Defying Everything: 2021 NTT Data IndyCar Series Preview

Photo Credit: Chris Tello

The mission statement for the 2021 NTT Data IndyCar Series is a showcase of why these athletes choose to defy all the odds.

Fearless and daring. The sacrifice in which the athletes of the NTT Data IndyCar Series is the ideal keynote in the narration of a 2021 campaign symbolizing a story as to why these athletes choose to defy all the odds, not merely to capture the most prestigious series championship in all of North American Open-Wheel Racing, the Astor Cup, but in risking their lives for eternal glory.

For 17 races over the course of 24 weeks, these athletes will compete at a variety of venues compatible with open-wheel racing, including six different permanent road course stadiums, five different temporary street circuits, and three different layouts of oval tracks. It is the ultimate test of an automobile racing athlete to master the art of multiple circuit layouts. Mastering these formats sets one amongst the list greatest of all-time.

When looking at the roster of competitors for this campaign, not merely for promotional purposes, but a winning argument can be made that the best automobile racing athletes in North America, are competing in the NTT Data IndyCar Series in 2021. 10 different teams will field a combined total of 24 full-time entries, with athletes representing 16 different nations from around the world.

These athletes have not merely competed throughout many different forms of motorsport during their respective careers, but have walked away with the one title any athlete wants to be remembered as: champion.

These athletes have competed all over the world, capturing championships not merely in the NTT Data IndyCar Series, but in Formula 3, International Formula 3000, the Champ Car Atlantic Series, the Champ Car World Series, Pacific Formula F1600, Formula BMW, the Indy Lights Series, Formula Renault 2.0, GP2, Formula 2000, Pro Mazda, Formula Ford, V8 SuperCars and of course, NASCAR.

The American Racers:

Josef Newgarden – The early favorite to capture his third Astor Cup after capturing it in both 2017 and 2019. The 30-year-old from Hendersonville, Tennessee is entering his 10th season competing in the NTT Data IndyCar Series (his fourth while driving for Team Penske) and has already made a name for himself as to why he’s among automobile racing’s greatest athletes competing today. The only thing that is missing from his already impressive resume, is a Borg-Warner Trophy one receives after capturing victory in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Colton Herta – The second-generation 21-year-old from Valencia, California has proven why he is an up-and-coming star here in the United States. After winning the championship in Pacific Formula F1600, he caught the eye of George Steinbrenner IV. In a team partnered with Michael Andretti, Colton Herta captured six victories over the span of two seasons in the Indy Lights Series before moving up to the NTT Data IndyCar Series. Over two seasons between 2019 and 2020, he has captured three victories and placed third in the 2020 fight for the Astor Cup.

Alexander Rossi – The 2016 winner of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race enters his sixth season competing for Andretti Autosport. After a disappointing 2020 campaign featuring zero victories, merely five podiums, and placing an uncharacteristic ninth in the final standings, the Auburn, California native heads into the 2021 campaign on a hot streak, coming off of his overall victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Looking to cement his already impressive resume, the leader of the NAPA Auto Parts Honda knows that winning the Astor Cup will propel him to the discussion not only amongst the greatest athletes today but amongst the greatest of all time.

Graham Rahal – Driving for the team his father co-owns with David Letterman, the New Albany, Ohio native made a name for himself in United States Open-Wheel Racing winning five times on his way to placing second overall in the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Campaign. After capturing one victory and six podiums since moving up the main stage, it had been a lackluster career placing as high as fourth in the final standings and as low as 20th over the past 13 campaigns. After placing sixth in the final overall 2020 standings, if there was a perfect picture for the unapologetic mindset of Defy Everything, after his off-season criticism of face-masks as “ugly,” this second-generation racer is out to not only capture his first Astor Cup but to prove that he’s much more than being merely Bobby’s son.

Ryan Hunter-Reay – Originally born in Dallas, Texas now competing out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the 40-year-old American open-wheel ace has had an up-and-down career since capturing both the Astor Cup in 2012 and the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Victory in 2014. Having only won twice since the tragedy that was the ABC Supply 500 Mile Race in 2015, Ryan Hunter-Reay placed a mere 10th in the final standings of the 2020 campaign. Since capturing the Astor Cup in 2012, his best overall standings placement was fourth, three seasons ago. Coming off of a victory in the 68th edition of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, the pilot of the #28 DHL Express looks to make a career resurgence in 2021, showcasing why age is only a number and that experience should be valued over youth.

The International Racers:

Scott Dixon – Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, the reigning winner of the Astor Cup has finished atop the overall standings on six different occasions, captured the Borg-Warner Trophy in 2008, and has won at least one race in each of the past 16 campaigns. Why The Iceman is not competing in Formula One with his impressive resume, I’ll never understand.

James Hinchcliffe – After being blindsided by his replacement at Arrow-McLaren, the North York, Ontario native is back competing full-time and back behind the wheel of an Andretti Powered HONDA, competing for his first Astor Cup in the No. 29 Genesys Special.

Sébastien Bourdais – The Frenchman originally from Le Mans captured four consecutive Vanderbilt Cups in the Champ Car World Series between 2004 and 2007 before attempting to find success in Formula One. After a return to North America that one can describe as tumultuous, the Frenchman was in contention for a fifth overall championship (first Astor Cup) before breaking his pelvis attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. After finishing fourth in the 2020 Season Finale at St. Petersburg and coming off a victory at the 69th Edition of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, the 37-time race winner looks to give car owner AJ Foyt his best chance at the Astor Cup since Sweden’s Kenny Bräck placed second to Greg Ray back in 1999.

Patricio O’Ward – Only 21-years-young, the native of Monterrey, Nuevo Léon is entering his sophomore campaign driving for Arrow-McLaren. After capturing the Indy Lights Championship in 2018 and placing fourth in the 2020 campaign, his rookie season in the NTT Data IndyCar Series, his performance throughout the 2020 campaign showcased why he is a true contender for the Astor Cup.

Jack Harvey – After capturing the British Formula 3 Championship in 2012, the 27-year-old from Bassingham, Lincolnshire came to North America and placed second overall in the Cooper Tires Indy Lights campaigns of both 2014 and 2015. After a dismal 2020 campaign placing 15th in the final standings, the pilot of the #60 Autonation Honda looks to showcase why the Meyer Shank team is a powerful force in the NTT Data IndyCar Series.

The 2021 NTT Data IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Contenders:

Jimmie Johnson – From El Cajon, California, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion has made the jump to the NTT Data IndyCar Series. Johnson is the biggest franchise athlete to make the jump to IndyCar since Nigel Mansell made the jump from Williams in Formula One to Newman/Haas Racing after capturing the Formula One World Driver’s Championship in 1992. Seven-Time will be competing on the Road Course and Street Circuit events, under HONDA power after competing with Chevrolet engines throughout his entire career.

Based on the 48 team’s performance throughout this season, not only is Johnson a true contender for Rookie of the Year and the $50,000.00 bonus, he could cement his legacy as one of racing’s all-time greats by capturing the checkered flag at North America’s most prestigious street race, the ACURA Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Romain Grosjean – Originally from Geneva, Switzerland, this Frenchman has captured championships moderate yet lackluster success competing in Formula One, finishing a career-best 7th in the World Driver’s Championship Standings while competing for Lotus in 2013. Having competed all over the world, this is the Frenchman’s first tenure in a North American-based automobile racing league. The Frenchman was originally supposed to have full backing from Haas, the team in which he competed in Formula One during the past five years, yet after the crash which left the Frenchman with second-degree burns at the 2020 Gulf Air Grand Prix in Bahrain, Gene Haas pulled out of the deal. Nonetheless, the Frenchman looks to make a name for himself in North America, piloting the #51 Honda entry owned in partnership between Dale Coyne and Rick Ware.

Scott McLaughlin – Originally from Hamilton, New Zealand, this 27-year-old is the reigning and defending three-time series champion of the Virgin Australian SuperCars while driving for Dick Johnson. When Team Penske envisioned bringing McLaughlin to the United States, they originally envisioned him as a part of their ACURA SportsCar Program in IMSA. However, McLaughlin convinced the team that the NTT Data IndyCar Series was his best option, completing training during the past two seasons. Backed by PPG and Shell/Pennzoil, McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Chevrolet in his quest to make a name for himself in North America.

There are 10 teams who will be fielding 24 full-time entries amongst 28 different competitors. The International Champions in Pagenaud, Power, Sato, and Veekay will look to test the up-and-coming in Kellett, Rosenquivst, Ericsson, Palou, and Jones.

From Birmingham to Fort Worth. From Indianapolis to St. Louis. From Nashville to Long Beach. The best automobile racing athletes in North America are competing in the NTT Data IndyCar Series in 2021. These athletes put it all on the line for the sake of eternal glory, all in an effort to defy everything.

As Bob Varsha said in his opening comments of SPEED Channel’s premiere telecast of covering CART in 2002: “Folks, get ready for the American tradition of POWERFUL open-wheel race cars with a WHOLE NEW ATTITUDE…”

The 2021 NTT Data IndyCar Series will commence live from Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 18th, 2021 at 3:00 PM ET/12:00 PM PT on NBC.

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