Note: The INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable is taking the opportunity of the summer break in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule to analyze the first 10 races of the season and offer discussion and opinions about a variety of topics in the first half of the season. This multipart series will run regularly for the rest of July.
Today’s question: What was the best moment so far this season outside of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge?
Curt Cavin: Pato O’Ward has two INDYCAR race wins this season, establishing himself as a legitimate championship contender. I think we all expected that, but it’s important to go back to the second race at Texas Motor Speedway and remember the significance of O’Ward’s win. For starters, that was ideal for Scott Dixon to sweep the weekend. He had won the first night by leading 206 of the 212 laps and started the second night from the pole. Dixon still led 163 of the 248 laps, but O’Ward chased him down in the late going and scored his maiden series victory. From there, O’Ward’s confidence soared, which is part of the reason he stands second heading to the season’s final six races. Suffice it to say, that Texas victory not only was important for O’Ward, it was monumental for INDYCAR’s future.
Zach Horrall: I’m going to include preseason in this so I can say Romain Grosjean getting back into a race car at Barber Motorsports Park in February is the best non-Indy 500 moment of the season. Just three months prior, Grosjean was involved in that fiery Formula One crash in Bahrain when his car was split in two. He rose from a ball of fire and insisted he walk to the ambulance to show his family back home in Switzerland – and the rest of the world – that he was OK. With severe burns on his hands, Grosjean flew to Birmingham, Alabama, and hopped in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race car, was amazed at the openness of the paddock and just had FUN. It’s cool to look back at that moment and compare Grosjean then to the driver we have today. Then, it was all unknown: the car, how his hand would hold up, how he would fit into this racing community. Now, he’s a fun personality who is an NTT P1 Award winner, a second-place finisher in the GMR Grand Prix and an athlete that could blossom into a race winner soon. That February test was a huge moment for the entire motorsports world, and especially the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, to see one of our own get back to doing what he loves after it was nearly taken away.
Paul Kelly: When Alex Palou won the season opener on April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park, I didn’t think it was a fluke. Palou was quick at times last year with Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh, and joining Chip Ganassi Racing always enhances a driver’s prospects to win races. But I also didn’t think Palou’s first victory in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES would be the start of a championship charge still sees the Spaniard atop the series. I guess I should have figured Palou was the real deal after he held off legendary champions Will Power and Scott Dixon over the closing laps at Barber in a drive that showed skill and cool nerves. Palou’s victory also started two movements in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, too. One, he was later joined in the first-time career winner’s club by Pato O’Ward, Rinus VeeKay and Marcus Ericsson. Two, Palou’s victory signaled the start of a possible changing of the guard in the sport, as 20-something drivers like himself, O’Ward, VeeKay and Colton Herta started to challenge the pack of veteran drivers who have dominated the series for the last eight to 10 years.