IndyCars: 2013 Season – Driver Rankings Part 3

In the penultimate instalment of our four-part series, our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon ranks more of the drivers in this year’s field as he counts down to crowning our ‘Driver of the Year’…

19th: Ed Carpenter

Ed Carpenter Ed Carpenter Ed Carpenter
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
Races: 19 Pole Positions: 1 Wins: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 3 Top-10 Finishes: 5 Retirements: 2
Laps Led: 56 Points: 333 Championship: 16th

In nobody’s mind must the feeling be stronger for the old Indy Racing League and its all-oval championship to return more than Ed Carpenter.

Looking at Ed’s results as owner/driver in the first two years of his own operation, one victory, one podium and six top-ten finishes – eight strong results out of eleven starts puts the team practically among Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing in terms of success.

In the old all-oval series, Ed could have been fighting for the championship on a regular basis by now and be firmly ensconced as a series powerhouse.

But as Randy Bernard regularly said in interviews during his time at the helm “We want to show we have the fastest and most versatile drivers in the world”. The key words there were “most versatile”, referring to abilities on both ovals and the road/street circuits which require a driver to turn right as well as left.

Herein is where Ed Carpenter falls down, and falls down hard. Over the same two years as a team owner, Carpenter has recorded not a single Top Ten finish – not one. His best road/street course finish has been a 12th place at Detroit last year and 13th at Toronto this year, both of which were attrition-hit. But on eight occasions this year, Ed has finished 15th or lower, and all of these were on circuits featuring at least one right-hand turn.

If championships were won by being an all-round nice guy, Carpenter would be in the Hall of Fame, but his one-dimensional driving speaks volumes for an all-round lack of ability.

Whether he jumped, or was pushed, Ed has finally realised his shortcomings and has hired Mike Conway for season 2014 to take control on these road and street courses. Already saying he doesn’t feel safe racing on ovals anymore, Conway is the perfect fit for the team and should provide the road/street course prowess needed to elevate the team to loftier heights. All they need now is a team’s championship…

18th: Oriol Servia

Oriol Servia Oriol Servia Oriol Servia
Team: Panther Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet / Panther Racing Chevrolet
Races: 12 Pole Positions: 0 Wins: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 4 Retirements: 2
Laps Led: 16 Points: 233 Championship: 22nd

Another year of driving his absolute heart out and sadly, another year of little achievement for Oriol Servia.

In equal equipment, Servia can race wheel-to-wheel with the best of them and deserves a shot in such more than any other.

But once again, five rounds through 2013, Servia found himself out of a job due to Robbie Buhl and Dennis Reinbold losing primary sponsorship for their car and being forced to withdraw from the IndyCar Series on a full-time basis, even with some technical backing coming from fellow competitor John Barnes and Panther Racing.

His results weren’t bad up to that point: five finishes from five starts, twice in the top-ten and once just a whisker outside. But when the money dries up, it dries up.

So while Reinbold and Buhl went off to rebuild their business (there is talk of a 2014 Indy 500 entry forthcoming as well as entries in lower formulae), Servia once again held his worn and overused ‘Driver For Hire’ placard.

Panther Racing boss John Barnes came to the rescue, having now dispensed of J.R. Hildebrand, he needed to look no further for a quick and reliable pilot than Servia, who stepped in and shared duties with Ryan Briscoe, bringing home two seventh place finishes in Iowa and the second race in Houston. Little else should be expected to a man constantly having to introduce himself to new team personnel, but give him the stability and he will give you the results.

17th: James Jakes

James Jakes James Jakes James Jakes
Team: Rahal Latterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Races: 19 Pole Positions: 0 Wins: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 1 Top-10 Finishes: 3 Retirements: 4
Laps Led: 10 Points: 294 Championship: 19th

Detroit was a high point in yet another underwhelming season for James Jakes. Despite being a high attrition race anyway, finishing a close second behind Simon Pagenaud and fighting for the win at some stages was just the tonic in the Rahal camp, which had enjoyed few successes in 2013 to-date.

Perhaps he was flattered by a lack of retirements and incidents through the year – only four DNFs for the season, the first of which didn’t come until Toronto.

A driver who at least brings the wagon home again at the end of the day should earn respect for that at the very least, but question marks still remain over his consistency and outright speed. Whether Acorn Stairlifts pony up the cash to power Jakes’ pedals once again in 2014 remains to be seen.

16th: Mike Conway

Mike Conway Mike Conway Mike Conway
Team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda / Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Races: 7 Pole Positions: 1 Wins: 1
Top-5 Finishes: 2 Top-10 Finishes: 5 Retirements: 2
Laps Led: 78 Points: 185 Championship: 23rd

This writer dreads the day the IndyCar Series becomes an all-road course championship, like Champ Car employed in its final full year of 2007, but Mike Conway would welcome such a move.

Five of his seven starts in 2013 resulted in a top-ten finish, including a win and a podium in Detroit, clearly his standout weekend of the year. Two seventh place finishes followed in Toronto and a ninth on Sunday in Houston.

Little surprise came then of a semi-full time drive for 2014 on his preferred road and street courses with Ed Carpenter Racing. Conway will certainly be the catalyst for a number of headaches to the more established Andretti, Penske and Ganassi hierarchy next year – few safer bets are likely to be found.

15th: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden Josef Newgarden Josef Newgarden
Team: Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda
Races: 19 Pole Positions: 0 Wins: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 4 Top-10 Finishes: 7 Retirements: 3
Laps Led: 0 Points: 348 Championship: 14th

Seven top-ten finishes in 2013 was a respectable tally for a driver who continues his development under Sarah Fisher and Andy O’Gara. Champagne corks would have been flying in Baltimore as the sophomore driver brought the car home in second place behind Simon Pagenaud, while only three DNFs all season long kept the sponsors and primary financier Wink Hartman happy.

More of the same in 2014 and the big boys will surely come knocking, but Fisher will be thankful for her watertight contract hold on the young Tennesse-born driver. Few would probably know Newgarden has already impressed in Europe, but with his focus on conquering America, he has slipped through the grasp of those across the Atlantic from his GP3 days, during which he claimed a pole position at Hockenheim and a fifth place finish at Monza. Expect bigger and better things in coming years, sooner rather than later.

14th: Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais Sebastien Bourdais Sebastien Bourdais
Team: Dragon Racing Chevrolet
Races: 19 Pole Positions: 0 Wins: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 4 Top-10 Finishes: 6 Retirements: 4
Laps Led: 87 Points: 370 Championship: 12th

For the first time since his return to America from Europe, Bourdais competed in every race this season, including the ovals, and these are clearly something he wants to work on.

The season got off to a rough start for Bourdais and he failed to crack the top-ten until Toronto, with a DNF at Indianapolis being an especially poor return to oval racing for the four-time Champ Car title winner.

From here however, the second half of the season couldn’t be more of a polar opposite, as Bourdais racked up no result worse than twelfth through the final eight events, including three podums and three more top-ten finishes. He was like a new man.

The Frenchman progresses a little further up the grid next year, taking charge of one of KV Racing’s machines, meaning Bourdais may find himself more empowered from a fellow racer in Jimmy Vasser than he has perhaps done in two seasons spent working for Jay Penske.

13th: Simona de Silvestro

Simona de Silvestro Simona de Silvestro Simona de Silvestro
Team: KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
Races: 19 Pole Positions: 0 Wins: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 2 Top-10 Finishes: 9 Retirements: 2
Laps Led: 0 Points: 362 Championship: 13th

Undoubtedly one of the most popular and personable drivers in the IndyCar series, Simona has now re-established herself and continues her rise after that horrifying 2012 season with the dog-slow Lotus-powered car.

Equipped with Chevrolet power and the experience of Tony Kanaan as a teammate, de Silvestro was firmly back in the game. She started and finishing the year strongly, even with a bit of a lapse through the middle of the year.

Three top-ten finishes kicked off the year, and many were convinced that a win was just around the corner. These feelings were tempered a little in the period from Indianapolis through to Iowa – where she had a best finish of 16th over five races – but doubt were dissuaded with a further five top-ten finishes to close out the year, including that impressive maiden podium finish at Houston.

Although not formally confirmed for 2014 at KV Racing, unless Simona herself wishes to look elsewhere, surely news of her re-signing can’t be far off.

12th: Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball Charlie Kimball Charlie Kimball
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Races: 19 Pole Positions: 0 Wins: 1
Top-5 Finishes: 3 Top-10 Finishes: 10 Retirements: 2
Laps Led: 80 Points: 427 Championship: 9th

After a breakout year in 2013, Kimball’s potential was finally realised as he climbed to the top step of the podium at Mid-Ohio.

Timing his pit stops to perfection and then taking off like a scalded dog with a series of qualifying-style laps, Kimball shot to the front of the pack and executed a textbook pass on Simon Pagenaud into Turn 3 for the lead late in the race.

It was a performance far exceeding a man of similar experience and showed the calculating head on his shoulders. Kimball will be hungry to be known not as a one-win wonder, however next time, it won’t be a surprise.

11th: Justin Wilson

Justin Wilson Justin Wilson Justin Wilson
Team: Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Races: 19 Pole Positions: 0 Wins: 0
Top-5 Finishes: 7 Top-10 Finishes: 13 Retirements: 2
Laps Led: 19 Points: 472 Championship: 6th

Even though Dale Coyne fielded seven different drivers at various stages through the year, Wilson was the only one to contest each event, and clearly stamped his position as team-leader by hovering among the frontrunners more often than not.

Nobody needs convincing of Wilson’s mettle or his credentials – you don’t get to Formula One on good looks alone (most of the time anyway). But his stint in F1 didn’t work out and America has proven more and more lucrative in more ways than one.

The hunger to win again is insatiable (last win was at Texas in 2011) but his results this year speak volumes: four podiums, nine more top-ten finishes and only two retirements all year.

For all of the good, Wilson is starting to show that his best years may have passed. He spent a night in hospital after crashing out of the final race of the year in Fontana. We all remember Wilson missed half the year in 2011 after fracturing some vertebrae in a practice crash at Mid-Ohio.

He is also 35 years old and time waits for no man. Wilson’s right hand man in engineer Bill Pappas has departed the Dale Coyne garage for a second time and will instead guide Graham Rahal in 2014, so fans must wait to see whether or not this impacts Wilson’s charge next year.

Find out who made the top ten in our final instalments of our IndyCar Series driver-by-driver rankings, which will be online soon!

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.