IndyCar Season in Review: A rookie field for the ages

Michael Eubanks

The future of the NTT IndyCar Series will be a bright one, and if 2019’s rookie class was any indication, there will be a lot of new faces in victory lane within the coming years.

Of the 22 full-time entries that ran this season, four of them were piloted by rookie drivers – each of whom showed that they belong in North America’s premier open-wheel racing series.

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With his sixth-place finish in the overall points standings, Felix Rosenqvist was awarded the Rookie of the Year title following the series finale at Laguna Seca last month. By doing so, he became the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver to win the title since Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999. 

Rosenqvist’s 2019 performance included a pole position in the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, as well as two podiums – including a close second-place finish to teammate Scott Dixon at Mid-Ohio.

“It was a hell of a year,” Rosenqvist told reporters following the final race of the season. “My Chip Ganassi NTT DATA crew has just been flawless all season, especially the pit crew.

“They’ve just never done any mistakes, just a few slip-ups, but I think we had the most solid crew of anyone this year, and I think they deserve this sixth finish in the championship and Rookie of the Year.”

After completing a very respectable rookie season with the team, Rosenqivst will return to CGR next season to continue driving the No. 10 Honda.

Finishing right behind Roseqnvist in the Rookie of the Year title hunt was 19-year-old Colton Herta, who was the only one of the four rookies to win a race this year.

In only his third career IndyCar start, Herta won the inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas in March, becoming the youngest driver in series history to win a race at 18 years, 359 days old. 

In June, Herta then became the youngest polesitter in series history when he claimed the top starting position at Road America. He eventually won two more poles in the final two races of the season this year at Portland and the season-ending race at Laguna Seca, where he collected his second win of the season. 

Though a few DNFs hindered Herta’s 2019 performance, he easily proved this year that he can keep up with seasoned veterans.

Herta will have the opportunity to contend for even more victories and possibly even a championship next season as his Harding Steinbrenner Racing team recently merged with Andretti Autosport. 

Santino Ferrucci also enjoyed plenty of success in his first full-time IndyCar season, finishing 12th in the overall standings.

The Woodbury, Connecticut native returned to the U.S. last year after pursuing a Formula One career in Europe, and after four starts in 2018, Ferrucci was ready to run the full schedule this year for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan. 

Ferrucci’s performances this year, particularly on the ovals, impressed many. His seventh-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 earned him the race’s Rookie of the Year honors, and he finished fourth in the following oval events at Texas, Pocono and Gateway. 

“With Indy, I learned so much,” Ferrucci told NBC Sports at Laguna Seca. “Going back to the Indy 500 next year, I think we’ll be in contention to win the race just based on how we finished and what we were able to do on the ovals this season.”

Though Ferrucci has not revealed his 2020 plans just yet, a return to DCR next season is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.  

Marcus Ericsson was the fourth and final rookie to compete full-time this season, and although he finished 17th in the overall points standings, the five-year Formula One veteran entered his maiden IndyCar season with a vast background of open-wheel racing experience.

Though Ericsson’s rookie campaign was not as nearly as memorable as his fellow ROTY contenders, Ericsson did score three top 10’s this season, with a second-place finish in the second of a doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle circuit. 

Already experiencing a greater amount of success than he had in F1, Ericsson has publicly expressed a desire to continue racing in IndyCar, and with the announcement that he will join fellow Swede Rosenqvist at Ganassi next season, perhaps the 29-year-old can use the experience he gained in his rookie season to put together a solid sophomore performance in 2020.

With the 2020 IndyCar Series season already on the horizon, there will be new names fighting for the Rookie of the Year title next year, and both Oliver Askew and Rinus Veekay remain the top rookie prospects for the coming season.

As the youth movement invades the IndyCar paddock, fans will have several new names to learn and faces to meet. Still, as the years go forward, 2019 will likely be remembered by many as the season that several of IndyCar’s future stars got their start.

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