Note: The editorial staff at INDYCAR.com is taking a look back at the 10 biggest moments of 2021 in INDYCAR in this year-end series, with one installment appearing on the site per day in countdown fashion from Dec. 22-31.
You’ve heard people say that old guys rule. They certainly didn’t in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2021.
Oh, sure, 46-year-old Helio Castroneves captured the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, and Scott Dixon and Will Power were other 40-somethings reaching Victory Lane during the 16-race season. But after that, youth was served in a big way.
When the season began, who could have predicted that four drivers 24 years of age and younger would win races? They did more than that, too. The combination of Alex Palou, Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward and Rinus VeeKay won nine races and seven NTT P1 Awards for pole, grabbing the series championship and occupying three of the top five positions in the overall standings.
Palou led the charge with a series title in his second season, and the strength of his effort in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing was race victories at Barber Motorsports Park (April 18), Road America (June 20) and Portland International Raceway (Sept. 12). If not for Castroneves, the 24-year-old Spaniard might have won the “500,” as well.
Herta won the season’s second race, April 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and the final two (Sept. 19 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Sept. 26 on the streets of Long Beach, California) for Andretti Autosport. When his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda was good, he was great. He led all but three of the laps at St. Pete, all but four of the laps at Laguna Seca. Five times he led more than half of the laps he completed, including 101 at World Wide Technology Raceway when he incurred driveshaft failure.
At 21, Herta already has six career wins. Only 62 drivers in INDYCAR history have more, and his next win ties him with Dan Gurney and Arie Luyendyk, among others.
O’Ward, 22, showcased his all-around talent by winning on an oval (May 2 at Texas Motor Speedway) and on a street circuit (June 13 at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park). The driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet also led this group of young drivers with three poles, and his third-place finish in the standings gave him back-to-back seasons in the top four.
VeeKay didn’t even turn 21 until the last month of the season. His rise to prominence came early in the season before he broke his collarbone in June while cycling, and he won the GMR Grand Prix on May 15 at IMS for his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory. His performance earned him a second contract with Ed Carpenter Racing.
Clearly, a movement is afoot, and it is younger than we’re accustomed to.