IndyCar: The major lineup change that's surprisingly paying off

Felix Rosenqvist and Meyer Shank Racing have been a perfect match, to the point where they have performed at a higher level than Rosenqvist's former IndyCar team.
Felix Rosenqvist, Meyer Shank Racing, IndyCar
Felix Rosenqvist, Meyer Shank Racing, IndyCar / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Meyer Shank Racing entered last year's IndyCar silly season knowing that change was needed to get back on the right track. The 2021 Indy 500-winning organization had seemingly lost their way, with just one top 10 finish -- a 10th place finish -- throughout the entire 2023 season.

Even before Simon Pagenaud's season-ending crash at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the former series champion and Indy 500 winner had placed no higher than 13th place. The team's top finish of the year came at Texas Motor Speedway with four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves behind the wheel.

Castroneves' No. 06 team finished in 19th place in the entrant standings, and what was initially Pagenaud's No. 60 team finished totally outside of the Leaders Circle in 25th.

Meyer Shank Racing on the comeback trail

Heading into the 2024 season, the team made a number of major changes, including shifting Castroneves back to a part-time role (Indy 500 only) and making him a partial owner of the team.

Felix Rosenqvist, whom Arrow McLaren had initially planned on replacing after the 2022 season when they thought that Alex Palou would be joining them from Chip Ganassi Racing, was indeed replaced by Arrow McLaren after the 2023 season. He signed with Meyer Shank Racing to drive the No. 60 Honda full-time.

The team also brought in Tom Blomqvist, who made select starts in place of Pagenaud late last season, to drive the No. 66 Honda; the No. 06 Honda was kept in reserve for Castroneves' Indy 500 attempt. He won the race with that number in 2021 in what was his first ever start for Mike Shank's program.

It was believed that Rosenqvist and the team may need some time to get up to speed, given the total overhaul for both sides. Both were aiming for a resurgence after a rough couple of seasons, so a rocky start was expected.

I'm not sure that anybody could have anticipated what we've seen so far in 2024, especially not this quickly.

In his first ever qualifying attempt behind the wheel of the No. 60 Honda, Rosenqvist qualified on the front row on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. He went on to finish the race in seventh place (later fifth thanks to the two Team Penske disqualifications).

He followed that up with a pole position and a victory in his heat race at the Thermal Club, where he would ultimately place third in the exhibition weekend's main event. In the next points race on the streets of Long Beach, California, he took the pole position and finished in ninth. At Barber Motorsports, he again made it into the Firestone Fast Six, and he finished in a season-high fourth.

A 10th place finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which came after he found himself mired in last after an opening lap melee, has him positioned in the top five in the championship standings heading into the Indy 500, a race he started on the front row and was a legitimate contender to win until a late crash last year.

Rosenqvist sits ahead of the entire Arrow McLaren team in the IndyCar championship standings.

Pato O'Ward won the season opener in St. Petersburg after the win was stripped from Josef Newgarden 45 days later, so he is still seeking his first on-track victory since July 2022.

Since the opener, he failed to qualify for the Thermal Club race and has recorded finishes of 16th, 23rd, and 13th place. Several instances of contact with other drivers -- and on multiple occasions, his own teammates -- have kept him from achieving decent results. He finds himself in seventh in the standings after technically leading after St. Petersburg.

Alexander Rossi was the team's only driver who qualified for the race at the Thermal Club. He is still seeking his true breakthrough performance with Arrow McLaren and finds himself in 10th place in the standings.

Then there is the No. 6 Chevrolet, which Arrow McLaren booted Rosenqvist out of in favor of David Malukas. Malukas has already been released by the team after missing the season's first four races due to an offseason wrist injury he suffered in a mountain biking accident.

Callum Ilott has driven the car twice this season, and Theo Pourchaire has driven it three times. Ilott failed to qualify the car at the Thermal Club and the entry has yet to secure a top 10 finish in a points event, miring it just above the Leaders Circle cut line in 20th place in the entrant standings.

Bear in mind, Arrow McLaren is a team that everyone wants to consider a "top-tier team", along with Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing (and in some cases, Andretti Global). These teams are even at times referred to as a "Big Four".

The fact that Rosenqvist, after three years of struggling in the papaya-colored cars, has gone to a team that was arguably the worst on the grid last year and immediately had more success than Arrow McLaren is one of the more pleasant surprises throughout the first quarter of the 2024 season.

With the Texas race no longer on the schedule, nobody really knows what kind of pace Meyer Shank Racing will have at the Indianapolis oval ahead of the Indy 500. After winning the race with Castroneves in 2021, they took a small step back in 2022, still managing to place both cars in the top eight, but last year was a disaster.

I would venture to guess that, given the team's incredible uptick in performance with Rosenqvist behind the wheel of the No. 60 Honda, this year will be somewhere between 2021 and 2022.

Castroneves' "Drive for Five" still appears very much alive after a lackluster 2023 performance at the greatest race track in the world, and given how well Rosenqvist has run at Indianapolis the last two years, specifically by finishing fourth in 2022 and qualifying on the front row last year, this is a team that everyone needs to start paying more attention to.

Next. NASCAR champion Kyle Larson has a new teammate for 2024. NASCAR champion Kyle Larson has a new teammate for 2024. dark

Maybe they can become the fourth member of the "Big Four".