2011 IndyCar Series Season Review

The 2011 IndyCar Series season was tragically overshadowed by the death of Dan Wheldon at the season-ending Las Vegas race, but prior to that, much focus was on the thrilling championship battle between Dario Franchitti and Will Power, which was waged both on and off the track.

In the first of six feature articles, our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon rates the performance of each of the drivers who appeared over the course of the season, and where better to start than with this year’s occasional drivers and underperformers…

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48. Scott Speed & Patrick Carpentier

Scott Speed Patrick Carpentier

Speed’s only attempt at joining the IndyCar fraternity was at the Indy 500 this year, however as seems to be the case all too frequently lately, Speed never made it out of the garage to qualify due to various problems both with the car and with his own attitude, failing to set a 4-lap average speed worthy of qualification in the 33-car field.

Speed was replaced after Pole Day by Canadian driver Patrick Carpentier, who to his credit, tried hard but crashed while trying to qualify himself, ending the team’s involvement in the world’s greatest oval race for 2011.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Dragon Racing
Starts: 0 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 0 Points: 0 C’ship Position: Not Classified

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47. João Paulo de Oliveira

João Paulo de Oliveira

Hired mostly for his knowledge of the Motegi road-course, de Oliveira initially got his name mentioned up and down the pit lane, qualifying a hugely impressive 12th in his series debut. The race did not live up to the promise shown in qualifying, as the Brazilian slipped down the order with a poorly-handling car and eventually stopped on course, bringing out the first full-course caution of his only IndyCar start.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Conquest Racing
Starts: 1 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 1 Points: 10 C’ship Position: 44th

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46. Bruno Junqueira

This writer is a big fan of fairness and not of money dictating what happens, even though that appears all too frequently as the way of the world, at least publicly. Bruno Junqueira qualified his AJ Foyt entry in the 95th Indianapolis 500 in 19th place, several spots higher than many thought he would.

Bruno Junqueira After qualifying had resulted in two of the five Andretti Autosport entries being bumped from the field (Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay), the latter’s sponsor couldn’t handle not being involved in the world’s greatest race and a backroom deal was made for Hunter-Reay to take over the Brazilian’s entry, under his Andretti sponsor but using Junqueira’s car number.

As per Indy 500 rules, the car must start from the back, but this was still a total injustice for Junqueira, who was left in the cold despite having the speed and the setup to qualify in his own right. Hunter-Reay went on to finish an unimpressive 23rd, 3 laps removed from the leader. Junqueira did not participate further in the IndyCar series in 2011.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: AJ Foyt Enterprises
Starts: 0 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 0 Points: 4 C’ship Position: 47th

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45. Ho-Pin Tung

Ho-Pin Tung

Ho-Pin Tung is a much better driver than his two appearances in the 2011 IndyCar season may have led observers to believe.

Becoming the first Chinese driver to compete in the series was a goal Tung accomplished when he attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, a heavy crash at Turn 1 on Pole Day ruined his chances. Another opportunity came at Infineon, where Tung qualified 24th but failed to finish, crashing out with 10 laps to go.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Dragon Racing
Starts: 1 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 1 Points: 10 C’ship Position: 45th

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44. Hideki Mutoh

Hideki Mutoh Hideki Mutoh

The former Andretti Autosports driver made a one-race return to the IndyCar Series in 2011, driving a combined AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry at his home race in Motegi.

Mutoh is a name I hope we see again on a more regular basis in coming seasons, as he is portrayed as a hard worker, and has brought results in the past, with a podium finish in Iowa in 2009.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: AFS / Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Starts: 1 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 0 Points: 12 C’ship Position: 43rd

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43. Raphael Matos

Raphael Matos

A poor year for a promising former Indy Lights champion. Matos started the year with AFS Racing, who had branched out on its own after ending its association with Andretti Autosports.

The Brazilian finished two of the first four races of the year before failing to qualify for the Indy 500, which resulted in him leaving the team and failing to secure any ride for the remainder of the season. He is quick and aggressive and hopefully a seat can be found for him for 2012.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: AFS Racing
Starts: 4 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 1 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 2 Points: 67 C’ship Position: 30th

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42. Giorgio Pantano

Another Formula 1 journeyman returned to the IndyCar Series this year, making three starts at Infineon, Baltimore and Motegi.

Giorgio Pantano Unlucky in his first race at Infineon, as Pantano was running quite well before a late overtake move was deemed as a block, relegating him down the finishing order. Fairly competitive and capable of bringing sponsorship as a former GP2 Series champion and Formula One driver (although strangely, the F1 drive came before the GP2 title), if Pantano focuses on establishing himself in America, he may find a more permanent home in IndyCars and be capable of battling for podium finishes.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Starts: 3 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 1 Points: 37 C’ship Position: 36th

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41. Dillon Battistini

Dillon Battistini

Dillon was a surprise name entered by Eric Bachelart’s team for a sole appearance at Kentucky this year. His best season in American open-wheel was 2008 when he finished 6th in the Indy Lights series, before which he seemed to disappear into the wilderness, save for a couple of odd appearances over the next two years.

The Englishman was not a total waste of time as he appeared to be reasonably quick, but his career appears to need a serious backer to give it that shot in the arm that it needs. In time, we may see him again in IndyCars in the future.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Conquest Racing
Starts: 1 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 1 Points: 0 C’ship Position: 46th

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Check in tomorrow for our next IndyCar Season Review, where we will rank positions 40th to 33rd in our end-of-year rankings!

[Article by Matt Lennon; Images via Indycals, LAT, Motorsport, My San Antonio, Zimbio]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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