The 2017 Indy 500 Rookie Class

Fernando Alonso (Photo: Larry Clarino/RIS)


INDIANAPOLIS -RIS- (May 26, 2017) Indianapolis 500 first-timers - rookies - have been a part of the lore of the track for decades. Tracking the histories of Indy 500 luminaries back to their rookie years shows their progress and tragedies.

Indy has been won by rookies ten times: Ray Harroun (1911), Jules Goux (1913), Rene Thomas (1914), Frank Lockhart (1926), George Souders (1927), Louis Meyer (1928), Graham Hill (1966), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Helio Castroneves (2001), and last year’s winner, Alexander Rossi.

There could easily be a rookie winner this year, so let’s take a look at the four 2017 Indy rookie class.

#29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti
Arguably, the biggest story of the IndyCar year has been the decision by two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to run Indy. Alonso’s F1 program, McLaren/Honda, is headed by former Indianapolis resident and mastermind behind Just Marketing, Inc. (now CSM), Zak Brown. Brown’s Indy car connections run deep, and as the story goes, Brown learned of Alonso’s interest in competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the 24-Hours of Le Mans endurance race.

IndyCar drivers have a history of running F1 and Le Mans - such drivers as Juan Pablo Montoya, Alexander Rossi, Mario Andretti, Derek Daly, Takuma Sato and Mark Donohue in F1, and such drivers as AJ Foyt, Dan Gurney, Roger McCluskey, Johnny O’Connell, and Davy Jones at Le Mans. But transfers from F1 to Indy have become uncommon since such F1 stars as Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, and Jochen Rindt came to Indy.

Retired F1 drivers have been to Indy in the past. Joining 1993 CART champ Nigel Mansell are drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, and Rubens Barrichello all have decided to give the deceptively simple oval layout of Indy a try - with wildly variable success.

Alonso’s decision to skip the Grand Prix of Monaco to run Indy is a bold one, but also borne of Alonso’s frustration at he team’s performance this year in F1. Brown, seeing an opportunity to give his F1 sponsors a spotlight they can’t find anywhere else, worked out details with IndyCar, Andretti Autosport, and Honda, and negotiated to take Stefan Wilson’s engine deal for Indy, and put Alonso in the car.

The 35-year old Spaniard and resident of Dubai won the Formula One World Championship twice, in 2005 and 2006. The Dale Earnhardt, Jr. of F1, Alonso is consistently one of the most popular drivers in that series. Autosport Magazine rates him as the eighth-best F1 driver of all time.

He started life in karting, moving up to the Euro Open Movistar by Nissan championship in 1999 and finished
fourth in FIA F3000 Championship for Team Astromega a year later. His F1 debut came 2001 with Minardi. He has since driven for Renault, McLaren, and Ferrari.

Following on the heels of Kurt Busch’s 2014 Indy 500 shot, Alonso’s presence has brought a lot of global attention to Indy.

Given this season’s McLaren/Honda issues, he is currently 17th in 2017 F1 standings.

#19 Boy Scouts of America Honda
Jones comes to the Indy 500 with strong IndyCar roots, having won the Indy Lights championship in 2016, earning eight podiums, eight poles, and two victories.

Jones was born in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and - like most modern drivers - emerged from karting to rise to higher horsepowered cars. He spent time in Eurocup Formula Renault before becoming the youngest European F3 Open champion in 2013, with six wins, ten podiums, and four poles.

He moved to Indy Lights in 2015, finishing third in his rookie season, earning him a test at Sonoma with Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing.

He’s racing here at Indy with Dale Coyne.

#50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda
This 24-year old Englishman arrived at Indy with experienced team owner Michael Shank in a cooperative effort with Andretti Autosport.

Like most drivers today, his start was in a kart. He was MSA Super One British karting champion in 2006, going on to European and Asia-Pacific karting championships the next two years. Formula BMW Europe had his focus in 2009 and 2010 before he was promoted to the British Formula 3 competition in 2011, winning the championship the next year.

After a year with GP3, Harvey moved across the Atlantic, and competed in the Indy Lights in 2014, finishing second to fellow IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves. He finished second again the next year, winning two races - including the Indy Lights biggest race, the Freedom 100 here on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

#40 Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet
Veach is the field’s slowest qualifier in the #40 AJ Foyt-prepared machine, but there is nothing slow about the this talented Buckeye-stater.

Discovered by Sarah Fisher’s father, Dave, Veach got an opportunity to grow with the USF2000 championship, under the tutelage of IndyCar great Michael Andretti. He finished fifth in 2010, fourth the next year, but also snared the USF2000 Winterfest Championship.

In 2012, he won the Formula Car Challenge presented by Cooper Tires Winter Series championship, and went on to finish fifth in the Star Mazda Championship, still with Andretti Autosport.

His rookie season with Indy Lights in 2013 saw some struggles, finishing seventh with his rookie Andretti Lights program. He was third in Indy Lights standings in 2014, with three wins, nine podium finishes, four poles.

His 2016 year in Indy Lights yielded him a series fourth-place, but notably saw him become the first Indy Lights driver to break 200 mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an Indy Lights car. (201.455 mph)

Tom Beeler

Tom has been a contributor to RIS since 1992. He was invited to join the staff as a full-time reporter/editor in 1995, and has covered IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR, Grand-Am, ALMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In addition to his RIS work, Tom has been a contributor for General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and the ACO.

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Volume 2017, Issue 5, Posted 11:31 AM, 05.26.2017