INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibiniski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Age hasn’t slowed these three down in IndyCar

2 Comments

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.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

1 Comment

MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”