The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season gets underway at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The wait is almost over as the teams and drivers begin what will be a hectic start to the season with four races back to back.
The season kicks in Barber Motorsports Park with 20,000 people expected at the track on Sunday for the two-day race weekend before heading to Florida for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg on April 25. Following the race on the Streets of St Pete, the NTT IndyCar Series heads to Forth Worth, Texas for the double-header weekend of the Genesys 300 and the XPEL375.
The series conducted a two-day open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week in preparation for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 30 and speaking about the excitement from the test, President and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corporation, Mark Miles commented saying:
You could feel the energy in the paddock during last week’s Indy 500 testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Now we’re ready to end the offseason and wave the green flag on an exciting season of NTT INDYCAR SERIES action featuring our daring, fierce and competitive athletes.
“Starting the season with four races on three consecutive weekends is an ideal launch, with momentum carrying into the Month of May. The championship stretch also is exciting, with three consecutive West Coast races to wrap up the season, along with visits to Detroit, Road America, Mid-Ohio, Toronto, St. Louis and an inaugural event in Nashville. Combined with another road course event during another NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend at Indy, we are very optimistic about the success of the 2021 season and the continued growth of the series.
The 2021 rookie class is rookie in name only as collectively, the three drivers coming into the NTT IndyCar Series have years of racing experience. Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson will make his series debut driving the No.48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda for road and street course events.
Speaking about the addition of Johnson to the series, NTT IndyCar Series President Jay Frye commented saying:
“To have someone like Jimmie join the INDYCAR SERIES, who could do whatever he wants to do at this point in his life, is a huge statement. “He has nothing to prove in his career. He’s the ultimate competitor. All he wants to do is go out and prove to himself that he can do this and compete at a high level.”
Johnson is not the only new face to the NTT IndyCar Series this season as former Formula One driver, Romain Grosjean joins the series driving for Dale Coyne with Rick Ware Racing after the Frenchman survived a horrific fiery crash in Bahrain towards the end of last season. Grosjean will race in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with RWR.
Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin makes his full-time NTT IndyCar Series debut in the No.3 PPG Chevrolet having made his race debut in the 2020 season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg and speaking to Paddock Eye during a Zoom conference call on Monday, the three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion commented saying:
Look, it’s going to be an exciting year. Yeah, absolutely had a great test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Nice to also do some laps around there. I’ve got three great teammates to lean on, not only in terms of driving style but setup-wise, trusting what the car is going to be like at qualifying trim, race trim, understanding that. That was really nice to lean on all three of the guys. All three of them were fantastic with me, helping me build up, get acquainted. For me, I don’t really know what to expect. I think we’ve done some really good work as a team in the off-season. From what I understand the team’s in a positive spot, but you don’t know with testing right now sort of where everyone’s at. I don’t think we’ll know until qualifying at Barber. That’s my best answer to that sort of thing. For me right now, it’s about doing as many laps as I can, getting as much understanding under my belt, leaning on my three great teammates as much as I can.
Not only are there new names entering IndyCar this season but some familiar faces return to full-time competition, James Hinchcliffe, the Mayor Of HinchTown returns to racing driving the No.29 Genesys Capstone Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport Honda while Sebastien Bourdais also returns after a year away. The four-time CART champion will drive the No.14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet while Dalton Kellett steps up to a full-time drive with AJ Foyt Racing.
This season will see 24 full-time drivers on the grid with Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske moving to a four-car programme with the addition of Scott McLaughlin at Penske while Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan will share the No.48 Carvana NTT American Legion-sponsored Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Meanwhile, Meyer Shank Racing will expand to a two-car programme with Helio Castroneves driving the No.6 Honda for six races including the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 30.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES regulations require filling in the front-half of the “hole” in the underwing with a carbon fiber clam shell piece, which wraps around the structural strut of the underwing. The result creates downforce while reducing the reliance of the front wing. Ultimately, it will provide the potential for even more passing opportunities when cars are in traffic.
Speaking about the changes, INDYCAR Director of Aerodynamic Development Tino Belli said:
We wanted to reduce the amount of work the front wing does. “The amount of downforce necessary has grown over the years with the gradual addition of weight with the AK-18 side pods and the safety-inspired Aeroscreen. The new downforce created by the underwing has done exactly what it was supposed to do.
IndyCar Series President Jay Frye commented on the new aero changes saying:
“A lot of things we did for this season, we weren’t able to do last year because the pandemic. “The spring testing schedule has helped us out for this year and the results have been positive. Overall, the racing product has been very good. We wanted to make it even better.”
The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season promises to be an extremely exciting one with 17 action-packed races set to take place over the course of the year. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon who drives the No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda stands on the cusp of history if he wins the championship this season he will tie with AJ Foyt Racing on seven titles.
The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season will also see Paretta Autosport field Simona De Silvestro in the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 30 in the female-led team who have the highly accomplished Beth Paretta as team owner and team Principal.
Speaking about the incredible work that the NTT IndyCar Series has done over the course of the off-season, Jay Frye said:
“It has been a tremendous effort by everyone in the offseason. “Our NTT INDYCAR SERIES partners, promoters, staff and teams have been working tirelessly. 2021 will be an awesome show. We can’t wait to get started.”
The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season kicks off this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park which is live on Sky Sports F1HD in Ireland and the United Kingdom from 8PM on Sunday.