JW: And I've got to say similar things about Oriol Servia who we've both placed fourth and who was a well-deserved fourth in the championship.
DM: Yeah, great job from him and exactly the kind of driver that Newman/Haas needed.
JW: Oriol's just strong at all types of circuit and he performed at his best all year. OK, you look at Texas and they had two bad races, but other than that, they were up there the whole season.
DM: I interviewed Craig Hampson at…ironically, I think it was Texas…and he said the team expected to suffer at the mile-and-a-half ovals because they couldn't justify investing a ton of money into working on the oval setup when the cars were 1) going to be obsolete at the end of the year, and 2) even if they invested, they weren't going to bridge the vast chasm of experience between themselves and Ganassi.
JW: Right, but Newman/Haas was basically quick everywhere else, often the fastest of everyone outside Penske and Ganassi, and sometimes quicker than some of the Penske and Ganassi guys. And I think some of the credit for that can be given to Oriol. It's great for him, because he hadn't had a consistent full-time ride over the previous two years. And also good for Newman/Haas who have been through a lot since Champ Car and IndyCar merged.
DM: Do you think Oriol is as fast as he ever was?
JW: I'd say so, yes. He hasn't lost anything and he's proven that he can get the result in qualifying and races. He missed out on a win here and there – he doesn't need reminding about that – but not through his fault. And, in the meantime, he just keeps getting the good results.
DM: He said after Long Beach that for the first time in his life, he felt he had a car that was faster than Penske and Ganassi. And when you look at what transpired that race, with Power being taken out of the running by the same Helio incident that claimed Oriol, and with Hunter-Reay losing his gearbox, you've got to say that race could have been his.
JW: I think that's true. And even on the weekends that qualifying doesn't go well for him, he doesn't get involved in accidents. He picks his way through on race day and suddenly he's a contender. Basically, Oriol spent the year doing exactly what you'd expect of a combination of him and Newman/Haas. It seems to be his natural home, and hopefully for both parties they'll be able to work together on the new car.
DM: Scott Dixon – third in the championship, third in our lists. In a class of his own at a couple of races, and right up there at almost all of the others…
JW: There are so many times in racing where your immediate thought is, “I was so unlucky there,” but as a driver you come away analyzing, “Well, was I unlucky or could I have done something more to avoid the circumstances that caused the DNF?” There were times I felt that about myself this year. But watching from the sidelines and seeing Scott's 2011 season, I've decided: there is definitely such a thing as simple racing luck, because that guy didn't have any! None at all.
There's nothing between him and Dario in terms of strength – they have a slightly different driving style, but ultimately they get the same performance. And the only difference between first and third in the championship this year was luck. That's not to take anything away from any of the top three drivers. But I think Scott had one of those seasons where if it could go wrong, it would. It's interesting watching it as a spectator, because as a driver, you're normally so self-centered and thinking about your own set of problems, you don't notice how badly someone else is suffering. But from outside the car, I can say it was pretty apparent that Scott was in situations where, you thought, “Yup, you couldn't have done anything about that one.”
DM: Yeah, it makes you wonder how he's so resilient. You never see Dixie's game drop in standard.
JW: He proves time and time again that he's got the talent to do it, and he does do it…when circumstances allow! At Mid-Ohio and Motegi, he was dominant – fast, intelligent, and determined when he went wheel to wheel. But at Long Beach and Edmonton, in particular, he was probably sitting there thinking, “What the hell just happened?” He probably lost 40 or 50 points total just from those two alone, and he finished 55 points from the championship. Unfortunately, ifs, buts and maybes don't have points attached. It's just how it goes.
But you can virtually guarantee that every year there will be a couple of races where Scott is untouchable.