As the NTT IndyCar Series hits its stretch of “money races”, with four drivers still in contention to win the title, much of the focus has been given to points leader Josef Newgarden and the guys chasing him: Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon.
That sounds about right, as once again we are in the midst of a battle that will more than likely go down to the last lap at the last race in Laguna Seca in September. And, when you look at the potential head-to-head battle between Rossi and Newgarden, both young, both fast, both American, you are possibly looking at a battle for the ages.
Still, there’s another battle going on that’s getting a little less play, but is still just as interesting, and that is the competition for this year’s Rookie of the Year award.
As far as career predictors go, the ROY is often a bit of a hit-or-miss situation. There are currently six drivers in the paddock who won the award: Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi and Ed Jones, but at the same time, four winners since 2010: Alex Lloyd, Tristan Vautier, Carlos Munoz and Gabby Chaves, are either on the fringe of the IndyCar paddock or are out of the sport altogether.
This year’s class was projected to have quite a bit of future starpower, and so far they have not disappointed. Let’s take a look at the ROY players, and try to predict who will take the hardware home in September.
Felix Rosenqvist (255 points): Of all the rookie drivers, Rosenqvist is probably in the best situation as Scott Dixon’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing. A familiar face in the paddock after his 2016 Indy Lights run with Belardi Racing, which included a win at St. Pete and two at Toronto, Rosenqvist had knocked on the door of his first podium a couple of times this season and has posted three Top 5 finishes. He won the pole at the Indy GP and has made the Firestone Fast Six five different times. He also leads rookies in laps led on the season with 56.
Santino Ferrucci (241): The 21-year-old from Connecticut is the second-youngest driver in the field, and has been a model of consistency all season. He leads the series in cars passed on the year, has finished all 11 races this year and is tied with Alexander Rossi with 1,427 out of a possible 1,431 laps completed. His P7 and P4 finishes at the Indy 500 and Texas makes him the only rookie with two Top 10 finishes on ovals, and he has four Top 10 finishes overall.
Colton Herta (221): Herta has established himself as the biggest name among the rookie class, and his results haven’t always matched the outstanding effort of the Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver. The youngest driver in the IndyCar paddock, Herta’s win at Circuit of the Americas in March made him the youngest winner in series history. Unfortunately he followed that up by going P23 at Barber, P23 at Long Beach, P23 in the Indy GP, and P33 at the Indy 500. None of those finishes were really his fault, but he is still searching for another Top 5 finish. Herta is an incredible road course qualifier, with a pole at Road America and five appearances in the Firestone Fast Six, and good qualifying efforts will more than likely lead to some good results the rest of the way.
Marcus Ericsson (212): Ericsson came to IndyCar this year after having made 97 starts in Formula 1 between 2014-18, and his results have been mixed. He has a runner-up finish at Detroit 2 to his credit, and three total Top 10 results, but also has five finishes of P20 or worse. His P7 at Texas and P11 last weekend at Iowa shows a nice adjustment to oval tracks, and the rest should come into place with time.
Prediction: Rosenqvist is trending up as the season goes on, and it’s possible he could win a race by the end of the year. He should end up winning the ROY, although you could call Herta the “best” rookie given how well he’s consistently qualified and raced when his car has been “healthy”. Still, don’t sleep on Ferrucci and his consistency. He loves racing at Mid-Ohio and has proven his mettle with his consistency and performances on ovals. While he may not necessarily be a threat to win, piling up Top 10 finishes and points is his specialty.
What’s exciting to note about this rookie class is that their best years could be ahead of them. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, all four will be back with their teams next year — or in some cases, maybe a promotion to a larger team — and all four have the talent to stay in the series for a long time.
Photo credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar Media
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PLP This Week
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