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 fifth 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 16th to 9th…

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16. Simona de Silvestro

If it could have gone wrong for Simona in 2011, it usually did, and when it was bad, it was really bad for the Swiss Miss.

Simona de Silvestro After a promising start to the season, it all began to go wrong at Indianapolis. A heavy crash resulted in second-degree burns to her right-hand and superficial burns to her left hand, however she gallantly took part in the race, driving with bandages on her hands. Another heavy crash at the very next race in Milwaukee saw her early retirement from the race due to dizziness and impaired vision.

Continued symptoms forced IndyCar officials not to medically clear her to compete in Iowa, and then after a mid-season holiday in her native Switzerland, US Customs declined her re-admission to the United States after an overzealous officer refused to believe she was a driver, deporting her back to Switzerland with a two-month entry ban, which was later overturned. Despite all this, de Silvestro keeps that infectious smile on her face, and with continued support from her sponsor Nuclear Clean Energy, Keith Wiggins and the entire HVM team, can hopefully turn 2012 into the polar opposite of 2011 and see the success her potential and ability is clearly capable of delivering.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: HVM Racing
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 3 Laps Led: 1
DNF: 4 Points: 225 C’ship Position: 20th

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15. James Hinchcliffe

James Hinchcliffe

You know you have a talent on your hands when he wins the Rookie of the Year award without competing in the opening race of the season. ‘Hinch’ scored his first of three top-five finishes in only his second start at Long Beach, finishing fourth. Six more top-ten finishes, including an excellent dice with the leaders in Kentucky, in which the Canadian was only three-tenths behind winner Ed Carpenter, further highlighted his prospects.

It seemed all was set for a second season with Newman Haas, however the recent closure of the team has put Hinchcliffe back on the open market, however there is no shortage of teams willing to talk to him. It will be great to see what he can do next year, given the right opportunity.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Newman Haas Racing
Starts: 16 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 3 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Laps Led: 26
DNF: 3 Points: 302 C’ship Position: 12th

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14. Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick The glamour girl of IndyCars made her name, but is now off to ply her trade (and earn a small fortune) full-time in NASCAR next year. The 2011 season was not a bad year for Danica. Multiple top-ten finishes, but only a single Top-5 finish, which came in Milwaukee, rumours of where Danica was going to be racing in 2012 tended to dominate the public forum more than her results in 2011.

I doubt we have seen the last of Danica in IndyCar, and by the time the Indy 500 rolls around in May, may find the itch to race at the Brickyard overwhelming, but time will tell on that one.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Andretti Autosports
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 9 Laps Led: 13
DNF: 0 Points: 314 C’ship Position: 10th

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13. Alex Tagliani

There’s an old saying that your second victory can often be harder to get than your first. Now that Marco Andretti has his second, and Danica has left the series, this just leaves Graham Rahal and the man affectionately known as ‘Tag’, sitting pretty on one win, even though that was achieved in Champ Car.

Alex Tagliani This season, Tagliani showed us he is by no means here to make up the numbers, most notably with a sensational pole at the Indy 500, and that he desperately wants that second trip to the top step of the podium. Moving to Bryan Herta Autosports for 2012 is an interesting move and one I hope pays dividends, as he sure deserves that second win.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Sam Schmidt Motorsports; Bryan Herta Autosports
Starts: 16 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 2
Top-5 Finishes: 3 Top-10 Finishes: 6 Laps Led: 25
DNF: 3 Points: 296 C’ship Position: 15th

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12. Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti

Marco is definitely a chip off the old block, however prior to Iowa, critics were wondering if his maiden win at Infineon in his debut season in 2006 was a mere fluke. Marco has come fairly close a number of times since, but Iowa was the breakthrough he needed to reaffirm the faith of all the doubters. Once Andretti get their cars back up to the level of the Ganassi and Penske boys, expect Marco to be one of the team leaders taking the fight to the sharp end of the grid. 

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Andretti Autosports
Starts: 17 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 4 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Laps Led: 42
DNF: 5 Points: 337 C’ship Position: 8th

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11. Ryan Hunter-Reay

The statistics don’t lie, and they show that Ryan Hunter-Reay is the most successful American driver currently in the IndyCar Series. Maybe this is why it was so important for him to participate in the Indy 500 this year, despite being unable to qualify his own Ryan Hunter-Reay car for the race.

As mentioned earlier in our review series, backroom negotiations saw him take the car previously qualified by Bruno Junqueira (and my thoughts on these are previously documented), but aside from this, Hunter-Reay had a very good season, winning well at Loudon and competing very well at most other events.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Andretti Autosports; AJ Foyt Enterprises
Starts: 17 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: ?
Top-5 Finishes: 4 Top-10 Finishes: 9 Laps Led: 74
DNF: 3 Points: 347 C’ship Position: 7th

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10. Graham Rahal

Graham was another with horribly poor luck in 2011. He came so close to winning a number of times, including three podiums in five starts between Brazil and Milwaukee.

Graham Rahal Rahal was often among the leaders after qualifying also, including front-row starts at Baltimore and Kentucky, but poor race strategy dropped him down the order all too often. This could be attributed to misunderstandings with the team or his engineer, or problems with the car itself. With luck on his side though, Rahal is a proven race-winner and will again step up to the top step, hopefully in 2012.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 3 Top-10 Finishes: 6 Laps Led: 29
DNF: 2 Points: 320 C’ship Position: 9th

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9. Ed Carpenter

Ed Carpenter

Ed was the only race-winner in 2011 who did not compete in every event of the season. For some reason, he has a special affinity with the Kentucky Motor Speedway, taking a sensational victory there along with pole position twelve months prior, both in cars not normally seen at the front of the field.

For 2012, Carpenter has started his own team, hired veteran manager Derrick Walker to run the outfit alongside Tony George and signed a major sponsor in Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka to fund the entry for a full season. Even though Carpenter is far superior on ovals than on road and street courses, it will be interesting to see how this new team performs come March 25 in St Petersburg.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Sarah Fisher Racing
Starts: 10 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 1 Laps Led: 11
DNF: 0 Points: 175 C’ship Position: 26th

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Check in tomorrow for our final IndyCar Season Review, where we will rank the best drivers in this year’s championship season!

[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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