Note: This is part of a series of NTT INDYCAR SERIES team previews for the 2023 season.
Starting Lineup: Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda), Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda), Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda), Marcus Armstrong (No. 11 Honda on road courses and street circuits), Takuma Sato (No. 11 Honda on oval tracks).
2022 in Review: Ericsson scored a career-defining victory in the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, leading the final 13 laps while surviving a late-restart challenge from Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward. Ericsson, who started fifth, became the second Swede to win the event, following Kenny Brack in 1999. The massive haul of points helped Ericsson lead the standings for most of the summer months. He finished sixth. Dixon won a pair of races, bringing his career total to 53, moving him into second place on the sport’s all-time list behind A.J. Foyt (67). Mario Andretti had 52. Dixon won the Honda Indy Toronto and the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, but the season will be remembered for the race win that got away. While dominating the “500” from the pole and leading a race-high 95 laps, Dixon entered pit road on his final scheduled stop just a tick too quick, drawing a penalty. Instead of potentially winning the race for the second time, he was relegated to the back of the lead lap and finished 21st. That mistake also had major championship implications as it cost him the opportunity to score more than 70 additional points; he finished the season 39 points out of the lead. He, like Will Power, completed all 2,268 laps during the year, and Dixon also became the all-time laps leader in the “500,” pushing his career total to 665 (21 more than Al Unser), and moved to No. 2 in career poles in the event with five (Rick Mears won six). Palou wasn’t able to repeat as series champion – he finished fifth, losing a tiebreaker with Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin – but he ended the season with a victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey for his fourth career race win. Palou started alongside Dixon on the front row for the “500” and led 47 laps before being issued a penalty for taking emergency service in a closed pit on Lap 77. He finished ninth in the race. Jimmie Johnson’s second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season featured leading two laps of the “500” and winning the Rookie of the Year Award. He also had strong runs in the oval races at Texas Motor Speedway (finished sixth) and Iowa Speedway (led 19 laps in Race 1, finished fifth in Race 2). Sato’s first season with Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing was highlighted by a fifth-place finish in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway. Armstrong finished his third season in the FIA’s Formula 2 championship with three race wins driving for Hitech Grand Prix.
New for ’23: Johnson’s departure opened the door for the team to sign Armstrong, who won four races over three seasons in F2. The addition of Sato gives CGR three drivers who have won the “500” in their careers (Dixon in 2008 and Ericsson last year are the others). Sato won in 2017 for Andretti Autosport and 2020 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan. Taylor Kiel, the former president of Arrow McLaren SP, joined CGR as team manager.
Keep an Eye on This: Palou’s 2022 season was clouded by a contractual dispute, but his results were stronger than history will likely remember. He had five top-three finishes on road courses before winning the season-ending race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with a charge from the 11th starting position. Palou said he and the team have mended fences, so if he can drive as mentally free as he did in last year’s finale, a second series championship in three years could be in the cards.
Little-Known Fact: CGR placed three drivers in the top six of last year’s series standings, with Dixon leading the charge in third place. Such a finish has become the norm for the six-time series champion. Dixon has finished in the top four of the standings six consecutive years and in 16 of the past 17 campaigns. The outlier: He was sixth in 2016.