Veteran IndyCar drivers are impressed by the depth of talent in the series’ 2021 grid, which features a number of superstars.
This season, IndyCar adds to its grid former F1 driver Romain Grosjean, seven-times NASCAR Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, and three-time Supercars Champion Scott McLaughlin. With other homegrown talents like Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden or CGR’s Scott Dixon also in the series, the coming season looks to be among the most competitive in the category’s modern history.
“It just seems like it gets better every year,” Newgarden responded when asked about the series’ influx in elite international talent. “It’s hard to diminish what happened the last couple years. I think our depth of talent has been incredibly high since I’ve been in the series. It’s just been incredibly high. It’s only gotten better from 2012, whether that’s teams, personnel or the drivers themselves.
“Yeah, I think if you look at the championship, who is in there now this year, certainly the additions with people like Jimmie or Romain Grosjean, there’s a lot of talented people in the mix. It’s going to be really tough to stay at the front of the pack. The field count is going up. It’s not just the depth of talent is increasing, it’s the depth is increasing but the size is increasing and you’re keeping that depth with increased size,” Newgarden said.
Dixon also calls the talent in 2021’s grid among the finest he’s seen in his career, which began in 2003. The Kiwi also believes that a strong IndyCar package allows for greater parity among competing teams. “I’ve never seen [the talent] so strong. I think when you look at it from a driver standpoint to a team standpoint and the options that you have, it’s pretty packed, man.
“That talent is across not just drivers but teams as well. I think that’s what’s really changed from the CART days, whether it’s the manufacturer of the chassis was slightly better for a period of races and updates were coming quickly to three of the four engine manufacturers. There was always kind of a prime combination that would kind of dominate a season, as such.
“Then even in the earlier days of IndyCar you had that with engine manufacturers and things like that. I think with the current formula, the equality between the small team and big team, there is no small team anymore the way the rules play. There’s not much that a big team can out-spend anybody on. It’s just not that factor.
“So it really comes down to now the people, the people that you get to work with in the process of what you do, and then sometimes a bit of luck,” Dixon said, celebrating this significant change which makes the series more competitive. Andretti driver Alexander Rossi jokes that the Kiwi’s presence on the grid automatically makes 2021’s field a highly competitive one, improved on drastically by other aforementioned talents– including Rossi himself.
The American-born driver, also one to come from F1, points out that the conversation about talent within the IndyCar grid is one which comes up frequently in off-seasons, indicating that the grid continues to improve as Newgarden suggested. “I mean, I think we always say, ‘Oh, my God, it’s the most competitive year ever.’ It’s like, ‘Well, yeah, but so was last year, so was the year before.’
“As long as Scott Dixon is here it’s going to be pretty hard to win at the end of the day, so it doesn’t matter if there’s one Scott Dixon or four Scott Dixon’s, you’ve got to beat Scott Dixon. I think it’s always competitive. But yeah, a lot of good guys. It’s great to see it. I love the passion that Scotty has for this series. I’ve briefly spoken to Romain about it. He’s already loving it.
“They all are having the same kind of first impressions that I had in the fact that it’s a hell of a series and we’re all very fortunate to be able to race here,” Rossi said. CGR driver and teammate to Dixon, Tony Kanaan, meanwhile, joked that drivers and fans who have only now opened their eyes to a world of motorsport beyond F1 or NASCAR are “late to the game.”
The Brazilian also points out that interest in the series from drivers and fans alike waxes and wanes with each high-level talent to come through the series, from Nigel Mansell in the early 1990s to Alex Zanardi, who competed later in the decade. “I think people finally [realize] IndyCar is an awesome series to be [in]. I just think they’re late to the game. People are finding out there is life beyond Formula 1 or any other series.
“You can come here, it’s a top series, extremely competitive. You can still race the best drivers in the world. I think some of these guys are realizing that, which kind of happened in waves, right? There were years. I remember when Nigel Mansell came, it was huge. Then Zanardi. It died off. It comes back. So on. To me now more and more you’re going to see people talking about IndyCar. We’ve been growing the series.
“It’s a great series to be in. Drivers are going to want to win races. Let’s face it, in some of the [top] series’, if you’re not in the top two teams, you’re not going to win a race. This is not the case here,” Kanaan argued. 2011 debutant James Hinchcliffe of Andretti additionally called the talent “incredible,” also pointing out that the topic is one similar to that which is discussed each off-season as the field in IndyCar becomes richer with talent.
“It’s incredible. I think every year for the last five years we’ve done interviews at the start of the season and said things like, Man, this is the deepest talent pool we’ve ever had in IndyCar. And it’s started to sound like a line, but it’s true. We just keep adding talent the whole way through the field.
“When you look at the fact that those three guys in particular that you mentioned all come from different disciplines, all have been successful in those disciplines and whether it was the goal to come here always or whether it was the next opportunity or whatever, IndyCar is where they wanted to be next. For whatever reason they left their old sport, this is where they wanted to be, and I think that speaks volumes for what we’re doing as a series, for the product we have on track, the quality of the racing.
“I think it’s kind of become a real drivers’ championship in the sense that people from all different kinds of backgrounds are like, No, this is fun, this is competitive, these are awesome cars to drive, I want to go race IndyCar. I think it’s the biggest endorsement we can get having guys like that come over here,” Hinchcliffe said.
Here’s how only one can take the IndyCar rookie honours unless something dramatic happens