Is There Really a Big Four in IndyCar?

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The other night, I was reading Robin Miller’s Mailbag. Someone had asked a question about potential crash damage after the Texas race, heading into the Month of May. Their question centered on how much this would affect the small-budget teams in the NTT IndyCar Series. Normally I would not have paid much attention to this question, because Miller’s answer was fairly predictable – saying that it would affect the smaller teams much more than the larger teams.

That’s not too hard to figure out, but there was a phrase that he used in his answer that caught my eye. Instead of saying the larger teams, he used the phrase “Big 4” to describe the larger teams.

My question is…which teams make up the Big Four?

He used the number “4” instead of spelling out F-o-u-r. Did he just hit the wrong key, or was this his way of saying one team had jumped to the level of the Big Three?

For years, we have referred to the Big Three teams of the NTT IndyCar Series – Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport (in no particular order). But who is the other member of the Big Four? Until this week, I had never heard anyone associated with IndyCar, refer to the Big Four.

Since 2010, the vast majority of race wins have been won by one of those three teams. No other teams even come close to collecting as many wins as any of those three. In fact, no team outside of those three teams has more than nine wins since 2010.

What would put a team into the Big Four? Would it be the number of wins? Is it how many cars they run? Is it stability in drivers or sponsorships? Is it the amount of resources a team, has at its disposal? What exactly would one consider in grouping a team with Andretti, Penske and Ganassi?

Winning is the name of the game, so I’m going to say it is how many wins a team has.

Since 2010, Carlin and Foyt have one win between them – that was Takuma Sato’s win at Long Beach in 2013, when Sato was driving for Foyt; so we know Robin Miller wasn’t talking about them. Meyer Shank Racing has no wins yet, but they are a team on the rise. Still, I don’t they are in the Big Four yet.

Some might say it’s McLaren, simply because they are…McLaren. I know, the name is still Arrow McLaren SP. I don’t really consider them the same team as the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports that collected seven wins between 2013 and 2018, with drivers Simon Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe doing the winning. Their last race win was in 2018, when Hinch won at Iowa. They have now remade their driver lineup, their engine manufacturer, their engineering staff and their management and ownership group. They are practically unrecognizable from their last win three years ago. Do we give them seven wins since 2010, or re-start the clock to the McLaren takeover and say this current team hasn’t won anything yet. Regardless, I don’t think they are in the Big Four.

That leaves three other teams; Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR), Dale Coyne Racing (DCR) and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR).

ECR has won five races since 2010, but the last one was in 2016 when Josef Newgarden dominated the field at Iowa. It’s hard to believe but that was five seasons ago. Newgarden has moved on to Team Penske and has won two championships. ECR hasn’t won since. Scratch them out of the Big Four.

Dale Coyne has also won five races since 2010, most recently in 2018. Some seasons they can be strong and challenge for wins, other seasons they are a laughing stock. They need to amass a lot more wins and gain greater consistency before they can ever be considered part of the Big Four.

That leaves Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Over the last decade, they have collected nine wins, and they have all come since 2015. Graham Rahal won one of the most epic races I can remember – the exciting 2015 race at Fontana. He has won five of those nine, but hasn’t won a race since sweeping the double-header at Belle Isle in 2017. The team’s last four races have been won by teammate Takuma Sato, including the 2020 Indianapolis 500 this past August.

Does winning nine races in six seasons, including an Indianapolis 500 put you in the same elite company with Penske, Ganassi and Andretti; or did Robin Miller accidentally hit a “4” instead of a “3”? Is there any reason to go beyond the Big Three in the first place, while there is still a large gap between the Big Three and RLLR. To be honest, I’m not sure of the answer. I am curious to hear what some of you think. It’s too bad we no longer have poll questions.

Speaking of which…a couple of weeks ago, one of the loyal readers of this site offered to send me a check for $180 to continue the poll questions for a year. While I was flattered at his generous offer, I politely turned him down. There have to be free options out there. One of these days, I am going to explore other options. In the meantime, we’ll have to use the comment section to see what everyone thinks.

George Phillips

11 Responses to “Is There Really a Big Four in IndyCar?”

  1. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    Despite their lack of wins I think Robin was referring to Arrow McLaren SP because they don’t ask for money from their drivers and are seemingly on the rise. Wouldn’t the easiest way to determine Robin’s comment be to write to his mailbag and ask him?

    • billytheskink Says:

      Someone will probably ask Miller about this in the next mailbag, except that it won’t be in the form of a question…

      The stats, of course, don’t bear out AMSP’s rank in any “Big 4”, but you correctly point out that they seem to be the team with the resources to move into the top tier of teams.

  2. I had the same reaction when reading Miller’s Mailbag. Big 4? Anyway, I think he was including McLaren. In his Feb. 3 mailbag, he wrote, “I pick Colton Herta to dethrone him after winning a close battle with Pato O’Ward,” so he thinks a McLaren driver will contend for the championship. That suggests to me that he thinks they’re at the top level.

  3. James T Suel Says:

    I think he was including McLaren, because of their driver line up and the potential of that team.

  4. Wow great debatable topic here. I think Rahal and SPAM are the only options, I personally still go with big 3 with those 2 teams being 1b to that. Carpenter would have been in that list a few years ago and Coyne at times. Almost a tiebreaker year though for those 2, to see who pulls ahead and potentially into the big 3 group. I have my money on SPAM doing it with their drivers being on the upswing. I think Pato can really be a star.

  5. In terms of success, I think it’s more accurate to say IndyCar has a “Big 2.” Andretti Autosport had one win last season and hasn’t won a title since 2012…one championship in the past 13 seasons. Not trying to bash. I’m a fan of Michael’s IndyCar operation. Just being honest though.

  6. I think it’s top two and a half !
    As Victorlovisa points out Andretti are hanging onto a top three by there finger nails.
    Miller was I feel definitely referring to Schmidt Peterson but maybe calling them one of the top four is slightly premature. 2021 will reveal although which four teams had drivers in the top four of the 2020 Championship ?
    Ganassi, Penske, Andretti & SP. A number of different ways to slice a cake.

    What it does remind us is how competitive this 2021 season is going to be and I would not put good money on the outcome right now.

  7. well, could he have meant 5?
    it is beside the 4 key, too.

  8. I think Rahal is on the cusp of joining the Big Three, but just can’t quite seem to pull it together to be in the select group. Arrow Mclaren SP needs a lot more results to even have a sniff at the elite ranking. I think this year they will begin that climb.

  9. At the time, it looks indeed more like a “big 3” than “big 4”.
    But remember 2009 when it was just a “big 2”.

    A slightly uneducated guess is that it all depends on how many years the series has already run the same chassis: in the beginning, the playing field is fairly even. Then, top teams will emerge and dominate until the other teams catch up again near the latter years of a chassis being in use. That was the case with the IR-03/-08 and will also be the case with the current car, though this one went through more bumpers, twists and turns with aero kits come and gone and the current era aero screen.

    Team Rahal definitely used to be in the “big 4” before they dropped out of the series in the late 2000s for a few years, and it’s just awesome how they have bounced back from that. They are a winning team again and will win more.

    Schmidt Peterson Arrow McLaren have always been fast, even in their previous guise as FAZZT Race Team. They can win on a good day, and over the past few years, they have increased their amount of good days considerably.

    In retrospect, it looks like Derrick Walker’s presence at ECR made a difference, one that carried over for a while even when he wasn’t present anymore. That’s what the team must get back to again. Rinus Van Kalmthout has already shown he is a great talent and I’m looking forward to seeing him win.

    Coyne will always be Coyne. Yet, in the past 10 years, they have gathered a really good group of engineers that makes both of their cars contenders on a good day, regardless of who is driving them. I hope they can get a good oval specialist for their 2nd car for this year.

    And looking back, Newman/Haas used to be a member of the “big 4” even back in 2008 when they came over from ChampCar. But the team didn’t really have a succession plan in place for their 2 founders.

  10. Steve Wallace Says:

    It’s all about the Benjamins. McLaren.

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