INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibiniski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Age hasn’t slowed these three down in IndyCar

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PORTLAND, Oregon – It was “Turn Back the Clock Night” last Saturday at World Wide Technology Speedway at Gateway and the podium celebration should have been sponsored by Geritol, or at the very least, “Just for Men” hair coloring.

The winner, Takuma Sato, is 42 years. Second place was a relative youngster, 38-year-old Ed Carpenter who looks closer to 48. And rounding out the podium is the oldest active full-time driver in the NTT IndyCar Series, 44-year-old Tony Kanaan.

As the series heads to Portland for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland, the NTT IndyCar Series has been a showcase of youthful aggression most of the season with 27-year-old Alexander Rossi battling 28-year-old Josef Newgarden for the championship. Added to the “Fountain of Youth” is the youngest race winner in IndyCar Series history, 19-year-old Colton Herta who won at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) when he was still 18, and 21-year-old Santino Ferrucci.

The battle for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship heats up this weekend with the penultimate race of the season at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway in Portland, Ore., as NBC Sports presents coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Pre-race coverage on NBC begins at 3 p.m. ET.

Last weekend, however, proved there is race-winning experience in the older group of NTT IndyCar Series drivers.

These drivers, however, prefer to be called “experienced” rather than “old.”

“I think we were up getting ready for the podium, Tony (Kanaan) made a really mean comment and said, ‘We’re all 40 years old up there,’” Carpenter recalled. “Hey, I’m 38. Like I’m a legit 38. I don’t really know how old TK is. I don’t know how old Takuma is. Everybody lies about their age. I am a legit, honest to God, 38 years old. Born in March 1981.

“Working with Spencer (Pigot) and Ed (Jones), these children that were starting racing when I was already in Indy cars, it keeps me young, even though I’m going gray, losing my hair and everything else. It keeps me young. I love racing with these guys. Josef and I are still very close and good friends from our time together.

“It’s just fun to be in the mix with them again.”

Carpenter is an owner/driver in the series, specializing on oval racing. Because last week’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 was the last oval race of the season, his time behind the wheel is over for 2019. He oversees his two-driver lineup of Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones at Portland International Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca for the remainder of the 2019 season.

Kanaan, however, returns to the cockpit of the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing hoping to turnaround a very dismal season.

His third-place finish was Kanaan’s first podium since Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2017.

“That’s a long time,” Kanaan admitted. “I told the boys on the cool-down lap; I probably don’t remember where I had to stop my car (for the podium).

“We’ve been overcoming a lot of adversities throughout the year. We’ve been hearing a lot of things, good things and bad things, some support, some people thinking we shouldn’t be doing this.

“This is a great night for us. It paid off. When I joined A.J. Foyt Racing, it was to make this team better. We’ve been struggling quite a bit. This is a great night for us.

“The boys did a great job. Now it proves it’s making us stronger, definitely. A result like this, it’s a huge boost for everybody. I’m so happy.”

Kanaan is now 15thin the NTT IndyCar Series standings but proved last week he still has the aggressiveness that once made him one of the most feared drivers in the paddock earlier in his career.

“Slowly we are turning it around,” Kanaan said. “We brought Don Halliday back (as engineer), which is a guy my first year here in America in 1996. He was engineering myself at Tasman. He came in to do some damage control. It’s been great.

“Yes, it was a good result. Obviously let’s not get ahead of the game. We still have two races to go, still have a lot of work to do. I’ll take it, enjoy it tonight and go back to work tomorrow.”

By driving to victory last Saturday night, it was Sato’s second win of the season, the first time in his career that the driver from Japan has won more than one time in a season. He is also the defending winner at Portland International Raceway and could conceivably keep his streak going into Sunday’s race.

Sato isn’t just getting older; he’s getting faster.

“If you take the three of us added I think is 150 years old for sure,” Sato said of the aging podium. “I think that’s the beauty of this sport, with motor racing. If you’re talking only in physical terms, might not be able to do that. With the combination of experience and the team behind it, the race craft, all the things, I think age is sometimes something, but it is not everything.

“I think we can still perform like this. Today was a great day for three of us. Three of us is very happy.”

Happiness with a result, however, doesn’t last long in the NTT IndyCar Series. Friday morning, these three drivers will be back on track, practicing for Saturday’s qualifications and Sunday’s race.

But for a rare moment last Saturday night, three of the oldest drivers in the series told the younger drivers to, “Step aside, we’re coming through.”

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).