Home Editor's Picks 2021 IndyCar Preview #4 – Teams Aim For Series Dominance

2021 IndyCar Preview #4 – Teams Aim For Series Dominance

by Brian Ledford

This is the fourth of five articles that previews the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series. Each day this week, Arch City Media features an aspect of the upcoming season for the popular franchise.

MONDAY- 2021 OVERVIEW    TUESDAY – CHAMP HOPEFULS  WEDNESDAY – NEWCOMERS

What makes every season interesting for the NTT IndyCar Series is not only the race-by-race results for a calendar year but also the “bragging rights” that is claimed by the respective teams as the season progresses.

Photo Credit: Chris Owens

It is now commonplace for a full-time IndyCar team to field three if not four drivers for a race weekend. It is the brand equity that sometimes leads fans to root for a particular driver on race day.

2021 will maintain that competitiveness as respective teams have simultaneously secured returning drivers to the fold or have smartly-signed seasoned drivers to fill part-time roles.

At the forefront in Chip Ganassi Racing, who spotlights defending IndyCar champ Scott Dixon as the series’ preeminent driver. He is one of three Ganassi drivers that will race all 17 IndyCar events this season, which begins Sunday at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Photo Credit: Chris Owens

Marcus Ericsson, who finished twelfth in the standings, and Alex Palou, a sophomore transfer from Dale Coyne Racing, will also race all events for Ganassi this season.

However, team intrigue is heightened as seven-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson is slotted to race all 13 non-oval events in 2021 while the No. 48 Honda will be helmed at the remaining oval races by newly-drafted Tony Kanaan, a veteran IndyCar champ.

“We have such a nice mix of different drivers with different backgrounds and experiences,” said Ericsson. “If we can get it all together, we’re going to be a really strong team. That’s why I love IndyCar so much.”

Wanting to regain supreme franchise placement is Team Penske, whose four-car set-up is paced by last year’s runner-up, and two-time series champ, Josef Newgarden. His strong finishes that wrapped up 2020 certainly gives optimism to Roger Penske’s new campaign.

Photo Credit: INDYCAR – James Black

Combined with veteran Will Power, who finished fifth last year, certainly gives the brand a solid one-two punch. 2016 IndyCar series winner Simon Pagenaud provides a powerful third car as he netted one win last year in a shortened schedule.

Highly-touted IndyCar rookie Scott McLaughlin, a three-time Super Cars champ, rounds out the quartet and early signs point that a 1-2-3 Penske finish at races this season might not be a far-fetched conclusion.

“I think at this time and place, I think a four-car team will give us more strengths than weaknesses at the moment,” assessed Newgarden. “IndyCar is so tight nowadays. This is the closest form of racing that I see on the planet at the moment. To try to find an edge on this competition, it takes a tremendous amount of work.”

Andretti Autosport, owned by former CART series champion Michael Andretti, contains three primary cars, topped by Colton Herta, who finished third in points in 2020. Longtime drivers Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay also fields Hondas for the group.

Photo Credit: INDYCAR – Chris Owens

Andretti has controlled interest in cars manned by veterans James Hinchcliffe, who will race all 17 races for Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, and Marco Andretti, who will enter his No. 98 Honda in six races in 2021.

“I think the biggest thing is that we pressure each other,” said Herta. “(We) put pressure on each other to perform and push each other very hard. I would argue it’s the best driver lineup throughout the whole series.

“We have four really good (full-time) drivers. We’ve shown we have really good cars. Now just have to capitalize on that.”

Arrow McLaren SP, the Indianapolis-based team owned by former driver Sam Schmidt alongside Ric Peterson, is primed to push their brand to the next level with a pair of competitive cars. 21-year-old Patricio O’Ward, who finished fourth in points last season paces the group while Felix Rosenqvist, who won his first IndyCar race last season for Chip Ganassi, joined the fold.

“Hopefully this year we’re going to see it,” said O’Ward of the team’s optimism. “I know there has been a lot of just hard work and trying to find anything that (the team) can do to make the cars go better and make my life easier.”

Juan Pablo Montoya – Photo Credit: INDYCAR – Chris Owens

For a nostalgic twist, racing veteran Juan Pablo Montoya will compete in a pair of May events for the team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the GMR Grand Prix and the Indy 500.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s two-car line-up is unchanged as Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato return to their seats for all 17 races.

“I think expectations are naturally high,” said Sato, who won last year’s Indy 500. “People are really excited for our team and for ourselves. I personally look forward to returning to the Indy 500 as defending champion, of course. The team is preparing as good as last year and hopefully, we can compete in very, very high level.”

A.J. Foyt Enterprises fields a pair of Chevys at every race, manned by Sebastien Bourdais and Dalton Kellett, while J.R. Hildebrand and Charlie Kimbell makes May appearances at Indy.

“I think there is a very good atmosphere,” said Bourdais of the team dynamic. “Everybody is enjoying that perspective. The fact that there is seemingly something to go to the track and fight for, it doesn’t take much to get a positive dynamic.”

Early claims of team dominance will be at the forefront following Sunday’s results. Per custom, the ensuing narrative will be intriguing to follow.

Coverage of Sunday’s season opener airs on NBC (locally KSDK-TV, Channel 5) beginning at 2 pm Central.

For more information on the series, visit their official website.

COMING UP FRIDAY: The first race of the NTT Indycar Series launches Sunday. We’ll get the perspective from those that will make a push for the checkered flags.

Arch City Media will have coverage of the series with previews and recaps of every event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By trade, he is a six-time, regional Emmy Award-winning news videographer/editor for KTVI/KPLR-TV. By hobby, he is an announcer and digital content producer for St. Louis-based Arch Rival Roller Derby. Also a webcast announcer for post-season roller derby tournaments on wftda.tv. Yep, this Illinoisan primarily writes about derby, covering Arch Rival, the St. Chux Derby Chix and the STL GateKeepers men's league. He also writes about St. Louis SLAM Women's Football, St. Louis Lions women's soccer and other sports topics.

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