2012 IndyCar Series Season Review

In his final instalment of his 2012 IndyCar Series season analysis, our correspondent Matt Lennon pores counts down towards crowning the ‘IndyCar Driver of the Year’. Here are his top-seven ranked drivers…

7th Place: Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais Sebastien Bourdais Sebastien Bourdais

Champ Car’s four-time series champion made a welcome return to proven pastures in 2012, although there was anticipation Bourdais would step back in right where he left off and could possibly dominate once again. More realistically however, this was not the case, for a variety of reasons.

New car (Dallara instead of Bourdais’ history with Lola and Panoz, not to mention 18 months with Toro Rosso in Formula 1), a new team (Dragon Racing instead of Newman Haas), and a documented hesitation to racing on ovals, with Indianapolis marking Bourdais’ only appearance on the discipline all year, so Bourdais was never expected to challenge at the front.

But testament to his talent, that’s often what he did, qualifying extremely well, but more often than not getting caught up in other people’s spins or off-track skirmishes which translated to a poor result. The feisty Frenchman also had commitments in the Le Mans 24 Hours event, the FIA World Endurance Championship and the Grand-Am Sports Car Series in 2012 which may have impacted his full focus on a proper tilt at the IndyCar Series. Still, a top-ten finish at Alabama and a top-five at Mid-Ohio left people wanting more, and 2013 will see Bourdais run a full season, including ovals (for now) so it will be interesting to see what he can make of it.

Team: Dragon Racing Lotus / Chevrolet
Starts: 11 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 2 Laps Led: 7
DNF: 4 Points: 173 C’ship Position: 25th

6th Place: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan Tony Kanaan Tony Kanaan

The 2004 IRL Champion and friendly, yet competitive Brazilian had a very consistent year and ran near the top of the points standings pretty much throughout the year, capped off with podium finishes at Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Iowa.

A drink of the buttermilk at the 500 is widely known to be the last major professional accomplishment that burns inside Tony and what keeps him driven and focused, and nobody deserves it more, based on desire alone.

A full-on run for the championship this year was dented by getting caught up in a few accidents that were not his fault, such as having his front wing damaged by Will Power in a move judged by chief steward Beaux Barfield as a blocking move, which handed the Aussie a drive-through penalty, but consigned Kanaan to wing repairs and a lapped finish in 11th – harsh justice when victory was likely.

There’s no doubt more wins and possibly another championship are still in Kanaan, and under KV Racing and Jimmy Vasser, achievement of such would be felt as well-deserved up and down the pit lane.

Team: KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 5 Top-10 Finishes: 8 Laps Led: 54
DNF: 3 Points: 351 C’ship Position: 9th

5th Place: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves Helio Castroneves Helio Castroneves

Helio smiles, he dances, he laughs, he jokes, but boy, he can still drive like a demon. Starting the year in the best possible way, Helio took victory in the emotional St Petersburg season opener and gave everyone the indelible image of himself paying tribute to the late Dan Wheldon by patting the new street sign bearing the late champion’s name in his honour.

From there until Edmonton, results were either in the lower half of the Top-10 – still good, but not enough to make a run at the title Castroneves so desperately desires to cap off an already hall-of-fame worthy career.

The three-time Indy 500 winner was mathematically in contention for the title right up until the final stop of the season in Fontana, but had he won the title, it would definitely be considered as Helio coming from “under the radar”, so to speak.

His results were consistent, but not outstanding enough to stamp his mark on the title. The hunger is still there, most definitely, and Roger Penske would want nothing more than his loyal charge to finally fulfill his potential after 13 years in the Penske trenches.

Team: Team Penske Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 2 Pole Positions: 1
Top-5 Finishes: 5 Top-10 Finishes: 12 Laps Led: 265
DNF: 0 Points: 431 C’ship Position: 4th

4th Place: Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud Simon Pagenaud Simon Pagenaud

Nobody expected the ”Friendly Frog” as he is affectionately known, to do what he did with the Sam Schmidt / Davey Hamilton HP entry in the 2012 season, with the only blip on his season really being the Indianapolis 500, in which he snuck on to the grid on Pole Day, but not in the sensational way he had started his road course season, with three Top-10 finishes in four starts.

The strong finishes continued for the majority of the rest of the year, but what made Pagenaud’s season so amazing was qualifying and his ability to do so much with a team which, by numbers alone, couldn’t match the immense resources of Penske and Ganassi, or Andretti for that matter.

It is typical of Sam Schmidt to be more than capable of playing with the big boys and always being wrongly underestimated, and always at the peril of the doubters themselves. But take nothing away from Pagenaud himself, he’s as quick as they come, and after four podiums in 2012, wins, and plenty of them, are only a matter of time before they come.

Team: Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports Honda
Starts: 15 Wins: 0 Pole Positions: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 6 Top-10 Finishes: 9 Laps Led: 63
DNF: 1 Points: 387 C’ship Position: 5th

3rd Place: Will Power

Will Power Will Power Will Power

What to say about Will Power that hasn’t already been said? You’re reading this on an Australian website and Aussies love to see their countrymen doing well in their chosen field on the international stage. How frustrating it is then for all of his fans, not to mention Power himself, that on three separate occasions, he has been unquestionably the fastest driver on road and street courses on the vast majority of occasion for three straight years, has more wins in that time than any other driver, but yet has no championship to show for it.

A severe lack of oval racing opportunities in his homeland of Australia means few drivers from ‘Down Under” take to the oval discipline like the proverbial duck to water. Power clearly suffers from this problem, and no matter how much track time he gives himself on ovals, for one reason or another, the final event of the year proves to be the breaking point for the pressure a championship situation brings, which ultimately leads to Power’s undoing.

A scrape with the wall at Homestead in 2010 ended Power’s shot that year. 2011 was an anomaly as Kentucky proved to be the final points paying race of the season due to Las Vegas being declared a non-points paying event due to the Dan Wheldon tragedy. Nobody will ever know if Power could have overcome what was an 18-point championship points deficit at the beginning of that day to take the title.

So on to 2012 and what appeared to be an utterly dominant year after three wins from the first four starts. The second half of the year proved to be problematic until the last few events when Power got his act together again, but an unfamiliar foe in Ryan Hunter-Reay used three mid-season wins to vault him into contention and eventual victory.

While Power was sitting in his damaged car in the Fontana garage, his team hastily tried to repair it to a point where Power could re-join the race, but efforts proved to be futile and Power knew it had happened again. All he can do though is try again next year and try to shelter himself under the weight of expectation, handle the pressure and above all, work more on his oval racing techniques further to try and make 2014 his year.

Team: Team Penske Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 3 Pole Positions: 5
Top-5 Finishes: 7 Top-10 Finishes: 10 Laps Led: 294
DNF: 3 Points: 465 C’ship Position: 2nd

2nd Place: Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon Scott Dixon Scott Dixon

Until the final race of the year, Dixon was never out of the hunt, and only a dud call by stewards in Milwaukee blighted another stellar year from the two-time champion Kiwi Scott Dixon. Dixon would progress through the year on the podium every now and then, and suffered DNF’s every now and then too.

Highlights of the year would be finishing behind team-mate Dario Franchitti at the Indy 500 (albeit under safety car), and then utterly dominating in Detroit. Dixon couldn’t be touched on that day, despite the two-hour delay in the race while the track surface was repaired.

But then poor finishes in Texas, Milwaukee (not his fault) and Toronto, the latter two of which were both won by championship rival Ryan Hunter-Reay, really hurt Dixon’s run at the title. But even up to the last race at Fontana, in which Dixon finished on the podium, he gave his all, and 2013 heralds no reason why it will be any different, and perhaps better. He is a proven quantity and can never be discounted from championship contention right up until it is no longer mathematically possible.

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Starts: 15 Wins: 2 Pole Positions: 1
Top-5 Finishes: 8 Top-10 Finishes: 9 Laps Led: 456
DNF: 3 Points: 435 C’ship Position: 3rd

1st Place: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay Ryan Hunter-Reay Ryan Hunter-Reay

At Fontana, Ryan Hunter-Reay became the first American champion of a unified American open- wheel series since Al Unser Jr 18 years before, and first overall since Sam Hornish Jr, who won for Penske in the old IRL series in 2006.

A few short years ago, Hunter-Reay was in and out of the car on a race to race basis, struggling to find sufficient sponsorship to put together a full season. In comes Michael Andretti, who had enough sponsors on board to run a car for a full season, but who was having difficulty finding a proven, experienced and reliable driver, until Hunter-Reay came along and brought sponsorship of his own as icing on the cake.

From the start, he was always quick, but 2012 was undoubtedly his coming out year. It can probably be summed that Hunter-Reay flew under the radar for the first few races, which made his win at Milwaukee all the more surprising and seemingly ‘out of the blue’. But it wasn’t, and the popular Texan proved it by winning the next two races also, in Iowa and Toronto.

This was where the fans sat up and wondered where RHR had been all year and what had sparked this resurgence in form. What made Hunter-Reay’s mid-season charge so amazing was that the main contender for the title at that point, Will Power, suffered three poor results in those same three races, which highlighted the massive points gain Hunter-Reay enjoyed by the time the circus reached Edmonton.

Everyone knew he was in with a shot at that point. But a champion doesn’t always need to come from the outright fastest driver, he comes from the most consistent driver, which he was. Only three non-finishes all year, and making the most of the opportunities presented when his rivals fell around him was all he needed, and that’s exactly what he did.

Celebrating his championship win in the Fontana pit lane, it was nearly impossible as to which American to pay attention to, the Texan champion, or the race winner Indianan Ed Carpenter. It said a lot for the resurgence of Americans in domestic open-wheel competition. Ryan Hunter-Reay finally attained the ultimate prize everyone knew he would from that first victory in CART at Surfers Paradise in 2003, and will not be able to fly under the radar any longer.

Team: Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
Starts: 15 Wins: 4 Pole Positions: 1
Top-5 Finishes: 7 Top-10 Finishes: 10 Laps Led: 153
DNF: 3 Points: 468 C’ship Position: 1st

Thanks again for your continued support and readership over the course of the 2012 IndyCar Series season. We look forward to bringing you even more highlights in 2013!

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.