Top question for each INDYCAR team ahead of 2023 season

Team Penske

Question: Can they keep last year’s speed with everyone chasing them?

The NTT INDYCAR Series is the most competitive racing series in the world. Without many changes however one season to the next as well as several disciplines of tracks to race on, it’s hard to stay on top each year. Think about it, if you’re good in an area, why would you spend your limited time and resources by testing trying to stay good there. Wouldn’t you want to focus on areas that you weren’t as good at and find ways to be better there?

For Penske, well they are coming off of a championship season to where they had all 3 of their drivers finish in the top 4 of the final standings. It’s a wildly difficult task to single out problem areas to improve upon if you’re them.

The other teams, well they have problem areas that they each could focus on because well for starters, they’re not on top. They’re the ones chasing Team Penske and each have glaring holes and weaknesses that they’ll try and fix. Penske are the ones that has to dig deep and start pulling thin hairs here.

So the main question is, as the hunted, can Penske stay on top?

Josef Newgarden is aggressively after that 3rd championship. He’s finished runner-up in each of the last three seasons. Scott McLaughlin is eyeing the next step after greatly improving himself between years 1 and 2. Will Power is coming off of a championship winning season.

For Newgarden, the 32-year-old is pissed that he’s lost the last three championships. His main goal in 2023 is he’s wanting to improve so much, to the point that he has the title firmly in his hands by time we get to the season finale in Laguna Seca.

“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.

While he had the most wins during the course of the 17-race season, he also 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. There were several instances in 2022 to where he had a car to win, but bad luck got in the way instead.

“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.”

Then you have their teammate, McLaughlin.

Prior to this season, he 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.”

Ganassi is clearly the top dog to take back over as Penske’s arch rival in 2023.

Since 2013, these two teams are the only two organizations that have won championships in this series. Chip Ganassi Racing has titles from Scott Dixon (2013, 2015, 2018, 2020) and Alex Palou (2021) while Team Penske has titles from Will Power (2014), Simon Pagenaud (2016) and Josef Newgarden (2017, 2019).

That’s 10 straight years with each having won 5 titles a piece. Also, if you go back to 2008, this iconic duo has combined to have taken 14 titles in a 15 year span.

Even further, with this Aeroscreen, they’ve won 72% of the races (33-for-46) too and 100% of the championships.

Does anyone buck this trend for the upcoming season?

Can they all work together to ensure one of them gives “The Captain” his 6th championship in an 11-year span? Everyone has adjusted to catch them, so we’ll see…

Alex Palou and Scott Dixon battling during the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Chip Ganassi Racing

Question: Who’s Their Future?

Chip Ganassi Racing has 5 championships won in the last decade including 3 in the last 5 years and 2 of the last 3 at that. However, what’s their future look like?

Scott Dixon isn’t getting any younger at 42 years of age. He’ll be 43 in July. Alex Palou was once their future but he’s more than likely going to McLaren at seasons end. Marcus Ericsson could be a nice prize for a while, but he’s also already 32. In this day-and-age of racing, everyone is after that next 20-year-old. He’s into his next decade.

That 4th seat that once was Jimmie Johnson’s, well he’s now gone too and it’s this year being split between Marcus Armstrong and Takuma Sato. Armstrong is only 22 but Sato is getting ready to turn 46. Armstrong is also part-time and not racing ovals.

“Yeah, strong lineup,” Dixon quipped on Wednesday morning. “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.”

So, if Palou truly does depart and Dixon’s/Sato’s days in the series are numbered, who’s going to take over the reins for this storied organization?

It may soon go to Ericsson as a result. Then from there, to Armstrong, that’s if they can make it work to keep him for a full season in 2024.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” Ericsson said. “I think I’ve been there a few years now. I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well.

“There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows (smiling).

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. Yeah, I’m happy to be in the team. Like I said, I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

Dixon laughed at Ericsson’s statement saying that he takes it year by year and while he won’t give a definitive timeline on how long he wants to stay, it won’t creep into the next decade, he knows that.

“I think every year you have your ups and downs,” Dixon said of that aspect. “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.”

Another driver to watch is Robert Shwartzman. The Ferrari test driver made a nice mark on the team during his test and if an F1 seat doesn’t open next season, he could very well be the next F2 driver to make the leap to INDYCAR. He’s only 23. Word is he’s a potential candidate for the 10 seat if Palou departs.

That would be an easy yet quick fix for 2024 by rolling out a lineup of Dixon, Ericsson, Armstrong and Shwartzman. If they can even lure Felix Rosenqvist back too, then they could end up just fine.

See, Rosenqvist was supposed to be their future before he unexpectedly left Ganassi for McLaren. Now, it’s come full circle with Rosenqvist’s replacement at Ganassi (Palou) expected to replace him at McLaren. Could Rosenqvist land back with Ganassi again and give them years of hope between he, Ericsson, Armstrong and Shwartzman?

Don’t count out Kyffin Simpson in Indy NXT either. He’s a developmental driver for them. Also I wouldn’t sleep on a lure of David Malukas. Ganassi has teamed with HMD in Indy Lights to have Simpson and could team with them to bring Malukas over. They snagged Ed Jones from DCR in the recent past, why not another?

That’s something Ganassi needs to look at.

Can Colton Herta have his breakthrough year in 2023? Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Andretti Autosport

Question: Can they truly stop the slide?

Andretti Autosport boasts one of the more inexperienced lineups in the paddock. Yes, they have 4 drivers, but combined, 3 of them have 1 full-time season under their belts. Romain Grosjean was part-time in 2021 but moved to his first full-time foray in INDYCAR with Andretti in 2022. He has made 30 career starts.

Devlin DeFrancesco was a rookie last year. Same for Kyle Kirkwood, except he spent his rookie year at Foyt. Each have 17 total INDYCAR starts.

Colton Herta is now the lead man of the group. Is he ready for that? Herta has made more starts himself (65) than the other three (64) combined. He’s also only 22 and the youngest of the grouping as well. As the highest paid driver in the paddock, is he ready for this type of role?

“It’s not much of a difference for me,” Herta said. “Maybe they’ll rely a little bit more on my feedback and I might have to do a little bit more, but for me, it’s kind of business as usual.”

His teammates see it exactly that way as Herta describes. He doesn’t have to be that vocal leader, it’s his data and feedback to what will help them propel their programs forward.

“I’d say it’s a little bit different with Andretti. I think Colton’s way of saying that he’s like kind of brushed off his leadership role is in a sense that he’s not beating on his chest, like I’m a driver; everyone kind of bows down to me. He’s trying to brush that away,” said Kirkwood.

“But at the end of the day, he’s the one with the most experience, and if he does something, we’re kind of going to ask him the questions, be like, hey, Colton, when you tried this, what exactly happened, because he’s the one with the most experience, and he’s been the most successful driver on the team that we’ve had. It’s a sure thing that we’re going to reference off of him, which in a sense makes him kind of the lead driver, yeah.

“It’s definitely a unique situation, but at the end of the day he’s the one with the most experience. He has a right to be kind of in that position. It’s not a — I’ll say it again, it’s not a position that we’re all expecting him to lead us on track or expecting him to lead us off track and lead us with car development. He’s ultimately our main source of contact really.”

DeFrancesco views Herta as a leader to him and one that benefitted his rookie year greatly.

“Very fast. Very, very fast last year, just looking at his data, some of the qualifying laps he was able to put in were very, very impressive, and definitely someone I’ve been able to lean on and learn from for sure in many different ways, and I’m looking forward to putting that to use this year and making a big step forward.”

The team better hope so in order to stop this downward spiral.

Andretti once boasted a talented cast of veterans. From Marco Andretti to Ryan Hunter-Reay to James Hinchcliffe to Alexander Rossi, etc, they always had experience and talent. That’s turned in favor of youth and inexperience.

With such a young lineup, can they truly compete for a title this season as a result?

With 2023 being the same engine package as 2022 and 2022 being the same as 2021 and 2021…you get the picture. Why would the Penske and Ganassi domination stop now in favor of someone like Andretti?

“I think mature is a good word for that. I feel like, yeah, there’s obviously with years of experience, you learn a lot of things, so I feel like us being a younger group, we’ve got to pick it up,” said new addition, Kirkwood. “We’ve got to pick it up really quickly, and I feel like Colton, I think Colton is younger than me, and he’s going to be really the one leading this program for us, and obviously he’s had five years in it, so he’s got a lot of experience, but he’s also still very young.

“But I think he’s done a fantastic job, and that’s something that we need to mature on. I think we need to definitely be at a standpoint that we need to act like these veteran drivers, like Dixon, like Newgarden, like Will, even though we’re so young.

“It is a tougher position for us, but I think we’re very capable of doing it.”

Since 2013, Penske and Ganassi are the only two organizations that have won championships in this series. That’s 10 straight years with each having won 5 titles a piece. Also, if you go back to 2008, this iconic duo has combined to have taken 14 titles in a 15-year span.

Even further, with this Aeroscreen, they’ve won 72% of the races (33-for-46) too and 100% of the championships.

They just went 1-2-3-4-5-6 in the championship last season.

Does anyone buck this trend for the upcoming campaign?

Most years, Andretti Autosport would make the most sense to do so. But, are they truly ready in 2023?

Andretti however, is the only other organization to have won a championship outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps since 2003 though and they have the resources to do so. Are the drivers ready?

Grosjean’s stats with Andretti Autosport weren’t really all that much different than with Dale Coyne Racing w Rick Ware Racing a year prior. In 13 races during his 2021 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. However, a 2nd year with Andretti could propel him to a breakout, especially with Rossi departing.

“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.”

Kirkwood is the all-time winningest Road to Indy driver shifts over to the No. 27 Dallara-Honda in replacing the departing Rossi. We witnessed what Rossi could do with this car and saw just how good Kirkwood can be in his rookie year with AJ Foyt Racing. Now imagine what Kirkwood can do with an Andretti seat in INDYCAR.

Kirkwood also notes that not many rookies get a chance with a top team anyways so paying your dues elsewhere can lead to more success when the opportunity does arise.

“Yeah, I feel like there’s a lot of people that look at it that way,” he said. “If you look at one of the most successful teams being Penske, they don’t take rookies. That’s kind of how it goes.

“To that point, Colton did the same thing. He was with Harding Racing when he started off. He had a very successful season there with them. But it’s nice to have that transition year, right, where you have — where you’re able to hone in on your skills and learn everything, but even with that being said, last year for me, I was fully focused on doing so well with that team and trying to progress them forward and stuff.

“But now that I’ve gotten into this year now and taken this step back and kind of looked at it, I was like, man, I needed a year to learn and try and hone in on my skills and learn all the different things about INDYCAR that you don’t learn in junior formulas. Biggest thing is pit stops and strategy and having two different types of tires. Those are way different than anything I’ve done.”

DeFrancesco got quicker as the season went on and Herta on more cases than not, had a car capable of winning. He just has to put it all together.

Herta had 10 Top-5 finishes in his first 32 starts to his career. The problem was, he only had four podiums among those 10 Top-5 finishes.

2021 was supposed to be that breakout though with 7 Top-5 finishes and 5 of which being on the podium. That gave him more podiums in 16 races that season than in the 32 starts prior. Last year he took a step back in scoring just 4 Top-5 finishes, all podiums. However, he failed to score a single one though in the final seven events.

As he enters 2023 on a backslide from 2022, can he get back to the 2021 level but be more consistent in the process? If he wants to be a champion he better.

Since 2016, all but one champion had a podium finish in 50% or more of their starts throughout a season. Josef Newgarden had a 41% podium rate in 2019. Other than that, everyone else has been around the 50% mark. Will Power was 9-for-17 in that category last season.

That’s entirely what Herta is missing.

The thing is, it’s not like he hasn’t been capable. It’s just turning solid days into podiums and he’s fine.

2021: The Indy 500 he qualified second but faded to 16th. Belle Isle 1 he was in the top five and going for a podium before a caution flipped the field. He finished 14th. In Belle Isle 2, he was running second but faded to fourth in the closing laps. Mid-Ohio saw him go from a podium to 13th. Nashville saw a dominating weekend end in a crash and 19th. World Wide Technology Raceway saw a top two finish and maybe even a win end in a broken drive shaft and a 18th place result. He was eighth in Portland.

2022: Long Beach Pole (bad 1st pit sequence 1st to 3rd, crash pushing hard to pit lane on 2nd stop), Carb Day flip, Mid-Ohio crew kept him out instead of pitting coming to a yellow, INDY GP in Aug. Gear box while leading.

That’s the difference right now in making him a champion, because he was already there before those problems occurred. The next logical goal from that would be turning podiums into more wins too.

That’s why I’m not as low on Andretti as others may be.

“Very much so. We all know each other quite well,” DeFrancesco said of the team being young but also using that as a bonding role too. “We’re all very familiar with each other. Romain included. We’re there to do the best job we can for Andretti Autosport and to move ourselves up the grid, and I think we’ve all looked at things and analyzed things from the off-season, and I think we’ve found quite a few interesting things. I think we’ll have a good team dynamic and look forward to moving up forward this year.”

Kirkwood said last year for the team, even though he wasn’t a part of it, just didn’t align right.

“It just seems like things, stars needed to align a little bit better for them last year, whether it was a pit stop mistake here or a small error here or a wreck here, whatever it might have been, it kind of hindered them from winning a lot more races than I think they should have,” he says.

“I think the team has recognized that, and I think we’re very much on our “A” game to make sure that these small little mistakes don’t happen.

“Yeah, and that’s ultimately going to be the goal, right, because the fundamentals are there.

“We know we’re going to have a fast car at a lot of tracks. Obviously the street courses are probably a strong suit for Andretti Autosport as well as like Indy GP and whatnot, so we expect to be extremely fast there and be able to win races, but we need to make sure we get all the fundamentals together and make sure the stars align, but that’s within our control, too.

“That’s the important thing.”

Felix Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Arrow McLaren

Question: Too Many New Hires?

Arrow McLaren has rebranded, has brought in new faces for the pit box and engineering and added a 3rd full-time car. The question is, does adding that 3rd car help propel the program forward or hinder them?

“I think it always depends on what driver, what’s the dynamic of the group, all that,” Felix Rosenqvist said on adding a third team to the mix. “But my feeling is that it’s been very good. We had a chance to hang out quite a lot with Alex. I think he’s well-integrated at this point. A couple days in the simulator, a couple days at the shop. I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato.

“On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver is different. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way. I think everyone in the team knows how me and Pato operate at this point, our differences from driver to driver.

“It will really be interesting to see what Alex thinks about the car, how we work. Especially here at Thermal because that’s when we have time to look into operational things, bigger picture things that maybe we can improve as a team. We’re very open to listen to him, hear what he has to say. Obviously he comes from a lot of success at Andretti.

“Yeah, we’re super excited to have him on board.”

It’s no secret, the speed is already there for this team. Both Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist were constantly in the top 4 rows in qualifying a year ago. The problem is, that they weren’t always finishing there and weren’t fully utilizing their early track position to turn that into podiums and wins.

O’Ward has had two wins in each of the last two seasons. The Mexican star also has had 9 podiums in that same two-year span (5 in 2021, 4 in 2022). Out of his 8 Top-5 finishes a year ago, only four of them landed on the podium.

When quantifying that with qualifying, it becomes more puzzling. In O’Ward’s case, he had 13 starts of 7th or better (10 being 5th or better) over the course of the final 14 races in 2022. He only had 4 podiums to show for it.

Also, he has to get better on natural road courses too. On them a year ago, he won Barber, was 19th and 12th respectively at Indy, 26th at Road America, 24th in Mid-Ohio, 4th in Portland and 8th in Laguna Seca.

Rosenqvist was in a similar boat in these stats. Now you add Rossi to the mix. Does Rossi help propel them forward or is that too many drivers with something to prove under one roof?

“I’ve been positively surprised,” said Rosenqvist of the early addition of Rossi. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in INDYCAR. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, it’s been super nice, super kind. I think, as I said before, it fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where me and Pato are kind of like, Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

O’Ward agreed.

“He’s been great to have around,” he said of Rossi. “We’ve all really enjoyed the Content Days, the media that we’ve done with the team. I think Felix hit it spot on; he’s in the middle. I think I’m here, Alex is here.

“At the end of the day, INDYCAR, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want rather than like, for example, in Formula 1, this is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car. In INDYCAR it’s very different where you can really tailor and customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I know he likes it to be able to point well. From experience, I wasn’t at Andretti seven years like Alex was, but from my experience, it was an extremely strong car in the rear.

“I feel like our car is very different to that. I’m curious to see what he thinks and how he kind of develops where we can find some more time.

“I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us, right?

“It’s been great. He’s been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

The other part of this is, what happens if and when adversity strikes?

O’Ward has made now qualms about it that he eventually wants to become a F1 driver. In order to prove himself worthy of that, he has to be more successful here. He knows that. The team knows that.

Rosenqvist is auditioning for a new job because he knows his time is limited with McLaren and that Alex Palou is coming in 2024. So he too has something to prove.

“I think it went pretty well, to be honest,” he said on how he handled last year’s uncertainty. “I think I handled it probably as good as I could. That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team, not only in Arrow McLaren but my 6 car I think is going to be strong this year. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team to go and perform.

“I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”

Rossi also has something to prove. He wants to show Andretti that they were holding him back and also wants to win a championship before it’s too late.

“I hope so,” Rossi said of a potential breakout year this season. “I mean, it’s a fantastic organization whose results speak for themselves. I think what they’ve done the past couple of years is very impressive. They’re a great organization with great partners and great people. Getting to work now with GM and Chevy has been pretty cool as well, to see what they’re doing, how they’re helping push the program forward.

“Like I said, it’s been a lot of conversations and things in theory. We don’t really know anything until we get on track. But from where we sit right now, we’re very excited about what’s to come.”

Knowing all of this, how does this team respond to any sort of adversity in 2023? It’s INDYCAR. It’s difficult. It’s going to happen. Can all three drivers and all three teams come together to rally to make a championship push or does it become every man for himself?

Which is why I caution if there’s too many new faces in this one place. That can sometimes hinder the growth forward. All three drivers talked about how it’s almost like having to wear a name tag every day inside the walls of the company because of how many new people are truly there.

“Honestly, the biggest one is people, just learning who does what and what everyone’s kind of roles are, experience levels, who you need to go to for help on whatever issue you may have. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Rossi told me on the main challenge of changing teams.

 “I still think it was very difficult. Every day you’re still trying to fill little roles here and there.”

O’Ward agreed about the new hires but says he trusts the team will ensure that it’s not a distraction.

“A lot of new faces. A lot, a lot of new faces. I’m still in the process of learning all the names,” he says.

“It’s so cool to see, we’re all growing. There’s been big steps each year. I feel like in terms of personnel this year, it has been a very big one. One reason being probably because of the third car, just the team is growing.

“It’s great to see. It’s great to see everybody’s enthusiasm. Everybody’s here for that one goal, right? We all put so much time and sacrifice and energy into making these race cars go quicker.

“I feel like it’s been so hard to find people in all departments I feel like. From talking to not just the people in our team, but from other drivers, other friends, they’re like, Man, it’s hard to find people.

“I trust the team. I think the group of people that are in charge, seeing who joins the team, seeing who comes about, I think they know exactly what we need, and I trust they’re going to make the right decisions.

“Honestly, from what I’ve seen, there’s so much talent. There were already so much talent in the group. I feel like so much more has been added on which is just going to help us to really get us where we want to be.

“We as drivers put it into: how can we maximize it? Just really, really excited to get this season underway.”

Rossi and Rosenqvist did each note that the key to expedite this learning process up is Gavin Ward. He’s the glue that’s going to hold this all together.

“Ultimately I think the brand is synonymous with a lot of things, and performance is one. Like I said, in terms of Gavin’s leadership style, maximizing people and encouraging people to bring ideas to the table, kind of have that diversity that exists and is so often overlooked in motorsports sometimes, to have opinions come from all different aspects of the team. I think that really encourages people to come.

“I think Zak also kind of leads the charge in that. It’s pretty amazing to me with how easy he is how involved he is with every aspect of the INDYCAR organization, the F1 organization, but like his sports car program, I don’t know how he’s in so many places at once seemingly.

“He makes an effort to kind of keep everyone up to date from top to bottom as to where things are, what the current objectives are and what’s future looks like.

“I think Gavin kind of feeds off that and has a similar style as well.”

Rosenqvist agreed.

“I mean, it’s a big team at this point. The difference when you change one person to another, it’s obviously less the bigger the team is,” he said.

“I think Gavin is good at trying to make every individual perform their best. Might be some kind of a culture difference there where instead of trying to change people — I’m not saying that’s what Taylor did, but I think Gavin in general is very interested in the individual performance of each guy or girl to make sure everyone is maximizing their skills. Maybe someone is better at this position, maybe someone’s in the wrong position. You can swap them out for different jobs and things like that. I think he’s very into that, kind of the lineup of the team is his little hustle that he’s trying to improve.

“Obviously there’s millions of other things that he’s in charge of. Honestly, I don’t really know about that. He’s been very good with me. We’ve had quite a lot of chats. He’s trying to help out if there’s anything you need. I think that goes for the same with everyone else in the team.”

Ed Carpenter Racing/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Meyer Shank Racing

Question: Will internal personnel changes help teams move forward?

The same question for the three teams as they makeup 3 of the 4 organizations to run it back with the same driver lineup as they had in 2022. The other 6 teams have had driver changes. Not for these three, however. In an era of so much parity, does having the same drivers back stand out as a benefit forward?

These three teams hope so. None of their 7 combined drivers finished in the top 10 in points a year ago. Does running it back give them a leg up though?

2023 will serve as Conor Daly’s 10th season in the series. A lot of those have been part-time, but several have all seen him race a full slate. However, the 2022 and 2023 seasons will mark the first time of his racing career that he’s driven full-time for the same team in back-to-back years.

In 2009, he ran Star Mazda for Andersen Racing. A year later, he came back to the series but with Juncos. For 2011, he ran part-time in Indy Lights for Sam Schmidt. He also ran full-time in GP3 overseas for Carlin. He remained in that series for 2012 but with Lotus. A year later, he came to GP3 for a third season but this time with ART Grand Prix. He also that season came back to run the Indy 500 with Foyt and an Indy Lights race with Team Moore.

2014 he was in GP2 with Venezuela GP Lazarus. 2015 he came back home to run part-time for Coyne as well as for Schmidt. That allowed a full season with DCR in 2016. In 2017 he ran full time for Foyt. 2018 was back part-time for DCR/Thom Burns as well as Harding. 2019 saw him race for Andretti, Carlin and Schmidt. 2020 and 2021 was still part-time roles with Carlin and ECR. 2022 led him back full-time with a singular team at ECR. He’s back in 2023.

Stability is what he has now and it’s amazing what one can do with it.

He’ll be teamed up with Rinus VeeKay who is expected to have a breakout year. He’s inching closer and closer. Yes, he has a win and yes he had a pole in each of the last 2 seasons, but I feel like he’s not yet maximized his potential. 4 podiums and 8 total top 5’s say he’s not been there yet. This year is his year.

In his sophomore season (2021) he had 6 top 10 finishes in the 1st 7 races run including that win at Indy. Over the final 8 races though, he never finished inside the top 15. I wondered how much his broken shoulder had something to do with the dip in results.

This past year, he had a similar start. VeeKay had 3 top 10’s in the 1st 4 races run including a pole at Barber and another front row for Indy. He dipped though after.

He crashed and finished last in the Indy 500. He was 16th and 17th respectively afterwards at Belle Isle and Road America.

Once we got to July however, he started coming out of the valley again and heating back up. 3 of his next 6 finishes had been back in the top 10 again, each in the top 6 at that, which has caused him to rise back up to 11th in points. His best career points finish was 12th last year.

That’s why with his future solidified, it’s time to use that comfort and continue the ascension. Josef Newgarden is the best comparison. The Tennessee native spent 5 combined years between Sarah Fisher Hartman and Ed Carpenter Racing. Years 1-3 were with SFH with 2015 the combined year with SFH and ECR. 2016 saw him run for exclusively ECR.

His 3rd season he had 1 podium, 2 top 5’s, 7 top 10’s and 20 laps led. VeeKay has 1 podium, 3 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s and 94 laps led this year to which is Year No. 3 for him.

Newgarden’s 4th year is to when he broke out. He had 2 wins, 4 podiums, 5 top 5’s, 9 top 10’s and 345 laps led. That’s why Year No. 5 for him is to what led Newgarden to Penske for Year No. 6.

Newgarden’s 2016 season read 1 win, 4 podiums, 6 top 5 finishes, 11 top 10’s and 313 laps led. He went from 7th in points in 2015 to 4th in 2016.

If VeeKay continues on this trajectory, he could be in a similar situation Newgarden was in by time his final contract was up with ECR.

Similar thing for RLL. Graham Rahal is back for his 17th season and really ended 2022 on a high note. He had 5 top 10 starts in his last 9 starts to the season in comparison to 3 in first 7. The Ohio native also had scored 5 top 10’s in the last 8 races at that too. His teammate Christian Lundgaard had 7 top 11 finishes over the last 10 races on the year himself. By comparison, he had just 3 in the first 7. Lundgaard 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. Jack Harvey returns for a second crucial season.

While their driver lineup is the same, they made some organizational changes to help propel them 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.”

What about MSR? They too made some tweaks to the personnel.

“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.”

Helio Castroneves is back for his third season with them while Simon Pagenaud is back for Year 2. Castroneves is after that 5th Indy 500 crown while Pagenaud is after more consistency.

Both started 2022 strong. Castroneves had a pair of top 10 finishes in the opening six races including one at Indy. Pagenaud had six top 10’s in the first nine races including a runner-up in the GMR Grand Prix and a top 10 too in the Indy 500.

From Iowa on, it tailed off for the veteran duo. Pagenaud had 1 top 15 over the final 7 races including 5 of the 7 being 20th or worse. Castroneves had 2 top 15’s over the final 8 races with a best finish among them of 13th in Nashville.

The former Penske teammates return and have the speed and ability to have a full season like they started 2022 off with.

It all starts with this week’s test to help them grow.

“We’ve done a lot of work on simulators with the designs, several packages we think might be better for the problems that we had last year,” Pagenaud notes. “One of the main issue was tire wear, which was my main problem in races.

“We are going to evaluate what we found on the simulator and make sure it translates in real life. I’m hoping it really does because with two days of testing, if it doesn’t work, then I’m going to have the same problem I had last year.”

Pagenaud said that the past preseason tests were at Sebring and that last year’s worked well on the street courses but held them back on natural road courses. This year’s test is on a natural road course but not one that they’ll race on. What’s that mindset coming into this year’s edition then?

“We went to test last year twice. It translated to some tracks but not all the tracks,” said the Frenchman. “It translated to a street course where we were extremely strong, but didn’t translate to the road course.

“We’re going to work with the road course tire here, which is better for us because that’s tire wear, which we’re having a big issue with. I have to remind, Firestone brings a different type of tire for each track. It makes it very difficult for us when we go testing to figure out what the tire really need.

“The tire is the most important thing on the race car, especially when you’re in a series like INDYCAR right now that is so close. We know the car so well that the margin for improvements are very small.

“If you can just extract a little bit more out of the tire, you’re going to have a better advantage. Penske did that last year, they figured out what it was. We didn’t. The goal for us is to figure that out with the little built of testing we get.

“It’s tough. It’s the difference between sports cars and INDYCAR is sports cars you can test as much as you want, like we did this winter. You kind of know what you have going into the first race.

“INDYCAR you get two days. What you got is what you got. That makes it very difficult and very reliant on the development that has been done by the engineers.”

David Malukas was flying under the radar last year in Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Dale Coyne Racing

Question: Are they too young?

With the addition of Sting Ray Robb (No. 51 Dallara-Honda) as a teammate to David Malukas in the No. 18 HMD entry, the Dale Coyne Racing team will have the youngest driver lineup in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, with both drivers born in September of 2001. Is that too young?

I don’t necessarily think so.

“Yeah, I think we’re the youngest duo, right? It’s definitely a different dynamic from what I had last year with Takuma, but I think it’s going to be good,” Malukas said.

“From what I’ve heard, his driving style is very similar to mine. He used a very similar setup in Sebring when he tested. I think we’ll work very well together, and I’ve had little moments where we’ve raced with each other in the past, so I’m really excited to get the season forward. It’s just interesting to me that I’m supposedly now the veteran of the group. I definitely don’t feel like one.

“Now that it’s two young guns, there’s going to be two young guys trying to prove themselves. I think it’s going to help a lot with the both of us kind of pushing each other. Our driving styles, like I said earlier, are very similar, so we’ll be able to piggy-back and use each other’s data.

“But the environment with the team is all going to be roughly the same. I think the way we’ve done it previously, I don’t think it’s going to create conflict, and if anything, I think it’ll just create, I’d say, a more humorous environment with two young people and our younger jokes being able to make sense to each other.”

Malukas is going to be a star and I’d honestly be surprised if he doesn’t find victory lane this upcoming season. The sophomore driver was the top finishing rookie in the Indy 500 last year and while he only had 3 top 10 finishes, the speed was there. He had qualified in the top 10 5 times and showed the pace that it takes to win. Most of the time it was slower pit stops which took him from top 10 results to top 15. Now that he’s had a full year under his belt, watch out.

For Robb, this season may not show a ton of success, but he’s proven that if given a couple of years, he can thrive too.

Robb is only 21, but he’s been in the Road to Indy ranks since 2017. He spent four seasons in the Indy Pro 2000 Series, two in Indy Lights and now makes the jump to INDYCAR. He’s improved every year which leads me to believe that if he’s given multiple seasons, he can eventually excel.

He was 6th in points in 2017, gained his first podium in 2018, had 6 podiums and a fourth place finish in the standings in 2019 and won his first race and championship in 2020. He then moved up to Indy Lights in 2021 and finished 8th in points. A year later, he improved six spots in the standings to 2nd including a win and eight podiums.

While 2023 could be a learning curve, 2024 could be a season to where he shines.

“Yeah, we’re the two young guns. We’re like little babies out there compared to everyone else.” Robb said.

“But I think that we’re ambitious because of that, and I think Dale has that ambition, as well. He’s very tied to his team. I was doing pit stop practices the other day and he was simulating a guy doing tear-offs, with his stopwatch in hand timing everyone and critiquing everyone. I think that’s what is required of a good team leader.

“To have his experience along with our rookie experience, I think that we can learn a lot from Dale, and having him so close to the team just allows us to utilize that knowledge much more.

“So I think that because we’re young, we’re pliable, and that he can kind of form us into drivers he wants us to be a little bit. And obviously David is already doing that very well. He’s almost rookie of the year last year, finished on the podium, and is probably going to continue to be on that path this year.

“I think there are bigger teams than Dale’s team is, but they don’t maybe have the flexibility that he does. He may not have the full resources, but he can change directions and adapt very quickly.”

Also, with Robb joining the 2nd DCR entry, it’s the 10th straight season a new driver is in this ride. It all started in 2014 with Justin Wilson, then in 2015 and 2016 a cast of drivers, 2017 was Ed Jones, 2018 Zachary Claman De Melo and Pietro Fittipaldi and Santino Ferrucci shared the seat, 2019 was Ferrucci full-time in it, 2020 was Alex Palou, 2021 was Romain Grosjean and Fittipaldi and 2022 was Takuma Sato. 2023 the keys are handed to Robb.

Callum Ilott has shined in his first foray into the NTT INDYCAR Series. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Juncos Hollinger Racing

Question: Will 2nd car help take next step forward?

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.”

For Canapino, this is going to be a wide eyed experience. A difficult part of his learning curve is the fact that the 32-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.”

Kyle Kirkwood leads Dalton Kellett at Indy last year. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

AJ Foyt Racing

Question: Does bringing in 2 new drivers force them to take another step back?

For the 6th time in the last 7 years a new driver (Benjamin Pedersen) is in the 2nd AJ Foyt car. Same for the primary (No. 14) – Santino Ferrucci. How much does all this driver turnover cost them on track performance? Does having 2 new drivers in 2023 force them to take another step back?

They hope not. See, for this once storied organization, they’re going to keep tweaking with the whole structure until they can find some footing. It’s something that has escaped them in the last several years and for this time around, they feel like they’ve got the right people in place.

There’s been some new hires not only driving the cars, but in house too.

New faces in new places were capped off by highly respected veteran engineer Michael Cannon joining the team this year. Cannon will lead the team’s race engineers Daniele Cucchiaroni and Roberto Garcia along with drivers Santino Ferrucci and rookie Benjamin Pedersen.

“It was an opportunity to do something that interests me,” said Cannon. “I know that Larry has been working hard to move the team up the grid. I saw this opportunity to both help him and Santino and obviously Benjamin Pedersen who’s coming on board. I want to see if I can make a difference here.”

Cannon’s career spans five decades dating back to the early 1980s.

In saying that, can this new group end a near decade long winless drought for AJ Foyt Racing?

Takuma Sato is the last one to win for Foyt and this car in general back in Long Beach for the 2013 season. It’s winless in the last 164 races. Can Pedersen and Ferrucci change that tune next season?

The drought is nearing a decade this April.

It will be somewhat tough to go from a team that made up the bottom of the standings and immediately jump to mid pack.

“We just needed some organization,” Ferrucci said on Tuesday’s Day 1 of INDYCAR Content Day. “I had this chat with Larry back a while ago. The team has all the fundamentals to really put a good car out there.

“If you look back at the results, they’re really not a reflection of the actual speed of the car, in my opinion. I think that having someone like Michael Cannon come onboard to really help organize this team, put them on the right track, give them as what he calls Racing 101. We needed some consistency. I think that was the biggest thing. That’s what we’re hoping to really find.

“I’d like to see this team back inside the top 10 consistently, then go from there. We got to be a little bit realistic. It is tough coming off of where the team has finished in the last couple years. We definitely can see a lot of rapid growth hopefully throughout the winter.”

Pedersen may be a rookie, but he also had a front row seat to seeing the team last year. The plan was always for him to be a driver for them in 2023, so he spent most of his weekend’s in 2022 shadowing the team. He says this new energy brought to this team in the offseason is a great start to improving off of a struggling year for them last season.

“It’s been very exciting times at AJ Foyt Racing, new people, new organization, new structure, new methods. People are so hungry right now to be there and to improve,” said the rookie driver on Tuesday. “I think it’s been a lot of time, but before my time there, of people wanting it but not necessarily knowing how to get there. But now there is a very good path with as a team how we can accomplish things that we have as goals.

“People are staying extra during the weekends to practice pit stops when they don’t have to be. People don’t have to be there to help them are showing up to help with that, and it’s just really special to be a part of.”

Pedersen says that the time with the team last year was so valuable and made him feel already like a piece of the team. The only thing he wasn’t doing for them was actually driving the car itself.

“Every team meeting I was part of. You know, being on the timing stand, seeing strategy come into play, it was a really big help, and kind of made me feel like I got a season’s worth of experience without driving the car,” he continued.

“And the only difference is now I’m driving the car. Strategy meetings, everything like that will feel very similar, and I am very grateful to the team for letting me be a part of that last year, and can’t wait to do it now for real and as an official driver for them and working together.”

Larry Foyt said last Fall that he doesn’t expect to necessarily win right away. It’s going to take some time still to gel. However, there are certain places that he does feel to where they can excel and maximize their growth quicker than others.

“Well, what I’d say is we know there are certain types of tracks that we feel we should show well,” Foyt said. “I think for us our strengths are certainly road and street courses. As always, we put an emphasis on the Indy 500, so we’ll continue to work on that program and make sure that we can do the best we can at Indianapolis.

“Then it’s, okay, where do we improve. I think permanent road courses have been a struggle for us, especially smoother tracks, so we’re certainly deep diving into damper programs to see what we’re lacking to make grip on that type of circuit.

“Again, a lot of rules aren’t changing from last year, so I think everyone tries to build on what they’re doing well, make it even better, but also what are weaknesses and how we make that better.

“The engineers have a lot of work over the winter to do on that, and that’s kind of our focus.”

If not this year, then surely in 2024. It takes time to gel and I’ll give 2023 as a learning season for Ferrucci, Pedersen and Foyt. Even saying so, Ferrucci is so good, so fast, that I can’t see him not showing flashes of contention in some races. 2024 he could be there more consistent.

It’s more about Ferrucci taking this car and maximizing it as a veteran.

“The tough thing was there were plenty of races I think we showed some speed, and we couldn’t capitalize,” Foyt continued. “We had too many accidents. At Texas Kyle was running well and we have a crash. You get kind of beat down because you start — you’re fixing cars all the time, and the guys get tired, and it’s kind of a domino effect.

“It certainly made it tough, and all of a sudden you’re like we’re back in the points and we’re trying to climb out of it, and it certainly was frustrating and disappointing because we did come in with a lot of optimism.

“But that’s motor racing. You don’t give up. None of the guys gave up, kept going, and even I know Kyle was frustrated, but through all of our talks, he just wanted to push on.

“That was just unfortunate, but that’s part of racing, and sure, we wanted more out of it, but that’s the way it went, and now we start to where we’re looking forward, not backwards.”

Ferrucci agreed in what he saw out of this group.

“I mean, the biggest thing is when I talked to Larry, spent a lot of time on the phone with him, talked about this,” he said. “The car has shown speed this year, without a doubt. It’s had its moments of brilliance. It’s about how to make it consistent.

“The car also didn’t finish a lot of races because he had a rookie in the car. Bringing the team back into consistency. Are we going to show up in St. Pete and light the world on fire? Absolutely not. Are we going to start with realistic goals, put the car in the top 10, seeing how consistent we can be? Yeah, without a doubt.

“It’s going to be a new team for me. It’s going to be completely reorganized by the time we start our winter prep, which has already started. I’m now about join.

“It’s one of those things where we’re going to get the most out of this if we stay realistic and we stay consistent. Talking to Larry about it, I think we can bring in a couple of good engineers, me being based in Texas, I can spend a lot of time with the team, make sure our pit stops are good, building the cars to top quality.

“Like I said, all we got to do is go out there and perform and see what it gives us, go from there.”

It marks the 2nd time in 4 years that Foyt will roll out a completely new driver lineup. Foyt says that the turnover of that magnitude doesn’t have as much of an impact as it once would have.

“Well, I think what we’re seeing is without the rules changing as much right now, I think it is different back in a time where maybe there’s a new chassis or some really new rule developments. I think everyone has brought this car down to such a level — we’ve had virtually the same car here for a little while.

“So your basic setups, you’re not going to reinvent the whole wheel. You do have driver preferences, so whether it’s Kanaan or Bourdais or Kirkwood, they do have some little things that you’re going to have to tune around the driver.

“I’m not really that concerned about it because I think you see these kids — Indy Lights drivers come in and do really well. We saw what Malukas did, we saw Kyle show speed plenty of times. Veterans are great, but rookies coming out of Indy Lights have shown really, really well, too, and I think Benjamin is going to jump right in and be just fine.”

Pedersen is only 23. Ferrucci is just 24. Foyt has a young pairing that can last for years if they do this right.

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