INDYCAR has conducted a season-long promotional campaign titled “NEXT.”
It asks similar-themed questions for Verizon IndyCar Series followers, such as:
A glance at Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto podium may well have answered that last question. With Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe hoisting the hardware following the race on the streets of Exhibition Place, the future of the Verizon IndyCar Series looks bright indeed.
Newgarden is 26 years old, in his sixth season in the series and Sunday collected his fifth career win – all in the past three years. Joining Team Penske in 2017, where the Tennessean appears set for the long term, will take his trajectory only higher.
Rossi, 25, was a last-minute addition to Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian in 2016 after his path to Formula One dried up. The Californian adapted quickly to the diverse Verizon IndyCar Series schedule and will forever be remembered as the stunning winner of the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil last year.
While Sunday’s second-place finish marked his first podium since the Indy triumph, Rossi has shown to be calm and quick on all types of circuits. His race craft was honed in Europe and, now that he is familiar with the INDYCAR tracks and demands of each, Rossi is shining on a regular basis.
"It's important that the young guys are getting results," Rossi said after the Toronto race. "That is what's going to keep the sport growing and moving forward like it has been. Like I said, there's a lot of really good guys in this championship. It's good just to be within a fighting shot of getting wins."
Hinchcliffe, 30, is the veteran of the trio – competing in his seventh Verizon IndyCar Series season. The popular Canadian logged his fifth career win at Long Beach in April and 100th start at Iowa on July 9. His third-place finish at Toronto is his third podium of the season for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“I was thinking about that. I look at the podium, this is exactly what Indy car racing is going to be,” Hinchcliffe said at Toronto. “It's kind of already here, which is great to see. I think it's great for the series, great for the sport, that the guys that are going to be flying the flag for that ‘NEXT’ generation of driver are already at the front and challenging for race wins.”
The present of Verizon IndyCar Series is certainly in capable hands. Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power have combined for 173 race wins, seven Indianapolis 500 victories and 11 season championships. But they range in age from 42 to 36 (happy early birthday to Dixon, who turns 37 on Saturday) and won’t race forever.
The cupboard is hardly bare when each one of that super seven decides to hang up the helmet. Along with the Toronto podium trio, Simon Pagenaud (33), Marco Andretti (30) and Graham Rahal (28) are established winners ready to carve their own slices of Indy car history.
“It's what the fans want to see,” opined Hinchcliffe. “It's selfishly what Josef and Alex and I want to see. Hopefully we'll keep it going.”
Of course, it’s not like the old-timers of the Verizon IndyCar Series are pulling into the slow lane anytime soon. Those geezers 36 and older? They’ve won six of the first 12 races and collected nine Verizon P1 Awards for the pole position this season.
“The crazy thing is the old guys are still pretty damn fast,” Rossi said, sounding half baffled and half admiring. “Figuring out how to beat them … is something we’ve got to do.”