Whether it was the leaders of IndyCar’s youth movement and the impressive rookie class of home-grown and imported talents, or a pack of resurgent, tenured veterans enjoying continued success or rediscovering their old form once thought lost, there certainly was no shortage of interesting driver narratives that played out over the course of the 2022 season.
In the first of this two part countdown, we look back at the ten best drivers of this year’s IndyCar season, starting with drivers ranked tenth to sixth.
10 – Alexander Rossi – Andretti
Right as he announced his decision to leave Andretti Autosport for McLaren SP next season, the Alexander Rossi of old began to burst from out of a perplexing two-year slump.
Yes, it’s fair to argue that his first victory in 49 IndyCar races should not have stood – when his number 27 car failed post-race scrutineering checks at the Brickyard Grand Prix in Indy – but holding off Rookie of the Year Christian Lundgaard to take the chequered flag was the culmination of a resurgence that had begun just as he was making his 2023 transfer official.
After finishing fifth in the Indianapolis 500, he came within a second of overhauling Will Power at Detroit with an aggressive tyre strategy. Then he brought an end to a two-year pole drought in Road America and converted that strong start into third place. At his very best, Rossi is one of IndyCar’s most dynamic, well-rounded, and ruthless competitors – though the ugly side of that latter point boiled over in Mid-Ohio, when his and Romain Grosjean’s private friction spilled out onto the track, ruining their races as well as their team mates’.
Rossi will bring that same intensity to a new team with serious ambitions of breaking into IndyCar’s elite class. Just the prospect of adding the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner to what could be considered the best Chevrolet-powered team at the 500 in recent years is enough to get the attention of rival competitors.
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9 – Colton Herta – Andretti
There should have been much more for Herta to celebrate in 2022. Expectations were certainly high after ending 2021 with a brace of consecutive victories at Laguna Seca and Long Beach.
His incredible save and perfectly-executed wet weather strategy that won him the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May was a reminder of how good this 22-year-old, second-generation driver already is – as well as what promise he holds for the future. But his fourth full IndyCar season was hampered by a mix of unforced errors, such as crashing out of a potential win at Long Beach, poor mechanical fortunes at Iowa and the Brickyard GP and, most unfortunate of all, a final practice crash before the Indy 500 that left him suffering with a backup car that was ultimately pulled off the track for not maintaining a competitive pace.
By the time his name was being floated as a potential candidate to race full-time in Formula 1 in 2023, the reality was that Herta needed a miracle just to barely scrape the 40 superlicence points he’d need and eventually fell short as he finished tenth in the standings on countback.
In a just world, there’d be enough room for F1 to give a home to every F2 prospect worth their salt, while allowing the chance for a team to take a risk on an ‘outsider’ with such lofty upside as what Herta brings. But for now, with a four-year contract extension at Andretti, Herta can knuckle down and try again for the first of what should be many series titles and Indy 500 victories to come – hardly a poor pittance if the F1 opportunity ultimately never comes around.
8 – Felix Rosenqvist – McLaren SP
Rosenqvist’s inexplicable regression into the depths of the IndyCar standings in 2021 was out of character for a previous Rookie of the Year and race winner. Even bringing in ace engineer Craig Hampson to his side of the McLaren stable didn’t seem to be paying dividends early in the season.
After winning the pole at Texas Motor Speedway, Rosenqvist suffered a halfshaft failure and retired. It looked like his 2021 struggles would follow him through 2022 and ease him towards a McLaren exit. It appeared sixth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and a personal best fourth place at the Indy 500, might have been enough to save his skin. McLaren did reward him with a new contract – just not, definitively, as an IndyCar driver.
A summer spent with an uncertain future contained its fair share of whiplash: A brutal mechanical failure at Mid-Ohio, followed by a hard-fought third place at Toronto for his first podium at McLaren, then a crash in the Iowa 250. Whenever Rosenqvist seemed like he’d saved his IndyCar future, it felt like a bad break was just around the corner to serve as divine retribution that would condemn him to a future outside of the series.
Only after finishing the year with a fourth place at Laguna Seca, and only after Alex Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing resolved their 2023 contract dispute, was Rosenqvist’s place at McLaren SP secured for 2023. He’d improved from a paltry 21st in points to eighth, the largest improvement from 2021 to 2022 – and much more representative of a driver of his calibre.
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7 – Marcus Ericsson – Chip Ganassi
Marcus Ericsson has little else to prove. If he retired from racing tomorrow, he’d still be an Indianapolis 500 winner for the rest of time – an incredible achievement that many drivers spent an entire career pursuing, yet never fulfil.
That sprint to the Indy 500 win ensured that he would no longer be defined by his past life of Formula 1 mediocrity, but Ericsson wasn’t content with just winning the biggest race of the season. He wanted to use that massive haul of points to springboard him towards his first IndyCar title, and his consistent racecraft made him a serious contender for most of the summer.
After a second-place finish at Road America, Ericsson held the points lead for the next five rounds. Through this stage, his only unforced error was a crash out of a podium place in Long Beach. But in the final nine races of the season, Ericsson never again stood on the podium, and recorded just one top-five finish. He was good, but not great on street courses. He was solid, but unspectacular in qualifying – managing to make the Fast Six on road and street courses only once through the season.
Ericsson will be disappointed to finish sixth in the championship for the second year in a row, at the end of a season where as many as seven drivers had a shot at winning the Astor Cup champion’s trophy in the final two races. But that’s also indicative of where he is now: A driver that should be taken seriously as a championship contender for many years to come.
6 – Alex Palou – Chip Ganassi
And so, everything worked out in the end. Palou and Ganassi team will end up racing together for another season, months after the then-reigning series champion tried to spurn his current team to join McLaren SP, then was sued by his current employer in the most awkward off-track story for IndyCar in 2022. He even got the F1 seat time at McLaren that he desired.
Palou and his team must take a portion of blame for the adversity he had to overcome in the summer months, when IndyCar pundits speculated that he’d be put on gardening leave any week following the lawsuit. But in this tumultuous setting, it must be said that it’s a wonder that the 25-year-old Spaniard was able to take his pursuit of a second consecutive Astor Cup all the way to the penultimate race of the season.
On three different occasions, Palou finished second in a race by less than a second – twice of which to Scott McLaughlin. A wet-weather error at the Indy GP from the young man who recently authored one of Super Formula’s best wet-weather drives, and a needless collision with Ericsson at Road America, made the task of defending his title even harder without a race victory to show for it.
After all of that turmoil, Palou brought down the full weight of an eight-hundred pound gorilla with a dominant drive in the Laguna Seca finale, taking his lone race win and, days later, resolving his conflict with Ganassi by staying for next season. It will all but certainly be his last year with the team, but we have seen a young Spanish driver win a championship on the way out of their current employer before (likely) joining McLaren before…
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