Around 1/3rd of the way through the 2012 IZOD Indycar Series schedule, and we’re still seeing tight competition all the way through the grid. Yes, every race this season has been won by a “Red Car,” Will Power has won three of five races, and Penske/Ganassi cars have dominated Pole Position. It doesn’t feel like the overwhelming dominance by the “Red Cars” this year like it has in the past though. Perhaps it’s masterful drives by guys like James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud and the post-Lotus Oriol Servia. Maybe it’s the emergence of guys like Josef Newgarden or a steady and consistent Charlie Kimball. I can’t really decide WHAT it is, but this year’s IZOD Indycar Series is still somewhat up for grabs. Now, on to the rankings!
1. Will Power #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet
Yeah, he got Conway’d at Indy, but that’s about the only thing that hasn’t gone right for him this season, outside of bad pit strategy at St. Pete. Power was staring down the barrel of a Top 10 day at Indy when the annual Mike Conway Indianapolis debacle happened. Outside of that, Power made the shootout and had a fast car for the race. Eventually, Will is going to get a win at Indy. The next driver is running closely for the top spot in Power Rankings, but it’s hard to deny Will’s success over the course of the season so far.
2. James Hinchcliffe #27 GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
Hinch really hasn’t done much in his Sophomore season. He’s only finished in the top six in each race, qualified for the Firestone Fast Six/Shootout for each race, secured a career best finish and electrified the crowd with a warmup lap of 227 at Indianapolis. He’s currently Third in standings and seems intent to hang tough onto that position. Outside of Power, Hinch has been the most consistent driver of the year. Top spot goes to Power based on wins and wins alone.
3. Scott Dixon #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
With the exception of Long Beach, Dixon’s been a factor at every race. He’s been “Close, but no cigar” several times, including a close call by teammate Dario Franchitti at Indy where Dixon surely had to think he’d won the race as Takuma Sato almost collected Franchitti on the last lap. Scott’s been doing what he always does, and that’s rack up solid finish after solid finish, with a win or two sprinkled amongst the Top 5s. He’ll eventually get a win or two this season and will be in the title battle.
4. Helio Castroneves #3 Team Penske Chevrolet
From this point on, the Power Rankings start getting a bit grey. Helio earns the #4 spot based solely on his win and performances in qualifying. He’s shown flashes of brilliance this year, but has kinda faded into the background mostly. Everyone expected a strong showing at Indy, but he was never a factor. One has to wonder if Helio is starting the backside slide of his career. His results haven’t been bad, but when your teammate is Will Power, above average doesn’t look very good. Helio needs to step up his game.
5. Simon Pagenaud #77 HP Schmidt/Hamilton Motorsports Honda
I struggled with who should go in this slot. The other driver in consideration has had some impressive runs, but not really to the level of Pagenaud. Simon’s overcome some serious penalties and setbacks to be 6th in points. Not to mention, Pagenaud’s one a good team, but not one with the budget of the Big Three. By the way, did I mention he’s also an IZOD Indycar Series rookie? 16th and on the lead lap in his first Indy 500 isn’t a bad result.
6. Ryan Hunter-Reay #28 Sun Drop/DHL Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
It was hard deciding between Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay, but the nod went to Pagenaud on the “More with Less” standard. Hunter-Reay has had two poor finishes this season; one at Barber where he traditionally struggles, and the other at Indy which was beyond his control. Hunter-Reay is an amazingly quick driver, but it’s almost like a black cloud follows him around, deciding to rain at the most inopportune time. If not for those two finishes, he’s up with Hinchcliffe right now.
7. Ryan Briscoe #2 Team Penske Chevrolet
Ryan Briscoe is a poor man’s Scott Dixon. He’s a great qualifier. He’s quick in races. He’ll hop up and snag a win. He’ll consistently finish well. He won’t outshine his teammate. Just as Dixon hasn’t been able to outdo his teammate, Briscoe can’t outshine Power. The biggest differences between Dixon and Briscoe are Dixon has a cleaner throught process than Briscoe. Dixon rarely takes himself out of a race, while Briscoe has been known to have a mental lapse every once in a while. Dixon’s also a far more aggressive driver than Briscoe. Ryan’s had some awesome drives this season, but has yet to put it all together.
8. Dario Franchitti #10/50 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Yeah, Dario’s 6th in points right now. Yeah, he won the Indy 500. Only problem is, this is a guy who’s been consistently up front previously. We expect so much more out of Dario. He’s had truly inspired runs at Indy and Barber, but been very much “meh” in between. He’s still in a position to rally for a shot at the championship, but he has to hustle. I’ve often wondered if Dario’s having issues with the new car. Anyway around it, Dario has a lot of ground to make up.
9. Takuma Sato #15 Mi-Jack Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Takuma has been FAR better than his results show. Outside of a few DNFs and technical gremlins, Taku would easily be Top 5 in points. I believe he’s going to get his first Indycar win before this season’s out. He’s fast, aggressive and has a good team behind him. The only problem with Taku is sometimes he can be TOO aggressive, as he showed at the Indy 500. All day, spins were caused by the white line. Takuma ventured into the danger zone and paid the price. with controlled aggression, Takuma can be a championship caliber driver. Otherwise, he’ll always be “Crashuma Sato.”
10. Tony Kanaan #11 Geico/Mouser KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
I’m honestly not sure who goes here; Kanaan, or J.R. Hildebrand. Kanaan wins it based on the fact that he’s performed at a higher level when his game is on than Hildebrand. None of Tony Kanaan’s early season problems were by his own hand. They were all technical issues beyond his control. Kanaan had a very inspired run at Indy which came up just a hair short. He needs to use the momentum and turn that into a strong midseason stretch to turn his season around.
Honorable Mention: Rubens Barrichello
He’s Rookie of the Year at Indy. He just barely missed making the Shootout. Rubens is impressing many people in his debut Indycar season. I, like many others, hope he’s here to stay for a while.
The “Oh Crap” Award: Simona de Silvestro
Poor Simona. She’s been saddled with a dog of a Lotus engine. It’s like she’s in a Lights car while everyone else is in a regular Indycar. Lets hope HVM either leaves Lotus, or she finds a better ride next year.