Today’s question: Felix Rosenqvist was a first-time winner last season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Who will be the next driver to enter Victory Lane for the first time in the series in 2021?
Curt Cavin: It has to be Pato O’Ward, right? He had four podium finishes in 14 races last season, plus his first career pole, and was as good on road courses as he was short ovals. He also returns to Arrow McLaren SP for a second season, which is worth something. Give consideration to Rinus VeeKay, Jack Harvey and maybe even Scott McLaughlin, and Conor Daly would be a good choice if we’re still searching for a first-time winner by the time the schedule turns to World Wide Technology Raceway, which is his best track. But O’Ward could have two wins by then.
Zach Horrall: This is a tough question, simply because the young crop of drivers in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is so strong. I really believe the series will have several first-time winners in 2021, and I’m going to stick with that No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda that Rosenqvist drove to Victory Lane and say Alex Palou becomes the next first-time winner. 2020 was a really difficult year to make your first season, but Palou produced solid results for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh and scored his first podium in just his third start at Road America en route to a pretty consistent season, considering there was no testing and limited practice. With that in mind, just imagine what he can do with experience, better equipment and some of the best drivers in the world as his teammates. The Spaniard is hopping into a car that Rosenqvist drove to a win and five top-10s last season, and he will race out of the same shop as defending champion Scott Dixon, former series champ and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and former Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson. You better watch out for Palou in 2021.
Paul Kelly: This is a question with many possible answers, which illustrates the depth and competitiveness of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The P’s – Pato and Palou – are both smart picks. But my mind and my gut continue to point to Rinus VeeKay. The dude has serious Road to Indy pedigree, with second-place championship finishes in USF2000 and Indy Lights and a title in Indy Pro 2000. He showed speed on road courses and ovals throughout his rookie NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in 2020, including his impressive fourth-place qualifying position at the Indianapolis 500 and his first career NTT P1 Award for pole in the first race of the Harvest GP. He converted that pole into his first career podium finish, placing third. VeeKay also was quickest yesterday in testing at Barber, beating a pack that included all four Team Penske drivers. There’s no doubt VeeKay is fearless and fast – he just needs to learn consistency. I think that will happen in 2021, and he will find Victory Lane. It’s a measure of his talent that I wouldn’t be surprised if that first win comes on a road/street course or oval. At just 20, this guy has the potential to be quite an all-arounder for a decade or two in this series. This is the breakthrough year.