Race fans don’t have to look far or wide to find the next American stars of the Verizon IndyCar Racing series.
They are creeping up the leaderboard and challenging – sometimes knocking down – wily veterans and fan-favorites like four-time series champion Scott Dixon, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and Ironman Tony Kanaan, who amassed a record 265 consecutive starts heading into 2017. These are all legends in the sport who are still racing at a high level and all former race winners in Detroit.
The next breed of drivers trying to pick off more wins each time out includes U.S. natives like Josef Newgarden, defending Indy 500 champ Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and Conor Daly. All are age 30 or less and heading into their prime after climbing the ladder of INDYCAR’s feeder system.
All of these rising stars will be contesting for wins at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, June 2-4 when tens-of-thousands of fans will be at Belle Isle and a global TV audience is watching the Verizon IndyCar Series’ only doubleheader weekend – the Chevy Dual in Detroit.
“There’s definitely a great group of young drivers coming through,” said Will Power, a 29-time IndyCar race winner counting last year’s Detroit Dual II victory. “When you look at Josef Newgarden, you look at Alex Rossi, you look at Graham Rahal. I mean these guys are top level drivers, they’re still very young and they’ve got long futures. So for the series it’s fantastic to have these guys become household names and I believe all of those guys will be champions at some point in their career.”
Rossi, age 25, was the first American rookie to win the Indianapolis 500 since 1928 when he beat Carlos Munoz and Newgarden first to the famous row of bricks in 2016. Rossi moved to Europe at age 17 to chase the Formula 1 dream and eventually made five starts in 2015 to become just the third American to race in the iconic series the past 25 years. This season is his second in the Verizon IndyCar Series in the No. 98 Honda.
Newgarden, age 26, is a four-time race winner since 2015 and has accelerated to the head of the class among the group of younger American drivers. Since joining the iconic Team Penske this season, Newgarden is poised to seriously challenge for a Verizon IndyCar Series championship having already won once this year in his No. 2 Chevy in Alabama. He is third in the series championship standings heading into the Indy 500.
Newgarden is bright, funny, clean cut, personable and articulate – the type of driver most fans gravitate to. So it’s natural to believe he feels some extra pressure to perform at the highest level and try to stake his own claim.
“I think with IndyCar racing you have to have stars in general,” Newgarden said on a recent visit to Detroit. “You have to have those drivers that you root for and I think you have to have drivers to root against. That’s just a natural thing you have to have in sports. So as kind of the old guard of IndyCar is kind of cycling out, you’ve got a lot of new guys; you’ve got (Canadian) James Hinchcliffe, you’ve got Graham Rahal, you got all these big names that aren’t necessarily huge names (yet) but they’re big names and they’re coming into their own.”
Rahal and Andretti both have the added pressure of coming from some of racing’s legendary families, and Daly drives for the team owned by one of the sports all-time greats – A.J. Foyt.
Rahal, age 28, is also a four-time winner in IndyCar, with three of those victories coming in the last two seasons. He previously won the St. Petersburg Grand Prix in 2008 to become the youngest winner in IndyCar at age 19. Michigan race fans can still root for Rahal even though he is a devout Ohio State Buckeyes fan.
Andretti, who just turned 30 this spring, has earned two IndyCar career wins and four pole positions. He was the 2006 IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. The third-generation Andretti is engaged to be married this fall. Daly, age 25, is in his second season in INDYCAR after spending several years racing in Europe and India. He has earned wins in both Star Mazda (now Pro Mazda) and Indy Lights races and won the 2010 Pro Mazda championship.
American driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, age 37, has 16 wins, earned the 2012 series championship and won the 2014 Indianapolis 500 by the second-closest margin ever, 0.0600 over Castroneves. He said he’s seen a lot of similarities to his younger self in the newer crop of drivers, but like Power he is not going out without a long fight.
“Nothing can replace experience behind the wheel of the car through years of races, but these guys are all very talented,” Hunter-Reay said last week in Indy. “Throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series you can see the competition is extremely tight. Just a tenth of a second can separate 10 cars, which is insane to actually comprehend.
“It’s something where I think these guys, the younger talent, they are establishing themselves and that’s great to see,” he added. “It’s great to see the Americans carry the flag that way as I am certainly still carrying that flag and have every intention of doing that for many years to come.”
See the NEXT and current stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, June 2-4 on Belle Isle. For tickets, visit DetroitGP.com.
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