Turn 1 mess. Photo: IndyCar

Quartet of IndyCar rookies banked top-10s at Watkins Glen

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The man at the top of the results chart for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi was a familiar figure who’s won 40 races and is arguably the driver of his generation, in Scott Dixon, who’s only 36 yet still seems to have an incredible future ahead of him even after 16 full-time years in the championship.

Several of the other slightly younger drivers in the top 10 though might be the drivers of IndyCar’s future.

In second, 25-year-old Josef Newgarden banked his first runner-up finish of the season and fourth overall podium in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.

And then there was the quartet of first-year IndyCar drivers who made it four rookies in the top-10, on a day when fuel saving and smart, mature beyond their years driving paid dividends.

Conor Daly, 24, brought the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda home in fourth, just missing the podium after needing to save fuel through to the finish. He started 17th. Engineer Michael Cannon breathed a heavy sigh of relief afterwards on pit road as both driver and team were amazed at how they pulled it off.

In eighth after starting 15th was Alexander Rossi, also 24, in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, thus securing a season-best result on a road or street course for him this season. Knowing Rossi though, that’s a stat he would not want to repeat in 2017, wherever he suits up.

Ninth, meanwhile, over the moon after his first top-10 finish in only his second IndyCar start was RC Enerson, the 19-year-old in Dale Coyne Racing’s second car, the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. He’d started 11th and if anything, was unlucky to end ninth – his start was simply phenomenal as he was up to sixth place by the end of the opening lap.

Completing the top-10 was 25-year-old Max Chilton in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, who like Enerson could could have counted himself unlucky to have not finished higher after rolling off from sixth and his first career Firestone Fast Six. The Englishman, who wore a James Hunt tribute helmet, got hit at the first corner which compromised his steering, but he held on for the rest of the race. He ran as high as second but slipped back late owing to a final splash of fuel.

Daly, Rossi and Chilton are the three full-season Sunoco Rookie of the Year entrants and this marked the first time all three of them have been in the top-10 in the same race.

Said Daly afterwards, “I really just can’t believe that we ended up fourth! It was a back and forth race with all kinds of stuff going on. But our car was fast, we knew it all weekend. We just had horrible luck. At the end they said we were making the right fuel number and I was making up positions and then I was told we could go a little bit quicker, so one lap we used a bit more fuel and then they came on the radio and said ‘code red’. If we would’ve saved a little bit more on that one lap we maybe could have held off Helio. I had no idea where we were, third or fourth or fifth, but at the end of the day, I’ll take fourth!”

Rossi said of his day, “I think it was a decent race. We had to save a lot of fuel there at the end, so I think a potential top five slipped through our hands because of that. But generally I think with a disappointing qualifying, that is the best that we could come up with. We’ll have to take this result and move on to Sonoma.”

Lastly, Chilton said of his, “It was a day that could have been fantastic but ended up slightly disappointing after running P2. I got damage on lap 1 turn 1 with the steering and then for the rest of the race my pace was pretty decent considering I was held back by the issue.”

With this result, Rossi is 11th in points (370) and leads Daly (295, 16th) by 75 points heading to the double points season finale for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award. That’s a perhaps misleading stat because Rossi gained 104 points more than Daly at the Indianapolis 500 with his win while Daly ended 29th in the other double points race; excluding that, Daly’s outscored his countryman this season. Chilton sits 19th with 239 points and cannot win the award.

Then we get to the two drivers who have been on partial campaigns but are impressing at times – Enerson and Spencer Pigot.

Enerson was amazed at where he ended up in the first corner after starting 11th.

“I knew everyone would barrel down in there,” he told NBC Sports post-race. “I tried to break a little bit early to get the run out. But then I shot a gap, and I was out in sixth, and then I was like, ‘There’s only five cars in front of me!'”

He fell back after the timing of the first yellow but recovered the rest of the way on strategy owing to the fuel saving. By finishing ninth with Daly’s fourth, it marked the first double Coyne top-10 finish in a race since Houston race one, June 2014… a race won by Carlos Huertas with the late Justin Wilson in 10th.

Pigot, who was in the newly reliveried Samsung colors of his No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, ended 15th after starting 21st. He was on the wrong side of fuel saving, though, and fell back towards the end as a result.

“We were looking good to get a top-10 finish but after we had to start saving fuel we fell back,” said the 2015 Indy Lights and 2014 Pro Mazda champion. “It was a bit of a shame we had to start saving so much. We couldn’t keep the pace up and save fuel, so we fell back to 15th.

“But It was a lot of fun, I had some great battles out there. The car was really good and the guys gave me excellent pit stops. It was great to have Samsung come on board this weekend and also thanks to Fuzzy’s Vodka, Rising Star Racing, Mockett and everyone else that makes this happen.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).