Today’s question: There were many interesting storylines in the second half of the recently completed NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. Aside from the championship contenders, which driver and his program did you most have your eyes on?
Curt Cavin: For me, it was Felix Rosenqvist and his program at Arrow McLaren SP. It seemed to be one saga after another for the likeable Swede, with it appearing early in the season that he would be moved out of the No. 7 Chevrolet in favor of Alex Palou and assigned to a seat in the organization’s Formula E program. But as Palou’s situation with Chip Ganassi Racing took several interesting turns, Rosenqvist delivered one of the best seasons of his career, with top-10 finishes in 10 of the final 13 races and a third-place finish in Toronto. He was squarely in the fight late in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, where he finished fourth, and he added the second and third series poles of his career in a season that ended with him ninth in the point standings. Had Arrow McLaren SP not locked up Rosenqvist for 2023, he would have been the most-coveted free agent of this offseason with potentially his pick of several quality series rides. It was quite the drama to watch, and Rosenqvist came out of it quite well, increasing his stock for the future.
Joey Barnes: Well, it would be easy to pick out the likes of Will Power and his consistency, or Josef Newgarden’s onslaught of victories, so to move away from the title contenders makes this question unique. I think in this situation you’ve always got to go with someone that leaves you craving more because the potential of achieving something special is just on the horizon. Honestly, I know putting it together in the race was tricky for this group, but I have to go with Callum Ilott and Juncos Hollinger Racing. A guy that probably should have been given a better look for Formula One opportunities, Ilott has come into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and helped be the centerpiece for the only full-time single-car team that we all know is as hard-working as they come in this business. Ilott had several strong practice sessions where he put the No. 77 JHR Chevrolet in the top half of the field and made his mark in qualifying bouts that included narrowly missing the pole and starting a career-best second in the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Oh, and giving the team its first – and second – top 10 in North America’s premier open-wheel championship is certainly worthy of praise, too. If this team didn’t suffer the ill-timed mechanical issues or being caught into trouble on track, we might have been talking about a different driver winning Rookie of the Year.
Paul Kelly: Guess I can’t include Scott McLaughlin because he was a title contender through the season finale. Scotty Mac was the most impressive driver of the season, period, to me because of what he achieved in just his second full season of open-wheel racing, let alone just second year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. But among the drivers not contending for a title at Laguna Seca, Christian Lundgaard impressed me for boosting the resurrection of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing during the second half of the season, which landed him the Rookie of the Year award. Both Lundgaard and teammate Graham Rahal managed six top-10 finishes in the final 10 races of 2022, but Lundgaard finished on the podium with his runner-up result at the Gallagher Grand Prix, and he also made the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying three times in the last four road/street races. Rahal managed that only twice this season, at Toronto and Portland. Either way, this isn’t a comparison of Christian and Graham, who both did a fine job in the second half. But rookie Lundgaard gets the nod for me within RLLR due to his inexperience in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He also caught my eye even more than fellow Rookie of the Year contender David Malukas, who found more speed in the second half and whose performance at World Wide Technology Raceway was superb. But Malukas wasn’t as consistent as Lundgaard in races down the stretch. I’m stoked to see Lundgaard and Rahal continue to propel RLL’s resurgence, and the prospect of Lundgaard and Malukas continuing their friendly duels next season also excites.