Editor’s Note: Over the last two days, MotorsportsTalk has been previewing all full-time entries competing in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. Our third preview features six young drivers hopeful for a success this season.
The 2019 season begins on March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Additional coverage can be found on NBC Sports Gold.
Alexander Rossi – #27 Andretti Autosport Honda
Entering his fourth full NTT IndyCar Series season, Alexander Rossi has firmly established himself as the face of IndyCar’s future. Finishing runner-up to Scott Dixon in the points standings, Rossi had breakout year in 2018, winning at Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Pocono. The pride of Nevada City, CA also won three poles, finished on the podium eight times and led 415 laps. Not too shabby for a driver who entered the series on a whim a few seasons ago after attempting to make a name for himself in Formula One.
Rossi has since found a home in IndyCar, and is a clear favorite to win races and compete for the championship once again this year. Finishing second overall during preseason testing at Circuit of the Americas last month, Rossi seems to have not lost any speed over the offseason. Having already won the sport’s two biggest races in the Indianapolis 500 and Grand Prix of Long Beach in his relatively young career, Rossi’s main goal this year will surely be to win his first championship.
Ed Jones – #20 Ed Carpenter Racing/Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet
Ed Jones enters 2019 driving for his third team in as many seasons. Driving for Dale Coyne Racing in 2017 and powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing last season, Jones makes the move to Ed Carpenter Racing, where he will drive the #20 Chevrolet-powered entry on the road and street courses while boss Ed Carpenter takes the wheel on the ovals. Jones will also attempt to qualify for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 (May 26 on NBC) driving car #64 for the team.
The 2017 rookie of the year might have not made much noise last season, but the 24-year-old still has time to establish himself as a driver. Jones had a best finish of third twice last season at Long Beach and the second round in Detroit, and though at the bottom of the timesheet for the majority of preseason testing, Jones and his team will certainly look to outperform expectations this year. The team could benefit from being in the spotlight, as as it has yet to announce a new partner to replace longtime primary sponsor Fuzzy’s Vodka, who left the team at the conclusion of last year.
Spencer Pigot – #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
The 25-year-old Spencer Pigot enters his fourth NTT IndyCar Series season this year and returns to Ed Carpenter Racing, where he ran a respectable campaign season, finishing fourth at Portland and second at Iowa. With team owner Ed Carpenter giving Pigot another season to mature, and even comparing him to former ECR driver Josef Newgarden, Pigot can rest assured that he has the trust and confidence of his team owner.
Time will only tell how Pigot’s 2019 campaign prevails, but this season could certainly be a breakout year for the Floridian, who begins the season racing at his home track of St. Petersburg. Pigot may be the driver who gives Ed Carpenter Racing their first victory since Josef Newgarden at Iowa in 2016, so keep an eye on the #21 car.
Zach Veach – #26 Andretti Autosport Honda
Alexander Rossi may be the poster boy for Andretti Autosport right now, but Zach Veach will likely challenge for that title soon. At only 24 years of age, the Ohio native enters his second year in a three-year contract with Andretti, having finished his rookie season with five top 10 finishes, including a hard fought fifth at Gateway, which he considers his best drive so far.
That will likely change this year, as Veach is expected to improve in his sophomore season. Veach will likely score his first podium and possibly even his first win now that he has a full-season behind his back this year. With new sponsor Gainbridge on the sidepod, Veach has extra incentive to win the biggest race of the year, as the online financial services company who sponsors Veach’s #26 is also the presenting sponsor of the Indianapolis 500 – a race Veach has wanted to win since he was a child.
Matheus Leist – #4 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet
One of the youngest drivers on the paddock, Matheus Leist is still learning the ins and outs of NTT IndyCar Series competition. Lesit finished 18th in the points standings last season, with only one other full-time competitor finishing behind him. Thus, Leist is essentially guaranteed to fare better this year. But one would be foolish to believe that after only one season, Leist has proven he isn’t winning material.
The Brazilian driver is still young -only 20 – and he did not make the transition from karts to cars until four years ago. In his lone Indy Lights season in 2017, Leist won three races, so he’s proven he has what it takes to reach victory lane. With testing for the season complete, and fellow countryman and former series champion Tony Kanaan as a mentor, Leist has the opportunity to build upon lessons learned. He probably won’t be competing for victories just yet, but he could someday, so Leist’s progression will be interesting to watch.
Max Chilton – #59 Carlin Chevrolet
Chilton enters his fourth season in IndyCar and second with Carlin this year, a team he is no stranger to, having raced for the team on and off throughout his racing career, including in Indy Lights in 2015. Moving from Ganassi to Carlin in their inaugural NTT IndyCar Series season last year, Chilton was unsurprisingly a non-factor for the majority of the season, with a best finish of 11th in Belle Ise’s second race. With the growing pains of 2018 out of the way, however, Chilton should fare much better this season, having gone fastest out of 21 cars in a rain-shortened test held at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca last month. Chilton has proven he can finish in the top 10 in the past, and finishing in the upper half of the pack should be a realistic goal for him this season.