Scott Dixon claimed the sixth IndyCar Series title of his career in 2020, and there is little reason to think he won’t again be among the primary contenders for what would be a record-equaling seventh championship in the 2021 season.
The championship is currently set to comprise of 17 races, although that is open to modification depending on the status of the pandemic. Things get underway in Birmingham, Alabama in mid-April and conclude in Long Beach, California in late September.
Dixon came out on top in last year’s COVID-affected, 14-race season. The Chip Ganassi driver won each of the first three races, and although he only won once more thereafter, he was able to hold off a late push from Josef Newgarden to win the title and move to within one of the legendary A. J. Foyt’s record of seven national open-wheel championships.
For the second year in a row and the fourth time in the last five seasons, it was the Penske team who won the most races: seven to Ganassi’s five. The last eight series titles have been won by a driver from one of those two teams, and between them they have won nearly 68% of the races over the last five years. Penske have won over 50%.
With no change to the chassis or engine rules, there are unlikely to be significant changes in competitiveness season-on-season. It therefore stands to reason that it will probably be a Ganassi or Penske driver who wins the championship.
Penske boast their established lineup of championship winners in Newgarden (a two-time champion, most recently in 2019), Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. It is Newgarden who probably represents the best bet to take the title given his strong run of results down the back end of last year and the fact he has finished in the top two of the championship in three of the last four seasons.
Dixon doesn’t have quite as impressive a supporting cast. Marcus Ericsson has just one podium finish to his credit since joining the series in 2019. While Alex Palou showed promise as a rookie last year, taking one podium finish and qualifying well for the Indy 500, it remains to be seen how he’ll perform in a more front-running car.
There is a wild card, though, as both teams will run a rookie driver as they both return to four-car operations for the first time since 2017.
Neither is a rookie in terms of overall motorsport experience. Attention will be on Ganassi due to the intrigue of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson making the switch to open-wheel racing. Penske have also added a successful saloon driver to their stable in the form of Scott McLaughlin, three-time Australian Supercars champion, whom they ran there through their previous partnership with Dick Johnson Racing.
Johnson and McLaughlin are two of just four rookies in the 2021 field, the latter pair of whom will share the number 51 car at Dale Coyne Racing. Cody Ware will compete on the ovals, while Romain Grosjean, a veteran of over 180 Formula One Grand Prix will take on the road and street circuits. No chances have been given to new and younger pretenders.
There are, though, still some impressive young chargers in the 2021 field, such as last year’s rookie of the year Rinus Veekay, 20, who remains at Ed Carpenter Racing, and Patricio O’Ward, 21, for whom four podium finishes and solid results elsewhere were enough to claim fourth in last year’s championship for Arrow McLaren SP. After thrice finishing second last year, O’Ward will hope to open his winning account this time around.
There is also Colton Herta, the youngest race winner in IndyCar history as an 18-year-old in 2019, who claimed the sole victory for an Andretti car in 2020 and now forms part of the in-house squad of drivers there after competing under the Andretti Harding Steinbrenner partnership last year. Herta is joined at Andretti by a familiar cast of characters: Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Rahal Letterman were the only other team aside from Penske, Ganassi and Andretti to win a race last year thanks to Takuma Sato’s victory at the Indianapolis 500, his second. They had solid pace throughout, with Graham Rahal and Sato finishing sixth and seventh respectively in the championship, and are again likely to perform well in 2021.
Elsewhere in the field, some familiar names return to the fray. Helio Castroneves has only competed in five races since leaving his full-time ride with Penske ahead of the 2018 season, but will run a slightly more extensive schedule this year, competing at six events, including the Indy 500, for Meyer Shank Racing. Ex-IndyCar champion and two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya will also contest that latter race for Arrow McLaren SP.
Nick is our international soccer, IndyCar and Formula 1 expert. As well as contributing to USA Betting, he writes for many top sports websites and national newspapers. These are his news articles but most of his writing is sports matchup or F1 previews here.