Can IndyCar’s next generation take it to the established veterans?

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While about a third of the IndyCar field has been in the sport since the late 1990s or early to mid-2000s, the next wave of talent is truly starting to emerge on the scene.

One of the questions heading into 2015 though is whether any of the drivers that have come into IndyCar over the last four to five years will begin to make their mark from a regular winning or title-contending standpoint.

Looking back at the last 10 years, only three teams – Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and Andretti Autosport – have captured series championships.

They’ve done so with an array of veteran drivers. Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya have all won titles with those three teams.

Meanwhile Helio Castroneves is widely regarded as IndyCar’s best to have never won a title; Sebastien Bourdais won four straight Champ Car titles with the now defunct Newman/Haas Racing but hasn’t yet mounted a return title charge since coming back to the U.S.

If those seven are the “established” drivers who’ve consistently emerged as regular race winners and title contenders, it becomes a question of who in IndyCar’s next generation can take it to them.

The most likely candidate is Simon Pagenaud, who’s now 30, and entering his fifth full season in IndyCar (fourth consecutive) with a move to Team Penske as its fourth driver. He already has four career wins, two apiece the last two years, and should add to that number this year.

Others who have been around a while but not sustained a full title challenge include Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal, sons of legends who now enter their 10th and ninth seasons, respectively. They’re only at two and one win, apiece.

Ganassi has its pair of young chargers with Charlie Kimball entering his fifth season and Sage Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion, who moves up into the team’s fourth car.

Andretti has two drivers in search of their first wins, in 2014 top rookie Carlos Munoz and Simona de Silvestro, the fan favorite for St. Pete.

Others such as James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Jack Hawksworth, Luca Filippi, Gabby Chaves and Stefano Coletti could well emerge as contenders depending on how well their Schmidt Peterson, CFH, Foyt, Herta and KV Racing teams adjust to the new aero kits.

Newgarden, who at 24 is widely regarded as the top American prospect in the championship, felt weird sitting alongside rookies Karam and Chaves at IndyCar’s media day last month in Indianapolis as he heads into his fourth season.

“First off, I think it’s awesome that I can still pass for the young generation,” Newgarden said. “I’m going on my fourth year, which I can’t believe.

“But these are the young guns now. Sage and Gabby are such bright stars for the future. We have many more in the pipeline. The Mazda Road to Indy has done a good job at cultivating young talent. Have to keep getting young guys like Gabby and Sage into the system.”

The Mazda Road to Indy has produced results in IndyCar, in particular the Indy Lights series. Half of the 24 drivers scheduled to race in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg have past series experience.

Chaves, who narrowly lost the 2013 Indy Lights title to Karam before he won it himself last year, explained how well the ladder system prepares drivers for IndyCar.

“I think it’s the right series. You’re preparing yourself by racing with the most competitive guys there is at that level,” said Chaves, who will be a rookie with the single-car Bryan Herta Autosport team.

“You’re racing at all the tracks you’re going to be racing if you get to IndyCar. It’s definitely where you want to be to take that next step.”

Karam, who just turned 20 earlier this month, is a perfect driver to describe the generational change since the mid-1990s, which is still hailed by some as the “glory days” of IndyCar.

“I remember the first pass I made in practice was (Jacques) Villeneuve,” said Karam. “He won the year I was born. That was pretty cool to be out there racing with guys like that.

“Then I’m out there in the race driving with like Montoya and stuff, running inches away from people like that. It was amazing.”

One of the challenges the younger drivers have in IndyCar is adjusting to racing with the veterans, and making sure they earn respect from their peers.

It’s apparent Karam has from his education in Ganassi’s team; he’s working with three trusted teammates and has Dario Franchitti, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and four-time series champion as his driver coach.

Munoz adapted nicely to Andretti Autosport last year and could be well positioned to become a first-time race winner this year. The Colombian is making no excuses heading into his second full-time season.

“That’s the goal for me for sure, also for both of my teammates, is to win the 500,” he said. “It would be great. It will be my third year after doing it, after two good performances, second and fourth place.

“I’m not the rookie anymore. Again, maybe I will have a little bit more of a good pressure on that, but looking forward to start the season.”

It’s important for IndyCar’s sake that any of the drivers who have entered in the last five or six years ago start winning, and start winning regularly.

Drivers like Castroneves, Montoya and Kanaan will all be 40 by the end of the year and are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning.

It might be harder to project when that will be, given the established “big three” teams should be able to get their heads around the new cars sooner than the rest, at least initially.

But one of IndyCar’s top selling points the last three years has been the level of competition and level of parity, with double-digit race winners in each of the last two years.

Newer drivers winning provides another selling point to go along with the established veterans, and could help IndyCar set the scene for the next five to 10 years.

Watching the generational battle remains a fascinating element of the show, and it’s a storyline I hope will be a big one throughout the season.

Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
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Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.

Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury