Saturday, October 12, 2013

2013 IndyCar Team-by-Team Review

In March, I did a 5-part, team-by-team preview of the 2013 season where I set expectations for each team. With eighteen races in the bag and one race to go, each teams grade is pretty much set in stone. Each team can improve a little in Fontana but it won't make a massive change in the overall grade.

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
What I Said: The goal for SFHR and Newgarden should be to keep the pace they had in 2012 and turn it into better results.

What They Did: Currently fourteenth in points. One podium, four top fives, seven top tens. Could have easily won Brazil and had a shot at Baltimore. Josef Newgarden's sophomore year was an improvement by leaps and bounds compared to 2012. The team is finishing races and finding ways to the front. He has yet to score a fastest lap after tying Will Power for the most in 2012 but he has been bringing the car home in one piece.

Season Negatives: Had to qualify on the second day for the Indianapolis 500 and weren't a factor at all unlike 2012. Advancing to the second round of qualifying on road and street courses were few and far between.

Grade: B. SFHR has made great improvements to compared to 2012 and could even sneak into the top 12 in points ahead of the likes of Sébastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal.

AJ Foyt Racing
What I Said: The pairing of AJ Foyt-Takuma Sato is as odd as it gets. The pairing seems promising of stealing a win but so did Vitor Meria at Foyt and the best that could produce was 1 podium and 3 top fives in three seasons. The pairing has potential, but as history has shown, a surprise top five, with sporadic trips in the top ten seem more likely.

What They Did: Won Long Beach, second at São Paulo, leading the points entering Indianapolis. Since Indianapolis: One top ten, pole for race one at Houston, eight finishes of twentieth or worse and have fallen to sixteenth in points.

Season Negatives: Could not keep up with their opening six weeks to the season and reverted to their old selves but has shown at times they still have the speed to race up front with the best. Takuma Sato appeared to have grown out of his error prone ways but that has clearly not been the case.

Grade: C+. They started off great but a season isn't five races long. The team has the speed to compete at the front but Sato has to make less mistakes. It appears Sato will return for 2014 but if he can't  become more consistent, Foyt would be better off looking else where and make a midseason change.

Barracuda Racing/Bryan Herta Autosport
What I Said: The possibility is there for Herta and Tagliani to score a win but will not be easy. The Barracuda Boys should be a threat to win but continuing their string of top tens at the end of 2012 would be a large boost for this team.

What They Did: Two top tens and 163 points scored with Tagliani before he was fired after Toronto. Brought in Luca Filippi and JR Hildrebrand. Filippi has shown speed and has scored a top ten and a fastest lap with the team.

Season Negatives: Could not find the consistent speed they had after joining Honda after four races in 2012. Team has shown some positives with both Filippi and Hildebrand but were only a factor in one race this season and that was race one at Houston before having been caught out by pit strategy.

Grade: C-. They can pick this up to at least a "C" if Hildebrand has a good run at Fontana. With the 2014 driver either being Filippi or Hildebrand, one can only hope BHA will be able to put 2013 behind them and get better results next year.

Panther Racing
What I Said: With the depth of the IndyCar field, a win for Panther would be an upset. Should be frequently fighting for top tens and have shots for top fives at a few events.

What They Did: JR Hildebrand finished fifth at Long Beach and started tenth for the Indianapolis 500 before an early accident ended their day and gave them a 33rd place finish which led to the firing of Hildebrand. Since then Ryan Briscoe and Oriol Servià have split the car with Carlos Muñoz making a cameo as a substitution for an injured Briscoe at Toronto. Since firing Hildebrand, two top tens, both seventh place finished by Servià. Briscoe's best finish thirteenth in race two at Belle Isle.

Season Negatives: Never being a factor at any race and with the reports National Guard is leaving for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, an uncertain future.

Grade: D. The team still has work to do on road and street course and with the addition of Ganassi by Chevrolet, Panther will slide a little further down the totem pole.

Ed Carpenter Racing
What I Said: This team has an extra bit of confidence in their step. They can compete with anybody on ovals and they know they can win. Realistically, this team should be looking for top tens at all ovals in 2013. Road courses should be about finding a little more speed each time out and bringing the car home in one piece. Do not rule out Carpenter for another victory in 2013.

What They Did: Won the Indianapolis 500 pole-position. Two top fives, four top tens in the five oval races. On road courses, best finish of thirteenth but has improved greatly and has been completing laps but still has a ways to go on road courses if he wants to become more of a threat.

Season Negatives: Clipping James Hinchcliffe's stalled car at the start of race one at Houston. Not capitalizing on pole-position for the Indianapolis 500.

Grade: C+. Should Carpenter win at Fontana, the grade will vault into the "B" range. The team has done what it was suppose to do on ovals and road course but they still have to improve even more but could still finish ahead of Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal in the point standings this season.

Dragon Racing
What I Said: With a legitimate engine package, Bourdais will be a factor to win a race or two in 2013 and, with the balance of road/street course races and ovals, he could sneak into the championship conversation. The four-time champion has not won in open-wheel racing since the final round of the 2007 ChampCar season at Mexico City. Saavedra is in IndyCar for his second stint. He has yet to score a top ten in IndyCar and with the depth of the IndyCar field, it will not be easy for the young Colombian to get one in 2013.

What They Did: After a disastrous first half of the season, Sébastien Bourdais has three podiums, four top fives and six top tens in the second half of 2013. While Sebastián Saavedra did score the teams first top ten of the season and his career at Belle Isle, the Colombian has been anything but consistent and backed into a top ten at Baltimore after all the accidents.

Season Negatives: See St. Petersburg through Pocono where the team was an after thought. The broken trophy for second place in race one at Toronto wasn't good either.

Grade: C. Sébastien Bourdais has salvaged this season for Dragon Racing and if Saavedra had been able to do half of what Bourdais has done in the second half of the season this team might be look at a "C+." If the team can keep Bourdais for 2014, they might be able to take that next step but Saavedra will be skating on line ice and have to improve should he return to the team in 2014.

Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing
What I Said: Graham Rahal will get a race win in 2013 and Jakes should be hanging around the top ten at most races as RLLR looks to take a big step forward in 2013.

What They Did: A podium for each Rahal and Jakes but after that only one other top five with a total of eight top tens for the team. The team struggled throughout the season with the highlights being Long Beach, Belle Isle, Iowa, race one at Houston and Rahal winning the second Iowa heat race from seventh.

Season Negatives: Michel Jourdain, Jr. failing to qualify for the Indianapolis. Graham Rahal and James Jakes constantly struggling week in and week out to find speed. While they improved over the course of the season, they still were not able to turn that speed into consistent results up front.

Grade: C-. Rahal and Jakes are seventeenth and nineteenth in points and it had to be a frustrating season, especially for Rahal who left Ganassi. With the reported pick up of National Guard sponsorship it has to be asked if the team keeps this pair would they consider adding a third driver, preferably one with lots of experience. Both RLLR drivers showed potential but this season was a step back.

KV Racing Technology
What I Said: Kanaan cannot be ruled out for a win. Whether it be at Indianapolis, Milwaukee or Iowa, Kanaan is a threat, especially at ovals. Oddly enough, Kanaan has not won a road or street course race since Belle Isle 2007. De Silvestro results will be a vast improvement from 2012 and a few top tens would not be a surprise at all. With the move to KV, she should have better results on ovals as well. Her best finish on an oval is 14th at Indianapolis 2010 and Iowa 2012.

What They Did: Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500 and was up front at a bunch of races this season however the second half of the season hasn't gone as well as the first and he will finish outside the top ten in points for the first time since 2002. Simona de Silvestro had three top tens in her first four races before getting to the oval portion of the season. While not great on ovals, she did finish eleventh at Pocono, a career best on an oval and was running in the top ten most of the day. Since Pocono, de Silvestro has finished in the top ten for five of the last seven races including a second in race one at Houston and she sits fifteenth in points as she looks for a career best finish in points and finish ahead of Sato, Rahal and Carpenter.

Season Negatives: Kanaan's wrist injury at Long Beach, de Silvestro going three laps down in a fifty lap heat race at Iowa. The whole second half of the season has gone poorly for Kanaan, whether it be a mechanical failure or accident.

Grade: B. And that could become a "B+" if Kanaan is able to win at Fontana and collect the $250,000 bonus for taking two of three legs of the Triple Crown. Had Kanaan's second half been going better this grade for the team could be pushing an "A." While de Silvestro is fifteenth, she is tied with Newgarden for fourteenth and only two back of Viso for thirteenth.

Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports
What I Said: The team has the speed to compete with the old guard of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. SPHM will get a win in 2013 with Pagenaud and Vautier, the de facto Rookie of The Year, should be competing for top tens on a regular basis. Do not be surprised if Pagenaud is a title contender and do not be surprised if other teams start poaching him for 2014.

What They Did: Simon Pagenaud has two wins and will likely finish third in points but could possibly jump up to second. He has been consistently in the top ten excluding a few races after Indianapolis and with Ganassi moving to Chevrolet, Pagenaud arguably will be Hondas best driver in 2014. Tristan Vautier had a great weekend at St. Petersburg making the Firestone Fast Six and picked up his first career top ten at the following race at Barber but since then it has been a struggle for the Rookie of the Year. He has shown speed but the results haven't follow. In Vautier's defense, Newgarden had a very similar rookie season and his sophomore season has been much better.

Season Negatives: Pagenaud not being a factor at St. Petersburg. Not getting Pagenaud out fast enough at Mid-Ohio, a race where if he won he could still be in the championship hunt going into the final race.  As for Vautier, probably just not keeping momentum from the first few races and not being as competitive as they would've liked to be.

Grade: A-. I thought long and hard about this but this team has worked hard enough to earn an A While Vautier struggled, Pagenaud was up front every week and had a better second season with Schmidt than his first which was impressive in itself. 

Dale Coyne Racing
What I Said: Wilson should be able to score solid results at all tracks in 2013. As for the second seat at Coyne, a few top ten finishes would be sufficient and, to some, a great success.

What They Did: Justin Wilson has four podiums, seven top fives and thirteen top tens and sits fourth in the points. While Wilson has yet to win, Coyne has a win in 2013 thanks to Mike Conway. While many including myself thought the second Coyne car was the worst on the grid, the rotating doors of drivers showed the car has legs. Mike Conway won race one at Belle Isle and finish third in race two after starting on pole. Conway scored five top tens in his six starts with Coyne. While Ana Beatriz struggled, she did have a good run at Indianapolis with Pippa Mann having a respectable run at Pocono. James Davison made two good starts at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma with the results not backing how well he ran and Stefan Wilson didn't have a great run at Baltimore but lack of speed probably stemmed from lack of time in the car.

Season Negatives: Wilson not scoring a win in a season where he deserves to. Ana Beatriz's slow start. Conway's poor qualifying results at Toronto. Pippa Mann's engine expiring barely two laps into the Texas race.

Grade: A. This team was thought to be second-rate with a first-rate driver carrying the weight. Clearly that is not the case. With Wilson and chief engineers Bill Pappas and John Dick, the team is as dangerous as any and if they can stabilize the situation with the second car, whether it's Conway for all road and street courses with another top driver for ovals or one driver for all the races, I expect this team to win more races in 2014.

Penske Racing
What I Said: You can almost pencil in both Power and Castroneves for a victory. Both are championship contenders but can they become champions? Penske has not won a title since Hornish in 2006. Every year it seems as all Power has to do is avoid one mistake. As an outsider, that one mistake seems as a heavy burden to have on one's mind. He has the speed to get the job done and the time is now.

What They Did: Helio Castroneves had completed every lap entering Houston and was leading the points. One win, five podiums, six top fives and fifteen top tens for Castroneves but finds himself trailing entering the season finale. Will Power didn't win until Sonoma but has two on the year but only three podiums, six top fives and eight top tens in total. He has lead in fourteen of eighteen races. Castroneves found ways to avoid trouble while trouble just seemed to find Power all season.

Season Negatives: Power getting run over by Hildebrand in St. Petersburg, being taken out late while running up front at Toronto and getting into Dixon at Baltimore. Castroneves' gearboxes from hell at Houston. 

Grade: B+. I'll be honest, Castroneves doesn't deserve to win this title. He pussyfooted his way ever since he won the third heat race at Iowa. He's didn't go for the jugular and kept the door open for Dixon all season. Now Dixon leads and Castroneves is playing from behind entering Fontana. Castroneves could have ended this title with races to go and now look where he is. The telling stat is both him and Power having the same amount of top fives. For all those top tens, Castroneves could only finish in the top five a third of the time. Sure, 83.3% of his top fives have been podiums but constantly finish sixth or seventh isn't good enough. Power has picked it up but things just haven't gone his way.

Andretti Autosport
What I Said: Hunter-Reay is a championship contender, no question about that. Hinchcliffe can break through and get a victory in 2013. Andretti Autosport has been a stalwart on short tracks winning four of the last five race on tracks a mile and a half and shorter. Marco's best shot will be on an oval and the goal for Viso is to bring the car home in one piece.

What They Did: They won five of the first ten races but haven't won since. Marco Andretti is in the top five in points with Ryan Hunter-Reay right behind him and James Hinchcliffe in ninth and EJ Viso in thirteenth. They dominated the Indianapolis 500 with Carlos Muñoz finishing second as a rookie. Hunter-Reay has two wins, six podiums, seven top fives, eight top tens and three poles while Hinchcliffe has three wins, four podiums, five top fives and ten top tens. Andretti has two podiums, six top fives, fourteen top tens and two poles and Viso has two top fives and seven top tens.

Season Negatives: Hunter-Reay being kamikazed by Sato entering the pits at Pocono. Andretti's car breaking down while running up front at Milwaukee and then losing a fuel mileage derby at Pocono after dominating. Hunter-Reay's clutch problems at Toronto and gearbox issue at Houston. The decision to try and two-stop Hunter-Reay at Mid-Ohio instead of going just going flat out and doing a three-stopper. Then there is Hinchcliffe who was checkers or wreckers most of the first half of 2013.

Grade: A-. Despite all the negatives, this has been a good year for Andretti Autosport. Sure, they've struggles as of late but it could have been worse. There are four races Andretti Autosport should of won this year but didn't and but they are a good bet for Fontana. The good news is Marco Andretti has improved leaps and bounds on road and street courses, EJ Viso didsn't have thirty accidents this season, Hunter-Reay still has it with Hinchcliffe breaking through but needing to be more consistent.

Ganassi Racing
What I Said: For 2013, Dixon and Franchitti are championship contenders. They both should be able to win multiple races but they could be limited if Honda can not keep up with Chevrolet on road and street courses. Indianapolis and Mid-Ohio have both been in Ganassi's wheel house for a while now. The only question is can they break through and take away more wins from the Chevrolets. As for Kimball, he has to get respectable results compared to his teammates. He needs to be more of a feature in the top ten and, while unlikely, he maybe be able to do what Rahal was not able to do at Ganassi and that is win.

What They Did: After a mediocre start, Ganassi Racing turned it on over the summer. Scott Dixon won three in a row with Ganassi winning four in a row with Charlie Kimball picking up his first career win at Mid-Ohio. Dixon finds himself leading the points by 25 after a remarkable comeback at Houston. A season-leading four wins, six podiums, nine top fives, eleven top tens and two poles is an impressive season for the Kiwi. Dario Franchitti will go winless in an IndyCar season he's competed in for the first time since 2006, a season where he also missed the season finale due to injury. Before his season-ending accident at Houston, Franchitti scored four podiums, seven top fives, eleven top tens and two poles. Then there is Charlie Kimball. The Californian will likely finish in the top ten in points for the first time in his IndyCar career and will finish ahead of his teammate Franchitti with at least an 18th place finish at Fontana. Along with his Mid-Ohio win, Kimball finished second at Pocono, fourth at Barber and has nine top tens.

Season Negatives: Indianapolis as a whole. Franchitti scoring back-to-back twenty-fifths to begin the season. Sonoma and Baltimore for Dixon. The fact Franchitti went winless.

Grade: A. The team had a poor start and didn't win until after July 4th but they were still finishing up front. They are tied with Andretti Autosport for the most wins by a team this season and are looking to get Scott Dixon his third career IndyCar title. Alex Tagliani will be substituting for Dario Franchitti at Fontana and I expect him to be up front. They picked up Tony Kanaan for 2014 and though Franchitti will go winless, remember after going winless in 2006, he went on to win the title in 2007.

What I Said:
1. The IndyCar field is as deep as it gets.
2. Easily 14 driver could win a race in 2013 and no one would be surprised if they won.
3. There are 7 drivers that could win the championship and no one would be surprised if they won.
What Happened: 
1. The field arguably got deeper and it looks like it will continue to get deeper.
2. Nine drivers have won races but there are easily five drivers without a win (Wilson, Andretti, Bourdais, Carpenter and Rahal) who could pick up their first of the season at Fontana.
3. There hasn't been a deeper top ten in IndyCar in some time and that excluding drivers outside the top ten which include Kanaan, Bourdais, Newgarden, Sato, Rahal, Briscoe and Servià.

The field only appears to be getting deeper. Potential 2013 GP2 series champion Sam Bird is interested in IndyCar, as is Karun Chandhok. Carlos Muñoz is likely to be promoted into the IndyCar series and he may not even finish in the top three in Indy Lights points. Luca Filippi could be full-time next year. The field could get so deep the likes of Servià, Hildebrand and Tagliani could all be without rides. This has been one of the best IndyCar seasons ever and there is still one race to go.