INDY 500 - The 2018 INDY 500 Rookie Class

Matheus Leist - the field's fastest rookie (Photo: IndyCar)


INDIANAPOLIS -RIS- (May 24, 2018)  The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race is the traditional mix of former winners, veterans, sophomore rising stars, and new guys.

Here is some background on the four rookies in this year’s starting field.

MATHEUS LEIST (#4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet - starting 11th)
Joining fellow Brazilian and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, Leist joins the venerable AJ Foyt racing program - one of the longest-running Indy car teams. Foyt, a four-time winner as driver, and winner of the 1999 Indy 500 as team owner with Kenny Brack driving, hired Leist up from Indy Lights, where he finished fourth in points last year with Carlin Racing. This 19-year old rising star won three Lights races that season - at the first Road America race, at Iowa, and dominating the Freedom 100 here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In his second year in BRDC British Formula 3, he won the championship in 2016, taking four wins, seven podiums, and top-five in 19 of 23 races. The Brillo-haired “Matt” (as Foyt calls him) rose from Brazilian Formula 3 and karting.

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (#19 Paysafe Honda with Dale Coyne Racing - starting 13th)
Zach’s hometown is Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he began his racing career. At the age of 14, he became the youngest Canadian National Karting champion. From karting, he moved to the Skip Barber Winter Series and an undefeated season in the Formula 3 MSV. A race winner in Indy Lights, he spent two years with Carlin before debuting in the Verizon IndyCar Series at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, where he started 21st and finished 17th.

KYLE KAISER (#32 NFP / Juncos Racing Chevrolet - starting 17th)
This talented 22-year old Santa Clara, California, native won the 2017 Indy Lights championship with wins at both Toronto races and at the road course here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This followed two previous seasons in Indy Lights, where he finished third (2016) and sixth (2015). A poster child for the Road to Indy series, Kaiser also competed in Pro Mazda Championship. Like most IndyCar Series drivers, his career started in karting, finishing second and winning Rookie of the Year honors in the Skip Barber Western Regional Championship.

ROBERT WICKENS (#6 Lucas Oil Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports Honda - starting 18th)
Wickens has had a blazing start in IndyCar, winning pole in the season opener at St. Petersburg. The Canadian-born Monaco resident rose to this success starting in karting, and moved up to Formula BMW USA, where he finished third as a rookie in 2005, and won the championship a year later. He participated in Champ Car Atlantic Series in 2007 before it folded, finishing third in the championship. Competing in Formula 2 and GP3, he won the Formula Renault 3.5 championship with Carlin in 2011. He moved to DTM the next year, racing Mercedes-AMGs for various teams. Last year, he participated in an IndyCar test at Road America with Schmidt-Petersen, and tested at Sebring, also with SPM. Fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe is a close friend (possibly making Wickens deputy mayor of Hinchtown).

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 2018, Issue 5, Posted 1:54 PM, 05.24.2018