From start to finish, 2023 gave us plenty to think about and debate within motor racing. As we prepare to farewell another year, here are a few items from our favorite sport that have me smiling and appreciating the special performances and moments that I won’t forget from the areas of racing that I cover.


Fifty-one. That’s how many races it took for Scott McLaughlin (main image) to establish himself as Team Penske’s top performer in the IndyCar championship. Together, his teammates are far more accomplished across their combined 483 IndyCar starts, and both Will Power and Josef Newgarden stand above McLaughlin with two IndyCar titles and one Indy 500 victory apiece. But I can’t escape the fact that in just 51 races, the Kiwi, who just finished third in the standings behind Alex Palou and Scott Dixon, has become Penske’s most consistent threat while drawing from so little open-wheel racing experience.

The manner in which Chip Ganassi Racing owned the championship in 2023 was the big showy aspect of how the year went, but McLaughlin’s rise to lead Team Penske impressed me more than any other individual achievement among IndyCar drivers last season. If he’s this good after three seasons, just imagine what he can generate in his fourth and fifth and sixth…


Campaigning the oldest car in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series wasn’t an issue for Jimmy Vasser, James ‘Sulli’ Sullivan, or Lexus, as the trio pursued and won the GTD Pro title with the comparatively ancient RC F GT3 model.

Not only did they clinch the championship with lead drivers Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat, but Vasser and Sullivan did so by focusing their energies inward. Team culture is where the biggest strides were made. The friendliest team in GTD Pro kept refining their interpersonal relationships — found more ga ins in themselves than in the V8-powered coupe – and were rewarded with the first title in Vasser Sullivan’s history. Nice people do finish first.


Roger Penske’s Race For Equality & Change program produced its first champion in its three short seasons of existence. Formed in response to the murder of George Floyd, Penske’s RFE&C initiative was specifically designed to address a broad lack of diversity within American open-wheel racing and got its start with Myles Rowe in USF2000 in 2021. By 2023, Rowe held sway over the Indy Pro 2000 series, winning the title in September at Portland, 30 years after Willy T. Ribbs won his first professional race — in the Trans Am series — at Portland in 1983.

Rowe embarks on his first Indy NXT season in 2024 with the defending champions at HMD Motorsports and does so with RFE&C program director Rod Reid continuing to steer and guide the Pace University graduate on his quest to become an IndyCar driver. Everything the RFE&C was meant to prove — that Black talent was waiting to be discovered and could run at the front if the opportunity was presented — was confirmed by Rowe.

Penske deserves to take a bow for putting action and funding behind his words, and now it’s time to see how Rowe’s talent stacks up against the best in NXT.


Bill Abel was in tears after his merry band of believers qualified for their first Indianapolis 500 on the first day of time trials in May. Led by the delightfully direct John Brunner, the Abel Motorsports Indy Lights squad received the car owned by Neil Enerson, spent months correcting and rebuilding the Dallara DW12 that failed to make the show in the hands of Top Gun Racing, added some depth with Indy-experienced crew, and headed into Gasoline Alley as everyone’s universal pick as the one and only entry — the 34th

, for that matter — that would get bumped from the field of 33.

RC Enerson, who really deserves a look by bigger teams, drove like he’d done a dozen Indy 500s and safely made it in on Saturday, singlehandedly out-qualifying the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team while sailing to 28th on the grid.

Why do dreamers like Bill Abel, despite the crushing odds they face, continue to show up for one-off runs at Indy? Because of all the unimaginable possibilities the Speedway offers those who are brave enough to embrace certain failure and be rewarded for refusing to buckle or back down.


Word of the Chip Ganassi Racing team manager’s cancer diagnosis made the rounds in the IndyCar paddock just prior to the World Wide Technology Raceway round, and following his decision to share the news, Wanser was showered with the kind of love and respect from rivals that is rarely expressed.

Originally scheduled to have surgery performed to remove the growths days after the season finale at Laguna Seca, Wanser’s oncologist moved the timeline forward, which meant he’d need to vacate his seat on Alex Palou’s timing stand for the last two races. Palou’s friend and race strategist would miss the No. 10 Honda team’s big victory and title capturing at Portland, but Wanser wasn’t missing altogether; the Ganassi squad had a bunch of posterboards made featuring Wanser’s smiling face which were placed through the team’s four pit boxes.

The championship was dedicated to Wanser who endured immense pain during the recovery process, and thankfully, he’s expected to be back in his familiar position with the team when the new season gets under way.


New formula, great-looking cars, and newfound popularity for IMSA was the gift brought by the hybrid GTPs. Four auto manufacturers committed to GTP and each brand, led by Acura, BMW, Cadillac, and Porsche, won at least one WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. The title was still open as the 10-hour championship closer at Petit Le Mans began, and of the four car companies, each had a shot at winning the drivers’ and manufacturers’ crowns. Cadillac rallied to claim both.

TV ratings were up. Attendance was up. And GTP was the only item that was different for IMSA in 2023. Better still, a fifth manufacturer in Lamborghini arrives after January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, and a sixth is on the calendar for 2025 when Aston Martin’s Valkyrie Hypercar brings V12-powered glory to the class.

Announce a relevant formula, give auto companies enough freedom to infuse their preferred styling and powertrain technology into the cars, meet the launch date for the formula, keep costs from spiraling out of control, and you have an unassailable success to celebrate. Bravo, IMSA, for doing what you said you’d do and reaping the rewards for aiming high and delivering.


It’s a rarity to have one team dominate a year of junior open-wheel racing, but that’s what we had with Wisconsin’s Pabst Racing as it propelled a pair of Georgians in Simon Sikes and Myles Rowe to championships in 2023. For Sikes, it was a year of mollywhopping the field in USF2000, and for Rowe, it was more of the same in Indy Pro 2000 as the duo gave Augie Pabst his first championship victories.

Thanks to the advancement prizes from Andersen Promotions, Sikes is off to Indy Pro 2000 and Rowe’s trajectory is well-established through the RFE&C. Pabst was celebrated for his achievement almost as much as his drivers; the little team from Oconomowoc made a statement in the organization run by Dan Andersen and Michelle Kish and deserves all the praise that can be mustered for the peerless season it authored.


I’ll readily admit that I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I arrived at Place de la Republique, the town square in Le Mans where technical inspections for the field of 24-hour race cars is held in front of the public. I’d been there many times in the past, but this visit was a first — as an embedded member of the Garage 56 team — to helm a digital video initiative for the home audience in North America.

I’d been at Le Mans for the first Garage 56 initiative in 2012 and did extensive coverage of it with the DeltaWing, which was an oddity of the highest order, and wasn’t sure if that’s how the big, howling Chevrolet ZL1 NASCAR Cup car would be received by the crowd. Would the most dedicated endurance sports car racing fans in the world reject the misfit machine from the USA? That was my fear, and those fears were completely unfounded. Fans loved everything about the car, team, and concept.

It was swarmed at Place de la Republique and swarmed on pre-grid as the burly visitor was surrounded by those who wanted to see the Hendrick Motorsports entry up close. The team held true to its NASCAR roots by performing Cup-style pit stops with a manual jack; they even won the pit stop competition held days prior to the race, which led to an explosion of cheers.

Everything about the NASCAR Garage 56 led by IMSA president John Doonan was a smash hit, and for all of the right reasons. It wasn’t a marketing exercise disguised as a special extra entry. This was a group of hardcore racers who pushed themselves — and the car — the entire time, all while doing so as Le Mans rookies. More often than not, Garage 56 has been an annual exercise in failure or disappointment. The latest attempt was a resounding win for all involved that won’t be easy to emulate or exceed.


We didn’t know who he was when he arrived in IndyCar, but we sure as heck had an understanding for how quickly the 15-time Argentinian touring car champion adapted to a completely new form of racing on all-new circuits. Following Scott McLaughlin’s example in his move to IndyCar from Australian touring cars, Canapino is a reminder of how, in special cases, supreme talent can transfer from one radically different racing discipline to another and do more than prop up the bottom of the results sheets.

I can think of few themes in 2024 that will be more interesting to follow than how a 34-year-old IndyCar sophomore will fare with some seasoning to draw from.


Champion. That was the only accolade left to foist upon one of racing’s most inspiring figures. Wickens’ first title, earned with Bryan Herta Autosport teammate Harry Gottsacker, was cemented 49 months and 25 days after the horrific crash at the Pocono IndyCar race that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

The Canadian fought through punishing rehabilitation sessions to regain partial use of his legs, and thanks to the determination of Herta and his manufacturer partner Hyundai, hand controls were installed in his Michelin Pilot Challenge entry which allows him to race with his fingers in constant motion as he manages the brake, throttle, and transmission through the steering wheel.

In typical fashion, Wickens spent 2022 learning the car, controls, and style of driving required by the turbocharged front-wheel-drive Hyundai, and with the supercomputer in his brain loaded with knowledge, he and Gottsacker were a vision of competitive consistency as seven podiums from 10 races produced Wicky’s first post-crash crown. In another familiar trait associated with Wickens, this wasn’t a fairytale finish to his recovery journey. The title was celebrated and quickly relegated to the past: he’s locked in on getting another, and another, and another.


On a related subject, did anyone have a better year than Colton’s dad? He mentored and strategized Kyle Kirkwood to two wins — Andretti Global’s only tastes of IndyCar victory — amid receiving the 1998 Reynard-Ford/Cosworth CART IndyCar he drove to first at Laguna Seca, which was a birthday gift from his son. And then he had the car, which was in good shape, prepped for a father-and-son run at Laguna days prior to the last race of the season.

If that wasn’t enough, his Bryan Herta Autosport won yet another IMSA TCR title, this time with Robby and Harry. Winning team owner. Winning race strategist. Winning dad. If there’s a better example of a life well-lived in racing than Bryan Herta, I’d love to meet the person.


Every heartstring was pulled when the eldest son of Dan and Susie Wheldon celebrated his first open-wheel win and the championship that followed when he topped the Skip Barber Racing School series. He’s stepping up to a bigger and faster series next year and has an army of fans and family friends who are rooting for Sebastian to keep climbing the ladder. His younger brother Oliver is also rising in karting.

The hole left by Dan’s absence isn’t something that can be filled, but watching his boys follow and thrive on the same journey is a most unexpected gift to cherish.


The Mayor’s excellence on NBC’s broadcasts continued in 2023 as his insights and ability to spot and call out the handling changes needed by a driver and the various strategies in play took IndyCar races to new heights. Throw in the constant bickering with boothmate Townsend Bell, and comedy gold became a regular feature when cars were in motion.

And his skills weren’t reserved for IndyCar; Formula 1 secured more of his time and talent for its broadcasts and Hinchcliffe was just as good on an international stage. Take the recent news of his return to racing in IMSA’s GT wars with a Pfaff Motorsports McLaren 720S GT3 at its enduros, and we have yet another example of a great member of the community receiving his flowers.


This 17-year-old is barely known outside of sports car racing’s inner circle, but he represents everything that’s right and meritorious about the sport. IndyCar has its well-defined Road to Indy to reach the top through the USF Championships and Indy NXT. Formula 1 has the same with its F4-F3-F2 ladder, and as much as I’d like to say it exists in a structured and formal way in American sports car competition, it just doesn’t, which makes Zilisch’s progress something to celebrate.

The teenage North Carolinian started in karts, moved to the Mazda MX-5 Cup series, made a big impression there, and took the giant leap from the buzzy little Racing 101 cars to the hellacious Trans Am TA2 class where, like in the MX-5s, he was an instant hit who was welcomed into quite a few victory lanes. He’s been added to Era Motorsports’ IMSA LMP2 roster for 2024, which is another amazing development for someone who’s too young to vote or rent a car. The pathways to reach the WeatherTech Championship are just as varied as the drivers, and in the case of Zilisch, it looks like a rising star is well on the road to Daytona.


Fun. Pure fun. That’s what Gunnar Jeannette and PJ Hyatt, the driver/manager and driver/owner tandem behind AO Racing and the Jurassic-themed Rexy (and Roxy) dinosaur liveries on their new Porsche 911 entries in IMSA and the WEC.

Thanks to Hyatt’s success in business, there was no need to drape AO’s cars in sponsor logos and muted corporate colors. Instead, the team went all-in on having fun and conceived a design that became an immediate favorite for fans and, most importantly, for kids. Rexy was the car that everyone wanted to pose with, and with one or more people dressed in inflatable T-Rex costumes on the grid, the joy and silliness was taken to a wonderful place.

If there was anything to be learned from Rexy’s arrival in 2023, it’s how racing teams — even the ones who need to appease major sponsors — need to do a better job of creating memorable liveries that bring smiles to fans of all ages. Waves of new followers, young, old and in between, were created when images of Rexy began to circulate, and if we’re lucky, other teams will take note and bask in similar benefits.


He’s fast. He’s eruptive. He’s introspective. He’s nonsensical. And above all else, Will Power is the most human and relatable driver I know in racing. Sure, he’s been a polarizing character for a while now; there’s no such thing as a mild fan of this Australian. He’s either loved or loathed, and I understand why he evokes such a passionate response in either direction.

But it was the new layer within Power that I came to appreciate throughout the season as he weathered a rough follow-up run on the heels of his 2022 IndyCar championship victory. Winless for the first time since his rookie Champ Car season in 2006, Power didn’t forget how to drive in 2023; he was preoccupied with caring for his wife Liz and their son as she became gravely ill and required immense and ongoing care as her health returned at a rate that was stubbornly slow.

To go from being celebrated as the best driver in one year to having a minimal impact the next is the kind of thing that can end a veteran’s career. And yet Power’s plain-spoken truths at the season finale, where he pulled back the cover on the fear and anguish he dealt with throughout the championship, said more about his character than any of the laugh- or rage-inducing moments from years prior.

Power’s duty-bound commitment to his family, while trying to be the best teammate and results producer for Team Penske under circumstances that would have led most drivers to retire, was a thing of beauty. And with Liz’s return to a better — but not perfect — state of health, Toowoomba’s finest and funniest and fiercest driver is ready to go racing again with a heart and mind that are freed from the emotional bindings that blighted his recent performances.

Alright, 2024, let’s effing go.