IndyCar Quarter Season Report

Today AR1 Columnist Brian Carroccio and Contributor Keith Ori field a series of questions regarding the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series in another edition of “AR1 Head To Head." Enjoy.

Question Brian Carroccio Keith Ori
Most Impressive Driver Aside from the Long Beach debacle, Ryan Hunter-Reay has run in the top-two all season. The 2012 champ also showed his mettle after what happened in Long Beach, throwing down the gauntlet with an impressive win at Barber. Simon Pagenaud, easy. Third in points driving for Schmidt Peterson, he’s ahead of three Andretti drivers, two Penske drivers, and all four of Ganassi’s entries. This is what happens when you take a chance on new talent, and again what happens when you don’t.
Best Team Andretti Autosport: They’ve qualified at least one car in the top-3 at each race, and placed at least one driver on the podium every race, even with the Long Beach disaster. Ganassi & Andretti are 4 car teams with only one driver each, Dixon & RHR, that ever make the broadcast, and Penske’s success almost seems in spite of itself. I have to go with Schmidt Peterson for owning third place in driver points with a much smaller budget.
Best Race 2014 hasn’t quite been the barnburner of a start, 2013 was. But if had to pick one race as the most exciting so far, I’d go with Mike Conway’s impressive drive through the field to win at Long Beach. Best of four? Tough one, but I thought the Indy GP looked like a dramatically better product on TV than most (minus the charisma starved announcers), and it didn’t suffer for a lack of action.
Most disappointing driver? Sebastien Bourdais has been fast at times, but seems to be pressing behind-the-wheel, and has taken himself out of multiple races. James Hinchcliffe has had some rotten luck, but also seems a little out of sorts. But if I had to pick one, driver I’ll go with Graham Rahal. That team is nowhere right now. To whom much is given, much is expected. Graham Rahal has been given everything, but because he doesn’t suffer high expectations at this point I’ll have to go with Tony Kanaan, as the only time he’s seen Dixie this year has been in the garage.
Most Disappointing Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan: We keep hearing about engineering changes, team chemistry, damper development, etc. At some point that stuff becomes white noise, and we need to see results. I think we’re there. Also, their handling of Servia’s final stint this weekend was disastrous. Ganassi. Huge history, huge budget, huge expectations, and only driver in the top eight places. Started slow last year as well and won the championship, but at ¼ distance they are underperforming massively.
Most Pleasant Surprise? Jack Hawksworth: Go back to the middle of last season, and BHA was absolutely nowhere. When they signed Hawksworth, I thought it would be another year of irrelevance for the 98 team. I was wrong. Hawksworth has been very impressive, and deserved better than 7th at the GP of Indy. Carlos Huertas. Ok, I’m kidding. The only surprise there is that he’s not the completely fictional driver that I assumed him to be when announced circa April 1. I’m going with Josef Newgarden because he’s shown such flashes of speed in a car with no business qualifying in the Fast 6 twice, and almost running away with Long Beach.
Best Mazda Road to Indy Driver Three pole positions and 4 of 6 race wins in Pro Mazda gets Spencer Pigot this award. Kid is electric! Tie between Spencer Pigot and Jake Eidson. Pigot has won 4 from 6 races in Mazdas, but the fields are about half the size of USF2000, and the question is best, not winningest. Eidson has won 4 championships in a row and hasn’t been below 3rd in USF2000 points, nearly winning Indy GP race 1.
Best Display of Class Sarah Fisher and Josef Newgarden had every right to rip Hunter-Reay a new one after the accident at Long Beach. Both handled what had to be a brutal gut-punch with incredible aplomb and class. Agreed. More class than I would have been able to muster in those circumstances.
Best Executive Decision Ed Carpenter the owner benching Ed Carpenter the driver in favor of the at-times electric Mike Conway for the road and street course races. Easy decision. Ed Carpenter as well. Who would have thought Conway, the Englishman with the rainbow helmet and an aversion to ovals, would have found consistent employment, much less have carried the Carpenter team to 6th in points? Ed Carpenter apparently did.
Pick for Series Championship While I picked Power to win the title at the start of the season, I’d probably revise and go with Hunter-Reay if given the chance. Honda seems to have the current edge on Chevy, they’re a host of RHR-friendly tracks coming up like Iowa, Milwaukee and Toronto, and the 2012 champ seems to have one very healthy chip on his shoulder. I think he’s the guy to beat going forward. I still think it’s hard to argue against Power or Dixon over a season, but RHR is driving like his job depends on it, so that makes it interesting. I’m going with Will Power because it’s got to be his year. Right? Well, full disclosure, I bet another Penske driver who was faster than all of his contemporaries would win every year as well. His name was Paul Tracy. It took him 14 years.

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