Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske is another driver who falls into that category. The 29-year-old from New Zealand proved his greatness in the Australia Supercars Championship with three-straight titles and 56 victories.
After his third Supercars championship in 2020, McLaughlin switched gears to join Team Penske’s IndyCar operation and has become one of the series’ newest stars.
In his third season, McLaughlin is in position to grab the baton from the older group of successful drivers and carry IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 into a tremendously successful future.
It’s the same with Marcus Ericsson of Sweden. He may be 32 but this is his fifth season in IndyCar after competing in 97 Formula 1 races.
Ericsson proved his greatness with a thrilling victory in last year’s Indy 500 by defeating young Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, in a battle to the checkered flag.
Since that time, Ericsson has won more races, battled with Power for last year’s series championship and led the standings entering the month of May.
Another driver from Sweden is 31-year-old Felix Rosenqvist. The Arrow McLaren driver seems to be constantly racing for a new contract, but his fourth-place finish in last year’s Indy 500 proves he is ready to take the mantle of motorsports stardom.
It’s at this point where IndyCar’s talent level shows a bright future for the Indianapolis 500.
At 26, Alex Palou of Spain has already won the NTT IndyCar Series championship in 2021. That year, he finished second to Castroneves in the Indy 500.
But his future remains clouded as he appears to be heading to Formula 1, or to Arrow McLaren’s IndyCar team, once the final year of his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing concludes this season.
Palou’s future is optimistic, but it may not be in IndyCar.
At 24, Kyle Kirkwood proved he is a contender by driving away from the field to score his first IndyCar victory in only his 20th start during April’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Kirkwood is fast nearly every week in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport entry.
Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has shown flashes of brilliance. The 21-year-old from Denmark has become an excellent driver on Bobby Rahal’s three-car operation, which expands to four at Indy with the addition of Katherine Legge to a lineup that also includes Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey.
Callum Ilott is a supremely confident 24-year-old driver at Juncos Hollinger Racing and the British ace has often carried the car far beyond its capabilities. He certainly has the skill and confidence to succeed if the team can provide him with the proper equipment.
David Malukas, 21, and Sting Ray Robb, 21, lead the youth movement for Dale Coyne Racing.
Rinus VeeKay has already competed in 50 NTT IndyCar Series races, and he is only 22. When he qualified for the 2020 Indianapolis 500 at 19, he became the fastest teenager in Indy 500 history.
VeeKay is impressive on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, winning the GMR Grand Prix in 2021. He is back at Ed Carpenter Racing, a team that has a very strong Indy 500 program.
Best among the young drivers are two 23-year-olds who were teammates in Indy Lights at Andretti Autosport – Colton Herta of Santa Clarita, Calif., and O’Ward. These two drivers could be rivals for many years to come.
However, both want to compete in Formula 1. Team owner Michael Andretti has already indicated if he is successful in acquiring a Formula 1 entry, Herta is one of his drivers.
McLaren’s Zak Brown also has interest in O’Ward as an F-1 driver.
Stardom has been predicted for these two drivers at an early age. O’Ward finished second in last year’s Indianapolis 500 and Herta has yet to be contending at the finish, but he has the experience to become one of the greatest of his generation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
There will be a day when drivers named Castroneves, Dixon, Power, Kanaan, Sato and Pagenaud will not be on the track in the Indianapolis 500, but a talented crop of younger drivers will provide a solid future for the world’s biggest race.
This story appeared in the May 17, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.