Sato joins F1’s list of IndyCar winners


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IndyCar racing used to be a popular destination for former and aspiring Formula One drivers.

At one time former (and even reigning) F1 champions like Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi headed to IndyCar. Successful F1 drivers like Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya used it as a springboard to the top flight.

But political infighting almost destroyed American open-wheel racing in the mid-nineties. Although today’s reunited series is far from the levels of popularity it enjoyed 20 years ago, it has begun to see more interest from former F1 drivers.

Rubens Barrichello switched to IndyCar following his departure from F1 at the end of 2011. And last weekend Takuma Sato’s triumph at former F1 venue Long Beach made him the latest ex-F1 driver to win an IndyCar race.

Sato is the 24th F1 driver to win in IndyCar since the formation of the Championship Auto Racing Teams series in 1979 (including both series during the 1995-2007 CART-IRL split). Here are the drivers who went before him plus highlights of some of their great winning moments.

Mario Andretti

Andretti began a motor racing dynasty after his family brought him from Italy to America. He juggled F1 with USAC and NASCAR at first, then later committed to an F1 programme with Lotus and won the 1978 world championship.

A long career in American racing followed his F1 retirement in 1982. He eventually amassed four IndyCar titles plus victories in the Indianapolis 500 and other classic American races.

Michael Andretti

A very competitive CART driver whose F1 campaign in 1993 was poorly conceived and came to an abrupt halt just after he’d scored his first podium finish. He now runs the family team for which son Marco races.

Mark Blundell

After scoring podiums for Ligier and Tyrrell Blundell had the misfortune to join McLaren at a time when they had produced one of their worst ever cars – the dismal 1995 MP4-10. He brought the Mercedes-engined car home in the points six times but it turned out to be his last season in F1.

Reunited with Mercedes power at PacWest in 1997, he scored three wins in that year’s CART championship to end the season sixth overall. The first of his victories came in a thrilling wet/dry race in Portland where the top three crossed the finishing line separated by 0.055s:

Sebastien Bourdais

The final four years of Champ Car were a Bourdais benefit. He swept all before him in the struggling category until it merged to form the current IndyCar series in 2008. Meanwhile Bourdais had made the switch to F1, but Toro Rosso ejected him after a year and a half.

He’s back in IndyCar now and showed flashes of his old form at the end of last year.

Eddie Cheever

Despite nine podium finishes Cheever was never a winner in Formula One. Cheever got behind the breakaway Indy Racing League in 1996 and won the third post-split Indianapolis 500 two years later.

Kevin Cogan

The two-time F1 race entrant (he never qualified) scored his sole CART win from 116 starts at Phoenix in 1986.

Cristiano da Matta

Da Matta’s career has similarities to that of Bourdais and Zanardi: he was very successful in Champ Car but lasted only a year and a half in F1 with Toyota from 2003-4. His return to American racing nearly killed him when he struck a deer during testing at Elkhart Lake in 2006.

Robert Doornbos

The Dutch driver never got a proper crack at F1, making a handful of starts for Minardi and Red Bull in 2005 and 2006. ‘Bobby D’ won twice when he switched to Champ Car for its final season in 2007 but he failed to build on that when he returned to the reunified series in 2009.

Teo Fabi

Fabi made a fleeting appearance for Toleman in F1 before heading stateside where he missed out on the 1983 CART title by five points to Al Unser.

He then returned to Toleman and gave the team their only F1 pole position at the Nurburgring in 1985. After that he changed tack again, returning to CART where he spent three years driving for Porsche’s team, winning at Mid-Ohio in 1989.

Christian Fittipaldi

Fourth for Minardi in the 1993 season-opener was as good as it got for Emerson’s nephew in F1. At Monza he was fortunate to escape injury when he hit the back of his team mate’s car and flipped.

He broke his leg in a CART crash at Surfers’ Paradise in 1997, but returned to win at Road America two years later. A second major accident at Gateway forced him out again, though once more he returned and claimed another win in Calfornia.

Emerson Fittipaldi

After winning world titles for Lotus and McLaren, Fittipaldi embarked on an unsuccessful project with his brother to enter a Brazilian F1 team. In five years the high point was a podium finish at Long Beach in 1980, after which he bowed out of F1.

At the same track four years later he placed fifth on his CART debut, beginning a long and successful second career that yielded the 1989 championship crown and two Indianapolis 500 wins, before retiring in 1996. Here he is coming out on top in a memorable scrap with fellow champion Mansell at Cleveland in 1993:

Roberto Guerrero

The first Colombian driver to race in F1 moved to CART in 1984. Three years later a pair of wins put him in the title hunt in the closing stages of the season but a violent crash during testing left him in a coma. He returned the following year and after the CART-IRL split he came close to winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1997.

Mauricio Gugelmin

Ayrton Senna’s one-time house mate spent four years with Leyton House then a single season with Jordan before heading to America. A seven-year association with the PacWest team produced a single win, at Vancouver in 1997, though he was also leading on the last lap at Detroit that year when he ran out of fuel:

Nigel Mansell

After being a runner-up in the world championship three times Mansell finally clinched the title in 1992 with the devastating Williams-Renault FW14B.

But Frank Williams had already made arrangements for Alain Prost to join the squad in 1993. Unwilling to share a team with Prost again, Mansell defected to CART and won first time out for Newman-Haas at Surfers’ Paradise (below).

He missed the second race due to injury but four more wins delivered him the championship, making him the only driver to hold F1 and IndyCar titles simultaneously. He then returned to F1 for a final win in the 1994 season finale.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya emulated Mansell by winning the CART title in his debut season. He ended the year tied on points with Dario Franchitti and was placed ahead thanks to his seven victories to Franchitti’s three. But the death of Greg Moore in the final race overshadowed Montoya’s triumph.

After adding an Indianapolis 500 victory in 2000 he made his F1 debut the following year. Seven times a winner with Williams and McLaren, he quit for NASCAR after becoming disillusioned with the sport in 2006.

Robert Moreno

Andrea Moda S921, Eurobrun ER189, Forti FG01… Moreno drove some of F1’s most unworthy machines.

But he also got a chance to show what he could do in a Benetton, and finished second in his first race for them in 1990. The following year he was prised out of the cockpit to make room for Michael Schumacher.

Having raced in CART in the eighties he earned the nickname ‘SuperSub’ by standing in for fellow ex-F1 racers Blundell and Christian Fittipaldi.

A full-time ride with Patrick finally brought his first win in the category in 2000, and third in the title race:

Bobby Rahal

Rahal made just two F1 starts for Wolf in 1978 as he struggled to gain a foothold in the series. He returned 23 years later as one of a succession of managers to be given the unenviable job of trying to make a success of the Jaguar F1 team.

In the intervening period he enjoyed great success in CART, winning the title three times along with the 1987 Indianapolis 500. After being replaced at Jaguar he returned to running his own team in America. His son Graham now races for him, and finished runner-up to his ex-driver Sato on Sunday.

Hector Rebaque

Rebaque holds the unusual distinction of failing to finish on the podium during a season in which his team mate won the world championship. That was in his final year of F1 in 1981 alongside Nelson Piquet.

He switched to CART the following year but elected not to participate in races on ovals after crashing in Michigan. His final start came at Road America where he scored a surprise win after several other drivers ran out of fuel and he was the only one to complete all 50 laps.

Eliseo Salazar

Another driver with a connection to Piquet: Salazar infamously tangled with the Brabham driver at Hockenheim in 1982, then was attacked by the world champion after they clambered from their respective cars. He raced in the early days of the post-split IRL against a fairly weak field, scoring a single win in the 1997 season finale at Las Vegas.

Danny Sullivan

Campaigning a Cosworth-powered Tyrrell against the might of the turbo brigade in 1983 was never going to be the best way for Sullivan to show what he was capable of. Fifth on his Monaco debut was not enough to persuade anyone to pick him up for 1984. In CART he showed what they had missed out on: He won the Indianapolis 500 in 1985 despite a 360-degree spin mid-race, and claimed the 1988 title for Penske with four wins.

Jacques Villeneuve

When Villeneuve’s F1 career ended in 2006 he hadn’t set foot on the podium in five seasons. That makes it easy to forget the impact the son-of-Gilles had when he arrived on the scene in 1996. Fresh from winning the CART title in his second year, he’d also won the Indianapolis 500 despite falling two laps behind at one stage.

Pole position and second place at his Grand Prix debut, followed by his first F1 win in round four, merely confirmed the promise he had shown in CART. After missing out on the championship to the more experienced Damon Hill that year he delivered the title in 1997. But little went right for Villeneuve from then on: Williams slumped, BAR was a dreadful mistake and BMW dropped him to make way for Robert Kubica.

Justin Wilson

Wilson went to the lengths of selling shares in himself to fund his motor racing career. He got a shot at the big-time with a mid-season promotion from Minardi to Jaguar in 2003, but was dropped for Christian Klien over the winter. He kept Bourdais honest in the mid-2000s in Champ Car and continued in the series post-reunification. Wilson’s most recent IndyCar win was at Texas last year and he finished third behind Sato and Rahal on Sunday.

Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi

The definition of a motor racing hero. Zanardi’s first stint in F1 did not go to plan but a hugely successful period in CART with Ganassi reignited interest in his talents. Zanardi won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998, the latter including a stunning win at Long Beach having fallen to 19th at one stage (below). But his return to F1 with Williams in 1999 was a huge disappointment.

Having switched back to CART in 2001, a brutal crash at the Lausitzring tore off both his legs and left him fighting for his life. Incredibly he survived and with the use of prosthetic legs has won races in the World Touring Car Championship and gold medals in Paralympic cycling. He is even rumoured to be considering a return to the Indianapolis 500.

Video and pictures: Takuma Sato wins the Long Beach Grand Prix

Sato’s victory on Sunday was his first win since the 2001 Macau Formula Three Grand Prix. He made his Formula One debut for Jordan the year after that, scoring his first points in his home race at Suzuka.

One year later at the same track he made his return to F1 racing with BAR, finishing in the points again as he took Villeneuve’s place at the team. He continued with the team in 2004, scoring the podium finish of his career at Indianapolis.

Honda took over BAR in 2006 but did not retain Sato – he was moved to the new team Super Aguri, who began the season using a four-year-old Arrows chassis. When the team closed in early 2008, Sato’s F1 career came to an end.

He switched to IndyCar in 2010 and came close to winning last year’s Indianapolis 500, crashing out while trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the final lap. He finished a close second to Helio Castroneves in Edmonton later in the season, and moved from RLL to AJ Foyt’s team this year ahead of his breakthrough win.

Series: CART drivers who raced in F1


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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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50 comments on “Sato joins F1’s list of IndyCar winners”

  1. Brilliant post Keith, really good. Quite a few drivers I didn’t know about either.

    Even when it went yellow and all Sato had to do was cruise around the final few turns, I was still really nervous and expecting him to bin it or spin off. Absolutely chuffed for him and it SLIGHTLY eases the pain of last year’s Indy 500.

    1. So happy to watch back the 1997 Detroit final lap, that was epic. Grag Moore!

      1999 was a hard season for me – I was supporting Montoya – with two live death Gonzalo Rodriguez and Greg Moore.

    2. +1
      GREAT Post. This is why I keep coming back to your site.

      If Kobayashi can’t get a ride back in F1 (where is he now anyway?) I wouldn’t mind seeing him in Indy.

      1. Kobayashi is in WEC. He is racing for AF Corse (Ferrari “works” GT team), and doing quite well.

    3. great post, like it

    4. Ha, for me it read as a “oh, yeah, I remember that guy from Indycars” article, I’ve seen many of them race and hadn’t even realized they had even raced in F1!

  2. Ah I miss champcar. It might be rose coloured specs but it brings back good memories of watching it FREE on eurosport as a teen in the era of that Blundel win, I remember the race well.

  3. The 2013 Toyota Grand prix of Long Beach highlights video has to be some of the worst, most amateur racing I’ve ever seen. Some of those over takes/crashes are awful, I don’t watch Indy Car at all and that just verified why.

    1. Yeah it’s kinda sad what Indycar has become. Big clumsy silly looking cars, clumsy drivers and terrible tracks.

      1. terrible tracks

        whats so terrible about the tracks? indycar race on some great tracks.

        barber, long beach, sao paulo, indy, texas, milwaukee, toronto, mid-ohio, baltimore, sonoma & fontana are all good circuits which are very popular amongst the fans & drivers.

        fontana was added last year because the fans wanted to see indycar race on a big, wide oval. pocono has been added this year because the fans were vocal about wanting indycar to go back there. the old champcar houston circuit has been brought back to fan applause.

        also consider that the racing on all the circuits they raced on in 2012 was fantastic so clearly they run on circuits which are not only popular amongst its fans & drivers but there also circuits which produced good racing & overtaking.

        Big clumsy silly looking cars

        the cars are actually no bigger than f1 cars.
        cars may look odd but there not designed for looks, there designed for racing & as i describe above the racing with the car has been fantastic.

        its a car that doesn’t need gimmicks like the drs or artificially designed high wear tyres or even silly green systems like kers to produce good racing, it does it on its own.

        clumsy drivers

        at long beach yes, however go watch the racing on other circuits such as barber & you will see some fine driving been put on by some very good drivers, several of which were at one point considered good enough for f1 so they can’t be that bad.

        i think much of the criticism indycar gets is either from f1 elitist’s who think f1 is the only thing that deserves to be out there or from champcar fans who are still bitter that there series failed.

        the people who actually watch indycar regularly love it because it produces great racing & there are some f1 fans starting to look at indycar more closely because of there dislike for the artificial gimmicks that f1 needs to produce good racing.

        if you want to snub your nose at it then you keep watching your artificial gimmick ridden f1 which puts on unexciting racing & boring highway passing while indycar continues to put on real, pure, exciting, no gimmick racing!

    2. @kartingjimbo – agreed, that’s some of the worst racing I’ve ever seen: if Ryan Hunter-Reay really is the best driver in that series (going by last years championship) and he made an error like that what does that say about the quality of the series as a whole? It’s quite saddening actually…

    3. Don’t judge the quality of the series based on this 1 race, Yes there was some stupid mistakes at Long Beach but thats not the sort of thing you see every weekend & is more down to the nature of the circuit. Long Beach has traditionally been a place full of silly looking errors & accidents, Especially since the circuit got extremely bumpy in the braking zones.

      Go watch highlights from other races before making judgement on the series as a whole.-
      Those are much more representative of the quality of driving & racing you see in Indycar.

      I’ve said a few times recently & stick by it today that in terms of the ‘racing’, Indycar has been better & way more exciting to watch than F1 since they introduced the current car.
      There’s no silly gimmicks like DRS (So all passing in Indycar is exciting to watch unlike F1), no tires that wear in 6 laps (So drivers can push & race hard), Its just pure, hard fought racing which overall is way more enjoyable & exciting to watch than anything F1’s managed to do in the DRS/Pirelli era.

      I’ve been going to the F1 race at Montreal since the early 80s, This year I won’t be going but will be going to the Indycar races at Toronto & Belle-Isle.

      1. Push to Pass?

        1. Ah but P2P is available to everyone to both attack & defend, It also doesn’t drive people clear past another car, It only helps you get alongside or a bit closer. Its an overtake assist rather than an passing device like the DRS.

          DRS is only available to cars behind when there 1 second behind & in certain areas of the track, That makes it artificial & gimmickey. If they ran DRS like P2P & if it worked as an assist like P2P I’d have no issue with it. My issue with DRS is purely the way its used/works & the impact that has on the racing.

          1. It’s still just as artificial. It’s there to artificially aid overtaking in the same way as DRS. The differences are in the functionality (and rules) and the level of effectivity.

            Both the devices aim to a scenario in which one driver uses it and the other doesn’t, exactly what makes them effective. If this wasn’t the case both the devices could be used everywhere and every time (and would be: otherwise there would a significant deficit for the driver deciding not to) and would create an equal amount of additional performance for every driver. The devices wouldn’t make a single bit of difference in anything.

            Just because the decision that was made with IndyCar was different, doesn’t make the system any less “artificial”. It’s there to create performance difference between two “equal” cars.(the word “artificial” in itself doesn’t really even fit within the discussion because it basically equals with “man-made”; and both the sports are obviously exactly that)

      2. I realise this roger, but I still stand by the point that the amount of crashes that happen in Indycar far outweigh the number in F1, which to me says F1 drivers > Indycar drivers. I also think it speaks volumes that F1 is always the benchmark.

        1. But consider that Indycar drivers are racing on the limit more than F1 in cars that don’t have as much downforce as F1 cars, Don’t produce as much grip as F1 cars & with brakes that are not as efficient as F1 cars.

          The modern F1 driver is only running about at about 80% trying to hit a pre-determined lap-time so there’s less chance of drivers making mistakes.

          I can remember races in F1 when drivers were pushing closer to the limits where there was a lot of retirements due to spins or accidents & when less cars finished the races as a result.

          Plus consider that in Indycar & most other forms of American racing you have the pace car used more frequently than F1 which leads to double file restarts.
          The only time you get cars all bunched together like that in F1 are on the starts which is where you often see contact on the tight street tracks like Monaco (Which is really the only comparison to long beach).

          the prior race at barber motorsport park featured practically no contact & only 1 brief pace car on the 1st lap, rest of the race went caution free.

          1. You basically explained a list of differences in technology, rules and tracks between F1 and IndyCar but that doesn’t really tell us anything about the driving standards between the sports.

            Not that I would be able to explain anything more relevant.

    4. I often get the same feeling when watching those races. And Sebastien Bourdais pretty much summed up the level of racing between Champ/Indy vs F1.

      1. Can’t compare the ChampCar Seb raced in to the current Indycar.

        By the time Bourdais went to CC the quality of the field had declined as most of the top teams/drivers had switched to the IRL. Newman/Haas were really the only consistently competitive team left in CC & they had the biggest budget so Bourdais had a decent advantage over the rest of the field.

        The new merged Indycar is a much better field with far more quality teams/drivers than what Champcar had over its final years.

        Having said that though I still think Bourdais is a top talent, He’s been at the front & won in everything he’s ever raced in with F1 been the exception. Also worth pointing out that back in 2002 when he got test’s with Renault he was as fast as Alonso & was offered a contract but refused it because Briatore wanted it to include a management deal.
        He also did a test with Arrows & was immediately offered a contract based on his pace, Would have raced with them in 2003 had they not folded Mid-2002.

        Also when considering quality of field, Drivers who were hardly awful in F1 like Barrichello & Sato didn’t exactly go over & blow the field away so the quality of the drivers can’t be that bad.

    5. Have to take issue with this. Worst, most amateur racing? Did you see how much carbon fibre lay on the track after the first few laps at China? These guys in Indycar make four or five flying starts per race, with the entire pack diving from 180mph into a concrete-walled funnel.

      Hunter-Reay goofed, but they have no tyre warmers in Indycar, and they’re racing on tracks that have almost no room for error. If you’re judging that mistake on that type of track as an indicator of driver quality, you’ll have to lump both Schumacher and Senna in the same category. In any modern F1 race, they skip over a kerb, onto the tarmac runoff and get back onto the track – it happens all the way through the F1 field. I’d take tracks like Long Beach and Barber over any lifeless Tilkedrome.

      Sure, the cars aren’t great, but they’re a damn sight better than they have been. A bit more power, a new engine constructor or two, another chassis manufacturer, and things could start to get back to the way they were. Which was magic.

      Awesome article, Keith. Lots of great memories. I was standing on my sofa screaming at the TV when Blundell beat out DeFerran at Portland – then he thumped the entire field at Toronto the very next race. Met him in the pits in Vancouver (where you could wander freely for the princely sum of $10) the next year – good bloke. As if quality is an issue…

    6. Onboard camera is much better than in F1, though.

      1. Your unlikely to ever see those sort of rotating cameras in F1 though for a few reasons.

        Biggest is that the teams won’t allow the extra size/weight/power consumption that the camera units & additional transmission/reception equipment thats required to run them.

        2nd is that unlike Indycar, Every F1 car carries in-car cameras which makes running moveable cameras a bit more complex as the equipment that moves them in the TV truck is paired to an individual camera.
        Which leads to the 3rd reason, FOM would have to hire a lot more crew & expand the TV truck to be able to house the additional crew & equipment to control each individual camera.

        Indycar gets around each of those problems because its a spec series so all the cars are built to house those specific cameras & equipment.
        It gets around the other problems because only about 5-6 cars carry in-car cameras so they only need crew/equipment to run those cameras (Same with Nascar).
        Those not carrying cameras carry dummy cameras & additional ballast which is the same size, shape & weight & the in-car units & additional equipment in the cars carrying live cameras.

        Moving back to F1, FOM had & still do have moveable cameras. However due to the extra size/weight on them as i already explained no team ever let them install them on a car. they did use one on a porsche support category car a few years back but thats about it.

        I think the other problem with them is that on road/street circuits you tend not to need to move them around as much as you do on an oval so there not as useful when it comes to f1.

        I love the rear wing mounted cameras they have in Indycar now though. We had them in F1 but havn’t used them since early 1998 because the teams began to refuse to let us mount cameras there as they started playing around with the flaps along the sidepods to maximise airflow over the rear tyres, Something the rear wing mounted units disrupted according to them.

        Biggest problem with in-car cameras in F1 is that you can only put them where a team lets you. Everyone carries the t-bar camera on the rollhoop & everyone must provide mounting points on the side of the car behind the driver & somewhere on the nose of each car. Even then with the side/nose placements you need teams permission to install cameras there.

        We had many interesting locations we wanted to try but were never allowed to, sometimes we got to use a certain camera once but were prevented from doing so again.
        we had a great shot looking out the back of a ferrari in late 2002, we mounted the camera on the back of the engine cover & it looked though the rear wing. we went back to try the same shot in 2003 & were told we couldn’t install the camera.
        same story with a shot looking at the pedals in 2000, we had the camera & installed it on an arrows at hungary & spa, beyond that we couldn’t find anyone that let us use it again.

        Was so frustrating to come up with a nice shot, design the camera & mounting only to be told no by all the teams.

        1. Shame about all this.

          With rotating cameras you’re so much more in the middle of the action. Like when one car drove another into the barriers during this race, and the camera of the perpetrator turned to show the victim raging…

          But even discounting the rotation, these cameras somehow bring it all closer than F1 cameras. It may be an optical illusion, I don’t know.

  4. thanks guys

    1. You should do endurance racing mate that’s where all the cool ex F1 drivers go.

  5. he quit for NASCAR after becoming disillusioned with the sport in 2006.

    disillusioned is the word. But he’s thriving there, so good for him. Great article, could have given a picture or video of Juan, considering the interwebs are overflowing with them.

    1. @aish – agreed. remember the JPM “deer on track” video/radio snippet? lol..

      1. @joepa: You mean the horse with horns? lol. He was such a legend.

  6. With this win, it makes Takuma Sato the most successful Japanese driver to race in American Open-wheel racing, does it not? He’s certainly the only Japanese to have won a race there.

    Add to that that he’s arguably the most successful Japanese driver in F1 (Aguri Suzuki and Kamui Kobayashi have both also scored the same single 3rd place finish that Sato had, and Kobayashi scored more points finishes (but in the points-for-10th-place era)… Sato still holds the best final championship position with 8th in 2004)

    I’d say he’d not done too bad for himself. at all. So happy that he finally won in IndyCar. It’s been on the cards for a while, and finally it all fell into place. He drove a very cool, calm and collected race in Long Beach. May it be the first of… well, a handful, I suspect. Several at most.

    1. Actually, I believe Sato is the first driver from the entire Asian continent to win either and F1 or Indy/IRL/Champ Car race.

    2. Now to add that Indy500 win this year … :-)

      I agree, he is doing a great job

  7. I am really pleased about Takuma Sato’s win , he is a great driver and deserves some success at last.

  8. I think Indycar gets a bad rap, People look at the car or think back to the split & when the IRL was an oval only series & wright it off as somehow been sub-par.

    However the racing the past 2 years has been simply brilliant & I’ve fast started preferring indycar over F1 simply because the racing in Indycar is so much better than what we see in F1 now with the drs & with the pirelli tyres.
    The battling, Racing & Overtaking in Indycar is so much more enjoyable to watch & so much more exciting than what we see in F1 now. OK there may be less passing, But the Overtaking you get is so much more exciting & so much more enjoyable to watch as there’s none of the easy drs style highway passes you see so often in F1 today.

    I’d honestly recommend that anyone disenchanted with the modern drs/pirelli led f1 & the poor quality racing they produce shoudl switch to watching indycar instead as its so much more enjoyable & exciting from a pure racing point of view.

    1. I’m only just starting to warm up to the IndyCar series as it is, and it was very begrudgingly.

      When the merger took place, I said to myself “If the IRL IndyCar Series is going to be the sole surviving brand of open-wheel racing in America, I won’t support it.” Unsafe and uninspired spec cars being driven by stars that were made elsewhere, the same three teams running train on the field, and a list of needless serious injuries and fatalities that is embarassing for a racing series that was founded in 1996. After Wheldon’s accident, I promised I’d never watch another race, because that put a period on everything wrong with the series – clueless leadership, dangerous racing that tries to emulate NASCAR in cars that aren’t built for it, and the list goes on and on. The fact that the DP01 chassis and Cosworth turbo formula, spec as it was, was much more attractive was an afterthought at this stage.

      So they’re finally passing the torch to this current generation of drivers, even though all of the current megastars of Indycar not named Hinchcliffe were actually made in Champ Car or F1 – while everyone wants to paint OWRS-era Champ Car as ‘Sebastien Bourdais laps a field of third rate amateurs for four years’ nowadays, Power, Allmendinger, RHR, Rahal – they were already asserting themselves as the guys who were going to be the stars of the next generation in that same series. Meanwhile, I think the only superstar driver the IRL made that didn’t just use it as a springboard to NASCAR was Dan Wheldon, and he’s gone now.

      So far, with the new chassis (which I still think makes the “step-nose” F1 cars look as sexy as a fleet of Jordan 191s), the worst injuries have been mild hand injuries to Newgarden and Kimball – but Conway’s crash at Indy last year could have been way worse. They’ve fixed the problems of cars running too close on high-speed ovals like Texas and cars getting airborne from wheel-to-wheel contact. The new generation of drivers is taking over, and more teams are legitimately competitive. I’d love for there to be more chassis suppliers, but at least having two engine companies – and turbos too! – is a start.

      It’ll never be as good as the CART races of the 1990s in my eyes, and I’d still rather watch F1/MotoGP/WRC/Super GT/NASCAR – but if they just keep going on this path, I might have some faith in the future of American open-wheel again.

  9. I know it’s not the core issue of this article, but if I was the gardener for those flowers etc around that fountain (turn 2-3 I think) I would not enjoy watching a race haha. One mistake by a driver and all your work destroyed!

  10. Great document but I have to nit-pick about Michael Andretti. He as not simply “very competitive” as its put above. He was a champion and has held many records in the series. He is still one of the most successful Indy car drivers of all time despite his single title.

    1. I would add to that Michael was a much better driver than his stint in F1 leads people to believe. The whole thing with him running in F1 was handled poorly by both Michael & the McLaren team, Made worse by the fact he was team mates to the best driver on the grid at the time.

    2. @dmw I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. A great driver, and he continues on as a very successful team owner / manager. His aborted season at McLaren was quite the mess though, a good bit of it self inflicted, and amongst many of the non-American F1 faithful, that unfortunate year is probably his main legacy. On the other hand, here in the US he is still thought of pretty highly. Maybe not so much as his dad, though :)

  11. I’ve got a fair bit of Champcar/Indycar stuff on my Youtube channel:

  12. That era of ChampCar/CART was simply the amazing, compare to that **** they have now called IndyCar.

    1. racing in the current indycar is way better & way more competitive through the field than cart/champcar ever was.

      the cars in cart/champcar were cool & they did have more power, but the racing was often a bit dull, something going back & watching some races recently has reminded me. there was very little overtaking & the field spread was enormous.

      in the current indycar there’s very rarely a dull race, there’s loads of overtaking & the field is very close throughout & you have maybe 8-10 drivers capable of winning each weekend in 4-5 teams.

      as much as i loved cart/champcar back in the day, i think what we have now is far more exciting each weekend.

  13. Great stories and reporting. I started in the mid 60s watching racers race in different series in the same year which led from the Indy 500 to F1 by way of Clark, Gurney, Andretti and the rest, to the way it is now. Interesting to see the drivers who have gone back and forth between series, some more successfully than others. Nice to see the Greg Moore video and the mention in the Juan Pablo Montoya segment. Still heartbreaking to think what might have been. I really was hoping that Moore would take a crack at F1 after a couple of great seasons racing for Penske. I believe he had the talent for F1.

    I worked with a 3rd tier NASCAR racing team for several years. My capacity was as photographer and web designer, I didn’t touch the cars much, probably a good thing. We raced each season at Fontana (California Speedway) and couldn’t escape the flood of memories of Greg Moore every time we went there. Our driver did win there one year and at least that was a positive and fun experience.

    As a fairly long time observer of F1, Indy Car, NASCAR and other types of racing I hope the racing stays good and the politics stay out. Watching what happened with the CART/IRL/ChampCar debacle, I would never wish that upon our beloved Formula 1. The gigantic egos and governing bodies can get out of hand at the expense of the sport if not held in check. Bernie gets a lot of flak, but Tony George makes Bernie look like a complete genius. Even with something of a resurgence, open wheel racing in the states is still recovering from the split. Long live open wheel racing!

  14. I’m glad to read this. I’m very happy for Sato’s first win in IndyCar Series. During his seasons in F1 with Jordan and Bar he showed good capacities. Sato and Kobayashi were the strongest F1 japanese drivers ever and deserved others careers!

  15. The IndyCar street circuits are way too narrow and tight to allow any kind of proper racing – imagine Monaco being repeated 6 times during the season.

    Road courses are a little better, but even then, they’re usually too narrow. Mid-Ohio is a beautiful track but its just too hard to pass.

    Those moments in F1 where we get two drivers battling corner after corner, wheel-to-wheel, are all too rare in IndyCar.

  16. Even though I am originally form Indianapolis and grew up with all the greats of the 60’s and 70’s, including greats drivers from all over the world, I soured on US open wheel because of the politics and egos. I have been a huge F1 and NASCAR fan because of their distinct differences. IndyCar is making a comeback with it’s own star power. Great to see this lively article and thread. Racing is great no matter where you come from.

  17. In the Emerson Fittipaldi video, at about 4:25, the announcer says: “…Seven laps to go and there’s no reason to hold back in any respect.”

    Would our current tires allow for two world champions to battle lap after lap with no reason to hold back?

    1. Just look at Vettel doing just that in China.

      Its much the same really. After having put on their last set of tyres, (and having refuelled to make it to the end) the gloves came off.

  18. Such memories! The glory days of American Open-Wheel racing. Thanks for this post, Keith.

    The only reason I ever got serious about Formula 1 was the in-fighting between Champ Car and IndyCar. I forgot just how great all that racing was.

    Alex Zanardi and Jacques Villenueve will always be heroes of mine for their massive success in Champ Cars.

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