The season re-starts August 8th with it’s first ever visit to a Nashville street circuit that centers on the Titan’s stadium, two bridges and a quick trip downtown. This starts a run of six races to the finale at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on September 26th.
To get everyone caught up after the Covid-induced summer break, we’ll go over:
- The driver’s championship, with a prediction
- The manufacturer’s championship
- A surprisingly active silly season
The Driver’s Championship
When last we saw our heroes, the standings in the driver’s championship were (and still are):
Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda) 384
Pato O’Ward (Arrow-McLaren-Chevy) -39
Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda) -56
Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy) -69
Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi-Honda) -104
Simon Pagenaud (Penske-Chevy) -113
Those are the drivers with a reasonable chance of winnings the driver’s championship. Only the top four have a good chance.
There are six more races. Winning a race gets you between 50 and 54 points (you can get bonus points for pole position, leading the most laps, etc). Second is 40. Also, the MINIMUM you can get if you start a race is 5 points. So, the most you can gain on another driver who starts the race is 45-to-49. The finale (the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach) is not double points this year.
Who’s going to win?
Since I use data analytics every day at work, I got some data and performed some analytics to get a data-driven picture of what’s likely to happen. I used two methodologies.
Method A: I took all of this season’s street results for each driver (St. Pete, Detroit 1 and Detroit 2) and averaged them; I took the 2021 oval results (Texas 1, Texas 2 and half the double points Indy 500 and averaged them; and I took all the natural terrain road courses (Barber, The Indy Grand Prix, Road America and Mid Ohio) and averaged them. Then I used the average points of each driver and awarded them for each course. For example, I took the street course average and applied it to Nashville and Long Beach. Then I took the road course average and applied it to Portland, the second Indy road course race and Laguna Seca. I applied the oval average to Gateway.
Method A leads to Alex Palou winning in a runaway, clinching the title at Laguna Seca. Pato O’Ward finishes second, with Josef Newgarden moving to third, ahead of Scott Dixon in fourth.
After looking at those results, I realized that Method A basically extrapolated the results of the first 10 races onto the last six. Since Palou and O’Ward did very well in the first 10, of course, they would do well in a projection onto the last six.
Method B: I changed the way that I dealt with the second Indy road course race and the Gateway Oval. For Indy, I applied the points the drivers scored in the May Indy road course race directly to the August race. For Gateway, I used the average of the points scored by the drivers in the two Gateway races in 2020 and applied that to the 2021 race.
Method B did not change the winner: Palou again clinches the title at Laguna Seca. What changes are the places after that. Second goes to Josef Newgarden, ahead of O’Ward in third and Dixon in fourth.
What do I think will happen? What the data reveals is overall performance of the Ganassi team in general, and of Palou on road courses in particular. In my eyes, the difference is how the Ganassi Hondas manage their tires. They are not as fast as other teams in the beginning of stints, but they are much better than other teams in the middle and at the end of stints. This seems to be particularly true on the red (faster) tires. This is especially true compared to Newgarden. In the second Detroit race, both Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou got by him at the end of a race Newgarden dominated. And at Mid Ohio, Marcus Ericsson cut a 10+ second deficit to Newgarden down to next to nothing in the closing laps, before having to settle for second.
In addition to Newgarden issues with tire degradation, Pato O’Ward has a reputation for burning out rear tires. This year he has been somewhat better about that, but he was nowhere at Road America. On new tires, he would have about two good laps before falling back. So, if there are three competitive Ganassi cars in most races with better tire wear and better mileage, it is easy to see Palou leading the driver’s championship unless something unfortunate happens.
What would that be? A crash in round 1 qualifying, forcing him to start at the back of the pack. Or a crash that leads to a
. Either of these would be out of character. He has only had two sub-par races: St. Pete and the first Detroit race. St. Pete he just never cam to terms with and finished 17th. And in the first Detroit race he started from the back of the pack because of an unapproved engine change and worked his way to 15th. Other than those two races, he has started well inside the top 12 and his worst race finish is 7th in the second Texas race.
If he keeps up that kind of consistency, he will be hard for anyone to catch.
The Manufacturer’s Championship
Honda has won six races to Chevy’s 4, and Honda leads Chevy by 73 points (a little more than a race win). Similar to the Driver’s Championship, if there are three Ganassi drivers in the top five or six of every race, Honda will defend it’s manufacturer’s crown and win its second triple crown (Indy 500, driver’s championship and manufacturer’s championship).
The Silly Season
When I wrote my last blog, I was assuming that silly season would be rather tame. Many of the top drivers are known to be locked up for 2022, including Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Jack Harvey, etc. The main “known unknown” were Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Coyne’s Romain Grosjean.
Since my last blog, a lot has happened. In chronological order:
1) Michael Andretti openly stated that changes will be made of 2022 at his Andretti Autosport team. Since Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi are under contract to Andretti (and Honda) for next year, the drivers likely to be out are Ryan Hunter-Reay in the 28 and James Hinchcliffe in the 29. In recent days Racer’s Marshall Pruett has written that Coyne’s Romain Grosjean is the next thing to confirmed in the 28 (Possibly with Coyne mechanic Olivier Buosson as a package) and that Grosjean would have the same kind of factory affiliate relationship with Honda Performance Development that Rossi and Herta do. In the same Racer story, Pruett mentioned that Andretti Indy Lights driver would be Devlin DeFrancesco taking over the 29 from fellow Canadian Hinchcliffe.
2) Meyer-Shank Racing announced that Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves will be driving full time in the Indy 500-winning 06 car (which was expected) and that Jack Harvey would be leaving the team (which was not). That leaves MSR with an opening to fill in the 60 car. If it were me making the choice, it would be simple: Simon Pagenaud, currently with Penske. If he is with the team for two or three years, the team will be much better off when he leaves. He is known for his precision and his development acumen, and he has been the teammate of Castroneves (who is not known for development acumen). And if I were HPD , I would like nothing more than to have Pagenaud back in their Acura IMSA fold, if for no other reason than to keep him away from Penske’s Porsche program. Others who would be considered would include Oliver Askew, who lost out on the 2021 06 program to Castroneves.
3) Rahal Letterman Lanigan
looks like it’s where Jack Harvey will land, as replacement for Takuma Sato in the 30 car. Apparently, Sato was planning on retiring from indycar after the 2020 season. That plan got derailed when Sato won the 2020 Indy 500.
It looks like there will be a third car at RLLR (With sponsorship from Hy-Vee), and there are several drivers in the picture: Santino Ferrucci (who has driven in several races for RLLR this season), Oliver Askew, and F2 driver Christian Lundgaard. Both of the latter tested for RLLR at Barber last week.
On the Chevy side of things, not much has happened. The most interesting question is whether or not Pagenaud will stay with Penske. His contract is up, and he has been snooping around the paddock assessing his options. The marriage of Pagenaud with Penske has never been smooth, even though Pagenaud won both a driver’s title and an Indy 500 for Team Penske. He has not meshed with the Penske system as cleanly as Newgarden, for instance, and often wants something different in the way of car set-up from what Penske wants to give him. It is believed that Penske is offering Pagenaud a partial season for 2022 (possibly only the Indy 500) as well as a development role in the coming Porshe IMSA/ WEC LMDh car. Then he would presumably transition to driving the Porsche Prototype full time in either IMSA or the WEC for 2023. But it is believed that Pagenaud does not think he is done with Indycar. Given his skills in Indycar and sports cars, Pagenaud would fit cleanly into a Honda/Acura Indycar/ IMSA program. Which is where the Shank discussion comes in.
If Pagenaud leaves Penske, the logical replacement would be someone like Rinus VeeKay, who is said to be under contract with Ed Carpenter for next season. Penske is also known to have interest in Alexander Rossi, who is under contract with Andretti and Honda for 2022. Would he be tempted for leave for Penske and possibly an association with Porsche? Would Andretti and Honda take any amount of money for Rossi?
If Pagenaud leaves Penske, the path of least resistance could be for Penske to drop from four cars back to three for 2022 and reassess for 2023. The only obvious candidates for Penske would be Pato O’Ward and VeeKay. I am not sure Pato fits the Penske mold today, and it appeared VeeKay was unavailable. Until…
4) Ed Carpenter Racing has made noises about a test for former F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg. If he has enough backing, he could drop neatly into the Carpenter program, replacing VeeKay.
5) AJ Foyt Racing driver Sebastian Bourdais is another driver whose future could be affected by IMSA LMDh. It is thought that he could be offered a full-time IMSA drive for Ganassi’s just-announced second IMSA DPi entry for 2022. He has driven for Ganassi in sports cars before (Ford GT program), and Ganassi tried to pry him loose from Dale Coyne before the 2019 season.
So where does that leaves the 2022 lineup?
8 – Marcus Ericsson
9 – Scott Dixon
10 – Alex Palou
48 – Jimmie Johnson/Tony Kanaan
26 – Colton Herta
27 – Alexander Rossi
28 – Romain Grosjean
29 – Devlin DeFrancesco
06 – Helio Castroneves
60 – Open (Simon Pagenaud, Oliver Askew)
Rahal Letterman Lanigan
15 – Graham Rahal
30 – Jack Harvey
45 – Open (Ferrucci, Askew, Lundgaard, Kyle Kirkwood)
18 – Open
19 – Open
2 – Josef Newgarden
3 – Scott McLaughlin
12 – Will Power
22 – Open (Pagenaud? VeeKay?)
5 – Pato O’Ward
7 – Felix Rosenqvist
Ed Carpenter Racing
20 – Ed Carpenter (ovals), Conor Daly? (Road/street)
21 – Rinus VeeKay (Hulkenberg?)
14 – Open (Sebastian Bourdais?)
4 – Dalton Kellett?
59 – Max Chilton (road/street)
Conor Daly? (ovals)