The 2023 IndyCar Series is set to roar into life on the streets of St Petersburg, Florida on Monday (AEDT).
Ahead of the season-opener on March 6, Wide World of Sports has taken a look at the favourites for the Astor Cup – and there’s a reason the list largely features drivers from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.
The two tyrants have ruled the roost for the last decade. Since 2013, they’ve had five titles apiece.
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Will Power wins second IndyCar crown
Chip Ganassi has been the stronger of the two over a longer period, having won nine titles since 2008.
However, there are also a few outsiders that could threaten an upset.
In no particular order, here are the top eight contenders for this year’s series.
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Will Power – Team Penske
In 2022, Will Power showed why consistency is the key to winning the crown.
Across the 17-race schedule, the Australian finished outside the top five on just five occasions.
He didn’t win every race. Indeed, he only took one win, but he made sure he was as close to the pointy end as possible.
Assuming he can replicate that consistency in 2023, then Power is an odds-on favourite for another title.
Scott Dixon – Chip Ganassi Racing
You can never count out Scott Dixon.
His search for a record-equalling seventh IndyCar crown remains one of the most talked about storylines in the paddock, and 2023 could be the year.
Dixon has had to wait no more than four years between titles. His last came in 2020, a season that saw him lead from start to finish.
In 2022, Dixon was solid if unspectacular. In many ways, he exhibited the same approach as Will Power.
Dixon was outside the top five on just eight occasions, however, his campaign was really killed by the Indianapolis 500.
He dominated the race, only to cop a speeding penalty late in the piece that ultimately saw him finish 21st.
Might 2023 be his year?
Colton Herta – Andretti Autosport
It’s hard to believe Colton Herta is only 22.
The American is somewhat of a veteran having made his IndyCar debut at 18 in 2018.
In only his third race, he became the youngest race winner and set a seriously high expectation that he’d be a champion one day.
That expectation has yet to be fulfilled, and three seasons on the closest Herta has come is his 2020 campaign in which he finished third.
Tumultuous is perhaps the best way to describe Herta’s career to date. His record reads seventh, third, fifth, 10th in his four full seasons to date.
There’s no doubting his talent, his seven wins and 11 podiums are evidence of that. However, like former teammate Alexander Rossi, inconsistency has plagued him and Andretti Autosport.
Alex Palou – Chip Ganassi Racing
This season shapes as a fascinating one for Alex Palou, perhaps for all the wrong reasons.
In ordinary circumstances, he’d be an out-and-out favourite for the title.
His public contract spat was the talk of the town last year. That saw the Spaniard try to move to McLaren and ultimately ended with Chip Ganassi Racing retaining his services.
Palou has pace. His 2022 title showed that. Whether Chip Ganassi will prioritise him this year remains to be seen.
The team has downplayed any talk of favouring other drivers within the team, although it’s hard to imagine he’ll be the No.1 pick with an eventual defection likely to come in 2024.
Scott McLaughlin – Team Penske
Three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin is perhaps the most exciting prospect in 2023.
After a breakout second season in which he was a regular race winner and pole sitter, the Kiwi shapes as a bonafide contender this year.
Like Dixon, McLaughlin delivered a disastrous result at Indianapolis. That proved to be the difference in his quest.
With double points gone from this year’s Indianapolis 500, a dud result at the Brickyard mightn’t hurt so much.
McLaughlin took pole position at St Petersburg last year and the win. Look for the Kiwi to be a front-runner this year.
Josef Newgarden – Team Penske
In 2022, Josef Newgarden won more races than anyone else.
It meant little in the end, coming up short to teammate Power who showed that consistency mattered more.
Newgarden won five races last year but found himself outside the top 10 all too often.
If he can combine his raw race-winning pace with consistency, then the American could be unbeatable in 2023.
Perhaps the key to his campaign is the Indianapolis 500. It remains the one race he hasn’t been able to conquer. His best result remains third in 2016.
Alexander Rossi – McLaren
Might Alexander Rossi’s long-awaited divorce from Andretti Autosport reignite the American’s passion for IndyCar?
Since finishing second to Scott Dixon in 2018, the Indianapolis 500 winner hasn’t been able to replicate that pace. It’s been a slow downhill slide, resulting in a 49-race winless streak.
A move to McLaren might be what gets him back in contention. With Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, the team has shown it can match Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, although Rossi will have to do that over the duration of the season.
Rossi has to be the leading contender for the title outside the Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing drivers.
Pato O’Ward – McLaren
Mexico’s Pato O’Ward remains the biggest question mark on the grid this year.
It’s very much a case when will he deliver? His first season with McLaren was solid, finishing fourth in a season littered with podiums. His second season brought wins and an outside shot at the title.
His most recent campaign can only be described as solid if unspectacular. More wins were forthcoming, although a title challenge never really materialised on his way to seventh.
Best of the rest
And what about the wildcards? Romain Grosjean could conceivably contend for the title, although he is still searching for his first race win.
Felix Rosenqvist has yet to really deliver on the hype. The super-fast Swede has just one win to his name in four years of IndyCar racing.
Then there’s Marcus Ericsson, another Swede who led the lion’s share of the 2022 title race only to come up short. The ex-Formula 1 driver has proven he can be a race winner, although he too has struggled with consistently racing at the front.
Perhaps the most curious of all is Rinus VeeKay. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver was a race winner in 2021 and proceeded to fade into oblivion.
There wasn’t much to talk about in 2022 either. He took one podium in an otherwise quiet season. VeeKay, on his day, has race-winning speed. He’ll need to regularly deliver results in 2023 to feature.
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