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IndyCar’s return to a higher state of technology with its cars has coincided with a group of open-wheel veterans flexing their muscles in the early days of the 2015 championship. The three oldest Verizon IndyCar Series drivers entering this weekend’s race at Barber Motorsports Park hold first, second, and third in the championship standings, and as the 39-year-old atop the series believes, age and experience is behind their early march.
“All of us have been really competitive over time, so I think that has a lot to do with it,” said Team Penske’s Juan Montoya, who leads teammate Helio Castroneves (39) and Tony Kanaan (40) in the standings. “Between the three of us we have five Indy 500s, a couple of championships… I think that makes a big difference.”
Despite the age of IndyCar’s current trio, the three – along with most modern drivers – take exceptional care of their bodies. With their dedication to fitness and healthier lifestyles, Kanaan says racing and winning into their 40s is less of a challenge than previous generations might have encountered.
“Here’s one thing for a fact: I would like to see people stop talking about we’re old; I’m 40, but we take care of ourselves and we’re still fast,” said the 2013 Indy 500 winner. “It’s not a coincidence that we’re doing as well as we are in the championship, and yeah, we’re not 20 anymore, but if you look at me and Montoya and Helio, we’ve never stopped delivering. We’re 40, but we’re still as fast as we were when we were 20. And our experience helps, for sure.”
Minus the steady consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and other vices that were once just as – if not more – popular than visiting the gym, today’s IndyCar driver can look forward to long and competitive careers that weren’t possible for many who came before them.
“We’ve always looked after our bodies, and that maybe wasn’t always true before with the older generations,” Kanaan continued. “It’s a different time for athletes everywhere and I think you’re seeing us extend our careers much longer than ever before. Everything we do now is to eat the best foods, do the best cardio, build the right muscles. Maybe before, drivers only thought about the cars. Now, we make ourselves the best we can be physically to get the most from the car and you’re seeing guys like me and some others keep going strong.”
Montoya, Castroneves, and Kanaan have one win so far from three races in 2015, and the trio has combined to stand on the podium five times from nine chances. Adding to their consistency, the three CART veterans have yet to finish outside the top six this year. You can chalk their early success down to a variety of factors, and while their open-wheel experience is high on the list, JPM admits they’ve also benefited from something their rivals have struggled to find.
“There’s a lot of luck to do with it,” he said (LEFT, with Kanaan in 1999). “We’ve all been there. The only reason Helio finished second at NOLA is because of the crazy way the race went. We all ran the same race. It worked out for him there but not a lot of other people. And last week it was Will [Power]’s turn to have a bad weekend. Sooner or later, I’m going to screw up and sooner or later Helio will… It’s inevitable. We have a lot of experience and we’ve worked with a lot of different cars, so that’s no doubt helping at the moment, but all it takes it one bad race and you drop in the championship. You can’t get too excited about leading the championship right now because it could change tomorrow.”
Drawing from their time in CART, Formula 1 – and even sports cars – has given Juan, Helio, and Tony an advantage as teams work furiously to develop their new aero kits. Castroneves and Kanaan, who were teammates in Indy Lights, made their way to CART in 1998, and Montoya, who trained in America and Europe, joined them in 1999 (RIGHT). Despite the various series or teams they’ve joined along the way, they’re back in the same championship and making life incredibly hard for their rivals.
And compared to many of the younger drivers who’ve driven mostly spec cars on their paths to IndyCar, the championship leaders have been an invaluable resource for their teams as their vast chassis and aero knowledge has accelerated the tuning process.
By combining their raw speed and years of technical know-how, IndyCar’s most experienced drivers are making an early case as the ones to beat in 2015.
“It isn’t just about being fast,” Kanaan explained. “Coming up as a kid, going to Formula 1 or wherever, it’s only about being fast and it has been that way for a long time with young drivers. Today, you of course need that speed, but you also need more – more experience to get the most from your car. I think you’re seeing the guys that have been around a while are having a big impact on their teams with getting the most from the aero kits and everything that comes with it. Our experience can only help in this situation.”