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Pato O'Ward looks on during qualifying for the NTT IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on August, 21, 2021, at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a lengthy offseason, the drivers of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series start their season on February 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

With so many drivers looking to showcase their talents in 2022, let’s take a look at four drivers in particular that should be on everybody’s radar throughout the season to take the title away from the usual suspects.

4 IndyCar Drivers to Watch in 2022

Pato O’Ward

Pato O'Ward celebrates after winning the pole position during qualifying for the NTT IndyCar Series Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 13, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Pato O’Ward finished third in the 2021 IndyCar standings, dropping from second in the final race of the season after contact from Ed Jones began a chain of events that would sideline the young Mexican at Long Beach.

O’Ward drives the No. 5 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren SP, a team that is now majority-owned by McLaren with team owners Sam Schmidt and Rick Peterson owning a minority stake. After coming close to winning on multiple occasions in 2020, O’Ward started 2021 starting on pole position at Barber Motorsports Park. After a strategy miscue, O’Ward finished in fourth place. Winning would come soon though as the Mexican broke through to win at Texas Motor Speedway in May with a late pass on Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

After a great run to fourth place at the Indianapolis 500, O’Ward earned his second win of the season at Detroit after another late-race pass on Newgarden. O’Ward would finish 2021 with three poles, two wins, five podium finishes, and nine top-five finishes out of 16 races.

The 2018 Indy Lights champion needs to increase his number of podium finishes in 2022, because 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou had eight podiums, with 12 finishes of 7th or higher. That kind of consistency wins championships.

Colton Herta

Colton Herta celebrates after winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St.Petersburg on April 25, 2021 on the Streets of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Fl.
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hot N Cold isn’t just a Katy Perry single, it’s also an apt description of Colton Herta’s 2021 IndyCar campaign.

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After finishing off 2020 with three top-five finishes in the final four races, Herta started off 2021 with a 22nd place finish at Barber, a dominant win at St. Petersburg, a 22nd-place finish at the first Texas race and a fifth-place finish in the second Texas race.

With six finishes of 13th or lower in the next nine races, Herta had a mountain to climb late in the season, which the Californian did with two wins in the home-state races of Laguna Seca and Long Beach.

The No. 26 Honda did have its good moments in 2021. Besides the wins, Herta had four top-five finishes and an eighth place at Portland. However, much like Newgarden’s campaign, 2021 will also be remembered for what could have been.

Herta started second at Mid-Ohio before pit road miscues dropped him to 13th place at the end of the race. At Nashville, Herta was chasing down eventual race winner Marcus Ericsson (driver of the No. 8 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing) lap after lap before crashing, finishing 19th. At Gateway, a mechanical failure brought Herta’s race to an end after leading 101 of the 185 laps he had completed.

Herta is most certainly a championship contender, but like O’Ward, consistency must be the main focus if the championship trophy will go to him at Laguna Seca in September.

Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean waves to the fans during driver introductions before the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on August 14, 2021 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in Indianapolis, Indiana
Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In his first partial IndyCar season in 2021, Romain Grosjean impressed the IndyCar paddock enough for Michael Andretti to sign him to replace Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Andretti Autosport No. 28 Honda.

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Grosjean has race engineer Olivier Boisson joining him from Dale Coyne Racing, but the difference of resources between Coyne and Andretti will benefit Grosjean immensely.

The former Formula 1 racer skipped both races at Texas Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500, and his ability on road and street courses was able to shine. In F1, Grosjean managed to score 10 podium finishes earlier in his career, but as the Haas F1 team’s fortunes started declining, Grosjean’s points scoring finishes came few and far between.

In IndyCar, Grosjean managed to qualify in the top six on six occasions, with one pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Grosjean had his bad races as well, but with a second year in IndyCar, Grosjean might be a good pick for two wins.

Grosjean’s biggest wild card will be how he does on the ovals. Racing only at Gateway in 2021 showed the IndyCar paddock that the Frenchman could handle turning left as good as any other driver on the grid. Executing pass after pass on driver after driver in the first half of the race, Grosjean ran as high as eighth place before finishing 14th.

With a larger team, expect more results from Grosjean.

Kyle Kirkwood

Kyle Kirkwood prepares to qualify for the Indy Lights Oval Challenge of St. Louis on August 20, 2021, at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Illinois
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yes, Kyle Kirkwood is a rookie. Yes, Kirkwood is racing for A.J. Foyt Racing, a team that hasn’t won a race since 2013 and has two wins since winning the 1999 Indy 500. However, Kirkwood is a complete X-Factor that can do well if he can get the team working in the right direction.

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Kirkwood ran in the Road to Indy in all three series, winning all three championships in successive years despite Indy Lights being on hiatus in 2020. Kirkwood won 31 races out of 50 races on the Road to Indy, a 62 percent win rate which is unheard of in junior level formula car racing. Between SCCA Formula 4 and Formula Regional Americas, the Jupiter, Florida native has an additional 25 wins to his credit, all before even making a single start in an IndyCar.

A.J. Foyt Racing hasn’t had a young driver with this much potential in a very long time, perhaps since Robby Gordon back in 1993. That year, Gordon gave the team a second, third, fourth, and fifth-place finish, but couldn’t quite get to the top step of the podium.

But for Kirkwood to win, the team must completely gel around him. Sebastien Bourdais, Conor Daly, and Tony Kanaan all tried but couldn’t bring Foyt back to victory lane. While there are no guarantees that Kirkwood can do the same in his rookie year, here’s a statistical gem.

The second Indy Lights race at Laguna Seca went caution free. In spec cars, Kirkwood beat David Malukas by 26.056 seconds.

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