Will Power

The official start of the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is still two months away – the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding kicks off the 17-race calendar on Sunday, March 10 – but the new beginning got its first look Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Most of the drivers who will comprise the 27 full-time entries are gathering for the sport’s annual Content Days. Photographs and videos of the activities filled social media. It was – and is – interesting to see faces in new places and, in some cases, the return of an old face.

Pietro Fittipaldi, who made his last series start in 2021, returns to the series. He will drive the No. 30 Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan. Fittipaldi is one of about a dozen drivers – nearly half the field -- who will wear different colors in 2024.

The other drivers who have either joined the series or switched teams: Sting Ray Robb at AJ Foyt Racing, David Malukas at Arrow McLaren, rookie Christian Rasmussen at Ed Carpenter Racing, Romain Grosjean at Juncos Hollinger Racing, rookies Linus Lundqvist and Kyffin Simpson at Chip Ganassi Racing, Felix Rosenqvist and rookie Tom Blomqvist at Meyer Shank Racing and the two drivers that Dale Coyne Racing will employ. (DCR has not announced those, and therefore they are not at this week’s media event in Indianapolis.)

Half the field was put through the media paces Wednesday; the rest do so Thursday.

Among the highlights of Day 1:

Power on Palou’s Impressive Season

Will Power knows a thing or two about winning NTT INDYCAR SERIES championships, having won one in two different decades with Team Penske. So, he knows and appreciates what Alex Palou accomplished last year in a dominating season with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Palou won five races and clinched the title before the last race of the season. His average finish was 3.7, one of the best seasons since Tony Kanaan (2004) and Dan Wheldon (2005).

“He was hitting on such a high level,” Power said of Palou. “That’s a championship to remember, a very, very impressive (feat) … and I couldn’t see anyone beating that.

“This dude mopped the floor (with the field).”

But this is another year, and Palou, now a two-time series champion, is eager to roll with different colors. His uniform is now yellow, as it’s sponsored by DHL.

“I like it,” he said of the uniform. “It’s easy to spot, and it looks racy.”

Power: Wife ‘Way, Way Better’

For the first time since 2006, Will Power endured a winless season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES last year. A big reason for that was his focus on the health scare of his wife, Liz.

Power was very candid of that fact during the 2023 season finale race weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on how much of a toll that it took on him mentally throughout the season. As a new year begins, Power said his wife is doing a lot better.

“She’s actually back, started working out a little bit – way, way better from where she was,” he said. “Not having that stress, the constant thought in the back of your mind of what's going on there frees up a bit of space. You can get back to the sort of normal routine of preparing for a season and working during the season.

“Those distractions really take away – you just cannot compete at a high level if you're not 100 percent in on that thing, which is racing. If you're not 100 percent in, you're going to struggle in this field. It's too tough. Depth is too strong.

“You need to have everything going for you if you're going to win in this series.”

If Power can return to victory lane in 2024, it would tie him with Michael Andretti for fourth on the all-time wins list with 42. His 70 poles lead the all-time list.

Newgarden Focused on Racing

Reigning Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge champion Josef Newgarden said he has pared his non-racing activities to focus even more on his day job. Among the changes: Likely no longer participating in the popular “Bus Bros” series on social media with Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin.

“(It’s) taking a long nap,” Newgarden said of the show. “I don’t know what the future is going to hold.”

McLaughlin has taken the ending of the show in stride.

"I guess Josef is the producer, so we've got no producer now," he said. "(The show) was fun, and it was just an opportunity for people to get to know me and Josef and see who we are outside the car. We did some pretty stupid stuff, but it was a fun chapter. If this is the end, it's the end."

A Busy Ganassi Camp

Scott Dixon and Palou have won multiple series championships – a combined eight – but at the other end of the Chip Ganassi Racing spectrum are rookies Lundqvist and Simpson with sophomore Marcus Armstrong. Add it up: It’s a lot of newness and certainly a much larger organization, Dixon said.

“We’ll have to see how it goes,” Dixon said of how the growth impacts performance. “It’s never easy. Hopefully we’ll jump in and dive in, and there’s no missed (steps). Five cars is a lot – a lot of people and a lot of moving parts. Yeah, it will be interesting … it’s no small challenge, but if there’s a team that can pull this off, it’s this one.”

Dixon said his former teammate Dario Franchitti will be busy in his team advisor role, spending most of his time with the less-experienced Armstrong, Lundqvist and Simpson.

“I think he’ll have his hands full,” Dixon said, smiling.

Odds and Ends

  • Dixon enters the new year at 43 years old, and he is showing no signs of slowing down as a high-level driver. What’s his target for how long he continues in this series? He doesn’t know. “What is Helio (Castroneves), 50?” he said. Actually, Castroneves, who will just compete in the “500” this year, will turn 49 in May. “He’s lying,” Dixon said later, laughing. “He’s been 48 for a long time.”
  • The tragic loss of two-time INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran on Dec. 29 still hangs over the sport, especially Castroneves, his longtime teammate and Florida neighbor. Castroneves recalled one of his favorite memories with de Ferran, who thought like an engineer. It was their first meeting with Team Penske. “It was an hour and 45 minutes,” Castroneves said of the meeting. “Which means, Gil (talked) 1:40, and (I got) five minutes.”
  • Alexander Rossi is eager to race with 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson in the “500” as a teammate at Arrow McLaren, and he considers him “a challenger” to win the race. “I’ve said it for a long time: He’s one of the best (drivers) in the world,” Rossi said.
  • Malukas on the new papaya-colored Arrow McLaren uniform: “I’m glowing, and I can see out of my peripheral view.”
  • Ed Carpenter, who is entering his 22nd season in the series, was asked to name the face of the series in 2024. He mentioned three drivers: Pato O’Ward, Palou and Newgarden.
  • McLaughlin acknowledged significant changes during the offseason. The New Zealander bought a home in North Carolina, and he and his wife acquired a second dog. McLaughlin said the hardest part of buying a home was getting his U.S. credit score recognized.
  • An interesting observation: McLaughlin said, after three seasons in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, that he now feels “more like an INDYCAR driver than a touring car driver.” He was a three-time Supercars champion (2018-20).
  • Sports car ace Blomqvist said he has spent the offseason preparing his body for the rigors of handling these cars without power steering. The efforts have led to him losing 8 pounds, he said. “Which is a lot for my (relatively small) body,” he said.
  • Grosjean said he has set no expectations in joining Juncos Hollinger Racing. “I think we have to see where we stand (at the first race),” he said. “We need to improve and get better race after race.”
  • A year ago, Agustin Canapino was a series rookie and learning the ropes here in the U.S. The pressure was on, but more so for learning English, of which he knew none. He said it was more pressure “than Indy 500 qualification.”
  • Palou is a new father, and he was asked to give advice to first-time dads. “Patience, (and) sleep whenever you can,” he said. Palou said he lost a diaper-changing contest against Scott Dixon, a father of three, at the CGR shop earlier this week.