until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Seven drivers who desperately need a good IndyCar finale

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

It’s the last race of the season!

Long Beach will draw to an end an epic 2021 IndyCar Series, and the famous Californian street event is no laughing matter. It’s caught out the best.

With a championship on the line, seats up for grabs in the silly season, the opportunity to upstage a rival or build important momentum for next year, there’s plenty riding on the event.

We’ve outlined some of those really needing a good result – mostly drivers, but also one other party.

The title contenders

Alex Palou

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou needs to finish at least 11th, something he’s only done at two of the four street circuit rounds so far in 2021, to win the IndyCar title, while the message for Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward is clear: win and take the bonus points.

There have been questions raised over Palou’s street course form but O’Ward isn’t bulletproof either – his win and podium in Detroit were sandwiched between 19th in St Petersburg and 13th in Nashville, even though the latter came after a mistake leading to a crash. So eroding a 34-point deficit certainly won’t be easy.

Sep 23 : Palou on brink of title + Grosjean/driver market latest

O’Ward has raced in IndyCar in Long Beach with Carlin although he recently joked he spent the whole race fuel saving, while Palou is new to the venue as it was cancelled in his rookie season last year.

O’Ward perhaps has the slight street circuit edge and track experience but Palou’s huge points margin for error is attractive at this point, and it’s not like he is bad on the streets.

Josef Newgarden is 48 points back and both his title rivals will score at least five points in the race just for starting, so he needs them to hit trouble, to win himself and to take at least three of the available four bonus points. It’s a massive ask even for the ever-impressive Penske driver.



There’s nothing quite as embarrassing as seeing your only rival wrap up the manufacturers’ championship a round early, and that’s exactly what happened to Chevrolet at Laguna Seca last week. Honda sealed its 10th title on the 25th anniversary of its first.

However, one way Chevrolet could soothe that burn is to beat Honda in its own backyard. American Honda Motor Company is based nearby in Torrance and its brand Acura sponsors the race.

If Chevrolet is still reeling from its defeat, one way to stick it to the opposition would be to win, especially if it’s with O’Ward or Newgarden and there’s a chance at the title.

Oliver Askew

Oliver Askew

Oliver Askew hasn’t yet done an emphatic enough job to steal the third 2022 Rahal Letterman Lanigan car from Santino Ferrucci or anyone else Bobby Rahal is looking at for that matter.

It looks like Takuma Sato is on his way to Dale Coyne so that strengthens the position of Ferrucci and Askew to secure the third seat as Jack Harvey will replace Sato.

Askew spun at the start of the Portland race and dropped down the order from his sixth-place start at Laguna Seca. Ferrucci may be a poor qualifier but his average finish is sixth best in the whole series of drivers who have done more than one race, which is a stat that will be tough to overcome for Askew.

One way to make inroads on that would be to deliver a stunning performance in Long Beach, but that might be expecting too much on his first visit in an IndyCar.

Max Chilton

Max Chilton

Max Chilton’s IndyCar career appears to be a bit in the balance.

He’s made clear his feeling that Carlin needs a second car, but that requires funding. Right now the sole Carlin entry is outside the top 22 in the entrants’ points that traditionally receives series funding via the Leaders Circle programme.

The good news for Chilton is there appears to be a change of rules in the Leaders Circle for 2021 to his and Carlin’s benefit.

The full-time teams in the top 22 of the IndyCar points get almost $1million, although IndyCar does not comment or share the details of that programme between itself and teams.

According to Nathan Brown from the Indianapolis Star, teams that have expanded to four cars this year – so Penske and Ganassi – are no longer eligible for the programme. That doesn’t apply to Andretti Autosport, presumably because it decreased from five to four full-time cars for 2021.

So it seems Chilton and Carlin, which would have likely missed out on that cash injection if the rules hadn’t changed, will now receive that funding boost towards 2022 at the expense of Scott McLaughlin and Jimmie Johnson/Tony Kanaan because their cars aren’t eligible.

Few rumours indicate where Carlin is at right now in terms of who it is targeting to drive for it in 2022 and if it can make some sort of engineering support deal with a bigger team. Even if getting back into the top 22 in the points isn’t a make or break situation anymore, a respectable finale wouldn’t go amiss.

Scott McLaughlin

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Despite doing three more races than his rival, Scott McLaughlin is only 20 points ahead of Romain Grosjean in the IndyCar rookie of the year battle.

OK, on the one hand, McLaughlin races for one of the series’ best teams in Penske while Grosjean is at the minnow Dale Coyne outfit.

But on the other side, Grosjean spent a decade in F1 and longer in junior single-seaters, whereas McLaughlin did a handful of Formula Ford races and then went straight into V8 Supercars.

Finishing 13th in the standings would certainly be deemed a success in 2021 for McLaughlin, but being beaten to rookie of the year by Grosjean might cause a few blushes.

So a strong Long Beach run – on a street circuit, where Grosjean hasn’t always been at his best – would really end McLaughlin’s season in a nice way building towards 2022.

Rinus VeeKay


Despite winning a race in 2021, VeeKay hasn’t finished in the top 15 in his last seven races.

A broken clavicle and a broken finger this season haven’t helped, and more recently his form has been better than results have shown, but a good race to end the year might do a bit for this team’s momentum.

Ed Carpenter Racing really needs to continue to step things up in line with VeeKay for next season or he’ll be top of the shopping list of other teams looking for a capable race winner in IndyCar’s current cut throat environment, and while VeeKay is inconsistent, he has so much upside that putting him in a top car might yield epic results. Someone will take a risk on that.

So a good race to finish the year would help both team and driver.

We’ll include Conor Daly at this point too. He looks set to be on the way out at Ed Carpenter after a tricky season where he hasn’t scored a single top 10.

If he could have a strong final race perhaps it will perk up some interest in him, but I think IndyCar teams have seen enough in most cases that they can make a more informed driver decision than just based on one race.

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