Hideki Mutoh came into the 2008 IndyCar Series season with the goal of winning Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors. A 24th-place finish in the season’s first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March and the fact that many of the nine rookies in the field had considerable experience in high-powered, open-wheel race cars didn’t lend itself to an easy task.
Mutoh persevered, however, and clinched top rookie honors in the season finale Sept. 7 at Chicagoland Speedway, edging Justin Wilson by six points and Will Power by 15.
“There were a lot of good Champ Car drivers who joined the IndyCar Series this year,” Mutoh said of drivers such as Wilson and Power, who each had more than 30 starts in Champ Car but were considered rookies due to their lack of experience on ovals. “I knew it was going to be tough to win the rookie championship, so I’m very proud to be rookie of the year.”
Mutoh, who drove the No. 27 Formula Dream entry for Andretti Green Racing, was seventh in rookie points after Homestead, but moved steadily up through the ranks with top-10 finishes at St. Petersburg, Kansas and the Indianapolis 500 – where he also earned top rookie honors.
Following a 12th-place finish at Milwaukee at the beginning of June, the 25-year-old Tokyo native moved into the lead and remained there the rest of the season. He moved as high as fifth overall in points after a career-best, second-place finish at Iowa.
“Hideki really impressed us with the way he handled his first season in the IndyCar Series,” said Andretti Green Racing co-owner Michael Andretti, who also fielded cars for rookie of the year winners Marco Andretti in 2006 and Dan Wheldon in 2003. “He tried to take in as much information as he could from his teammates and really developed a lot as a driver as the year went on. One of our goals for him at the start of the season was for him to win rookie of the year, and he got it done. That’s a big accomplishment, especially this year with so many talented drivers coming over as part of unification. We’re really happy for him.”
Wilson, Power and Graham Rahal (-58 points) also delivered memorable moments during their rookie campaigns. Wilson earned the victory at Belle Isle, Power delivered top-five finishes at Mid-Ohio and Chicagoland, and Rahal became the youngest winner in open-wheel history when he took the checkered flag at St. Petersburg.
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