Note: The editorial staff at INDYCAR.com is taking a look back at the 10 biggest moments of 2021 in INDYCAR in this year-end series, with one installment appearing on the site per day in countdown fashion from Dec. 22-31.
The INDYCAR SERIES has welcomed many talented rookie classes, such as in 1983 when Teo Fabi, Al Unser Jr., John Paul Jr. and Michael Andretti, among others, entered the sport. But even that class was more about promise than productivity.
For the latter, there has been and likely will never be a group like what entered the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2021. From a global perspective, this was the essence of motorsports experience and success:
- Jimmie Johnson arrived as one of three seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champions in history (the others being Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt). His 83 race wins in the series is tied for sixth all time;
- Romain Grosjean spent 10 years in Formula One, earning 10 podium finishes;
- Scott McLaughlin was the champion of the past three Australian V8 Supercars seasons, with 56 career race wins (fourth in the sport’s history) and 76 career poles (second). In 2019, he won a record 18 of his 29 races.
- Competing in a handful of races were seven-year F1 veteran Kevin Magnussen, F2 race winners Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard, and Indy Lights veterans RC Enerson and Ryan Norman.
McLaughlin won the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year Award, but he was the only first-year driver to compete in all series races in 2021. Grosjean’s only oval-track start came Aug. 21 when he finished 14th in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway while Johnson focused only on the road courses and street circuits. Each driver had standout runs.
McLaughlin, who drove for Team Penske, finished second to six-time series champion Scott Dixon in his first oval race, the Genesys 300 in early May at Texas Motor Speedway. That was one of his five top-10 finishes, with three of them coming on ovals.
Grosjean’s season with Dale Coyne Racing with RWR was particularly strong on the IMS road course, where he finished in both races. He also charged through the field late in Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to finish third. Those performances led Andretti Autosport to hire him for the 2022 season.
Johnson had the most to learn, having never competitively driven an INDYCAR SERIES car. His progress with Chip Ganassi Racing was steady and sure, and in the second half of the season he ran competitive laps, finishing on the lead lap in three of his final four races.
Lundgaard’s fourth-place qualifying effort with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the second IMS road race – he was sick, no less – helped him land a ride with the team for 2022. He led two laps before finishing 12th.