Yet, Another Championship Prediction

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As the NTT IndyCar Series is on the cusp of a new season, I suppose it’s time to predict who will win the 2022 championship. This is a fun, but pointless, exercise. We can look at trends on who was the last driver to successfully defend their title the following year (Dario Franchitti, who won consecutive titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011) and who has been agonizingly close.

I’m not sure anyone picked Alex Palou to win the championship last season, before the season started. Even after winning the season-opener at Barber and collecting double-points for his second-place finish in the Indianapolis 500; most thought he would fade in the second half of the season. I was one of them.

Most of us picked Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden (my 2021 pick) or Colton Herta. Those three drivers finished in the Top-Five, but Palou won the championship and Pato O’Ward finished third – with Newgarden, Dixon and Herta finishing second, fourth and fifth respectively.

My old-age notwithstanding, I think we will see a veteran driver at the top of the standings when the season closes out at Laguna Seca in September.

Colton Herta has proven he is fast. He dominated the second race of the season at St. Petersburg last season and closed out the season with two runaway wins at Laguna Seca and Long Beach. It’s what happened in between that causes a little doubt to creep in on his ability to win a championship. When he is on, he’s on. But he can let a mediocre weekend slip in between two strong results. That inconsistency has plagued him throughout his brief IndyCar career. He has left no doubt regarding his speed and quickness. Once he strings a consistent season together, he will probably hoist the Astor Challenge Cup at the end of a season. But I don’t think he’s there yet. It won’t be this season.

Pato O’Ward is a phenomenal talent, but there are two things holding him back. One is that he reportedly drives by the seat of his pants too much. That’s not a bad thing. Eddie Sachs and Gordon Johncock shared this trait, and they both had good careers. But neither of those drivers knew much about setting up a car. They just knew when it was right and knew that was time to stand on the throttle. In this day and age, however – driver feedback is more critical than ever. Fifty years ago, the engineers played a much smaller role to the driver. Today, the chemistry between a driver and the engineer is vital. If the driver doesn’t know how to relay what he or she is feeling – the engineer doesn’t know what to do. O’Ward may have more raw talent than Palou or Herta, but until he gets a better handle on what he’s feeling in the car – third place in the championship may be his ceiling.

The other thing that O’Ward needs to get a handle on is his emotions. When O’Ward faces adversity, he seems to get really down on himself. There is a reason Scott Dixon is called “The Iceman”. It’s because he stays cool and even-keeled in the cockpit. He stays calm when things go wrong. That trait has helped him win six championships. That kind of things comes with maturity. O’Ward is still very young. It will eventually come to him, but not in time to win the 2022 championship.

While he won’t contend for the championship, I will be keeping my eye on Kyle Kirkwood. If he was driving for one of the top teams, his chances might be better. But a rookie driver with Foyt, with another rookie as a teammate and a not-so-spectacular driver as the veteran teammate – his chances are slim to make any noise at all in 2022. But everything I hear about him says he shows more promise than any other rookie driver since Josef Newgarden. I’m interested in watching his career develop.

Many are touting the potential of Christian Lundgaard, who will start his second IndyCar race ever this weekend. Many base their enthusiasm for Lundgaard off of one race weekend, that saw him finish twelfth last August at the IMS road course. I need to see more than that to jump on his bandwagon.

That leaves a ton of veteran drivers to choose from for my pick to win the championship. There have been a few veteran driver moves that will be interesting to watch to see how they pan out. Takuma Sato has moved to Dale Coyne Racing, Jack Harvey takes Sato’s seat at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. One of the most intriguing moves is Simon Pagenaud leaving Team Penske to take Harvey’s ride at Meyer Shank Racing, joining his former Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.

Pagenaud is the sexy pick among many to win the championship. I’m not buying it. I think a lot of people really enjoyed watching Helio Castroneves stick it to The Captain, by winning his fourth Indianapolis 500 last May. I think some envision Pagenaud doing the same. I think Pagenaud will be a non-factor this season. Helio will have his moments, but he will also struggle mightily at some tracks.

Marcus Ericsson will continue to be an outlier. He may win a race or two, but I don’t see him as championship contender.

I see the championship coming down to four veterans and three young drivers – none of which will be classified as going out on a limb. Alex Palou, Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward will make things interesting, but none of them will finish higher than third in the championship standings. The four veterans to battle it out to the bitter end will be Alexander Rossi in a bounce-back season, his new teammate Romain Grosjean, and perennial contenders Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon.

I see Dixon and Newgarden taking the battle to the season-finale with Josef Newgarden coming out on top and thwarting Dixon’s dream of a seventh and record-tying IndyCar championship. AJ Foyt will still be in sole possession of that record. Youth will be served in the coming season, but not in 2022.

Most of these predictions aren’t worth the bandwidth they are typed in to. This one is probably about as worthless as the rest, but we’ll get a taste of who’s right by the end of this weekend. Stay tuned.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Yet, Another Championship Prediction”

  1. Romain Grosjean is my tip. Got quickly confident during last season and will really get to it this year.

  2. I keep changing my mind!
    Palou, Newgarden or Herta,
    I want Rosenquist or Grosjean.
    Which means O’Ward or Dixon!
    Oh, its Rossi.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    What is this ? ?

    Predictions and no offer of INDY 500 Original Tenderloin coupons to the top three Oil Pressure readers who choose the 2022 Champion ? ?

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I think we’ll know by Indy if Herta can take the title. If he has a good 500, I think he’ll be on top of the points and be really tough to catch.

    If the Penske cars are faster on the whole this season, Newgarden should be a clear favorite.

    It will be interesting to see if Ganassi as a whole is even better without the NASCAR team to worry about. If so… yikes for everyone else.

    I don’t expect either MSR car to be in championship contention unless the team cleans up the poor strategy calls that seemed to help push Harvey out the door.

    O’Ward will need to take care of his tires to win the title, some support from his team’s second car would help too.

  5. James T Suel Says:

    Right on George, Newgarden is my pick.

  6. I have high regard for Christian Lundgaard not merely because of his one IndyCar start, but because I’ve watched him in Formula 2. His record doesn’t adequately reflect the speed he has. A few mistakes (by himself of someone else) and car reliability have taken away a lot of points. I would’ve liked to see him in the UNI-Virtuosi car (the fastest team for the last few years; Callum Illot drove for them in 2020). Seeing him win a race this year wouldn’t surprise me at all.

  7. picking one just for fun
    and wasting bandwidth:
    Palou repeats.

  8. Newgarden is probably my odds on favorite for the title this year.

    If the Hertas can continue to function as an island separate from the underachivement of the rest of Andretti Autosport, I like Herta as a serious title contender this year.

    If O’Ward doesn’t get too blinded by dreams of an F1 seat and dials in his focus, it’s hard not to view Pato as a serious contender.

    I think Palou is the real deal, but it’s damn hard to win back-to-back. That’s the only reason I’m not considering him this season.

    I think Scott Dixon has a couple wins left in the tank, but I believe his championship days are now behind him. (Feel free to remind me of that statement come this Sept. when Dixie wins title #7!)

    Guys like Rossi and Grosjean? Come on. Have you watched Andretit Autosport (sans Herta) the past few years? I had high hopes for a return to glory for this team in 2021, but they stunk again. I’m a fan of this team since it’s AGR inception in ’03, but I’m done with any positive expectations until they prove something on the track.

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