept. 26, as the season finale of a California doubleheader. This race should also move back to its April weekend in 2022.
- The Honda Indy of Toronto is still set for Mid-July, but that date has not been confirmed.
Other changes to the schedule include:
- Texas moves from June to the first week of May and is now a doubleheader. This change is assumed to be permanent.
- The Detroit doubleheader moves from the first weekend after the Indy 500 to the spot where Texas had been in the second weekend after the 500. Also, this is now an IMSA/Indycar twin-bill. IMSA had been scheduled to run on its won weekend because of a conflict. This arrangement is assumed to be more or less permanent, but depends on dates for the Le Mans test day in future seasons.
- There is a new race in Nashville Aug. 8, on a street course that includes two legs every lap over the same bridge.
- Portland returns to the schedule in September as part of a three-week season-ending west coast swing.
At this point, there are no double headers other than Texas. And there is only one race on the Indy Road course (Last season there were three ) and the NASCAR/Indycar double-bill at Indy appears to have been a one-time COVID thing.
How many fans will be able to attend an event will vary by event and by pandemic conditions at the time of the race.
So that’s a look at the variables which will affect the 2021 Indycar season. Let’s go racing in Alabama.