It might be – scratch that, is easier – to ask the questions yet to be determined in the IZOD IndyCar Series season, and silly season, over the next few weeks before the Shell Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader October 5-6.
It’s been a year for the series that has featured an excellent on-track product for the most part, save for a couple caution-infested wreck fests. Still, there’s a number of things on-and-off track to sort out here between now and Houston. We’ll just rattle them off, starting with the on-track in this post and the off-track in a separate one:
Can Helio Castroneves finally seal the deal for his first title? The Brazilian leads Scott Dixon by 49, Simon Pagenaud by 70, Marco Andretti by 71 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by 74. Realistically it will be just between the top two if Dixon can claw back the gap, and for any of third through fifth to have a shot, Castroneves must hit trouble in Houston. Thus far the model of consistency, Castroneves has completed all 2,003 laps this year.
Will IndyCar tie, or break, the different number of race winners? There’s been 10 so far and with three races left to go, talents such as Dario Franchitti, Justin Wilson and Andretti are among those who haven’t won yet. Consider Ed Carpenter is your defending champion at Fontana and there’s still a good five or six drivers who you could see breaking through to tie the record of 11 (set in 2000 and 2001, in CART), or set a new record of 12 or 13 this year.
There’s also a chance IndyCar could hit 20 podium finishers this year. Thus far 18 drivers have and some of the potentials who could but haven’t yet are Carpenter, E.J. Viso, JR Hildebrand, and Oriol Servia.
The Manufacturer’s Championship is also up for grabs. Honda and Chevrolet are square on eight wins apiece, and 120 points. Whoever wins two of the next three – first to 10 wins – takes the crown this year. Either Chevrolet defends or Honda has its first since the return of engine competition.
Will prior Houston experience pay dividends? Eight drivers projected to race next month have started at Houston in either Champ Car or Formula Atlantic (Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Simona de Silvestro, Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, Will Power) and will likely have a leg up from the off.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.