RACER.com concludes its breakdown of each team's season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Today, a look at the Sarah Fisher Hartman, HVM and Dragon Racing teams, who fought through trying seasons for various reasons. Each driver, points total and finish, wins/poles or best start/finish, average start, points per race and laps led, if applicable, are listed.
SARAH FISHER HARTMAN RACING (Honda)
Josef Newgarden / (200, 23rd)
Bryan Clauson / (13, 33rd)
Bruno Junqueira / (12, 35th)
Best start: 2nd (Long Beach) / Best finish: 11th (St. Petersburg)
Avg. Start: 13.8
Points Per Race: 14.3
Laps Led: 1
Some have opined the hype was too high on Firestone Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden going into this year – and the humorous, well-executed “Incognito” series of videos only served to grow it rather than dissipate it – but ultimately, perhaps the expectations were unreasonably high given the odds stacked against the team going into the year. You have to remember, this was Sarah Fisher's first crack at a full year after four part-time campaigns (which major help from new investor Wink Hartman made possble), the team got its engine deal together at the 11th hour, there wasn't a full-time sponsor and Newgarden, 21, was the only true rookie in the field.
The expectations should have been less and Newgarden's stellar start to the year, with great qualifying efforts the first half of the year through Detroit and a near top-10 on debut in St. Pete, at a street course for a team known for its oval setup, flattered the team's ultimate performance. Newgarden and the team saved Honda from complete annihilation in Indianapolis qualifying, the only Honda runner to make the Fast Nine. And his unsuccessful passing attempt on Dario Franchitti at Turn 1 at Long Beach was arguably the ballsiest moment of the year.
Still, there were rookie mistakes. His attempt on Simon Pagenaud at Toronto's Turn 3 was a tad ambitious given if he rode behind, he could have taken a fourth or perhaps advanced to third if Pagenaud pitted for a splash of fuel. At Fontana, he raced Ryan Hunter-Reay closer than he needed to given he was several laps down and RHR was in title contention. And a cloud of poor luck that dogged him didn't reflect the promise he showed at times throughout a weekend. All told, a few flashes of brilliance and not near enough consistency, but with time and maturation this is a driver who is an early candidate to be “most improved” in 2013.
As for the other one-offers in the team, the story was similar. USAC star Bryan Clauson's month of May was going fine until his qualifying crash and he never really recovered, while Bruno Junqueira's Baltimore cameo following Newgarden's Sonoma accident featured a top-10 start but a fraught race with being spun early and a late retirement for contact.
HVM RACING (Lotus)
Simona de Silvestro / (182, 24th)
Best start: 17th (Long Beach) / Best finish: 13th (Detroit)
Avg Start: 23.7
Points Per Race: 12.1
Whatever awards can be handed out for resilience, patience, perseverance and positive attitudes (at least publicly) should be bestowed in spades to Simona de Silvestro and the entire HVM Racing team after a season that can't be forgotten soon enough. Poor Keith Wiggins must have thought it was 1994 or '95 with his Pacific Formula 1 team all over again. Saddled with the Lotus engine for the entire year – the only team stuck in that situation – engine changes, grid penalties and a lack of competitiveness were end results that didn't provide fair justice to the ability of driver, team, owner and crew.
The only two mistakes de Silvestro made in races were small accidents at Milwaukee and Baltimore. All too frequently she didn't even get a chance to run in full – the embarrassment of being parked in the 500-milers at Indianapolis and Fontana about summed up the reality that she never had a chance. Only at Detroit did she finish on the lead lap (her best finish of the season, a perhaps fitting, unlucky 13th), and that was in a race cut short by 30 laps due to the deteriorating track surface and impending darkness.
Like Ana Beatriz a year ago, de Silvestro is far more talented than her results would indicate, but having been left on the fringe of anonymity given the especially deep field that took part in 2012, it will take both a new manufacturer and a bit of luck to advance beyond the back of the grid in 2013.
DRAGON RACING (Lotus/Chevrolet)
Sebastien Bourdais / (173, 25th)
Katherine Legge / (137, 26th)
Best start: 3rd (Bourdais, Sonoma) / Best finish: 4th (Bourdais, Mid-Ohio)
Avg. Start: Bourdais 13.8, Legge 20.8
Points Per Race: Bourdais 15.7, Legge 13.7
Like Fisher's squad, Jay Penske's Dragon team made the leap to a full-season effort for 2012 – the first time as the reincarnated Dragon Racing since its prior guises as Luczo Dragon and de Ferran Dragon fell apart after 2010. It was the winter's biggest surprise that the younger Penske had secured Sebastien Bourdais's services, and brought Katherine Legge back after an extended hiatus from open-wheel, both cars with Lotus power.
As with the other two teams that had Lotus to start the year but were freed from the engine's shackles, the year for Dragon can be told in two parts – a pre- and post-Lotus experience. Bourdais turned in arguably the drive of the year from a staggering 17th on the grid (in a Lotus, on merit) to its only top 10 with ninth at Barber, while Legge, already up against the might of the four-time Champ Car champion, was made to look even worse given the machinery. Bourdais could make the Lotus look better than it was, while Legge couldn't, plain and simple.
In their Chevrolet portion of the season, neither was stellar at Indianapolis but both made it all 500 miles and without incident – a far cry from Dragon's 2011 debacle where both its cars crashed without even qualifying. Bourdais, then, could thrive with a proper engine in his starts. His qualifying average was fourth best in the field in the remaining road and street course races (6.2, only behind Power, Dixon and Franchitti) and he was desperately unlucky to lose out on potential podiums at Toronto and Baltimore. A fourth at Mid-Ohio was well deserved.
Legge, by contrast, ran the remaining ovals and was a pleasant if quiet surprise in her starts. Improved qualifying pace came at the Milwaukee and Iowa short ovals, she outqualified eight drivers on merit in her Sonoma one-off, and she had her best run of the year by far at Fontana, having been in the top 10 all weekend and ending ninth despite in-race penalties. There, she ran as high as third and consistently in the top 10 all race. She had Michael Cannon's engineering resources at her disposal at Sonoma; Cannon's well-traveled but if he made the team full time next year and both drivers return, this is a squad that could make further strides.
FAN FORCE UNITED (Lotus)
Jean Alesi / (13, 34th)
Best start: 33rd (Indianapolis) / Best finish: 33rd (Indianapolis)
Avg Start: 33
Points Per Race: 13
The less said about this Indianapolis one-off group, the better, other than to say the team's PR rep David Byrd did a masterful job of articulating the challenges faced by the team in daily “Chapters” of its experience and describing them in a manner where fans could truly rally behind the effort as the biggest underdog in recent open-wheel memory.
Jean Alesi had been out of open-wheel racing for more than a decade and had never driven on an oval, and only got the gig as a Lotus ambassador. He wasn't hopelessly out of depth as a driver and was reasonably on pace with Simona de Silvestro, which was all he could realistically hope for, before both were parked barely 10 laps into this year's Indianapolis 500.