INDIANAPOLIS — We’re five races into the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season. The biggest event of the year is upcoming next weekend, but with that said, do we see a veteran or young gun win the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)?
Four of the five race winners thus far are 24 years of age or younger. Three of them are 21 or younger. Furthermore, three of the five winners this season are also first time Indy Car winners in general.
But, Juan Pablo Montoya warns that there’s a reason that veterans are so good here too.
“At the end of the day you look at how many young guys have won the 500 the last few years,” he said. “I think that answers the question. I mean, do they have a shot? For sure, no question. I think Pato and Herta and all those kids, they’ve got a lot of talent and everything. Felix, as well. At the end of the day you’ve got to run the 200 laps and see what happens at the end of it.
“First of all, you’ve got to make it to 200, you know? So we’ll see.”
This is a perfect place to showcase the younger talent in the series. Indianapolis naturally gets the most attention.
Bobby Rahal though tends to think that while the talent in this field is unquestioned, the best it’s arguably ever been at that. But, it’s not uncommon to see younger winners either.
“Well, I mean, there have been young winners before,” he told me on Fast Friday. “I don’t think this is anything new. We’re early in the year, but all credit to these guys. We saw how good Pato was last year, and we saw some of the other fellas that were very competitive last year, maybe couldn’t put the whole thing together but now can a year later, more maturity, more experience. That’s what makes it exciting.
“But there have always been — Graham won at 18, won at 22 or 23, and there have been others. Marco won very young. This is just more of the same.
“But for sure just as you have a lot of guys over their 40s now in INDYCAR, you have a lot of guys that are under 27, 28. You know, we’re getting close to that changing of the guard, and this is maybe the start of that.”
Another teamowner in Chip Ganassi agrees.
“I look at it a different way,” he said. “There’s youth movements that come along. You guys — the media I should say, talks about youth movements. This isn’t the first time there’s been talk about a youth movement.
“The fact of the matter is people come and go at the top levels of the sport. It’s not that often that a champion come through like (Josef) Newgarden, for instance. It’s not that often. There’s a whole trail of broken dreams in the wake of Newgarden, okay? I don’t want to name any names, but this isn’t the first youth movement that’s come along.
“These young people have to realize to stay at the top level of motorsport in this world, sure, it’s certainly driving ability, but it’s a lot of other things, too. They need to understand that.
“Yeah, youth movements come along, but champions endure. That’s what Scott Dixon does.”
Dixon though, says that youth movements are all part of the evolution of the series.
“There’s going to be a changing of the guard at some point,” said the six-time series champion including the only winner over the age of 25 this season so far. “I think there’s been different segments through my career where you’ve seen some great talent come through, champions that we’ve seen with Josef, for example. But definitely seems like there’s quite a rush at the moment, which is huge for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. It’s very important for the longevity.
“For the veterans, you probably don’t care to see it too much. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s great to see this talent. People coming from all different parts of the world, and they’re all very different in their own way, but also very fast. We’ve already seen, as you mentioned, a lot of first-time winners.”
If we do see another first time winner, look no further than Scott McLaughlin. He’s in a Penske car with a great shot of a potential win next Sunday.
“I think it’s just — I guess you could say in some ways it’s a changing of the guard,” he said. “Someone has got to step up. There’s a lot of young people coming through the Road to Indy program, which I’ve seen firsthand this year for the very first time.
“I think it’s a great program that INDYCAR and everyone involved has got through the F 2000s, the Pro 2000s, all the way through the Indy Lights. It’s a great category to watch.
“I think Rinus, Pato, Colton, they’re world class drivers and they’re in world class teams. And like Simon said before, the competitiveness between the teams now in INDYCAR is — there’s not much in it, and really anyone can win on the day, which not many race series in the world have that.
“It’s exciting. I think it’s great that INDYCAR are taking it in their stride to promote it and get excited by it. And yeah, I’d love to be a part of that, as well.”
His boss, Tim Cindric says that McLaughlin has as much as a chance as anyone to win this race.
“I think Scott has as good a chance as any rookie here has ever had,” he said. “But experience, you can’t put really a value on the experience around here. Yeah, he’s with our team for a reason.”
So, is it experience or youth for this year’s race? That’s going to be a fun battle to watch.