PREVIEW: IndyCar’s West Coast Title Decider
Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Morgan Holiday
IndyCar heads for a West Coast Triple Header, as it prepares to crown its 2021 Champion. With 5 drivers still within a shot of claiming the title, it is likely to be decided in Long Beach. Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson all have a realistic shot at becoming Champion if they can gain the required points in Portland, Laguna Seca and Long Beach, with all 3 events returning to the schedule after the 2020 cancellations.
With teams starting to prepare for 2022, several teams have brought in drivers for the last few races, with Oliver Askew making his return to the series with Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan, Charlie Kimball with Foyt in Long Beach, and most notably, ex-F2 runner-up Callum Ilott makes his IndyCar debut with Juncos Hollinger in Portland.
O’Ward comes into the triple header as the points leader after recently becoming the Oval Champion, and would become the youngest Champion ever if he can claim the title, at just 22 years old. O’Ward has already secured an F1 test in Abu Dhabi after his first win in Texas, a successful bet against McLaren CEO Zak Brown, and the Mexican is highly tipped for a F1 drive in the future, a tip that could be further boosted if he is able to secure a first title.
Alex Palou has been the championship leader for the majority of the season, but an engine failure in Indianapolis and a collision at St. Louis meant that he lost the championship lead to O’Ward. Palou is only in his second IndyCar season, but has already picked up two wins, and is only 10 points behind O’Ward in the standings. He has a huge chance of taking his first title.
Josef Newgarden is seen as the favourite for the championship, despite standing third in the leaderboard. The 2017 and 2019 champion is just 22 points off the lead and well within reach, considering 54 points can be picked up in one round. Despite horrible luck, most notably a mechanical failure with just 3 laps to go at Road America when Newgarden was leading, he has picked up wins in Mid-Ohio and St. Louis, and may become one of the elites to pick up 3 titles.
Mr. 6-time, Scott Dixon is looking an outside bet for a historic 7th championship, but is still very much in the running. The Kiwi is 43 points behind O’Ward and only has one sole win in Texas this season. But we have seen Dixon do it before, when he overturned a 42 point deficit to win the title in 2015, and with his almighty experience behind an IndyCar backed up by his raw pace, Dixon has a shot at making history.
Marcus Ericsson has been seen as one of the IndyCar breakout stars in 2021. The ex-F1 driver secured his first IndyCar win in Detroit, and remarkably won in Nashville, despite an airborne crash with Sebastian Bourdais earlier in the race. The Swede has the most points of anyone since the Indianapolis 500, and although he seems like a long-shot, he certainly cannot be ruled out of claiming the title.
The championship is very much in the balance in one of the most unpredictable IndyCar seasons ever. The “youth movement” has challenged the veterans throughout the entirety of 2021, and O’Ward has the chance to become the youngest champion, but with 4 drivers chasing for the championship behind him, he certainly will not have it easy. All will be decided in Portland, Laguna Seca and the twisty streets of Long Beach.