2013 IndyCar Year in Review
Ten drivers representing eight nations and six different teams found victory lane. Four of those drivers were first time winners.
Ten additional drivers would join the race winners as podium finishers, as what was known as the Izod IndyCar Series in 2013 featured as compelling and competitive an on-track product as ever.
Of course, it's never simple in the world of IndyCar.
While 2013 was not the drawn out soap opera of inane bickering and tumultuous internal discontent that characterized 2012, the sport still faced clear hurdles. And sadly, commercial issues, most characterized by the sport's very poor television ratings and overall lack of broad appeal continued to outweigh news on track.
It should be mentioned that we saw the end of one of the great IndyCar careers of this or any era as Dario Franchitti retired after injuries sustained in a horrific crash at Houston. Last week, Franchitti met the media for the first time at Chip Ganassi Racing headquarters and seemed at peace with his decision. Got a closer look at Franchitti's sterling career, here is my article from last month.
Overall, it was a memorable year in the world of IndyCar. Below, we look at some of the best, the worst, and the incredibly noteworthy from IndyCar in 2013.
Best Driver: Scott Dixon
Let's begin with a simple acknowledgement.
On track, Scott Dixon did not do anything all that different in 2013. Winning 4 races, 2 poles, and standing on the podium six times, does not constitute a noteworthy campaign for Dixon. Sure, Dixon secured his third championship in 2013, but keep in mind, it was the Kiwi's seventh straight top-3 finish in the championship. And one could argue, Dixon has had better years during seasons in which he didn't win the championship.
In short, while Dixon was the best driver on the circuit in 2013, he spent 2013 doing what he normally does. The only difference was Dixon finally getting his due.
After an incredibly difficult start to the season for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon became the man to beat at nearly every race in the second half of the season. And as he capped off an improbable comeback to secure his third championship, the IndyCar community realized finally took the time to appreciate and consider the historically epic career Dixon is in the process of putting together.
Runner-up: Ryan Hunter-Reay
A case could be made RHR actually drove better in 2013 than his championship season the year before. He undoubtedly qualified better in 2013.
Of course, the breaks didn't go RHR's way in 2013, and he finished a disappointing seventh in the championship. Still, Hunter-Reay was competitive on every track, nearly every weekend. And for my money, RHR showed in 2013 that he belonged in the discussion of IndyCar's elite along with Dixon and Will Power.
Best Race: The Freedom 100
That was the craziest finish in the history of, anything, I think were the words of NBC Sports Indy Lights broadcaster Davey Hamilton. Guest commentator Josef Newgarden commented when seeing a replay of the finish "that looks staged."
Of course, Gabby Chaves, Sage Karam and Carlos Munoz had been racing three-wide, wheel-to-wheel, through turns 3 and 4 on the final lap before coming down the main straightaway. Seemingly, out of nowhere, Peter Dempsey found a piece of real-estate no one thought existed on the outside of the front stretch, as the four cars approached the Yard of Bricks side-by-side. Dempsey took the lead in the final few yards to score an incredible win. Chaves finished second a mere 0.026 seconds behind. Karam was third, while Munoz who led the race out of turn four, came home fourth, a mere 0.0443 seconds behind Dempsey.
While numerous superlatives have been used about the epic finish, I'll simply add this.
If you go back and watch the video notice how tight, yet clean, Chaves, Karam, and Munoz raced wheel-to-wheel through turns 3 and 4, and then with Dempsey making it four-wide at the end. And while Dempsey took the spoils of victory, all four should be commended on the mature, clean driving that gave us that epic finish.
Well done, gentlemen.
Runner up: Sao Paulo
At the risk of confessing an unpopular opinion allow me to offer the following.
I've long believed that modern IndyCar racing is incredibly well suited to street circuits. The narrow concrete canyons require and bumpy surfaces precision of the drivers. Plus, when you factor in the urban settings, and the modern business-to-business economic model of the sport, well, street races make sense.
And while many decry the Mickey Mouse layouts that characterize some of the temporary circuits on the IndyCar tour, no one will utter such words about the fabulous Sao Paulo layout. From 2010-2013, Sao Paulo gave us four dazzling shows, none better than this prior season, when James Hinchcliffe pulled a classic up and under on the very aggressive Takuma Sato in the final turn as the two approached the checkered flag.
Worst Race: Texas
Texas was the best race of 2012, in my opinion. For whatever reason, the show just wasn't the same in 2013.
Best Event: Detroit
I should begin by noting that Detroit was my first race on the beat for AR1. For that reason, Detroit 2013 will always hold a certain sentimental value to me.
Further, my expectations going into the weekend were pretty low. The 2012 event on what many have referred to as "Hell Isle" had been a disaster with the track came apart midway through the race. And without turning this article into a social, economic or political commentary, it’s fair to say the city of Detroit has not spent the last decade covering itself in glory.
But you wouldn't have noticed that talking to any of the event volunteers, local cab drivers, or hotel clerks. Rather, the residents of The Motor City rallied behind the Roger Penske promoted event. Quick to smile and more than willing to lend a helping hand, the residents of Motown painted their beleaguered city in a positive light throughout the weekend.
And what a weekend it was.
With a repaved track surface, improved layout, and the intrigue of a doubleheader race weekend, Detroit 2013 did not disappoint. Mike Conway, who had been mowing his lawn in England when Dale Coyne called needing a driver, turned out to be the revelation of the weekend, capturing a shock victory in the first race of the weekend. Simon Pagenaud would then score his first career victory in a crazy second race on Sunday.
Sure, Belle Isle may not have the downtown setting of Baltimore's inner Harbor. The temporary layout in the middle of the Detroit River may not be as racy a street as say, Sao Paulo. Clearly, there are not the restaurants and beaches nearby like Long Beach.
But for one unique weekend, a down on its luck city, welcomed the IndyCar circus to town, and a lot was right. And although, neither of the Detroit races may have been the best of 2013, for me, the Detroit weekend was as good as any.
Worst Event: Houston
I have little desire to relive the Houston weekend, but if you must here is our Houston Postscript. Hopefully, Houston and IndyCar will take a cue from this year's Detroit event and make the changes necessary to improve the event in what is an important market for IndyCar.
Best Appointment: Derrick Walker
Hulman & Co., CEO Mark Miles got it right with the appointment of Derrick Walker as IndyCar President of operations and competition. After a year in 2012, that saw a paddock divided over the cost of replacement parts, plenum chamber disputes and the like, 2013 saw no such thing. Walker, who has spent the last few decades as an engineer, team owner, mechanic, crew chief, and team principal, gave instant credibility to IndyCar's technical operation.
And those petty technical disputes of 2012 were nowhere to be seen in 2013.
But ultimately with Walker in charge, the series has a clear technical leader with the unquestioned respect of the IndyCar paddock. And the fact the paddock was relatively placid this year when it came to the technical rules, undoubtedly is a testament to Walker.
Lamest Soap Opera: Team Ganassi versus Beaux Barfield
The Ganassi boys were justifiably upset over what happened at Sonoma, and to a lesser extent at Baltimore. While I don't think there was anything to do other than call a penalty after Dixon hit a crewman for Will Power's team at Sonoma, Team Ganassi did get the short-end of that stick. And I don't begrudge Dixon, Team Principal Mike Hull or whoever from Ganassi arguing the team's case in the aftermath.
What was uncalled for was Team Ganassi's extended campaign to impugn Race Director Beaux Barfield. Hull, who I like very much, noted on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee that Team Ganassi was full of "blue-collar guys," not people who walk through the paddock with "their hair blown back," a clear, yet cheap, swipe at Barfield.
Whether Team Ganassi was right or wrong, they handled the grievance poorly.
Also, do not absolve Cavin and Lee, who claim to host the IndyCar radio show of record, yet devoted an hour of precious airtime to giving Hull a soapbox in lieu of real news, not once, but consecutive weeks. And if you want a reference for how such an interview can be done better, compare Cavin and Lee's show with IMS Radio reporter Jake Query. Query had Hull as a guest during his show of 1260 WNDE for about 20 minutes, and asked tough, yet fair questions regarding the matter.
Last, give credit to Barfield for staying above the nonsense.
Strangely, Team Penske seemed at times to almost be a third-party in the ongoing conflict between Barfield and Ganassi. And while the Penske-Ganassi rivalry is nothing new, the rhetoric on both sides has long been deferential and not inflammatory.
That changed in 2013.
With a title chase between Helio Castroneves and Dixon, tensions were high, then exploded at Sonoma and Baltimore. After Baltimore, Dixon of course, called Team Penske President Tim Cindric, "a piece of s***." As the rhetoric from the Ganassi side intensified, Team Penske seemed to take the "what now?" approach in response to Ganassi's accusations.
In short, the gloves came between Ganassi and Penske publicly for the first time in 2013. And with the issues of 2013 still fresh, Chevrolet powering both teams next season, longtime Ganassi driver Juan Pablo Montoya now at Penske, and longtime Penske driver Ryan Briscoe back to Ganassi, one has to imagine this rivalry will only intensify in 2014.
Most Heartwarming Win: Tony Kanaan at Indy
I'm not the biggest believer in luck. But if anyone deserved a little good fortune at Indianapolis it was Kanaan, one of this generation's best at IMS.
Runner-up: Charlie Kimball at Mid-Ohio
Kimball drove his tail off in a caution-free race at IndyCar's most physically demanding track. This also leads us to...
Best Repair Job: Ganassi organization at Mid-Ohio
Kimball's accident in Saturday practice at Mid-Ohio nearly derailed his maiden win. However, between practice and qualifying the Ganassi organization (Target and Novo Nordisk guys) scrambled to repair the #83 Honda. At one point, I counted 14 crewmen with hands on the car.
Kimball would qualify fifth in his repaired car, and capture a breakthrough victory the next day.
Another Heartwarming Moment: Simona de Silvestro finishing second at Houston.
Best Newcomer: Pocono Raceway.
Give the likable Igdalsky brothers and former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard credit for bringing The Tricky Triangle back to the IndyCar calendar. Also, give everyone credit for extending the Pocono race to 500 miles in 2014.
Runner-up: Carlos Munoz
Munoz, of course, nearly won the Indianapolis 500, finishing an impressive second to Kanaan. The likable, aggressive young Colombian has star power written all over him both in the car and out. If Andretti Autosport can channel that aggression and talent properly, Munoz could be one of the next generation's stars.
A Disappointing Goodbye: Go Daddy
Say what you will about the company's promotional tactics. But the world's largest domain name registrar with the edgy commercials was very good to IndyCar, and will not be easily replaced.
Another Disappointing Goodbye: Baltimore
Unfortunately, the fact nearly 450,000 spectators descended upon one killer downtown setting to watch the three installments of The Grand Prix of Baltimore has been all, but forgotten.
Rather, the lack of a title sponsor, four promoters, messy local politics, complicated scheduling conflicts an ocean of red ink, and aerial launching train tracks will be the legacy of the exciting, short-lived, incredibly tumultuous Grand Prix of Baltimore.
A Welcome Parting for all Involved: Izod
Count me amongst those who never understood the marketing angle behind Dan Wheldon piloting a helicopter, or Tony Kanaan on a jet ski. Nevertheless, all seemed well early on between Izod and IndyCar, as the clothing apparel line activated its title sponsorship and both parties seemed to benefit.
Of course, something changed. Whether that was a combination of factors, or what exactly changed, I suppose we'll never know for certain.
But the long and short of it is this: the relationship between Izod and IndyCar had effectively been over for two years. Mercifully, both parties have cut ties.
Best IndyCar partners: There are many, but Honda, Chevrolet, GoPro, The National Guard, Firestone, Fuzzy's and Verizon stood out to me.
First off, I have to say thank you to my boss, Mark Cipolloni for giving me the opportunity to come work for AR1. 2013 was the fourteenth year AR1 has covered numerous forms of racing. Through an economic downturn and a difficult era for racing and media, AR1 has remained viable and successful, which can be interpreted as nothing other than a testament to Mark and his tireless efforts.
Also, being the "new guy" in 2013, there were quite a few people in the IndyCar community, I found helpful, supportive, friendly, and welcoming. Many were giving of their time, energies, and insight, to help myself and/or AR1.
Below, I would like to publicly thank a few such individuals, in no particular order:
Mary Mendez, Amy Konrath, Arni Sriben, Kevin Kalkhoven, Lucille Dust, John Lingle, Scott Dixon, Tim Wohlford, Steph Wallcraft, Dale Coyne, Bryan Herta, Marco Andretti, Derek Daly, Tom Blattler, Robin Miller, Tristan Vautier, and Judy from Chevy.
Further, I would like to thank all AR1 readers. Particularly, in this day and age, when you have numerous options for commentary, and whether you agree or disagree with what is written the fact you choose to read this space is something we are grateful for. We will continue working tirelessly to bring you the best coverage we can in 2014.
In closing, allow me on behalf of AR1 to offer the best to you and yours on a wonderful Holiday Season.
Brian Carroccio is a columnist for AutoRacing1.com. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.
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