Today’s question: Very few people outside of Chip Ganassi Racing would have predicted a year ago that Alex Palou would emerge from a promising rookie season with Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh to win the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in his first year with CGR. Which driver has the potential to leap from the midfield or lower into title contention in the 2022 season?
Curt Cavin: I think it’s going to be Romain Grosjean. Of course, no one who follows world-class motorsports will be surprised in his first season with Andretti Autosport, but a lot of our casual fan base will be. I don’t know if he’ll win the championship, but I think he will go to the final race weekend with a chance to. Also, keep an eye on Kyle Kirkwood to contend for a race win. I wouldn’t be surprised if at one of the early races – say at Barber Motorsports Park on May 1 – the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing car is in the hunt in the second half of the race.
Zach Horrall: Romain is a great choice. I’ve thought since the day he announced his ride with Andretti Autosport that he’ll be a title contender. But I think the next driver to give us a surprise run to the season finale will come from within Chip Ganassi Racing again – Marcus Ericsson. He’s starting to get in his groove at CGR, and he proved in the second half of the season that he can be a title contender – heck, he was a title contender for a period of time. He needs to come out of the gate strong, and I suspect he will start 2022 the way he ended this past season. It will put him in prime contentions for not just race wins, but a championship.
Paul Kelly: I can’t argue with the choice of The Phoenix by Curt. But Grosjean would have been considerably higher in the standings if he ran every race before his oval debut in August at World Wide Technology Raceway, especially the double-points Indy 500. I’m ruling out Marcus Ericsson, too, since he already was a title contender for most of the second half of last season. If we’re going truly left field, and that’s from where Alex Palou came to win the title last year, then I have a hunch about Felix Rosenqvist. This will be his fourth season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and it borders on make or break. Last season FRo was hampered by getting acclimated to his new surroundings at Arrow McLaren SP and then missing two races due to injury, but Rosenqvist hasn’t matched expectations since he entered the series in 2019 with Chip Ganassi Racing. He has just one win, in 2020 with Ganassi. That changes this year, as I think Felix will have a breakout season in his second year with AMSP. It’s no easy task to topple teammate Pato O’Ward, who pairs abundant natural speed with ninja-like hand speed on the wheel. But I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to see Rosenqvist win at least once this season and finish in the top five or six in the standings. He has the talent.