Super rookies embarrass old hands: IndyCar in upheaval?
A rookie almost won the race, the veterans follow: Does the new Aerokit favour a generation change in the IndyCar series?
The “old guards” of the IndyCar series could only just defend themselves once again: Sebastien Bourdais has the season opener in St. Gallen. Petersburg for the second time in a row. But the weekend saw an uprising of the newcomers that the IndyCar series has not seen for a long time. Only Alexander Rossi’s ram strike could prevent a rookie from winning. Penske drove in the middle of nowhere, experienced drivers like Scott Dixon made mistakes, Tony Kanaan was shown in the trainings by his team mate. Only the race put a temporary end to the rookie uprising.
With the new Aerokit, the Dallara IR-12 has not only completely changed its appearance. The handling is so different that the established drivers have their hands full to adjust. Experience suddenly proves to be an obstacle. So it’s not surprising that three rookies set the pace in qualifying: Robert Wickens (Schmidt-Peterson-Honda), Matheus Leist (Foyt-Chevrolet) and Jordan King (Carpenter-Chevrolet) were among the top four rookies in bizarre qualifying. Only full guest Will Power could interfere for Penske.
In the race the tide turned: Of course Robert Wickens’ fate was the big topic in the paddock. However, the other rookies also had bad luck after some brilliant starts. This is not only true for Rene Binder (Juncos-Chevrolet), who suffered a braking problem after a faultless ride.
Performance and King in bad luck after a brilliant performance
Indy Lights climber Leist didn’t have much of third place on the grid, because early in the race it was already over with the glory: “I was in fourth place when a gearbox problem occurred. I got stuck in a hallway. We tried to find the problem about ten rounds at the pits. Then we had another problem and came back into the pits.”
When he returned to the track, he suddenly drove straight into the wall in turn 3. However, it was all over anyway and the failure didn’t make much difference anymore.
Jordan King even led the race for a short time between the first and second yellow phase before braking during the second restart and having to let Wickens pass again. Things got worse and worse from then on. After the first stop he was buried in eighth place in the field, because not all vehicles have stopped in front of him yet. Then he got a puncture, which led to a brief contact with the wall. Three laps went into the country until he could follow the field. At least he finished the race in 21st place.
“Overall, I’m happy with my speed, but it’s disappointing to throw away a good result. Surely not every weekend will run like this, but it was great to be able to fight for the top. “It just hurts when you lose a good result like that.”
Best rookie’s only 16.
Jack Harvey (SPM-Shank-Honda) also suffered a puncture, in this case with even worse consequences – for the young Briton the race had run early, “I just lost the car in the fast chicane,” he remembers: “All in all we had a good weekend, but of course that’s not what we hoped for. We have not reached our goal of seeing the chequered flag. That’s frustrating. Otherwise, we were about where we expected to be.”
So it was Zach Veach (Andretti-Honda) who came home 16th as the best rookie. One place behind him was Zachary Claman de Melo (Coyne-Honda). In both cases it was the other way round: they were never really able to stage themselves, but were the only rookies to make it through without any major problems.
But Veach is not satisfied:”That was too much crap today, to be honest. Just too many mistakes for me to be proud of. First of all, I’d like to apologize to Tony Kanaan,” he had turned him in the first round,”He left the door open, which I interpreted as an invitation. I know I wasn’t the fastest rookie, but I learned a lot and arrived as the best rookie. That’s what this season will be about. The speed is there, but I have to get the details together. And it’s amazing how long these races are.”
Claman de Melo was more satisfied: “A good race. Sometime at the beginning I was even in fourth place. The yellow phases came unfavourable for us, but we had a good pace. I had a nice fight with Scott Dixon and was able to keep him behind me for a while. I’m glad I withstood the pressure. It’s a pity that a fuel problem cost us several positions in the end, but that’s part of it. We’ve learned well.”
The next races will show whether the rookie uprising was a flash in the pan or will spread into an area fire. The rookie performances cast a bad light on the established pilots James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt-Peterson-Honda) and Tony Kanaan (Foyt-Chevrolet). Phoenix is an oval race where experience is even more important than a street circuit. Jordan King will clear the cockpit for Ed Carpenter, Jack Harvey will not be there and Rene Binder will be replaced by Kyle Kaiser. But at the latest in Long Beach the fight between young and old will be fully resumed.