until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Why everyone else is about to lose the IndyCar title

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Alex Palou merely needs to start each of the next two IndyCar races and, whatever happens from there, he’d still be in the lead of the championship heading into the final round.

He needs to extend his championship lead by just eight points to win the title at Gateway this weekend, and even if he doesn’t he’ll get another early shot in Portland before Laguna Seca rounds out the season.

We can definitely rule out a handful of drivers from winning the championship, so we’ll take a look at how they missed out and then do the same for the drivers in mathematical contention but still all but certain to lose out to Palou in the run-in.

Will Power

Will Power And Scott Dixon Sonsio Grand Prix At Road America By James Black Large Image Without Watermark M84867

Championship position: 7th
Points behind: 174

Power is only really name-checked in this feature because he won the title last year. At no point has he felt like the title contender he was in 2022.

His newfound zen mental approach for last year has been tested, peaking at Mid-Ohio where he flipped Scott Dixon a double-bird and shoved him for crashing him out of a practice session, and the top-level performance has just not been there.

Power has won at least one race every year since the 2007 Champ Car season but that will come to an end if he doesn’t get a win over the line in the last three races in 2023.

Too many finishes outside the top 10 and a tricky start to the year put an end to any 2022 momentum. He’s comfortably been the least impressive of Penske’s admittedly phenomenal driver line-up, and it shows how tough it is to be consistent year-in, year-out in IndyCar.

Marcus Ericsson

Marcus Ericsson Big Machine Music City Grand Prix By Chris Owens Large Image Without Watermark M89269

Championship position: 6th
Points behind: 162

There are 162 points left on the table over the last three races, and even if Ericsson greedily gobbled them up he’d lose to Ganassi team-mate Palou on a tie-breaker in that scenario.

There’s been nothing really wrong with Ericsson’s season. On the contrary, he only has one finish outside of the top 10 all year, and his biggest error was crashing out on the first lap at Mid-Ohio.

Apart from that, his biggest problem has been racking up top fives and wins at the rate of Palou – everyone’s problem this year, really! – so the peaks have not quite been high enough.

Andretti’s 2024 signing is still ahead of last year’s champion, Power, and could still usurp O’Ward and Scott McLaughlin in the standings. A very consistent year, just coming up short.

Pato O’Ward

Pato O Ward Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented By Lear By James Black Large Image Without Watermark M84380

Championship position: 5th
Points behind: 151

“HE CAN STILL WIN!” you might be shouting at your screen. And, technically, it’s true. But if Palou starts the last three races he’ll score five points for each of those regardless of where he finishes. Anyone with a result of 25th or worse – whether they ran 200 laps or one – get five points.

That would take Palou’s tally to 554 points, meaning even a maximum score of 162 would leave O’Ward four short.

Assessing O’Ward’s season is relatively straightforward. He’s once again been a cut above his McLaren team-mates, done astounding things with a car that others couldn’t, and, in terms of peak performance, he’s been the closest to Palou and Josef Newgarden – who have four wins apiece.

There are two areas where his campaign has fallen short, in over-reaching, and a lack of wins.

His crashes at Long Beach, the Indianapolis 500 and Detroit are the main reasons he sits this far back.

Long Beach featured two crashes, with one putting Dixon out of the race. The Indy 500 came while battling for a podium with eventual second-place finisher Marcus Ericsson at the time, and the Detroit one came after a pit miscue meant a bad result was likely anyway.

Pato O Ward Honda Indy Toronto By Joe Skibinski Large Image Without Watermark M87094

His six podiums show what he’s been capable of this year and a win hasn’t quite fallen his way even if O’Ward deserved one.

It’s still been a very strong year, and one in which he could still finish higher up in the order.

Was anyone else really in the hunt?

Christian Lundgaard Honda Indy Toronto By Chris Owens Large Image Without Watermark M86964 (1)

Christian Lundgaard won the Toronto race but his Rahal Letterman Lanigan squad had a tough start to the year and has been poor on ovals, which has neutered even Lundgaard’s phenomenal road and street course results.

Kyle Kirkwood may be the other major person to consider given he won the third race of the year and has since added another victory in Nashville. But his sophomore season has been blighted by on-track incidents and mistakes, plus some bad luck along the way.

Perhaps Kirkwood’s Andretti team-mate Romain Grosjean at the start of the year was in a similar boat. He took pole in St Pete before being dumped out by Scott McLaughlin while fighting for the win, admittedly crashed in Texas, but then added two second-place finishes that made him look like a strong contender – before his and Andretti’s season petered out.

Who’s still in contention but likely to be beaten?

Scott McLaughlin

Scott Mclaughlin Gallagher Grand Prix By Walt Kuhn Large Image Without Watermark M90623

Championship position: 4th
Points behind: 144

McLaughlin’s only in mathematical contention and will almost certainly be ruled out of the running at Gateway.

Talk of fighting for the title in his third full IndyCar season was probably a reach in hindsight, but he’s still comfortably outperformed his reigning champion team-mate Power on the way to what will likely be a second top-four finish overall in a row.

He’s only had three finishes outside of the top 10, crashing into Grosjean in St Pete, a tough qualifying, incorrect strategy and wing damage at the Indy GP, and a 14th place at the Indy 500.

The peak performance has been there again but anything other than alien performance was not enough to challenge Palou.

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden Gallagher Grand Prix By Joe Skibinski Large Image Without Watermark M89771

Championship position: 3rd
Points behind: 105

Newgarden needs to outscore Palou by 35 points per race also to have a shot at the title. That would involve having won seven races over the year, which would be an outrageous feat even this IndyCar star might struggle to achieve.

For the second season in a row, Newgarden has four or more wins – despite a second consecutive switch of engineer, with Luke Mason taking over – but there’s been a familiar pattern: reliability and bad luck have killed any consistency.

St Pete, where an engine fire hit, Long Beach where an enormous fuel number in the last stint likely cost a win, and a weird tyre issue at Barber all feel like massive missed opportunities.

Newgarden could still finish second, but incredibly, that would be the fourth season in a row he’s done so. That’s a really sad stat for a driver who really deserved better.

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon Gallagher Grand Prix By Joe Skibinski Large Image Without Watermark M90256

Championship position: 2nd
Points behind: 101

Dixon is 101 points behind but because of the 15 points Palou will get for starting the last three races, we’re looking at a 116-point deficit to overturn with 162 points on the table.

To understand how big a task this is even for the closest challenger, to outscore Palou, he’ll need to bag 34 points more per race – that’s the equivalent of a third place finish – to win the title. It just seems insurmountable.

Scott Dixon Gallagher Grand Prix By Travis Hinkle Large Image Without Watermark M90356

Dixon’s season has been very similar to Ericsson’s, but even more consistent. He has one finish outside the top 10 – when he was smashed out by O’Ward at Long Beach – and apart from that he hasn’t finished below seventh. He has one win, two more podiums and five additional top-five finishes.

Winning more races and turning some of those sixths and sevenths into podiums is the only way Dixon could have applied more pressure to Palou, which feels like stating the obvious.

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