Today’s question: The first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of the 2022 season is now just over a week away – the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding is Sunday, Feb. 27 at noon (ET) on NBC, Telemundo and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Nearly all the competitors participated in a final preseason test earlier this week in Sebring, Florida. What was your biggest takeaway from the two-day session, and why?
Curt Cavin: Rookie David Malukas posting the second-fastest lap in Monday’s session obviously caught my attention, but I wasn’t that surprised given that everyone describes last year’s Indy Lights runner-up as “fast.” What made me go, “Whoa!” was Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves going 1-2 on Tuesday. No, it wasn’t a full field that day – only 14 car-and-driver combinations participated, and four of them were rookies – but Chip Ganassi Racing was there with two series champions and a combined six wins in 2021, so there were notables present. Look, this year’s 26-car field is already incredibly deep, with 14 former race winners and a host of hotshot newcomers, but it gets exponentially deeper if both of Meyer Shank Racing’s cars are regular contenders for race wins. Certainly, this was a good start for the Ohio team.
Zach Horrall: To Curt’s point, the speed of David Malukas wasn’t all that shocking – I’ve believed from the beginning he has what it takes. Same goes for Kyle Kirkwood. But I didn’t expect them to show this kind of speed right out of the gate, especially given the success of their teams as of late. My biggest takeaway from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES test at Sebring is that we should not sleep on Malukas and Kirkwood, who I think are going to continue to shepherd in the next generation and make this season’s field even deeper than we already thought it would be. Malukas posted the second fastest speed of Day 1 in a car that hasn’t won in four years. The last time the No. 18 visited Victory Lane was when Sebastien Bourdais won at St. Petersburg in 2018. Then on Day 2, Kirkwood ranked fifth, placing his AJ Foyt Racing car between Rinus VeeKay’s Ed Carpenter Racing machine and defending champion Alex Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing car. The last time this team won a race was in 2013 with Takuma Sato at Long Beach. Last year, Romain Grosjean proved that Dale Coyne Racing cars have speed, and Sebastien Bourdais showed there was potential at AJ Foyt Racing. Now, these two young guns are already punching above their weight, and their potential success has me extremely excited to get the season going next weekend to see what they can do.
Paul Kelly: I think Felix Rosenqvist is set to be the Super Ball of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season – poised for a BIG rebound. Rosenqvist finished a lowly 21st last season in his first year with Arrow McLaren SP, hampered by missing two races due to injury. But it looks like the new pairing with ace engineer Craig Hampson already is flexing muscle, as Rosenqvist was seventh-quickest Monday and more than a tenth ahead of teammate Pato O’Ward. Rosenqvist has one career INDYCAR SERIES victory, but I expect that total to at least double this season. I think he has the potential to be the Marcus Ericsson of 2022, another talented Swede who becomes a series stalwart and title contender. If Curt and Zach weren’t surprised with David Malukas’ speed, then color me non-shocked that Romain Grosjean was third quickest overall Monday, less than two-tenths behind leader and Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta. In fact, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if we reach the final checkered flag of the season in September at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with Grosjean as the top-placed Andretti Autosport driver in the standings.