By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Many competitors in the NTT IndyCar Series hope to fight for the championship. Some have the equipment and talent to do so, but it also requires luck and consistency. One bad run does set a driver back if the rest of the field deliver better results.
All throughout 2021, there were drivers that were unable to keep both in tact. In the case of a couple of drivers, off-track incidents kept them out of the hunt. Furthermore, those who’ve won races or been around for a long time, their season were a glass case of frustrations.
In this preview installment, we’ll be looking at Graham Rahal, Will Power, Felix Rosenqvist, Rinus VeeKay and Alexander Rossi.
Graham Rahal – No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Years in IndyCar: 15
Career Wins: 6
Career Poles: 3
Career Podiums: 32
2021 Standings: 7th
Graham Rahal was the highest points finisher that didn’t score a win in seventh. Yet, he scored seven top-five finishes with a podium in the second Texas race being his best result.
However, he finished a spot lower in points with two finishes outside the top-20 being the low points. Notably, the 105th Indianapolis 500 where a shot of being in the mix for his first series win since 2017 were dashed. This was a result of a loose wheel after exiting pit road, crashing at the entrance of Turn 2 and brought out the second and final caution of the race.
Frustration of being out of the 500 was shown but all things considered, Rahal still had an overall solid 2021 campaign. Fast forward to 2022, Rahal and the organization are poised for a strong season. Rahal explained how far the team have grown since 2015, hoping it can be a stronger year.
“We’ve been very fortunate as an organization to see tremendous growth. I think back so much to 2015. Yes, we had success, but we had no money, no sponsors,” said Rahal. “To where we are today, now expanding to three cars, we have our new building, which I’m sure some of you have driven by or seen, which is going to be a statement certainly to our focus and seriousness about going out and winning. I think it’s been really, really good.”
Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet
Years in IndyCar: 17
Championships: 1 (2014)
Career Wins: 40
Career Poles: 62
Career Podiums: 85
2021 Standings: 9th
For the first time in Will Power’s career as a full-time Penske driver, he failed to finish in the top-five points standings. In fact, he was nowhere near the top-five, finishing a gut punching ninth in points. The second worst season of his legendary career with the worst post-split season being 12th in 2008 when he drove for KV Racing.
Poor finishes and outright rotten luck plagued the former champion all year long. Only mustering four podiums which were also his only top-five finishes.
Essentially, 2021 was year to forget despite getting a win in the August race at the Brickyard. That race was an example he used in response on what improvements must be made this season.
“A good example of that was the second race at the Indy Road Course. The first race we struggled,” said Power. “Obviously reviewed that very closely and then came back and were once again very strong.
“We had quite a few tracks we struggled at last year, so we’ve got plenty of stuff to look at. We’ll do our homework and try and understand why we struggled and then move — yeah, do what we do best.”
Felix Rosenqvist – No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
Years in IndyCar: 3
Career Wins: 1
Career Poles: 1
Career Podiums: 3
2021 Standings: 21st
Stepping into Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 7 team last season, Felix Rosenqvist had it tough. Constantly being outperformed by Pato O’Ward all season long.
Things didn’t get better when he missed two races following horrific crash in the first Belle Isle race. In fact, it wouldn’t be until Nashville when Rosenqvist finally scored a top-10 followed by another one one at Portland three races later.
The weekend Rosenqvist got his first top-10, it was confirmed he’ll stay with the team in 2022. Things can only go up from here for the Swede. A solid start to the season is key for the man who hopes to be back in victory circle for the first time since 2020.
“It’s for sure important to start the year not in the way that I did last year. I think it’s also important to not try to overcomplicate and overachieve,” said Rosenqvist. “I think we just need a solid start to the season to kind of get it going in a smooth way. That’s the way you want to do it in INDYCAR. You don’t want to risk it all in St. Pete and then have a lot of catch-up to do.
“For sure we can’t have a season like we had last year. I don’t have to explain all the things that happened. I think Detroit was only a little part to be honest in everything that was going down.
“We’re excited and we have no reason to think that’s going to happen again. As I say, if we can get off to a smooth start that’s going to help a lot, as well.”
Rinus VeeKay – No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
Years in IndyCar: 2
Career Wins: 1
Career Poles: 3
Career Podiums: 1
2021 Standings: 12th
Similar to 2020, Rinus VeeKay had a mixed bag of highest of highs and lowest of lows. Except, his sophomore season started off strong with a set of top-10s, including a maiden win at the GMR Grand Prix. VeeKay held off Romain Grosjean to get the triumphant victory.
Then in the 105th Indy 500, VeeKay started on the outside of Row 1, led 32 laps and finished eighth. When VeeKay was able to match his pace, it’s likely the race result will turn out good.
That all changed a cycling injury prior to Road America kept him from racing. From there, VeeKay’s season drastically collapsed. Even before his accident, VeeKay hasn’t finished in the top-10 since the first Belle Isle race, two races prior to Road America.
No longer was a guy poised for a top-five points campaign. Instead, it was a matter of even cracking the top-10 at race’s end. Although 12th in points was an improvement by two spots, VeeKay’s campaign left a lot to be desired.
Maturity was acknowledged when VeeKay was asked what’s changed between now and last year. The shift began after winning the GMR Grand Prix.
“At the beginning of last season, like everything was fine. I was joking a lot. Sometimes a little too joke-y,” said VeeKay. “We got some hard weekends in a row. It really made me think. I think it really opened my eyes to always keep looking for that little bit of extra speed that’s hidden for the weekend.
“Now I know that I’ve won my first INDYCAR race, I want to win more. Yeah, in the future I want to win an Indy 500 and also become an INDYCAR champion. To be able to do that, yeah, I need to get every — find every little speed I can from wherever I can.
“I think last half of the season really opened my eyes in a good way. I think it really matured me, too.”
Alexander Rossi – No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda
Years in IndyCar: 6
Career Wins: 7 (including 2016 Indy 500)
Career Poles: 6
Career Podiums: 25
2021 Standings: 10th
For the fifth straight season, Alexander Rossi finished in the top-10 standings but another angst-filled campaign.
A single podium at Portland was down four from 2020 and once again went winless with his last victory being at Road America 37 races ago. However, things did look real bright at season’s end where he had strong showings, including Laguna Seca despite finishing 25th.
In fact, testing there set the bar to where Rossi hopes the early INDYCAR years return where he fights for wins on a regular basis.
“I think it was really positive for us. That was a big missing element, at least between the two of us last year was the road course package. So that continuation has obviously been a focus of our personal standpoint in terms of the 27 car,” Rossi explained.
“I think team-wide the ovals, we haven’t been shy about saying that we need to get better there, especially — well, really anywhere except Indianapolis. So I think that that’s been, again, a big focus. We’re going to be testing at most of them this year, which is a positive. Yeah, I think if we can kind of bridge that gap, then we’ll be in pretty good shape.”