Oh, and Fernando Alonso.
That's pretty much all we heard for a couple weeks in IndyCar and the media. I'm not saying I disagree, because Fernando is a world class talent and skipping Monaco for Indianapolis is huge. But I was skeptical.
But, Fernando wowed me and so many others with his race craft, pace, patience, and raw talent. He did not put a wheel wrong all month. With a sure-fire top-ten in the bag, his engine failed on lap 180. Still, Alonso proved that he could hang with the very best in IndyCar.
HOWEVER, a growing pattern is emerging. Drivers who have raced in Formula 1, or we can even broaden that category to drivers who came to IndyCar with little to no oval experience, are showing the world how Indy is done. Here are some examples:
- As stated, Fernando Alonso was a beast all month, led many laps, and was poised for a great finish before an engine failure.
- Takuma Sato, who raced in Formula 1 for 7 years and started 90 races, never touched an oval until 2010. Despite it taking some time to get his first oval win, Sato has always shown incredible pace at Indy and many other ovals.
|Sato and Jones split oval specialist Helio Castroneves at Indy (Photo: Bret Kelley / IndyCar Media)|
- Max Chilton looked like he was going to win the damn thing, leading towards the end. He did get passed towards the end, but did bring home an impressive fourth place finish. Chilton never touched an oval until 2016.
- Alexander Rossi had his heart set on Formula 1 and started five races before switching focus to IndyCar. In his first attempt at Indianapolis, Rossi won the damn thing in only his second oval start. It was his first year running on ovals.
- Then you add other drivers that have no oval experience. These drivers didn't race in Formula 1, but generally had little to no experience on ovals before joining IndyCar. Mikhail Aleshin comes to mind. He has taken to ovals very quickly, including a pole and second place finish at Pocono last year. His lines at Indianapolis are thrilling.
- Recent proof to the point is Ed Jones, who gained limited experience on ovals in 2015 and 2016 in the Indy Lights Series. He had never raced on an oval before coming to America. Now, in only his second race on an oval in an IndyCar, Jones managed to outpace some brilliant drivers on his way to a great third place finish.
- Both Simon Pagenaud and Will Power came to Champ Car with almost no oval experience. While they are a little more seasoned than most of the drivers on this list, both drives have grown into top quality talent on the ovals, each of whom have collected wins on ovals.
|Pagenaud paces Power (Photo: IndyCar Media)|
So what is the point? While you can never put a price tag on experience on the track and especially on ovals, is it an overrated aspect to determining a driver's potential success on an oval and specifically at Indianapolis? Do teams, fans, and people who write about IndyCar (including me) put too much value on preexisting oval experience for drivers when it has been shown recently that drivers with no oval experience have been getting up to speed very quickly? As this list shows, drivers that don't have a proven niche for left turns have been doing great in the early years for their young oval careers.
Let me know what you think!