Alexander Rossi

Arrow McLaren was winless last season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after capturing two wins apiece in 2021 and 2022.

That drought continued March 10 at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix at St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, as Pato O’Ward was the team’s top finisher, in second in the team’s No. 5 Chevrolet for the second straight year.

But there was reason for optimism, as Alexander Rossi finished seventh and Callum Ilott 13th. Team Penske – with three of the top four finishers, including winner Josef Newgarden – was the only other organization to place three cars in the top half of the field at the finish.

That glow might be a little brighter for Arrow McLaren after an all-day private test Monday, March 18 at Barber Motorsports Park, as Rossi and Ilott went 1-2 on the final time sheets. Five teams and 15 cars turned laps on the 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama, host to the third points-paying event of the season, the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix powered by AmFirst on Sunday, April 28.

While times and speeds were not officially released from the private test, various media reports and social media feeds have given an opportunity to try to make some itemized deductions:

Arrow McLaren Solid

Arrow McLaren placed three in the top 13 on a street circuit March 10 at St. Petersburg, and that pace continued on a natural terrain road course. Rossi led, Ilott was second, and O’Ward ended up eighth.

2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Rossi ended up .140 of a second clear of Ilott, who is substituting for the injured David Malukas. Ilott will be in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet this weekend at The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge special event, but Malukas, who underwent hand and wrist surgery after a mountain biking accident in February, could be in the car by the next points event, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 21.

If so, then it appears Malukas will have quite the hot rod to drive after his return. Ilott was second in the afternoon session and overall and fourth in the morning, just two-tenths of a second behind morning leader Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ganassi Looming

Chip Ganassi Racing won nine of the 17 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races in 2023, including the last four races of the season.

So, it was a bit surprising March 10 at St. Petersburg to see no CGR drivers on the podium after the race. Palou opened the defense of his second series title by finishing sixth, the best result for the five CGR drivers in the 27-car field.

Well, normal service was restored at this test.

Palou was third overall in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, .214 behind leader Rossi. Dixon was right behind him in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, .436 behind Rossi after leading the morning session. Marcus Armstrong was seventh in the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda as CGR’s three veteran drivers all ended up in the top seven.

This team won’t stay down for long.

Meyer Shank Surge Continues

Felix Rosenqvist was one of the most discussed drivers at the season opener at St. Petersburg, as he led practice Friday, qualified on the front row just behind NTT P1 Award winner Newgarden and was a bit disappointed to finish seventh in his first race with Meyer Shank Racing in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda.

Those good vibes continued for Rosenqvist at Barber, and his teammate joined in the fun.

Rosenqvist ended up sixth overall, slightly more than one-half second behind leader Rossi. Rookie teammate Tom Blomqvist was ninth in the No. 66 AutoNation/Arctic Wolf Honda.

It’s early days, but it appears this team led by Mike Shank, Jim Meyer and four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves is on the rebound this season after recording no top-10 finishes in 2023.

Lundgaard Provides Hope for RLL

It’s safe to say Rahal Letterman Lanigan wanted to put the season-opening race eight days ago at St. Petersburg into the rear-view mirror as much as possible.

RLL showed great improvement in its road- and street-course technical package in the second half of last season after a slow start, with Christian Lundgaard winning from the pole at Toronto and Graham Rahal claiming NTT P1 Awards at the August road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at Portland.

That momentum didn’t carry through the offseason into St. Petersburg, as team newcomer Pietro Fittipaldi was the top finisher, 15th in the No. 30 OAKBERRY PneuStore Honda. Rahal was 16th in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda. Lundgaard suffered a flat tire on the opening lap on his No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda and came home in 20th as the last car on the lead lap.

But Lundgaard bounced back today at Barber. He ended up fifth, just .027 of a second behind Dixon in fifth. That was no fluke, either, as Lundgaard held the same spot after the morning session.

All Eyes on Thermal

These 15 drivers and five teams will head west with the rest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge on Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, March 24 near Palm Springs, California.

The special event, which features heat racing and a two-segment final race, features a winner’s purse of $500,000. An Open Test will precede the non-points event Friday and Saturday on the 3.067-mile layout at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains.