Top 10 Indy Car Drivers of All Time
In more than 110 years of competition in the American championship car racing, now presented through the IndyCar Series, thousands of racing drivers left their trails on the race tracks across the North America. Here is a list of top 10 IndyCar drivers of all time – backed by statistics. We are looking at the total number of wins, number of championship titles and the victories at Indianapolis 500.
Since 1905, when the first AAA (American Automobil Association) championship was organized, the premium American open-wheel single-seater series were held under as the USAC National Championship, CART Champ Car, Indy Racing League and finally, since 2008, only as the IndyCar Series. We collected the results from all those series.
AJ Foyt (67 wins, 7 titles, 4 Indy 500)
An absolute number 1 in the history of the American motorsport is AJ Foyt (born 1935). He was honored as the American Driver of the Century. The numbers show why. Anthony Joseph Foyt recorded 67 wins competing in the USAC sanctioned series between 1957 and 1984, taking seven championship titles (1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1975 and 1979).
He participated at Indianapolis 500 race regularly between 1958 and 1993, becoming one of only three drivers with four wins. Foyt won the greatest American race in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977. Foyt wasn’t great only in the open-wheel racing because he managed to win also the NASCAR’s Daytona 500 (in 1972), 24 hours of Daytona (1983 and 1985) and 24 hours of Le Mans (1967). After retiring from racing, he remained successful as a team owner, winning two championship titles (in 1996 and 1998) and one Indy 500 race (in 1999).
Mario Andretti (52 wins, 4 titles, 1 Indy 500)
Mario Andretti (born 1940) is worldwide known as the 1978 Formula One champion, but in America, he is much more than that. On the Indy Car winners list the only one who was above him is AJ Foyt. In total, Mario Andretti won 52 races, competing in the USAC National Championship from 1964 and later in the CART Indy Car World Series until 1994.
Prior to his F1 career, Mario Andretti won three USAC titles in 1965, 1966 and 1969. In that period, he also won two great American races – Daytona 500 in 1967 and Indianapolis 500 in 1969. After leaving Formula 1 in 1983, Andretti continued to compete in the CART competition, winning one more title in 1984.
Al Unser Sr (39 wins, 3 titles, 4 Indy 500)
Al Unser (born 1939) is one of three Unsers on this list and the most successful one in all three number categories. He scored 39 wins in 322 races between 1963 and 1993, collecting three championship titles, in 1970 in the USAC-sanctioned championship and two more times (1983 and 1985) in the CART Indy Car World Series.
At Indianapolis 500, Al Unser is one of three greats with four wins. He recorded two wins in a row in 1970 and 1971, driving for Parnelli Jones. The third victory came in 1978, with Chaparral’s car. The fourth victory followed in 1987 when Unser entered the race as a replacement for injured Danny Ongais in the Penske Racing’s car. Only five days before his 48th birthday, Al Unser became the oldest Indy 500 winner, breaking the record of his brother Bobby.
Bobby Unser (35 wins, 2 titles, 3 Indy 500)
Bobby Unser (born 1934) is five years older than Al and he became the racing superstar earlier than his younger brother, but Al later surpassed Bobby in all categories. However, his 35 wins, two titles and three Indianapolis 500 triumphs placing him into the Top 5 Indy Car drivers of all-time.
Bobby won his first title in 1968, winning the Indy 500 later that year. The second title came in 1974. A year later he won the rain-shortened Indianapolis 500. The third victory in the greatest American race followed in 1981. It was one of the most controversial finishes in a history of Indy 500, with Bobby winning ahead of Mario Andretti. After the race, Bobby was stripped off due to some rule infraction, but after a five-month lawsuit, he got his win back. This controversy caused his retirement from racing at the end of 1981.
Dario Franchitti (31 wins, 4 titles, 3 Indy 500)
Dario Franchitti (born 1973) is the most successful British driver in the Indy Car history. After different competitions in Europe, he debuted in the CART World Series in 1997. Two years later, he was tied in the championship points with Juan Pablo Montoya, but the Columbian was the champion due to more wins. Franchitti won his first IndyCar title eight years later, driving for Andretti Green Racing. He also won the 2007 Indianapolis 500.
Franchitti moved to Chip Ganassi Racing and won three consecutive titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011. His second Indianapolis 500 victory was scored in 2010. The season 2011 was marred by the death of Dan Wheldon in the final race of the season. The race was stopped and Franchitti became the champion with the points collected before that race. The victory at 2012 Indianapolis 500 was Dario’s 31st and last IndyCar win. He retired after season 2013.
Rick Mears (29 wins, 3 titles, 4 Indy 500)
Rick Mears (born 1951) is the third driver who reached four-win record at the Indianapolis 500, winning the race for the fourth time in 1991. Prior to that, he was the winner in 1979, 1984 and 1988. Except record number of wins, Mears is a sole record holder with six pole positions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After three seasons in the USAC competition, Mears and Team Penske entered the 1979 CART Indy Car Series and he won his first title. He added two more consecutive titles in 1981 and 1982. Mears stayed with Penske until the end of a career, finishing one more time as an Indy Car runner-up in 1989.
Al Unser Jr (34 wins, 2 titles, 2 Indy 500)
Al Unser Jr (born 1962) followed the racing footsteps of his father and raced against him. Al Junior had a first full Indy Car season in 1983, in a year when Al Senior took his second title. Two years later, Al Unser again took the title, beating his son by just one point. Al Unser Jr was the runner-up one more time in 1998, behind Danny Sullivan, before he finally won the championship in 1990.
He had to wait two more years for his maiden Indianapolis 500 win. And it was a victory that will be remembered for a long time because Al defeated Scott Goodyear by just 0.043 sec, the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history. The third man on the podium was Al Senior. For 1994, Al Junior moved to Penske Racing and won both the championship and Indianapolis 500.
Michael Andretti (42 wins, 1 title)
While the Unsers had three representatives on this list, the Andrettis deserve at least two. Mario’s son Michael Andretti (born 1962) was born the same year as Al Unser Jr and they were rivals for many years. The closest battle was in 1990 when Unser Jr won the title ahead of Andretti.
Michael won his only Indy Car title a year later, winning nine races during 1991 season with Newman/Haas Racing. During the Indy Car career, that lasted twenty years, Michael was the championship runner-up five times. He never won at Indianapolis 500, finishing third in 2001 and 2006. However, with 42 victories Michael is third on the all-time winners list, behind AJ Foyt and his father Mario.
Scott Dixon (44 wins, 4 titles, 1 Indy 500)
The New Zealander Scott Dixon (born 1980) is the best among active IndyCar drivers, with four titles and one Indy 500 victory. With his 44 wins (until August 2018) he still has a chance to catch Mario Andretti.
After two years in the Indy Lights series, winning the title in 2000, Dixon debuted in the Champ Car in 2001. He won the first Indy Car title in 2003 with Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon stayed with the team and won both the championship and Indianapolis 500 in 2008. Two more titles followed in 2013 and 2015, the last one after he was tied in points with Juan Pablo Montoya, but Dixon had more wins.
Sebastien Bourdais (37 wins, 4 titles)
The Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais (born 1979) deserves his place in Top 10 with four consecutive championship titles in the Champ Car World Series from 2004 to 2007. The 2002 Formula 3000 champion debuted in the American premium racing series in 2003, joining Newman/Haas Racing. After finishing fourth in debut season, Sebastien was a dominating driver in the next four seasons, scoring 28 wins and winning four titles.
The four-time Champ Car champion moved to Formula One in 2008. He returned to the IndyCar Series in 2011. Since then, he scored six wins to increase the total number of wins to 37. At Indianapolis, he was never enough competitive to score better than seventh place, which he scored in 2014.
Not to forget the other IndyCar greats
We have ten drivers on this provisional list. The order can be different, but each of these drivers deserves to be mentioned in every topic related to American open-wheel racing history. The list can be longer, much longer, because there have been so many drivers who impressed us during more than hundred years of racing, and none of them should be forgotten.
To mention just some of them, there are few more names that deserve to be celebrated: Paul Tracy (31 wins, 1 title), Bobby Rahal (24 wins, 4 titles, 1 Indy 500 win), Johnny Rutherford (27 wins, 1 title, 3 Indy 500), Rodger Ward (26 wins, 2 titles, 2 Indy 500), Helio Castroneves (30 wins, 3 Indy 500), Will Power (32 wins, 1 title), Juan Pablo Montoya (15 wins, 1 title, 2 Indy 500), Tom Sneva (14 wins, 2 titles, 1 Indy 500)…