IndyCar- known formally and officially as the NTT IndyCar Series as of 2019 - is perhaps the greatest racing series in the United States...that everyone forgot.
The series is named for the annual Indianapolis 500, which has been hosted every year since 1911 (With the exception of during World Wars I and II). The cars are open-wheel, open cockpit single seaters, very similar to Formula One, although the differences between the two are many. IndyCar, once the pinnacle of American motorsports, has slowly declined in ratings and popularity over the past 25 years as NASCAR became popular for its wild, down-to-earth appeal. Even today, the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel in the series schedule, is normally overshadowed in the ratings by just about any NASCAR race during the year.note The Indy 500 is still, however, the largest single-day sporting event on the planet in terms of live attendance. Yes, even bigger than the Super Bowl. Permanent seating capacity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just over a quarter of a million seats-which alone makes it the highest capacity sports venue in the world, but with extra infield capacity that's put into place for Raceday, attendance of the annual event routinely tops 400,000.
The reason for the decline stems from a split within the series in 1979. Back then, the United States Automobile Club (USAC) had organized and run the Indianapolis 500 as well as other American championship car races since 1956 (when the original sanctioning body, the American Automobile Association - yes, the same stranded-by-the-side-of-the-road AAA today- withdrew from motorsport management). However, many prolific team owners such as Dan Gurney, Roger Penske, and U.E. "Pat" Patrick had long disagreed with USAC due to alleged ineptitude on the organization's part. As a result, they formed Championship Auto Racing Teams, (CART) which was founded as an advocacy group to keep USAC in check. However, such an agreement was flat-out denied by USAC bigwigs, which then led to CART becoming its own breakaway series. After several years of legal battling, USAC finally allowed the Indianapolis 500 to be part of the CART calendar, and all was good. CART enjoyed immense success in America as drivers such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, and Nigel Mansell, coming off of highly successful Formula One drives, touted its competitiveness. The series was once considered to be on par with F1 for that reason along with the fact that it was starting to struggle competitiveness and racing wise, but also because small backmarker teams were starting to drop like flies, and political tensions involving both drivers and series managers were heating up.
But then, things changed.
In 1994, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George became dissatisfied with CART's arbitrary rules (CART was often accused of changing rules to benefit certain teams), escalating costs (Which squeezed out small teams similar to F1), lack of American driver presence (Only 10 Americans raced in 1995), and increasing emphasis on road course racing. In response, he teamed up with USAC and created the Indy Racing League (IRL), using the Indianapolis 500 as leverage to get the series off the ground. IRL was created to be a cheaper, all-oval, all-American alternative to CART, and George enforced it by in 1997 allowing the top 25 drivers in his series a guaranteed spot in the Indianapolis 500, leaving only eight spots on the grid to CART regulars. This so-called "25/8" rule was very controversial as it was the first time since the Indy 500 began that the race would not necessarily start the fastest qualifying cars.
CART, outraged, filed a lawsuit in 1996, which ultimately ended in a settlement and the legality of the new series. In response they created a race called the "US 500" to be run at Michigan International Speedway the same weekend as the Indianapolis 500. The US 500 was touted as the 'real' 500 where CART teams would show their technical superiority to the "CART rejects series". However, this boast backfired when, in the very first US 500 race, the front row drivers collided on the formation lap — leading to a multi-car pileup before the race even began and a major delay while backup cars were prepared to restart it. Meanwhile at Indianapolis, in addition to Dutch star Arie Luyendyk setting both the track and qualifying records - 237.498mph and 236.986mph, respectively - the race ran smoothly (although qualifying had been tragically marred by the death of veteran driver Scott Brayton) but was severely lacking in star-power and was won by by a relatively unknown driver (Buddy Lazier, who had been a makeweight in previous races). Most pundits observed that for all intents and purposes neither side had really 'won' anything and that some kind of peace deal was urgently needed. The US 500 was never run on Memorial Day Weekend again. It was moved to July for the three following years, taking up Michigan's usual July date on the CART calendar (Michigan kept its July date for 1996, in addition to the U.S. 500, meaning CART raced there twice that year, which wasn't unusual as CART did so during most of the 70s and 80s, though the second race was always a much shorter distance than the first; in '96, both races were 500 miles; the July '96 race was infamous for Emerson Fittipaldi's career ending crash and subsequent injury, then the US 500 name was abandoned.
However in 1997, George and IRL announced new technical regulations and commissioned new car and engine designs effectively outlawing CART-spec cars from competing at Indy. The impasse remained throughout 1997 to 1999 as few CART teams were inclined to invest in new cars purely for one race. In 2000 however, CART champions Target Chip Ganassi Racing did purchase cars, entered Indy and CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya, and won the race with him - the first time since 1966 a rookie had won. The following year, the CART Penske juggernaut followed suit and won with another first-timer, Helio Castroneves. Although the crushing superiority of Montoya and Castroneves's wins were somewhat embarrassing for the IRL teams, they were something of a Pyrrhic Victory for CART as the IRL held the one card the CART series couldn't: the Indianapolis 500. The tradition and prestige of Indy completely overshadowed everything else and CART's leading teams, Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti, found it increasingly difficult to justify staying away from the big race to their sponsors. Eventually they bowed to the pressure and abandoned the series for IRL.
Now on the decline, CART began to get desperate. Trying to outdo IRL with a race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001, they found that the new overwhelming performance of the cars led to many drivers coming close to to blacking out under the extreme g-forces imposed. Forced by the series doctors to cancel the race for medical reasons, CART took a huge blow in prestige, which was then compounded when a row over engine rules resulted in key engine manufacturers Honda and Toyota defecting to IRL. CART tried to pick up the pieces in 2003 by reforming under the name "Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford (Champ Car)." After declaring bankruptcy in 2003 and again in 2008, Champ Car was finally bought out by IRL.
In the final twist of the saga, George was voted out of his position at the head of the series by his own sisters, allegedly angry at the amount of family money that had been spent over the years, and a new boss was brought in (Randy Bernard, a former head of Professional Bull Riders). Bernard was however fired after the 2012 season and he was replaced by Mark Miles, a former tennis promoter. Now the 'IRL' name is largely history too, and the series is officially the 'NTT IndyCar Series', a series contested between US and non-US drivers on oval, street and road courses.
The 2012 season saw the introduction of a newer formula car, tested by double Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. Tragically Wheldon was killed in the last race for the car that dated back to 2003 at the finale of 2011. This race saw 34 entries (one more than the Indy 500) and was held on the 1.5 mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A large amount of cars bunched together on the relatively short track led quickly to an appaling case of Disaster Dominoes where one car clipped another, which hit another, which hit another, while other cars were hitting each other trying to avoid the earlier ones. Though there had been big pile ups before (perhaps the worst example of this was in the 1966 Indy 500, where eleven cars were involved in a pileup just before the green flag) this crash left the track looking like a warzone and the race was cancelled, making for a tragic coda to the "IRL" age. Fortunately the DW 12 car (named in tribute after Wheldon's initials) has proven to be more racy and less prone to pack racing as it's predecessor, though its rather awkward looks drew derision from many fans. In 2018, the car was given an Adrenaline Makeover re-clothing. The same chassis is underneath but there was a raft of bodywork changes designed to improve overtaking by increasing downforce from the underfloor and reducing it from the wings. Removing the manufacturer specific bodykits reduced costs - especially helpful to small teams -, as well as removed the controversial rear wheel guards - deemed ineffective as safety devices and an needless source of potentially dangerous debris. The car was also made to look sleeker by replacing the airbox with a roll hoop and lengthening the sidepods. The last also deliberate retro nostalgia Fanservice by recreating the fan-favorite 1990s CART-era car aesthetics.
In late 2019, business tycoon and longtime team owner Roger Penske made a deal to buy the Indy Car series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the Hulman-George family. With his deep pockets and long record of fielding championship-winning race teams, most fans are optimistic that Penske will increase the series' visibility and popularity.
- Scott Dixon - New Zealander. A divisive figure. To some an IndyCar legend with 5 championships(2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, and 2018), to others an unskilled driver who drives with no respect for anyone else. Most agree, though, that he is a contender, even with a slower car.
- Felix Rosenqvist - Swedish. Replaced the removed Ed Jones, came from Formula E after finishing 6th in the championship. Very fast and consistent, he looks like a true challenger for the championship next to his teammate.
Team Penske: - Chevrolet
- Will Power - Australian. Mr Awesome Mc Cool Name. His successes on road courses are balanced by his failures on ovals, usually due to outside circumstances. He's always competing for the title, but his failure to get results on oval tracks means that he kept losing to the more consistent Dario Franchitti, until he finally pulled it off in 2014, beating his own teammate Helio Castroneves, for the championship. Somewhat incidentally got his ride with Team Penske. Got over his Every Year They Fizzle Out reputation at the Indy 500 by winning in 2018 at the 11th time of asking, and became Not So Stoic in Victory Lane with one of the more OTT celebratory yells in recent memory.
- Simon Pagenaud - French. A similar case to fellow Frenchman Bourdais, Pagenaud raced in Champ Car with Team Australia before going to the WEC in LMP1. He returned part time in 2011 before joining Schmidt-Hamilton in 2012. With three championship top 5s, he was picked up by Penske, where he would have his worst season yet(11th). However he rebounded by winning the Astor Cup in 2016 and came close to going back to back, but was stopped by new teammate...
- Josef Newgarden - American. The 2017 Champion didn't have a really strong start to his career with Sarah Fisher Racing having replaced Ed Carpenter, but in his fourth year won his first race. He became teammates with the driver who replaced him at the now-Ed Carpenter Racing before showing that he could be a championship contender in 2016; he was signed by Penske in 2017 to replace the aging Juan Pablo Montoya. In his first season with Penske(in stark contrast to Pagenaud's 2015) he wins the championship in one of the most competitive seasons of the series.
Andretti Autosport/Andretti-Herta Autosport: - Honda
- Marco Andretti - American. The Spoiled Brat. Despite having raced for several years with limited success, he still manages to be the epitome of immaturity when things don't go his way. Of course, following in the footsteps of your legendary father and grandfather must be no easy feat, considering many people believe he's cursed. He tried to lift it by switching his number to 98(and having his car assisted by engineers from Herta) from 2018 on.
- Ryan Hunter-Reay - American. Often a midfielder during his early CART/CCWS and Indy Car career until he won the series championship in 2012, a year after technically failing to qualify for Indianapolis. 2013 started out pretty well too, and in 2014 he won Indy.
- Alexander Rossi - American. The former F1 driver for Manor came to IndyCar while being held on as Manor's reserve. After winning the Indy 500 in his first attempt and second oval race ever, he became more well known, and even rejected the offer to return to Manor after Rio Harayanto was removed due to running out of money. He looks to be a title contender for years to come. He also competed in the 30th season of The Amazing Race.
- Zach Veach - American. In 2018 he came to the 26 seat vacated by Takuma Sato, with his mysterious multi-million dollar sponsor Group One Thousand One.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: - Honda
- Graham Rahal - American. The Wild Card. Because his successful father refuses to let him ride on his coattails, Rahal is known for signing with many teams simply so he can race (In 2010, he raced with four different teams). However, when he does race, he is extremely competitive. His first career race was a Second Episode Introduction in 2008 at St. Petersburg, and an instant win.
- Takuma Sato - Japanese. The Klutz. After a mildly successful F1 career from 2002-2008 that saw him take one podium, he arrived in Indy Car and at first didn't do much better. 2011 was one accident after another on the track for him, but he has enough raw speed and talent to be as competitive here as when he was in F1. In 2012, he spun out on the final lap of the Indy 500 trying to overtake for the lead. Odd Couple pairing with Foyt has worked well in 2013, giving Sato his first career win and Foyt his first win as an owner in over a decade. Things only got better with his win at the 2017 Indy 500 with Andretti. Joined Rahal due to a risk that Andretti would switch engines for 2018, in which case he wouldn't be allowed to drive.
A.J. Foyt Racing: - Chevrolet
- Tony Kanaan - Brazilian. The Stoic. Many TV commentators are quick to note his lack of emotion whenever he is injured or suffers a heartbreaking failure, although there have been times when he succumbs to Not So Stoic. Seems to have inherited the "Best Driver Never To Win At Indianapolis" title until he finally put his face on the BorgWarner Trophy in 2013. He moved to Foyt after Ganassi downsized and wanted a younger driver in the #10 car.
- Kanaan signed with Ganassi late in 2013 to drive the car that Ryan Briscoe ran at Indy. He would drive for the full season save for Indy, when Briscoe would take it.
- Matheus Leist - Brazilian. After a impressive rookie season in Indy Lights, with three wins and 4th in the Championship, he moved to Foyt where he aims to make a splash and continue the legacy of Brazilian IndyCar drivers.
Dale Coyne Racing: - Honda
- Sébastien Bourdais - French. The Bus Came Back. After winning four straight Champ Car championships, he was Put on a Bus and left for Formula One. His failure there meant that for the 2011 season, He's Back. His time with KV Racing saw him get 4 wins, but after 2016 the team went bust. His new seat with Coyne in '17 saw him win the season opening race in St. Pete, and 2nd at Long Beach, and a respectable 8th at Barber before his luck turned on him, with two DNFs, and a horrific crash in Indy 500 qualifying(with the fastest time) that took him out for most of the season. With top 10s in his return, there is a feeling of What Could Have Been if he didn't have that crash.
- Santino Ferrucci - American. After being suspended from Formula 2 (and fired by his team) due to a nasty incident involving race and his teammate, he came to Indy Car looking for a fresh start. When in Europe he had a rash attitude and wasn't doing any favors for potential Americans in F1. However he seems to have calmed down and demonstrated his talent, often being faster than and outracing Bourdais.
Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports - Honda
- Patricio "Pato" O'Ward - Mexican. 2018 Indy Lights champion. After running a partial schedule in 2019, he signed to race full-time with S-P for 2020—a move that ruffled a few feathers, as he displaced fan favorite James Hinchcliffe. However, he has shown a lot of promise thus far, delivering a dominating performance in the second race at Road America before being passed by Felix Rosenqvist with 2 laps to go.
- Marcus Ericsson - Swedish. An F1 mainstay for 5 years prior, he took Robert Wickens' seat after his massive accident at Pocono that left him partially paralyzed. Has managed decent results so far.
Ed Carpenter Racing: - Chevrolet
- Ed Carpenter - American. Currently the only driver/owner in the series. While he's admittedly lackluster on road and street circuits, he's made up for it on ovals, giving Sarah Fisher her first win (as either an owner or driver) at Kentucky in 2011, following it up with a win for his own team at Fontana in 2012, then the Indy 500 pole in 2013. Retired from road and street circuits after 2013, he was joined by Mike Conway until 2015.
- Spencer Pigot - American. Starting as the road course racer for Carpenter in the second half of 2016 following his 2015 Lights championship, he was able to earn the full time ride when drivers Newgarden (who moved to the Penske Empire) and Hildebrand (who failed to meet expectations) left the full time seat.
Carlin: - Chevrolet
- Charlie Kimball - American. Handicapped Badass. Although 2011 was his first Indy 500 start, he deserves recognition as being the first ever driver at the race with Type 1 Diabetes. He only managed P13, but for him to complete the race at all (which he did handily) was a noteworthy achievement. Due to his condition he needed to have two drink reservoirs, one with water, the other with a high-glucose drink, and a switch to let him select which reservoir he'd be drinking from, chosen based on a blood-sugar-level gauge integrated into his car's custom steering wheel. In the event that an insulin shot was needed, his pit crew included a doctor who could provide him with the needed injection on the next stop.
- Max Chilton - British. After leaving F1 following a stint with Marussia, he came to Indy Lights for a season with Carlin in 2015(which was joining the Lights series at the time and was partially owned by Max's father). He raced with Ganassi for his first two seasons, getting an impressive 4th at the 2017 Indy 500, before moving to Carlin, who were moving up, taking his sponsorship and teammate Kimball with him.
Harding-Steinbrenner Racing: - Honda
- Colton Herta - American. The best and brightest young star of the series. Finished 2nd in Indy Lights in 2018, and became the youngest ever winner of the series in 2019 at Circuit of the Americas, at just 18 years and 360 days. His team is supported by Andretti, allowing him to consistently be a frontrunner. Has achieved some stellar results throughout the season, and he'll be a championship contender in the years to come.