By: Spencer Neff
May 21, 2019 | 7:10 AM
Through 102 runnings, 771 drivers have run at the Indianapolis 500. In all, 212 of them have led a lap in the race, with 72 taking victory.
On Sunday, six drivers will be making their first start at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Those drivers are Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing), Marcus Ericsson (Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), Santino Ferrucci (Dale Coyne Racing), Jordan King (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Ben Hanley (DragonSpeed) and Felix Rosenqvist (Chip Ganassi Racing).
Not including Ray Harroun’s 1911 triumph at the inaugural running, a rookie has gone to victory lane eight times.
In fact, the last two drivers to do so (Helio Castroneves in 2001 and Alexander Rossi in 2016) are in Sunday’s field of 33. In 1952, Art Cross was named the race’s first official “Rookie of the Year”.
Ahead of Sunday’s race, here’s a look back at some memorable rookie classes in the race’s history. Although there have been several outstanding individual performances, we will be analyzing the rookie groups as a collective unit.
Did Not Pass Orientation
Although these groups were not among our top three, they still have earned a place in the race’s history. Any driver with the “ROTY” designation beside their name was named Rookie of the Year.
1993 | International names headline first-year starters; Nigel Mansell-ROTY, Robby Gordon, Nelson Piquet, Stephan Gregoire and Stefan Johansson.
2013 | Young stars help usher in a new era; Carlos Munoz-ROTY, Conor Daly, AJ Allmendinger and Tristan Vautier.
1965 | Andretti tops star-studded rookie class with podium finish
Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Jim Clark won the race in dominating fashion. However, 11 drivers making their first appearance in the 33-car field also became part of Indianapolis 500 history.
After starting fourth and finishing third, Mario Andretti was named Rookie of the Year. Although he is arguably the most iconic driver in the history of auto racing, several of his “classmates” made their mark as well.
Gordon Johncock (1973 and 1982) and Al Unser (1970-71, 1978 and 1987) added six race victories, with Joe Leonard also adding the 1968 pole to the group’s list of accomplishments.
Billy Foster, Jerry Grant, Masten Gregory, Bobby Johns, Arnie Knepper, Joe Leonard, Mickey Rupp and George Snider would also make their “500” debut that year.
1967 | Hulme leads impressive rookie class driving for Yunick
The 1960s was an exciting decade for the Indianapolis 500 in many aspects. Chief among them is the caliber of drivers participating in the race. Two years after the legendary 1965 class, five drivers would comprise the Class of 1967.
After starting 24th, Denny Hulme drove legendary car owner Smokey Yunick’s Eagle/Ford entry to fourth and the Rookie of the Year crown. Later that year, Hulme won the Formula One world championship.
In addition, the other four rookies made their impact across motorsports. Wally Dallenbach became CART president from 1981 to 2004, LeeRoy Yarborough won 14 NASCAR races (including the 1969 Daytona 500) and Jochen Rindt won the 1970 Formula 1 World Driving Championship.
Eighth-place Art Pollard won twice in USAC competition before his fatal crash during practice for the “500” in 1973.
1984 | Andretti and Guerrero lead new crop of champions
In 1984, just five rookies qualified for the race. After finishing second and fifth respectively, Roberto Guerrero and Michael Andretti were named Rookie of the Year. It was the second time in the award’s history two drivers shared the honor (Larry Rice and Rick Mears in 1978).
Despite the early accolades, the “500” would prove to be a hard-luck race for both men. In his first four starts, Guerrero finished fourth or better each time – including being runner-up again in 1987. In September of 1987, the Colombian nearly lost his life in a Turn 2 testing crash at IMS.
Five years later, he set the track record in 1992 qualifications but then spun during the pace laps and finished in last. In 1996, Guerrero led the most laps and finished fifth – but was caught up in a violent crash in Turn 4 on the last lap.
Similarly, Michael Andretti’s time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been filled with ups and downs. In 16 starts, the second-generation driver led 431 laps – including the most in 1991 and 1992 – but earned a best finish of 2nd in 1991.
Since becoming a team owner in 2003, Andretti’s team has won the race five times.
Fourth- and 14th-place finishers Al Holbert and Tom Gloy would go on to massive success in sports cars. Interestingly enough, Gloy was Team President of Blair Racing when Alex Barron finished fourth and was named co-Rookie of the Year with Tomas Scheckter in 2002.
Despite finishing his maiden “500” appearance in 32nd, two-time Formula One champion Emerson Fittipaldi would win the race in 1989 and 1993.
Header image courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.