Diffey: New IndyCar season most intriguing since ’90s
Friday 16th April, 2021 - 3:00pm
IndyCar Series commentator Leigh Diffey has hailed this year’s IndyCar Series one of the most exciting since the 1990s.
With the arrival of seven-time NASCAR title winner Jimmie Johnson, ex-Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean, and three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, Diffey has likened the excitement levels to those seen when Nigel Mansell came to IndyCar in 1993.
For Diffey, IndyCar is in the midst of a renaissance with veterans of the sports returning and new blood challenging the established guard.
While the likes of Scott Dixon and Will Power vie for more IndyCar crowns, a handful of exciting young talent is in the mix too, including Patricio O’Ward, Alex Palou, Colton Herta, and more.
Other well-known names will return too, with Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Simona De Silvestro set for Indianapolis 500 cameos.
“The kind of excitement that is surrounding IndyCar at the moment is really incredible,” Diffey told Speedcafe.com.
“And it is for two reasons. It’s for where IndyCar is at and what IndyCar has made itself to be, because this is the 25th anniversary of the split.
“You have people here who were still around then. There’s the most incredible amount of veterans that are in the series at the moment.
“For one, that is a point of interest when you have Scott Dixon, and Takuma Sato, and Sebastien Bourdais, and then Helio Castroneves, and Juan Pablo Montoya coming back in, and Tony Kanaan going to do select races. So there’s that heritage point of view.
“There’s the aspect of Dixon trying to win a seventh championship and draw level with A.J. Foyt. You’ve got these youngsters that are just mind-blowingly fast and so hungry, like Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward. Just these incredible guys.
“Then you’ve got this unique threesome of rookies in Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean, and Scott McLaughlin. This championship offers so much this year, to me, more than… I don’t want to say ever before, but for a long, long time.”
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is on the cusp of equalling A.J. Foyt for all-time IndyCar title wins.
Foyt stands alone on seven while the New Zealander’s win last year took him to six, all of which have come with Ganassi.
While the form guide is firmly in Dixon’s favour, the 40-year-old has never won back-to-back IndyCar titles.
Will this year’s title challenge be any different from his previous efforts? Diffey thinks not.
“I think it will be as normally as tough as it is to win a title,” Diffey said.
“Scott knows that. I had dinner with Scott the other night. He acknowledges what’s going on, but at the same time, Scott Dixon is completely abnormal in his ability level.
“Scott Dixon, in my opinion, deserves to be up there with A.J. Foyt. He deserves to be tied with A.J. Foyt, because Scott Dixon’s longevity, his ability, his execution, his professionalism, his dedication, Scott Dixon deserves to be regarded as one of the greats of IndyCar.
“For him to win a seventh title this year would not surprise me at all.”
It is without question that Team Penske pilot Will Power is one of the quickest, if not the quickest, driver on one-lap pace in the IndyCar Series.
In all, Power has 62 pole positions to his credit, putting him second only to the great Mario Andretti who has 67.
Fifth equal on the all-time race winners list with 39 to his name, the one-time champion sits in the shadow of Dixon’s six titles.
What does Power need to get that second title? Constant form according to Diffey.
“I’ll use Will’s words, not my words. Will just needs to be more consistent, and that’s top of the checklist for him,” he said.
“When people talk about Will Power, they talk about his brutal speed and his incredible ability behind the wheel.
“Unfortunately for Will, comes the tagline of… people will say Scott Dixon can qualify 15, but will come away with a third, and he’ll be on the podium. People are like, ‘How did he do that?’ Will Power will be on pole, and come away with a 12th.
“Will, in his own words, he will say he needs to be more consistent. Will’s main goal is, of course he would like to win another Indy 500, of course he would like to win another championship, but I think Will’s big goal is he would actually like to stitch together, sew together, a full and complete championship. And that, for him, would be goal achieved.”
There’s been plenty of hype surrounding Scott McLaughlin’s long-awaited IndyCar start as a full-timer.
It’s been an awfully long time between drinks for McLaughlin, whose last competitive outing was in October at the Supercars season-ending Bathurst 1000.
What should the Kiwi expect? A tough initiation to the sport, according to Diffey. Though don’t expect McLaughlin to flop by any means.
“I think Scott is better prepared for this year, which really is his debut,” Diffey explained.
“I know that he raced in St. Petersburg last year, but this substantively is his IndyCar debut. And I think he’s better prepared, and he’s told me so, he’s better prepared than he’s ever been for any racing season.
“Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, and it’s so complex, and it’s so technical, and it’s so difficult, but just ask a two-time Formula 1 world champion [Fernando Alonso] how difficult IndyCar really is, and he will tell you.
“So Scott McLaughlin is going to experience that, but it’s not beyond Scott McLaughlin. He is going to have some really tough days at the track, but he’s also going to have some amazing days.
“So I actually don’t look to 2021 for miraculous things from Scott McLaughlin. It’s going to be a year of hits and misses, and it’s going to be the most amazing year that he’s ever had in his racing career, because he’s going to learn more about a different discipline of the sport that he never knew, he’s going to learn more about himself that he never knew, and in 2022 he is going to be incredible. This year is going to be just the most fascinating year for Scott.
“Could he get a podium? Absolutely. Could he get a win? Absolutely. But is he going to learn a truckload of things? Absolutely. And I think that’s going to make Scott McLaughlin a championship candidate in 2022.
“Scott, this year, will have some highs and lows, but the highs are going to be impressive. I, for one, will not be surprised to see him stand on a podium, or maybe win a race.”
The 2021 IndyCar Series takes in 17 rounds from April to September.
Barber Motorsports Park will open the calendar this weekend with a 90-lap feature.
The season is largely made up of road courses and street circuits with just four events on ovals.
Texas Motorsport Speedway will host a double-header as a sort of preamble to the Indianapolis 500, the latter which takes place on the final weekend of May.
The fourth-to-last round of the season will take place at Gateway.
IndyCar will take in one new circuit this year with an event on the streets of Nashville.
Long Beach is set to close out the season on September 26 (local time).