Day 2 of INDYCAR Content Day Notebook

The final day of the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series Content Day was just as good as the first one. 14 drivers came to the room on Tuesday, only to be followed by 15 more on Wednesday.

All three Team Penske drivers, all three in the Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing camp, all three at Ed Carpenter Racing to go along with both at Juncos Hollinger Racing were featured today. So was Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Romain Grosjean and Tony Kanaan.

More: Day 1 Content Day Notebook

More: 5 Storylines Entering the 2023 INDYCAR Season

More: INDYCAR Spring Training Preview Video

Callum Ilott has shined in his first foray into the NTT INDYCAR Series. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Ilott Budding With Confidence Entering Year 2

Callum Ilott is only entering his second full-time season in the NTT INDYCAR Series but the English driver isn’t wavering on his confidence level inside of the race car. Part of that is his confidence in himself. He knows that he has the speed to compete here and knows that if given the right amount of time and a fast race car, he can win.

“Yeah, if I be really, how would I say, factual, I’m very quick,” Ilott said on Wednesday morning, Day 2 of INDYCAR content days. “If you put me in the quickest car, I don’t think there’s many people quicker than me, honestly. Looking at Laguna, we had a good car and I was able to put it there.

“I’ll be saying the whole year, once it’s there, I can always compete with it. So that’s up to them to do it. I rarely make mistakes in qualifying.

“If it’s slow, it’s partly maybe 5 percent of the time it could be me. It’s a bit — I feel a bit cocky to say it, but I can tell them when I’ve nailed it and when I’ve not. Normally I’m quite honest if I messed up.

The main thing holding himself back is data. A year ago, Ilott was the only driver competing without a teammate. Doing so as a rookie and with a somewhat new team (Juncos Hollinger Racing), well it was a tall hill to climb, especially with him being new to the United States and these tracks.

“It’s a huge disadvantage, but is what it is,” said team owner Ricardo Juncos of being a single car team last year. “We knew from day one is our situation and we take it.

“Imagine for Callum being a rookie without knowing the tracks, we go to Toronto and we were P7, hundredths off P6, 2/10ths from P1. We were the only one with old reds. Technically we could be front row.

“Being the first time, we have nobody to compare. It’s very hard. We are hypothetically comparing to imagination.

“Having two cars is big advantage. But we know the different. But have to be right, right? Not just because you go to two cars. If it’s not right, it may be worst. That’s the key question here, how we’re going to do it.

“No question being only one-car team in the level of INDYCAR today, everybody can see is a little bit disadvantage. But, like I said, we knew from day one going to be like that so no complaints.”

Now, he has a teammate to bounce ideas off of for the 2023 season. JHR signed Agustin Canapino to be the second driver with the team. That has Ilott happy heading into the season to have that sense of data coming in.

“But yeah, it’s just data for us,” Ilott said. “The closer he is to me and the better he does, the better the team does, so it’s quite important to be able to get that comparison, and I’m sure he’ll do a good job.

“But yeah, it’s data. It’s another car. It’s another item, another option to test items on, so yeah, incredibly important.”

The only drawback to this is, Canapino is a rookie. He’s never raced in these cars, nor these tracks before. How much real data can that give Ilott?

“Let’s see. Let’s see. I mean, Agustin is in a very tough position,” he admitted. “It’s not easy being a rookie, and it’s definitely not easy being a rookie without single seater experience, so I’m very interested to see how he gets on. I’m going to do my best to help him as much as possible, especially over the next few days here.

“It’s a tough one because of the position that he’s in. It’s a bit of an unknown for me, for the team, for the championship, because for sure he’s quick. But again, it’s a real really tough thing to jump into.

“So I really — I’m a bit nervous for him, and I admire the jump because it’s not easy to do. Obviously Scott McLaughlin has done it in, shall we say, a different environment, but he’s done it, and Agustin has that background but from Argentina.

“It’s more I have to wait and see where we’re at and what we’re doing because it could be more of a data thing or it could be really something that we can work together as a team and build off of.

“But I know it’s definitely not easy as a rookie, but then taking my own experience, we worked really well together as a one-car operation compared to big four-, five-car operations, and sometimes we kick their ass.

“But that gives me the confidence that no matter what, I can kind of work with what we’ve got and do a good job with it.”

Ilott will take on a leadership role for the team to help, but another leadership role he’s sort of indirectly taken on is the role to lead F2 drivers over to INDYCAR. He led Christian Lundgaard and now Marcus Armstrong over.

“I think it’s starting to come more and more into play now, but yeah, there’s definitely a lot of people interested,” he said. “It’s just like for me, I was interested since 2019 but I never made the jump. It’s a big thing to just go, okay, right, I’m going to commit to that now.

“I’m not trying to get more people to emigrate over here, but they seem to like looking and being interested. I’m sure there will be a few more faces coming to a few races.

“Yeah, it’s good. I saw a lot of potential in INDYCAR when I came over. I think there’s some things it does really well. The racing is incredible. I think there’s some things they could definitely improve, but I think most people know that and are in tune to it.

“That’s a part of anything as a driver. You want to improve and you want to do better, and the potential it has as a series really has been highlighted across the years.

“What sets it apart from like a Formula 2 or whatever is you are constantly competing with the best, and if you look at the grid this year, it’s incredible.

“I thought last year was good, and this year is probably going to be even a touch better.

“From Europe, people recognize that, the career opportunities. It’s one of those things where I was looking at doing INDYCAR versus WEC or the IMSA stuff. It’s very hard to jump from IMSA to INDYCAR or WEC to INDYCAR. It’s not impossible but it’s tough, whereas going from INDYCAR to that kind of stuff in a couple years is not impossible.

“I kind of took that mindset and that jump to make life easier — well, to try and win some stuff here and then see what the future holds.

“Yeah, I don’t want to have like an orphanage of European expats.”

Ilott hopes his driving does the talking for him and one thing he notes that he can improve upon himself is his actual race craft.

“With the races and stuff, we’ve had incidences where I’ve made mistakes and made the wrong decisions under a bit of pressure,” he notes. “We’ve had instances, like Iowa was a good example, where we had great pace race but couldn’t keep up in the pit stops, so you lose four or five positions every pit stop, which is painful to do, but it’s just the way it goes.

“Quantifying that, I think eliminating the mistakes, being consistent, obviously if I’m doing a more solid, consistent job, we can really see the strong tracks for us, where we’re good, where we’re slow, the areas to improve.

“I think I have a big idea of where we needed to be better, especially like the short oval qualifyings. For some reason we were just not quick, but then we get to the races, and with the tire saving that we have, I think we can’t extract the peak out of the tire, but we end up being able to go 5, 10 laps longer than some other people.

“Yeah, some street circuits could be better, so that’s why I’m interested for the first couple races.

“Again, it depends on the performance a bit because, as you can see, even with the established teams, it’s hard to be perfect all the time. I think for us, if we can maintain the kind of end-of-year finishes like the Portland finishes, P9, P10, and have a consistent kind of hitting like that, that would be great, and then when we have those opportunities to get the good results, just take them. Eliminate the mistake, stay consistent, and grab the opportunities when they come.”

  • Canapino says he barely knows English, but spoke really well on Wednesday

Agustin Canapino has a tall task at hand entering his rookie season in the NTT INDYCAR Series. Not only is this his first year in the series, this is his first time in the United States too. He doesn’t know these cars, these tracks or even these other drivers. This is all new to him.

I mean, Agustin is in a very tough position,” his teammate Callum Ilott admitted. “It’s not easy being a rookie, and it’s definitely not easy being a rookie without single seater experience, so I’m very interested to see how he gets on. I’m going to do my best to help him as much as possible, especially over the next few days here.

“It’s a tough one because of the position that he’s in. It’s a bit of an unknown for me, for the team, for the championship, because for sure he’s quick. But again, it’s a real really tough thing to jump into.

“So I really — I’m a bit nervous for him, and I admire the jump because it’s not easy to do. Obviously Scott McLaughlin has done it in, shall we say, a different environment, but he’s done it, and Agustin has that background but from Argentina.”

Another difficult part of his learning curve is the fact that the 33-year-old has barely even been out of the country of Argentina before.

“Yes, I left, but only for a few days, but it my first time living outside my country,” he says. “I did my career in South America and speak Spanish, only a little bit of Portuguese. When I did stock car in Brazil I did two races, but otherwise Spanish.”

Because of that, Canapino barely knows English. He said he’s happy to be here but apologized for his lack of knowing our language. We all thought he was joking because he sounded great. If he didn’t say that fact, we’d have never known.

As far as when he even started this journey of learning the English language?

“Three months ago I only could say hello,” he notes.

Canapino has a teacher helping him learn. The teacher is from Argentina. He does 2-3 classes a week. The classes range from an hour to an hour-in-a-half, but he says that he focuses a lot to at least try to learn to speak, to communicate, and of course when he can speak to his engineers.

As far as why make this trek this at his age now, he says it was simple.

“Because it’s INDYCAR,” he said.” INDYCAR is in my opinion the most demanding and competitive category in the world. For me it’s a big opportunity to try something outside, something in international level. We are here with Grosjean, with Dixon, with Power, of course Callum, one of the best drivers in the world, so for me it’s a big opportunity.

“Of course we are in trouble because I don’t know the cars, the tracks, the ovals, but I love the challenge. I love the situation. So I know it’s very difficult to me, but I have confidence. Of course I need time. I need time. I need to learn day by day, test by test. That’s it.”

Will Power celebrates his INDYCAR championship in 2022. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Pressure Off For Power Now, Says Championship Not Even On His Mind From Last Year

Will Power won the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series championship. He’s not been in a race car since. That has him excited to get behind the wheel of his Team Penske Chevrolet on Thursday. It’s the first time he’ll be back with the team since he got the monkey off his back in 2022. He finally delivered his second NTT INDYCAR Series championship in a wildly quiet year. It’s fitting too because while he enters the 2023 campaign as the defending series champion, no one is talking about him I feel.

The topics are Alexander Rossi moving to Arrow McLaren, or Alex Palou’s situation, or can Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward full emerge themselves as true championship front runners. Nothing about Power.

What about Helio Castoneves landing a record-breaking 5th Indianapolis 500 win or Scott Dixon tying AJ Foyt for most series titles (7)?

Heck, Power isn’t even discussed much when talking about his current team at Team Penske. It’s can Josef Newgarden put a full season together after three straight runner-up’s in the final standings? Or it’s about this being Scott McLaughlin’s championship to lose.

What about can Power repeat?

That’s honestly not on his mind at the moment.

“I haven’t even thought about the championship. I haven’t even — I almost had to be reminded that I won the championship,” said Power on Wednesday morning from the INDYCAR content day. “Kind of just, I did it, and I know it’s just that I’m older now and moving on quickly and thinking about what’s next.

“Yeah, haven’t been on a high off-season or anything like that, I just kind of stayed even.

“Every season flows differently, but just in general in my life, I just don’t put too much emotion into situations,” he said. “There’s nothing to be gained from it.

“There’s just a lot of things that clicked last year within my team, the crew. Obviously Dave Faustino and the new crew chief are all pretty good group, pretty good, positive group, enjoying the job.”

Power says that he feels like as his career has gone along, the pressure is off. He’s in a great spot and can temper his aggression which in turn, he’s found has led to more success.

“The confidence, I just think the older you get, the more comfortable you are with the situation,” said Power. “You just naturally gain confidence. You know your strengths. You know your weaknesses. You know how to extract the most out of yourself. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing.

“I would say I don’t have much pressure at this time in my career, so it’s all about the craft and getting the most out of it.

“Yeah, it’s a good space to be in.”

It paid off just last season. Power didn’t have a flashy year in 2022 but he did exactly what he had to do to win the Astor Cup. One win but nine podiums and having been nearly flawless in the most competitive era of INDYCAR was nothing short of amazing.

It was a different Power than we’re accustomed to seeing. This new and improved Power has adapted and a reason as to why I feel like he’ll be right back in the mix again in 2023 and could be the first driver since Dario Franchitti a decade ago to win back-to-back championships.

What a feat that could be.

Graham Rahal chats with his father, Bobby Rahal, on pit lane at Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Rahal Says Offseason Additions, plus end of season strength, puts team going into right direction going into 2023

Graham Rahal remarkably enters his 17th season in the NTT INDYCAR Series. The 34-year-old Ohio native has seen a lot over the course of his career. That experience and how the entire Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing team ended the 2022 season is to what has the second-generation driver budding with confidence to get going in the open test at Thermal Club this week.

Rahal had 5 top 10 starting positions in his last 9 races to the season in comparison to 3 in first 7. He also had scored 5 top 10’s in the last 8 races at that.

His teammate and Rookie of the Year, Christian Lundgaard, had 7 top 11 finishes over the last 10 races on the season. The Dane had just 3 in the first 7. He was runner-up in the July 30 Gallagher Grand Prix, 8th in Nashville and 5th in the season finale at Laguna Seca. Also if not for a couple of bad pit stops and a run-in at the end of the race at Portland with Rossi, he would have had at the very least a top 5 there too.

While all the entire Top 10 in points were filled with Penske, Ganassi, Arrow McLaren and Andretti drivers, RLL took 2 of the next four in the standings outside of the top 10 and are hoping to build upon that end of season surge.

They’re right there. Last year was honestly the first time since 2014 that Rahal didn’t finish in the top 10 in points. He wants that back and see promise on the horizon in 2023 to do so. The thing is, where do they stand?

Penske and Ganassi have combined to have won each of the last 10 championships and 14 of the last 15 in general. Andretti has won 5 races the last two years with McLaren 4. RLL is next up.

But, with that gap from Andretti/McLaren to RLL so small, did they do enough to join that mix again of the next tier and what can they do to separate themselves from those two to challenge that “Big 2” further ahead?

Rahal thinks so. It’s all part of the changes made internally with the engineering and planning side. While the trio of drivers return, how the team operates further solidifies that RLL is moving forward.

“Yeah, I feel really good about where we’re at,” Rahal said. “As I was thinking about this exact kind of media conference last year, I was pretty reserved in some of my comments about the outlook, and I was thinking about it this year, I feel a lot more positive.

“I think Stefano (Sordo) has done a great job as he’s come in, but I think also organizationally from the team perspective we seem to be in a much better place. Everybody is working towards achieving the same goals.

The engineering side is more focused I would say. Not that they weren’t last year, but I would say more focused on the right things and not spending time doing things that aren’t moving the program forward.

“I feel really good about where we stand.

“I’m excited to be back with Eddie. I had a great time with Alan. I love Alan. But I think it was time. It was time for a change, and I think it was time for Jack, too, in particular.

“I felt like Jack, when I sit back and look at things from an unselfish perspective and the team, which I often do, I feel like Jack was going to need change to get him on track this year, and to be back with Mike or to be back with Eddie, who he was with last year, I didn’t feel like for him that was going to move the needle on his side of the team enough.

“But for me to have Eddie is awesome. Eddie and I are kind of both pretty low-key guys. We’re on the same page. Super fiery and competitive, but off the track I think we both have a similar mindset.

“Adam Kolesar is going to be the assistant. He’ll be race engineer I’m sure shortly with us. Adam has been under Alan for a long time. He’s a great kid. The hardest working guy on our team by far, not even close, and to have him with Eddie I think will also help further his career.

“We’ve got a really good staff obviously with Derek Davidson on my car, as well, this year. I’m excited about that because I’ve never gotten to work with Double D in that regard, and he’s a guy I have tremendous respect for as a leader, an organizer and a manager and everything else.

“I’m excited about that.

“We’ve had a little bit of turnover this year, as to be expected. There was time for change in certain things. But with Eddie, he and I won five times in three years. We know how to win together, and hopefully we can get this thing back on track. We’re pretty fired up about it.”

Rahal also mentions that a huge positive is that the direction is now simplified. Bringing Sordo on was a huge moment with is experience and direction which solidified Rahal’s thinking process from before.

“I think what we needed most was pretty simple, and that’s just direction,” he noted. “I thought that from the top on down, we needed a clearer path, from the engineering corps in particular. We didn’t have a technical director. We didn’t really have somebody that was leading the charge. We didn’t have enough depth.

“That’s becoming clearer to us now that we know like what McLaren is doing. With Stefano coming in you see what all they’re doing, and we were not even in the ballpark as far as depth and stuff like that. We’ve learned that now. We’ve been able to add. We’ve gotten ourselves into a really good spot.

“You see, though, it’s not like we’ve fired a bunch of engineers. Our guys are good. We’ve got good people. But we needed direction, and we needed somebody to kind of stand up and go, no, this is a — I’m not going to say what it is, but there was some testing we’ve done for a while that we’ve all been saying, this is worthless, we’re getting nothing out of it, but we kept getting told, no, we’ve got to do it.

“Luckily Stefano comes in and says, that’s worthless. Why are you doing that? Thank goodness. Here’s somebody else who can back up what we’ve been saying for a long time. Now we can focus our energy. Engineers aren’t doing all these crazy projects. It’s just let’s focus on what actually can move the needle.

“I thought that’s what Stefano really brought to the table. Kind of helped drive us a little bit better, so I’m really excited about that. We’ve obviously all talked about Ryan Harbar a lot this off-season. I gave him — he’s our trainer, head of human performance for us.

“Given him a lot of s— about the fact that he’s gotten more media attention than anybody else in the INDYCAR paddock this off-season.

“But having said that, he has absolutely changed the mental side and the culture within the team and gotten everybody locked in and focused and working out and using the sauna and playing pickleball tournaments at the end of the day for the camaraderie and the competition, and getting everybody — I mean, the pit stop practice have been amazing, the breakdown of the videos and everything.

“Ryan has also done a great job, I think, just moving the needle on the mental scope for the staff, for us to make our game to the next level.

“Hopefully we can put all those pieces together and have a great year.”

  • Harvey Comes Into 2023 With Fresher Outlook, Rahal Says Harvey’s Past and RLL’s Struggles Stunted Jack’s Growth In 2022

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is running back in terms of the driver lineup in 2023. However, some major changes have still occurred. Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey have swap engineers. Harvey has also changed teams in a sense that he’s going from the 45 car to the 30 one.

With how well Rahal and Christian Lundgaard finished in 2022 and where Harvey was essentially nowhere to be found, some speculated on Harvey’s future with RLL.

Rahal finished 11th in points. Lundgaard took home Rookie of the Year honors with a 14th place finish in his first year in the series. Harvey was a distant 22nd.

Rahal had 5 top 10 starting positions in his last 9 races to the season in comparison to 3 in first 7. He also had scored 5 top 10’s in the last 8 races at that.

Lundgaard, had 7 top 11 finishes over the last 10 races on the season. The Dane had just 3 in the first 7.

Harvey had just one top 10 result and no laps led. With Hy-Vee pumping in a lot of money to this team, you know they had to want to run closer to the front. However, Graham Rahal said that it wasn’t all Jack’s fault a year ago for the lack of success. A big part of it is the fact that RLL didn’t have cars good enough for Harvey to contend in. While some may say, well Rahal and Lundgaard did, Rahal says that the reason Harvey didn’t join them up front was because of his past.

“Well, look, I’ve got — still I have extremely high hopes for Jack (Harvey) and what can come,” said Rahal. “I love Jack. Number one, he’s a great person and I want to see him succeed.

“There’s a lot of effort I’ve actually personally put in, whether he knows it or not, but in the off-season to try to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can, too, for him. It’s really important to me.

“I just think that last year coming into this program we didn’t have the best cars. I think the Andretti cars were, are, were, considerably better. Considerably better.

“Maybe on race days that didn’t show to you guys as much, but I think that the cars were considerably better, and Jack will back that up.

“The thing is he came in here with an expectation of this is the way it should be. This is the way a car should feel. This is the way it should handle. This is what it should do, and it was nowhere near.

“So when people compare Jack versus Christian, the positive Christian had is no expectation. He didn’t know what it should feel like, so he’d just go drive it hard.

“Yeah, you would think in theory, well, Jack can just go drive and do it, too. It’s hard as a driver to change completely. It does take a little bit of time to jump from one team — I’ve done it from Ganassi to here, whatever. I remember going from Sebring and testing the Ganassi car, to six months later driving the RLL car there. They felt polar opposites.

“I mean, Newgarden will tell you the same. When he went to Penske, they were soft and rolly, and compared to anything he’d been in it was a bit of a shock. Of course, you can find a way to make it go fast, but point is, the mental side does take a period.

“I think that’s where it was with Jack. It was a big challenge to jump into something that drove so completely opposite of what he had been used to. So let’s all give it a chance here. I’m glad he’s back. We’ll keep trying to help him as best we can. He’s a young guy still. He should have a long, bright future ahead of him, so hopefully we can make it happen.

“I think my mind is just changed. When you’re young and you come into this it’s all about you. Everything is about you. Your focus and your energy, screw my teammates, it’s me, it’s me, it’s me.”

Harvey made 49 series starts prior to joining RLL. Those all came with Andretti Autosport or Meyer Shank Racing, who also had a technical alliance with Andretti. That’s a lot of data and a feel for how the cars need to feel to forget.

“A guy like Jack Harvey, I think Jack has a bright future ahead of him,” Rahal continued. “I don’t want to see Jack fail. I know how hard it is, whether people think so or not because my name is Rahal, I know how hard it is to get here.

“I’ve gone on the sponsor search. I’ve done all the work. I’ve helped put teams together. In 2010 I helped build my car for the Indy 500, wrenching on it myself.

“So I have been through a lot of different stages in this, so I understand what it takes. I see the effort that goes on behind the scenes. I just don’t want to see guys fail.

“I think it’s different when you’re young. I could have cared less if they were there the next year. Now I know how hard it is to get here. I know how competitive it is, too.

“I heard Will say a minute ago, I remember my first year in INDYCAR, man, if we weren’t in the top 5, top 7 running for Newman/Haas, even as a rookie, like there was something wrong, something wrong with you.

“Today that’s just not the case at all. I don’t want to see guys fail. That’s the biggest thing.”

Harvey says that he had a really great offseason and that this Fall, he went back to the UK to decompress.

“I think that was productive for me. It was just like a two-week trip,” he said.

“I came back ready to get back to work with a little bit of mental capacity to really dive into what went wrong in ’22, and one of the best feelings that I kind of left all of that with was feeling like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we were aware of what we want to work on and put solutions in place to try and do that, and obviously we’ll see how well we’ve done that come race time.

“But one of the best things about the atmosphere of the team was that level of reciprocation of accountability, whether it was with me and what I felt like I needed to improve, from the engineers, to the mechanics.

“The thing was in that moment, because everybody was willing to look inward and just honestly try and do their part better — that’s not to lay any more blame at anyone’s door. This was a team effort. If we’ve got something we need to improve, let’s go and do it. But that radiated through the building. Suddenly, because it’s that reciprocated, it makes you want to do it more, and then you dive in deeper and deeper.

“At the end of the day, the common goal between all of us on the team, through all the drivers, all the mechanics, engineers, everybody across commercial, all the sponsors, all the team owners, is how do we go and win, and at its core it’s probably the same for all race teams, but after the season we had I think it would have been easy for everybody to still feel a little down, and that wasn’t the case at all.

“These are the reasons why I love being a part of RLL, because I was excited that everybody’s attitude and outlook was one of really just positivity and I think a really healthy approach to trying to have a better season.

“I think the off-season was great, and then in terms of 2023, what we’re hoping to achieve, it’s probably going out and just getting the results that we know we have the talent to get, whether it’s hopefully my talent, the team’s talent, then go out there and say we want it to work with each other for these reasons.

“So then we looked back at ’22 and we go, that was an anomaly year. We don’t know what happened — well, we do know what happened, but it’s not going to happen again.”

As far as what did happen?

“Lots. Lots of things happened,” Harvey said. “In terms of the specifics with the team, I think it’s about — from my side it was being a little more flexible, I think, with the car and really the feeling I was hoping to get from the car.

“I think sometimes having the experience of a good car can be great. It also be can be not great when you’re not able to replicate that feeling, because then you get so — not stuck perhaps, but I know I felt like how the car should feel and we were struggling to kind of get to that phase, so I think one of the things I wanted to work on in the off-season was remaining flexible.

“Every year it’s a different challenge, and I think ultimately a lot of the great drivers in the series are able to adapt and grow and evolve and change, and I want to be one of them drivers.

“I think really it was more about remembering to be flexible, and also from the team side, are there other ways that we can perhaps meet each other when they’re not just trying to go down the same path every time with setups and stuff like that.

“Yeah, there’s specifics, and ultimately there are things that we have worked on internally and privately just to try and come to the track more prepared, which I feel like I had a good off-season, but I feel like as an organization, Rahal Letterman Lanigan has had a really great one, as well, moving into the new building full time, the new acquisition and hires that we’ve got.

“I think it all will really contribute into something great. I think it’s the case now that really I feel like we have turned the page on last year. We can keep rehashing it, but at this point it’s time to move on.

“The best thing about starting a new year is you get a new opportunity, and there’s while there is an opportunity for me to be a driver in this series, I’m going to go out and try and just be better than I was the previous year.

“I think one of the frustrating things that was a little frustrating about last year is at times I felt like I was driving well, and when the result doesn’t come, then it’s a little frustrating. I think really being at peace with all that like I am now just gives us a really great foundation to try and just have a good year.”

Is this a make or break year then for Harvey?

“I feel like you summed it up pretty well there really,” he says of his future. “In a lot of ways — every year is a big year, and in a lot of ways I feel past that. I’ve just accepted that. No matter what’s happening, every year is a big year, and the mindset or my mindset right now is just the focus is on Thermal, and then once we finish there, we’re going to try and take what we’ve learnt and see how we apply it to St. Pete, and then just one race at a time, one test at a time, and whatever is coming up is going to be our most important session, race, race weekend.

“At that point the future will figure itself out. At the end of the day last year I wasn’t satisfied team with the results we had. The team weren’t happy either, but we shared that mutual desire to have success.

“At that point I think we all would be happy if we were able to carry on.

“Look, at the end of the day, motorsports, sports is results-based, so we’ve got to go out and get them. I don’t see that as any more pressure. I love what I get to do. I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to get to do this and call it a job.

“While it’s an opportunity to do it, I’m going to keep giving it my all until there isn’t one.”

Part of the process to help was RLL had an overhaul at the personnel department. Graham Rahal spoke to that this morning. Harvey agreed with his teammates’ assessment.

“Well, I feel like he’s created a huge level of stability within the engineering room, having just — he’s the guy where if I’ve got a big question, that’s who I go and talk to about it.

“If we’re talking about direction and the methodologies that we want to try and implement as a team, now that falls into his role within the team. He’s an incredibly accomplished person, what he’s achieved in his career, and I was very excited when Bobby called me and said this is who we’re getting to be the technical director of the team.

“At that point we’ve had a lot of really good conversations, and to him just — we’ve done it this way just because that’s how we do it isn’t an acceptable answer. It has to be — it’s very purposeful. He has a lot of intent. He doesn’t like to waste time.

“Yeah, I think he’s really just trying to help steady the ship, create a good direction that we can all go down, and yeah, I would say so far the time that we’ve shared together has just been a really good one with — I mean, a word you’re going to hear a lot today is going to be “intent” and “purposeful,” and we want to go to the track confident at least within our team that we’re doing is the right thing because it’s been spoken about, it’s been challenged. We’re doing that because of — why are we doing that, because of any reasons.

“I certainly feel like there’s been a shift within the team, feels like. At this point honestly just excited to get on track and just see how those things kind of start to unfold and play out.

“A question I got asked earlier was if you could choose between one of these four races to win, which one would it be? The 500 wasn’t an option, but I said St. Pete, because let’s get our season started in a good place, in a good way.

“And like I said earlier, the goal is to just take every race weekend as they come, which so far feels like it’s been Stefano’s goal, as well. We’re not going to get carried away thinking about lots of things ahead. It’s just going to be, what are we doing today, what are we doing tomorrow.”

  • Helio Not Ready To Call It Quits Just Yet…

Tom Brady just announced on Wednesday morning that he’ll call it quits on a storied football career. Helio Castroneves isn’t ready to follow in Brady’s footsteps just yet.

“I don’t like it. Someone told me, comparing me and Tom Brady this year, and unfortunately, last year, too, but I’m telling the story because he didn’t win the Super Bowl. I’m like, whoa, whoa, don’t compare me now. So now we’ve got the Rolex,” Castroneves said on Wednesday morning during Day 2 of INDYCAR content days. “Look, it’s amazing. In any athlete’s — any person that achieve goals, even with the experience that you have you go through some scenarios, and I don’t think he’s hurting right now. I think he’s pretty well.

“That’s the type of scenario — the guy can retire and come back if he wants at any time.

“Unfortunately it’s not like that in our sport. We need a team, we need a car. But yes, he’s incredible.”

Castroneves was also quick to note that he’s not ready to retire just yet himself. He has goals left to accomplish. One of those goals is that 5th Indianapolis 500 win.

The big storyline entering this season has to be Castroneves’ pursuit of that fifth Indianapolis 500 crown. That’s something that has never been done in the past 106 years of this race and he’ll try again to win No. 5. AJ Foyt was the first to accomplish the feat of the four-win club in 1977. He made 15 attempts after to score his fifth win. He’d never do so with only scoring two top fives after including a runner-up finish in 1979.

Al Unser was the next to join the four win club in 1987. He’d try five more times to earn a fifth ‘500 triumph with finishes of 3rd, 24th, 13th, 3rd and 12th respectively.

Rick Mears joined in 1991. A 26th place finish in 1992’s race was his final shot.

Now, Castroneves is in the club. Can he get his fifth crown in May? That’s going to be a huge storyline that month again as he scored a top 10 last May.

“Look, expectation for me, it’s obviously the big one. It’s Indianapolis 500,” Castroneves said on Wednesday morning. “That’s the one that we feel that we have the same car, we have all our bets on to that.

“However, I’m not going to give up on the other ones, either. I feel that we have as much of a chance as anybody in some of the places that I feel comfortable. In position, if you’re thinking about finishing in the top 12 would be a great goal, would be a great place to be.

“However, we want to be able to have a podium. We want to be able to show what we can get, and we can.

“INDYCAR is so competitive. There’s so many scenarios that you’re like, I will never see that. That’s why. We’re going out there thinking that we do have a chance to repeat what we did in 2021, and obviously have a better result in the road courses and street courses, as well.”

Castroneves has 31 wins now which is tied for 10th most. His 50 poles is fourth most, three shy of Foyt. His 41 runner-up’s rank third best. His 94 podiums are four shy of Unser for fifth most.  His 142 top fives are fourth most with seven shy of Foyt for third.

By the end of this season, Castroneves could be alone in with five Indy 500 wins.

So, what did he learn in his first full-season back in the sport a year ago and apply that to closing that gap to the front this time around?

“Yeah, so we have some change of personnel in my group in the 06,” said the Brazilian driver. “We have Dave, our engineer; also we have some data people, as well, in the pit stop. We’re going to have some communication that we’ve got to — that’s why it’s important two days, at least for us, to get everybody going.

“And yeah, it’s important because we’ve already been one year with Meyer Shank Racing, so putting all the pieces and puzzles together, looking forward to a great 2023.

“Everyone understands when you’re going through, even if it’s one year, people think it’s a long time, but hey, we’re talking about teams that’s been together for a long, long time, years of experience and communication and everybody is in sync.

“Even though for us we did 2021, all those people were part-timers and we have to start all over again. That was the first time that we had two cars in the team. There was a lot of dynamic changing.

“Now we are continuing to move forward. It’s important for us to be part of this process, be patient. Yeah, I can’t wait when things start to connect so we can show at the racetrack.

“You’re always looking for improvement. The good news is we finished 18th last year in the championship. That’s not a place that we want to be. However, we feel there was some areas that we felt we could have better results, but racing is unpredictable, as always.

“The expectation is obviously always to do well, but also we understand the possibility of things not going according to the plan.

“But I feel the plan is that. It takes some time to collect some of the informations that we want, our alliances with Andretti Autosport also is still very strong. They also know that they need to improve. It’s not only in our organization.

“We still keep pushing each other so that we can have a better result like we had in the past or that Andretti had in the past.

“For us, remember, the alliance, they have their own engineers, their own resource, they translate it to us, and yeah, we’re looking forward to having a much better season, and let’s hope for the best.

“But we’re only looking forward, and we feel we’re going to have a much better season.”

Castroneves had a pair of top 10 finishes in the opening six races including one at Indy. However, he also had just 2 top 15’s over the final 8 races with a best finish among them of 13th in Nashville. Some were pushing him out the door and back to a part-time role. The new rumblings are Castroneves’ Rolex 24 teammate, Tom Blomqvist, is eying a potential INDYCAR seat and that it could come at Castroneves’ expense in more of a swap between the two.

“First of all, it’s too early to say,” Castroneves said of that discussion. “Second, I don’t want anything more than great things for this team. This team is incredible. They continue to grow as much as — they already stamped that they’re not just a small team. They stamped that they’re an incredible team, that things amazing about to happen in the future.

“Tom, come on, the kid is a superstar. He’s really quick. I feel that he did — he’s doing an amazing job. Last year he did a great job; this year continued doing it.

“Let’s see. Everything happens and falls natural. But as of right now, it’s too early in the season to predict and think what’s going to happen.

“Our goal is to have a phenomenal result with MSR so that we can show what this team is capable.

“Look, I just won Daytona 24-hour. Do you think I’m thinking retiring right now? There is no — there isn’t a thought of that.

“Look, also the same thing it repeats. It has to feel natural. I can’t force myself. I can’t put a number or date that I can say this is it.

“As of right now, I am enjoying very much what I’m doing. I’m about to start a great season with INDYCAR, and my mind is only thinking about that. I’m just going to continue working and get that result that I really want, that I know I’m capable and I know what the team is capable. Whatever happens in the future remains to be seen.”

Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan chat on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Kanaan Also Not Ready To Hang It Up Yet

Tony Kanaan has no regrets about a premature retirement announcement in 2020. See, at the time, he felt like that would be it in terms of his NTT INDYCAR Series career. One last season in his book. They’d dub it “TK’s Last Lap.” The joke now has become, how long is this lap?

“I always said, you want to retire, you don’t want somebody to retire you,” he said from INDYCAR content days on Wednesday morning.

“But after 25 years in the series I don’t think I could be — I have the right to be upset if I don’t find a ride if I want to race next year. It’s been a great ride.

“Honestly, it’s the hardest — you see it. You see it in every sport. Not many times top guys retiring came back, because you don’t know how to let it go. Then you have examples like me and Helio who are 48 and Dixon who’s in his 40s and still, I want to come back, I know I can do this.

“But I’m really, really — I was at peace with myself three years ago when I made that decision, so now I’m just riding it because, hey, I’m a race car driver. Going to give me a race car to drive, I’m jumping in.

“But no, it won’t — I won’t be sad if this would be my last one.”

Kanaan will return in 2023 for his third “final” lap. However, this one, like the previous three before it, will be on a part-time basis. The laps are getting shorter one could say.

2020 was a season he’d race just the ovals. Then the pandemic set in and Kanaan didn’t want to go out like that. He felt he owed it to his long time fans to come back one more year so they can see him out. That next season however led him back to a journey of just ovals but to do so with Jimmie Johnson and at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Johnson had no interest in racing on ovals and in order for him to make this work, he needed a partner to take over the reigns for him on the high speed tracks. Kanaan was a perfect fit. The thing is, Johnson had a multi-year deal so it meant Kanaan had a couple more final laps.

But, with Johnson wanting to race ovals in 2022, where did this leave Kanaan?

It left him in a fifth Indy only entry for Ganassi. He’d finish third last May. The fire never left him. An emotional Kanaan felt like he had more left in the tank for at least one more run at it.

“I left it all out there,” he’d say after last year’s race. “I said it, I wanted to do it one more. Right now it’s wide open. I have one year to try to figure that out. But, yeah, I mean, even if I say next year will be the next one, you’re going to ask me that question. I might call it quits, but I still might want to come back.

“I was very emotional on the cool-down lap, talking to the team. I know my days are numbered. I have a plan, like I said. I think next year will be probably, if I can make it happen, will be really the last one.

“I don’t feel like I’m retiring. I mean, I know I can still drive. Of course, we have this thing that people like to talk about, age and age and age.

“But I think I’m in pretty good shape. I’ll keep doing it as long as the opportunity presents. Obviously to come back here, especially in the last two years with the team that I’m at, if it’s not there, I’m going to evaluate my chances. I don’t want to just be here to participate. I’ve done that plenty of times.

“So if I have one more shot, and that is for real, one more shot, we’ll give it a go. As of right now, this was the last one.”

It ended up not being his last. Kanaan returns this year but once again, for Indy only. He’ll do so in papaya with Arrow McLaren.

“To win the 500. Very simple,” Kanaan said on what Zak Brown asked him to do when he hired the popular Brazilian driver.

“Always racing is so — you’re as good as your last result. When you start coming up to my age, which is 48, by the way, people ask you that question. People doubt you. People say, maybe is it time, all those questions.

“The only way to reassure even yourself, because I’m not going to say that you don’t question yourself, is it time or am I still up to — and then you have a result like we did last year and it’s like, wow, you know what, come on, I know I can do it.

“That weighs a lot, also, in a lot of my decisions going forward.

I” know anything can happen in the 500, but as long as I have it in my head that I am competitive, it doesn’t matter if I finish third or if I could add one, but if I think I still have the possibility to win, I will keep trying.

“But also I need other people to see that, sponsors and — let’s face it, I’m not going to get a ride if there is one seat that is going to be a one-off. I’m not coming back to do a full season again anyway.”

However, we already know Kyle Larson is coming into this seat in 2024, so is this year’s run going to now be it?

“That’s a good question because Dixon makes fun of me until this day. This is the last, last, last, last lap, the very last lap, what it is,” said Kanaan. “So the answer honestly will be I think I will definitely make a decision, which is not just all up to me.

“I mean, it’s up to me if I say this is it, but if not, I think I’ll make the decision when we cross the start-finish line on that Sunday. When I win, if I win, I’ll put everybody on the spot and I’ll say, I’m coming back. This is exactly what happened last year.

“Right now I think the focus is this 500. Again, I don’t know if — it wasn’t a mistake, but we announced something two years ago and then a great opportunity came with Jimmie’s — I’m not going to put out there this is what I’m doing. It’s just, let it be.”

Kanaan said that while he doesn’t necessarily want this to be it, he won’t do it just to do it. If he’s going to race in the Indy 500, it has to be a legitimate opportunity.

“Let me put it this way: You are totally right, and no disrespect for any teams because I think we have a pretty good group of teams that can win the 500. But at this point, if I don’t think it’s the right opportunity for me then I wouldn’t do it. I don’t want to be at the 500 just to participate,” he said.

“Actually even last year that was part of my decision when I said, I want to come back this year.

“Yeah, I mean, winning, it’s all. I would rather see a young gun coming in, taking place for his first Indy 500, than me just participating just to add a car.”

Scott Dixon Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Dixon Talks New Teammates In 2023

Scott Dixon has Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou back as teammates in 2023. However, Jimmie Johnson has departed.

“Yeah, I think that surprised a few people,” Dixon said of Johnson’s step away. “I’d kind of heard rumblings and we had spoken a bit about it, probably right around a similar time. I don’t think it was a super shock to a lot of us, but I think for maybe the industry it was.

“But I guess some people, that’s kind of the natural progression. I think who and how and how he did it I think was probably more of a shock than him actually going into the ownership role.

“I think anybody that knows Jimmie well, he’s a great person. He’s a fun guy to hang out with. I think what he brought to the team, whether it was on the sponsor side to his competitiveness and competition side and info, not just information but kind of his history of being so successful I think really helped with the team.

“Yeah, for me it was probably more so on just the friendship side of hanging out with him. I think that was in Nashville where he was kind of talking about maybe not coming back or how it was going to be, but I was like, come on, man, you’ve got to make sure you can get the deal together and come back.

“Obviously we can see that he’s moved on to different pastures, and a lot of exciting stuff for him that’s coming up.”

In replacement of Johnson comes a shared rides between rookie Marcus Armstrong who’ll handle the duties on all road/street courses and Takuma Sato racing on all ovals.

“Yeah, strong lineup,” said Dixon. “I think this team always has a really strong lineup, but this year I think obviously welcoming another Kiwi to the team is always great. It’s good to see the young talent coming through and having three of us in the series, been a long time since we’ve had any other than myself, so it’s nice to see that progression.

“Hopefully some more in the near future here that are coming through the pipeline, as well.

“But yeah, excited for the new year. I think the lineup and obviously you try to have as much as you can to have a constant in all the cars, I understand what they did with Marcus and Taku, so that lineup over there is going to be really strong. Looking forward to it.

“Looking forward to working with Takuma. I haven’t seen him. I kind of knew for a while that that’s where it was kind of going. I guess the only down side that I would say is that he’s not doing full season. But yeah, looking forward to it.

“We’ve had some tremendous battles throughout the years. Obviously the 500 is something that he’s extremely passionate about, and obviously a two-time winner.

“I think the year I finished second to him was definitely very tough, but it’s always had a very big rivalry at the Indy 500 with this team. Be fun to work with him. I’ve never worked with him in that capacity. Maybe we can seek some insight there.”

For Armstrong, despite the two sharing a country, Dixon has only met him twice.

“The Christmas party, and then I saw him once for a gathering in New Zealand for a Giltrap group kind of thing. He kind of came through slightly different paths, I think, just with people that — I think myself, Hartley and maybe Earl were kind of similar groups with the investor side.

“But yeah, he’s a great guy. Got to spend a lot of time — ran into his dad actually a few times throughout the Christmas break down there, and he’s a lot of fun, as well.

“Yeah, it’s funny to hear some of the stories of him watching me when I was a younger self. But yeah, I think it’s huge for New Zealand. There is a lot of talent down there, and to see some of that coming through, I think even with Earl on the IMSA side and some possibilities this season of some other guys doing some testing, I think it’s great from that aspect.

“Really going to enjoy working with him. He’s a young guy, a fun guy, and obviously very talented. Hopefully I can help him if he has any questions or help him along the way if he needs it.”

Dixon just finished his 22nd season in the sport and enters his 23rd foray. He says he doesn’t have a decade left in him but he does have a handful left.

“I think every year you have your ups and downs. I think the biggest thing for me is that you’re still constantly learning. Each weekend there’s something different, which I think is what makes it so much fun and interesting, I think, for anybody that’s involved.

“Yeah, 10 years sounds like a long time. Maybe five.”

Romain Grosjean was ready last year for his 1st Indy 500 start, but if not for being “too old” he may be a chef right now. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Grosjean talks being a pilot

Romain Grosjean thought his racing career was over a decade ago. He took up cooking as he was looking to become a chef.

Grosjean made his F1 debut during the 2009 season with Renault. However, they told him at seasons end they wouldn’t bring him back for the full campaign in 2010. That irked him. So, he pursued a path outside of motorsports as a career change.

Grosjean loved cooking and wanted to possibly become a chef. So, off to cooking school he went. Until he did. He didn’t last long. Not because he wasn’t a good cook or anything because he actually is. He’s published cookbooks. It’s because he was too old for the class and they actually told him to leave.

“Well I wasn’t kicked out. I wanted to enter a cooking class after 2009. So early 2010 I was told I was too old,” Grosjean told me from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Day last year. “They didn’t want me so it was okay. So I went back to Formula 1. It worked out well.”

I’d say it did. He raced and made a nice living for 11 more years in F1. Now he’s here in INDYCAR. While being over in the United States, he’s taken up a new hobby – flying.

“I got bored of waiting in the airports so I thought I was going to fly myself and do my pilot’s license,” Grosjean said. “It’s actually something I wanted to do for a long time. It was very complicated in Europe to do the pilot license, to go to the ground school twice a week, and with our life it’s impossible. I decided to tackle it and went through it pretty fast, so having a lot of fun with that.

“Went twice at St. Pete just to land on the start-finish line, and that was pretty cool. The guy, the air traffic control was like, yeah, left on acre five, turn, and then back. I was like, oh, yeah, going over the racetrack, I’ll take it, and I go back to the pit lane I was like, oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true. So it was quite funny.”

This is an endeavor that he’s wanted to do since he was 30. So it’s not been that long in the making. The passion intensified a year ago when he noticed his teammate, Alexander Rossi, was flying his own plane to the races.

“I thought that was pretty cool. I thought, okay, I’ll look into it. Found a school what I could all the theory online,” he continued.

“So actually I started doing the theory in Nashville. That’s when I started getting the first book online, and since then I’ve done my private pilot license, my multiengine license, my instrument flight rating license, and I’ve got 115 hours of flight time, I think.

“Commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger — Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Speaking of racing, Grosjean enters his third year in the sport, second on a full-time basis.

Grosjean came over to the United States just wanting to do this INDYCAR gig part-time. He had so much fun in 2021 that he wanted more. Ovals were considered off limits for the former Formula One driver but once he got around it, he had to try it. That led to an opportunity at World Wide Technology Raceway. That in turn led to him wanting to run for a championship and to do this full-time, even including all the ovals in 2022.

Grosjean joined Andretti Autosport and off he went. The thing is, 2022 was drama filled and no where near the expectations that he put on himself as a full time participant.

His stats with Andretti Autosport last season weren’t really all that much different than with Dale Coyne Racing w Rick Ware Racing in 2021. In 13 races during his part time rookie season, Grosjean had 1 pole, 3 podiums, 4 top 5’s 6 top 10’s and 53 laps led. In a full 17 race season in 2022, he had no poles, 1 podium, 3 top 5’s, 7 top 10’s and just 4 laps led.

He’s back though for a second year with Andretti in 2023. How much has he learned over his first couple of years here to help propel him forward during this upcoming season?

“I think we looked at everything,” Grosjean said on Content Day on Wednesday morning. “As I say, it wasn’t one thing, it was a few things together that we could do better, so we’ve tried to tidy everything up. The team has done some great work. I’ve been doing my own work, too, on my side.

“I think also for Olivier and myself it will be easier in year two as a team. Olivier has had the whole winter break to do his stuff, whereas last year we came in and was like almost ready to go.

“Yeah, I’m excited about that. But what I’m excited about the most is that I am genuinely looking forward to jumping back in an INDYCAR, and that’s a feeling I like having, because that means I still love more than anything — well, I love my job a lot and I want to go racing.”

What’s going to be different about this season is the fact that he’s likely going to have a leadership role within the organization. What I mean by that is, Colton Herta is for sure the No. 1 driver at Andretti. He’s made more starts himself (65) than the other three drivers in the camp combined (64). However, Herta is also only 22-years-old. How much can he truly lead?

Grosjean is on equal footing experience wise with his other teammates not named Colton Herta. He has the wisdom and age on his side to lead. However, does he want to?

It’s a completely different mindset for him because all he grew up with overseas was working with one other teammate and over there, you didn’t necessarily “work” with teammates. You competed against them 1-on-1. Information wasn’t shared as well overseas in that aspect as it is here so that was a culture shift for Grosjean when he joined Dale Coyne Racing in 2021.

Still, in 2021, he had just one other teammate like he’s always had. With Andretti last year, he had 3 more at his disposal and it didn’t always go great. He ruffled feathers and the respect level was sometimes low. Now that one driver that didn’t see eye to eye with him is gone, how does the dialogue work with a new teammate in Kyle Kirkwood and the same two of Herta and Devlin DeFrancesco?

 “I think it’s going to work well,” Grosjean said. “I think we’ve got a strong lineup again, with Kyle joining in. We know Kyle is a very fast driver, so it’s going to be exciting to have him on board.

“We know what Colton is capable of. I think I’ve got some experience. I’ve got one year of experience with the team. We’ve made some — we’ve worked hard during the winter on my side, but also on Tim’s side. I think last year wasn’t the year that we wanted.

“Everyone has been working really hard and I’m excited. I think everyone that you’re going to see today or you saw yesterday in the room is excited. Everyone thinks that he’s got an amazing win to break, and has done more work than the others, but I don’t know, time will tell, track will tell us, but we feel like we’ve done some good steps.”

Josef Newgarden Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Newgarden Still As Hungry Now As He Was Leaving Monterey

The NTT INDYCAR Series championship has come down to the final race to crown it’s champion for 17 straight years now. That’s why it sounded over ambitious for Josef Newgarden to claim that he’d like to head to Laguna Seca this year with the championship already locked up.

“How are we going to build a bigger gap where that’s not even possible? I don’t even want to be messing with it at the end of the year,” said the two-time series champion at Media Day on Wednesday. “In an ideal world, if we get to the end of a season where we don’t have to mess with the gap, if we can just get that out of the way, that would be ideal. That’s where my mindset is at, how do we get to that place where it’s not even on the table, it’s just done.

“I think I’m not arrogant enough to believe that that’s easy. It seems near impossible these days to do that. I think that’s valid. It’s very difficult to do that. I understand that. But I still want to find a way where we can get to a place where we don’t have to mess with it.”

When pressed about if he truly meant that, he doubled down on his remark.

“It’s not easy. It’s possible. I do not think that will be easy whatsoever, but we need to figure out how to do that,” he said.

The reason for that feeling is that Newgarden is sick and tired of coming away runner-up in points.

“Yeah, I mean, it gnaws at me for sure,” he said. “It’s annoying, there’s no doubt. How could you not be frustrated by it, right? I think it’s normal, very frustrating. I try and take the frustration and just put it into motivation.”

That frustration has been weighing on Newgarden since he left Monterey last September. He was dejected when he left Laguna Seca last September, the site of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season finale. That’s also the same spot to crown this year’s champion. The mantra surrounding the two-time series champion was telling. He was pissed.

He felt like he threw away another shot at a championship a day prior in making a rare mistake in qualifying. That was the dagger he felt in his championship aspirations. That overshadowed his stellar driver from 25th to 2nd on a track to where passing was difficult.

Still, 2022’s ending wasn’t just about that Saturday qualifying blip. It wasn’t all about losing the championship on Sunday. It was about losing the last three championships and how each instance occurred. The newly turned 32-year-old is as competitive as they come and he’s pissed to be so close yet so far away from a dynasty here.

Last season was his 7th straight top 5 finish in the NTT INDYCAR Series final standings. 5 of which have now been in the top 2 including an astounding four straight years. However, only twice has he won a championship in this span and over the last four years, three straight have seen him come home bridesmaid at seasons end.

Last year was even more difficult to grasp.

While he had the most wins during the course of the 17-race season, he struggled to put a complete season together. Newgarden had as many wins (5) as he had finishes of 13th or worse (5). That’s where this title was lost.

“You know, for sure we just needed to have a more consistent season,” Newgarden noted that day. “There’s no doubt. I think that the peak performance was there all year. We just didn’t have the consistency. That ultimately is what put us in an unfavorable position when we came here.

“If we can clean that up, I have no doubt we can challenge for the championship again next year.”

Newgarden’s attitude hasn’t changed one iota since those comments.

“Honestly, I don’t feel that different leaving Laguna, where I was kind of at mentally there, my statements, what I was projecting. I feel very similar to that place,” Newgarden quipped at the 2023 Media Day on Wednesday.

A main reason as to why is the fact that Newgarden notes that not a lot has transpired between now and then. He’s in the same spot now as he was on that day and ready to get back in the car to show that they can improve and put a full season together.

“I don’t think we’re going to change much,” he continued. “I don’t know that we need to change anything as far as our approach or process. I think everything that we’re doing is what we need to be doing.”

Will Power had 1 win compared to Newgarden’s 5 last year. He took home the title. It was the complete opposite in 2021. No one had as many top 10 finishes (13) as Newgarden then.

So where’s the sweet spot?

Newgarden says there truly isn’t one as when you’re in a series as competitive as INDYCAR, sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce in your direction and when it does, you have to capitalize.

“INDYCAR just has that intangible side to it where you just can’t predict everything,” he said. “You do need a little bit of I don’t want say lock but you need the tides to favor you at times. It’s preparation, hard work, maximizing each day, then timing needs to be on your side. Sort of the tides need to flow for you.

“I think most of everything went well for us last year. There were just too many events, just a couple too many races that didn’t go our way that we needed.

“I think you can have a bad race. You just can’t have three or four of ’em. Three or four is a lot. It depends on the year.”

So how do you improve between seasons then?

“I think the complexion of each year is different,” he says. It’s always been hard for me to assess things by comparing year to year. They’re all different. There’s some years you probably could afford three or four bad races. Last year was not a year that you could afford that.

“It depends on who’s having a great year. Sometimes people just have a good run and nothing seems to go wrong for them. That’s just the nature of the beast.

“I’ve done this enough I think to have a fair assessment of it. It’s my opinion there’s that intangible you can’t control. When I analyze other drivers and the seasons they’ve had, even my own, sometime timing just seems to work out really well for certain teams and individuals. That’s a thing you can’t control, unfortunately, right?

“With that kind of comes peace of mind. I focus on controlling how can we build the best cars possible to give ourselves the best speed, how can we make the best decisions we can strategy-wise, position-wise. You really just have to hope that the timing blesses you throughout the year as well.

“I am so positive, when we get a year where we get good timing paired with great speed and decisions, it will be a great year. It will be really great. Much better than what we had last year.”

Power agreed with that saying this a day prior.

“Every season flows differently, but just in general in my life, I just don’t put too much emotion into situations,” he said. “There’s nothing to be gained from it.

“There’s just a lot of things that clicked last year within my team, the crew. Obviously Dave Faustino and the new crew chief are all pretty good group, pretty good, positive group, enjoying the job.”

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, good luck or bad luck, it’s the lack of consistent podiums is what proved to be the difference between Newgarden and at least another title or two since 2017. For 2021, he had 6 podiums. Alex Palou had 8. Palou also had 10 top 5’s in comparison to Newgarden’s 8.

Last year, his only podiums are his race wins and the one he had in the season finale. He did have 8 top 5’s and 12 top 10’s. It’s those 5 finishes of 13th or worse that are costing him

Prior to that, in the first 10 races of the season in 2021, he had nine top 10 qualifying efforts including three straight poles heading into the break. In the five races leading into the season finale weekend, he was 12th or worse in qualifying in four of them.

That coupled with some key moments earlier in the season put him 38 points behind in the end. If you take Barber and Road America back, Newgarden may be the one hoisting the trophy that season instead.

Newgarden, crashed on the opening lap at Barber. Palou won that day. He was on the wrong end of a caution in Belle Isle which cost his strategy after leading the first 67 laps of the 70 lap race. He had a mechanical failure while leading on the late restart with 2 to go in Road America. He had led 32 laps of 55 that day. Palou won that race too.

Take Barber, Road America and Belle Isle out, Newgarden likely wins last years title.

He still had a pair of wins and three runner-ups in races that did go his way.

This sounds very similar to the year prior as well.

See, in 2020, Scott Dixon won each of the first three races run and had a top two result in four of the first five overall. In fact, once Dixon won the Aug. 29 race at the World Wide Technology Raceway a year ago and it was his sixth top two in the opening eight races of the season. With a race on that same track a day later and six overall races left, he appeared to be untouchable.

Newgarden, found himself over 117 points down, going into Race 2 of the St. Louis race weekend. He stormed all the way back and nearly won the title.

How? How does one make up 117 points in six races?

Speed and talent is how and it left Newgarden wondering if he had started better, what if?

In a six race span to end that season, Newgarden had five top four finishes — four of those in the top two. Dixon, only had one podium and two top fives.

But, it was that string of races to start the year to what was the deciding factor in this. If cautions fell differently, Newgarden may have been the champion for 2020 after all.

It happened in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on July 4 a year ago. He had a podium caliber kind of car but the caution for Oliver Askew’s crash in the middle of a pit sequence wasn’t needed. He’d finish seventh as a result. It happened again in Race 1 at Iowa. He finished fifth. It happened in Race 1 at World Wide Technology Raceway too. He’d finish 12th.

In those three races, Scott Dixon came home first, second, first respectively. The points difference between just those two in those three combined races?


Newgarden entered the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader in 2020 with a 72 point gap.

That alone proves that the cautions have hurt him. Say Dixon and he both finish in the top five of those races, the gap would have been far less than 72. It’s more like 15 or less.

When cautions stayed out of Newgarden’s way, he was the better driver with the better car.

Last year came down to more pace on the races that he didn’t win but here he is again. This time, he says that his goal is to head to Laguna ensuring that the title is his to lose and have an easier weekend. In fact, he’d like to have the championship clinched by time we get there.

That’s why he says it comes down to not throwing points away early and ensuring the title is in your hands come September.

The easiest place to do so at is Indianapolis. That race pays double points. While it’s not the end-and-be-all (The last Indy 500 winner and champion in the same season came in 2012), it doesn’t hurt.

“Indianapolis is obviously the most glaring example of where we can continue to push forward,” Newgarden notes. “There’s other areas where we’ve excelled better, but Indianapolis is still a weak point for us.”

He says that Indy is the place that has been circled by Team Penske to get better at. They failed to lead a single lap in last year’s race and now have led a grand total of 19 over the last 3 years (600 laps). They finished 13th (Josef Newgarden), 15th (Will Power) and 29th (Scott McLaughlin).

“No doubt. It’s number one. It’s the number one objective. There’s just no excuse for it,” Newgarden noted. “We have to be better at Indianapolis, full stop.

“It’s not from a lack of trying. I can tell you it wasn’t from a lack of trying last off-season. We thought we were going to be exactly where we wanted to be. I think we made tremendous progress, but we weren’t fully there. We’re doubling down again. No excuses. We’ve got to make it better.”

Scott McLaughlin picked up his 2nd career win in July at Mid-Ohio. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Pressure On For McLaughlin In 2023

Prior to the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season, Scott McLaughlin had made 17 starts with 0 wins, 1 podium, 2 top 5 finishes, 5 top 10’s, 1 race led for 5 laps and 16 times he was running at the finish.

Last season: 17 races, 3 wins, 7 podiums, 8 top 5 finishes, 12 top 10’s, 8 races led for 433 laps and 16 races he was running at the finish.


“Look, absolutely. I know that we made a massive step personally for me last year,” McLaughlin said during Media Day content on Wednesday afternoon. “That was due to a number of things, things clicking, working out really good.

“But now what we know of INDYCAR racing, you just need to continue stepping up a little. McLaren is going to be fast, Andretti, Ganassi as we know is unreal. We need to continue to build as a team, myself. I’ve certainly looked at negatives that I can improve on. Hopefully that bodes me well for the rest of the season.”

Some athletes say that you can’t take much away from one season to the next. It’s a clean, fresh slate. Others say just the opposite. What side of the coin does McLaughlin fall?

 “I think it’s more up to you and your mentality and what you think,” he told me. “I certainly believe you can’t stop me from learning what I learnt last year. I still know what I learn understand and what I can improve on.

“Whether it’s momentum or whether it’s just learnings, I know what I learnt and what I need to learn and be better at from last year, I know what I’ve had to work on in saying that. That’s what I’ve worked on.

“I think that hopefully will put me in good stead.”

Even with how well 2022 ended, McLaughlin reflected back on it and found some areas that he could be better in.

“Yeah, for me, I made a couple mistakes mid-season,” he said. “My Indy crash, Detroit going down the escape road, a few things that just sort of put me on the back foot championship-wise.

“If you looked at my season from maybe Road America on, I felt like everything sort of clicked. I just took races as they came. The way I finished the season last year, I’ve got to start and continue to do every race of the year like that. I can’t afford mistakes. You can’t afford mistakes in INDYCAR and be on the back foot.

“I think right now I feel comfortable with where I’m at. I know, I believe I’m fast enough to win the championship. It also comes up to me executing and doing what I can to perform on the day.

“What I tried to do last year was sometimes when I had, like, an eighth-place car, I tried to make it a second-place car and I’d crash or go down the escape road or something like that. That’s what I changed towards the end of the season. It’s just about letting it happen, letting the pace come, hopefully it bodes us well towards the end of the season.

“I know I have the speed to win a championship, but I’ve got to put it together. That’s the same for Indy 500. I’ve learnt a lot over the years that I know I’ve got the right ingredients around me, I feel like I’ve learnt enough to be a force come May. At the same time it’s about executing at the moments that you really need to and not risk too much in the moments you don’t need to.

“Yeah, I get a lot of enjoyment out of that. It’s a tough series in that regard.”

In saying all of that, this is the year the pressure comes. No one outside of himself expected that he showed in the first two years. But we all now saw this quick trajectory and with that comes pressure. The training wheels are now off. Championships and Indy 500 wins are expected. Can he live up to this pressure?

That’s something he’s not had since really 2019. Yes, he felt pressure internally since then, but not from the outside. Now, he has both factors weighing on him entering this season. Can he produce?

“I think now you just know, like, the learning is over now,” he told me. “Team Penske, you got a car that you know can win races. You’re expected to compete for championships. That’s just an expectation that I have, that I had in Australia for five, six years. I understand the mentality and understand what it’s like to have that pressure.

“I feel like it’s not an unknown for me. I’m not really stressed about it. I sort of know my ability, what I can do. If it’s good enough, it’s good enough. Yeah, it’s not an unknown and I’m not too worried about it at all.

“I put more pressure on myself than anyone can put on me. I just focus on that myself.”

Conor Daly’s ride for last year’s race in Charlotte
  • Daly Doesn’t Rule Out Daytona 500 Run

Conor Daly made his Cup Series debut last Fall on the Charlotte ROVAL. Now, there’s a chance he gets a second go at it later this month in Daytona. That’s right, Daly has a chance to race his way into NASCAR’s Super Bowl.

The Money Team made their NASCAR debut in last year’s race with Kaz Grala. The Massachusetts native raced his way into the big show. That’s the same team Daly made his debut for in Charlotte. This offseason, there were rumors that Helio Castroneves could end up in that very car for this year’s Daytona 500.

See, the four-time Indianapolis 500 champion said that he had a deal with Don Hawk that if he could win an SRX race then Hawk would find Castroneves at Daytona 500 opportunity.

Hawk was true to his word. He was trying. The most logical fit was with the Trackhouse Project91 car. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get that car as a viable option for Daytona. That ride won’t be in Daytona next month.

The Money Team with Floyd Mayweather looked the most promising, but Castroneves said that the opportunity will have to wait since the team doesn’t have a charter and with the 47-year-old never having raced a stock car before, let alone at Daytona, and having to race his way in, it didn’t make much sense this year to do so.

With that said, it doesn’t necessarily change the number on the entry-list since TMT wasn’t on it…yet. Word is Conor Daly may be the leader in that clubhouse to land that ride.

“Great question (laughter). I mean, I didn’t know anything about that until recently. Who knows what will happen in the next couple days or weeks, I guess. Is it February yet,” Daly said on Wednesday.

“Well, if that opportunity were to come up, I chatted with a young man by the name of Helio Castroneves earlier, and I think for him an opportunity like that could probably come about really anytime. But for me, I don’t know if an opportunity like that would come again.

“I have done a lot in my life by, you know what, if there is a chance to do it, might as well do it. So who knows what might happen. But if there is a chance, I feel like I can’t not do it, or not try to do it at least.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s