At one time former (and even reigning) F1 champions like Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi headed to IndyCar. Successful F1 drivers like Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya used it as a springboard to the top flight.
But political infighting almost destroyed American open-wheel racing in the mid-nineties. Although today’s reunited series is far from the levels of popularity it enjoyed 20 years ago, it has begun to see more interest from former F1 drivers.
Rubens Barrichello switched to IndyCar following his departure from F1 at the end of 2011. And last weekend Takuma Sato’s triumph at former F1 venue Long Beach made him the latest ex-F1 driver to win an IndyCar race.
Sato is the 24th F1 driver to win in IndyCar since the formation of the Championship Auto Racing Teams series in 1979 (including both series during the 1995-2007 CART-IRL split). Here are the drivers who went before him plus highlights of some of their great winning moments.
Andretti began a motor racing dynasty after his family brought him from Italy to America. He juggled F1 with USAC and NASCAR at first, then later committed to an F1 programme with Lotus and won the 1978 world championship.
A long career in American racing followed his F1 retirement in 1982. He eventually amassed four IndyCar titles plus victories in the Indianapolis 500 and other classic American races.
A very competitive CART driver whose F1 campaign in 1993 was poorly conceived and came to an abrupt halt just after he’d scored his first podium finish. He now runs the family team for which son Marco races.
After scoring podiums for Ligier and Tyrrell Blundell had the misfortune to join McLaren at a time when they had produced one of their worst ever cars – the dismal 1995 MP4-10. He brought the Mercedes-engined car home in the points six times but it turned out to be his last season in F1.
Reunited with Mercedes power at PacWest in 1997, he scored three wins in that year’s CART championship to end the season sixth overall. The first of his victories came in a thrilling wet/dry race in Portland where the top three crossed the finishing line separated by 0.055s:
The final four years of Champ Car were a Bourdais benefit. He swept all before him in the struggling category until it merged to form the current IndyCar series in 2008. Meanwhile Bourdais had made the switch to F1, but Toro Rosso ejected him after a year and a half.
He’s back in IndyCar now and showed flashes of his old form at the end of last year.
Despite nine podium finishes Cheever was never a winner in Formula One. Cheever got behind the breakaway Indy Racing League in 1996 and won the third post-split Indianapolis 500 two years later.
The two-time F1 race entrant (he never qualified) scored his sole CART win from 116 starts at Phoenix in 1986.
Cristiano da Matta
Da Matta’s career has similarities to that of Bourdais and Zanardi: he was very successful in Champ Car but lasted only a year and a half in F1 with Toyota from 2003-4. His return to American racing nearly killed him when he struck a deer during testing at Elkhart Lake in 2006.
The Dutch driver never got a proper crack at F1, making a handful of starts for Minardi and Red Bull in 2005 and 2006. ‘Bobby D’ won twice when he switched to Champ Car for its final season in 2007 but he failed to build on that when he returned to the reunified series in 2009.
He then returned to Toleman and gave the team their only F1 pole position at the Nurburgring in 1985. After that he changed tack again, returning to CART where he spent three years driving for Porsche’s team, winning at Mid-Ohio in 1989.
He broke his leg in a CART crash at Surfers’ Paradise in 1997, but returned to win at Road America two years later. A second major accident at Gateway forced him out again, though once more he returned and claimed another win in Calfornia.
After winning world titles for Lotus and McLaren, Fittipaldi embarked on an unsuccessful project with his brother to enter a Brazilian F1 team. In five years the high point was a podium finish at Long Beach in 1980, after which he bowed out of F1.
At the same track four years later he placed fifth on his CART debut, beginning a long and successful second career that yielded the 1989 championship crown and two Indianapolis 500 wins, before retiring in 1996. Here he is coming out on top in a memorable scrap with fellow champion Mansell at Cleveland in 1993:
The first Colombian driver to race in F1 moved to CART in 1984. Three years later a pair of wins put him in the title hunt in the closing stages of the season but a violent crash during testing left him in a coma. He returned the following year and after the CART-IRL split he came close to winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1997.
Ayrton Senna’s one-time house mate spent four years with Leyton House then a single season with Jordan before heading to America. A seven-year association with the PacWest team produced a single win, at Vancouver in 1997, though he was also leading on the last lap at Detroit that year when he ran out of fuel:
After being a runner-up in the world championship three times Mansell finally clinched the title in 1992 with the devastating Williams-Renault FW14B.
But Frank Williams had already made arrangements for Alain Prost to join the squad in 1993. Unwilling to share a team with Prost again, Mansell defected to CART and won first time out for Newman-Haas at Surfers’ Paradise (below).
He missed the second race due to injury but four more wins delivered him the championship, making him the only driver to hold F1 and IndyCar titles simultaneously. He then returned to F1 for a final win in the 1994 season finale.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya emulated Mansell by winning the CART title in his debut season. He ended the year tied on points with Dario Franchitti and was placed ahead thanks to his seven victories to Franchitti’s three. But the death of Greg Moore in the final race overshadowed Montoya’s triumph.
After adding an Indianapolis 500 victory in 2000 he made his F1 debut the following year. Seven times a winner with Williams and McLaren, he quit for NASCAR after becoming disillusioned with the sport in 2006.
But he also got a chance to show what he could do in a Benetton, and finished second in his first race for them in 1990. The following year he was prised out of the cockpit to make room for Michael Schumacher.
Having raced in CART in the eighties he earned the nickname ‘SuperSub’ by standing in for fellow ex-F1 racers Blundell and Christian Fittipaldi.
A full-time ride with Patrick finally brought his first win in the category in 2000, and third in the title race:
Rahal made just two F1 starts for Wolf in 1978 as he struggled to gain a foothold in the series. He returned 23 years later as one of a succession of managers to be given the unenviable job of trying to make a success of the Jaguar F1 team.
In the intervening period he enjoyed great success in CART, winning the title three times along with the 1987 Indianapolis 500. After being replaced at Jaguar he returned to running his own team in America. His son Graham now races for him, and finished runner-up to his ex-driver Sato on Sunday.
Rebaque holds the unusual distinction of failing to finish on the podium during a season in which his team mate won the world championship. That was in his final year of F1 in 1981 alongside Nelson Piquet.
He switched to CART the following year but elected not to participate in races on ovals after crashing in Michigan. His final start came at Road America where he scored a surprise win after several other drivers ran out of fuel and he was the only one to complete all 50 laps.
Another driver with a connection to Piquet: Salazar infamously tangled with the Brabham driver at Hockenheim in 1982, then was attacked by the world champion after they clambered from their respective cars. He raced in the early days of the post-split IRL against a fairly weak field, scoring a single win in the 1997 season finale at Las Vegas.
Campaigning a Cosworth-powered Tyrrell against the might of the turbo brigade in 1983 was never going to be the best way for Sullivan to show what he was capable of. Fifth on his Monaco debut was not enough to persuade anyone to pick him up for 1984. In CART he showed what they had missed out on: He won the Indianapolis 500 in 1985 despite a 360-degree spin mid-race, and claimed the 1988 title for Penske with four wins.
When Villeneuve’s F1 career ended in 2006 he hadn’t set foot on the podium in five seasons. That makes it easy to forget the impact the son-of-Gilles had when he arrived on the scene in 1996. Fresh from winning the CART title in his second year, he’d also won the Indianapolis 500 despite falling two laps behind at one stage.
Pole position and second place at his Grand Prix debut, followed by his first F1 win in round four, merely confirmed the promise he had shown in CART. After missing out on the championship to the more experienced Damon Hill that year he delivered the title in 1997. But little went right for Villeneuve from then on: Williams slumped, BAR was a dreadful mistake and BMW dropped him to make way for Robert Kubica.
Wilson went to the lengths of selling shares in himself to fund his motor racing career. He got a shot at the big-time with a mid-season promotion from Minardi to Jaguar in 2003, but was dropped for Christian Klien over the winter. He kept Bourdais honest in the mid-2000s in Champ Car and continued in the series post-reunification. Wilson’s most recent IndyCar win was at Texas last year and he finished third behind Sato and Rahal on Sunday.
Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi
The definition of a motor racing hero. Zanardi’s first stint in F1 did not go to plan but a hugely successful period in CART with Ganassi reignited interest in his talents. Zanardi won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998, the latter including a stunning win at Long Beach having fallen to 19th at one stage (below). But his return to F1 with Williams in 1999 was a huge disappointment.
Having switched back to CART in 2001, a brutal crash at the Lausitzring tore off both his legs and left him fighting for his life. Incredibly he survived and with the use of prosthetic legs has won races in the World Touring Car Championship and gold medals in Paralympic cycling. He is even rumoured to be considering a return to the Indianapolis 500.
Video and pictures: Takuma Sato wins the Long Beach Grand Prix
Sato’s victory on Sunday was his first win since the 2001 Macau Formula Three Grand Prix. He made his Formula One debut for Jordan the year after that, scoring his first points in his home race at Suzuka.
One year later at the same track he made his return to F1 racing with BAR, finishing in the points again as he took Villeneuve’s place at the team. He continued with the team in 2004, scoring the podium finish of his career at Indianapolis.
Honda took over BAR in 2006 but did not retain Sato – he was moved to the new team Super Aguri, who began the season using a four-year-old Arrows chassis. When the team closed in early 2008, Sato’s F1 career came to an end.
He switched to IndyCar in 2010 and came close to winning last year’s Indianapolis 500, crashing out while trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the final lap. He finished a close second to Helio Castroneves in Edmonton later in the season, and moved from RLL to AJ Foyt’s team this year ahead of his breakthrough win.
Series: CART drivers who raced in F1
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 1
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 2
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 3
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 4
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 5
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 6
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 7
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 8
- CART drivers who raced in F1: From Andretti to Zanardi part 9
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- Live: 2013 IndyCar Grand Prix of Baltimore
Images © Honda/LAT, Ford