In 1959 the starting lineup for Indianapolis 500 had one driver under 30 years of age, and that was Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. Kids seldom got a shot until they were close to 30 because owners didn’t trust them. Simply getting a ride on the USAC Championship Trail wasn’t for the young at heart.
It might appear the landscape hasn’t changed much, since 40-year-old Scott Dixon captured his sixth IndyCar title in 2020 and 44-year-old Takuma Sato scored his second victory at Indianapolis. But there is a massive power shift descending on the NTT IndyCar Series, and it’s going to shake things up considerably at the top this season, which kicks off this weekend at Barber.
Youth isn’t merely going to be served in 2021, they’re going to muscle in, win races and rearrange the furniture. Rinus Veekay (20), Colton Herta (21), Pato O’Ward (22 in May) and Alex Palou (24) are IndyCar’s immediate future, along with Scott McLaughlin (27), Jack Harvey (28), Alexander Rossi (29), Felix Rosenqvist (29), Conor Daly (29), Josef Newgarden (30), Marcus Ericsson (30), Graham Rahal (32) and James Hinchcliffe (34).
No argument that Dixie remains the favorite, but the kiddie corps and a few seasoned veterans are either going to dethrone him, or make him work harder than he ever has in 20 years.
The record for different winners in a season is 11, and it’s happened three times (2000, 2001, 2014). There were 20 races in those CART years, and 18 races in IndyCar seven years ago. There are 17 only races scheduled for this season but that record is going to fall because there are so many guys overdue to hit Victory Lane for the first time, return again after an absence or just continue their winning ways.
Dixon, Newgarden and Will Power are automatics to get in the win column because of their talent, team and track record. Herta already has more wins (3) and poles (4) than facial hairs and he’ll add to that number, as will teammate Rossi, who has a mad focus to forget 2020 and return to the front. That’s five.
Ryan Hunter-Reay hasn’t won since 2018 and Rahal’s last triumph came in 2017 but one of those streaks will end this year, and Rosenqvist is going to win again like he did last season. That’s seven.
Sebastien Bourdais is going to get Foyt back into victory lane at either a road or street course, while Takuma Sato seems to be getting better with age so he’ll be a factor everywhere and get at least one win. That’s nine.
That brings us to the first-timer winners – of which there will be many. O’Ward finished fourth in the points in 2020, led 204 laps and should have had a couple wins, but he’ll break through this year.
Palou is now on one of the best teams with Ganassi and he’ll win Road America this year, while Veekay has the balls and ability to get to the front and stay there. And Jack Harvey is going to win one of those at the IMS road races in 2021.
McLaughlin is quickly adapting to not having a roof over his head, and he’s got the chops, hunger and team to win as a rookie. But it’s going to be between him and teammate Simon Pagenaud, who looks to regain his 2019 form, to give The Captain three on the top step of the podium.
So that’s 14 winners in 17 races, and we haven’t even mentioned Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan. or Ed Carpenter and their chances next month. Yeah, yeah, I know, quit being such a cheerleader, Miller we liked you better as an asshole. Well facts don’t lie ,and sorry, I admire Jimmie Johnson but this might be the toughest time to ever launch an IndyCar career because of all the youth and depth.
The championship will come down to the finale at Long Beach and pit the former Indy Lights rivals against each other for No.1. Herta or O’Ward? Not sure who wins, but one of them will be champion and, regardless, Sam Schmidt’s team will have ascended and made it the Big 4. The guard is changing, and there will be a new pecking order in 2021.