By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Traditionally, silly season always cause a lot of buzz in the NTT IndyCar Series. This upcoming season is no different and it involves drivers who’ve won the Indianapolis 500 and others looking to really hit their stride in the sport.
With certain changes, time will tell if some team chapters will continue or they’ll turn a brand new page in a sport that continues to grow. There’s one central theme among those drivers who’ll drive elsewhere, they’re all powered by Honda.
In this preview installment, we’ll be looking at Takuma Sato, Jack Harvey, Romain Grosjean and Simon Pagenaud.
Takuma Sato – No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing Honda
Years in IndyCar: 12
Career Wins: 6 (including 2017 and 2020 Indy 500)
Career Poles: 10
Career Podiums: 14
2021 Standings: 11th
It was anything but peak for Takuma Sato, who went winless for the first time since 2016. A fourth in the first Belle Isle race proved to be one of the only highlights of the Japanese racer’s campaign.
Once the season was over, changes were made at RLL Racing with Christian Lundgaard ultimately replacing the two-time Indy 500 champion. It wouldn’t be difficult for Sato landing a new home, taking over Romain Grosjean’s gig at Dale Coyne w/ Rick Ware Racing.
With the exception of Sebastien Bourdais, the team have hired drivers who’ve come from Europe or Asia (ex. Grosjean, Santino Ferrucci and Alex Palou) those who needed a second chance (ex. Ed Jones). Sato has taken the new opportunity with tremendous positivity, yet setting expectations isn’t his foray.
“We don’t do the expectation too much because just pointless for me. We want to focus. We need to get know each other first before put 100% commitment,” Sato explained. “On track everything has to be perfect to win the race. Before that we need lots of listen, tons of things to get it done before the season. But we have one single day physical testing allowed to. Incredibly challenging.
“I’m very positive, very excited. Hopefully we will be showing the speed immediately to compete one of the toughest in the field at the moment in INDYCAR,” Sato continued.
“Expectation shouldn’t be too much high, but I certainly feel it’s very, very positive to get out of top content as soon as we could.”
Jack Harvey – No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Years in IndyCar: 5
Career Podiums: 1 (2019 Indy GP)
2021 Standings: 13th
Entering his third full-season in the sport, Jack Harvey continues to improve as a competitor. While race strategy bit his odds of a strong result on multiple occasions, he did have a career point season of 13th. Highlighted with a pair of fourth-place finishes at St. Petersburg and Portland.
However, a streak of finishes below 15th during the middle part of the year denied Harvey’s progress of backing up his qualifying efforts.
Although Harvey’s admiration and respect for Meyer Shank Racing remain, another team took a chance on the 28-year-old. That being Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, he’ll drive the third full-time entry with Hy-Vee backing the effort as the company continues to expand their interests in IndyCar.
The biggest task ahead is having full-time teammates compared to having a part-time teammate in Helio Castroneves last year. Nonetheless, Harvey thinks it’s going to be fine as the biggest picture for him is getting a strong start to the year.
“Really getting off to a strong start to the season is going to be executing the small things really well,” said Harvey. “I think the series is so difficult right now, and the teams are so good and the drivers are so good that all the details are really going to start accumulating in a really strong way.”
Romain Grosjean – No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda
Years in IndyCar: 1
Career Poles: 1
Career Podiums: 3
2021 Standings: 15th
Scott McLaughlin may have won Rookie of the Year in 2021, but some may say the true rookie standout was Romain Grosjean.
“The Phoenix” didn’t compete in the Texas doubleheader and Indy 500 last year, but did impress in his oval debut at Gateway with his daring moves that propelled him to a 14th place finish.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Grosjean was embracing the INDYCAR culture. He let his driving do the talking, scoring three podiums including a pole in the GMR Grand Prix. On top of that, it was his gutsy drive at Laguna Seca that solidify himself as a guy that can definitely win in the sport someday.
Entering 2022, he’ll be joining one of the sport’s top squads in Andretti Autosport. He’ll take over Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda with the long-time sponsor continuing their support to the organization. On top of that, he’ll run the entire campaign including the 106th Indianapolis 500.
But first thing’s first, the season opener at St. Petersburg. With the race coming around the corner, Grosjean can’t wait to continue his momentum from last season.
“Just fighting at the front, fighting for pole position, fighting for podiums, fighting for wins,” Grosjean on the aspect he’s excited the most.
“That’s all that really matters to me. I think I’m in a time of my career where I do it for myself and for myself what I want to do is win races. That’s what I like doing, and that’s definitely what I’m going to try to do.”
Simon Pagenaud – No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda
Years in IndyCar: 12
Championships: 1 (2016)
Career Wins: 15 (including 2019 Indy 500)
Career Poles: 14
Career Podiums: 37
2021 Standings: 8th
For the first time since 2018, Simon Pagenaud was shut out of victory circle and ended up eighth in the final standings for the second straight year. Excluding Scott McLaughlin, Pagenaud tended to be the weakest link at Team Penske.
Although Pagneaud beat Will Power by one spot in the final standings, Power still won at the Indy road course during the Brickyard weekend. Not only that, Power scored four podiums to Pagenaud’s two and if luck favored Power, the podium count would’ve increased.
The true highlight for Pageanud came at the 105th Indianapolis 500. Once again Team Penske didn’t have the raw speed, but come race day, Pagenaud was on a roll.
On a day that Helio Castroneves stole all the headlines, it was Pagenaud that made a superb late-race charge. Coming towards the finish, Pagenaud was able to beat Pato O’Ward to finish third in the 500-mile race.
Fast forward to 2022, Pagenaud is driving for the team Castroneves won the 500 in Meyer Shank Racing.
Already, the pair will enter St. Petersburg as winners (along with Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis) following their triumphant win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Pageanud has seen how Mike Shank’s INDYCAR program continues to grow which he’s found quite interesting.
“Very impressive to see where he’s at now. There aren’t many that have been able lately to build a team from ground zero and go all the way to the top,” said Pagneaud.
“Quite frankly, don’t take this as a small team, it’s quite impressive to see the support from the sponsors, the support from Honda, and the fact that they’re also a factory team in sports cars.
It’s becoming a big operation. But it is a race team. I had the chance to move into the new shop with them in Pataskala, if I say it correctly, in Ohio. It’s a really nice shop. You can see the dedication of everyone to get things done the best way they can,” Pagenaud continued.
“It’s quite interesting to see how responsive everybody is to tasks. But most importantly going back to Mike, it’s the passion. When we first talked, I enjoyed seeing his vision of his race team for the future, for the sport, and his passion for performance. I thought that was quite neat.
“I just thought, man, I think that relationship is going to be very interesting for me. I think we are going to match really well. It seems to be that way.”