2010 IZOD IndyCar Season Review
What is left to say about Dario Franchitti? A third title and a second Indy 500 win added much to the reputation of the popular Scot. Despite trailing Will Power for the length of the season, a steady string of podiums, including wins at Mid-Ohio and Chicagoland were enough to overhaul the Penske driver in the final race.
Doing laps in Jim Clark’s Lotus 38 at Indianapolis in September was simply the icing on the cake.
To come back from two fractured vertebrae he received in practice at Sonoma in 2009 was quite an achievement. To do it with a victory at Sao Paulo was simply incredible.
Power led the IndyCar Series throughout 2010, only losing out when he clumped the wall at Homestead, damaging his suspension in the process. The Australian took five races over the course of the year, but a tough time on the ovals weakened his challenge severely. Expect the Franchitti / Power battle to continue this year.
Although Dixon claimed 3rd in the Championship, the Kiwi did not have the most stellar of seasons. While victories at Kansas and Homestead were well deserved, Dixon picked up a lucky 50 points at Edmonton when Helio Castroneves was demoted; yet for much of the year, the Ganassi driver seemed strangely anonymous.
The two-time Champion will be looking to get back on the title trail next year.
After a difficult 2009, Helio Castroneves returned to the Penske camp for an eleventh season with both the Championship and a fourth Indy 500 crown in mind.
That neither feat were achieved must surely disappoint, especially in a car that is a regular winner. There were occasional highlights, such as his win at the new Barber Motorsports Park and pole at Indianapolis; however like Dixon, there were too many days where you barely realised Castroneves existed, although his outburst following the race Edmonton showed that the passion still burned bright. A late burst of form was not enough to haul himself ahead of Dixon in the standings.
There were times when the 2009 IndyCar title Challenger seemed to have gone into hibernation, while his Australian teammate took all the headlines.
Bar his win at Texas and two other podiums (St Petersburg and Watkins Glen), Briscoe’s season was more “not quite there” story. The Penske driver did feature in the upper echelon of the points on a number of occasions, but rarely seemed to be in a position take wins. 2011 will be a big year for Briscoe and may go a long way to deciding his future in the series.
Of the four drivers at Andretti-Autosport, Tony Kanaan appeared to be the real father figure of the team.
A regular points scorer, Kanaan did still suffer a few blips through the season and very nearly did not qualify for Indianapolis. He could won the famed event, had it not been for a very late “splash-and-dash” fuel-stop, but he would make up for that disappointment with victory at Iowa.
Despite being the highest runner at Andretti-Autosport, Kanaan lost his 7-11 sponsorship and with it his seat for this year. Until several days ago, it was looking as if the popular Brazilian would be out of a drive; however a move to de Ferran / Dragon Racing could be Kanaan’s last hoorah.
At a time when IndyCar fans are searching for a new homegrown hero to follow, Ryan Hunter-Reay was signed to Andretti-Autosport in place of Hideki Mutoh.
Indeed, the American had a solid season, during which he delivered some strong performances on road and street courses; however his oval form was not quite as emphatic. Hunter-Reay came close to a win at the opening race in Sao Paulo, but would soon make the trip to Victory Lane at Long Beach. This year, he becomes Andretti-Autosport’s lead driver in place of Tony Kanaan – it will be interesting to see if he can live up to the challenge.
Son of Andretti-Autosport team owner, Michael, Marco Andretti has had something of a charmed life in recent years. The brash 23-year-old has tasted occasional success in recent years, but in what is possibly the strongest IndyCar field since the mid-90′s, his form has been less consistent. The American is obviously a talented young driver, but he needs to get closer to Hunter-Reay if he is to silence his critics.
If ever there needed to be a study as to whether a son should drive for his father’s team, then Marco Andretti would be an interesting study.
For a driver nicknamed “Difficult Dan”, 2010 was certainly a tough year for Dan Wheldon. More was expected of the 2005 IndyCar Champion, yet with Panther Racing it was hard to see how Wheldon could produce better result. The 32-year-old’s quality on the ovals was clear and manifested three podiums, but his road and street course form was lacking.
Having been dropped by Panther Racing, where Wheldon goes to next is a mystery, although rumours of him returning to Andretti-Autosport fold in fourth car have surfaced recently and refuse to go away.
A that could have made her an American superstar, Danica Patrick instead suffered greatly as she dipped her toes in NASCAR’s deep waters.
Ten appearances in the Nationwide Series wrapped around her IndyCar schedule and while her Nationwide performances were somewhat less than noteworthy, Patrick’s IndyCar form certainly took a turn for the poorer. She will be repeating the experiment in 2011, but whether it works or not is entirely down to how she approaches the challenge. Improved form could all be down to attitude.
2010 was the first season since his Champ Car debut six years earlier that Justin Wilson went without picking up a race win, yet it would be hard to call his season a failure.
There were certainly some competitive runs (including podiums at Long Beach and St Petersburg) and while Wilson is improving on ovals, the results are not there just yet. A second year with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will go someway to delivering stability that may bring better results; however the team has not won since 2000 and attempting to break the Ganassi / Penske stranglehold might be too much to ask of Wilson.
Vitor Meira returned from injury with AJ Foyt Enterprises and instantly placed his Dallara-Honda on the podium at Sao Paulo. Beyond that, there was not a whole lot to cheer for, although Meira performed to his usual respectable standards.
The partnership continues for two more years, but after no wins in 112 starts, it is hard to see Meira progressing to Victory Lane any time soon.
Débuting last year was Alex Tagliani’s FAZZT Racing team and the Canadian driver instantly re-established himself as one to watch. Some poor luck and occasional brainfades meant that Tagliani was further down the results than he should have been, but the momentum is now with the team with build on the experience.
Tagliani picked up a best result of 4th at Mid-Ohio, but did lead the race; while at Indianapolis the 38-year-old qualified on the second row, before coming home 10th in the race itself.
Despite a string of titles in IndyCar’s feeder categories, Raphael Matos has been unable to turn his form into solid results in the main series. If anything, the 29-year-old Brazilian struggled even more in his second year than during his debut venture.
He did secure two 4th place finishes (Sao Paulo and Watkins Glen), but it isn’t enough and unless de Ferran / Dragon Racing come up with a second car for 2011, Matos will find himself without a drive. Tellingly at this stage, there appears to little talk about him returning to IndyCar for a third season.
Despite showing some progress in 2009, last year turned out to be a nightmare for both Mario Moraes and KV Racing. There were only four top-ten finishes in a season where he and his two teammates – Takuma Sato and EJ Viso – seemingly crashed non-stop.
Like Sato and Viso, Moraes’ situation at KV Racing is uncertain, but should he return, the Brazilian will need to showcase a far better turn of speed without the crash tactics, if he wishes to remain part of the IndyCar tapestry.
It’s quite telling that the year Alex Lloyd won Rookie of the Year, few people seem o be talking about him. Although largely unspectacular, Lloyd did pull off the occasional decent result, including 4th at Indianapolis; however it is unreasonable to expect Lloyd to pull off miracles with Dale Coyne Racing.
The 25-year-old will most likely be back with the minnow squad this year, although probably with a different teammate than the mobile chicane that was Milka Duno.
In 2008 and 2009, EJ Viso took 18th place in the IndyCar standings with backmarkers HVM, so theoretically there should have been a leap up the order when seated at KV Racing?
Sadly for the Venezuelan, Viso’s year was more about ripping carbon than tearing past competitors, with the 25-year-old picking up a sole podium spot at Iowa. There were plenty of accidents, including ones where he took out his teammates – something that Viso desperately needs to avoid once the IndyCar roll out in St Petersburg in March.
After two years of steady improvement at Andretti Green Racing, Hideki Mutoh moved to Newman-Haas for 2010, only to crash down the order. Following a couple of podiums and plenty of top-six finishes in his previous two years, Mutoh did not do better than 12th this year (at Texas, Watkins Glen and Toronto) and often did so without appearing on the map during races.
Mutoh certainly has some potential as a driver, but language often seemed to get in the way of progress and when developing a car through a weekend, a common tongue is vital. Rumours are circulating that Newman-Haas may expand to two cars this year should the money be in place; however Mutoh may not be in either car, instead giving way to Indy Lights runner James Hinchcliffe and IndyCar veteran Oriol Servia.
Simona de Silvestro
Without doubt, the most popular driver to join the IndyCar series since Danica Patrick appeared some years ago, Simona de Silvestro produced some solid results in a pretty unforgiving HVM machine.
De Silvestro came from the Atlantic Championship with several race wins under her belt and instantly made an impression in Sao Paulo, leading for two laps. Keeping calm while literally under fire at Texas and then delivering two top-ten results (Toronto and Mid Ohio) made her a firm fan favourite.
I had been highly critical of Graham Rahal last winter. It seemed both he and Paul Tracy seemed to spend more time on Twitter lamenting the lack of North American drivers in IndyCar, than actually busying themselves finding backers.
However, while Tracy moaned incessantly, Rahal was busy behind the scenes working on sponsorship for a partial schedule, that eventually saw him drive for four different teams. In twelve appearance, Rahal finished in the top-ten on seven occasions and would surely have been much further up the Championship order had he done a full-season.
Still only 21, Rahal is the youngest driver to ever win a top-level open wheel race, when he won on his debut at St Petersburg in 2008; however he has not repeated that feat since. A deal with Chip Ganassi’s satellite team for this year will give him an opportunity to be a race winner once again.
One of the biggest disappointments of the IndyCar season was the performance, or perhaps lack of performance of ex-Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato.
Sato did run well at Kansas and was on his way to a top-four spot, only to be taken out by fellow Japanese driver, Hideki Mutoh. In the end, the former Honda pilot penetrated the top-ten only once, but managed to find the wall on many occasions. Having watched Sato’s career over many years, even I was shocked by the amount of accidents he had. If he returns for a second season, a vast improvement will be required
Several eyebrows were raised when Belgian driver, Bertrand Baguette signed with Conquest Racing for the 2010 season. Having won the World Series by Renault Championship the previous year, an obvious next step would have been GP2 after the Renault Formula 1 team decided on Vitaly Petrov.
It took several races for Baguette to feel his way into the series, but when he did, the 25-year-old established himself fairly well and looks to return for a second season this year, again with Conquest Racing. With a solid year behind him, expect Baguette’s stock to rise.
Quite simply one of the poorest drivers to ever grace the IndyCar Series. While Milka Duno brought a large amount of cash to Dale Coyne in 2009, she did not bring any talent and this was most apparent on the road courses.
During practice at Mid-Ohio, Duno was often 8-9 seconds per lap down on the leaders on what is a 68-second lap. Some races even saw the Venezuelan parked by Chief Steward Brian Barnhart due to her lack of pace. Whether Duno moves on to another form of racing or just has her IndyCar license revoked remains to be seen.
Having only competed in eleven races, 24th in the standing isn’t an honest reflection of Mario Romancini’s efforts in 2010. The steady, but not stunningly quick 23-year-old apparently ran out of funding following the Edmonton event, leaving Conquest Racing to fill their second car with randomers until the season end.
Romancini was the highest finishing rookie at this year’s Indy 500 (13th position); however judging by recent tweets, it seems unlikely that the Brazilian will return to the series to improve on that achievement.
While always quick, Mike Conway occasionally found it difficult to bring his Dreyer & Reinbold machine to the end of the race in 2009; however it seemed as if the 27-year-old had finally found some consistency last year.
Solid runs at Sao Paulo, Barber Motorsports Park and Long Beach were about to be followed up by a top-six at Indianapolis, until Ryan Hunter-Reay ran out of fuel, starting a chain of events that sent Conway into the barriers. The crash severely injured the Kent driver who is looking to return to IndyCar’s this year. Whether Dreyer & Reinbold will hold a seat open for him remains to be seen.
2010 was the year Sarah Fisher pull back from driving somewhat. Although she ran six races, the Iowan introduced a second car for the lacklustre Jay Howard, while also offering a seat to Graham Rahal on a few occasions.
A risky fuel strategy saw Fisher lead at Chicagoland for a time, and holding a top-three position for several laps thereafter, although she dropped to 15th by the chequered flag. Fisher announced her retirement a few weeks ago to concentrate on running her team.
One wonders how much Paul Tracy has left. The 42-year-old registered his twentieth season of IndyCar competition in 2010, yet there are no signs of the Canadian picking up a full-time drive any time soon.
When he does get a chance to race, he can still be very quick, if occasionally brash and while he may be well past his best, but Tracy still has a lot to offer. The heartbreak following his non-qualification at Indianapolis was plain for all to see.
When Vision Racing withdrew from the IndyCar Series at the end of 2009, it was difficult to see where Ed Carpenter would end up. Eventually a deal was done to run four races as part of a Panther / Vision satellite squad and Carpenter delivered with a wonderful 2nd place at Kentucky.
Carpenter also qualified well for Indianapolis 500, putting his Dallara-Honda on the 3rd row, but bad luck with pit stops under caution dropped to 17th by the end of the race. Carpenter will be racing part-time for Sarah Fisher Racing in 2011.
Placing Tomas Scheckter can indeed be a difficult process. Although experienced, there are more consistent drivers in the field and having not run a full-season since 2007, Scheckter has had a tough time convincing owners and fans of his potential worth.
Another year as a part-time driver is on the cards for 2011.
Despite only running four races, Ana Beatriz showed a decent turn of speed, notching up a best finish of 13th at Sao Paulo.
A winner in Indy Lights, Beatriz will be looking to return to Dreyer & Reinbold should a seat become available; however that will be heavily dependent on money.
Jay Howard only ran four races last year, having a fairly difficult time in all the events. The Englishman secured a best finish of 22nd at Chicagoland and cemented a fairly poor year by failing to qualify for the Indy 500.
He is rumoured to have at least one-race deal for this year, although who with has yet to be revealed.
There were, of course, several Indy 500 only entries. Townsend Bell and Bruno Junqueira both ran, with Bell taking 16th place while the latter did not finish. Neither AJ Foyt IV and Jacques Lazier qualified.
Alongside veterans John Andretti and Davey Hamilton, rookie Sebastian Saavedra competed at two events with Andretti taking a best finish of 9th at Kansas and Saavedra coming home 16th at Homestead. Hamilton finished 18th at Chicagoland in his de Ferran / Dragon car.
IndyCar rookies JR Hildebrand and Adam Carroll also entered events – both would register best results of 16th. The unrated Francesco Dracone also ran two races, with a highest finish of 20th.
Roger Yasukawa contested Motegi for Conquest finishing 20th and five laps down.