Toni Montgomery, Huston Ladner and Matt Stallknecht · Wednesday September 26, 2012
Now that the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season has come to an end, the Frontstretch IndyCar staff will be taking some time to review the year that was. We start tonight with part one of our driver reviews, looking at those who finished 14th through 26th in the season points standings.
26. Katherine Legge – Legge started the year driving for Lotus Dragon Racing and finished it driving the Dragon Racing Chevrolet powered entry, which should speak volumes. The team struggled with the off-song Lotus engines before the engine manufacturer dropped them following Sao Paulo. Chevrolet picked them up, but they could only promise one engine per race after the Indy 500 and so the team decided that Legge would drive the ovals while teammate Sebastien Bourdais handled the road courses. Legge doesn’t particularly consider herself an oval specialist, but did post better results on them than on road courses, although how much of that falls on the Lotus engines is open for debate. Still, it’s worth noting her lone road course finish after the Chevy switch was 24th at Sonoma.
Best finish: 9th at Auto Club Speedway
Worst Finish: 26th at Sao Paulo
Races: 10 of 15
25. Sebastien Bourdais – Driving for Lotus-Dragon racing, Bourdais was at a disadvantage from the get-go. While the introduction of competing engine makers was supposed to add a new element to the series, the Lotus engines were dismal at the onset – clearly hampering Bourdais’ effort to compete. But even with a switch to Chevrolet engines beginning with the Indy 500, the team was adrift. Few would argue that Bourdais doesn’t have the talent to compete and win races, but until he moves to a better funded team, his results will likely continue to be unspectacular.
Best Finish: 4th at Mid-Ohio
Worst Finish: 24th at Detroit
Races: 11 – sitting out 4 oval tracks
24. Simona de Silvestro – Though de Silvestro ran 14 of the 15 races, she finished 20th or worse in 11 of them. This season has to be seen as a step back, as she ended 20th in points in 2011. One of the problems that plagued the Swiss driver and her team, HVM Racing, was that they too were using the Lotus engines. For a team that ran nearly the full season, these results are disappointing. With improved engine performance, perhaps there is hope for 2013.
Best Finish: 14th at Iowa
Worst Finish: 32nd at Indy
23. Josef Newgarden – Young Josef Newgarden’s rookie 2012 season was like a career’s worth of learning experiences rolled into a seven-month period. Newgarden showed flashes of brilliance all year long, especially during the month of May, but ultimately those moments were buried underneath a pile of crashes and underwhelming finishes. However, most of that could be drawn back to Newgarden’s inexperience and the limited capabilities of the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team he drove for. Overall, Newgarden showed a decent amount of promise in 2012, but he will need to step up in 2013 if he wants to remain a fixture in this sport.
Best Finish: 11th at St. Petersburg
Worst Finish: 26th at Long Beach
22. James Jakes – Unlike his Dale Coyne Racing teammate Justin Wilson, James Jakes was pretty much an invisible man this year. For us and other media who strive to cover all drivers, we’ll make note of this for next year. Jakes was a bit inconsistent, scoring two top 10s, five finishes of 20th or worse, and everything else fell somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t a sophomore slump though either. While he finished in the exact same spot in the standings as his rookie year, he did improve his average start by three positions and his average finish by four.
Best Finish: 8th at Toronto
Worst Finish: 26th at St. Petersburg
21. Mike Conway – Conway started fresh with a new team for 2012, having moved from Andretti Autosport to A.J. Foyt Enterprises. The best way to describe he and his team is that they were fair to middling at best. Conway perhaps made his biggest auto racing statement by declaring that he would not race in the season finale at Fontana – stating that he did not feel comfortable at the high-speed oval. His decision was respected by both the team owner and other drivers, and could serve as a statement to those running the series.
Best Finish: 3rd at Toronto
Worst Finish: 29th at Indy
20. E.J. Viso – Honestly, after five years in the IndyCar Series, we should be seeing more from this driver. It’s not the equipment. While KV Racing Technology might not be Penske or Ganassi, it’s better than this, as evidenced by teammates Tony Kanaan and IndyCar Series rookie Rubens Barrichello who finished ninth and 12th respectively. On the up side, Viso posted fewer DNFs so that’s some progress but this is actually his lowest finish in the points. He remains terribly inconsistent.
Best Finish: 5th at Milwaukee
Worst Finish: 25th at Fontana
19. Charlie Kimball – Given how poorly Charlie Kimball performed in 2011, it was almost shocking to see how much he improved in 2012. The results didn’t always show it, but Kimball proved he belonged in 2012, elevating himself from backmarker to fringe contender. The highlight of Kimball’s season was undoubtedly his impressive second-place run in Toronto where he performed well all weekend. A midseason hand injury set Kimball back a bit, but overall the 2012 season has to be considered a success for a driver who so many wrote off a year prior.
Best Finish: 2nd at Toronto
Worst Finish: 25th at Barber Motorsports Park
18. Ed Carpenter – Ed Carpenter made a foray into team ownership in 2012, and Carpenter’s debut season as an owner / driver proved to be moderately successful. Carpenter was once again ineffective on the road courses, but his status as an oval ace remained very much in tact. Carpenter was a factor at every oval event, culminating in an impressive win in the season finale at Fontana. Carpenter improved as both an owner and a driver throughout the season, and ultimately showed a great deal of promise for 2013.
Best Finish: 1st at Fontana
Worst Finish: 25th at Baltimore
17. Alex Tagliani – Driving for Bryan Herta Autosport, Tagliani began the season with slow pace due to the team using Lotus engines. After skipping the race in Sao Paolo, switching to Honda engines and changing the team name to Barracuda Racing, the team evolved into being quite respectable. In eight races, Tagliani finished 10th or better, and he might best be known for almost costing Ryan Hunter-Reay the championship when the two tangled at Sonoma. The late season results would seem to indicate that this team is trending up.
Best Finish: 5th at Edmonton (and led the most laps)
Worst Finish: 26th at Alabama
16. Marco Andretti – Marco Andretti has made it rather clear in the past that road courses are not his strong suit, but no season was that more evident than in 2012. With a schedule dominated by twisty road ciruits, Andretti suffered, coming home a dismal 16th in the points standings while teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe outran him weekly. Andretti undoubtedly had the best car in the Indianapolis 500, but poor luck once again bit him in that race, and his season spiraled downward from that point on. Ultimately, the 2012 season proved that Andretti needs to get his road racing skills on track if he wants any chance at competing for a title going forward.
Best Finish: 2nd at Iowa
Worst Finish: 25th at Long Beach, Sonoma
15. Justin Wilson – Justin Wilson’s 2012 season was a mixture of highs and lows. On one hand, Wilson broke through in a big way by finally scoring a victory on an oval in the Firestone 550k at Texas, his third career victory overall. However, outside of that win, Wilson just wasn’t much of a factor up front. Wilson could usually be counted on for a ninth- to 15th-place finish, which depending on your perspective is somewhere between decent and below average. Nonetheless, Wilson made a big step this season by proving he can win on an oval, now the question is whether or not Wilson can run up front consistently.
Best Finish: 1st at Texas
Worst Finish: 23rd at Milwaukee, Fontana
14. Takuma Sato – Ahhh Taku. In three years of racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Sato has racked up 20 DNFs in 49 races run. Yet this is also a driver who can be blindingly fast and displays flashes of the talent needed to be a top tier competitor. He moved to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2012 and new boss Bobby Rahal hoped his coaching could finally harness the potential everyone sees here. He did nearly win the Indy 500 and that accident wasn’t entirely his fault, but he still crashed out of the race in four of his eight DNFs. Sato is all checkers or wreckers and attempts to rein him in have thus far not paid off.
Best Finish: 2nd in Edmonton
Worst Finish: 27th at Sonoma
Join us next week when we give our grades to the top 13 finishers.
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