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Seven With Steve: Seven Most Impressive IndyCar Debuts of the Last 25 years.

Tristan Vautier will be making his IndyCar debut on the streets of St. Petersburg. While rookies don’t always make a splash in their debut, Tristan did win in his 2010 Star Mazda debut, and his 2012 Indy Lights debut. With that in mind, let’s take a look at seven impressive modern-day IndyCar debuts:

7. Tomas Scheckter at Homestead Miami Speedway in the 2002 Grand Prix of Miami. The former Jaguar Formula One test driver was making his first start on an oval for Eddie Cheever’s Red Bull Racing team. He qualified an impressive 3rd in his Infiniti powered Dallara and brought it home in a respectable eighth place. He likely would have been higher on this list if he had not knocked his boss and teammate out of the race on the second lap. The swift South African showed his pace at Homestead wasn’t a fluke as he immediately took to oval racing. He lead 85 laps in his rookie Indianapolis 500 before crashing out, and he went on to win the Michigan Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway later that summer.

6. Stefan Johansson at The Raceway on Belle Isle Park in the 1992 ITT Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit. Tony Bettenhausen, Jr. started out the 1992 season driving for his own team, but after failing to qualify, he turned the car over to Formula One veteran Stefan Johansson for all but three of the remaining races. The Swedish CART “rookie” who had a decade of experience in Formula One made his debut at the new Raceway on Belle Isle park. Johansson qualified the Chevy A powered year old Penske PC-20 in on the outside of the 4th row and didn’t put a wheel wrong all race. He finished the 77 lap race in third place, joining Bobby Rahal and Raul Boesel on the podium.

5. Robert Doornbos at the Las Vegas Street Circuit in the 2007 Vegas Grand Prix. The young Dutch driver spent his first two years in Formula One as a test driver for Jordan before making his first race start for Paul Stoddart’s Minardi team. When Stoddart bought into HVM racing, he brought Doornbos with him to the Champ Car World Series. Doornbos’ mediocre results in pre-season testing led many to believe that this was another Formula One cast-off. Boy, were they wrong; “Bobby” qualified third for his first race in the USA. Despite having never experienced rolling starts, cold tires, or having to save fuel, Doornbos drove a very clean and smart race to bring his Cosworth powered Panoz home in 2nd place.

4. Buzz Calkins at Walt Disney World Speedway in the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World. The maiden IRL race featured quite a few retirements for mechanical issues and wrecks, but that does not diminish from the stellar drive put in during his maiden race in the “big cars”. Calkins spent 1993-1995 prepping in Indy Lights and had improved his championship position each year. His family run Bradley Motorsports had been with him since his days in karts and SCCA, with sponsorship from the family owned chain of Bradley Food Marts. His bright red 1995 Reynard Cosworth XB, previously owned by Derrick Walker, qualified 5th. Buzz found that the the IndyCar suited his driving style and he took the lead from fellow rookie Tony Stewart on the 66th lap of the 200 lap race. He held off a determined Stewart after a restart with 6 laps to go to take the checkered flags as one of the most unlikely IndyCar winners ever.

3. Nigel Mansell at Surfers Paradise in the 1993 Australian FAI IndyCar Grand Prix. After a very public parting with his Williams team and with no other competitive offers in Formula One, the defending World Champion made the stunning move to the USA. Interest in his move was immense, with record crowds lining the circuit and 800 media members being accredited for the season’s first race in Australia. Mansell did not disappoint, piloting his Ford Cosworth XB powered Lola T9300 to both a track record and the pole. Mansell was swamped by his more experienced competitors on his first rolling start and found himself in fourth place after the first lap. By lap 15, he had picked his way by Robby Gordon, Paul Tracy and Emerson Fittipaldi only to find himself black flagged for passing under the yellow. After serving his penalty and making an extra pit stop with a tire issue, the 39 year old put on a masterful driving display to win the race by 5 seconds to become the first “rookie” IndyCar winner since his idol Graham Hill had won the Indianapolis 500 in 1966.

2. Greg Moore at Homestead Miami Speedway in the 1996 Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota. The 20 year old Moore and team owner Gerry Forsythe moved up to the 'big cars’ after winning the 1995 Indy Lights championship in dominating fashion. The single car team showed it’s promise in pre-season testing, and in qualifying, where Moore put the Reynard Cosworth on the outside of the 3rd row. A start and stop race in the early going saw the young Moore holding his own around the top 5 with veterans Robby Gordon, Scott Pruett, and Bobby Rahal. However with 70 laps to go, the rookie driver was black flagged for a mistake in the pits and fell a lap behind. In the remaining 63 laps Moore was nothing short of spectacular, passing race leader Jimmy Vasser to get his lap back and driving all the way up to a stellar 7th place finish.

1. Steve Knapp at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 1998 Indianapolis 500. The unlikely 34 year old Rookie of The Year started his racing career working as a mechanic on his father’s Formula Vee (FV) team in the 1970’s, which lead to a job building FV engines while also racing on the weekend. Throughout the 1980’s Knapp continued as an engine builder while winning championships in FV, Formula Ford and various iterations of SCCA S2000 cars. It was during this time he forged a relationship with Carl Haas, and with funding drying up for his racing career, he went to work for the Newman/Haas CART team managing their testing program. In the early 90’s Steve and his wife founded Elite Engines (which he still runs today) to build engines and service the Van Dieman chassis he was selling. It was one of these customers, businessman John Miller, that helped him formulate a plan to take part in the 1998 Indianapolis 500. The first step in 1996 was the FF2000 championship, which Steve won at the last race. The second step was the 1997 Toyota Atlantic Championship, in which Kanpp compiled two podiums and eight top tens on his way to a 6th place in the final standings. Knapp and Miller scraped, scrapped and called in favors to make sure that they were at Indianapolis in May, 1998. Steve had a quiet month and qualified his Oldsmobile powered G-Force in 23rd spot. He moved steadily forward during the race to finish an astonishing third behind veterans Buddy Lazier and winner Eddie Cheever.

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Geplaatst 03-18-2013, 01:11 am
Gewijzigd 03-18-2013, 02:11 am
Geschreven door S. Wittich
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  Eén reactie!

Patrick, 03-18-2013, 08:02 pm

Cool story! I guess Sebastien Bourdais would also made it into the top 7 with he debut at St. Pete in 2003, if he didn't hit the wall during the race Knipoog But still quite impressive to qualify on pole in your debut race and lead 30 laps. Knipoog


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