Ranked! Top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2022

It was a thrilling 2022 NTT IndyCar season that saw five drivers head to the finale with a mathematical chance of winning the title. Did the points table accurately reflect form across the 17-race season? Nearly, but not quite, says David Malsher-Lopez.

Ranked! Top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2022
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As is traditional, let’s start with those who didn’t make our Top 10. In this IndyCar era of preposterously fine margins and compact seasons, it’s all too easy for teams to take wrong turns down development avenues and run out of time – and test days – to reverse, reset, restore their former competitiveness, and haul in good helpings of points.

That’s what made Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda’s midseason 180 so impressive. Suddenly Graham Rahal was contending for top fives instead of top 10s, and rookie Christian Lundgaard was qualifying in the top six, and able to claim a runner-up finish in the IMS road course’s second race.

As in the first half of the year, Lundgaard made a couple more mistakes than his veteran teammate, largely due to inexperience, so while he earned IndyCar’s Rookie of the Year award, he didn’t make the top 10 in the championship, nor does he quite make our Top 10. Interestingly, however, at the very last race of the year, the Dane performed like Rahal, digging deep and climbing through the field to finish fifth. Performances like that, combined with his pace over a flying lap, should put him in the Top 10 in the championship in 2023.

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

RLL’s first half struggles led to Rahal himself finishing the season outside the Top 10 for the first time since 2014 but it’s not as if his standard dropped. He simply didn’t have the car to get much done at what had traditionally been his best tracks.

If our Top 10 list was based solely on talent, Romain Grosjean would be included but it’s not so he’s not. This is about form across the 2022 season, and for too much of that, the former F1 ace and IndyCar sophomore seemed unable to work within the limitations of his Andretti Autosport-Honda. In fact, there were times when he failed to register those limits in practice sessions, qualifying or races, leading to expensive shunts, and whenever he then tried to drive in a more circumspect manner, he became anonymous.

“What’s happened to Grosjean this year?” said his baffled 2021 boss Dale Coyne, before adding with a smile, “It’s as if he’s gone from a good team to a mediocre one…”

The problem, said Grosjean, was that he and race engineer Olivier Boisson couldn’t get the #28 car to provide enough front-end grip to suit his preferred sharp turn-in technique. There was a confidence-sapping moment of inertia where he couldn’t loosen the rear to assist changes in direction.

The issue, while understandable, cannot serve as an excuse, not at this level. There’s not a single driver out there for whom the DW12 with aeroscreen is the ideal-handling car; all have had to learn to adapt, and a driver of Grosjean’s experience should be better at that than most.

He was, however, fast whenever the AA-Honda was to his liking, and at Laguna Seca he qualified on the second row, declaring the car was now how he wanted it. We will know soon enough.

David Malukas, Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports-Honda

David Malukas, Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports-Honda

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Another driver worthy of mention in the nearly-but-not-quite category here is Lundgaard’s rookie of the year rival David Malukas. After a self-admittedly shaky start in the Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports-Honda, the 2021 Indy Lights runner-up barely stopped impressing, in contrast to his rival and Lights champ Kyle Kirkwood who had far too many accidents in his AJ Foyt Racing-Chevy. Of course, Malukas had the better car at his disposal, but it was the way he so regularly exploited it and tucked up veteran teammate Takuma Sato more often than not that left a deep impression. Had Malukas’s pitcrew matched Sato’s through the first two-thirds of the year, Malukas would now be RotY and would have finished in the top dozen in the championship instead of 16th.

Finally, mention must be made of Rinus VeeKay, a man who knows how to win an IndyCar race but who couldn’t quite achieve the feat in 2022. He, like Grosjean, has the talent to be contending for top fives, but would probably benefit from a proven champion alongside him at Ed Carpenter Racing, as would the team. VeeKay’s pole position and podium finish at Barber Motorsports Park demonstrated what RVK and ECR can do together when everything works. But those days are too few currently.

Here, then, is the Top 10.

10 Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport Honda after scoring his first win in three years.

Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport Honda after scoring his first win in three years.

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Alexander Rossi may discover one or two difficulties settling into the Arrow McLaren SP team in 2023, not least because Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist have formed a genuine friendship in their two years together. But when his seventh season with Andretti Autosport appeared set to continue as disastrously as his sixth, Rossi wanted out: between bad pitstops and car failures, he was done.

Ironically (or coincidentally), things started to improve around the time it was announced he was departing for AMSP. Fifth place in the 500 was followed by runner-up position at Detroit, and a pole position and third place at Road America.

Then came Mid-Ohio, where he made contact with two of his Andretti Autosport teammates, but two races later Rossi took advantage of Colton Herta’s DNF at IMS road course to seal a win he might have captured anyway. His eighth win had come more than three years after his seventh.

On his best days, Rossi remains a potential winner, and his sheer determination – and talent – should enable that to be shown more frequently at his new team.


9 Felix Rosenqvist

Rosenqvist celebrates his second pole of the season with his #7 Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy crew.

Rosenqvist celebrates his second pole of the season with his #7 Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy crew.

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Having a manager like Stefan Johansson is probably what allowed Felix Rosenqvist to retain his focus this year, as madness swirled around him. Arrow McLaren SP, despite expanding to three cars for 2023, was ready to ditch him and switch him to McLaren’s nascent Formula E project. Johansson’s message was, ‘The best thing you can do is just focus on racing’ and Rosenqvist did that impressively. He took pole at Texas, outpaced O’Ward in qualifying at Long Beach, took sixth in the wet GP Indy despite being spun by his teammate and losing his front wing, finished a fighting fourth at Indy, and then scored third place at Toronto.

But Rosenqvist was hugely unlucky too. He and O’Ward could have scored an AMSP 1-2 at Mid-Ohio, maybe with Rosenqvist ahead having opted for a different tire strategy, but both cars failed. A couple of rounds later, Felix had pole in the second IMS road course race but a dragging brake on raceday left him unable to fend off his rivals and he eventually limped home ninth. Closing out the year with a fourth place at Laguna Seca, on a day when his teammate could manage no better than eighth, was a good confidence-booster going into the offseason.

There are days when Rosenqvist can’t match O’Ward who is regarded within the team as something of a unicorn, but the Swede is ahead of his teammate far more often than the results would suggest. He deserves his third year at AMSP.

8 Marcus Ericsson

 

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Despite scoring two wins for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021, there were question marks over Marcus Ericsson’s potential fate by the end of ’22. Would Chip still want him? Would Huski Chocolate money continue? And, from his own self-satisfaction point of view, how often could he expect days in the sun while being directly compared with six-time champion Scott Dixon and reigning champion Alex Palou?

And then Ericsson won a duel with Pato O’Ward to score Ganassi’s fifth Indy 500 win, and its first for 10 years. Ericsson, who has enjoyed ovals since he moved from Formula 1 to IndyCar in 2019, was in his element on Memorial Day Weekend, keeping his powder dry until the final stint when he demoted the two Arrow McLaren SP cars of O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and then keeping his head straight during the race stoppage. He outfoxed O’Ward in those closing couple of laps to deliver a tear-jerking win.

Elsewhere, Ericsson looked as good as his car, which is both a compliment and a curse. Occasionally he outperformed Dixon and Palou (notably with his runner-up finish at Road America), but the fact that his P2 on the grid at Gateway was his first front-row start in IndyCar – after four years here, three of which have been spent at Ganassi – highlighted a flaw that still needs addressing. Ericsson’s excellent racecraft can’t always overcome any qualifying deficits.


7 Colton Herta

Colton and Bryan Herta after the youngster took pole and finished second at Toronto.

Colton and Bryan Herta after the youngster took pole and finished second at Toronto.

Photo by: Perry Nelson / Motorsport Images

What a bizarre year for a driver who is so clearly an ace. Colton Herta can make a car appear to have a perfect 50/50 weight distribution, as if it pivots around its center point, by turning in at the apex and then tightly controlling the four-wheel drift, and getting straightened up as soon as possible. Or, if a corner has enough exit space, he can play to the DW12’s understeery strengths by doing what Fernando Alonso used to do in his championship-winning Renaults with their rear weight bias by braking late but turning in early, and using front-wheel scrub to not only alter the car’s trajectory but also adjust its speed.

But the driver whose composure we raved about in 2020 and ’21 made too many errors in ’22. Herta’s shunt at Long Beach when he responded badly to leading the first stint and then losing out in pitstops, reminded us of his frustration at Nashville the previous year. And his back-flipping error on Carb Day at Indy led to a heavily compromised car on double-points race day which forced him to retire early and effectively ended his title challenge by the end of May. In between times he scored a brilliant victory in the wet at the Grand Prix of Indy, but forever after he was fighting a rearguard action, and there were days when he was outperformed by teammate Alex Rossi.

At Toronto he took his second pole of the year and finished second to a resurgent Dixon, but transmission woes in Iowa 1 and a halfshaft failure while appearing set for victory in the second IMS road course race pretty much ensured Herta would be outside the top five at year’s end. Clipping a barrier in qualifying at Portland and twice falling off the track at Laguna Seca also suggested a driver pushing a tad too hard. But make no mistake: the fuss around him is justified and his suitability for F1 is clear. A more composed approach to 2023 should earn him those precious Superlicense points.

6 Pato O’Ward

Arrow McLaren SP team co-owner Sam Schmidt with Pato O'Ward after his triumph in the second Iowa race.

Arrow McLaren SP team co-owner Sam Schmidt with Pato O'Ward after his triumph in the second Iowa race.

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Money dissatisfaction, ill-feeling regarding Herta’s opportunities with McLaren’s F1 test team and Arrow McLaren SP’s still-flaky performance trends when compared with fellow Chevrolet runners Team Penske seemed to bring out the worst in Pato O’Ward in the first couple of rounds of 2022. He looked mistake-prone and was tending to overdrive. But in the fourth round he was immaculate on raceday and fully deserved his win, and mere days later he had a contract through to 2025 with improved salary and terms.

O’Ward’s race to second in the Indy 500 was quite brilliant but he tarnished it by unsubtly laying his defeat at the feet of Chevrolet. This was arrant nonsense – he and AMSP were beaten by Ericsson’s tactics and Ganassi’s superior cars, not by Honda, for the nearest non-Ganassi HPD-powered cars were not in the same league. Memory of his comments meant that O’Ward’s mechanical DNFs at Road America (Chevy’s fault) and Mid-Ohio (team’s fault) didn’t elicit the same sympathy as they might have done.

But they did damage his championship hopes, so even his superb Iowa performances – a second and a lucky win, both times ahead of Power – weren’t enough to prevent his title challenge disappearing with a 12th in the second IMS road course race and a DNF in Nashville (through no fault of his own). For O’Ward this looked like a frustrating year of treading water, but that was more down to the team’s up-and-down competitiveness rather than anything inherently missing in his make-up. He’s brave, supremely quick and a future champion.


5 Scott McLaughlin

 

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Has there ever been an IndyCar driver who has more swiftly catapulted himself from the ranks of good and promising rookie to the very top flight as a sophomore? It’s certainly hard to recall a transformation as convincing as Scott McLaughlin’s between 2021 and ’22.

When his former race engineer Jonathan Diuguid was reassigned to the Porsche 963 project, Ben Bretzman – formerly Simon Pagenaud’s engineer, but already a friend and golfing buddy of McLaughlin – stepped in to fill the vacancy. The target, said Bretzman, was to eliminate McLaughlin’s complaints from his rookie year about being unable to get the power down on corner exits, and while Team Penske made strides in this area as a whole, McLaughlin’s upward trajectory was steepest of all. He outdueled Power for pole at St. Petersburg, and went on to win the race despite intense pressure from Palou, the same driver he’d hold off to win victory number two at Mid-Ohio.

McLaughlin’s only obvious black marks were the spins under yellow, then green, in the wet GP of Indy and then a heavy shunt in the 500. He looked a little lost setup-wise at Detroit, too, but this was only his second visit there and it was Belle Isle’s final race. He’ll be on the same footing as his rivals on the new Motown track next year.

Penske was foolhardy not to make McLaughlin give up the lead to Power in Portland, but having (allegedly) told him to make way for Newgarden at Gateway, maybe team management members were loathe to hamper him twice in consecutive races.

Whatever the reasoning, Portland at least gave McLaughlin another chance to produce one of those performances that appear typical of the man – he cannot be ruffled by a pursuing rival. That’s a talent that will serve him well in the years ahead, as will the aggression he displayed at Laguna Seca that earned him a sixth place and sealed fourth in the championship. As a race engineer from a rival team remarked mid-season, “It’s scary to think how strong that guy might be with another year under his belt.”


4 Alex Palou

 

Photo by: Gregg Feistman / Motorsport Images

What a difference a year makes. Palou went from being everyone’s second favorite driver with an apparently magical ability to avoid trouble and crush his rivals with his consistency, to becoming someone of questionable judgment off track and no noticeable progress on track. Make no mistake, he was still usually excellent – he outperformed Dixon at St. Pete, Long Beach, Barber, Mid-Ohio and most obviously of all Laguna Seca. Heck, that last, resulting a 30sec victory margin, would be in the top five most ridiculously dominant performances of the last five seasons, and he had to do it from 11th on the grid. But to be honest, Palou seemed capable of those kinds of performances last year, too. This time around, we wanted to see improved oval performances, and while he was superb at Indy, dueling with teammate Dixon until suffering very bad luck with the timing of a caution period, his other oval races were lukewarm, and there were days when he was fourth best of the Ganassi drivers behind Dixon, Ericsson and Jimmie Johnson. Most uncharacteristically, Palou also blamed the blameless Ericsson for their collision at Road America which put his own car out.

But by then maybe Palou wasn’t in the best state of mind, since he was in the midst of a tug of love between Ganassi and McLaren, with no one to blame but himself… and his management team. One understands, of course, a young racer’s desire to compete in Formula 1, but to ignore the requirements of his contract showed naivety (at the very least), whatever his dissatisfaction over the pay increase he received for winning last year’s championship. As for spurning one of the greatest IndyCar rides and acquiring a not-so-good-one, with the ultimate aim of racing an as yet unproven F1 car, readers will doubtless be divided as to whether it was worth the effort, let alone the damaging effect on important relationships and his own reputation.

Yet despite this poor judgment, Palou has somehow landed on his feet, for by remaining at Ganassi he now has a top-rank IndyCar ride and he’s got an F1 test opportunity with McLaren. Given his huge talent, Alex could well make the most of both drives in 2023, but whether on-track success is enough to enable everyone to forgive his off-track imprudence is yet to be seen.


3 Scott Dixon

 

Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

This could have been your typical Scott Dixon year – shine but get shafted at the Indy 500, then scramble through to finish the year on top. Instead, he dominated Indy until he shafted himself with a slightly too fast entry onto pitroad – literally, 1mph over the limit – and had to wait until Round 10 to score his first victory. But that drive at Toronto reminded everyone how easy Ganassi’s six-time champion can make it look, while his Nashville triumph was the very opposite. That was a prime example of Dixon making the most of what he’d got, triumphing from a mid-grid starting slot, overcoming the time lost to unscheduled pitstops and driving a very damaged car on worn-out tires to victory lane. In years to come, this may come to be recognized as one of the greatest of the legend’s 53 triumphs.

On the downside it will concern the Kiwi legend that he was often outperformed by Palou – and it may concern him still more that Palou is now staying at Ganassi! But Dixon will carry on being Dixon The Irrepressible, and may yet have a record-equaling seventh championship in him. We’re all way too experienced IndyCar watchers to count him out. Remember, 1mph less on pitlane at Indy and he’d have over 70 points more, which would have sealed a second championship.

2 Will Power

Power and crew after scoring one of the finest wins of the year in the final IndyCar race at Belle Isle.

Power and crew after scoring one of the finest wins of the year in the final IndyCar race at Belle Isle.

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Will Power declared that this was the year in which he felt he had to repay his crew for their years of devotion to his cause by winning them a championship but the single-mindedness with which he pursued the 2022 title was quite something to behold. Rather than pursuing victory but possibly throwing points away, he deliberately reined himself in at St. Petersburg, at Mid-Ohio following the restart and in the second Iowa race. It’s been written here before that in 2021 Alex Palou set the template for how to win the war, with eight podiums and an average finish of 7.3, but Power took that to the next level this year with nine top-threes and an average finish of 5.9…

But let no one say he took the route of doing ‘just enough’. You don’t lay it all on the line and score five pole positions if you’re trying to backpedal your way to your second championship. What he focused on was eliminating significant errors and avoiding potentially damaging situations, and in this he was largely successful. Aside from stalling in the pits in the Indy 500, Power didn’t make any major gaffes on race days. Remember, too, that many of his top fives were recovery drives. At Barber, you can put the blame on him for needing to charge hard from the second half of the grid but that fourth place was superb, and his poor qualifying position at Road America (which led to a lowly finish after being punted by a backmarker) was also his fault. But at both Long Beach and Detroit (where he won) he was held up on his flying lap in qualifying, at Mid-Ohio his team sent him into the path of another car in Q1 so he was sent to the back of the grid, yet stormed through to take third, while in the second Indy road course race he was squeezed and bullied in the opening two laps, dropping to 17th, yet on an impossible fuel strategy he came through to finish third. Quite why his team elected not to give him fresh tires for the final stint at Gateway, no one knows, but salvaging sixth that day was as important as that 11th with a crippled gearbox in Nashville.

He doesn’t make #1 slot here because as hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, and so while Power might well have won those races where he stuck to his points-collecting policy, we don’t know that he would have done.


1 Josef Newgarden

Thanks to PeopleReady, Newgarden earned $1m bonus for winning on a street course, oval and road course.

Thanks to PeopleReady, Newgarden earned $1m bonus for winning on a street course, oval and road course.

Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

When PeopleReady announced it was to give a $1m bounty to the first driver to win on road, street and oval courses this season, many would have put money on Josef Newgarden being the first to achieve it, but probably didn’t reckon on him achieving it by midseason! His late-race charge at Texas was exhilarating, he wasn’t going to be denied at Road America, one of his best tracks, but it was his opportunistic Long Beach triumph that impressed his teammate Will Power. “Josef did a great job,” said the eventual champion after finishing fourth, “because honestly as a team I don’t think we were even second-best that weekend. Andretti and Ganassi should have kicked our ass. But once Josef got in the lead, he held off Grosjean and Palou with experience, placing his car in the right way. Solid effort.”

Newgarden should have won both races in Iowa but a suspension failure pitched him into the wall in Race 2. Yet he still squeezed in a fifth win at Gateway. According to very good Motorsport.com sources, McLaughlin had been asked during the weather-enforced delay to let the two-time champ through following the restart. You can argue that he could have won anyway – Newgarden is as aggressive and ruthless as they come. But there’s a feeling that had he been held up in a battle with his teammate, Dale Coyne Racing with HMD’s David Malukas would have gotten the pair of them, instead of merely splitting them at the checkered flag.

It would be wrong to blame Newgarden’s third straight runner-up finish entirely on the Iowa mechanical issue. He was anonymous at St. Petersburg, Barber and Indy 500 (like Power, he stalled on pitlane), and made what appeared to be a tactical blunder over tire strategy at Portland while trying to recover from his grid penalty. He was also knocked out of the GP of Indy. But if one was to look at it in terms of bald stats, rather than how they were accumulated, Newgarden’s issue was that aside from his five wins, he clocked up only one other podium.

So, as in 2020, Newgarden was the best but missed out on the title. But in 2019 he clinched the championship when he wasn’t quite the best, so maybe it all works out in the end. And he can take solace from the guy who beat him to the title this time around: Power knows the feeling of being the best driver of the season and falling short on the points table.

 

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