REUTERS: If drivers age like fine wine then 2021 could be a vintage year for the IndyCar Series with a starting grid packed with 40-somethings when a new season launches on Sunday at the Grand Prix of Alabama.
From 40-year-old defending six-time series champion Scott Dixon to 45-year-old rookie Jimmie Johnson, the seven-times NASCAR Cup champion making his first IndyCar start, this year's driver lineup has plenty of miles on it.
With Dixon and Johnson are Indianapolis 500 winners Tony Kanaan (46), Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves (both 45), Takuma Sato (44), Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay (both 40).
Throw in four-time series champion Sebastien Bourdais (42) and Indy 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter (40) and there is an old-school motif running through the field.
Keeping with the Golden Oldies theme, 81-year-old ex-Formula One and IndyCar drivers champion Mario Andretti will be back behind the wheel of "The Fastest Seat in Sports" chauffeuring celebrities around circuits in an IndyCar two-seater.
No team will have more experience than Chip Ganassi Racing which will roll out a four car lineup that includes Dixon, Johnson and Kanaan, who have a combined age of 131.
Johnson and Kanaan will share the number 48 Honda, with the NASCAR champion handling the street and road courses and the Brazilian the oval races.
One of the more quirky storylines that will unfold is the battle for rookie of the year between three seasoned drivers who are rookies in name only.
Up for newcomer honours will be Johnson, who shares the record for most NASCAR Cup Series titles with stock car legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt; Scott McLaughlin, a three-time champion of Australia's V8 SuperCars series; and Frenchman Romain Grosjean, a veteran of 179 Formula One starts.
Grosjean’s last race was in Bahrain last November when his car penetrated a metal barrier, split in two and erupted in flames before he made a miraculous escape.
"It's really hard to know where to start with the rookie class - a seven-time champion, a three-time champion, and a 10-year F1 veteran," said IndyCar president Jay Frye. "To me this is kind of a generational thing.
"This might be a once in a lifetime thing that we see something like this.
"It's going to be amazing to watch their progress over the course of the year. Really excited to have them.
"The depth of the field is spectacular."
History beckons this season for New Zealander Dixon and Brazilian Castroneves.
Dixon will try to match A.J. Foyt as the series' only seven-times champion while Castroneves has another shot at joining Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as four-time winners of the Indy 500.
"The will of wanting to try and win and then keep that winning situation, it tugs at you pretty hard," said Dixon. "I don’t think you can ever really put a time scale on it or an age or anything like that."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)