Today’s question: The first NTT INDYCAR SERIES Open Test of the 2023 season is scheduled for next Thursday and Friday, Feb. 2-3, at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California. What team intrigues you the most at this test?
Curt Cavin: I’m intrigued by the pairing at Dale Coyne Racing. Start with the fact David Malukas had an impressive first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, with several strong runs in the second half of the season, including the way he dueled with Team Penske late in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway and finished second. He should be stronger in Year 2, but how strong? He finished 16th in the point standings, so can he sniff at the top 10? Can he challenge for a race win? Malukas will be paired with rookie Sting Ray Robb, whom most people didn’t notice was Andretti Autosport’s top-finishing INDY NXT by Firestone driver last season and second in overall points. Can Robb have the kind of first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season that Malukas had? None of the aforementioned questions will be answered next week at The Thermal Club, but how the two drivers and their crews begin to work together -- and how comparable the lap times of the drivers are -- will be interesting to watch. From the did-you-know department, Malukas and Robb were both born in September 2001, and Robb is the older of the two by 24 days.
Joey Barnes: The team I’ll be keeping an eye on is Arrow McLaren Racing because of several reasons such as… How will the departure of Taylor Kiel impact not only the organization, but also the fact he was the strategist for Pato O’Ward? The arrival of Alexander Rossi is another element to a team that also expands to three full-time entries this year; will that prove to bolster the group or stretch the resources too far? Is this what the organization needed to move into the territory and overthrow the “Big Three” of Andretti, Ganassi and Penske? O’Ward finished seventh in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship last year, which was a drop his third-place result in 2021. While it’s crazy to call it a “down year,” it’s significant to see if he rebounds to challenge for the title once again. For Felix Rosenqvist, it looks like the confidence is back and he’s pushing to break the glass ceiling that has held him down in recent years. I expect he’s going to shatter it and be a player for several podiums and even a couple of wins in 2023, but like everyone, he goes as the program goes. And then there is 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Rossi. The storyline is simple: new team, new manufacturer - so a new powerband to learn - how will he get on? The pieces are there to see a shakeup among the big teams. It’s all about if Arrow McLaren and Co. have the pieces in place to take that next step.
Paul Kelly: Meyer Shank Racing. MSR looked after the 2021 season like it might be a contender to become a true power team in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2022. The team took home a huge prize in 2021 with Helio Castroneves’ fourth Indianapolis 500 victory, and full-time driver Jack Harvey finished 13th in the standings. But results slipped last year when the team fielded two full-time cars for the first time, for two Indy 500-winning veterans. Simon Pagenaud finished 15th in the standings and Castroneves placed 18th as he returned as a series regular. The potential is there, as Pagenaud showed when he drove to a runner-up finish to Colton Herta in the GMR Grand Prix in May in tricky mixed conditions on the IMS road course. And to be fair, the jump to two full-time cars is large even for the most prepared and funded teams. Team co-owner Mike Shank said in December that finding consistency would be a big goal for MSR in 2023, and that mission starts on track at Thermal. Pagenaud and Castroneves both are heading toward the sunset of their respective careers, but their experience and wisdom – plus bursts of still-existing speed – should be enough for this team to make progress.