The ultimate guide to the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season

Just like Major League Soccer, the NTT IndyCar Series hold its 26th season in the year of our Lord 2021. After a shortened 2020 season due to the pandemic, IndyCar returns to a full 17-race schedule. Last season, IndyCar only ran 14 races at eight tracks.

Scott Dixon earned his sixth IndyCar championship in 2020 after winning four races.

With another exciting year of American open wheel racing ahead of us and three well-known drivers receiving the rookie tag in IndyCar this year, let’s look at how this season will play out.

Schedule

Only four oval races will take up the 17-race season with the rest filled by road and street courses. The season begins Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. To close out April, IndyCar will hit the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida for the Firestone Grand Prix.

The month of May will be filled with high speeds as Texas Motor Speedway will host a two-race weekend on May 1 and May 2. The focus for the rest of the month shifts to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the most-anticipated portion of the schedule. IndyCar will first run the road-course layout at the Brickyard with the GMR Grand Prix and then it’s all eyes on the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

Mid-June will see IndyCar hit the streets of Motor City for the two-day Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle. They will end the month at Road America.

Independence Day will not only mark another year of existence for the United States, but a tripleheader of road-course action as well with Formula 1 holding the Austrian Grand Prix, the NASCAR Cup Series holds their inaugural event at Road America and IndyCar heads to Mid-Ohio. One week later, IndyCar hits the streets of Toronto.

August sees the debut of IndyCar on the streets of Nashville to begin the month, followed by another event on the Indianapolis road course and the month will end under the Gateway Arch at World Wide Technology Raceway.

The season will end with a three-race “West Coast Swing” as September plays host to the Grand Prix of Portland and the always beautiful Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca. Instead of taking place early in the season, IndyCar wants fans at the famous Long Beach Grand Prix and this event will close out 2021 on Sept. 26.

Drivers/Teams

A.J. Foyt Enterprises

The four-car Chevrolet stable will see full seasons from Dalton Kellett and Sebastien Bourdais, who only ran a limited schedule in 2020. Kellett had a less-than-optimal rookie season last year with a season-best 20th-place finish twice at Road America. This will be Bourdais’ 11th multi-race season in IndyCar and second with A.J. Foyt. The Frenchman is looking to score his first victory since winning at St. Petersburg to open 2018.

J. R. Hildebrand and Charlie Kimball will only compete at the Brickyard. Hildebrand will run the Indy 500, while Kimball will run both the road course and oval events.

Andretti Autosport

What was a six-car team last year is reduced to four as Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe(Steinbrenner) will all run the full schedule in 2021.

Herta had a mighty impressive 2020 with a win, two podiums and an average finish of 7.5 to net him a third-place finish in the standings. Could he continue to light IndyCar on fire early in his career with a championship?

Arguably IndyCar’s most popular driver, Alexander Rossi had a more than forgettable run in 2020. He didn’t win a single race, but managed to land five podiums after a strong end to the season. However, ninth-place in points will not cut it for Rossi as he only has championship expectations year in and year out.

2021 will be the 18th year in CART/IndyCar for Ryan Hunter-Reay. He’s lost his footing in the last two seasons as he hasn’t picked up a victory, but with quality teammates around him, Hunter-Reay should be able to find his way back to championship contention.

While not fully under the Andretti name, James Hinchcliffe returns to a full-time schedule with investment from the grandson of the famed New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Hinchcliffe didn’t do much in his part-time schedule last year, but scored a top-10 finish at the Indianapolis 500.

Former IndyCar driver Bryan Herta will fund a single ride for Marco Andretti at the Indy 500 after Andretti announced he will step away from full-time racing. He won the pole for last year’s race, but struggled in the race and came home 13th.

Arrow McLaren SP

2020 rookie and Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew was dropped from the team in October without a reason and instead, Felix Rosenqvist joins the team after leaving Chip Ganassi Racing. After a strong rookie season in 2019, struggled with only one podium finish in 2020 (win at Road America) and five top-10 finishes.

Patricio O’Ward surprised the IndyCar world with four podium finishes in his first full-time season. The strong year netted him a fourth-place finish in the standings. He will surely be a driver to keep on your radar in 2021.

Juan Pablo Montoya has done it all in the racing world, but will run two races for Arrow McLaren this year at Indianapolis.

Carlin

After having two full-time entries in 2018, Carlin is reduced to one part-time entry and will see a majority ran by Englishman Max Chilton. In the early 2010s, Chilton was a member of Force India and Marussia in F1, but never really found success. He came to IndyCar for better fortunes, but has only managed a season-best points result of 11th back in 2017.

Chip Ganassi Racing

This four-team Honda stable has all the accolades with 14 racing championships among the five drivers competing for them.

Dixon seeks to join the ranks of Jimmie Johnson, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher in becoming seven-time champions in their respective series. Speaking of Johnson, he turned in his stock-car gloves and will test the waters in IndyCar during this portion of his motorsports career. The seven-time Cup series champion will run every road and street course event in the No. 48 entry, while 2004 IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan will run the oval events for the team.

Former F1 driver Marcus Ericsson competes in his third year for IndyCar. No podiums for the Swede last season, but he did score a top-10 finish in nine of the 14 races.

Alex Palou moves from Dale Coyne Racing to Chip Ganassi after finishing 16th in points for his rookie outing. The Spaniard did score a podium at Road America last year.

Dale Coyne Racing

With assistance from NASCAR Cup Series team Rick Ware Racing, former F1 driver Romain Grosjean will make his IndyCar debut this year and run every street and road course similar to Johnson. The No. 51 will be run by current Haas reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi on the ovals.

With Vasser-Sullivan, Ed Jones returns to IndyCar after not participating in 2020. Jones has three-career podiums in IndyCar with a career-high points finish of 13th in 2018.

Ed Carpenter Racing

The driver/owner makes his return for an impressive ninth year in IndyCar. Carpenter, himself, will only run the oval races in 2021, while Conor Daly will fill the rest of the No. 20’s entries on the road and street courses and run a different entry for the Indy 500. Carpenter, who hails from the Midwest, is still seeking his first Indy 500 win. He was runner-up in the 2018 edition.

Rinus VeeKay makes his sophomore run for the team. He finished 14th in points for his rookie season and earned a podium finish at the Indianapolis road course.

Meyer Shank Racing

Englishman Jack Harvey makes his second full-time season for Meyer Shank in 2021. He finished 15th in points, but flashed his skills with a top-10 finish at the Indy 500 and scored back-to-back top 10’s at the Iowa duels.

Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves will attempt to make this year’s race and will run five of the final six races of the season in the No. 06 entry.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

One of the more unique combination of owners here, RLL is co-owned by 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, former TV talk show host David Letterman and businessman Mike Lanigan.

Rahal’s son, Graham, will compete in his ninth season for the team. While 2020 wasn’t a career year for Rahal, he scored three podiums and finished sixth in points after disappointing seasons in 2018 and 2019.

Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato had a career year in 2020 as he finished seventh in points and scored two podiums, including an Indy 500 victory.

RLL will have a third entry for this year’s Indy 500 and it will be qualified by Santino Ferrucci, who left full-time IndyCar racing to pursue NASCAR.

Team Penske

Just like in NASCAR, Roger Penske has built a premier team in IndyCar where every one of his entries can compete for titles.

Three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin left the series down under to chase a racing title in IndyCar, which could make a fourth-consecutive year of racing titles for the New Zealander. He will pilot the No. 3 entry.

Two-time champion Josef Newgarden was beat out by Dixon for the title last year, but will be in contention to win his third title once again. He won four races last year and will be in another epic battle for the title with his teammates and Dixon.

2014 champion Will Power hasn’t been himself over the last two seasons. He finished fifth in points in 2019 and 2020, while only scoring four wins during that span. Surely, a return to normalcy in 2021 is due for the Aussie, right?

Last, but surely not the least, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud reps the aura of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character from Talladega Nights and is seeking his second IndyCar title (2016). He won the 2019 Indy 500 as well and seeks redemption in the famed race after a 22nd-place finish last year.

Points system

Double points will be awarded at the Indy 500 and points can be earned in qualifying and practice. (see page 57)

Honda IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama preview

The 2021 season will open at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama Sunday afternoon. Pato O’Ward earned the pole award after a daring run in the final round of qualifying. Rossi will join the Mexican on the front row.

While Johnson struggled in qualifying and is still getting used to running in open-wheel racing, McLaughlin and Grosjean impressed. McLaughlin starts 12th and Grosjean rolls off seventh. Johnson starts 21st.

Sato won the most recent race at Barber in 2019 and will start 19th. Newgarden, Power and Hunter-Reay are all multi-time winners at the road course.

The race will consist of 90 laps and can be viewed on NBC beginning at 3:00 p.m. EST.

Starting grid:

1st – Pato O’Ward
2nd – Alexander Rossi
3rd – Alex Palou
4th – Will Power
5th – Scott Dixon
6th – Marcus Ericsson
7th – Romain Grosjean
8th – Josef Newgarden
9th – Colton Herta
10th – Conor Daly
11th – Jack Harvey
12th – Scott McLaughlin
13th – Ed Jones
14th – Rinus VeeKay
15th – Simon Pagenaud
16th – Sebastien Bourdais
17th – Ryan Hunter-Reay
18th – Graham Rahal
19th – Takuma Sato
20th – Max Chilton
21st – Jimmie Johnson
22nd – Felix Rosenqvist
23rd – Dalton Kellett
24th – James Hinchcliffe

Course layout:

Leave a Reply