Three teams which comprise nearly half of the full time grid will battle for the NTT Indycar Series season championship. I’m going to save my predictions for next week. here’s a look at the Big Three. As in my previous two posts, the order is random and is not necessarily indicative of my thinking about their finishing order
Chip Ganassi Racing
The team has expanded by one car and now is home to the two Swedish drivers, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson. Five time champion Scott Dixon gives the team veteran leadership. Their 2019 season wasn’t bad with Dixon ending the year fourth and Rosenqvist sixth. In addition, Rosenqvist earned Rookie of the Year. Dixon won twice, putting him just six wins behind Mario Andretti for second all time.
Still, it seemed as if Dixon was not having a good year. But it actually was just a poor three week period. A poor showing in the Indianapolis 500 was followed by a self inflicted crash at Detroit Race 1, and then he was involved in a crash at Texas. He won Race 2 at Detroit to salvage something of that three week period, but seeing him end fourth for the year was unusual.
Rosenqvist won a pole and nearly beat Dixon in a dramatic finish at Mid Ohio. A qualifying penalty cost him a potential pole at Laguna Seca, but he stormed back to finish eighth in the race. I look for Rosenqvist to have a strong second year with his first series win likely.
Ericsson comes to the team from Arrow Schmidt Peterson. The highlight of his season was a second place at Detroit. He was 17th in the final standings. Ericsson should have a better year his time around, but there may not be a huge jump in his year end ranking. I’m interested to see what he does with better equipment.
Four series titles and two Indianapolis 500 wins should make a driver from the Penske stable the odd on favorite for the championship. Josef Newgarden is at the top of his game, and Simon Pagenaud revived what may have been his sagging team standing in 2019. Will Power had what was for him a substandard season. Then there is the Scott McLaughlin factor to consider.
McLaughlin at present is entered only in the GMR Grand Prix in May, but there is talk of him driving in as many as eight races in 2020. Is he being groomed as a replacement for one of the three drivers? Or, will Penske go to four cars in 2021? Does it make financial sense to run a fourth car next year with a new chassis due to come on line in 2022?
While this seems like a lot of intra team drama, I wouldn’t worry about any effect on the racing. This team will run up front most weeks and at least one of the drivers will be in the conversation for the title in September. McLaughlin could actually help take points away from the contenders on other teams.
This team seems to grow bigger every season. For 2020 Andretti is fielding five teams with the absorption of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in addition to a technical alliance with Meyer Shank Racing. In May James Hinchcliffe joins the squad for three races. Are they spreading themselves too thin? I don’t think so. Of all the teams in the paddock, Andretti seems to work better with more work.
This is an interesting mix of drivers with different goals for the upcoming season. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta are probably going to contend for the championship. I’m looking forward to seeing if we have an intra team rivalry and how that might appear on the track. Both had great seasons last year. Herta was hampered a bit by rookie mistakes and mechanical gremlins, but he is a quick learner. Rossi had two dominant victories, but most of the time he was behind the drivers fighting him for the points lead.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is entering the final year of his contract. His long time sponsor, DHL, is also is up for renewal after the season. Will Hunter-Reay step down from a full time ride? He wants to finish on a high note. 2019 was a difficult year for him. His results this year may determine his future. I think Hunter-Reay can find a way to win a race this season.
Zach Veach is also entering the last year of his contract. He finished 18th last year, the lowest of the drivers on the team. Veach had a decent rookie year, but seemed to slip a bit in 2019. He needs to have a solid year in 2020.
Marco Andretti went to driving school in England to sharpen his skills. He dropped from a ninth place finish in 2018 to 16th last season. Andretti needs to improve his road course qualifying to be in a better position for good race results. He won a pole at Detroit in 2018. Andretti needs a good start to the year to set a positive tone for an improved season.
Parts I and II