Interesting take. I never regarded him as less than confident. OK, Ryan Hunter-Reay. I've been informed that RH-R scored more points post-Milwaukee than any other driver. Haven't verified that, but I'm sure IndyCar can.
JW: It wouldn't surprise me if that's true. From Iowa onward, Ryan was there collecting good points for the rest of the season. And if he could have a whole season like the second half of his year, he'd be challenging for the championship. He gets his head down and just gets on with it. I was in a similar position as him at the start of the season – nothing was going right. But he did a really nice job of turning it all around, and he's still one of the very fastest guys on street courses.
Graham Rahal, my pick for number seven, has been pretty strong, especially in the last four or five races, but basically from Mid-Ohio onward. At Loudon he was really strong, very close to Dario the whole weekend but had that wrong place-wrong time accident. He had a few like that through the year so I thought he might struggle to cope with the fact that he was so fast and kept being taken out. Maybe myself or Scott Dixon should have welcomed him to the club!
Actually, we could do a whole top 10 on that, couldn't we? Base it on the championship order, so you get 10 points each time you take out Dario, nine for taking out Will, eight for Scott, and so on, and see who's King Crasher!
Anyway, back to Graham: the speed's there, obviously, and so's the team strength, so in the new season I expect to see everything fall into place.
DM: Were you surprised to see the second Ganassi team get up to speed so quickly? It seemed it took just half a season to start threatening the Target arm of the team.
JW: No surprise at all. They've got some really good people there. Even if they'd had blank checks to get whoever they wanted, I don't think they could have done any better with their choices. It's a good group, and I think Charlie Kimball also getting stronger as the year went on shows that they'll be a force to be reckoned with. Plus they've got Dario and Scott there as teammates: which driver wouldn't want their feedback?!
That's the difference between Formula 1 and IndyCar, isn't it? In F1, you want to beat your teammate – and you do here, as well – but you also want them to be good teammates who can help you develop the car and move the whole program forward. Otherwise your team gets stale, and you can be beating your teammate in every session and every race, but all the other teams have passed you by.
DM: Glad to see you were as impressed with James Hinchcliffe as I was…but were you as surprised as I was?
JW: Hmm…well, I knew James was good, and pretty quick, but like you said, it goes to prove that the junior formulas can only tell you so much. You see drivers who rush through the lower ranks, you see flashes of brilliance and then they get into an IndyCar and you're like, “Uh…what happened?” And there are other guys who you think are very good but not the next champion, and they finally reach IndyCar and it's a case of, “Wow! Where did that speed come from?” James is more of the latter. He was in the junior formulas – Atlantics and Lights – for a lot of years, and it would have been easy to dismiss him as a guy who was never going to make it, but instead I get the impression he just used it to become a better and better driver. He just accumulated that experience, so when he finally got the chance, it paid off for him; that's what allowed him to be on it, straight off. All the experience has allowed James to tackle every scenario that comes up when he finally got the opportunity to prove himself, and he's done a great job this year. He will be a championship contender in the years to come.
DM: And it's good to see that Newman/Haas Racing still has that core of personnel that made it so great, and that James appreciates that and is soaking everything up like a sponge, listening and learning.
JW: Yeah, exactly. It's still a good group that has been through some down times and is now being able to show its potential thanks to a couple of strong drivers.
DM: OK, now you've put Tony Kanaan a little higher than I did – where he finished in the championship, in fact. My main issue with TK was that he made his job harder on Sundays by having difficult Saturdays, particularly on road courses.
JW: He did have some difficult times, but he did really well at Iowa, and Baltimore was pretty special. That's what Tony does best: battling. When things go wrong – like his brakes failing in the warm-up leading to a huge accident – he just keeps fighting. He starts last, makes the best of the situation and comes through to finish third. You never count him out: he's always there, plugging away, working hard, racing well. And yes, they sometimes get lost on a weekend, and you wonder why he's starting down in 20th, but they come back strong.
DM: And you don't see Tony make mistakes on race day, obviously ignoring Milwaukee. He races very smart, and doesn't go for over-optimistic maneuvers. Considering how many cars he had to pass at starts and restarts this year, to do that and race cleanly shows someone who's very aware of what's possible and what isn't. It made for great viewing for spectators, too!
JW: Yeah. Tony's good, basically. Even if he takes the wrong path with the car setup at the start of a weekend, you know he's never going to give up once he's shown a bunch of cars to pass! That's just part of his character and why so many fans like him. He takes every opportunity he gets, and makes the most of it.