In September, Alex Palou claimed his second NTT IndyCar Series championship at Portland International Raceway. At the season’s end one week later, other teams and drivers packed up and headed home to their shops, with a reflective eye on the concluding season and hope for next year. Would fortune improve for the various competitors in the paddock after the mid-summer hammering that Palou put on the field? Some drivers and, in one special case, a sponsor, ended the year feeling good.
With this in mind, let’s examine some of the aspects of the series that are riding high heading into the final stretch of down time before the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg goes green on March 10.
The newly-crowned two-time champion has the best seat in the paddock and is on a roll. Examining his 2021 and 2023 championship seasons, the Spaniard has amassed eight total wins, 18 podiums and 516 laps led. At the Indianapolis 500 in 2021, he garnered a second place-result, losing out to four-time winner Helio Castroneves, and last year a hard-fought fourth after Rinus Veekay hit him in the pits.
These great results are even more remarkable when juxtaposed against his legal issues concerning his contract decisions. Now that he has officially tied his future to Chip Ganassi Racing, he can continue adding to his legacy, which is already rivaling the careers of Will Power, Michael Andretti, and current paddock benchmark, Scott Dixon. Even with his recent success, fingers crossed that NBC doesn’t try to leverage all his previous courtroom escapades into an IndyCar themed Law and Order spin-off.
When Ryan Hunter-Reay found a home at Andretti Global in 2010, winning in his fourth start with the team, there were doubts his program could continue beyond the end of the year. But then DHL signed on in 2011, and the yellow No. 28 debuted at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, finishing 21st. Later in the year, the sponsor got their first win in the series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, adding 11 more through 2015. A two-year winless drought ensued, before Hunter-Reay nabbed his last two checkered flags in 2018.
That was also DHL’s last visit to victory lane. After RHR was replaced with Romain Grosjean, the expectation was that the long-time sponsor would end up in the winner’s circle again, but mishaps and close calls were all that resulted. Now DHL is hopping off the Andretti train and joining another Honda operation – Chip Ganassi Racing and their cast of champion drivers. Palou’s No. 10 will carry the yellow and red DHL font on his car this year, and no doubt will help the logistics company figure out how to transport their logo back to victory lane.
Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin found himself leaping to third in the 2023 points championship after the season finale, claiming the highest finish out of the Captain’s trio. While he won only one race, compared to the three in a breakthrough 2022, he improved his consistency. The season started a bit jagged, but he was one of the two dominant cars at St. Pete and earned his only win in the fourth round at Barber. The Month of May ended up producing his worst results, with a 16th at the GMR Grand Prix and 14th at the Indianapolis 500, the team hit on something in June. Starting at Detroit, he nailed down 11 straight finishes of ninth or better. Nashville almost became his second win, but he settled for a repeat runner-up, as Kyle Kirkwood snookered him at the end.
Entering his fourth season in IndyCar and single-seater open-wheel cars, McLaughlin is no longer just a former Repco Supercars champion trying out IndyCar. He is a rightful challenger against Palou for the 2024 Astor Cup.
The young American David Malukas from Chicago is joining Arrow McLaren Racing after two years with Dale Coyne Racing. This is a significant upgrade in equipment and resources compared to the setting Malukas contested his first two seasons in, as the papaya orange livery cars have been closer to the front than the former DCR Hondas he’s piloted. The timing ended up working out perfectly for the opportunity to get the seat as well, with Callum Ilott’s release from Juncos Hollinger Racing occurring after the fact. With many seats filled and few experienced drivers available, Malukas got the rightful nod for the No. 6. With a team that is in the hunt for the win every weekend, he will have the machinery to prove he belongs.
One of the Rookies
Last year, at the start of the IndyCar season, 2022 Indy NXT champion Linus Lundqvist was without a ride. His misfortune in winning the title in the first year the series was run solely by IndyCar and a smaller advancement prize seemed to derail his graduation to the bigger cars. But that all worked itself out as he landed a ride in Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 after Simon Pagenaud’s accident at Mid-Ohio. A strong run at Nashville, which ended poorly due to a mistake, and a top 12 at the second Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race opened some eyes. In August he signed on to replace Marcus Ericsson in the No. 8 at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Joining a team as a rookie with a pair two-time and six-time champions as teammates requires a load of trust and confidence by ownership in a driver’s skills. Ganassi and his team manager Mike Hull have been around this series a long time and have plucked drivers from unknown or relatively unimpressive results before, consistently finding a future talent. The team did that with Alex Zanardi in 1996, Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999, Dixon in 2002 and most recently with Palou after his introductory season with Dale Coyne. Could Lundqvist be in that same discussion? There is no better team right now to enter into a full season in IndyCar than Ganassi, so the young Swede is in a good spot.
The 2024 NTT IndyCar Series season kicks off with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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