There’s a recent trend in the racing world and that’s that the drivers are getting younger and younger. The youth wave is starting to come to a head. Look no further than the NTT IndyCar Series as the prime example. There are four full-time rookies that will race in 2020 and another competing in a limited campaign with AJ Foyt Racing — four of those rookies are 23 years of age or younger. The eldest among that group is Dalton Kellett who’s running 9 of the 17 races with Foyt. He’s 27.
Last year’s rookie class also had four drivers that are soon to be sophomores this year. Half of them are 21 years of age or younger and the other two are 29 (Marcus Ericsson) and 27 (Felix Rosenqvist) respectively. Those two are actually on the older end of the spectrum for the series as a whole anyways.
Zach Veach is still left from the 2018 rookie class and he’s only 25. Jack Harvey hasn’t ran a full season yet but he’s back in 2020 and is just 26. Conor Daly is running all road/street courses as well as the Indy 500 with ECR and he’s only 28.
You also can throw in Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi who are 29 and 28 years of age respectively and you get 14 drivers that are 29 years of age or younger.
The elder statesmen are now, Tony Kanaan (45), Takuma Sato (43), Sebastien Bourdais (40), Scott Dixon (39), Ryan Hunter-Reay (39), Ed Carpenter (38), Will Power (38), Simon Pagenaud (35) Charlie Kimball (34), Marco Andretti (32) and Graham Rahal (31).
That’s only eight full time drivers for 2020 over the age of 30 as a couple of them are part-timers.
Four of the top seven of the final drivers in the standings last year were under the age of 28 at the time. The future is looking brighter and brighter.
But, for the future of the sport, they also have a vastly different way of breaking into the series as someone like Scott Dixon had earlier this century. The information that the drivers have now has definitely improved since the early 2000s, so much so, the five-time series champion believes it helps them get up to speed much quicker.
“I think at that age, I came in I think I was 19 or 20, you’re just really excited to be there, to be honest,” Dixon said. “You’re trying to do the best job you can. Kind of came in with a smaller team, quickly moved to quite a dominant team which had a lot more resources.
“I think the biggest thing that’s changed these days is the team size. There’s a lot of teams with more than just two cars. That really wasn’t apparent when I started. You kind of got more information to pull on, more drivers, plus the data and video. The video especially I think has kind of evolved.
“All the data, you can pretty much have the data of any other person’s car, which is kind of interesting. Some guys are quite good at sort of analyzing and copying that. I think that has kind of helped in one way quicken up the process.”
One thing though that could slow a young driver down in comparison to the past is seat time. When Dixon was getting started, he had way more testing sessions available than what the drivers have now.
“I also I think my first year had maybe 50 or 60 days of testing, compared to now where throughout the whole season you might get six or seven depending on a test,” Dixon continued.
But, Dixon said that the process is still the same in that you have to constantly keep learning and never settle.
“I don’t know. I think for me it’s always been the same process of keeping an open mind. I think each weekend changes significantly from the year before or even from race to race.
“Never think that you know everything. I think that’s the worst position you can be in. You’re constantly learning, it’s constantly changing. I think the sport, even over the last 19 or 20 years that I’ve been a part of it, how much it evolves and changes from season to season is pretty impressive.
“It’s cool to see. I think it’s fantastic to see the amount of young guys coming in now. There was some pretty good influx probably five to six years ago, as well, with a lot of the guys. You can see their performance, how they’ve adjusted, how quick they’ve been.
“It’s extremely important for the health of the sport. Hopefully they can keep charging.”
A younger driver edge on the veteran side in Alexander Rossi, says that it’s not just the youth anymore that’s having to adapt. He feels the pressure of this series every day and says that if you don’t perform, you’re not going to be here long, veteran or not anyways.
“It’s not just young guys any more,” said Rossi. Racing is a very difficult sport in the sense that you’re only as good as your last race. You’re constantly having to go out and reprove yourself regardless of what you’ve accomplished in the past. There’s so many guys coming in, your job security really doesn’t exist.
“As Scott said, you have to each weekend be willing to adapt and change on things maybe you’ve been doing your whole career. Just having the ability to do that and the wherewithal to do that is one thing, but also having the mindset and even the team around you to help kind of find the areas of weakness that you have, kind of help get you in the right direction to better yourself.
“In a series where it’s generally very spec, the difference between first and 10th is very, very small margins. A lot of that comes from you as a driver, just being able to know how to find that bit of lap time each time you show up at the racetrack.
“I don’t think it’s a talent or a skill set that’s necessary just for a young driver, I think it’s necessary for every single one of us.”