The Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award has been given since 1952. Members of the media vote on the night of or the morning after the race. While finishing highest amongst the other rookies is a key factor, it isn’t the deciding factor. Accomplishments in qualifying, and leading laps during the race also play a key role in determining who wins the award.
There have been some big names that have claimed this award in the past. Those drivers include Parnelli Jones, Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Rick Mears, Roberto Guerrero, Michael Andretti, Arie Luyendyk, Eddie Cheever, Nigel Mansell, Jacques Villeneuve, Tony Stewart, Juan Montoya, Helio Castroneves, and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Only two drivers have ever won the award, as well as the race itself. Coincidentally, it came in back-to-back years in 2000 and 2001 with Montoya and Castroneves. Seven times, the winner of the award has finished in second place in the race. The only driver to ever win the award and win the Pole for the race was Teo Fabi in 1983 (Stewart started on Pole in 1996 but did not actually qualify in first position).
Another award has been given out to the fastest rookie qualifier each year since 1975. It is given to the rookie with the fastest four-lap qualifying average, regardless of overall starting position. The names of the winners of this award are displayed on a trophy inside the IMS Hall of Fame Museum. Stewart holds the rookie speed record for qualifying at 233.100 mph, a record that appears to be safe for awhile.
This year’s field will include four rookies. AJ Allmendinger (Penske), Conor Daly (Foyt), Tristan Vautier (Schmidt), and Carlos Munoz (Andretti). Of these four, only Vautier has a full-time ride in IndyCar this season. All four are very talented, but who has the best shot at winning the Rookie of the Year for the 2013 race?
The equipment plays a major factor here, but all of them are with strong teams. Allmendinger should have the advantage in this category, especially since that car sat on Pole last year. Experience is another important factor in this equation. Allmendinger has a lot of experience in Champ Car, NASCAR, and the Rolex 24. Daly has experience with Star Mazda, Indy Lights, GP3, GP2, F1, and the MRF Challenge. Vautier has raced in Formula Renault, Formula Palmer Audi, Formula 2, Star Mazda, Indy Lights, and of course IndyCar. Munoz has been in Formula TR Pro, Formula Renault, Formula 3, and IndyLights.
It should be an interesting story line to keep an eye on throughout the month of May. It wouldn’t surprise me to see three of these guys battling for a top ten spot on race day. This is a talented group of drivers, and only one of them can be the 2013 ROY at Indianapolis. The 2013 Indy 500 entry list will be released later today.