Say what you want about this year’s IndyCar series: it’s certainly been exciting. A Formula 1 world champion hopped over to race the Indy 500, Takuma Sato won at the Brickyard, one crash wiped out half the field at Texas Motor Speedway, inflicting nearly two million dollars in damage, and Helio Castroneves drove under championship leader Scott Dixon and escaped unscathed. It’s been a real roller coaster of a ride.
Sato’s win at Indy inspired a really dumb take: that it’s not good for a Japanese driver to win the Memorial Day race. The guy who crafted that gem got fired, but he glanced off something interesting; what would it take for an American driver to win a championship in the US’ second (third? fourth?) favourite motorsport? We’re halfway through the season, and none of the top-five drivers have the stars and bars next to their name.
There are still a lot of races left: five road-courses, and three on the ovals. Owing either to immature drivers, not enough testing, or bad aero rules, the race on the oval at Texas Motor Speedway was the kind of pack race that really anyone could win as long as they were lucky enough to survive. More races like that could shift the balance of the championship towards the Americans, maybe.
Australian driver Scott Dixon is currently leading the championship, despite not winning a single race so far. He’s achieved this with imperious consistency, having finished on the podium four out of nine times and only finished outside the top ten when he was crashed into at Indy. Dixon’s been the class of the field in 2017, and has a 13-point lead in the championship to show for it. If he can start scoring wins he’ll be even harder to beat in the end.
Defending champ Simon Pagenaud has also looked very strong this season, and despite a rough run through in Indianapolis and Detroit, he’s second in the championship and a manageable 13 points behind Dixon. Pagenaud also has the advantage of driver for perhaps the best team in the history of IndyCar racing, and has a wealth of experience and resources to draw on there.
Top-ranked American Graham Rahal is on form, winning two of the last three races and both of the races at Belle Isle Park. Rahal survived a wild one at Texas Motor Speedway and found a way to finish a respectable fourth. He’s now 43 points behind the leader, and making up that gap at this point in the season will likely have to involve some DNF’s on Dixon’s part. He could very plausibly make a run for the top three, as he’s only 29 points behind that position. A couple breaks his way and some race wins could make that gap up in short order.
The other Americans in the field are looking somewhat diminished and will need some kind of a miracle to overcome their points deficit to threaten the championship. Josef Newgarden has only been on the podium once since his win in Alabama, and rookie Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi has not made a race podium all year, with his best result coming in the qualifying in Indianapolis. The remaining five American drivers who are mounting full campaigns this year have two podiums amongst them.
So, it’s not looking good for the home team, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. International drivers attract much-needed international attention, and nobody can argue there isn’t a wealth of quality American drivers in the field.
On another note, maybe it’s not about the drivers. Three of the cars in the top five are of American manufacture, so it’s probably better to hitch your patriotic bandwagon to the Chevrolets of Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, and Will Power. After all, it’s the horse that wins the race, the jockey just shows him where to go.
Odds to win the 2017 Drivers’ Championship
Scott Dixon: 7/3
Simon Pagenaud: 3/1
Takuma Sato: 7/1
Any American: 7/1
Helio Castroneves: 10/1
Graham Rahal: 15/1
Josef Newgarden: 20/1
Odds for 2017 Manufacturers’ Cup