INDYCAR veterans holding off youth movement, for now

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Will Power

Despite an infusion of young talent to IndyCar recently, the old guard isn’t ready to hand over their keys to the series just yet.

While drivers such as Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Robert Wickens and Graham Rahal are leading IndyCar’s next generation of stars under 30 years of age, there is a strong supporting cast of youngsters such as Matheus Leist, Zach Veach, Gabby Chaves, Spencer Pigot, and Zachary Claman De Melo that give the series a great base to work off of moving forward.

Headlines in 2018 have included focus on the stellar rookie class while youthful veterans such as Pigot, Chaves and even Sage Karam have shown flashes of pace this year.

With all of that taken into consideration, the numbers don’t lie: IndyCar is still being led by the wily veterans of open-wheel racing.

Through nine rounds of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, six of those races have been won by drivers aged 37 years or older.

In fact, each of the last five races have been won by 37-year-olds with Will Power winning twice, Scott Dixon winning twice and Ryan Hunter-Reay cashing in for the first time since 2015.  Even with Newgarden (27) and Rossi (26) sweeping the April races, the average age of victor in 2018 has been 33.7 years.

That is a trend not unique to this year, either.

Dating back to 2014, 51 of the 76 Verizon IndyCar Series races contested have been won by drivers at least 32 years of age or older.  That is a whopping 67% win rate by the veterans despite exceptional young talent that has made their way into the series recently.

Sebastien Bourdais

At 39, Sebastien Bourdais won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the second year in a row (Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR).

Furthermore, the combination of Sebastien Bourdais (39), Scott Dixon (37), Ryan Hunter-Reay (37), Simon Pagenaud (34) and Will Power (37) have won a whopping 44 times over the course of those 76 races – an incredible 58% winning percentage from those five veterans.

Even the Indianapolis 500 has dominated by the most experienced pilots in recent memory.  Save for Rossi’s triumph in 2016 as a 24-year-old, one would have to go all the way back to Dixon’s victory in 2008 to find another Baby Borg winner under 30.

While the transition of power is certainly underway, those familiar faces we have followed for the last decade are far from finished.

Normally a second-half driver, Dixon already has a healthy 23-point lead on Rossi in this year’s championship.  Power is just behind them in third, followed by Hunter-Reay (4th), Newgarden (5th), Rahal (6th) and Wickens (7th).

Pagenaud, Bourdais, and Marco Andretti – another member of the 30+ club – round out the top ten in points thus far.

Certainly the movement will be hard to hold off for much longer, but a dedication to fitness from the drivers and an emphasis on safety from series officials has kept IndyCar talent in the driver’s seat longer than traditionally seen.

For Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, their longevity has lasted long enough to see each make an exit from the series with competitive fire still in the tank.

Despite each driver winning a race the year before they became part-timers for Roger Penske, the duo has been reassigned in the organization as part of Team Penske’s sports car program following full-time IndyCar competition.

Yes, we are enthralled with what Robert Wickens has been able to do in his first year as an IndyCar regular, and certainly there is a long-term battle brewing between Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi for American open-wheel supremacy.

It is exciting to watch the next round of stars make their way up the ladder, but let’s not forget to enjoy the brilliance of the old guard while we can.

There is something to be said about the enduring strength found from the guys such as Bourdais, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and Power – drivers that became the fabric of IndyCar following re-unification back in 2008.

These men have been the constant variables in an ever-changing American motorsport landscape, and while they will soon pass the baton onto another worthy group of disciples, expect one last charge from IndyCar’s familiar faces before all is said and done.

Header image by Christopher Jones/INDYCAR Media.

Tanner Watkins

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