The Indianapolis 500, regardless of a depleted field for this year, can still count itself as one of the world’s biggest annual motorsport pilgrimages. In fact my dad, uncle, and aunt are all over there at the moment. I’m meanwhile brimming with jealousy — as I sit obediently at my central-Auckland desk, following from afar, crying just a little.
This year’s race, which takes place this weekend, celebrates its 100th edition. Huge crowds, fine weather, and exciting racing are all expected. But what is vacant are the left-field wildcards of the days of old.
Yes, there’s a few there — drivers who don’t normally compete in the IndyCar series, but pop in just in time for a chance to win at Indy. The promising Australian Matthew Brabham, grandson of Sir Jack Brabham, is one of them. Townsend Bell is another.
But given Indy’s huge heritage and allure, you would expect a few bigger names popping through its revolving door every now and again. Drivers from other huge international championships getting behind the wheel to add rare Indy glory to their resume.
Sadly, it’s hard these days. Drivers who race as part of that top echelon have to consider their teams, their sponsors, and their contracts before birthing even the wispiest silhouette of a thought about racing in another series. Then there’s the consideration that the 500 comes on the same weekend as both the Monaco Grand Prix and Nascar’s Coke 600.
It’s possible. Tony Stewart has quite incredibly done both the 500 and the 600 on the same day on several occasions, with best results of a sixth and a third in 2001. He’s one of four drivers to do so.
IndyCar is padded out by nice guys. How great would it be then to lob the current Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton into the mix?
His on-track persona, plus his determination to succeed, would put him in very good steed. Problem is that I expect old Lewis would only want to commit to something like the Indy 500 if he was in a position to win it. This would require a tie-up with a top team, and testing. Lots of testing. And I doubt that would comply with Formula 1’s busy schedule.
With the drama existing between himself and Mercedes-Benz teammate Nico Rosberg, Hamilton could well find himself having to search for a new home — maybe even a new category — if the pair continue to push the other around.
Photo / AP
The seven-time MotoGP champ might be getting a little long in the tooth (flame-suit; engage), but I think it’d be wonderful to see him take another stab at some four-wheeled debauchery.
Another? Yes, another. Mr. Rossi has gathered miles in all sorts of race cars over the years. His rallying exploits are probably the most well-known, with the driver having made multiple appearances in the World Rally Championship — including an 11th-place finish at the 2006 Rally New Zealand.
But even more notable than that was Rossi’s test with Ferrari’s Formula 1 squad in 2006, where he was able to achieve a quicker time than Grand-Prix winners David Coulthard and Mark Webber.
He’s also tested in a Nascar. On an oval.
Mmmm … Indy takes place on an oval …
What it shows is that he’s a driver that’s quick to pick up race cars, and an incredible athlete. John Surtees, Wayne Gardner, and Gregg Hansford are among those to transition from two wheels to four effectively, and Rossi would be a very exciting prospect if he followed suit.
Photo / Super Black Racing
As profiled in Driven last week, Kiwi Richie Stanaway is at something of a crossroads with his career. Having dropped the GP2 from his commitments, and added the Supercars Championship, things are looking very interesting for his future.
While IndyCar is hardly as sexy as the Formula 1, it has seen an influx of drivers from classes like GP2 join its ranks over recent years. The results those drivers have managed to achieve have been mixed, but it could be yet another option for the talented Stanaway to consider.
But of the Kiwis in Europe, like Hartley, Evans, and Cassidy, in my mind it’s Stanaway who is the most likely to give something like Indy a shake.
Photo / AFP
He’s arguably the fittest driver in Nascar, which makes the fact that he’s won five titles no real surprise.
People often query why athletes would backflip on established careers to chase radically different goals in alternative leagues — Jarrod Hayne’s pursuit of a career in the NFL is a fine example. And I’d love to see Johnson do something similar.
IndyCar is a logical side-step for the driver; a category that continues on tracks he’s largely familiar with, but will present him with an entirely new challenge, against a growing international field of drivers. It would be an incredible thing to see.
I got the same responses from those in the office when I said I’d include him in this list. He certainly doesn’t draw the response name-dropping a Schumacher or a van Gisbergen would.
But, the kid is talented. Very talented. And of all the names listed, he’s the most likely to wind up on the grid at Indy. Probably.
Having won last season’s Toyota Racing Series at a canter on debut, Norris displayed all the hallmarks of one of those drivers that prompt punters and pundits alike to expect big things in the future.
You can now find Norris competing in two international open-wheel categories. The first is the BDRC British Formula 3 Championship, where he currently sits fifth in the points, having missed three races. The second is Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, where he leads the points. Across both categories he’s claimed eight podium finishes out of nine possible starts.
Formula 1 is definitely achievable. But, Indy will always be an option …