Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' 2015 Season

This week's edition looks at the first race-winning team from the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was surprisingly on top in the second race of the season and bookended the podium, however, injury would slightly derail their season but despite the hiccup and despite losing their team leader, SPM kept going and kept being competitive and were in contention for a few other race victories.

James Hinchcliffe season started off promising.
James Hinchcliffe
His first season with SPM was cut short but James Hinchcliffe, along with Graham Rahal, were carrying the Honda flag through the first two months of the season. He was a non-factor at St. Petersburg and perhaps he shouldn't have been a factor at NOLA but NOLA was such a clusterfuck of a race that it didn't matter who won. Hinchcliffe and his crew were one of the first teams to stop and they only stopped once and did it before the never-ending parade of cautions cycled Hinchcliffe to the lead as the rest of the field needed to stop. He led the final 15 laps. Only three of those 15 were green flag laps.

Hinchcliffe was stuck in the middle of the pack at Long Beach but he once again used pit strategy to his favor at Barber by going off-sequence. He had to make his final stop much later than the rest of the field, just like Rahal, and he drove his way back up to seventh after spending a good portion of that race in the top five. In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Hinchcliffe reverted to his St. Petersburg and Long Beach form where he just seemed stuck in the middle of the pack but that didn't stop him from setting the fastest lap of the race while finishing 12th.

He qualified 24th for the Indianapolis 500 but a practice on the post-qualifying Monday practice knock the Canadian out of the car for the rest of the season. A suspension failure caused him to hit the turn three wall and a suspension piece went through the cockpit and pierced his thigh, requiring Hinchcliffe to receive immediate surgery.

When Hinchcliffe was knocked out of the car, he was tied for seventh in the championship with Josef Newgarden and was the second highest Honda driver in the championship.

James Hinchcliffe's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 23rd (129 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 20
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 13
Average Finish: 9.6

James Jakes' season went as expected: Underwhelming

James Jakes
After sitting out the 2014 season, James Jakes returned to compete in his fourth IndyCar season. Like Hinchcliffe, Jakes played his cards right at NOLA and ended up scoring his second career IndyCar podium as he finished third. Outside of the wet, muddy day in Louisiana, Jakes' first half of the season had little to be celebrating. Twenty-second at St. Petersburg after contact with Simona de Silvestro, 19th at Barber, 22nd at Long Beach and 18th in both Indianapolis races. He made the second round of qualifying at Belle Isle and started tenth but couldn't turn it into anything, as he was involved in an early incident with Stefano Coletti, Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan. The rains came and he couldn't turn it around. In the second race, he tried to roll the dice and switch to slicks first and while he kept it on the road, he was still running slower laps than the rest of the field on the wet tires.

At Texas, Jakes was able to work his way to a ninth-place finish. He made the second round of qualifying again at Toronto but had an accident ruin his day. Attrition gave him a seventh at Fontana. The engine quit on his at Milwaukee. He finished 15th and 16th at Iowa and Mid-Ohio and got a tenth at Pocono, once again because of attrition and he was the first driver competing at Sonoma to start his offseason as he had an accident end his day after 63 laps.

James Jakes' 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 16th (257 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 7
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 15.857
Average Finish: 15.937

As a substitute, Ryan Briscoe showed why he deserves to be full-time
Ryan Briscoe
The Australian was the 11th-hour substitute for James Hinchcliffe at Indianapolis and Ryan Briscoe made the most of it. After starting 31st on the grid, he finished 12th in the Indianapolis 500. He missed Belle Isle because of the Le Mans test day as he was competing with Corvette Racing. Conor Daly replaced him and scored a 19th after Ryan Hunter-Reay caused damage to Daly's car but Daly came back in race two to finish sixth. Briscoe returned at Texas and worked his way from 19th to eighth. He missed Toronto for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Daly finished 12th from 19th.

Briscoe was in contention for victory at Fontana and led seven laps before contact coming to the white flag caused him to go airborne and end his day as well as Ryan Hunter-Reay's. He had another good car at Milwaukee as he started second on the grid but contact with Will Power ended both their hopes for top tens. He repeated his Texas performance at Iowa as he went from 19th to eighth again. His worst race was at Mid-Ohio where he finished 18th but he recovered at Pocono and finished eighth again, this time from 18th. At the Sonoma finale, Briscoe went from 17th to fifth.

Ryan Briscoe's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 18th (205 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 10
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 17.75
Average Finish: 11.875

It would have been interesting to see what Hinchcliffe would have been able to do had he not been injury. As I said, he was seventh in the championship and was the second best Honda driver when he was knocked out of the seat. Could he have been able to keep up with the leaders and potentially found himself in championship contention entering the season finale? It should be noted that Hinchcliffe's career has had a seesaw pattern to it. He has one great race followed by one bad race. Look back at 2013 when he won three races.

Won at St. Petersburg.
Two 26th-place finishes at Barber and Long Beach.
Won at São Paulo.
Three consecutive finishes outside the top ten.
Won at Iowa.
Twenty-fourth in the following race at Pocono.

We could even see the seesaw pattern forming this season as he would score a really good finish and then fall right back to the center of the pack.

Briscoe scored 52 points fewer than Jakes and Briscoe only ran half the races while Jakes ran a full season. Briscoe outscored Stefano Coletti, who ran all the races. Briscoe had four top tens but he easily could have had six top tens if it weren't for accidents, one not his fault, the other was a questionable decision on his part.

Just by looking at points per race, Hinchcliffe was averaging 25.8, Briscoe was at 25.625 and Jakes was at 16.0625. It should be quite obvious who SPM's two drivers should for next season. While Jakes has the ability to bring the car home he rarely earns top tens and in the current state of IndyCar, you need to be able to drive and get a top ten, not hope you are on the right side of attrition and have one fall into your lap.

It seems to be a guarantee Hinchcliffe will be back for 2016 and he returned to the #5 Honda at a Road America test but that second seat will probably be fought over by ten drivers and we don't even know half of those suitors yet. I am sure Jakes will be doing all he can to defend his seat but the team should be heavily pursuing Briscoe. Conor Daly showed in his few starts that he deserves a fairer shot at IndyCar and it was unfortunate his car died on his before going green in the Indianapolis 500. Jack Harvey finished second in the Indy Lights championship for a second consecutive season and he could definitely make the transition to IndyCar in 2016.

The dream team for SPM should be Hinchcliffe and Briscoe and with the dream of a third car for either Daly or Harvey. SPM should be feeling good heading into 2016 but it will all come down to who they hire.