Road America marked was the 8th of 17 races of the 2022 Indycar season, which feels like a great place to take stock of the season standings. Though we are not quite halfway through the season by race count, half of the driver’s points have been awarded because the Indy 500 was a double-points race. So let’s call this the halfway point.
Though Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi-Honda) won the Indy 500 and leads the driver’s championship standings, this has been a disappointing year for Honda overall. After winning the last four consecutive manufacturer titles, Honda is getting buried by Chevy this season. Chevy has won six of the eight races, which means Honda needs to win at least five of the remaining nine to make it close. Honda likely needs to win six of the nine to have a good chance of a fifth consecutive manufacturer title. The good news is that Honda’s Indy 500 win means Chevy cannot win the triple crown of the driver’s title, manufacturer’s title, and the Indy 500. Honda won the triple crown the last two seasons.
Here are some of the talking points so far this season.
What is behind Chevy’s improvement?
If you want to look at one factor, look at the improvement in the performance of all three Team Penske Chevys. Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Scott McGlaughlin have each won at least one race, with Newgarden having won three. While Newgarden’s performance this season is no great surprise, both Power and McGlaughlin have made tremendous improvements compared to 2021.
On the Honda side the big disappointment has been the performance of Andretti Autosport. The team has won only one race (Colton Herta won the Indy GP). Rossi (7th) is the only Andretti driver in the top 10 of the driver standings. Chevy’s top two teams (Penske and McLaren) have all five of their full-time drivers in the top 10.
From a technical standpoint, while Honda still seems to have an advantage on torque and fuel mileage, Chevy now seems to be on par with Honda in drivability. This means Chevy is now very competitive on the “point-and-shoot” courses where Honda had dominated.
Further, this is the 11th season of the current engine formula and there just is not a lot of area left for major improvements. So the manufacturer’s success largely depends on the skill and talent of their drivers and the performance of their teams.
McLaren has improved each year since taking over the Schmidt-Petersen team and Penske has come out of the slump it has been in the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Honda’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan has been heading the other direction. The addition of Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey was expected to lift that team, but it has instead regressed. Andretti as a whole has looked lost and desperate.
Chip Ganassi Racing has continued to be the strongest Honda team, with three of its drivers in the top six of the driver’s race.
Can Marcus Ericsson win the driver’s championship for Honda?
Going into the Toronto race, the standings look like this:
1) Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi-Honda): 293
2) Will Power (Penske-Chevy): – 27
3) Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy): – 32
4) Pato O’Ward (McLaren Chevy): – 45
5) Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda): – 47
6) Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda): – 69
7) Alexander Rossi (Andretti-Honda): – 75
How likely is Ericsson to hold on to the lead? On the downside, in winning the Indy 500, Ericsson scored 75 points more than Newgarden and 77 points more than Power. So, in the regular Indycar races, the Penske cars have been stronger than Ericsson. On the other hand, if you look at the driver’s recent performances in the remaining races of the season, Ericsson looks pretty good. No driver has scored more points in Indycar since June 2021 than Ericsson.
Of the remaining races on the calendar, Ericsson finished second at Mid-Ohio, won Nashville, and finished mid pack at the other events.
And three races that are on the schedule this season were not on the schedule in 2021: the Toronto street race and the double-header on the short Iowa Oval. Ericsson has done well in street races of late, winning two. The last time Ericsson raced Iowa in 2020, he finished 8th in one race and 9th in the other.
Josef Newgarden appears to be the greatest threat to Ericsson. In those two Iowa races in 2020, Newgarden finished first and fifth.
I did a little statistical analysis comparing the driver’s history over the last 12 months to the tracks left on the schedule. In that simulation, Ericsson finishes 23 points ahead of Newgarden to win the driver’s title. However, if you include the 2020 results into the history, Newgarden finishes ahead of Ericsson by about 10 points.
Breaks (good and bad) are most likely to decide the driver’s title. Pato O’Ward (McLaren-Chevy) and defending champion Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda) were in the title fight before finishing 26th and 27th at Road America. Although they are still in the title race, they need help from some of the leaders to get back in contention.
And Although Newgarden has already won three races, he has also had his share of bad finishes, including the Indy GP and the Indy 500. And Ericsson had a bad finish at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
So the key to winning the title could be avoiding finishes of 15 or worse. To go with his three race wins, Newgarden has three bad finishes this season, which is why he’s not leading the Championship fight.
Which are the key races?
For Honda, the next two races, July 3 race at Mid-Ohio and the Street Race at Toronto July 17, will be telling. Reportedly, Honda made some engine management changes that were introduced for Indy and are in use now. This would allow the Honda techs who take care of the engines more range of adjustment and maybe a higher power setting than had been available before.
Honda’s strength in the series has traditionally been street courses, road courses, and the Indy 500. We’re past the Indy 500, which Honda dominated, but Chevy won the three street races so far this season and all but one of the road course races.
The Road America results were encouraging for Honda. Even though Chevy won the Race (Josef Newgarden), Honda finished 2-5 and had 7 of the top 10 spots. If Honda can win Mid-Ohio and dominate Toronto, it would be good sign for the rest of the season.
From a driver’s standpoint, Mid-Ohio and the Iowa doubleheader weekend July 23 & 24 will be key. If Ericsson can finish ahead of Newgarden in at least two of those races, and maybe win one, he will be in good shape.
Silly Season update:
As expected, Alexander Rossi will switch to McLaren-Chevy next season and Kyle Kirkwood will move from AJ Foyt racing to Andretti to take Rossi’s spot. Also, Felix Rosenqvist was re-signed by McLaren, but it was not announced which program he would be driving in: Indycar or McLaren’s new Formula E program.
The next shoe to drop in the silly season is likely Rinus VeeKay (Ed Carpenter-Chevy). He is rumored to be heading to either Meyer-Shank-Honda (possibly replacing Hello Castroneves) or Ganassi-Honda (replacing Jimmie Johnson).
Rinus Lundqvist is dominating Indy Lights class this year running for the HMD team. At this point it looks like he might end up with an Indycar seat in an expanded Dale Coyne-HMD-Honda team. He would be teamed with Takuma Sato and David Malukas, whose father owns HMD .