The Next Generation

In motorsports there are names synonymous with success. Names like Andretti, Schumacher, Senna, Foyt, Lauda. These are the names that have lived on. These are the names that will remain at the core of open-wheel racing for years to come and these are the names that built the sport. These are the legends.

It isn’t easy becoming a legend in motorsports. You need the perfect mix of patience, ambition and guts. Few drivers make it to the elite level of F1 or IndyCar so when new drivers arrive on the scene, they need to make an impression immediately.

Here are the drivers who bear watching. Drivers who are making their mark on the sport—and may one day become legends themselves.

Patricio (Pato) O’Ward: In 2018 I saw O’Ward dominate the two Indy Lights races in Toronto with a first and second-place finish. It was no surprise he won the championship that season. Yes, his teammate Colton Herta, who was also in contention for the title had suffered injuries, but O’Ward demonstrated that he is a driver that does not give-up regardless of the odds. His enigmatic celebrations, his laid-back yet focused personality helped him navigate the racing scene overseas as a driver in Red-Bull’s development program. It motivated him to keep pushing once he was later cut from the team and it has now followed him back to IndyCar as a fulltime driver for the rising Arrow McLaren SP team. 

This past weekend O’Ward finished third and second respectively, in the 2020 Bommarito Automotive Group double-header races. I have a sneaky suspicion that if there were not a yellow-flag finish at the end of the second race, O’Ward would have given Josef Newgarden a run for his money and have his maiden IndyCar victory.

O’Ward is definitely one to watch.

Charles Leclerc: It’s hard to consider Leclerc a rising star in F1 because, to some, it seems he has already made it by finding great success. After his first season, Leclerc was brought onto Ferrari from Alfa Romeo Sauber, the culmination of his childhood dream. Racing in memory of his godfather Jules Bianchi and friend Anthoine Hubert, Leclerc has shown that although he is young, he deserves to be a part of the great Ferrari team. Even with the struggles the team faces this season, Leclerc continues to outrace his teammate and his car, making the bright red machine go farther than believed possible.

I know that in years to come we will talk about the great Leclerc and what he was able to achieve.

Max Verstappen: I mean…he is already a legend.

Alex Palou: There is an anecdote Townsend Bell has shared many times this season on the NBC Sports IndyCar broadcasts. He talks about a prompt that drivers were given in their pre-season PR work. Drivers were asked to describe their racing style in one word. Bell recalls that as all drivers used verbs, Palou used a noun: “Warrior.”

Warrior is right. Having no oval-track experience and driving predominately on Japan’s racing circuits, Palou has taken to IndyCar like a bee to a flower. He has shown that he is one to watch as he worked his way into the Indianapolis 500’s fast nine. He was only one of two rookies to make it.

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