Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden, the two most recent American IndyCar Series champions, will fly the U.S. flag later this month at the Race Of Champions in Mexico City.
The driving duo was named Friday by the all-star event’s officials to form Team USA for the two-day competition Jan. 19-20 at the Foro Sol, the amphitheater that forms part of the Formula 1 road course at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
ROC draws race drivers from multiple disciplines – including INDYCAR, NASCAR, Formula 1, sports cars and rallycross – and pits them against each other in a variety of identically prepared machines. The first day of competition is the Nations Cup, where drivers from the same country or region compete for national bragging rights. Drivers compete on their own on the second day to determine individual ROC champion.
In addition to Hunter-Reay and Newgarden, other INDYCAR drivers already named to compete are three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and reigning Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion and 2019 IndyCar Series rookie Patricio O’Ward, who’ll be racing in front of his home fans. Among the other drivers competing are F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, sports car great Tom Kristensen and FIA Formula 3 champion Mick Schumacher, the son of legendary F1 driver Michael Schumacher.
Newgarden, the 2017 IndyCar Series champion for Team Penske, will be making his second ROC appearance. He made his ROC debut last year when it was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “It’s a fun event and it will be fun having it in North America. Ryan and I are trying to represent America but there’s some really tough competition again this year. There’s a strong Mexican contingent this time around and I’m sure their fans will be really pumped to cheer them on.”
Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar Series champ and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner for Andretti Autosport, is set for a sixth ROC appearance. The 38-year-old Floridian raced twice on the Mexico City track in CART/Champ Car in 2003 and ’04, when part of the circuit ran through what was then a baseball stadium that is now the Foro Sol amphitheater.
“It is a spectacular event and a unique challenge to jump in and out of all the different cars as you go head-to-head with some of the best drivers in the world,” Hunter-Reay said. “So it is a tremendous honor to be invited to compete again. I’m proud to represent America, INDYCAR and the Indianapolis 500, and I look forward to hearing the noise of the crowds in Mexico City, where the passion for motorsport is huge.”
Newgarden said he learned a lot about the ROC competition in his initial appearance a year ago – particularly when it comes to the variety of cars used.
“It’s fun jumping in the different vehicles,” he said. “They’re not the quickest, but there are a lot of different types so you have to be able to adapt to them quickly.
“There are so many different driving styles required across the cars in the competition. Whoever’s the best at acclimating to each car the quickest will have the best chance at a win.”
The 28-year-old from Tennessee said he also appreciates the relaxed atmosphere of the event, where drivers from around the world whose paths normally wouldn’t cross get the chance to interact and share stories. On track, the competitive juices still flow for the drivers, but at a less spirited rate.
“We’re all so competitive, but there’s no big carrot dangling so guys are able to have more fun with it,” Newgarden said. “It’s almost like having people at your home to play video games or something.”
Mexico City joins a list of prestigious venues to have hosted ROC since 1988 – including Beijing’s Bird’s Nest and London’s Olympic stadiums, Stade de France in Paris, Wembley Stadium in London, Miami’s Marlins Park and a wide range of exotic locations around the world.