RACER.com continues its breakdown of each team's season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Today, a look through all of the full-season midfield teams, with each driver, points total and finish, wins/poles or best start/finish, average start, points per race and laps led, if applicable.
KV RACING TECHNOLOGY (Chevrolet)
Tony Kanaan / (351, 9th)
Rubens Barrichello / (289, 12th)
E.J. Viso / (244, 20th)
Best start: 3rd (Kanaan, Fontana, Barrichello, Milwaukee)
Best finish: 2nd (Kanaan, Milwaukee)
Avg. Start: Kanaan 12.2, Barrichello 12.7, Viso 14.1
Points Per Race: Kanaan 23.4, Barrichello 19.3, Viso 16.3
Laps Led: Kanaan 54, Viso 27, Barrichello 3
Some teams end up better than the results might indicate and for yet another year, that's how it seemed KV Racing Technology fared. They nearly had two of the top-10 drivers in the final championship standings but it rarely seemed like KV was really at the front of the field. Changes will come in the offseason with the first domino to fall GM Mark Johnson announcing he was resigning.
I doubt he'd admit it publicly, but you have to wonder if Tony Kanaan tires of the “miracle worker” act on a weekly basis. Like Oriol Servia, he was a passing demon from race to race – in five races he finished at least 12 spots higher than he qualified – but he was only needing to do that because the team's qualifying pace simply wasn't on par the second half of the season. A brutal end to his season saw three results of 18th or worse in the last five races, and he fell from fifth to ninth in the final standings as a result. This was despite three podium finishes, all on ovals, a demon second-to-last restart at Indianapolis when he went from sixth to leading and nearly winning the A.J. Foyt Oval Trophy.
What of Rubens Barrichello in his first season? It certainly seemed better than his last in Formula 1, and he made no bones about enjoying the IndyCar atmosphere, but the chemistry within the team seemed less harmonious as the year went on. Back-to-back top fives at Sonoma and Baltimore lifted him in the final rankings but despite seven top-10s finishes and the Rookie of the Year honors at Indy, it all felt like there could have been more. Chalk that up to a lack of experience in these cars and needing to learn all the tracks; he'll be better with a second season.
Meanwhile, E.J. Viso ended 20th in points – his worst finish in five seasons, all either 17th or 18th previously – but it felt as though he'd had his best season. Four top-10 starts including two Firestone Fast Six appearances in the first eight races wasn't anything to scoff at, nor was his drive at Milwaukee where he should have had a podium. But his second half – 16th or worse in all but one race – dropped him down the order. He retired only once due to contact, an accident not of his doing in Iowa, and his only real “old Viso” moments came in contact with Dario Franchitti in the pits at Indy and holding up the field while slower at Detroit. Like Charlie Kimball a spot ahead of him, this was a leaner, meaner, cleaner Viso – but the results don't show it.
SERVICE CENTRAL/NOVO NORDISK CHIP GANASSI RACING (Honda)
Graham Rahal / (333, 10th)
Charlie Kimball / (260, 19th)
Giorgio Pantano / (16, 31st)
Best start: 3rd (Rahal, Texas) / Best finish: 2nd (Rahal, Texas, Kimball, Toronto)
Avg. Start: Rahal 12.4, Kimball 17.4
Points Per Race: Rahal 22.2, Kimball 18.6
Laps Led: Rahal 28, Kimball 3
If at times in 2011, Graham Rahal and the Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing team posed a sincere threat to the upper Target squad, the times achieving those same stratospheric heights in 2012 were few and far between. By contrast, the final results table didn't reflect the improvement his teammate Charlie Kimball made in the Novo Nordisk camp.
Rahal, who you easily forget is only 23 given he's been in the top level of American open-wheel racing since 2007, remained the team leader and easily outpaced Kimball. And from Texas on, his results were consistent, ranging from second there to 11th in eight of nine races, with only his early accident at Toronto outside that realm. They weren't bad but given his desire to want to run top five every weekend, it felt like the potential and talent was never fully realized. He only started in the top 10 twice in that stretch, and that made it all the more difficult to have to make ground up every weekend. Texas, obviously, was incredibly frustrating as Rahal had the race won before contact on the exit of Turn 4 with those few laps left.
On paper, you look at Kimball and think, “OK, he was 19th his rookie year and 19th year two. What changed?” But that was really the only similarity. He had six top-10 finishes compared to two a year ago, finished both 500-mile races in eighth and 10th, scored 27 more points in three fewer races, and had potential top-10s fall off at Long Beach and Baltimore when he ran great races. Second at Toronto was richly deserved with one of the passes of the year, going past both Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud at Turn 3. His pace isn't still fully there in qualifying, and it shows in a field this deep, but he was easily among the most improved drivers of the year. Only once did he retire due to contact, at Texas, after doing so five times in 2011.
Rahal is off to (he hopes) greener pastures for 2013 and who Kimball's teammate is will say a lot about how this team can grow and foster into the true challengers it could be given the Ganassi name on the transporters. If it's a veteran like Ryan Briscoe, they could flourish, while if it's a less-experienced IndyCar driver, a la Barrichello, the team could fall back, as Kimball is not quite a team leader just yet. Giorgio Pantano – who deputized admirably as Kimball's fill-in at Mid-Ohio – could work given his potential, but not as a team leader given he'd be a full-season rookie.
JR Hildebrand / (294, 11th)
Oriol Servia / (287, 13th)
Best start: 4th (Hildebrand, Fontana) / Best finish: 4th (Servia, twice)
Avg. Start: Hildebrand 15.2, Servia 18.3
Points Per Race: Hildebrand 19.6, Servia 19.1
Laps Led: Hildebrand 60
It was a bit of a weird year for two single-car teams, strongholds of the all-oval Indy Racing League era, which joined forces at Indianapolis at the same time one team got rid of its Lotus engine and got a new lease on life. JR Hildebrand and Oriol Servia seemed a perfect match as basically teammates, and while the results weren't spectacular, it seemed an improved year for both Panther and Dreyer & Reinbold as a whole.
Given their abilities, and given the fact 16 different drivers graced a podium this year, it was strange neither Hildebrand nor Servia were among them. They had a combined six top-five finishes. Servia had one of the year's oddest statistics in that all four of his top-fives came on ABC-televised races (Indianapolis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Toronto) but only cracked the top-10 once on the NBC Sports Network (seventh at Baltimore).
Hildebrand never had one eye-popping race, like Indianapolis a year ago, but a stellar drive from 20th to fifth at Long Beach raised some eyebrows, and he had a solid stint of finishes the last six races of the year when he finished between seventh and 12th in five of them. Servia's efforts at Barber and Brazil in the Lotus were incredible in the year's early races; all too frequently, though, he had a myriad of mechanical issues.
Both drivers struggled in qualifying. Combined, there was only one Firestone Fast Six appearance (Hildebrand's fifth at Barber) and five total top-10 starts. That left them playing catch-up and needing to try off-sequence strategies to make up ground in the races. In a year with as much quality competition throughout the field as this one, the team's road and street course setup and qualifying pace needs to improve for 2013 if they want to take the next leap.
RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING (Honda)
Takuma Sato / (281, 14th)
Michel Jourdain Jr. / (16, 32nd)
Best start: 3rd (Edmonton) / Best finish: 2nd (Edmonton)
Avg. Start: 17.2
Points Per Race: 18.7
Laps Led: 76
If this year's season was three laps shorter – at Long Beach, Indianapolis and Fontana – Takuma Sato may have cracked the top-10 in points. But 42 points lost from those three races, all from last-lap crashes, were in part responsible for his ultimate 14th place in the standings in Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's full-time return to the championship.
Sato spent most of his Sundays needing to overcome what was, frankly, a series of disappointing qualifying efforts. He started in the top 10 only three times all year, one of which was at Long Beach where the Chevrolet teams all needed engine changes and promoted the Honda runners to a near top-10 lockout. He also had five races with grid penalties, and that didn't help his cause. Fittingly, his best and most consistent run of the season came when he qualified well – third at Edmonton – then backed it up by pushing Helio Castroneves all day before settling for second at the flag. A third from 25th at Brazil was also among the year's best drives.
Despite his good qualities – he's one of the nicest drivers on the grid, genuinely exciting to watch, and he has the speed more frequently than he doesn't – he still ended against the barriers way too frequently. Mechanical issues sabotaged him at four races but he ended in the wall in a series-high six races. His Indianapolis crash – brave and bold as his attempt was on Dario Franchitti – also set the team back for the oval stretch of races as planned tests at Milwaukee and Iowa were scrapped because the car was.
It was especially disappointing to see the crash regression after he dropped from nine accidents in 2010 to just three a year ago. He finished only five of 15 races this year. Bobby Rahal is a smart individual, and his blogs throughout the year on RACER.com have illustrated what Sato needs to do, still, at the end of his third year – find consistency to match his flashes of brilliance.
DALE COYNE RACING (Honda)
Justin Wilson / (278, 15th)
James Jakes / (232, 22nd)
Best start: 3rd (Wilson, twice) / Wins: One (Wilson, Texas)
Avg. Start: Wilson 14.1, Jakes 18.6
Points Per Race: Wilson 18.5, Jakes 15.5
Laps Led: Wilson 26, Jakes 11
Since 2009, the team after Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport that has won the most races is…drumroll, please…Dale Coyne Racing. Yes, everyone's favorite perennial underdog has two wins while three others have one. Both are thanks to Justin Wilson, back with DCR after a year-and-a-half sojourn with Dreyer & Reinbold that didn't include any wins.
Although there was a later technical infraction found on his sidepod ramps, Wilson's win at Texas was among the year's most dramatic moments. It was a race that required patience over stints to keep the tires from degrading too rapidly, and where reduced downforce fully put the drivers back in control – perhaps it was fitting, then, that one of the renowned top drivers in the series got a win.
Unfortunately that was really the only highlight of the year for Wilson and team, reunited with Coyne and engineer Bill Pappas. Results went begging at Long Beach (fuel strategy gone awry), Milwaukee (engine failure), Toronto (contact), and Mid-Ohio (an early spin, recovery but further bad stops). Wilson had five other top-10 finishes but they were all seventh or worse.
Series sophomore James Jakes definitely made strides from his rookie year, but was largely anonymous for a second year running. He did at least crack the top-10 on a couple occasions, and had a very good run to improve from 24th to 12th at Sonoma.
BRYAN HERTA AUTOSPORT (Lotus/Honda)
Alex Tagliani / (272, 17th)
Poles: One (Texas) / Best finish: 5th (Edmonton)
Avg. Start: 11.4
Points Per Race: 19.3
Laps Led: 93
Expectations weren't terribly high for Bryan Herta's team, making a leap into full-time competition in 2012, with a soon to be 40-year-old Alex Tagliani and a Lotus engine. With three difficult races out of the gate – although with hindsight, qualifying 17th and finishing 15th at St. Petersburg was probably one of the top two or three races for a Lotus all year – Herta's squad dropped the anchor to save itself from a Titanic-esque situation where the team might not survive the year.
The improvement, after missing Brazil to fit its new Honda, was incredibly impressive. Tagliani and team were arguably Honda's second best threats after the powerhouse Target Chip Ganassi squad on a consistent basis. Four straight Firestone Fast Six appearances from Detroit through Mid-Ohio – although two had grid penalties assessed – belied the team's improvement. A 17.3 average start with Lotus improved to 9.8 with Honda. There was a pole at Texas, and top-10 finishes in eight of 11 starts with Honda.
Sonoma and Fontana were the disappointments. At Sonoma, Tag made his infamous passing attempt gone awry when he pitched Ryan Hunter-Reay into a spin. While RHR was the big loser, Tag dropped down the order too to serve an avoidable contact penalty but still ended ninth. He probably could have won Fontana had it not been for a late mechanical failure with just 20 laps to go.
All told, there was plenty of life in the old dog yet. Tagliani could have been demoralized after his 2011 included selling his team to Sam Schmidt, then being dumped two races before the end of the year, but responded with his best season in years – even if at the end of the day, the standings didn't reflect it owing to the poor start.
ED CARPENTER RACING (Chevrolet)
Ed Carpenter / (261, 18th)
Best start: 5th (Fontana) / Wins: One (Fontana)
Avg Start: 20.5
Points Per Race: 17.4
Laps Led: 62
An IndyCar anomaly, Ed Carpenter is realistically the last driver who can say they made it into the series on the strength of his or her oval prowess in a series now increasingly populated by road and street courses. It was no surprise, then, that Carpenter's struggles on the latter circuits were balanced out by being one of the top oval drivers of the season.
Carpenter took a big risk by starting his own team, and doing so as an owner/driver, but surrounded himself with good people. Team manager Tim Broyles and engineer Matt Barnes led the crew at the track, with additional input from Derrick Walker in running the program on races that didn't conflict with his American Le Mans Series schedule. He did well on equipment, too, finishing 14 of 15 races (Baltimore the exception) although he had a big crash in qualifying at Indianapolis.
The simplest way to describe Carpenter's season is that he knew his place. In qualifying on road and street courses, Carpenter was almost always first driver out in his group, figuring he'd get his laps in and be done earlier to attempt to stay out of the way of the faster drivers. There were occasional moments where some blamed him for blocking, but I'd argue it was ill-advised for some drivers to wait as long as they did to go out. Making the top 12 qualifying at Baltimore, although it probably wouldn't have happened on outright pace, was a fair result for the team's efforts
But, on ovals, Carpenter continued to shine. He came from nowhere to run third at Indy before spinning late, drove through the field at Texas and finished a frustrated eighth at Milwaukee and Iowa – knowing he had the ability to do better. To win after being genuinely in the top three or five all weekend at Fontana served notice he's a contender on these circuits. All told, a respectable debut season for Ed the owner, and a fair one for Ed the driver in his first full season since 2009.
A.J. FOYT RACING (Honda)
Mike Conway / (233, 21st)
Wade Cunningham / (29, 28th)
Best start: 4th (Conway, Barber) / Best finish: 3rd (Conway, Toronto)
Avg Start: 14.9
Points Per Race: 16.6
Every year, hope springs eternal that this is the year A.J. Foyt Racing returns to Victory Lane, and every year since 2003, that hasn't been the case. Cast against the series overdogs, tight midpack teams and upstart overachievers, Foyt's team has more or less just been on the grid the past few seasons with maybe one or two great weekends and the rest anonymous.
The Mike Conway (driver) and Don Halliday (engineer) pairing should have panned out better than it did. You had one of the series' top road and street course racers matched with a veteran engineer, but it never really bore fruit. Fourth on the grid at Barber was as much because several drivers were caught out by an ill-timed red flag, and the team's best qualifying effort of second at Baltimore was negated by a 10-spot grid penalty.
Conway's podium at Toronto was an OK drive but he was the beneficiary of odd circumstances that jumbled the field, and a dive-bomb move at Turn 1 on a late restart knocked Charlie Kimball into Sebastien Bourdais – he was lucky to escape a penalty. His race at Edmonton two weeks later was far better, a 25th-to-11th drive in a race with no cautions and the push-to-pass advantages were largely negated because it could be used as much to defend as to overtake.
But his undoing – possibly for his IndyCar career – came on ovals. He and Indy 500 rookie teammate Wade Cunningham seemed out to lunch on setup and speed all month, before Conway's race came to a crashing halt when he was sent out with a broken front wing, then catapulted into the catch fencing with Will Power underneath him with nowhere to go. Further oval starts at Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa were just as challenging before he decided to call time prior to Fontana, a gutsy but brave decision few would publicly make.
Cunningham did far better at Fontana than Indy, especially given the circumstances. While his sharp sense of humor would be enough to earn him a full-time spot, gathering budget will determine any future appearances.