Feature image: indycar.com
With seven INDYCAR champions already lining up on the grid for 2021, the three new ‘rookies’ are all very capable of stealing that top spot in their very first season. Normally this would be unheard of in the top racing categories but these drivers aren’t just any normal contenders.
We have the arrival of Scott McLaughlin: arguably the fastest Kiwi’s on the planet who has won three consecutive Australian V8 Supercar Championships and joined the INDYCAR season for its final race on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2020. We then have someone who is no stranger to oval racing in Jimmie Johnson who has won more honours in NASCAR over the course of his 20-year career than I can count.
The final piece of the rookie puzzle is Romain Grosjean, who swapped Formula One for INDY after he was replaced at Haas F1 at the end of the 2020 campaign. It’s actually quite amusing that the three rookies are actually classed as ‘rookies’, given that their years of racing experience equals to 52 years between the three of them.
Graham Rahal, six-time INDYCAR race winner, believes that every driver on the current grid has a proper chance of victory in 2021 which is quite the contrast to when Rahal first came into the category.
“It’s come a long way. I remember my first year in ’07 in Champ Car, if you were outside the top five in a Newman/Haas/Lanigan car, you were probably pretty ticked off”, Rahal told Autosport last week. “You look at where it is today and just how deep the field is, and it’s impressive.”
“Maybe everybody wants to say the golden era of IndyCar racing was in the early ’90s, or in Champ Car it may have been the late ’90s, early 2000s.” He’s not wrong, the early 90s saw Formula One talent such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve all challenge for the title and come out victorious, not forgetting Graham’s father Bobby Rahal, who claimed a handful of championships across CART and USAC.
“But I’ve got to be honest. From a talent pool perspective, the golden era is right now.”, Rahal continued and relished the idea of it. We’re living the golden era. It’s never been better and I’m not sure it will get better. It is deep across the board, and it’s definitely cool because you’re also gauging yourself against the best. Every single driver in the series can win. That’s factual. That couldn’t have been said 20 years ago, let alone five years ago.”
Heading into his ninth season with Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, Rahal believes that the reason why INDYCAR attracts this level of talent from around the world is to do with purity of the racing. The cars are all spec, there are no driver aids and in a sport where being in the right team with good financial backing can make or break your season, INDYCAR is all about racing.
“I think the purity of IndyCar racing is what’s attracting so many people to the sport right now.”
“Jimmie grew up, he hasn’t been shy of saying it, and his dream was to be an IndyCar driver, and now he’s got the opportunity to be able to fulfil that dream. For Scott, he’s done all he could do. He could go win 20 Supercars championships, but at the end of the day he’s ready for the next challenge.”
“For Grosjean, what else is he going to do in F1? Unless he’s in a Mercedes he’s not going to win, so where do you go? What are you going to do? Might as well look across the pond where here he can compete. Here he is going to have the opportunity to win no matter what team he’s with.