BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — There are a lot of unanswered questions heading into this year’s NTT IndyCar Series season.
The Honda GP of Alabama, set to kick off the season this Sunday, was not on the schedule last year because of the pandemic. It’s the second year in a row that the season-opening race will not be run on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
One of those unanswered questions is how certain modifications to the cars made during the off-season will fair, with there having been limited testing opportunities this year because of restrictions regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
Defending series champion Scott Dixon certainly has that question on his mind as he told Trackside on 93.5 and 107.5 The Fan that his team needs to do a better job on qualifying than they did in the second half of last season.
“There’s a lot of unknowns actually,” Dixon said. “You know, it’s going to be tough to see where we really fit. Definitely put ourselves in some compromising positions last year because of it (qualifying).”
Dixon started out 2020 winning four of the first eight races on the 14 race docket. That would be enough for him to hold his lead to the end despite having an average finish of eighth in the season’s last five races.
Josef Newgarden closed the gap significantly in that span, but finished second in the points and will certainly be a challenger again this year. Alexander Rossi is looking for redemption after a forgettable 2020 season in which he finished ninth in points.
He competed for the championship in 2019 but came up short to Newgarden.
“I think we’re operating at a really high level right now at Andretti,” Rossi said. “I’m excited to get on track for the season opener at Barber.”
The 2021 season is scheduled for 17 races, featuring 14 road/street course races and three oval races.
Among the new faces in the series, this year is Scott McGlaughlin, who was scheduled to run a few races in 2020, but that got blown to the wind when the pandemic hit. He now has a full-time ride with Penske as he leaves Australian Super Cars.
McClaughlin was able to squeeze in a run in the 2020 finale at St. Petersburg in which he finished 22nd, but that is the entirety of his competitive IndyCar experience that he brings in to 2021.
“I’ve been waiting six long months to do a competitive racing event,” McClaughlin said to Trackside. “To start my career here is exciting. A bit of nerves, absolutely, but I said to my wife I feel as prepared as I can be right now.”
Jimmie Johnson joins the fray as well as a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion. He will make is IndyCar debut in a road-course-only ride with Ganassi this weekend.
2020 Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato returns to Barber as the race’s defending winner in 2019. It’s been a Team Penske driver that has won the race seven of the last 10 years.
Green flag drops at 3:00 p.m. EDT on Sunday.