There is no denying that Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist were the two fastest drivers at last weekend’s Genesys 300 at Texas. Dixon won the race by 4.4 seconds and Rosenqvist had a second place finish practically guaranteed before he crashed while attempting to pass lapped traffic and charge after Dixon with nine laps to go. Given that the high line had already caught several people out throughout the day, it probably wasn’t the best place to attempt that pass when you could have been pretty sure of a second place finish and it’s the first race of the season. He would have made himself much better off in the championship by taking the second place finish and securing the 1-2 for Chip Ganassi Racing. As always though, hindsight is 20/20, and if he had made the pass stick and passed Dixon for the win we would be telling a different story about that move. Even with an unfortunate ending, Rosenqvist gained a ton of experience at Texas that he can take with him to the four remaining oval races this season.
The chart below is a heatmap that shows every driver’s top time through each sector of the track during the race. Above average times are in purple (better), while below average times are red. The drivers are ordered by their finishing position in the race.
Rosenqvist had the fastest lap time of the race with a 24.1088 on Lap 188 which was 1.5% quicker than the average car. He also had the quickest time down the run from Turn 2 to Turn 3 and was 1.5% quicker than the average car through that sector of the track. Dixon had the fastest time from Turn 1 to Turn 2 (2.9% quicker than average) and Rosenqvist again was second quickest in this same sector (2.1% quicker than average). Outside of these two Chip Ganassi Racing drivers from Turn 1 to Turn 2, no other driver was more than 2% better than the average driver through any of the remaining four sectors of the track. Ganassi’s advantage through this first turn was so much greater than any other team had anywhere else on the track. Having this type of advantage through even a single sector of a track means that you are going to have a very competitive race car so long as you aren’t compromising yourself too much in any other sector.
Looking at the rest of the sectors, it’s pretty clear Ganassi had a balanced car for their drivers. Dixon was above average in every sector except the run from Start/Finish to Turn 1 (-.58%), and the same was true for Rosenqvist (-.37% from Start/Finish to Turn 1).
Ganassi’s third driver, Marcus Ericsson, didn’t have the same success as his teammates, but he ran much better than he finished after picking up a fueling problem that caused him to go a few laps down right at the end of the race. Ericsson had an average track position (ATP) of 11.4 and an ATP of 10.7 for the final 25% of the race. For someone with a best finish on an oval of 7th, I don’t think Texas was a particularly bad result for Ericsson. He started way back in 17th and probably should have finished inside of the top ten before he picked up a problem. Ericsson was above average in every sector except for the same one as his teammates (-.52%) and stayed out of trouble throughout the race.
The sectors that were most important for having a quick lap time at Texas were Turn 1 to Turn 2 and from Turn 2 to Turn 3. Turn 1 to Turn 2 had a correlation of .86 to the full lap time and Turn 2 to Turn 3 had a correlation of .89 to the full lap time. Rosenqvist, Kimball, and Veach, who all ran extremely well at Texas, had the top three fastest times from Turn 2 to Turn 3.
With a little more development and experience on ovals by Rosenqvist and Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing could soon be in a position where they have the second best set of drivers in the field. Right now, Penske’s triplet of Pagenaud, Newgarden, and Power have an average Elo rating of 1,826 points. They are far and away the most complete team in the field. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon, Rosenqvist, and Ericsson have an average Elo rating of 1,655, and Andretti’s top three drivers (Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Andretti) have an average Elo rating of 1,700. That’s just a 50 point difference, and one has to think that Rosenqvist and Ericsson have more of a chance for improvement than Andretti’s current top three do, especially on ovals which Rosenqvist and Ericsson are still relatively new at.
That said, Herta is Andretti’s fourth driver right now (Elo rating of 1514), and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to overtake Andretti some time this season in Elo rating and become the third best driver. Herta had the same number of wins as Rossi last season and suffered from three technical problems to go with his four crashes. He’s still young, but I see him climbing past Marco this season and helping to boost Michael Andretti’s Team. I think a fascinating story line to watch this season will be the dynamic between Rosenqvist/Ericsson becoming more complete IndyCar drivers compared to Herta just becoming more experienced overall in his second season. Whoever progresses faster will help their team solidify themselves as the biggest contenders to Team Penske.