For the first time in several seasons, the Indycar season starts in February. If you’re not prepared for the start of the season at St. Petersburg February 27, take a few minutes here and we’ll see if we can get you up to speed with the answers to a few questions.
What’s with the early start to the season?
There are a lot of weird things about the schedule and the early start is just one of them. Most of the weirdness can be laid at the foot of NBC Sports, which broadcasts all of the Indycar races on either NBC Network, USA Network, or the Peacock streaming service (all races on NBC or USA will also be on Peacock as well).
Why is the St. Petersburg race so early in the season? Why is are there three-week breaks between the first four races? Why is the Texas race on the same weekend as the IMSA 12-hours of Sebring? Why are there no night races? This is the price you pay to get as many of your races as possible on network TV.
Are there any changes in the cars?
Nothing significant. The engine formula (2.2-liter twin-turbo v6) is going into its 11th and last season (at least that’s the plan), and the cars are mostly the same as they have been since 2018. There are some tiny changes on short ovals which we’ll discuss when those races come up.
The impact of this is the cars and engines have been developed about as much as they can be developed. It will be a real surprise if anyone comes up with any unseen performance advantages this season. Next year’s engine formula is all new, with 2.4-liter V6 engines with larger turbos and an ERS hybrid system.
How do Honda and Chevy stack up?
Honda has won the last four manufacturer titles. What are Honda’s advantages:
Drivability and Torque:
The Honda is smoother and torquey at relatively low RPMs, while the Chevy tends to be peaky and tougher to control.
Fuel mileage: Where this shows up is in flexibility of pit stop windows on road and street courses.
Quality of Simulator: As we indicated last season, Honda has been ahead of Chevy in the simulator battle. This shows up most at new tracks (Honda dominated Nashville last season). But it is also valuable for developing general set-up strategies for street courses and for the Indy 500.
Quality of drivers and teams: Best illustration of this is drivers that have won a race. There are only five Chevy drivers that have won an Indycar Race, but there are Nine Honda drivers that have done the same. And if you looked at drivers likely to win their first race this year, Chevy has one, while Honda has at least four.
Given the way the manufacturer race works (the top two finishers for a manufacturer score points), it is very likely that Honda will win its fifth Indycar Manufacturer Championship in a row. The only think that would stop Honda from winning is if two Chevy drivers, like Newgarden and O’Ward, end up dominating the podium to the exclusion of the Honda runners. And I just don’t see that happening.
Who are the favorites to win the Driver’s Championship?
This is always a tough prediction in Indycar, because the competition is so balanced. Last season, Alex Palou, in his second season in the series and first with Ganassi, surprised everyone to win three races and the championship. Palou is obviously a contender for this season, but he isn’t the favorite. This is the way I would rank the contenders for the title:
Colton Herta (Andretti-Honda):
He equaled Palou’s three race wins last season and if Andretti breaks out of its recent funk on ovals and high-traction road courses, Herta should be right up there. Of the pre-season predictions I have seen, Colton Herta seems to be the most common bet to win it all. He will also probably benefit from being teammate with Romain Grosjean (Andretti-Honda) and Simon Pagenaud, who
now drives for Andretti partner team Meyer Shank. That’s a lot of high quality input for a young, talented driver.
Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda): the defending champion, Palou is still learning, and how quickly he and the Ganassi team can improve their game on street courses will likely determine how he does in the driver’s race.
Romain Grosjean (Andretti-Honda): Grosjean has yet to win a race, but this season he is going to benefit from the Andretti damper packages on street courses. There is no question he has the ability to win races.
Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy): As I mentioned in the season wrap-up last year, Newgarden is likely the best all-around driver in the series. But Chevy is not the engine to have and Newgarden lost his race engineer to McLaren.
Pato O’Ward: If O’Ward’s McLaren team can make the car more consistent, he will be the other major Chevy threat.
Scott Dixon: You can’t count him out. He seems to win every other year, so….
Alexander Rossi: He has had a couple of off years, and the shakeup in the Andretti lineup and addition of ex-Penske drivers Castroneves and Pagenaud to the Andretti- MSR family could help.
Who’s likely to win Rookie of the Year?
There are more good rookies in the field this year that in any year recently. Who are the favorites for Rookie of the year?
Christian Lundgaard (Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda):
He came from the Alpine junior F1 academy. In his only Indycar action last season he qualified fourth at the second Indy Road Course race, and finished 12th. Without any testing. He’s the best rookie with the best team.
David Malukas (Coyne-Honda): He finished second to Kyle Kirkwood in 2021 Indy Lights. But he has a much better car/team than Kirkwood does (see below).
Kyle Kirkwood (Foyt-Chevy): He won the Indy Lights title in 2021 and Michael Andretti had an option on him for the 2022 season. However, Kirkwood was only going to drive for Andretti if Andretti acquired the Sauber F1 team and Colton Herta would have moved to F1 to drive for the team. When the Andretti-Sauber deal fell through, Kirkwood ended up with the Foyt team. Can Kirkwood’s skill overcome Foyt’s limitations? I doubt it.
Callum Ilott (Juncos Hollinger-Chevy): Ilott is an accomplished European driver, but he’s in the same boat as Kirkwood and Tatiana Calderon (see below).
Tatiana Calderon (Foyt-Chevy): Calderon is probably the least likely rookie to be Rookie of the Year. Not only does she lack recent Open-Wheel experience, but she won’t be driving the ovals. And Foyt is not the best team in the paddock.
My pick is Lundgaard, with Malukas a strong second. If Kirkwood wins, give him a cape.
What other stories should we be watching?
Penske refugees: I am going to keep an eye on how well Hello Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud do with Meyer-Shank’s Honda team. Pagenaud in particular seems very happy to be driving a Honda again and had a hard time with Penske’s engineering culture.
Does anyone have anything for Ganassi? The team dominated last season, winning six of 17 races and placing three drivers in the top six in the driver standings. Andretti has made a lot of changes and the addition Romain Grosjean into the Andretti team and Pagenaud into the partner MSR team could make a big difference in opening up the team to new ideas from proven professional drivers.
What about the future of Alexander Rossi?
2022 is the last year of Rossi’s contract with Andretti. Word in the paddock is that he won’t be there next year and that Kyle Kirkwood will come back to Andretti for 2023. Where will Rossi end up? Could depend on how his season starts. If he’s in the top five in the first few races and looks good doing it, there will be interest from top teams. This would include Ganassi and Rahal on the Honda side and possibly Penske, ECR , and McLaren on the Chevy side.
For his entire Indycar career he has been closely associated with Honda. If that’s still the case, he could replace Jimmie Johnson or Scott Dixon at Ganassi.
Keep an eye on who tests the new Honda drivetrain this season. If one of the drivers is Rossi, odds are he has a contract to drive a Honda for 2023.
Teams and Drivers for 2022:
Ed Carpenter Racing
Conor Daly (all races)
Ed Carpenter (ovals only)
AJ Foyt Racing
Tatiana Calderon® (Road/Street only)
Romain Grosjean (From Coyne)
Meyer-Shank Racing (Partnered with Andretti)
Simon Pagenaud (from Penske)
Chip Ganassi Racing
Rahal Letterman Lanigan
Jack Harvey (from MSR )
Dale Coyne Racing
Takuma Sato (from RLLR )