With the 2013 IndyCar Series wrapped up, it’s a good time to look back on the stars that shone brightly and those that faded this year.
The “Iceman” from New Zealand was involved in a mighty tussle with Brazilian star Helio Castroneves that went right down to the final 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California.
Dixon emerged victorious, recording four wins (including three in a row – Pocono and the double-header weekend in Toronto) en route to his third, and most impressive, series title – a championship battle that couldn’t have been any more exciting were it scripted.
I’m continually impressed with Dixon’s style, though I must admit that I thought Castroneves would win the title this year.
They don’t call Dixon the Iceman for nothing. He’s cool, calm, collected and as fast a driver as there is on the planet.
Unflappability when you’re heading into the first turn at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at over 200mph isn’t something that everyone possesses, but Dixon does, and in spades.
Those qualities, combined with the fact that he’s driving for the powerhouse Target Chip Ganassi Racing make him a tough man to beat year in, year out.
This year, he stared down arguably IndyCar’s most popular driver and won.
I won’t be at all surprised if Dixon wins it all again next year. The planets really are aligned for him at the moment.
A more pleasant and outgoing driver the IndyCar paddock has not seen since Helio Castroneves bounced onto the scene in the mid-1990s. This year, the Mayor of Hinchtown showed that the rapid Canadian could be as fast on the track as he is affable in the pits, scoring the first three wins of his career.
Most impressive of the trio was Hinch’s scintillating and ballsy last-corner-last-lap pass of Japanese driver Takuma Sato on the streets of Sao Paolo, Brazil.
The victory, recorded by a mere .3463 of a second, was one of the highlights of the season and one that will surely be played over and over again, now that it has been committed to the annals of Indycar racing.
A career year for a friendly and popular driver – popular with both fans and other drivers alike – in what was mostly a down year for Andretti Autosport, after their driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay won the overall series championship in 2012.
With the forced retirement of Dario Franchitti at season’s end, the ultra-popular Brazilian finds himself elevated into the much sought after #10 Target Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing after driving good buddy Jimmy Vasser’s KV Racing Technology Chevrolet to Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
Earlier, Kanaan had been signed to the fourth Ganassi seat (to be sponsored by NTT Data) which remained mostly driver-less in 2013, aside from an Indy 500-only effort by Australian Ryan Briscoe.
That was good news, but a promotion to the top tier of the crack Ganassi outfit is something else entirely.
Make no mistake, this is one of the best seats in racing – NASCAR, Formula One, sports car, whatever.
And Kanaan, as popular a winner at Indianapolis as we’ve ever seen in decades, appears poised for a run at what would be a very well deserved second IndyCar Championship.
A little more proof that, even in a business-driven world, nice guys can – and sometimes do – finish first.
Four first time winners, standing starts, double-headers, close racing, extraordinary passes and finishes, incredible engine and chassis reliability –it’s not a stretch to say that IndyCar racing in 2013 was amongst the very best racing in any category in the world.
After a great 2012, the second year with the DW12 chassis was even better.
Coming into the season, I didn’t think that was possible. Somehow, the drivers who made up the grid this year managed to up their game.
From Hinchcliffe’s last-gasp pass of Takuma Sato to win on the streets of Sao Paolo, Brazil to a frenetic, lead change-filled Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend (68 changes amongst 14 drivers) and the craziness of Toronto’s first race, there was something for everyone in 2013.
Long may this sort of competitiveness continue.
Firing popular CEO Randy Bernard during the off-season was a blow that the sport really did not need.
Sure, he might not have been popular with a lot of team owners, but only because he recognised that things weren’t working; that IndyCar racing needed to be shaken up.
Bernard’s pros far outweighed his cons, and firing him was absolutely the wrong move.
Most frustratingly, Bernard’s dismissal came at a time when the sport was actually starting to show gradual improvement, thanks to a lot of what Bernard had put in place.
Ironically, the best parts of this successful season – double-header races, standing starts, a night race in prime time on American network television – were all part of Bernard’s plan to grow IndCyar racing.
Ultimately, it was as simple as this: Bernard, in 2012, oversaw one of the most impressive and memorable seasons of IndyCar racing that we’ve seen, at least since before The Split, yet he managed to lose his job.
Here’s a thought for IndyCar management – listen less to grumbling owners and more to the fans. You’ll find your series is in much better shape if you do.
Not for anything he did on track, mind you. The Scotsman, an undisputed modern-day IndyCar legend, was forced to retire due to the heightened risk of him sustaining brain damage following an accident at the end of the second race in Houston which resulted in two fractured vertebrae, a broken ankle and a concussion.
What was easily the most horrific accident I’ve ever seen on a temporary street circuit robbed the IndyCar fan base of at least a few more years of watching the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time IndyCar Series champion battle with his recent arch-rival, Australia’s Will Power.
Of course, retirement and the guarantee of health is far better than the alternative, which is too bitter to contemplate.
The IndyCar fraternity has lost too many great drivers over the years – many of them close friends of Franchitti’s. At least Dario will remain a part of the paddock community for years to come, and his legacy is well assured.
Still, the series is poorer for the fact that the Scotsman will not be a part of it, at least not on track.
The Queenslander has been a perennial championship contender basically every year that he’s been a member of Roger Penske’s organisation, so it came as a surprise to many when he struggled mightily coming out of the box, not picking up his first victory of the year until the 15th race, in Sonoma.
When Power did find his form, it was like watching the guy who’d pushed Franchitti and Hunter-Reay to the very brink in championship battles over the past few years.
A win at Sonoma was followed up by a win in the second Houston street race and the all-important first superspeedway win in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
It’s funny that a three-win season can land someone on the ‘Losers’ half of a season review, but Power’s been a consistent visitor to Victory Lane since his emergence with Team Penske.
Hopefully his last-start win on the big oval in Southern California will be exactly the launching pad Power needs for a big run at that elusive championship – and, dare I say it, a victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – in 2014.