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NTT IndyCar Series: “IndyCar 2021…A Look Ahead”

Scott Dixon speeds to the lead in the GMR Grand Prix. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

Scott Dixon speeds to the lead in the GMR Grand Prix. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

The current, unusual year that all of us have been experiencing may have a rival in the upcoming IndyCar season. A champion NASCAR driver is entered, just three ovals are on the calendar, and an all-female team will compete; and these are just a few of many things that you need to preview before the 2021 season moves into high gear. Let’s take a look at those and some others.

  • Old “7-time”, Jimmie Johnson, has all but called it quits in NASCAR, and the veteran of stock car and off-road racing looks forward to a new challenge, an IndyCar road/street season for Chip Ganassi away from those uncomfortable ovals. His pre-season practice sessions have had inconclusive results, while French F1 pilot Romain Grosjean, signed to that same race schedule by Dale Coyne, is still recuperating from burns received from his F1 crash and burn crash at Bahrain late in 2020. His first IndyCar run is still written in pencil. Sponsors usually like a full-time driver for marketing efforts, but this split-schedule arrangement does open a cockpit or two for another driver (Tony Kanaan for Johnson’s oval seat and a TBA driver to replace Coyne’s F1 hopeful on the ovals). Time and a few races will answer many questions, but both will add an interesting look to the 2021 grid.
  • Speaking of ovals, the IndyCar schedule shows just three tracks (four races) with left turns only: Texas Motor Speedway’s two-day, 300-mile doubleheaders, World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway), and the rectangular Indy 500 circuit, which some say is not a true oval with its four sweeping 90-degree left turns. Richmond, Iowa and Pocono are off the calendar, perhaps forever, while a new street race on the schedule in Nashville, TN features a bridge that crosses the Cumberland River. With a heavy-hitter group behind that event’s organization, the August 8, Music City Grand Prix hopes to become a fixture on the calendar.
  • Grace Autosport, a female-led ownership group, attempted to bring a race team to Indianapolis in 2016. Unfortunately, the underfunded group, with Katherine Legge as the driver, failed to find enough backing and bowed out. Recently it was announced that another such organization will find out if this will be the right time for a new female team to make it onto the track for the 2021 500. Beth Paretta, who was team principle for the Grace group five seasons ago, heads the new Paretta Autosport entry with veteran driver Simona De Silvestro behind the wheel. Paretta’s current organization should come to the track in May with greater resources to compete as they are aligned with Team Penske in a technical partnership to race its #16 Chevrolet as part of “The Captain’s” push for diversity in IndyCar.
  • Don’t know whether Romain Grosjean coming to IndyCar, Marco Andretti “retiring” or Santino Ferrucci jumping to NASCAR is the head scratching move of the off-season. Grosjean was slowed by his uncompetitive F1 ride with Haas, but his terrible crash last season left some doubt of his desire to compete on ovals given his street/road course only schedule with Dale Coyne… Regarding Marco perhaps taking a career breather from the family car, while still taking on another 500 drive, tells us that he still wants that 500 win that was so hard for the rest of the family to finally attain. The door seems open for another race or two in IndyCar or perhaps a sports car try…Santino Ferrucci’s situation is the real puzzler. After success in his two-seasons in IndyCar, including a fourth-place finish and Rookie of the Year honors at the 500 in 2019 with Dale Coyne, and with a reputation as an aggressive competitor, he found sponsorship a problem for 2021 and jumped to NASCAR’s Xfinity series with Sam Bird Racing beginning with the Homestead round. We’ll see what happens as he has a twenty-race package with Bird, leaving the door open for an IndyCar run or two, perhaps for the 500…Also missing for 2021 is the Dragon Speed team that sold its cars to Meyer Shank Racing for their second entry.
  • Many sporting events have begun to permit a limited number of fans to attend games and races as the Pandemic eases a bit. A friend who holds tickets for the Indy 500 contacted the Speedway to check on plans for attendance in May. He asked whether everyone could be there for the race and was given an encouraging answer that that was the plan. Hopefully that good news continues.
  • At this point in the pre-season there are twenty-three contracted cars ready for the full seventeen-race IndyCar season. If a few more teams secure sponsorships, some observers see perhaps twenty-five gridding for each race. Planned entries for May’s Indy 500 stand at 30 with more expected. We’ll look at all of those team/driver entries next time as we move closer to the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park on April 18.

 

 

 

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