If you have not been keeping up with IndyCar this season you have been missing out. This competitive open-wheel series is having a compelling season with five top drivers that are in the fight for the championship battle. There are three drivers with the Chip Ganassi Racing team with Honda Engines, and two drivers with Chevrolet engines. Although there are five drivers that can mathematically win the driver's championship as the points stand right now, it has been an especially thrilling fight for two young drivers Alex Palou and Pato O'Ward who have been going back and forth leading throughout the season.
As we move closer to the season finale in Long Beach they have to battle it out at Laguna Seca with the infamous corkscrew first.Let's take a look at these top five drivers that are in the fight for the NTT INDYCAR Series championship.
Alex Palou 477 points
Currently at the top of the drivers’ standings is Spanish Driver Alex Palou who is leading the championship by 25 points. The twenty-four-year-old started the season off strong with the first race win of the season, the Grand Prix of Alabama which is also his first IndyCar win. It didn't take long for Palou to settle into one of the top teams Chip Ganassi Racing from the more modest Dale Coyne Racing team that he made his IndyCar debut with his rookie year. Palou took home another win at the Road America track for the Rev Group Grand Prix. He also secured his third win for the Grand Prix of Portland. Three wins for any driver in the IndyCar series is impressive on its own but what makes Palou’s wins even more prominent is the fact that two of those races were tracks that he never raced before. Both the Grand Prix of Alabama and The Grand Prix of Portland were not on the 2020 IndyCar schedule due to the COVID pandemic.
When you look at Palou’s race stats this season, it’s quite evident that he has the talent to win an IndyCar championship. One other amazing moment this season for Palou was the epic battle with veteran IndyCar driver Hèlio Castroneves at the Indy 500 where Palou just narrowly missed out on drinking the milk and making history. Palou finished in second place to the Brazilian driver for his second Indy500.
Although Palou never discloses his secret to his success this season to the media, one thing is certain and that is the fact that he likes to ask a lot of questions of his teammate six-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon. Palou was asked in the post-Portland Race press conference if he had any remarks regarding his New Zealand teammate:
“Sometimes I'm a little bit annoying, but that's a good thing, right? I need to take advantage of the opportunity I have sharing a team with a six-car INDYCAR champion, and he's open with it, so I just take advantage of it.”
“I think part of making the fuel work today, it's partly because of him. So yeah, being able to learn a lot from him this year. I still learn every session from him, and he's pushing me this year a lot. It's a good thing. We have good rivalry on track, and I think that makes the team super strong.”
Pato O’ Ward 452 Points
Pato O’Ward is also having a phenomenal season in IndyCar. The twenty-two-year-old Mexican driver has two race wins with the Arrow McLaren SP team this season. O’Ward is tied with most pole positions this season along with veteran driver Josef Newgarden. O’ Ward is definitely a daring yet skilled driver who is not afraid to go wheel to wheel with veteran drivers like Josef Newgarden.
O'Ward has not always had the best luck throughout the season with strategy and car issues. The Arrrow McLaren driver has had some race finishes outside the top team coming in nineteenth for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersberg, finishing fifteenth at the GMR Grand Prix in Indianapolis, and thirteenth at the Music City GP in Nashville. O’Ward won his first IndyCar race this season at Texas Motor Speedway for the second race, which is a short oval track that is notorious for testing the skills of even the most seasoned veteran IndyCar drivers. To have that win under his belt along with his victory at the second Detroit Grand Prix street circuit race which is another difficult track to master is a testament to O’Ward’s versatility and talent as a driver. For the Indy 500, O’Ward had an impressive top-five finish that resulted in fourth place. Pato O’Ward has been with the Arrow McLaren SP team since the new team formed last year and if you look at his race results from this season so far with the team it’s clear that they have formed an even stronger and more successful partnership.
Despite the setbacks O’ Ward faced throughout the season, he never seems to lose his confidence in himself or the team. After a tough race and a fourteenth place finish at the Grand Prix of Portland, O’Ward, remains positive for the final two IndyCar races:
"Today was obviously very tough. It just wasn't our day. We got unlucky with some of the yellows and this race favored the alternate strategy, which you can see when you look at the results. It just goes to show how exciting of a sport INDYCAR is at every race. We gave it everything we had all weekend. The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP crew was solid on every stop. We are up against some great competitors for the championship but we will come back the next two races and fight down to the last lap in Long Beach.”
Josef Newgarden 443 points
Two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden is in third place for the drivers’ championship with two race wins this season. The Penske driver has not had a smooth season but he has managed to bounce back and secure some crucial points throughout the fourteen races so far. Newgarden started off the season with a twenty-three pace finish from a crash at the Grand Prix of Alabama. The Nashville native managed to stay in the top ten for the majority of the races with the exception of the Indy500, where he finished twelfth and twenty-first at Road America.
Although Newgarden is behind Palou by thirty -four points with only two races left, he is confident that his team can help him win the championship title. Here is what Newgarden says heading into the second to last race weekend at Laguna Seca:
“Going into Laguna Seca 34 points out of the lead is definitely doable. We are in the fight for the championship and that’s all we can ask,” said Newgarden, who qualified fourth and finished eighth in the 2019 race at Laguna Seca. “We have to hit on all cylinders these next two weeks and I’m confident in this team to be at a championship level.”
Scott Dixon 428 points
You can never rule out six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon when it comes to fighting for the championship. Dixon is forty-nine points behind his much younger teammate Alex Palou and fourth in the driver’s standings. This season Dixon has had eleven top ten results so far and as the most seasoned driver in the championship, he knows what needs to be done to win another title. There were a few races where he finished fifteenth and lower, including seventeenth for the Indy 500, seventeenth for the Big Machine Grand Prix at IMS, and nineteenth at the Bommarito 500. However, mathematically Dixon knows that the forty-nine-point gap between him and Palou is a bit of a challenge.
After the Portland GP where Dixon came in third, he was asked about how he can still “go for it”, the championship title with only two races left. Dixon replied:
“I don't know, try and win. It's definitely been a trying season for us, but ultimately if it comes down to we need to help Alex, that's fine, too. I think for us it's about keeping the championship at home and at the team. So yeah, it's just the way it rolls sometimes. But yeah, we'll -- obviously we've seen it. We saw it at St. Louis how quickly it can flip. We've seen how quickly it can flip this weekend. Unless you're out, you're not out. We've won championships on a tiebreaker. It's all possible.”
Marcus Ericsson 402 points
The ex F1 driver Marcus Ericsson is currently in his third year in the IndyCar series and is in fourth place in the drivers championship behind two of his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Alex Palou and Scott Dixon. Ericsson is unquestionably having his break-out t season this year. With two race wins, one for race one for the Detriot GP, and the other for the inaugural Music City GP he has also secured twelve top-ten finishes out of the fifteen races this season. The “sneaky Sweede” which he often likes to refer to himself as, has indeed been quietly and consistently racking up the points throughout the IndyCar season. However, earlier in the season after Ericsson, won his second race at the Music City GP, he was asked about how he handles having to fight two teammates for the championship. Ericsson responded:
“I think it's a great thing. Chip Ganassi Racing is such a great organization, and I think this year the team we have with me and Scott and Alex and Jimmie and also T.K., there's such a good atmosphere between us. Even though we are all fighting each other, we always do it fair, and we always help each other. We are very open. I think that's why we are three cars in the top five, is because we help each other become better. That's a great thing. We're going to keep doing that. We're going to keep fighting each other, but keep doing it in a fair way. It's like Chip says, if we win 1-2-3, we take points from our competitors. That's the way we're going to try and keep doing.”
With three Chip Ganassi Racing team drivers in the fight for the championship title, one thing Alex Palou does have in his favor heading into Laguna Seca and then in the finale in Long Beach, is that he has two very capable and skilled teammates that are willing and ready to help him secure the coveted Astor Cup that comes with the IndyCar champion title. On the other hand, battling two talented and hungry drivers like Pato O ‘ Ward and Josef Newgarden will not be easy. This is IndyCar and if there is one thing that is certain in IndyCar it’s that you can always expect the unexpected.