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The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season has been dismal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with race cancellations, postponements, relocated venues and the vile spectacle of holding the Indianapolis 500 without any spectators – and nearly three months after its usual Memorial Day weekend date.
But 2021 saw a return to normalcy, including an outstanding Indy 500, a number of young faces that rose to prominence, and an overall season that produced many unforgettable memories for many … but for others, memories they might as well forget.
It was also a sad year, as the sport lost a number of its most renowned and beloved figures.
Here are Autoweek’s 10 best IndyCar scenarios for 2021:
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HÃ©lio joins the special club
At an age when most drivers have retired from racing, Helio Castroneves, less than three weeks after his 46th birthday, made history by winning his fourth Indy 500, tying him to AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick. Mears.
Known as “Spiderman” for scaling track fences after winning a race, the Brazilian driver not only put on a show for the 135,000 or so fans on the track, but his post-race celebration was everything. simply electric, one of the most exhilarating that Indianapolis Motor Speedway has ever seen.
“The Helio thing at the 500 was definitely a moment,” said IndyCar president Jay Frye Automatic week. âIt was something very unique. Having a quadruple winner, someone who’s still going for five (500 wins) next year is obviously great. “
Alex Palou becomes fourth youngest IndyCar champion
In his second IndyCar season and his first with Chip Ganassi Racing, Spanish driver Alex Palou became the fourth youngest driver to win the IndyCar Championship.
Palou did it the hard way, coming back from back-to-back DNFs late in the season to come back with a win at Portland, runner-up at Laguna Seca, then clinched the title the following week in the season-ending race at Long Beach.
In total, Palou won three races and landed eight podiums, a series record.
Beth Paretta Makes the Headlines at Indy
Team owner Beth Paretta grabbed the headlines ahead of the 500 during the month of May with her ambitious female-majority organization, led by rider Simona De Silvestro.
Things did not end as Paretta had hoped: a late-race wreck relegated De Silvestro to a disappointing 31st place in the 500, and unexpected business circumstances forced Paretta’s side to forgo several scheduled additional starts in the second half of the season. But Paretta recently said Automatic week that she plans to pick up where she left off in 2021 with an even stronger program in 2022, focusing on the biggest show in the race first, and this time continuing with more races in the second half of the season.
New IndyCar Superstars Are Coming
In addition to Palou (24), a number of other young drivers have won in 2021. Colton Herta (21) has won three races (tied with Palou for most wins). Even though he let the title slip through his hands in the last two races, Pato O’Ward (22) has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with as well.
Three-time Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLaughlin (28) won the rookie of the year award and learned some expensive lessons that should improve his second season in the series and with the Penske team.
Other key drivers: Rinus Veekay (21) and former Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean. Even though he’s 35, Grosjean’s enthusiasm for the series and his racing style make him look 10 years younger.
TV numbers on the rise
IndyCar had a number of television highlights in 2021, including the most-watched Indy 500 (5.581 million viewers) since the 100th edition run in 2016. This number of fans who tune in to the 500 for 2021 was and has grown by more than 50 percent in viewership for the rescheduled 2020 race that took place in August.
In addition, IndyCar has enjoyed the most watched overall average audience (1.223 million viewers) over the entire season since 2016, and a 19% jump in overall average audience compared to 2020 (1.027 million).
Make soft music in Nashville
Nashville’s first IndyCar race, on a temporary street course in downtown Music City, was exceptional. This not only helped fans forget that the hugely popular street race in Toronto which was canceled for a second year in a row due to COVID-19, but also quickly drew comparisons to the best street race in the series. , the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Even before the race took the green flag, it garnered praise from Pato O’Ward, who compared the vibe to that of the Indy 500, and the four-time IndyCar champion and former resident of Nashville, Dario Franchitti.
The sold-out race drew 100,000 participants, who saw Swiss driver Marcus Ericsson overcome a crash early in the race to secure victory for Chip Ganassi Racing (and Ericsson’s second victory of the season and his IndyCar career. ).
Jimmie Johnson fights in Rookie IndyCar season
Despite being one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships (seven each), as well as 83 race wins, Jimmie Johnson has enjoyed a rookie season. very difficult in IndyCar competition.
Johnson has competed in 12 of the 16 events this season, all road or street (Tony Kanaan drove for Johnson in 48th place in all four oval races).
Johnson’s best result – some said he left the best for last – was 17th, which he achieved in each of the last two races of the season (Laguna Seca and Long Beach).
Johnson announced last week that he would run the full 17-race season in 2022, including the Indy 500.
Scott Dixon, Will Power Will Fall From Discord
After winning his sixth championship in 2020, Scott Dixon looked set for No.7 in 2021. Many had held him back to overtake Mario Andretti for No.2 on IndyCar’s all-time winning list.
Dixon ultimately did neither.
Even though he finished fourth in the standings, Dixon was never really a big factor. He’s only won once (his 51st, but still one behind Andretti’s 52 wins), tying his lowest production of the season for the third time in his career. He also got just five podiums, his smallest since four in 2016. He qualified on pole at Indianapolis, but finished 17th in the 500m.
Then there was Will Power, who struggled to finish ninth in the season standings, his worst season since joining the Penske squad full-time in 2010. Power has only won one. victory and four podiums, his smallest in the two since 2015. He narrowly missed the humiliation of being ousted from the Indy 500 field.
Difficult season for Andretti Autosport
Apart from Colton Herta’s performance (three wins, five podiums, fifth in the championship), Andretti Autosport has had one of his most difficult seasons. First, the son of team owner Michael Andretti, Marco, decided he wouldn’t be racing in 2021, with the exception of the Indy 500 (where he finished 19th).
Alexander Rossi was winless for the second season in a row, extending his current winless streak to 37 races. Rossi also finished 10th in the standings, the second lowest of his career (he finished 11th in his rookie campaign in 2016, when he won the Indianapolis 500).
Ryan Hunter-Reay (17th) and James Hinchcliffe (20th) were also winless and lost their seats at the end of the season.
Look for a significant improvement in 2022 now that former F1 driver Romain Grosjean has joined the team. In 2022, rookie Devlin DeFrancesco also moves on to Andretti of Indy Lights, where he did not score a win and finished sixth in the season standings.
Legends lost in 2021
The sport lost a number of beloved members of the IndyCar community in 2021.
Three-time Indy 500 winner and IndyCar veteran Bobby Unser died on May 3 at the age of 87.
Younger brother Al Unser Jr., who is tied with AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves for most Indy 500 wins with four apiece, died on December 9 at the age of 82 as a result of a long battle with cancer.
Former Brazilian IndyCar driver Andre Ribeiro died at the age of 55 on May 23 following a long battle with cancer.
Two very prominent racing journalists have also died following long battles with cancer: Bob Jenkins, longtime voice of the Indy 500 on television, died on August 9, while veteran racing writer Robin Miller died on August 25.
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