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 final season IndyCar Series review article, our correspondent Matt Lennon rates the performance of each of the drivers who appeared over the course of the season, where he now ranks the championship’s best eight drivers of 2011…

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8. Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

Is Helio on the downward spiral? This year was the first year, in any series, since 1999 that Castroneves has not taken at least one victory, which is a fantastic record to have but a devastating one to lose. Sure, he has had his share of off-track problems the last few years, but on-track, he was clearly put in the shade by his Aussie team-mates Ryan Briscoe and most notably Will Power. The Brazilian definitely still has the desire to win, but if there are still any distractions coming from other avenues, these must be dispensed with to allow the focus to return to his racing.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Team Penske
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 3 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Laps Led: 34
DNF: 1 Points: 312 C’ship Position: 11th

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7. Tony Kanaan

Mere days before the 2011 season began, Tony Kanaan was still without a drive following his shock departure from Andretti Autosports, but a lifeline from KV Racing came.

Tony Kanaan ‘TK’ turned that lifeline into a season of incredible achievement considering the time he had to get to grips with the team and the car, which included a podium finish in his first race with the team. Of nine Top-10 finishes, all but two were in the top-five. A pole position at the final non-event in Vegas capped off the year with everything except a victory, however this must be near to a sure thing in 2012.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: KV Racing Technology
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 1
Top-5 Finishes: 7 Top-10 Finishes: 9 Laps Led: 97
DNF: 4 Points: 366 C’ship Position: 5th

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6. Ryan Briscoe

Ryan Briscoe Ryan Briscoe

Briscoe is a talent many teams want to have on their books, but he was close to not being re-signed by Penske for 2012, after one of his leaner years. His 2011 season started badly with two poor results at St Petersburg and Barber, although the latter was a result of a collision with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

For a championship contender two years previous, Briscoe should be used to the strong end of the grid, but strong results were not as frequent as anyone at Penske would have liked. He is clearly capable of better though, and you will see it again, hopefully soon.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Team Penske
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 4 Top-10 Finishes: 10 Laps Led: 45
DNF: 2 Points: 364 C’ship Position: 6th

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5. Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon Scott Dixon

Dixon had a good year, but has had better. Two wins at Mid-Ohio and Motegi certainly kept him in the championship hunt until Kentucky, but it was more often than not the Franchitti vs Power show, and Dixon was off-stage for most of it. The New Zealander is a pure racer and his best is by no means past him.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Starts: 17 Wins: 2 Pole Positions: 2
Top-5 Finishes: 12 Top-10 Finishes: 13 Laps Led: 190
DNF: 0 Points: 518 C’ship Position: 3rd

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4. Oriol Servia

While his individual results were spectacular in parts, and less impressive in others, it was Servia’s consistency that saw him take Newman Haas to fourth place in the Drivers’ Championship, which some may say is better than the team deserved.

Oriol Servia The Spaniard’s car was usually there among the leaders at some point during the race, causing enough headaches to be taken seriously. A barren patch in the middle of the year aside, the final races of 2011 saw a pair of second places at Loudon (controversial at one point as Servia thought he had won) and Baltimore, Servia would be guaranteed a place on the grid next year if not for his team pulling out of IndyCar Racing. It shouldn’t be too difficult for him to find another seat though, so expect him back in 2012 and probably much higher up the grid than his car should be allowing him to go.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Newman Haas Racing
Starts: 17 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 6 Top-10 Finishes: 11 Laps Led: 18
DNF: 0 Points: 425 C’ship Position: 4th

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3. Will Power

Successfully defending his Mario Andretti road-course championship in 2011 was Will Power, however, also for the second year in a row falling short of the overall series championship to Dario Franchitti.

By mid-season, we were wondering if this was getting to him, as Power lost his cool to some degree following a collision with Franchitti at Toronto, which only hurt more when Franchitti won the race, as well as at Loudon when Power saw his opportunity to take a Will Power big chunk out of Franchitti’s points lead and was lucky to get it despite a crash at the end of the race, which was later blamed on (now former) chief steward Brian Barnhart, which didn’t stop Power from delivering a middle-fingered salute to the controversial official. All things aside though, Power must have a championship in him soon, and I really hope all things swing in Power’s favour and 2012 is his year.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Team Penske
Starts: 17 Wins: 6 Pole Positions: 8
Top-5 Finishes: 11 Top-10 Finishes: 12 Laps Led: 518
DNF: 2 Points: 555 C’ship Position: 2nd

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2. Dario Franchitti

Dario Franchitti Dario Franchitti

Four championships in five seasons (when he didn’t even compete in one of the seasons) are the marks of a truly dominant champion. Dario was only twice outside the Top 10 all year long, and with that kind of consistency, you’re always going to be in contention. It will take a special effort from whomever may step up next year to take the championship trophy (which should now be covered in dust as it has been in Dario’s possession for so long now) from the champion Scot.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Starts: 17 Wins: 4 Pole Positions: 2
Top-5 Finishes: 13 Top-10 Finishes: 15 Laps Led: 843
DNF: 1 Points: 573 C’ship Position: 1st

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1. Dan Wheldon

Dan Wheldon has not been given the top spot in my driver review because of a sympathy vote by virtue that he is no longer with us following his tragic passing at the season finale in Las Vegas.

Dan Wheldon Dan Wheldon earned top spot in this review by virtue of his on-track achievements in the races he completed. Dan only took part in three races all year, one of which was a victorious drive at the Indianapolis 500, in which Wheldon wasn’t even fighting with the leader on the final lap yet still managed to keep it together to win. A further appearance at Kentucky – effectively a warm-up for the fateful race in Las Vegas – saw a 14th place finish.

Dan was a true champion and his death left a gaping hole in the IndyCar world which will take a long time to close. He will be missed by all of those inside and outside the Indycar Series, but his legacy will live on forever.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS
Team: Bryan Herta Autosports; Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Starts: 2 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 1 Laps Led: 1
DNF: 0 Points: 75 C’ship Position: 28th

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BEST OF 2011 AWARD-WINNERS

BEST RACE: Iowa
BEST NEW TALENT: James Hinchcliffe
MOST IMPROVED DRIVER: Takuma Sato
MOST DISAPPOINTING DRIVER: Mike Conway

[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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