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Rating the highest 10 IndyCar drivers of 2023

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It was a season of surprisingly few race winners, with Alex Palou sweeping to the championship with a spherical to spare and Josef Newgarden cleansing up on the vast majority of the oval tracks. 

Extra: The factors that fuelled Palou’s 2023 IndyCar domination

However there have been nonetheless two first-time guests to victory lane, in Kyle Kirkwood and Christian Lundgaard, whereas a number of promising rookies emerged in Marcus Armstrong and Linus Lundqvist – each of whom earned full-season offers at Chip Ganassi Racing for subsequent season. 

As defending sequence champion Will Power slumped to seventh within the standings, going winless for the primary time since 2006, there was the tip of an period as Tony Kanaan made his closing U.S. open-wheel begin at Indianapolis and Helio Castroneves ended his full-time IndyCar profession.

Autosport runs the rule over the category of 2023 to select the ten brightest lights.

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10. Colton Herta

Technique errors and driver errors at essential moments actually undid Herta’s season

Picture by: Artwork Fleischmann

Herta very practically didn’t make this checklist regardless of his undoubted velocity. He has completed tenth in factors two years in a row now, after the top-five seasons that sparked real System 1 curiosity from throughout the Atlantic. This was a marketing campaign riddled by extra errors and misfortune, a few of which was on Andretti Autosport for failing to execute from the pit stand, however some you might lay squarely at Herta’s door.

For instance, he was dominating at Street America when his strategist pitted him a lap too quickly for his closing pitstop, whereas at Mid-Ohio – the place he was operating up entrance once more – he managed to fumble his pitlane limiter off and was caught rushing.

One might argue that Graham Rahal ought to have this spot, for his sheer bloody-mindedness after his season from hell – particularly that torturous sequence of unlucky occasions on the Indy 500 – and coming oh-so-close to breaking his win drought on the Indy Street Course.

The Romain Grosjean of the primary 4 rounds would have been right here too, had his season not spiralled. Alexander Rossi had a stout first season at Arrow McLaren and is worthy of an honourable point out.

9. Will Energy

Power endured his first winless season in 16 years of unified IndyCar racing

Energy endured his first winless season in 16 years of unified IndyCar racing

Picture by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

After final yr’s elegant season, this was very a lot a below-par yr for the outgoing champion. His streak of 16 seasons with a win was snapped, though he got here near victory at Detroit.

His focus definitely wasn’t helped by his spouse’s massive well being scare at the beginning of the yr, which was touch-and-go for some time whether or not she’d reside, and his qualifying kind dipped alarmingly on earlier seasons, though he nonetheless added a pair extra pole positions to his frankly ridiculous file tally. He retained that ‘Will Energy 2.0’ mindset that served him so properly in 2022, however appeared to lose that edginess that makes him so fast within the first place.

We did witness some basic Energy off-track moments, although, most notably at Street America when Scott Dixon mindlessly ploughed into him in apply, wrecking Energy’s automobile and scary double birds and a few post-clash shoving. He additionally branded his personal team-mate Scott McLaughlin a “dumbarse” for inflicting a equally useless apply shunt at St Louis.

‘Solely’ 4 podiums and three quickest laps meant he fell from first to 3rd among the many Penske trio, however Energy stays one of many benchmark drivers within the sequence. And also you virtually anticipate him to channel this disappointment again into fireplace for subsequent yr’s marketing campaign.

8. Marcus Ericsson

A season for what could've been for Ericsson highlighted by his Indy 500 near-miss

A season for what might’ve been for Ericsson highlighted by his Indy 500 near-miss

Picture by: Chris duMond / Motorsport Images

A paragon of consistency and ending sixth in factors (with three podium finishes) for the third yr operating isn’t any imply feat given the rivals Ericsson faces. Qualifying stays a piece in progress, and the way his transfer to Andretti Autosport impacts that might be fascinating to observe.

It’s honest to say he fairly lucked into his sole victory of the season at St Petersburg, however he was in the suitable place to pounce when Pato O’Ward’s engine hesitated and it was typical victory for the so-called ‘Sneaky Swede’.

Ericsson was completely elegant once more on the Indy 500 the place he very practically went back-to-back. Sure, there was some controversy over the time it took IndyCar to throw a crimson flag, and one might see why he’d be upset over its decision to restart straight out of the pitlane for a final-lap shootout. He made the very best of a foul state of affairs in getting the soar on Josef Newgarden on the closing inexperienced/white flag, however Chevrolet’s aggressive ‘assault mode’ engine setting was merely an excessive amount of for him to withstand and the again straight, and victory was misplaced by lower than a tenth of a second.

Opinion: Why Indy 500 ‘fix’ finish accusations are wide of the mark

His swap to Andretti will in all probability outline whether or not he’s able to going to a different degree or just preserve producing these strong outcomes.

7. Kyle Kirkwood

Kirkwood showed his true potential in 2023

Kirkwood confirmed his true potential in 2023

Picture by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

With respect to Logan Sargeant, Kirkwood is America’s greatest wager to develop into its subsequent true System 1 star if his profession retains progressing like it’s. His beautiful drives at Lengthy Seashore and Nashville have been the excessive factors of a very breakout season.

However he’s bought to ditch his accident-attracting magnet, as he’s too vulnerable to getting concerned in pointless scrapes. His solely visits to the rostrum all season have been on the highest step, which exhibits he is aware of the way to seize his alternatives after they come, however the actual trick is producing extra of these possibilities.

You’re feeling Kirkwood is simply in the suitable place on the proper time as Andretti forges forward with its future F1 plans with Normal Motors. At 24, he’s bought some first rate life expertise having additionally dabbled in sportscars whereas climbing the open-wheel ladder in such dizzying fashion.

His second IndyCar season, his first with Andretti, might be remembered by these road race wins, the place he well overcut Penske drivers on every event. He was additionally Andretti’s greatest shot within the Indy 500 till he was flipped onto his lid by Felix Rosenqvist within the closing levels.

6. Christian Lundgaard

Lundgaard dazzeled to win at Toronto to cement his IndyCar status

Lundgaard dazzeled to win at Toronto to cement his IndyCar standing

Picture by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

Stellar progress from the younger Dane, whose determination to show his again on his System 1 desires on the tender age of 20 continues to be a sensible transfer. Lundgaard’s maiden IndyCar victory at Toronto was as spectacular as anybody’s all season and he continues to be the benchmark at Indy’s Street Course on uncooked tempo.

His oval kind should enhance however that is onerous to gauge with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing showing to be in some type of set-up hell on these tracks. But on Indy’s Street Course particularly, its automobile comes alive and he’s the one forging it forwards the quickest. His dry sense of humour is successful him quite a lot of followers, and sponsors seem to like him too.

One factor is for positive, he’s going to be a scorching property for the ‘massive’ groups when his RLL contract expires…

5. Pato O’Ward

O'Ward was IndyCar's nearly man this year, but really should have put together a title attack

O’Ward was IndyCar’s practically man this yr, however actually ought to have put collectively a title assault

Picture by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Such a frustration to observe generally. O’Ward is able to sheer magic moments together with his super-quick arms and on-the-fly pondering, however then he’s downright bonkers together with his decision-making and foolish lunges at instances.

At some point it’s going to all click on and we’ll get a title battle royale with Palou et al, with the added fringe of McLaren v Ganassi. With the Palou/McLaren deal off, this provides him a second chunk at being its workforce chief, together with the enticement of some F1 actions alongside the best way…

How he didn’t win a race in 2023, solely heaven is aware of. He was robbed of a sure victory within the season opener, when his Chevy engine’s plenum chamber hiccupped, after which a late yellow flag price him a powerful shot at Texas.

Three runner-up finishes from the primary 5 races ought to’ve been the platform to a title assault, however rash strikes at Lengthy Seashore, the Indy 500 and Detroit set him again simply as Palou was getting motoring. That they gained’t be team-mates subsequent yr is considerably saddening, as it will have been fascinating to check their skills in the identical equipment…

4. Scott McLaughlin

McLaughlin ended the year as Penske's top driver

McLaughlin ended the yr as Penske’s prime driver

Picture by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

He’s so near mastering this IndyCar lark now. The previous Supercars legend has a few edges to easy off and must get his head round his blind spot – the Indy Street Course – however McLaughlin has proved he’s bought what it takes to win all over the place else.

It feels odd to recall that he solely gained one race all season, a fantastically executed driver at Barber the place he out-duelled Romain Grosjean. He completed within the prime 10 locations a minimum of 13 instances, which completely ticks the consistency field.

If he can repeat that and discover some extra velocity at Indy, each on the street course and oval, then a title tilt is inside attain. In actual fact, once you end as the highest Penske driver in a season, you anticipate to be within the hunt anyhow!

3. Scott Dixon

Dixon will hope to start 2024 as strongly as he ended this year given his rampant form

Dixon will hope to begin 2024 as strongly as he ended this yr given his rampant kind

Picture by: IndyCar Collection

Too little, too late for the six-time champion. These beautiful comeback victories on the Indy Street Course and Gateway proved the highpoints of an, till then, irritating season as Dixon watched his team-mate hog the limelight. Bar Palou, the New Zealander was essentially the most constant performer within the subject once more however solely ok for bridesmaid this time.

Figuring out why it took so lengthy to click on is puzzling. He was on the rostrum on the season opener however then didn’t characteristic till Mid-Ohio in July. Aside from being punted out by O’Ward at Lengthy Seashore, and whose non-apology in all probability infuriated Dixon greater than the reckless lunge itself, his worst true end of the season was seventh – which was much more exceptional than Palou’s file.

Successful three of the final 4 races – which included trailing dwelling a lowly, er, third at Portland – might be an ominous signal of what’s to come back subsequent yr as he bids for a seventh title.

2. Josef Newgarden

Newgarden's maiden Indy 500 win confirmed his status of king of the ovals

Newgarden’s maiden Indy 500 win confirmed his standing of king of the ovals

Picture by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

An oval victory feast however famine elsewhere. Newgarden’s season began badly, with a blown engine at St Petersburg, and a run of weird crashes and collisions meant his season tailed off woefully to bookend his distress.

However he’s second on this checklist, regardless of solely ending fifth in factors, due to what occurred in between: Newgarden was the one who actually took the struggle to Palou. He led essentially the most laps of the season (albeit many approaching quick ovals, the place he excelled as soon as once more) and bought closest to the Spaniard till his points-scoring went right into a demise spiral.

A maiden Indianapolis 500 victory cushions the blow of no third title but (it’s one more reason that he’s second right here), and one will get the sensation that he’d take reaching America’s biggest open-wheel victory over that anyhow.

Extra: Three key speed secrets of Newgarden’s Indy 500 win

His streak of oval success was fairly phenomenal, and it solely ended as he crashed making an attempt to maintain up with a superior technique being employed by fuel-whisperer Dixon at Gateway.

His solely street course podium was Street America, which might be his largest fear, as have been some actually poor qualifying performances. However with that Indy 500 win beneath his belt, maybe focus will revert to Penske returning to its standing of being a successful machine all over the place.

1. Alex Palou

Palou's improvements on his weak spots were key to his second IndyCar title

Palou’s enhancements on his weak spots have been key to his second IndyCar title

Picture by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

Together with his authorized mess behind him, or so we thought, Palou made a tame begin to 2023 however then decimated the pack on the Indianapolis Street Course – which was an indication of issues to come back. Consecutive wins at Detroit, Street America and Mid-Ohio put his title rivals fully within the shade, and solely Newgarden ever threatened to meet up with him.

The Spaniard sealed the title in typical successful fashion with victory in Portland. Importantly, he improved his oval recreation no finish and regarded a real contender for victory at Texas, scored a superb pole place at Indianapolis with a number of the bravest 4 laps you’ll ever witness, and shocked even Newgarden together with his podium at Iowa.

Together with his street course prowess hardly unsure, his road racing recreation superior too, with a maiden victory on this style of observe coming at Detroit.

What are his on-track weaknesses now? You’ll be able to argue he’s solely ever scored 4 IndyCar poles in his profession, however you may offset that by him greater than doubling his win tally this yr. His execution of alternatives is second to none, and the remainder of the sphere higher study this fast, as a result of he’s turning into a extra rounded driver on a regular basis.

The one shadow on his horizon? A authorized mess forward. Once more. However at the least Palou gained’t have workforce colleagues giving him the chilly shoulder this time, as he’s staying put! And he gained’t have the distraction of F1 runs, not until it comes calling for his companies for actual…

Opinion: What happens next in the Alex Palou IndyCar contract saga

Can anyone catch Palou in 2024?

Can anybody catch Palou in 2024?

Picture by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images

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