IndyCar Rookie of the Year candidates review 2019 performances


MONTEREY, Calif – If this year’s IndyCar rookie class is any indicator of the NTT series’ future, one could make the argument that said future will be a bright one.

IndyCar Rookie of the Year candidates Felix Rosenqvist, Santino Ferrucci, and Colton Herta have demonstrated they belong this season, and all three are probable championship contenders in the coming years.

NBC Sports recently interviewed the three drivers to discuss their rookie seasons. Below are their thoughts on some memorable 2019 performances:

Rosenqvist discusses “roller coaster” rookie season

Prior to the start of the season, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist was expected to be a top candidate for Rookie of the Year and also a contender for race victories.

Rosenqvist looked capable after starting third, finishing fourth and leading 31 laps in the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, in March. He then finished in the top 10 at three of the next four races, winning his first pole position on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

But the oval races that make up the middle of the season proved to be difficult for Rosenqvist to adapt. His best finish on an oval this year was 11th at Gateway.

Joe Sibinski/IndyCar

“I’ve been working a lot with (four-time series champion) Dario [Franchitti] to try to improve,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports. “Early on in the season, I was really aggressive, and I was making mistakes. Now I’m driving much more calm.

“Dario has been the No. 1 guy for me to just help me through that whole roller coaster of inputs and feedback. We’re not there yet, but he’s been there every lap I’ve done on an oval, and it’s been just huge to have that.”

Having overcome his midseason slump, Rosenqvist collected a pair of runner-up finishes at Mid-Ohio and Portland. Overall, Rosenqvist, said he’d rate his 2019 performance as a “seven out of 10”.

“It’s been very good in some senses, and it’s been less good in others,” said Rosenqvist, who has endured another up-and-down weekend at Laguna Seca. “It was kind of hard to know what to expect when I joined IndyCar.

“With the first race in St. Petersburg, I put very high expectations on myself and kind of felt I’d win races halfway through this season, which wasn’t the case.

At the end of the season we really dug ourselves out of it and came back really strong, so it was really a roller coaster in the last couple of races.”

Entering the final race of the season, Rosenqvist, 27, leads the Rookie of the Year standings over Santino Ferrucci by 29 points. Though he said his primary focus is to finish the season as high as possible in the championship standings, he still feels a need to win the Rookie of the Year title.

“The expectations have been high, and that’s why I feel I have to win it,” Rosenqvist said.

Ferrucci happy with the decision to return stateside

Though Santino Ferrucci admits his racing goal has always been to follow his childhood hero Michael Schumacher’s footsteps and race in Formula One, the Woodbury, Connecticut, native said he feels at home in the series after spending several seasons in Europe pursing an F1 ride.

Ferrucci first took the opportunity to race in IndyCar during last year’s doubleheader weekend at Belle Isle. He made two more starts at Portland and Sonoma last season before being announced as the full-time driver of the No. 19 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing in 2019.

“When I actually got the opportunity last year to do an IndyCar race, with how our season was going in Europe, I thought ‘Why not? It’d be nice to race on home soil,’ ” Ferrucci said. “One of the things I was most looking forward to was being able to drive to the race myself. I haven’t had done that in seven or eight years, and it was nice to have a road trip.

“Then the experience I got out of it reminded me of why I wanted to be a driver. It was a really cool experience, and I kind of set my focus on making sure I could come back here and race more.”

Joe Sibinski/IndyCar

Now that he’s back stateside, Ferrucci feels confident that his decision he made to race in IndyCar was the right one.

I have no interest in going back overseas to race,” Ferrucci said. “I like being home.”

“I like being with my friends and my family and this team. I like the fact that it’s basically, with the exception of California and Portland, a two and a half hour flight to everywhere we race. The atmosphere is nice.

I think IndyCar is more old school in a sense. It’s a good environment for the fans, and it’s a family event. Where in Europe, you don’t quite get that warm and fuzzy feeling.

“Here, you have little kids walking around who will come ask for autographs. You don’t really have that in Europe. Everything there is really quiet, and it’s kind of really on its own planet, whereas here we like to think of ourselves as a big family.”

Joining the IndyCar paddock full time this season has also allowed Ferrucci to also try something he had never done before; race on ovals. In his oval debut in the Indianapolis 500, Ferrucci, 21, finished seventh.

“With Indy, I learned so much,” Ferrucci said. “I learned so much from Texas after and then Iowa, Gateway and Pocono. Going back to the Indy 500 next year, I think we’ll be in contention to win the race just based on how we finished and what we were able to do on the ovals this season.”

Herta hopeful to cap off great weekend with ROTY title 

It’s been a great weekend so far for 19-year-old Colton Herta.

The California native first made headlines Saturday morning when it was announced that his current team of Harding Steinbrenner Racing would join forces with Andretti Autosport next season. Herta then won his third and final pole position of the 2019 season.

Now Herta hopes to cap off the season by overcoming a 49-point deficit to win the Rookie of the Year title, which is possible depending on the race results for Rosenqvist and Ferrucci.

“I think as we’ve seen, we’ve all had good weekends, but we’ve had equally terrible weekends. I hate to say it, but I’m wishing for terrible weekends for these guys, then I just need to win the race. Easy as that, right?” Herta joked during an IndyCar media event Wednesday night with Rosenqvist and Ferrucci.

“But honestly, it’s been a true honor racing with these guys. I think a lot of us will be in the series for a long time. I’m glad to be part of a rookie class that has been profiled as one of the higher ones that have come through IndyCar.

Joe Sibinski/IndyCar

Herta’s rookie season has been memorable, to say the least. In March, he became the youngest winner in series history when he won IndyCar’s inaugural race at Circuit of the Americas, and would follow up by becoming the youngest pole winner at Road America a few months later.

When asked by NBC Sports earlier this month at Portland International Raceway to grade his rookie season on a 1 to 10 scale, Herta gave himself a seven.

Obviously, some of the DNFs lowered that score, but I think it’s still pretty high just because of the pace that we’ve had,” Herta said. “Pretty much everywhere that we’ve gone, we’ve never really been outside of the top seven or eight in pace, so we’ve always been there at the pointy end of the grid.”

Live coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey begins this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)