The IndyCar summer break is in full swing. The next race won’t take place until August when IndyCar races on the streets of Nashville for the first time. Therefore, it is the perfect time to hand out a mid-term grade to each member of the 2021 IndyCar class. The 2021 season is thrilling fans from all over the world. With so many different winners, the young guns racing against veterans, and some big-name rookies, IndyCar 2021s provided plenty of unforgettable moments. No wonder IndyCar is getting record ratings on NBC. Let’s examine who’s performed well and who’s struggled. It’s part two of our mid-term grade series!
Three rookies made their Indycar debuts in 2021. Although, to call them rookies is a bit unfair. Scott McLaughlin is a serial winner in the Aussie V8 Supercars series, Romain Grosjean started over 150 F1 races, and Jimmie Johnson is a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion. These aren’t your typical wide-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters. They are grizzled, battle-hardened racers making the jump into Indycar.
Romain Grosjean came in with arguably the best chance of succeeding. Making the transition from F1 to Indycar is a bit simpler as both cars are similar. Nonetheless, Grosjean needed to banish the demons of THAT crash and get accustomed to a new country. Grosjean instantly hit the ground running. A pole position and a podium finish at the Indianapolis GP are the highlights. Grosjean has also demonstrated brilliant wheel-to-wheel racing skills. The enigmatic Frenchman is royally entertaining Indycar fans. Mid-term grade – B
For Scott McGlaughlin, the transition was always going to be much more challenging. Changing from tin-top-style stock cars to open-wheel racers is incredibly tough. McGlaughlin is tackling the task admirably, he is showing no fear in combat, and there are flashes of speed. The New Zealander is displaying plenty of promise. Mid-term grade – B
Then there is Jimmie Johnson. The legendary NASCAR racer is making the change to Indycar after so many years spent on the ovals. Johnson is not racing on the ovals this year; instead, he is attacking the road courses. Sadly, seven-time is struggling. Several spins and a lack of speed are plaguing Johnson’s rookie year. The learning curve is a steep one. Carvana and Chip Ganassi won’t wish to stay associated with the bad performances for too long. Jimmie’s got a lot of work to do. Mid-term grade – F
Graham Rahal’s season hit a high point moments before it came crashing down. The second-generation racer drove an intelligent race as he hauled himself into contention after hitting good fuel numbers. One botched pitstop later, and Rahal ate concrete. This moment perfectly illustrated the cruelty of the Indy 500. Outside of the big race, Rahal’s displayed consistency without the outright speed. Five top-five finishes encapsulate that: some decent showings, but plenty of work still to do. Mid-term grade – C+
Japanese pocket rocket Takuma Sato is Rahal’s teammate. The former two-time Indy 500 winner hasn’t shown the same consistency as Rahal. Sato is a feisty, aggressive race; sadly, we’ve not seen too much of that from him. Mid-term grade – C-
Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastian Bourdais’s season is meandering along very quietly. The Frenchman pilots the Rokit AJ Foyt Enterprises car; he’s snatched three top-ten finishes. Those solid finishes get Bourdais to 15th place in the championship standings. The veteran is fighting hard. Mid-term grade – C
Canada’s James Hinchcliffe is enduring a tough season. The Mayor of Hinchtown returned to a full-time ride with Andretti after racing on a part-time basis in 2020. The former DWTS star is currently 24th in the standings. In a contract year, that isn’t good enough. With NBC retaining the TV rights for Indycar, Hinch could find himself back on the sidelines with a microphone if the poor performances continue. Mid-term grade – D-
The Old Guys Are Still Kicking Butt
46-year-old Helio Castroneves grabbed all the headlines from the 2021 Indy 500. On a day when over 125,000 fans packed into the Speedway, the Brazilian legend raced away with his fourth victory at the Brickyard. With Castroneves’ success, upstart team Meyer Shank Racing signed Castroneves to a full-time contract for 2022. Castroneves will bid for a record-breaking fifth victory next Memorial Day weekend. His speed and hunger are still there; as he said in his colorful post-race interview, the old guys are still kicking butt. Castroneves showed consistent speed throughout May; he’s still got it. A one-off ride for an inexperienced team resulted in a glorious win. Mid-term grade – A+
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