Nine different winners from six countries. Seventeen races saw 5,881 passes produced. There were 98,145 laps turned and 186,224 miles of racing covered, with a 41-year-old champion crowned:Team Penske’s Will Power.
The 2022 edition of the IndyCar Series was a wild affair filled with some of the best racing in motorsport, and after a five-month slumber, the American open-wheel championship is ready to return this weekend and launch its new season on the Floridian streets of St. Petersburg. Topping last year’s numbers will be hard, but with the biggest full-time field in more than a decade, 27 drivers across 10 teams will have 17 races to stake their claim to the next IndyCar title as the calendar runs from March through the September season finale at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.
IndyCar’s youth revolution ready to take down the old guard
“I think it’s going to be the year of the driver,” 1986 Indy 500 winner and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal told ESPN. “You’ve got a crop of young drivers who are really exciting and really starting to show the old guard that a new generation is here and ready to be heard. We’ve got a young guy on our team, Christian Lundgaard, who is pretty special. Pato O’Ward, he isn’t a new guy, but he’s still a very young guy and he’s already been challenging the best in the series.
“There’s a kid like Callum Ilott, who came from the Ferrari Formula One development team, and then there’s the young American kid Kyle Kirkwood, who’s with Michael Andretti and he’s certainly shown pace. The new generation, they’re gonna be a threat.”
Rahal was in a similar situation when he arrived on the IndyCar scene in the early 1980s. Pitted against the series’ long-established heroes like A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, the Ohioan would go on to earn three IndyCar championships while establishing himself as one of the greatest drivers of his era. By the time he retired in 1998, he was being hunted by the O’Wards and Kirkwoods of the day.
“It’s a customary thing for the ‘senior citizens’ to reach a point in their careers like I did where the new generation wants to take over, and you get these great years where the established guys aren’t ready to hand over the keys to the kingdom so there’s this generational divide that clashes,” said Rahal, who has a documentary on his career in the works for release later in the year.
“We’ve got some guys in their 40s like [six-time IndyCar champion] Scott Dixon and [two-time title winner] Will Power who still have that ability to compete for championships. And believe me, they aren’t trying to give the kids an easy time. There’s some great drivers between them in age and experience. Alexander Rossi‘s getting a fresh start with the Arrow McLaren team and he’s someone who can win at any time. My son Graham [Rahal] … people think he’s 40 because he’s been around forever, but he’s only 34, and I think he’s going to have a great year. The young versus old, and guys in the middle who want to take them down, it’s gonna be a hell of a show. I can tell you that.”
Who are the title contenders?
Using the most recent championship run as a guide, there’s no telling how this IndyCar season will be resolved.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, already a two-time champion, utterly dominated the opposition in 2022 with five victories. He also managed to lose the title to Power, whose single win was bolstered by devastating efficiency at the other rounds where steady points-paying finishes earned from nine podium visits moved the crown out of Newgarden’s reach. Power spent the season hovering inside the top five while Newgarden was either winning or on the receiving end of adversity.
It’s highly unlikely that we’ll see another single-win champion emerge, and if the 32-year-old Tennessean can mirror Power’s podium-friendly ways, Newgarden could run away with another title.
“First and foremost, you have to put yourself in position and be there at the final round with an opportunity to try and seal the deal,” Newgarden said. “I also have a tremendous awareness of how competitive it is within this championship. The effort it takes to win a race has never been higher. And there’s no poor teams or drivers within the championship; we’re gonna have to fight through an incredibly difficult field that gets closer every single year.
“But we have all the ingredients to be successful. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t feel positive about challenging for race wins in the championship.”
Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta could win his first IndyCar championship, as could Arrow McLaren’s O’Ward. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon and teammate Alex Palou — IndyCar’s top drivers in 2020 and 2021, respectively — could be victorious. Penske’s Power and Newgarden are the leading title contenders, having won it all in 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2022, and their teammate Scott McLaughlin, who placed fourth in last year’s standings, is more than capable of spoiling everyone’s championship plans.
That’s seven drivers with the most favorable odds of reaching IndyCar’s mountaintop this season, and that doesn’t include some of the threats mentioned by Rahal like Rossi, Kirkwood, Ilott, Lundgaard, Graham Rahal, and reigning Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson.
If the year lives up to expectations, there could be 10 or more winners and a ridiculous amount of passing throughout the multidiscipline series, which races on road courses, street circuits, and ovals big and small. It’s the lack of predictability that makes IndyCar’s annual offerings such an amazing sport to follow; trying to pick a winner before the season reaches the final round is a fool’s errand.
And that’s where the brilliance of IndyCar is found. Formula One has greater technology and worldwide fandom, and NASCAR continues to hold pole position at home with its high degree of popularity in the U.S., but when it comes to the racing itself and all that takes place between the green and checkered flags, there’s nothing like IndyCar and those 5,881 passes that were completed in 2022.
Hello, 2023 IndyCar season. If you insist on betting, there’s good money to be made on breaking the 6,000-pass mark before the curtain falls on September’s finale at Laguna Seca.