IndyCar 2021 Season Review
The winners and losers of 2021!
It was an historic year for many reasons, with Jimmie Johnson, Romain Grosjean, and Scott McLaughlin joining the sport, however, it was also the year when the 4 time winners club of the Indy 500 got expanded, for the first time in quite a while. That’s before we even talk about the championship fight.
We will go through this team by team, and it is only right we start with Chip Ganassi Racing, given they had an incredible year! 3 of their 4 cars were right in the title fight, securing multiple wins throughout the year, and the other car allowed a 7 time NASCAR champion to get up to speed in the series. Palou was simply flawless all year, which is incredible to see, especially given he had joined a new team. That maturity at a young age will only serve him well for the future, and many more titles will surely come! Don’t forget he nearly won the Indy 500 too! Dixon had a solid year; he just wasn’t quite as strong as we have seen in the past. I doubt it was anything to do with Alex coming into the scene, and he will probably be back to his best next year! Ericsson had a year of two halves really, as before Detroit he wasn’t really doing much, but after that, he was one of the highest scoring drivers in the series. He could be a dark horse in 2022. Johnson could be another one to surprise people next year, I doubt that will be in fighting for wins and titles, yet he could really be a midfield contender moving forwards!
It was a bit of a poor year for Team Penske, some of it was down to mechanical issues, luck too, but also, they just weren’t as fast as they have been. Bearing that in mind, Newgarden did well to finish 2ndin the championship, and continues to be the leader at the team. The mistake at Barber was a big blot on his copy book, and his qualifying performances in Portland and Laguna Seca really hurt him too, otherwise, he did all he could. Power as we have become used to, was able to have glimpses of pace during the year, although it was balanced out with his usual dose of bad luck. Pagenaud you have to admit has slumped on the most part at Team Penske, as despite the odd win since 2017, we normally see him in the midpack, as we had this year. Which is probably why he moved on! When assessing how McLaughlin did this year, you have to remember he came from Stock Car racing basically, and so had a adapt just like Jimmie did. Taking that into account, he has been brilliant, and could really become a star of the sport. Ovals are clearly his forte, and he was even best Penske on some occasions there!
McLaren continued their upward trajectory in IndyCar, as they went from contending for wins last year, to getting wins and going for the title in 2021. As you would expect with a newish team, their main weakness was consistency, as on some tracks they were nowhere at all. If they can fix that, and combine it with a little more experience for Pato, they could be very potent in 2022. Rosenqvist had a tough year, as he clearly had pace at points throughout the year, but was just unable to put it to use. He is lucky that the team isn’t as trigger happy with new drivers as they were in the past.
After a difficult 2020 for Andretti Autosport, they were hoping to get back to where they should be this year. In some ways they did, with Herta scoring multiple wins, and being fairly close to the title fight, however I am sure they still aren’t where they want to be. Colton did at times through the year, show that he still needs to grow as an IndyCar driver, for example at Nashville where he crashed going for the win. Otherwise, he can be pleased with his work. Rossi much like Power, seems to always be on the bad side of luck, although he can be too aggressive at points too. That being said, he is being outperformed by Herta regularly, which I am sure will not please him. Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe spent most of 2021 towards the rear of the field, well off the pace of their teammates, which meant it was no surprise that they were let go at the end of the year.
Meyer Shank Racing had an excellent year, although that success was all really down to 1 race, but it was the best race for it to happen at! The team has been on an upwards trajectory since they joined, with Harvey doing great things for them, including a few podiums. However, it was Castroneves who got them their first win, and in the best way possible! It was a story book way for Helio to get his 4th win at the 500, and a great way to welcome fans back to the speedway! To be fair, the team had pace at places other than Indy, with both Jack and Helio. It is a shame that Harvey is moving on, although with Pagenaud coming in, they could be a real force to be reckoned with in 2022!
Rahal Letterman Lanagan Racing actually had a rather quiet year, with the team getting no wins, instead they were simply being consistent all the way through. That consistency meant that Rahal himself was almost in title contention towards the end of the year, as he continues to maximise what he can do in that car. He often used risky strategies and excellent race management to get himself up the field, which shows how good a driver he is. Sato has always been a driver who blows hot and cold, by that I mean he wins or crashes out a lot. So, with wins beginning to become fewer and farther between, it was the right time for him to leave the team. Lundgaard and Ferrucci did excellent jobs when the 3rd car was run, and do deserve to have some more chances in the future.
If we are being honest, Dale Coyne Racing’s year was made by one man, Romain Grosjean. Jones did have the odd, good performance, but he could not match Romain for the most part, which you would have expected before the season started. It was no surprise either, that Grosjean was able to get up to speed very quickly on road and street courses. He deserved the win at the Indy Road Course Race 1 if we are being honest, he just got unlucky with lapped traffic. The rest of the season, it seemed that it was the car holding him back, which may be why he moved teams for 2022.
Ed Carpenter Racing is no longer the team always battling for top 5’s, like we saw when Newgarden was there, instead their pace is rather sporadic, with them having great pace at some races, and being at the back in other cases. This is evidenced by Veekay scoring his first ever win, but also finishing around 15th for many other races. He is clearly talented, and I feel that the car set up is a lot of the problem. Daly did a solid job for the team, yet was not spectacular, although with better luck in races like the Indy 500, it could have been so different for him! I think it is time for Carpenter to hang up his gloves to be honest, as whilst he was an excellent oval racer, he hasn’t won in a long time, and often makes mistakes nowadays!
In a similar vein to Dale Coyne Racing, AJ Foyt Racing was successful all down to Bourdais really. He did his job exactly as the team hoped he would, by coming in and using his experience to guide them back towards the front! Sadly, luck was something they severely lacked; in fact, it was probably the worst of the field. They were punted from behind twice, and got on the wrong side of cautions often too! Kellett in his first full year, never really showed any pace, and I would be surprised if he returns next year!
Carlin, as a one car team, unsurprisingly found it tough to compete with the other bigger teams. We did see the odd glimpse of pace, yet I wouldn’t give them much hope for the future sadly. Juncos Racing returned for the last few races of the year with Ilott, and given their lack of experience, did a pretty good job. Callum is a really good talent, and they could find themselves right in the midpack next year, fighting for top 10s. Paretta Autosport only raced once this year, for the Indy 500, but they showed their strength and ambition, and will surely be back for more in the future. Top Gun Racing are in a similar position, and if they put together a bigger schedule for next year, could have a better chance of doing well!
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