Now that Indy is behind us, the NTT IndyCar Series drivers focus on the other main goal of a season — the championship. Right now, it’s becoming really an eight or nine horse race for the Astor Cup with Alex Palou leading his teammate Scott Dixon by 36 points, Pato O’Ward by 37, Simon Pagenaud by 47 and Rinus VeeKay by 57. Josef Newgarden (-64), Colton Herta (-94) and Graham Rahal (-100) are sixth through eighth respectively too. Making up more than 100 points is going to be difficult as we move into the halfway mark of the season once the checkered flag drops on Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.
For O’Ward, he says that the experience of being in the hunt to win last year’s title was very valuable in another race to the trophy this time around too.
“Yeah, what I learned was that you have to beat the master of consistency at his own game in order to win the championship,” O’Ward told me on Wednesday afternoon. “I think that’s the best way to put it. We just need to outscore him as much as we can every weekend. I think that’s the best thing we can do in order to have a shot at the championship at Long Beach.”
O’Ward says that it’s not all about Scott Dixon for this year either. It may be tougher to win the championship in 2021 than it was in 2020.
“Man, it’s so tight this year that I feel like the field is stacked,” he continued. “It’s full of many very talented drivers. I don’t think it’s ever been harder. I don’t think it’s ever been this competitive from a driver’s standpoint. This is a true driver’s championship. I don’t think there’s anything harder in the world.
“Whoever is most consistent and most consistently in the podiums and in the top 5s is going to take it at the end of the year.”
O’Ward sits behind only two Ganassi drivers right now to win this year’s title. We know it’s going to ebb and flow further as the second half of the year goes on, but does he have a secret weapon at his disposal?
His new teammate, Felix Rosenqvist, drove for Ganassi last year. He was teammates to Dixon. He also drove that 10 car that Palou is leading the championship in. Can he gain anything from that?
“I feel like every year is a little bit different,” he told me on that subject. “Obviously we can’t plan a championship, but I mean, I feel like Felix and I both know that to win a championship in INDYCAR is just consistency. I don’t think it’s something that’s mysterious or hidden. I don’t know if Felix has any input to it, but I think it’s just about maximizing what you have and trying to maximize points every single weekend and not having crappy weekends. We’ve already had two.
“The Ganassi camp has been strong at every single racetrack. They’re bound to have at least one bad weekend, so we need to make sure we capitalize on that.”
Rosenqvist agrees, but goes into the mind of Ganassi a bit.
“Well, I felt with Scott the thing is pretty much what Pato said. There’s nothing magic,” he said. “He’s just very good everywhere, and he has a lot of weekends where he finished like seventh or eighth and there’s not really a lot of talk about it. But he will have a problem in the beginning of the race, maybe it’ll be like a lap down or something, and then he’ll end up finishing top 10. I think that’s his strength.
“When you have weekends when you win, that’s easy. But those weekends are the important ones for the championship.
“I think also he’s good at making a car for himself that is very consistent, and maybe not the fastest car, like he’s not so often on the pole, but he will always have a car that kind of works everywhere. He has a good way of just making it good enough to be up there every weekend.
“I think that’s one of his big strengths, as well.”