IndyCars: 2012 Season Review Driver-by-Driver Rankings (14-8)

In his penultimate instalment of his 2012 IndyCar Series season analysis, our correspondent Matt Lennon pores through the statistics to rank the upper-ranked players as he counts down towards crowning the ‘IndyCar Driver of the Year’…

14th Place: Rubens Barrichello

Rubens Barrichello Rubens Barrichello Rubens Barrichello

Undoubtedly, it’s been a busy year for IndyCar’s Public Relations team. Little over a month before the season began, news that Rubens Barrichello, the 19-season veteran of Formula 1 and 11-time race winner would compete for KV Racing in the IndyCar Series sent the office into overdrive, especially from international journalists who all knew Barrichello but little of the series itself.

Rubens himself proved that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, as he took to the series like a duck to water, with the expert tutelage of best friend Tony Kanaan as a team-mate. His results spoke volumes, with three top-ten finishes in his first four outings, and then a top-ten qualification for the Indy 500, at a circuit he had only raced at in the opposite direction on the bastardised, soul-less Grand Prix circuit inside the oval that nobody liked anyway.

The only blight on a stellar season was mechanical failure which kept him from even starting at Texas, but this aside, four more top-ten finishes, including at Milwaukee and Iowa on unfamiliar ovals, had everyone convinced Rubens could run another 19 seasons in Indycar if he wanted to.

Unfortunately, a desire to be closer to his growing family and an opportunity to race locally in the Brazilian stock-car championship forced Rubens’ hand and his single season in IndyCar will be his last for now. Kudos to Rubens.

Team: KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 2 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Laps Led: 3
DNF: 3 Points: 289 C’ship Position: 12th

13th Place: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal Graham Rahal Graham Rahal

If even the expert guidance of Chip Ganassi Racing couldn’t turn Graham Rahal, son of the illustrious former Indy 500 and series champion father Bobby, into a consistent frontrunner, you’d think nothing could.

This season, however, was a better year for the young Rahal, but it is harder to put a finger on what type of circuit Graham specialises in, as he scored high-placed finishes on permanent road courses (4th at Alabama), street circuits (4th at Edmonton), and superspeedways (6th at Fontana).

He oh so nearly took his second victory at Texas mid-year, if not for a late scrape on the wall seeing him cede the lead to Justin Wilson with two laps to go. Having now re-signed for his father’s team, it will be interesting to see how Bobby moulds his flesh and blood into a more consistent racer, and by that I mean able to string together higher results to put him into contention for a championship.

To do so, curbing incidents – such as that of Long Beach with Marco Andretti, which turned into a public slanging match on Twitter – will be the first thing on the agenda. The famous Rahal name will want to have a second-generation champion in its family before the rival Andretti’s get a third generation champ, but that’s just my opinion.

Team: Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 4 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Laps Led: 28
DNF: 2 Points: 333 C’ship Position: 10th

12th Place: Justin Wilson

Justin Wilson Justin Wilson Justin Wilson

Good things were expected from prodigal son Justin Wilson in 2012, with the lanky Yorkshire lad reuniting with Bill Pappas – the engineer who took Wilson to Dale Coyne’s first victory in 25 years, at Watkins Glen in 2009.

A brief foray into life at Dreyer & Reinbold in 2010 and 2011 yielded little, and wasn’t this proven at Texas when Wilson drove a calculated race, closing on Graham Rahal with less than ten laps remaining, and practically gifted the win when Rahal scraped the wall ahead.

Some unkindly wrote off this win as blind luck, backed by a resumption of the status quo for the rest of the season, which saw only brief glimpses of competitiveness. But, better things are ahead for the perennial backmarkers, who have shown considerable improvement in recent years and are slowly heading in the right direction.

Team: Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Starts: 15 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 6 Laps Led: 26
DNF: 5 Points: 278 C’ship Position: 15th

11th Place: James Hinchcliffe

James Hinchcliffe James Hinchcliffe James Hinchcliffe

The affectionately labelled ‘Mayor of Hinchtown’ proved he was the right man to fill the green shoes of Danica Patrick at Andretti Autosports in the GoDaddy entry, starting the year with five consecutive top-ten finishes, including a sixth at Indianapolis.

Somewhat understandably then, you could imagine his surprise and dismay at being bundled into the tyre barriers the following weekend in Detroit after getting caught on a piece of loose tarmac, which brought the bigger problem of the condition of the surface to light and forced a two-hour race delay.

‘Hinch’ can be forgiven for that, and his rather animated trackside outburst after having ripped up a piece of the track with his hands, proving the point he was trying to make anyway.

This aside, his season can be, and should be, considered a success, albeit for the last three races, when he seemed to take his foot off the pedal once eliminated from championship contention after Sonoma. But herein lies his ambition, and there is definitely a championship in this young man in coming years, maybe even next year. It’s more than possible.

Team: Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 5 Top-10 Finishes: 8 Laps Led: 39
DNF: 4 Points: 358 C’ship Position: 8th

10th Place: Dario Franchitti

Dario Franchitti Franchitti Dario Franchitti

Finishing no better than tenth in his first three starts for the year, well, that could be considered poor by the high standards of four-time series champion Dario Franchitti.

But it was written off as a temporary lapse, and upon winning the Indianapolis 500 again, and standing alongside winner and team-mate Scott Dixon on the podium a week later in Detroit, everyone thought he was back and ready to mount his challenge for another title.

Then came Texas, Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto, and a meagre total of 54 points claimed from a possible 212 available, and pundits all but wrote him off for a title defence.

From that point on, it was clear Dario was again racing for fun and in the unfamiliar position of not being seriously considered for the drivers championship.

Many blamed it on difficulties adapting to the new DW12 chassis, which was understandable. It was just so rare to not see Dario challenging week after week as long-time viewers had become accustomed. We’re sure Dario will be back to his best next year.

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Starts: 15 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 2
Top-5 Finishes: 5 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Laps Led: 112
DNF: 2 Points: 363 C’ship Position: 7th

9th Place: Ryan Briscoe

Ryan Briscoe Ryan Briscoe Ryan Briscoe

From challenging for the title a few short years ago to only claiming a single victory in 2012, the rather large and disappointing slide in form continues for the eternally smiling Aussie.

Pole at Indianapolis was nothing to be sneezed at, and persistent talk that he might not even see out the year at Team Penske went quiet after this result, even though it didn’t translate to a win on the famous oval.

It is becoming clear that a comfort zone in a race team is not what Briscoe enjoys, and that his best results seem to come when he is new in a team and feeling his way around how a particular team does business. His second year at Penske leant weight to this possibility, when he stood on the podium 11 times from 17 races in 2009.

But fast forward to 2012 and his fifth season under The Captain, when he only sprayed the champagne three times in fifteen starts, with the highlight being a well-deserved win over team-mate Will Power at Sonoma.

Team boss Roger Penske sets high standards for his drivers, and while Briscoe was by no means fired, it is highly likely he will be in different colours for the coming season.

Team: Team Penske Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 2
Top-5 Finishes: 5 Top-10 Finishes: 8 Laps Led: 77
DNF: 3 Points: 370 C’ship Position: 6th

8th Place: Ed Carpenter

Ed Carpenter Ed Carpenter Ed Carpenter

If only Ed Carpenter could fix whatever it is he doesn’t like about turning right during races (as in, his street and road course form), he would be series champion several times over by now.

Forming his own team in 2012 under the guidance of former series boss Tony George and the wise old head of Derrick Walker, Ed signed a major sponsor for three years in Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka.

Unfortunately, Fuzzy’s only received its best exposure on oval circuits, as Ed was regularly up the front on the high-speed left handers while he was nowhere almost everywhere else. His results speak volumes on this theory, as Carpenter’s best result on road and street courses was a distant twelfth on the crumbling streets of Detroit, but was more often down in the high teens to low twenties in the race standings elsewhere.

Ovals, however, were an entirely different story, with two eighth-placed finishes at Milwaukee and Iowa the only highlights by the time the circus gathered in Fontana for the final race of the year.

There, out of the shadows came a changed man, as Ed qualified a strong ninth, quickly worked his way to the front and remained there or thereabouts to take his second career win and first for his new team. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes Ed makes to his driving style to adapt better to road and street courses. But he will be a far more consistent driver if he does.

Team: Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 1 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 3 Laps Led: 62
DNF: 1 Points: 261 C’ship Position: 18th

Stay tuned for the final instalment in the 2012 IndyCar Series Driver Rankings, which will be published tomorrow! Who will be crowned the 2012 ‘Driver of the Year’?

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.