The 2021 NTT IndyCar season is in the midst of a three-week break before things get really interesting. Three races remain before a champion is crowned, and the race for the top spot is wide open among five drivers. It has been nearly two weeks since the last race, and while more than a week remains until the action picks back up, there has been plenty of news to digest.
Jimmie Johnson did his first laps on an oval in an IndyCar during a private test at Texas Motor Speedway. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver won seven NASCAR Cup races at the 2.5-mile oval and finished runner-up on five other occasions. That experience helped his comfort level going into the test, as did having a trio of experts there to guide him in Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, and Tony Kanan. Johnson is still not sure of running the Indianapolis 500 next year, but if he does, a full-season could be in the cards for him in his second season.
Silly Season is still a hot topic, with several high-profile drivers set to change teams following this season. Romain Grosjean is the big domino this year, and according to RACER, it appears that he will be heading to Andretti Autosport to take over the No. 28 Honda full-time next season. The ten-year Formula One veteran has had a remarkable rookie campaign, earning two runner-up finishes and qualifying on pole through his first ten races. He has led 49 laps this season and made his impressive oval debut in the last race at Gateway.
Not many people envisioned Oliver Askew running multiple races this season, but the 24-year old will finish this season having competed in five races with three different teams. Askew first filled in for the injured Felix Rosenqvist in Detroit, taking the wheel of the No. 7 Chevrolet with his former team, Arrow McLaren SP. He drove for Ed Carpenter Racing the following weekend at Road America, filling in for the injured Rinus VeeKay. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced this week that Askew will run the final three races of the season in the No. 45 Honda.
Another team that will be running the final three events this year is the rebranded Juncos Hollinger Racing. The team will have Callum Ilott in their No. 77 Chevrolet next weekend at Portland. The 2020 Formula 2 championship runner-up, Alfa Romeo Formula 1 reserve driver, and Scuderia Ferrari F1 test driver will be making his IndyCar debut after testing with the team on the IMS road course on Thursday.
Speaking of testing, the series confirmed that Firestone will conduct a tire test on the oval of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 8. According to Motorsport, it will include two cars simulating the weight distribution of the 2.4-liter hybrid engines to be used during the 2023 season. No drivers were named in the release but Jay Frye did say that there would be an opportunity for Grosjean and Johnson (among others) to conduct their Indy 500 Rookie Orientation Program.
After their best weekend of the season at Gateway, AJ Foyt Racing announced that they will field a third entry at Long Beach for Charlie Kimball. The Southern California native will return to the No. 11 Chevrolet, where he ran on the IMS road course in May. Though he failed to qualify for the Indy 500, Kimball is excited to get back into the cockpit. “Long Beach is my favorite event outside of the Indy 500,” he said. “I spent my childhood coming to this race and dreaming about being on the other side of the fence.”
The next race on the schedule is the Grand Prix of Portland on September 12. NBC will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 3 PM ET on Sunday. Pato O’Ward leads the championship by 10 points over Alex Palou, with Josef Newgarden, Dixon, and Marcus Ericsson rounding out the top five.