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10 storylines ahead of the 2024 IndyCar season

Written by Archie O’Reilly and Dan Jones


After a busy off-season, the NTT IndyCar Series’ return is less than one week away. And, as is the case year on year, there are a whole host of storylines heading into this year’s action…


An unprecedented attempt at a fabled challenge


It’s ironic that IndyCar’s biggest storyline in 2024 comes from it’s closest rival from an American viewership standpoint, but Kyle Larson’s attempt at ‘the double’ could be a story which grabs international headlines, and one that will certainly grip the attention of both IndyCar and NASCAR fans as the Californian attempts the fabled 1100 miles in the space of 12 hours.


The Month of May has so many storylines that it could be a feature novel in itself, but Larson’s attempts - the first since Kurt Busch in 2014, is the cherry on top of the cake. The 2021 Cup Series Champion’s attempts aren’t a gimmick either, Larson’s preparations have already been ongoing for over 12 months, being guided in his learning by the likes of Tony Kanaan and Jeff Gordon, already passing the Rookie Orientation Test in October, since having a test at Phoenix International Raceway.


But why is Larson’s attempts so significant? Only 10 previous attempts at ‘The Double’ have been done (competing in the Indianapolis 500 in the afternoon, and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the evening), five of those attempts coming from Robby Gordon. Only one man, Tony Stewart has completed all 600 laps of racing, with the best finish in either race being third.


But there’s so much more optimism for Larson than previous attempts. He’s regarded as one of the best, if not the best driver that the Cup Series has to offer, winning the Coca-Cola 600 in 2021. It’s a driver, at the very top of his game, coming to Indianapolis to try and write more history. Not only that, but Larson is teaming up with Arrow McLaren, easily the strongest Chevrolet outlet at the ‘500’ in recent years, and have come perilously close to winning the event in the last three seasons.


He’s learning from 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, Tony Kanaan, as well as 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, he’s got Pato O’Ward as a teammate, one of Indianapolis’ strongest contender’s, he’s learning from the best. An attempt at ‘the double’ isn’t unprecedented, but an attempt to this magnitude, with a driver of Larson’s calibre, certainly is unprecedented.


Following Larson throughout the Month of May will be a story in itself, it’s extremely hard to judge how Larson will stack up, as noted by himself, but it is a story that will be followed by IndyCar fans, NASCAR fans and motorsport fans worldwide.


Dan


A host of driver transfers


Heading into the 2023 season, Alexander Rossi’s move to Arrow McLaren from Andretti Global, plus Kyle Kirkwood’s move from AJ Foyt Racing to fill the vacant No.27 seat, were the only two driver switches between teams for full-time roles. But ahead of this season, there are five drivers moving teams.


Four-time race winner, including in the 2022 Indianapolis 500, Marcus Ericsson is moving from Chip Ganassi Racing to Andretti. The team are moving from the inconsistency of Romain Grosjean, also cutting Devlin DeFrancesco’s underperforming No.29 entry, to one of the series’ most consistent drivers. Ericsson has finished sixth-place in the championship across the last three years and has only finished outside the top 12 in six races in that period.


The outgoing Grosjean has joined Juncos Hollinger Racing after some initial doubt as to whether he would stay in the field. He managed back-to-back 13th-place championship finishes at Andretti - underwhelming with one of the series’ powerhouses after a 15th-place rookie finish with Dale Coyne Racing, where three podiums in his one year could only be matched in two years at Andretti. Will he thrive again in a lower pressure environment?


Juncos were a big part of off-season driver market drama, with an opening coming after a breakdown in relationship between Callum Ilott and Ricardo Juncos. Considering Grosjean is also a fiery character, this could make for an interesting dynamic. 


Playing another big part in the driver market ahead of this season was Arrow McLaren, who now have a strategic alliance with Juncos. It seemed that their No.6 car was bound to be for Alex Palou, but the reigning champion opted to stay with Ganassi, leading to an ongoing legal dispute over money owed to McLaren for investment into Palou.


McLaren were forced to reassess options and landed on David Malukas, who is heading into his third-year after finishing 16th and 17th in two years with Coyne, with podiums in back-to-back years on the Gateway oval. He is somewhat of an unknown as he steps up to a bigger team. But, having finished second in Indy Lights in 2021, only 13 points behind Kirkwood with 16 podiums in 20 races, he is clearly a talent and one to follow.


It must be noted, though, that Malukas will miss at least the opening round of the season after having undergone surgery on a dislocated left wrist sustained in a mountain biking accident last month. The expectation is that free agent Ilott will deputise.


Felix Rosenqvist was always likely to leave McLaren, and he joins Meyer Shank Racing with a first shot at leading a team alongside rookie Tom Blomqvist. He spent two years with Ganassi after moving from Formula E, finishing sixth in the championship as a rookie. This was followed by three years and best of eighth-place with McLaren in 2022. He has one race win to his name (with Ganassi in 2020), a total of six podiums and five poles. 


Sting Ray Robb is the final driver to switch teams, coming off an underwhelming rookie year at Coyne after graduating as second-place Indy Lights finisher in 2022. He gained a best race finish of 12th - his only top 15 - and wound up 23rd in the championship as a rookie. Joining Foyt, who have a newfound technical alliance with Team Penske, Robb will hope to continue a trend of improving significantly in sophomore years.


There could yet be more driver switches once Coyne announce their drivers for 2024, with Jack Harvey possibly an option they could field. More on that later.


Archie


IndyCar’s critical hybrid switchover


The Dallara DW12 will enter its 13th year of use in 2024, but the season will see the most significant update to the Indy car since the aeroscreen was implemented in 2020, as IndyCar joins the likes of Formula One and the World Endurance Championship in developing it’s own hybrid engine.


Initially intended to be ready for use at next weekend’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, additional testing and development time has seen a delay for implementation, with the hybrid making its debut some time after the Indianapolis 500, believed to be at Mid-Ohio. It’s IndyCar’s latest step into developing technology, being a pioneer in the aeroscreen, but have lacked behind its competitors when it comes to features such as the hybrid, particularly compared to the IMSA Sportscar Championship.


Will it make a significant change to the order, particularly with a mid-season implementation? That remains to be seen. Team Penske, Arrow McLaren, Andretti Global and Chip Ganassi Racing have conducted multiple tests, most significantly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval, the remaining six teams are set to test the hybrid for the first time on the Road Course on 28th and 29th March.


A slightly lighter chassis for 2024 will aid the addition of the much heavier hybrid powertrain which has been previously raised as a concern. However, initial tests have been encouraging for the season, a recent test at Homestead-Miami Speedway seeing 1202 laps without issue, after previous concerns about the reliability of the hybrid.


The mid-season addition could come with some unpredictability, could it change the pecking order? It’s unlikely to make a significant difference, the top teams will stay at the top, particularly after the extensive testing program they’ve had, and with everyone facing the same obstacles, the change in on-track product won’t likely be as significant as people have made it out to be.


It will see the removal of the popular ‘push-to-pass’ system, instead an ERS-based system, similar to the one used in Formula One. It’s a crucial step for IndyCar to develop it’s technology, to put itself in line with its competitors, and whether the mid-season implementation will shake the pecking order or not, it’s a crucial step for IndyCar’s future.


Upsizing and streamlining


There will remain 27 cars at the majority of races this year, aside from the Indianapolis 500 and possible surprises that may emerge through the year. But a significant change has come in the Honda camp, where Andretti Global have dropped from four cars to three and Chip Ganassi Racing have expanded from four cars to five. 


Andretti have been inconsistent in recent times, with an upturn required after best finishes of ninth and 10th in the championship in the last two years. There have been driver errors, which the recruitment of the measured Marcus Ericsson should help, but there have also been too many car issues.


It made sense to cut the underperforming No.29 entry, especially after Devlin DeFrancesco missed out on securing Leaders’ Circle funding. But, despite cutting a car, the team will not be cutting personnel for 2024. This will reduce the weight on individuals and allow more people to be focused on each car, which means more brains and expertise per entry.


Speaking on IndyCar’s content days, each of the three Andretti drivers earmarked the focusing of personnel as being a major positive, giving more in-depth looks at each car. This was a move that worked for Team Penske in recent years, enabling greater consistency.


This marks a reasonable change for Andretti, who have almost always run at least four cars since 2004. And with the incoming Ericsson joining the prodigal young talent of Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti have an extremely strong lineup at their disposal.


Ganassi are going the opposite way. In theory, more cars should equate to a greater shot at success. But that is not always the case, with personnel focused over more cars possibly leading to less refinement of each entry. There is also the possibility of unsettlement if external recruitment is required.


Scott Dixon has admitted that there will be “more things going on” and believes it could be a challenge to contain more moving parts and make everyone happy. But there is belief in the team that it could also be beneficial, with Alex Palou reckoning the additional data from a fifth entry will be positive.


Driver-wise, they have lost Ericsson’s experience. But they have recruited Linus Lundqvist, one of the best talents to emerge from Indy Lights in recent years. He joins six-time series champion Dixon, who is second on the all-time wins list, and two-time champion Palou, who reigned supreme in 2023 and is an emerging great of the series.


The 2023 Rookie of the Year, Marcus Armstrong, will complete his first full-time season, embarking into the realm of oval racing for the first time. Then making his debut in the new No.4 car is Kyffin Simpson, who won the European Le Mans Series championship in 2023, running in tandem with Indy NXT.


Ganassi are taking a gamble on the 19-year-old, who has finished ninth and 10th in IndyCar’s premier ladder series. There is a question over whether he is quite ready having only taken two podiums and no wins in Indy Lights/NXT, which will be a watchpoint through the year.


Also keep an eye out for Ed Carpenter Racing, who have opted to run only two cars on ovals, aside from the Indianapolis 500, rather than Ed Carpenter featuring in the additional No.33 entry. Christian Rasmussen will share Carpenter’s ride on road and street courses as well as running the Indy 500. This again comes down to wanting to use personnel efficiently.


Archie 


Will IndyCar’s gimmick pay off long-term?


IndyCar will have its first exhibition event since the series went Down Under in 2008, in a made-for-TV, $1,000,000 challenge at The Thermal Club in California. It’s made to be gimmicky, it’s made for the viewership - it is essential IndyCar get this correct, will this be the success that IndyCar so desperately needs it to be?


IndyCar’s growth has been encouraging but not hugely substantial in the last few years, and changes are being made behind the scenes to make this happen, but you need to take risks as a series. The Thermal exhibition event maybe is the start of a push for a bigger audience. How else does the series convert the diehard NASCAR fans or translate the massive Formula One surge in the States to reflect on IndyCar’s numbers?


There’s no secret that IndyCar’s fan base is not an encouraging demographic. 70 percent of fans are over 55, and have been watching for decades, when IndyCar viewership was at its prime. It’s struggling to gain a younger demographic that it needs for the series to remain engaging in the future. Just 9 percent of IndyCar’s audience is from people under 35, a worrying statistic that must change. A shorter, fast-paced format is exactly the sort of event that will interest that market.


The event will feature two ‘heat’ races, 10 laps in length, with the top six drivers from the heats progressing to an ‘all-star’ race, where drivers will compete for the share of a $1,000,000. The money is substantial, it is more than the series provides for finishing in the ‘Leaders Circle,’ at the end of the season.


That being said, will it work? It might encourage the smaller teams to take a risk, as there is nothing to lose. The likes of Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske or Arrow McLaren may not translate this risk, why go all out if there’s a chance of an incident which could hamper a driver longer-term? The money isn’t insignificant, but they aren’t dependent on finances to run their teams.


Could it create a better racing spectacle? Quite possibly, but Thermal has never been used for any sort of competitive racing before, IndyCar is taking a risk in itself there. But the most important question is will it bring in the viewers? It’s on prime time network television in a format specifically designed for entertainment and fast-paced action. It’s maybe the first suggestion the series is pushing for a market more substantial, and although there’s nothing to play for championship-point wise, it’s everything to play for in regards to IndyCar’s growth and IndyCar’s future.


Dan


The inaugural Nashville finale… with a twist


Last August, it was announced that the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville would be the 2024 season finale, with the event at Laguna Seca moving to June. The intention was to race downtown, including down the iconic Broadway. But plans have surprisingly changed quite dramatically in recent weeks.


The finale will now be hosted on the 1.33 mile, high-speed Nashville Superspeedway oval after a review determined that the construction of a new Tennessee Titans NFL stadium leaves a street race as being unfeasible. 


Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Label Group, who are the primary event sponsor, is now in a leadership role for the event. And after taking charge in December, Borchetta immediately launched a review into whether the event taking place was reasonable. With the Titans stadium taking precedence, the decision was communicated that the event would be moved.


There was not enough room to house teams and hospitality with construction work ongoing, which was not determined by the preview organisers. The move to the nearby oval could be longer term, too, with construction not set to finish until 2027. The expectation is that there will not be a return to downtown until then, if even at all.


There was always a keenness to keep a Nashville event as the finale, and there was awareness that the oval was available as a contingency plan. It is not ideal logistically, being 40 miles out of town. But the plan is to continue with events downtown, for instance with a pitstop competition and a party element of the weekend centred around downtown Nashville.


Borchetta deserves credit for stepping up, seizing the initiative and preventing a possible disaster come the latter part of the season. And many fans are relishing having the first oval finale in a decade, with six of the final eight races to be held on ovals, including a doubleheader on the returning Milwaukee Mile.


Archie


The Youth Movement, Part Two?


Cast your minds back to the 2021 Season, and the prevalent storyline was the establishment of the ‘youth movement’ in IndyCar, the likes of Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay taking it to the veterans, and eventually, triumphing, Palou winning the title on the Streets of Long Beach, but could a second movement take place in 2024?


Yes, the likes of Palou, O’Ward and Herta are still very young, the latter still being only 23, but have now established themselves as amongst the best in the series, but there’s yet another crop of young talent pushing to break through. Kyle Kirkwood will likely be leading that charge, being the standout Andretti driver in 2023, claiming his maiden two IndyCar wins. (Yes, Kirkwood is older than both Herta and O’Ward, but still hasn’t established himself as a leading driver.)


But you’ve got the likes of David Malukas, stepping up to Arrow McLaren, Marcus Armstrong racing a full schedule for the first time in 2024, Linus Lundqvist starting his highly-anticipated IndyCar career, whilst Christian Lundgaard continues to shine in an RLL team which couldn’t find any material consistency in 2023. The glimpses of talent have been seen, is 2024 the year where they show themselves to join the likes of Palou and O’Ward in IndyCar’s future?


Yes, the likes of Palou, Dixon, McLaughlin and Newgarden will continue to be the standout figures in the series, but all of the mentioned could easily prove themselves as one who could join this group in the next few years, much like O’Ward and Palou have.


Fresh faces in top teams provides the best possible opportunities, the likes of Malukas, Kirkwood, and even Lundqvist have impressed already, alongside Marcus Armstrong and Kyffin Simpson in top IndyCar machinery, who’s to say they can’t collect regular wins, regular podiums and prove themselves as some of the very best in IndyCar?


Dan


RLL’s search for an oval upturn


Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) had a disastrous year on ovals in 2023. The Indianapolis 500 went almost as badly as it could have done, with their three full-time drivers having to return on Bump Day and only one-off entry Katherine Legge narrowly making the field on the opening day of qualifying.


It was quickly established that Christian Lundgaard and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sting Ray Robb would make the field, meaning there would be a fight between the RLL pair of Jack Harvey and Graham Rahal to see who would make the field. Ultimately, it was team owner Bobby Rahal who saw his son, Graham, bumped by the finest of margins.


This anguish only continued on the late-season short oval swing, with Rahal remarking that the car was the worst he had ever felt on an oval. Heading into 2024, at the forefront of the team’s mind is having to drastically improve on ovals as a matter of necessity. That has been their major focus this off-season.


They have interestingly opted to stick with a four-car lineup for the Indy 500, with decision-making no doubt having the conflict of whether they would rather focus their personnel further or utilise the experience of two-time winner Takuma Sato, who won the race with the team in 2020.


In his content day media, Rahal said the team have brought more personnel in again. A possible issue in 2023 was that new personnel were brought in from outside of IndyCar, with a lack of oval engineering experience. Lundgaard is confident that this off-season’s additions have made an impact and Rahal believes performance has been found.


There was not necessarily an awareness of where the shortcomings were on ovals in 2023, with Lundgaard remarking that the cars were simply slow. The Dane, who finished an impressive eighth-place in the championship last year, despite the team’s oval woes, has questioned himself. But he knows he has been largely matching experienced teammate Rahal.


RLL have shown championship-contending form on road courses, with two poles for Rahal and one for Lundgaard on this track type. Their street course form has also shown an upwards trajectory, with Lundgaard sweeping the Toronto weekend by taking pole and his maiden IndyCar win.


Matching their road and street course form on ovals could genuinely put RLL - with Lundgaard, Rahal and eight-time starter across 2018 and 2021 Pietro Fittipaldi at their disposal - in the championship picture. 


Archie


An even more unpredictable Month of May


‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ is always IndyCar’s biggest storyline every year, whatever the outcome will be, with the 2024 event likely to see subtle but critical changes for the future of the event, to make it a cleaner, safer, and an even greater spectacle in the race to cross the ‘yard of bricks’ first.


2023’s conclusion between Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson was thrilling, but had a tinge of controversy, Newgarden swerving left of the pit commit line in an attempt to prevent Ericsson from getting a tow on the final run to the ‘yard of bricks.’ That move will be banned for 2024, with fears of a crash with the attenuator growing. An absolutely critical move from the Series from a safety standpoint - any accident with the attenuator would be simply horrific.


The penalty for abusing that rule remains unclear, as well as the leniency of the rule, but fundamentally will be a significant change, with details set to be finalised in due course. Not only will it hugely benefit from a safety factor, but that final run to the line on lap 200 will be even more unpredictable with the ‘tow’ harder to break than ever before - could we see some side-by-side finishes over the line, much like we saw in 2006?


The Series are also yet to finalise whether ‘The Dragon’ will be outlawed or not for the 108th edition of the race. The Dragon - the manoeuvre of weaving left and right across the main straight in attempts to break the tow - have been a critical part of race endings in the last two editions, with Marcus Ericsson taking it to extremes when defending from Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden respectively in his attempts to win motorsport’s greatest race.


It will add to the unpredictability once again, if only one change of direction is allowed - much like the regulations state in Formula One. Ericsson’s attempts, notably last year, were particularly drastic, Newgarden eventually giving up trying to follow Ericsson such was the extent of his weaving.


And once again, it’s critical for safety, the last thing the series wants to see is a driver losing it at high speed whilst deploying ‘the dragon,’ even worse, colliding with another car whilst weaving. The changes are subtle, but it will only add to the spectacle that is the Indianapolis 500 and make it even more unpredictable for years to come.


Dan


Dale Coyne Racing: Chopping and changing


Dale Coyne Racing lost two-time podium-sitter David Malukas to Arrow McLaren and 2023 rookie Sting Ray Robb to AJ Foyt Racing this off-season. And Coyne provide a significant watchpoint for 2024 given the continued wait to find out their drivers for the season, into the final week before competitive track action commences. 


A test on the Sebring International Raceway short course last week saw Jack Harvey, who departed Rahal Letterman Lanigan late last season, and sportscar veteran Colin Braun with the team. Indy NXT sophomore and title contender Nolan Siegel has also tested for the team, on the Homestead-Miami roval, this off-season. 


Considering their use of different testing pairings and taking in a number of reports, it does seem they will be set to field a selection of different drivers across their two cars. This does not necessarily appear a formula conducive to success, with consistency possibly hard to achieve. But could there be merits to using a host of different drivers?


It could allow the experimentation of future options, with Siegel seeming destined to make the full-time step up to IndyCar for 2025. This testing of drivers could be to the detriment of Coyne’s 2024 but possibly serve them better for the future.


Using a different selection of drivers could also allow them to have specialists on different track types through the year. But, if they end up with more than just a rotation between a single oval driver and single road and street course driver, the use of different expertise is likely outweighed by a lack of continuity and absence of familiarisation allowed to be built. 


Finishing inside the Leaders’ Circle is crucial for the series’ smaller teams, offering a significant financial boost. This can be the difference between having to drop a car or having the freedom to recruit drivers that do not necessarily have to have a major budget behind them. Coyne are certainly starting on the back foot in their Leaders’ Circle pursuit for 2024.


It is not a remotely ideal situation to have to wait so long to find out who will even start the season for them, let alone having to wait further for any in-season changes. And regardless of who they end up fielding race to race, Coyne will be a team to keep an eye out for through the year.


Heading into the season with so much uncertainty after an off-season rife with a similarly glaring lack of clarity, it will be a great story if they can find any form across the year.


Archie


These storylines have just touched the surface of a season filled with a litany of narratives. From those not mentioned, an obvious question mark is whether the charge of reigning champion Alex Palou can be quashed. And, as every year, what about the selection of rookies too?


Once practice commences on 8th March on the streets of St. Pete, it will have been 180 days since the chequered flag was waved at Laguna Seca to mark the end of the 2023 campaign. But nearly six months in waiting, the IndyCar season is finally upon us, dosed in as many storylines as ever.

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