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 fourth 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 this instalment looks at this year’s drivers whom he has ranked from 24th to 17th…

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24. James Jakes

Progressing through the ranks in Europe, it came as a bit of a surprise that Dale Coyne has signed the unknown Jakes, and indeed, the 2011 season was quite a learning James Jakescurve. Early indications were that the up-and-coming Englishman was struggling to keep his car out of the wall or the kitty litter, but Jakes put in the hard work to learn his new machinery and by the end of the season had become one to watch with some consistent results and good qualifying performances. Dale Coyne would love to re-sign him for a second year, but there are other teams casting their eye on him.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Dale Coyne Racing
Starts: 16 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 4 Points: 189 C’ship Position: 22nd

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23. EJ Viso

Viso was more often than not put in the shade by his more experienced team-mate in Tony Kanaan, and his more illustrious team-mate Takuma Sato, however, he kept his nose clean much more than he had in previous years and developed into a more EJ Visomature driver in 2011.

Texas was by far his best night, with consecutive top-10 finishes in the twin-race format. Further top-10 finishes at Toronto and Infineon indicated the Venezuelan wasn’t just there to make up the numbers, but Viso had the lion’s share of problems on race day within the KV Racing team.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: KV Racing Technology
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 4 Laps Led: 2
DNF: 5 Points: 241 C’ship Position: 18th

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22. Mike Conway

Mike Conway

Mike Conway is the lowest ranked of the race winners in 2011 due to failing to qualify for the Indy 500 in a car more than capable of doing so. For whatever reason, May was a poor month for Conway and started a bit of a downward spiral for the young Brit. From Iowa up to and including Baltimore, he only managed one top-ten finish and had many questioning his right to hang on to a drive at a competitive team. His recent signing with AJ Foyt’s team is perhaps a surprise, on the basis of his results…

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Andretti Autosports
Starts: 16 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 4 Laps Led: 16
DNF: 7 Points: 260 C’ship Position: 17th

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21. Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball Charlie Kimball

It was a tough debut year for Charlie Kimball, but further experience will bring better results. Finishing 2011 with a pair of top-ten finishes, however, will do no harm, as will a further commitment from major sponsor Novo Nordisk and Chip Ganassi Racing for another season. Fingers crossed Charlie continue to learn and grow, and we’ll see how Kimball develops with another year under his belt.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Novo Nordkisk Chip Ganassi Racing
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 2 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 6 Points: 233 C’ship Position: 19th

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20. Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais Five top-ten finishes from nine starts shows the mettle of a four-time Champ Car champion. Sebastien is torn between two lovers at the moment. The first is Peugeot, who are in love with their French superstar and want his signature on a 2012 contract in sports cars, and the second is Bourdais’ love for IndyCar, as he, and we, would all love to see what he could do over a full IndyCar season.

Give Bourdais a consistently quick car and the prospect of seeing him duelling with the likes of the top Ganassi and Penske machines is the stuff of dreams. This was something we never saw when Bourdais was at his peak in Champ Car due to all of the aforementioned rivals having already jumped ship to the IRL. Please Dale, resign the man affectionately known as ‘Seabass’ and let him go to work.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Dale Coyne Racing
Starts: 9 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 5 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 3 Points: 188 C’ship Position: 23rd

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19. Vitor Meira

Vitor finds himself in an unfamiliar position at the end of the 2011 season. Previously agreeing to part ways with previous employer AJ Foyt, Meira sees himself having to find some sponsorship dollars in order to secure a full time ride next year, something he has previously not needed to do.

Vitor Meira Meira is the guy we all want to see win his first race. Twice a runner-up at the Indy 500, the Brazilian scraped into the top-ten a few times in 2011 but was little threat to the leaders. Now with the unwanted distinction of being considered a veteran but without a victory, the question is now whether he has the drive to fight back to the front of the grid, if he can find a drive for 2012 at all.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: AJ Foyt Enterprises
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Laps Led: 1
DNF: 3 Points: 287 C’ship Position: 16th

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18. Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato

For ‘Taku’, 2011 was chalk and cheese compared to 2010. Finishing in the top-ten on seven occasions, as opposed to one the previous year, leading 61 laps compared to zero, and taking two pole positions as opposed to zero in 2010 shows us how far Sato has come since arriving in the series as the most experienced Formula One driver to try his hand at Indycars since Nigel Mansell himself.

With a heavy weight of expectation from his homeland and Honda, the Japanese driver failed to deliver in his first year, but really stepped up his game this season. I’d like to bet on a victory for Taku in 2012, but I’m going to wait and see which team he winds up with first. If Rahal secures his services, then yes, bet on it.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: KV Racing Technology
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 2
Top-5 Finishes: 3 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Laps Led: 61
DNF: 2 Points: 297 C’ship Position: 13th

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17. JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand JR Hildebrand

Boy I’d love to find more to write positively about Hildebrand’s season than almost… almost… taking a sensational maiden victory at the Indy 500 in May, but gee he made it difficult at times.

Iowa and Toronto showed us what the former Indy Lights champ was capable of, but unfortunately those moments were few and far between. Narrowly missing out on the Rookie of the Year award was the second case of ‘almost’ for the American in 2011 and he will want to write both off to experience and focus on 2012. I think JR will have a few monkeys to shake from his back next year.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Panther Racing
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 2 Top-10 Finishes: 5 Laps Led: 12
DNF: 3 Points: 296 C’ship Position: 14th

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Check in tomorrow for our next IndyCar Season Review, where we will rank positions 16th to 9th in our end-of-year rankings!

[Article by Matt Lennon; images via LAT]

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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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