When the cars and stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series hit the track at this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, all drivers will be looking to get their 2018 campaigns off to a fast start. But for a select group of racers, this weekend’s event will mark the start of their first full IndyCar season.
This year’s class of rookie drivers is filled with experience from across Europe and North America. Some of these racers will be quite familiar with a number of the tracks they will visit this year, having come through the ranks of the Mazda Road to Indy, however for a select few, this marks their first time racing in the United States.
Among the drivers who may already be familiar to racing fans around the world is Canadian Robert Wickens. Wickens will pilot the #6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda and is paired with fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe comprising IndyCar’s unofficial “Team Canada”.
Wickens is making the jump to IndyCar following several successful years in the German DTM series. The 28-year-old native of Toronto, Ontario is excited to get things going.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for about six months now since the announcement came that I was joining IndyCar,” Wickens stated in a press release ahead of the race in St. Pete. “We’ve gone testing, now what’s left is to go racing. I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far through testing, but we won’t really know for sure until we get into the first race. I’m just really eager to get started and get to St. Pete.”
Another rookie being paired up with a fellow countryman is Brazilian Indy Lights race winner Matheus Leist. This season Leist will join Tony Kanaan to make up the new look AJ Foyt Racing squad. Leist, who finished 15th and 11th in the two Indy Lights races at St. Pete last season, is a big fan of the Florida track.
“St Pete is a track I really like. It gives me a lot of adrenaline. I’m really looking forward to the challenge,” Leist said ahead of this weekend’s action.
There will be several rookie drivers lining up this weekend who will be embarking on a partial schedule, however their excitement is still sky high. Canada’s Zachary Claman DeMelo, who made his IndyCar Series debut at Sonoma in 2017, will share driving duties of the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda with Pietro Fittipaldi.
“I’m eager to show the world stage what I can do,” said Claman DeMelo. “I’ve made great progress in the gym and in offseason testing, and I look forward to showing that progress on the track.”
Contesting a road course-only schedule for Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) is veteran British F2 driver Jordan King. King will pilot the #20 ECR Chevrolet in all 11 road and street course races and is looking forward to the experience.
“Going into the new season, I am really looking forward to having the opportunity with ECR to work towards our collective goals,” King said after being announced as the team’s road and street course driver. “I believe that together, both of us have the capability to do well.”
In total there will be seven rookies on the starting grid at St. Pete, including Indy Lights race winners Zach Veach and Jack Harvey, as well as European veteran Rene Binder. All rookie drivers will need to get up to speed rather quickly if they are to compete against some of IndyCar’s most seasoned veterans.