At the first race of the season, Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda) dominated the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama, leading 56 of 90 laps, at times more by more than 8 seconds. At St. Petersburg, Colton Herta (Andretti-Honda) was even more dominating, leading 97 of 100 laps, building leads of more than 10 seconds twice. Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy) finished second.
The performance of the two leaders was in stark contrast to their finish in Alabama, when Newgarden crashed on the first lap and took out Herta, among others.
In the top 10, two of the most experienced Indycar drivers continued their consistent performance. Will Power (Penske-Chevy) finished 8th at St. Pete after his second in Alabama. Defending Driver Champion Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda) finished 5th at St. Pete after finishing third in Alabama.
Some highlights from the first two weeks of the 17-event season:
Trying too hard?
Two drivers who were expected and still are expected to challenge for the driver’s title had another disappointing race: Alexander Rossi (Andretti-Honda) and Pato O’Ward (Arrow/McLaren-Chevy). While the leaders were sailing smoothly along the track by the water, Rossi and O’Ward both crashed and finished well back. Rossi finished 21st after colliding with Graham Rahal (RLLR-Honda), while O’Ward could only manage 19th after a couple of incidents. That leaves O’Ward in 11th place after two races, while Rossi is mired in 16th in the Driver’s Championship standings.
This should make for interesting watching as the series moves to Texas for two races on that high speed oval this weekend. The Texas double-header event is followed up by the GP of Indy and the Indy 500 in May. More bad performances could end the season early for one or both of these contenders. I’m not an expert, but to the untrained eye, there is the look of desperation in both camps. Rossi is on the same team as Herta, who dominated at St. Pete. Neither O’Ward nor Felix Rosenqvist, his Arrow-McLaren teammate, have lived up to expectations in the first two events. Desperation is not a good attitude to bring into a high-speed oval weekend.
Who are you and what have you done with Colton Herta?
That’s what I felt like saying after listening to The Herta Family Channel, also known as the in-car radio of Colton Herta, Sunday. I have been listening to Colton for a while now, and found his channel to be one of the most entertaining in Indycar. No hiding his emotions, and the colorful language flows.
Whether it was because of how well he was doing, or because his father, Bryan Herta, has a calming effect, I am not sure, but there was none of the usual expletive-laden chatter some of us have grown to know and love.
Honda expands lead
By winning its second race and winning the pole in St. Pete, Honda expanded its lead in the Manufacturer race to 30 points over Chevy. That is approximately two races, as you would expect.
Honda has three of the top four Drivers in the driver’s championship. Despite finishing 17th at St. Pete, Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda)is still leading the Driver’s Championship. But it’s tight. Will Power and Scott Dixon are tied for second, only two points behind Palou. And Colton Herta is three points behind them in fourth.
Next race: Texas doubleheader
You would expect the oval races in Texas should give us an indication of who has a handle on oval Performance going into the Indy 500, but I am not sure they will. Last year, Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist (then driving for Ganassi) predicted how well Ganassi performed at the 500. They could drive anywhere on the track and pass anyone at will. But that was the first race with the aero screen after the pandemic shutdown, and Ganassi could have just guessed right on setup.
This year, the teams have had more time to work on the car with the new aero screen, and there have been some aero changes from Indycar to counteract the oval handling woes. Also, unlike last season, the teams have had some testing ahead of the races.
The wild card at Texas is the surface. It’s too complex to get into, but a treatment intended to make NASCAR races are more interesting, has the opposite impact on Indycar, and makes it very hard to pass, and nearly impossible to run more than one line through the corners.
- The first Race is May 1, at 7 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN . This race will be 212 laps (300 Miles)
- The second Race is May 2, at 5 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN . This race will be 248 laps (375 Miles)