|The season that was IndyCar in 2014
1. I'm not sure you can find any complaints about with Will Power's season. Unlike previous seasons where Power would win five or six races but have three or four costly races, this year Power had three wins, led IndyCar in podiums, top tens, pole positions, races led, laps led and average finish. His one bad weekend was Houston but his worst finish all season was fourteenth. He began the season with eight consecutive top tens and ended it with six consecutive top tens. On the weekends Power struggled, his championship contenders also faltered, which is complete opposite from when Power was battling with Franchitti for the title and Franchitti would always capitalize if Power slipped. Despite a slew of penalties for pit lane violations or blocking, Power was able to recover when times got tough and finally took home a championship.
2. To peg where Hélio Castroneves lost the title, all you have to do is look at the final five races. He finished second in race one at Toronto and held a 28-point lead over Power going into race two. Since that podium, the Brazilian finished twelfth, nineteenth, eleventh, eighteenth and fourteenth. He lost the second-most positions from starting position in 2014, losing 66 positions. Only James Hinchcliffe lost more at -75. Add to the fact Castroneves only picked up one victory for the second consecutive year. Winning one race isn't going to be enough. The last driver to win a championship with one victory or fewer was Tony Stewart in 1997 and the last driver to win the title with two or fewer victories was Gil de Ferran in 2001. If you want to win the title, you are going to need at least three wins, something Castroneves hasn't done since 2006.
3. Nobody was on more of a roll at the end of 2014 than Scott Dixon. Eight consecutive top tens, seven of which were top fives. Even better for Dixon was out of his twelve top tens, he had eleven top fives, most in the 2014 IndyCar season. He had a terrible month of May and a terrible Houston weekend. If he corrects those two weak spots from 2014, he will be in contention for his fourth title in 2015.
4. Fourth is fantastic for Juan Pablo Montoya in his comeback season to IndyCar. He still struggles on street circuits. He entered 2014 with an career average finish of 15.5 on street circuits and his average street circuit finish in 2014 was 11.25 with a second at Houston 1 and fourth at Long Beach being his best finishes. Montoya won the 2014 oval championship. I know they don't hand out the trophy anymore but he scored the most points on ovals. Let's not forget to mention Castroneves and Power scored the second and third most points on ovals. Penske will have that going for them in 2015.
5. Simon Pagenaud rarely put a wheel wrong in 2014, which makes it surprising that he barely finished in the top five of the championship. He finished tied for second in top fives and top tens in 2014. The double points caught him out last night as he struggled with the car's handling all night. He scored the second most points on road/street circuits in 2014 but scored the eleventh most points on ovals, despite averaging a 10th place finish in the six races and scoring three top tens on ovals. He is a free agent and we know Andretti Autosport is reportedly going to try and sign the Frenchman away from Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. If he does leave SPHM, will that be enough to get him the championship?
6. Does winning the Indianapolis 500 make sixth in the championship automatically feel like a secondary championship for Ryan Hunter-Reay? He missed out on fifth in the championship by two points after his spin while running third. Ultimately, if I offered fifth in the championship or winning the Indianapolis 500 and finishing sixth, I think we all know what we would take. If he didn't spin, I definitely think Hunter-Reay would have brought the fight to Kanaan for the victory. He won three races, including the Indianapolis 500 but you have to think Hunter-Reay left a lot on the table. He had six top fives but had six finishes of 18th or worse. Some of those poor finishes were of his doing (Long Beach, both Belle Isle race), others were mechanical (Texas, Pocono, Milwaukee) but if he can turn those dismal races that were of his own doing into top ten, he will be a championship contender in 2015.
7. Ending the season with a victory can sometimes erase all the previous let downs in a season and I think Tony Kanaan's victory does that in some sense. Outside of being caught up in an accident not of his doing at Long Beach, a gearbox issue in the "500" and a first turn spin at Mid-Ohio, Kanaan had a really good year. He had a few races get away from, Pocono and Iowa come to mind but overall, it was a really good year for Kanaan. Finishing seventh in the championship isn't that bad in this current era for IndyCar. This isn't 2005 or 2006 where there were 19 full-time cars. The field is full to the brim with talent, both young and old.
8. Rookie of the Year Carlos Muñoz finished eighth in the championship, the second best Andretti Autosport driver. I think the expectations were outstandingly higher for Muñoz entering this season than all the other rookies because of what he did in three cameos in 2013. He showed signs of being a rookie. There were a few races where he was just completely out of it (Texas and both Toronto races) and that will happen when you are 22 years old. Once again, he is 22 years old. I bet you thought he was older than that. Not a bad start for the Colombian. I think he will make a stride in the right direction in 2015.
8b. Ed Carpenter Racing finished eighth in the entrant's championship behind three combined victories from Ed Carpenter and Mike Conway. This is what I expected out of the British-American duo. Carpenter had four top tens in six races, including his victory at Texas while Conway picked up victories at Long Beach and Toronto 2. However, Conway's two victories were his only top tens of the season and his next best finish was thirteenth (Houston 2 and Mid-Ohio). Conway scored the eleventh most points on road courses while Carpenter scored ten more points than Conway in half of the amount of races. I am not sure if Conway could get away with checkers or wreckers but unless Carpenter wanted to go for the entrant's championship, I am sure he is happy with Conway's results. The question is will Conway return? He is a Toyota reserve driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship and with rumors current Toyota drivers Stéphane Sarrazin and Sébastien Buemi have been approached by Nissan for 2015, he might be in position to land a prime seat for a world championship and Le Mans victory. If Conway does leave, can Carpenter find a driver capable of duplicating his results in 2015?
9. I feel bad for Marco Andretti because unless he wins the Indianapolis 500 or the championship each year everyone will say he only has a ride because of his family. Let's ignore the fact he had as many top tens as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Juan Pablo Montoya this season and more than Muñoz, James Hinchcliffe, Sébastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth. Don't get me wrong, winning races is crucial but let's recognize Andretti for his ability to be able to bring a car home in one piece toward the front of the field. He is 27 years old. When Will Power was 27 years old he had only two victories to his name and his best championship finish was fourth. Andretti has two victories to his name and his best championship finish is fifth. There is plenty of time left in Andretti's career. Plenty of time.
10. It took nearly seven years for Sébastien Bourdais to get his 32nd victory in IndyCar but he finally got it at Toronto 1. Looking at his results, you feel like Bourdais left a lot on table. Five top fives and seven top tens along with two pole positions but he had six finishes between eleventh and fifteenth. Got to give him and KV Racing credit though considering KV lost Kanaan, to bounce back with tenth in the driver's championship is respectable.
11. Ryan Briscoe's can be summed up like this: Good but not great. Ten top tens and the seventh best average finish but only one top five and led five laps. He finished tied with Bourdais for tenth in the championship but loses the tiebreaker on total victories (Bourdais' 1 to Briscoe's 0). Most races I would see Briscoe in the back half of the top ten but make nothing of it because he wasn't making waves and wasn't a threat to make waves. He is a talented driver but can he improve and become a factor in 2015?
12. James Hinchcliffe ended on a much needed high note with his fifth place finish at Fontana. This was a rough season for the Canadian. Third best average starting position but tied for the twelfth best average finish. If he can continue his qualifying success in 2015 and stay up front, he will be in up there with Power, Castroneves, Dixon, Montoya, Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay battling for a championship instead of on the edge of the back half of the field.
13. Josef Newgarden ended strong with three consecutive top tens to close out the 2014 season. The expectations should be to score a victory with the merged Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing in 2015. He started nine races in the top ten in 2014, seven of those were top five starts. He has the speed, he will be getting at least one, maybe two teammates and possibly will be moving over to Chevrolet, the manufacture that won the final six race in 2014 and twelve of eighteen.
14. This year was a step back for Justin Wilson. After finishing sixth in 2013, the Sheffield-native finished fourteenth this year. Only one top five and seven top tens, which is a respectable amount but he was never in contention for a victory, unlike last year. I am going to write this off as one bad year but if he can't turn it around in 2015, Wilson will officially be on the back nine of his career and the clock will be ticking before a full-time ride will no longer be available. It's a sad thought considering Wilson is one of the nicest and most respected drivers on the grid.
15. For someone who averaged a starting position of 16.411, it is a little surprising Charlie Kimball scored ten top ten finishes. He ended 2014 on a little slump with twelfth place last night at Fontana being his best finish in the final three races. If he can improve on qualifying, he will be in better position in races and should improve on his championship position.
16. Not a bad season for Jack Hawksworth. His highlights were really good runs at St. Petersburg and Long Beach but was taken out in accidents out of his control in each race. He ran really well on the IMS road course and at Houston. He struggled on ovals and that wasn't unexpected. On the bright side he did get a top ten on an oval with a tenth place finish at Milwaukee. I really hope he returns with Bryan Herta Autosport in 2015.
17. Another guy I hope returns in 2015 is Mikhail Aleshin. His massive accident at Fontana aside, Aleshin impressed me the most out of all the rookie. I had seen Muñoz and Hawksworth run Indy Lights and knew what was coming but Aleshin was a little unknown. Other than his 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 title where he beat current Red Bull F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo and current Porsche LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley he really hadn't done much. He was stuck in the European ladder system and was having difficulty replicating the results of that 2010 season on a regular basis. He comes to IndyCar and scores a podium at Houston 2, along with seven top tens, three of which came on ovals, which he had never run before this year. He was immediately labelled a ride buyer or F1 reject but I think we unfairly label those from European backgrounds. There are plenty of talented drivers who don't catch a break. It doesn't mean they aren't good enough, it just means they are overlooked and Aleshin was one that that fell into IndyCar's lap at Formula One's expense.
18. Takuma Sato ended 2014 with consecutive top tens but does it erase the fact he had ten finishes of 18th or worse? He won two pole positions but we know he has the speed, he just lacks the consistency. Will AJ Foyt Racing put up with another year of three or four good finishes in return for a plethora of disappointing races? Honda has been loyal to Sato for years making sure he had a ride somewhere but if I was Foyt, I would want something more in return. Preferably funding for a second car to give a promising driver a shot in decent equipment.
19. After struggling to land the National Guard sponsorship at the start of 2014, Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing struggled all season and now will struggle even more as their $12 million budget is gone and the search is on for funding. A second place in Belle Isle 1 and fifth at their home race at Mid-Ohio as all they have to show for in 2014. You have to feel for all involved. You want to believe it can't get any worse but it continues to go downhill. I hate to say it but Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is the worst team on the IndyCar grid.
20. My jaw is still on the floor that Carlos Huertas won a race this year. Now sure he would have won had Graham Rahal not run over Tony Kanaan at the end of Houston 1 and the race gone green at the end or if Huertas had a legal fuel cell, but we'll never know. Huertas was never a moving chicane and other than this past weekend at Fontana, he never looked out of place on ovals. Three top tens is more than I expected out of him and I would like to see him get a second season to see if he can improve.
21. Sebastián Saavedra's career had so much promise five years ago. Now it will be head scratching if he remains on the grid in 2015. Why Gary Peterson supports Saavedra with his Automatic Fire Sprinklers sponsorship over JR Hildebrand or another young American such as Conor Daly or Sage Karam is beyond me. Saavedra has only 16 lead lap finishes in 56 starts, only one lead lap finish has been on an oval (this year's Indianapolis 500). One top ten is all Saavedra has to show for in 2014 with a pole position on the IMS road course that lasted all of less than a foot as he stalled on the grid and was then run over from behind.
Fun Facts From 2014
Will Power completed all but one of the 2395 laps run in 2014.
Carlos Muñoz and Charlie Kimball are the only full-time drivers who did not lead a lap in 2014.
There were 66 cautions for 323 of 2395 laps in 2014, meaning the pace car led 13.48% of all the laps run in 2014. On average there were 3.666 cautions for 17.94 laps a race in 2014.
There were eleven different winners in 2014, tying the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons for most different winners in a season.
Of the eleven different winners in 2014, three won in either or both 2000 or 2001. Juan Pablo Montoya won three races in 2000 (Milwaukee, Michigan and Gateway). Scott Dixon won one race in 2001, his first career victory his third start at Nazareth. Hélio Castroneves is the only won of the three to win in both 2000 and 2001. He picked up three victories in 2000 including his first career victory at Belle Isle followed by wins at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca. He would go on to win three races in 2001 (Long Beach, Belle Isle and Mid-Ohio).
The average starting position for a winner in 2014 was 8.444.
The average amount of lead change for a race in 2014 was 9.777.
The average amount of laps lead for a winner in 2014 was 46.388.
The pole-sitter won three times in 2014 (Juan Pablo Montoya at Pocono, Sébastien Bourdais at Toronto 1 and Will Power at Milwaukee).
The driver who led the most laps won seven times in 2014 (Will Power at St. Petersburg and Milwaukee, Ryan Hunter-Reay at Barber and Indianapolis, Hélio Castroneves at Belle Isle 2, Sébastien Bourdais at Toronto 1 and Scott Dixon at Mid-Ohio).
The driver who set fastest lap in race won twice in 2014 (Power at St. Petersburg and Simon Pagenaud at Houston 2).
A Few Thoughts to End On
Honda has to step up their game. Only six wins out of eighteen races? Not to mention Chevrolet ending on six consecutive victories and a third consecutive manufactures' championship. Let's not forget Honda ran 12 cars at every race while Chevrolet had 10. They are going to figure out a way to take down the Bowtie Brigade.
Time is now ticking for a third engine manufacture to enter for 2016. If it's going to happen it has to been announced a year in advance, so if we don't hear anything by March 2015, it probably won't happen. We've all heard Cosworth is working on something but until it happens it doesn't really matter.
Many rides are unknown. Will Pagenaud head to Andretti, stay with SPHM or leave IndyCar altogether? Will Hinchcliffe have his option picked up? Does Gabby Chaves pick up a ride? What other rookies could be on the 2015 grid? Does Aleshin return? A lot of balls still up in the air.
Aero kits are coming. They should be unveiled this fall. At least we have that to look forward to.
Schedule news for 2015: No Houston, looks like Toronto will take place at Mosport for one year before heading back to Exhibition Place. Another thing to look forward to this autumn.
We also have the new Indy Lights car to look forward to.
I believe we already know the ABC races for 2015: Long Beach, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indianapolis 500 and Belle Isle. Not to forget mentioning Indianapolis 500 qualifying will be covered by ABC.
Now on to the offseason. However long that may be.