Indycar-Grading the 2012 Season: Teams Edition
With the 2012 season on the books, it’s about time to start breaking down the good and the bad. In this multi-part series, I’ll cover everything from races to drivers, taking an in-depth examination of exactly what went down. Today, let’s kick things off with a look at the teams of the 2012 IZOD Indycar Series.
1. Team Penske
Will Power had a typical Will Power season, aside from the fact that he didn’t win another race after Sao Paulo. Once again, Will couldn’t quite find the handle on the ovals, but it’s clear that he IS improving on them. Helio took two wins this season after being shut out in 2011. Ryan Briscoe took his first win in two seasons, although it looks like that may have cost Will the points championship. Aside from a few questionable calls in the pits, Penske had a very Penske-like season. Their drivers finished 2nd, 4th and 6th in points, which would be a fine season for any other team, but the lack of a championship since 2006 haunts the Penske organization. Interesting fact: of the 15 rounds in the 2012 IZOD Indycar Series, Penske drivers sat on pole for 8 of those rounds.
2. Andretti Autosport
Your 2012 IZOD Indycar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay had a breakthrough season, winning 4 races, taking Pole at Edmonton, sitting on the front row at Indianapolis, turning fastest lap at Milwaukee and Sonoma, and leading the most laps at Milwaukee and Toronto. James Hinchcliffe drove like a man possessed during the first half of the season. He made the Firestone Fast 6 for every race up to Detroit, briefly holding the points lead early in the season. Marco Andretti had a rather unremarkable 2012 season. Outside of one Pole at Fontana and a Top Five, the highlight of his season was running at the end of 12 races. Andretti Autosport looks to return all three drivers for 2013.
3. Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Dario Franchitti seemed to struggle quite badly with the DW12. The start of the 2012 season seemed to be a disaster for the Scotsman, running quite poorly up until Long Beach, and then falling off the radar again at Sao Paulo. Indy was a welcome sight for he and all the Honda drivers as the single turbo Honda engine seemed to prefer the wide-open spaces of the Superspeedway. Dario took home his 3rd Indy 500 title, sounding out the season with 5 Poles, 5 Top Fives, all while completing 13 of 15 races. Scott Dixon was in the title hunt up until the very end, taking wins at Detroit and Mid-Ohio. He could have easily had the win at Texas had the car not lost grip near the end. Dixon seemed to take to the DW12 much better than his teammate, as Dixon finished runner up three times and led the most laps at Detroit and Texas. Unless something major happens, both drivers should return to Target Chip Ganassi Racing for 2013.
4. Schmidt-Hamilton Racing
As a “rookie” in the IZOD Indycar Series, Simon (And he says call him Simon, like Simon Cowell, not See-mon) placed 5th overall in points and was in contention for a win at several points in the season. the Frenchman’s consistency and ability to bring the car home in one piece all contributed to his excellent first season. Pagenaud posted 6 Top Fives, 9 Top Tens and was running at the finish of 14 of 15 races. for the record, Pagenaud was on his way to a 13th place finish at Edmonton when he got taken out by Charlie Kimball on the last lap of the Edmonton Indy, thus giving Pagenaud his only DNF of the season. Pagenaud looks to keep the magic going at Schmidt-Hamilton for 2013, and there’s rumors he may have a Brazilian team mate who’s name rhymes with Bubens Rarichello.
5. Panther Racing
J.R. Hildebrand very quietly built upon his 2011 rookie season with a very solid Sophomore campaign at Panther. There were no podiums, only two Top Fives and 6 Top Tens. J.R. Just did what he needed to do; qualify decent, be consistent and keep ‘er off the wall. There’s really not much one can say about the 2012 season for Panther outside of steady. J.R. should return to Panther for the 2013 season, but there’s no rumor of a possible teammate. That’s one thing Panther needs to address. An experienced teammate could help pull better racing out of Hildebrand.
6. KV Racing Technology
Rubens Barrichello had a bit of a learning curve coming into indycars. Sure, he’s a well travelled veteran of Formula One, but there are no tire warmers in indycar. Pit Stops take longer. Then there’s the whole matter of oval racing. Rubens battled through it like a champ, winding up 12th in points and stating his intention to return to the series in 2013. His “brother” Tony Kanaan struggled mightily at the start of the season with technical gremlins, but eventually brought evrything back together enough for a 9th place in points. TK finished up the season with 5 Top Fives and 8 Top Tens. E.J. Viso…. For all the grief Viso takes, he did finish the season with a Top Five and 4 Top Tens. He was running at the finish of 12 races out of 15, and one of those DNFs was due to being taken out by Will Power at Iowa. TK probably returns to KV in 2013. Rumor has Rubens moving to either Schmidt Hamilton or Chip Ganassi. E.J. Viso has talked about starting his own team, but could honestly wind up anywhere as long as his check clears.
7. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Takuma Sato has to be one of the most exciting drivers to grace Indycar in a very long time. It’s often been a dream of mine that a race will come down to Taku and Tony Kanaan battling for the victory. Taku’s bravado has placed him at the front of the field many times in 2012, but that same bravado has caused him to crash out, most notably while racing Dario Franchitti for the Indy 500 win. If Taku can ever focus his aggression (and at this point in the game, I don’t think that’s going to happen) then he could seriously be a championship threat in the IZOD Indycar Series. Looks like he’ll be picking up a teammate named Graham Rahal for 2013 if Taku sticks around. That first return win for RLL should come quite soon.
8. Dale Coyne Racing
Yeah, Justin Wilson took the win at Texas, but it was more or less the result of Scott Dixon AND Graham Rahal having momentary mental lapses. Justin’s only Top Five of the season would come in his win at Texas. More disturbing to me is Justin’s 5 DNFs. He’s a much better driver than that, but then again this is someone who essentially missed the last half of the 2011 season due to a back injury. The magic does seem to be working at Coyne. maybe they can use the momentum to make 2013 even better. James Jakes improved upon his 2011 rookie season, finishing this year with 2 Top Tens and leading 11 laps. Jakesy does need to improve his DNF number, only completing 10 of 15 races. barring any unforseen circumstances, both Justin Wilson and James Jakes should return to Dale Coyne Racing for 2013.
9. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Oriol Servia might be the most underrated driver in the IZOD Indycar Championship. The only reason Dreyer & Reinbold is this low on the list is because of the whole Lotus affair. After teaming up with Panther Racing to gain Chevrolet powerplants, DRR showed major progress. Servia finished up the year with 4 top Fives and 5 Top Tens. In a twist of irony, all of Servia’s DNFs would come after switching from the slowtus…errrr…Lotus engine to the Chevrolet. I look for Servia to return to Dreyer & Reinbold for 2013 with a teammate, and much better results from not having a boat anchor attached to his car.
10. Team Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosport
Speaking of boat anchors, here’s another team that ran much better without one under the cowling. I witnessed firsthand the deployment of said anchor at Barber Motorsports Park. it was the start of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, and I was standing between Turns Two and Three, at the bottom of the Alabama Rollercoaster. Tag’s ride came by, but never left. First turn, first lap; dead engine. BHA would sit out the Sao Paulo round, focusing all their efforts on the newly acquired Honda powerplant for the 500. After getting the Honda, their season would turn around with Tag taking Pole at Texas, wrapping up the season with a Top Five and 8 Top Tens. Tag looks to return to the team for 2013.
11. Chip Ganassi Racing Teams
Yeah, Graham finished 9th in points, but it was a rather disappointing 9th. This was a season filled with promise for the young American, and he failed to deliver. Signs started showing that there was trouble in paradise, so to speak. Late in the season it would be revealed that Rahal would part ways with CGRT, most likely going to race for his father at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Had Graham not been a victim of himself at Texas, he would have snagged an easy win and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. The real star at CGRT this season was Charlie Kimball’s new found consistency. he got his first IICS podium finish at Toronto as he gave Ryan Hunter-Reay a solid race at the end. Charlie increased his Top Tens from 2 to 6, and was running a at the end of 11 of 14 starts as opposed to 11 of 17 starts the previous year. Graham departs the team for 2013, but Kimball returns for another season.
12. A.J. Foyt Enterprises
Most people questioned the partnership between A.J. Foyt and soft-spoken Brit Mike Conway when the deal was announced. Those concerns proved to be….well… completely valid. Mike didn’t have a bad season. he finished with a podium at Toronto and three Top Tens total. It just didn’t seem like the team was a good overall fit. Everything climaxed at the season closer at Fontana when Conway decided he wasn’t up for oval racing. It takes a lot of courage to walk up to Big Tex and let him know you’re just not up to it. I have all the respect in the world for Mike, and wish him well in whatever he does next. He’s an awesome guy and a driver with a ton of untapped talent. No word on who A.J. has in mind to fill the seat for 2013, but I have to think guys like Wade Cunningham and Alex Lloyd are at the top of the list.
13. Dragon Racing
Speaking of boat anchors, Jay Penske learned a lot about them over the course of the year. Jay’s never been one to piss away an opportunity though, as he brought on the top free agent driver in Sebastien Bourdais to team with the quite talented Katherine Legge. Bourdais got more than anyone else could out of the ever-so-slow Lotus powerplant. When the team was finally able to acquire Chevrolet engines for the Indianapolis 500, both drivers made excellent time getting up to speed and qualifying. Bourdais handled the road courses while Legge took to the ovals. Several times over the latter half of the season Bourdais found him in position to win, but always came up a bit short. Legge showed stead improvement, wrapping up the year with a 9th place finish at Fontana. Give her another year to get her sea legs in an indycar back and she’ll be much more competitive. Both drivers look to return to Dragon in 2013.
14. Ed Carpenter Racing
Sure Ed won a race, but Ed SHOULD win on ovals. Otherwise, Ed was dreadfully slow on the road courses. Ed has the beginnings of a quality organization in place. Let’s hope team manager Derrick Walker can talk him into bringing on a teammate with a road racing background to help this team grow even more. Ed’s win at Fontana was a popular one. Let’s see if he can build on that and make 2013 even better. Ed looks to return to his own team in 2013
15. Sarah Fisher/Hartman Racing
I really struggled with where this team should be, but I think this is appropriate. Josef Newgarden showed lots of flash over 2012, and should be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Bryan Clausson even looked pretty good at Indy, and this team is the classical case of “The little team that could.” BUT…. The results just aren’t there yet. Newgy had no Top Fives, no Top Tens, one lap led, and was running at the finish of only 8 of 14 races he entered. His 11th place finish at St. Pete would be the high water mark of his season. Clearly these numbers have to improve next season. Newgy looks to return to SFHR in 2013.
16. Lotus-HVM Racing
They qualified for every race. That’s the nicest thing you can say. Simona’s probably still looking for those concrete blocks someone hid under the cowling of her car. Pretty sure that Lotus engine in her car wasn’t made by Judd, but rather by Briggs & Stratton. It came off the Snapper lawn mower used to cut the grass at Lotus World Headquarters. So sorry Keith Wiggins and the boys had to endure this season, but Simona looks to be back with HVM in 2013 with a Honda powerplant.
I really hope these guys get a new engine deal and have another go at Indy next year. I really like them.
There ya go folks! All 17 teams that participated in the 2012 IZOD Indycar Series, ranked by yours truly. Leave a comment and let us know what you think.
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