IndyCar 2023 mid-season reflections: A.J Foyt Racing – Arrow McLaren

MID-OHIO SPORTS CAR COURSE, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - JULY 02: #5: Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday July 02, 2023 in Troy Township, United States of America. (Photo by Jake Galstad / LAT Images)
MID-OHIO SPORTS CAR COURSE, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - JULY 02: #5: Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday July 02, 2023 in Troy Township, United States of America. (Photo by Jake Galstad / LAT Images)

It’s strange to have gotten through the first half of the season without a Scott Dixon victory. It’s stranger still to put nine of 17 NTT IndyCar Series races in the books without a pole or win from reigning champion Will Power.

And who would have predicted the expanded and strengthened Arrow McLaren team would get to July without at least one victory from Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi, or Felix Rosenqvist, as the squad approaches the July 24 anniversary of its last win? Or that Kyle Kirkwood would be the first and only Andretti Autosport driver to reach victory lane?

Even better, who imagined star-crossed Alex Palou — all but invisible on track in 2022 — would turn the championship upside down and emerge victorious at 44 percent of the races held so far in 2023?

To that end, an IndyCar win pays 50 points. There are a few bonus points that can be earned to take it up to a maximum of 54 points, but for the sake of simplicity, there’s eight races to go and 400ish points left available. Keep that 400 number in mind while reading how far most of the field has fallen behind Palou by early July.

It’s been a long time since so many drivers embarked on the last few months of the season with no real hope of challenging for the championship. A point of pride for IndyCar is how the title is always decided at the last race, and while that could happen again, prepare yourself for it to be clinched a race or two early if Palou continues to demolish the opposition.

And as good as Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing have been with three of its drivers in the championship top four, we’ve also had an alarming number of teams who’ve been dreadful during the first half of the 2023 season. I can’t help but think if my old colleague Robin Miller was still with us, he’d be handing out a record amount of failing grades with his Mid-Season Report Card feature.

As usual, nothing has gone according to plan in IndyCar, so with a brief pause before we run headfirst into the final half of the championship starting on Sunday in Canada, let’s take stock of the 10 full-time teams with RACER’s three-part mid-season reflections.

A.J. FOYT RACING

Santino Ferrucci, No. 14 Chevrolet, 18th in Drivers’ Standings (-252 points to Palou)

Benjamin Pedersen, No. 55 Chevrolet, 26th in Drivers’ Standings (-302 points)

Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

We knew the season was going to be filled with a lot of lows and a few medium-level achievements, because that’s how things always go for smaller teams embroiled in years-long rebuilds. What we didn’t know is that amid those lows, A.J. Foyt Racing would also deliver some serious highs, which speaks to the organization’s newfound capabilities.

Technical director Michael Cannon delivered the ‘Cannon Effect’ at Indy where the underappreciated Santino Ferrucci and the improving rookie Benjamin Pedersen rocked qualifying by making the Fast 12 and Ferrucci went on to earn a career-best third-place finish in the race. The team then proceeded to faceplant at Detroit, and rebounded by cracking the Fast 12 with both drivers at Road America, which was great and surprising at the same time.

Next, it was another faceplant at Mid-Ohio, where Ferrucci and Pedersen were missing all weekend – further evidence of the boom-or-bust cycle the team is working to improve. When the team’s on an upswing, it’s capable of running inside the top half of the field, and when it isn’t, we forget they’re in the race.

Well, except for Pedersen, who just placed a big target on the back and sides of his car after enraging most of the title contenders while waging a one-sided fight to avoid being lapped at Mid-Ohio.

Looking ahead, there’s no reason to expect the Foyt team to suddenly find the consistency it craves, but that’s the objective to pursue over the last eight races.

An uptick in qualifying results for Ferrucci would also be a welcome improvement. Pedersen has been Foyt’s top qualifier six times through nine races, and Pedersen has led Ferrucci in qualifying at all four road courses. That’s a surprise considering the vast difference in experience between the veteran and the rookie. But when it’s time to go racing, Ferrucci leads 7-2 in being the team’s top performer with an average finishing position of 18.1 to Pedersen’s 22.2 through the opening nine rounds.

There’s more to come from the Foyt squad, especially if Pedersen can make peace with all those who might want to ruin the rest of his season.

ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT

Colton Herta, No. 26 Honda, ninth in Drivers’ Standings (-173 points to Palou)

Kyle Kirkwood, No. 27 Honda, 11th in Drivers’ Standings (-200 points)

Romain Grosjean, No. 28, 12th in Drivers’ Standings (-210 points)

Devlin DeFrancesco, No. 29 Honda, 21st in Drivers’ Standings (-273 points)

Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Nine races. Five poles. One win. The numbers tell us everything we need to know about Andretti’s season of almosts and what-ifs.

In an alternate universe, we’ve reached the midway point of the season and Andretti’s the dominant team with five victories thanks to Romain Grosjean owning a pair of wins at St. Petersburg and Barber, Kyle Kirkwood laying claim to Long Beach, and Colton Herta holding the big trophies at Road America and Mid-Ohio.

In the real world, Andretti’s found the outrageous speed that was missing in qualifying last year, but when it comes to turning its pace on Saturdays into victories on Sundays, 2023 has been an extended exercise in giving wins away through errors or misfortune.

Sadly, the same cartoon anvil that fell on Ryan Hunter-Reay and then Alexander Rossi without mercy during their final years with Andretti refuses to leave the team alone and has taken aim at Grosjean, and Herta specifically, who is living the old adage of, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

The fact that Herta – Andretti’s top title contender — is an impossible 173 points behind Alex Palou in ninth after nine races tells the bigger tale of how missed opportunities have ruined the team’s chances of securing its first championship since 2012.

Qualifying has been an interesting area of development for the team whose three top drivers have had equal success; Herta, Kirkwood, and Grosjean have been Andretti’s highest starter three times apiece. And with those five poles, the team has clearly made a big leap from 2022 where it only produced three for the entire year. Right? Actually, that’s another revealing part of its results.

Newcomer Kirkwood leads the team with an average starting position of 8.89, but behind him in second, Grosjean is at 9.89, a slight drop from his 9.56 average through Mid-Ohio in 2022, despite claiming two poles this year. Herta, in third, has an average of 10.44, which is 1.22 spots lower than the 9.22 from the first nine rounds last year, and like Grosjean, he also has two poles in 2023.

The stats highlight one truth: when things are going well for the trio, they’re on pole, but when they aren’t, they’re having forgettable days in qualifying.

Is the clock ticking on Grosjean? Motorsport Images

Grosjean has started 14th or worse four times. Herta’s also started 14thor worse four times. Kirkwood’s started 12th or worse four times. It points to the fact that stronger, more consistent qualifying results when pole-winning speed isn’t available is the next area of improvement for Andretti.

Devlin DeFrancesco, to his credit, has improved from a 20.11 qualifying average as a rookie to 17.89 as a sophomore.

On race days, Herta’s been the best of the group at getting to the finish line first, doing so five times. In year-to-year average finishing positions after nine rounds, he’s gained two spots, going from 12.0 in 2022 to 10.0 in 2023. Kirkwood’s second in this intra-team stat, making it home first in three races. Grosjean’s led that first-home category once, but his average finish has gone backwards, a change from 14.44 last year through Mid-Ohio to 15.44. Similar to his qualifying, DeFrancesco’s made gains here as well, going from an average of 20.22 to 18.44.

Grosjean’s painful plunge after his second-place finish at Long Beach in April has raised questions about his future with the team. The line of candidates angling to take over his No. 28 Honda continues to grow, and compared to the other 26 full-timers, he’s the driver who needs to get back onto the podium more than any other, and with haste.

DeFrancesco is searching for his next opportunity in the series once the season is over, so his mission is to keep making progress and draw more interest from the rest of the paddock.

The main takeaway for Andretti is how peaky-fast its cars have become in qualifying and how it has had five serious chances to win from nine opportunities and only held onto one. If Herta, Kirkwood, and Grosjean can outrun the cartoon anvils, there’s no reason the team can’t capitalize on its speed and generate three or four victories over the eight rounds up for the taking.

While its drivers aren’t a threat for the title, they can take tons of points away from those who are in the championship fight. No team in IndyCar has the ability to disrupt the rest of the season like Andretti Autosport.

ARROW MCLAREN

Pato O’Ward, No. 5 Chevy, fifth in Drivers’ Standings (-127 points to Palou)

Felix Rosenqvist, No. 6 Chevy, 13th in Drivers’ Standings (-214 points)

Alexander Rossi, No. 7 Chevy, eighth in Drivers’ Standings (-161 points)

Richard Dole/Motorsport Images

To a slightly lesser degree, the reconfigured Arrow McLaren team has been on a similar ‘almosts and what-ifs’ arc as Andretti Autosport. Along with the absence of wins, the lack of poles by O’Ward has been a shocker; Rosenqvist’s pole at Texas is the team’s only one to date.

The story for Arrow McLaren over the first nine races has been the meandering results with O’Ward’s entry. Coming off a 2022 season that produced two wins and four podiums – but was soured by a few too many low finishes that left him seventh in the standings – the new season has been impressive in terms of podiums. To that end, O’Ward’s delivered four, matching his entire output from 17 races last year.

The bad results, however, with crashes at Long Beach, Indy, and Detroit, have hindered the team’s top driver from being in the mix for the title. Obliterating everyone for a large percentage of the Texas race was a prime example of what’s possible with the No. 5 Chevy. A win was certainly within reach, but the front-running handling faded and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden took control and motored into victory lane. It’s just been that kind of season for O’Ward, who is always a threat to win but hasn’t been able to convert that potential into reality so far.

Like last year after Mid-Ohio, O’Ward sits fifth in the standings, but the difference is the distance to first, which has nearly doubled, going from 65 points in 2022 to 127 entering the 10th round this weekend at Toronto. If that’s going to change, no more mishaps in the pits, spins at the onset of qualifying, or crashes with a big finish in sight can take place. Flawless execution is the obvious need for the No. 5.

Felix Rosenqvist leads O’Ward 5-4 as the team’s top qualifier, and it’s here where O’Ward has gone from an average road course start of 3.25 through Mid-Ohio 2022 to 8.75 through Mid-Ohio 2023, down 5.5 spots. On street courses, O’Ward’s been magic, turning last year’s through-nine average (10.67) into a remarkable leap (6.33, plus 4.34 spots), but as noted, both street races have ended with broken cars.

Speaking strictly from a championship perspective, all of O’Ward’s forgettable days have been expended. If the No. 5 is going to bother Alex Palou for the title, it will only happen if eight clean and fast races — win a win or three added to O’Ward’s tally — is how the story is written.

Alexander Rossi has given the Gavin Ward-led operation everything it was hoping for at this stage of the relationship. Sure, they’d love to have a pole or a win with the No. 7 car, but the entry is on pace to get at least one of each before the season is over. Talk to the people inside the team, and they rave about Rossi’s contribution to all aspects of the program.

Luck hasn’t often been on Rosenqvist’s side, but the soon-to-be free agent should still have some options for next year. Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

Compared to last year with Andretti, Rossi has taken a forward step in qualifying (up 1.23 positions to an average of 9.33), but that’s roughly two spots behind where O’Ward and Rosenqvist have started. Through the nine opening race performances, he’s also made year-to-year gains, turning his 2022 average with Andretti (11.56) into something that’s almost identical (9.89) to O’Ward (9.78).

The cartoon anvil might have lost its interest in Rossi after he left Andretti Autosport, but his presence at Arrow McLaren has clearly piqued its interest in Rosenqvist, who seems to be a magnet for the damn thing. If there’s a McLaren driver likely to use the poop emoji in their post-race social media postings, it’s Rosenqvist.

Marcus Ericsson rarely makes big mistakes, but when he does, like at Mid-Ohio, who does he clobber? His buddy and countryman Rosenqvist, the team’s top qualifier. He took pole at Texas but made a mistake in the race and crashed. He wasn’t on pole, but the same thing happened at the Indy 500. He was on a charge at Road America, nearing the end of the race, and got an urgent call to save massive amounts of fuel due to the last-minute discovery of a calculation error. He complied, sank like a rock, and finished at the back of the field. Then it was discovered that the fuel error was an error itself; there was no need to do the drastic saving and give up a quality finish.

If Rosenqvist can do nothing more than continue to qualify well and dodge cartoon anvils, he will be one of the biggest movers in the championship from Toronto through Monterey. From the first nine, five finishes have been between 19th and 27th. And the other four? Between third and ninth, which is encouraging.

Simply put, if he can mirror O’Ward, cut down on the mistakes inside the cockpit and have the team make the same upward strides on its end, Rosenqvist — whose stock as a free agent has risen despite the adversity this year — can easily join his teammates in the top 10 and command more money from whomever hires him to drive next season.

Arrow McLaren has all the ingredients it needs and eight opportunities left to cause championship trouble for Ganassi and Penske. Time to deliver.


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