St. Petersburg is just days away, and with that comes the beginning of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season. As the season is moments from going green, it’s time to take a look at the biggest storylines for this year’s title fight.
Can Team Penske follow up their stellar 2022? Will Power won the championship, Josef Newgarden led the series in wins (5), and Scott McLaughlin won 3 races in a breakout sophomore season. All three drivers were in mathematical contention for the title entering the final race at Laguna Seca, and Power, while only having one win, was remarkably consistent during his title run. Penske won nearly half the races in 2022; is it too tall an order to repeat? The team returns the same stellar lineup for 2023 (McLaughlin, Power, Newgarden), and with minimal changes in car package, will also return their speed. It will be stunning if Penske is not the top dog in IndyCar once again.
The question is focused then on who among the Captain’s drivers will be the best. Scott McLaughlin's meteoric rise since moving to IndyCar from Australian Supercars in 2021 hints at superstardom in open wheel racing. Josef Newgarden finished second in points three years running and would have been close to usurping Power last year if not for a freak mechanical failure while leading in the second Iowa race last summer. And, of course, Will Power is Will Power, now with a second title on his resume. Regardless of who seizes the top spot within the organization in 2023, all three drivers are legitimate championship contenders, and one of them will end up on top at the conclusion of the season.
Strong Rookie Class
IndyCar is experiencing a youth movement, and 2023 will feature a new batch of the sport’s future stars. 4 drivers enter the ranks of North America’s premier open-wheel racing series, 3 of which intend on competing full time (and the fourth running a majority of the schedule). The entries push the series to 27 full-time cars (26 full-time drivers).
New Zealander Marcus Armstrong headlines the class as he makes the switch from FIA Formula 2 to a road/street gig with Chip Ganassi Racing. Armstrong won 4 races and stood on the podium 8 times during his 3-year stint in F2, including 3 wins last year. He’ll drive the no. 11 Honda, which he’ll share with Takuma Sato (Sato will run the oval races). Armstrong has already shown impressive speed in preseason testing at the Thermal Club. Over four practice sessions, he had the 5th best time overall, behind only Callum Ilott, Kyle Kirkwood, Christian Lundgaard, and Marcus Ericsson. Armstrong is a premier talent, and deserves the hype behind him coming from the F2 ranks. He may be the favorite to be the top rookie in points in 2023, despite running 5 less races than the rest of the rookies.
Benjamin Pedersen, the Danish driver from Seattle, Washington, replaces Dalton Kellett at a reinvigorated A.J. Foyt Racing that saw both 2022 drivers depart following the 2022 season. Pedersen is coming off of 2 strong seasons in Indy Lights (now Indy NXT), including a dominant weekend at Portland where he captured his first Lights pole and win. Pedersen finished 4th and 5th in the Indy Lights standings in 2022 and 2023, respectively, and will bring a fresh burst of talent to a rebuilding Foyt. Pedersen will compete full-time with Foyt in the no. 55 Chevrolet.
Sting Ray Robb, who takes the lead for the best race car driver name in the world, is a late addition to the list. Robb finished second in the Indy Lights standings in 2022, with a win in the penultimate race at Laguna Seca. Robb will join Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing to pilot the no. 51 Honda full time in 2023, joining the race for the IndyCar Rookie of the Year championship. DCR with RWR, which operates with less funding and fanfare than some of the larger teams, always finds competitive results. In 2021, the team achieved a pole at the Indy GP and 3 podiums with Romain Grosjean. In 2022, Takuma Sato led laps at Gateway, and found speed at numerous tracks. Given Robb’s talent and energy, the team will have some strong runs in 2023. The future is promising for Robb and DCR/RWR.
Augustin Canapino is a surprise addition to the list, as the 33-year-old Argentinian announced in January that he would join Juncos-Hollinger Racing full time in 2023, driving the no. 78 Chevrolet. Canapino joins Callum Ilott on an up-and-coming Juncos team that saw strong results towards the end of 2022. Canapino is not a household name in the United States, but has the support of his home country and has a strong racing resume in Argentina. He has 15 national series championships over the course of his South American racing career. In November of last year, Canapino drove a Juncos-Hollinger car in an exhibition event in front of a packed crowd in Buenos Aires, proving both his speed and the enthusiasm for IndyCar racing within the fans of his home nation. As IndyCar looks to grow internationally, Canapino could be a boon for the series, as he opens the exposure to an entire nation of racing fans. Given Hollinger’s speed at the end of 2022, Canapino should have some strong results, even though he’s not the traditional rookie.
Alexander Rossi headlines a group of drivers that moved teams in the offseason. The American star, formerly of Andretti Autosport, makes the jump to Arrow McLaren. He’ll join Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist in papaya as the global racing team prepares three full-time entries for the 2023 season. Rossi snapped a winless streak spanning nearly 3 years last summer with a win at the Indianapolis GP summer race. The 2016 Indy 500 champion and former Formula 1 driver has 8 career IndyCar wins and a best points finish of second in 2018. Time will tell if a change of scenery will propel Rossi to the performance that many believe him capable of; if McLaren can provide fast cars, expect him to be a serious title competitor.
Rossi’s departure opened the door for Kyle Kirkwood. The 24-year-old, hailing from Jupiter, Florida, spent a significant portion of his rookie season at A.J. Foyt Racing behind the wall. Kirkwood, after a dominant 2021 in Indy Lights that saw him winning 10 races and the title, struggled in his debut IndyCar season and failed to finish 7 times. Kirkwood clearly has talent, and moving to a powerhouse organization like Andretti will be a huge equipment upgrade. He needs to keep the car on track; if he can avoid the garage in 2023, he’ll have a strong sophomore season.
2 time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato is not done yet. He recently announced that he’ll run the oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2023, filling in for rookie Marcus Armstrong. Sato, a former F1 driver, returns for his 14th year in IndyCar.
Also making a triumphant return, Tony Kanaan will make one final run at the Indy 500 in 2023 with McLaren. He’ll drive the no. 66 for the orange-and-black outfit in May. Kanaan won the 2013 Indy 500; 10 years later, the 2004 IndyCar champion will attempt to win it again one last time. Last year, he finished on the podium, so a storybook ending isn’t completely out of the cards.
2023 Schedule Shakeups (or lack thereof)
The 2023 schedule has a whopping two changes compared to last season. Nashville and the second Indianapolis GP swap weekends— yippee! The major change, if you can even call it that, is the Detroit GP’s move from the historic Belle Isle racetrack to downtown Detroit in early June. There is some excitement around the street course, and the city of Detroit seems to be investing heavily in the June 4th event.
The 2023 IndyCar season begins this Sunday in St. Petersburg, Florida, with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 5th. The race will begin at 12 PM eastern, and will air on NBC.