IndyCars: 2012 Season Review Driver-by-Driver Rankings (21-15)

In his third part of his 2012 IndyCar Series season analysis, our correspondent Matt Lennon pores through the statistics to rank the midfielders as he counts down towards crowning the ‘Driver of the Year’…

21st Place: Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball Charlie Kimball Charlie Kimball

CLEARLY, a better year than his debut and ever-present proof that one day, this kid will be a series champion. Only three DNF’s all year, six Top-10 finishes including a well deserved second-place finish and maiden podium at Toronto, and a number of consistent results.

Had a bit of a slump mid-year – as did many – as well as unfortunately sitting out Mid-Ohio due to injury, but overall, it is clear that further improvement is on the cards as he gets more comfortable with his team, his surroundings and benefits further from the wisdom and experience of Chip Ganassi, Mike Hull, Barry Wanser and Mo Nunn, who can all see great things from this kid in years to come.

Team: Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Starts: 14 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 6 Laps Led: 3
DNF: 3 Points: 260 C’ship Position: 19th

20th Place: Alex Tagliani

Alex Tagliani Alex Tagliani Alex Tagliani

After thirteen seasons in the top-flight, you would think Tagliani would be experienced enough to avoid a number of petty incidents which blighted a season heralding so much promise back in March.

The former pole-sitter at Indianapolis had a poor start to the year, with two DNF’s in the first three starts – largely due to the Lotus engine’s shortcomings – and then being forced to miss Sao Paulo completely due to the team preferring not to fund the long-haul start in Brazil.

After Indy, however, things got better and ‘Tags’ only finished outside the Top 10 twice more for the rest of the season. However, results could have been better still had he kept his car out of trouble in more than one event through some hasty and ill-thought out passing attempts that didn’t pay off and resulted either in him out-braking himself, an off-track excursion, or running wide resulting in dropping a few positions and having to fight back through the field. Only a single victory and no podiums since the Champ Car/IRL merger cannot possibly be satisfactory for his career so far.

Team: Team Barracuda – Bryan Herta Autosports Lotus / Honda
Starts: 14 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 1
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 8 Laps Led: 93
DNF: 4 Points: 272 C’ship Position: 17th

19th Place: JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand JR Hildebrand JR Hildebrand

Unfortunately, JR Hildebrand’s career to date is still remembered for what could have been at the 2011 Indy 500, as he hasn’t really done much more to steer the focus elsewhere since that day. Has usually found himself mid-pack, however did manage to close the season well with two Top-10 finishes and two more just outside this mark. Granted, JR is perhaps more suited to the ovals than the road courses, but as a one-car team, with the team’s entire effort behind him, JR is capable of challenging the Top 5 a little more frequently.

Team: Panther Racing Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 2 Top-10 Finishes: 6 Laps Led: 60
DNF: 3 Points: 294 C’ship Position: 11th

18th Place: Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato Takuma Sato Takuma Sato

Talent doesn’t leave a racing driver when he leaves Formula 1, and Takuma is one of the most talented drivers in the pack, without a doubt. The Japanese driver has exceeded expectations again in 2012 – his third year in the sport. A podium in Brazil led to that moment at Indianapolis where he crashed out on the final lap while trying to pass eventual winner Dario Franchitti for the lead of the race, a heartbreaking result which unfortunately will read for all time as the 17th place finish that could instead have been his likeness on the Borg Warner trophy. Two more Top-10 finishes and another podium at Edmonton closed Sato’s year, and an as-yet unconfirmed seat for next year.

Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 2 Top-10 Finishes: 5 Laps Led: 76
DNF: 9 Points: 281 C’ship Position: 14th

17th Place: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden Josef Newgarden Josef Newgarden

What a debut season from Josef Newgarden! Sarah Fisher is developing a reputation for unearthing talent and giving them their start as she has done with Newgarden. The young Tennessean made a bit of a humourous name for himself early in the year when he used to take a video camera into highly populated fan areas at race weekends asking incognito if anyone had heard of this new superstar Josef Newgarden, remaining unrecognised by fans as he asked them what they knew about the young driver.

Knocking on the door of a Top 10 finish in his debut made people sit up and ask where this boy had come from, and then an amazing front-row start at Long Beach served as a great introduction to the bigger teams, even though he crashed out at the first corner trying an overambitious overtake on polesitter Dario Franchitti.

Although this incident was quickly written off as inexperience and a learning curve, it was certainly forgotten come Indy when Newgarden secured a third-row start in his maiden Indy 500 appearance, which certainly got everybody’s attention, despite retiring late in the event with engine trouble.

The rest of the year though wasn’t spectacular, peppered with incidents and the odd bonehead move or two. Newgarden however was forced to miss Baltimore with a hand injury after a big crash with Sebastian Bourdais at Sonoma. Overall though, the season was good, and another year of experience will do him no harm at all.

Team: Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda
Starts: 14 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 0 Top-10 Finishes: 0 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 6 Points: 200 C’ship Position: 23rd

16th Place: Oriol Servià

Oriol Servia Oriol Servia Oriol Servia

What does this man need to do to get a start with a top team at the front? He surely deserves it, as one of the most consistent racers in the pack, clearly able to deliver results from a poor car, as he did once again in 2012 driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

A magnificent fourth-placed finish at Indy was a worthy result after a poor qualifying, and was followed up by fifth place at Detroit a week later. Two more highlights in another fourth at Milwaukee and fifth at Toronto proved why he is so valuable, as he brought home the car much higher in the overall driver standings than it probably deserved. You would think a Roger Penske would by now be impressed enough to give him a run worthy of his talent, and a chance to add to a single victory attained at Montreal in 2005 with Newman Haas.

Team: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Lotus / Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 4 Top-10 Finishes: 5 Laps Led: 0
DNF: 3 Points: 287 C’ship Position: 13th

15th Place: Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti  Marco Andretti Marco Andretti

The pressure on this man year-in and year-out courtesy of his regal (in motor racing folklore anyway) surname must be intense at the best of times, but even his dad must be wondering if or when Marco will fulfil his potential.

Only two wins in seven years of competition can be shown for his talent, and while he was quite consistent in his finishes in 2012, they were more often than not at the wrong end of the final standings – save a brilliant second-placed finish at Iowa closely behind his team-mate and eventual series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Marco has the equipment at his disposal, and must soon try to silence the critics on a more frequent basis before even Dad gets fed up.

Team: Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 1
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 3 Laps Led: 65
DNF: 3 Points: 278 C’ship Position: 16th

Stay tuned for the penultimate instalment in the 2012 IndyCar Series Driver Rankings, which will be published tomorrow!

Matthew Lennon
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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.