RACER editor David Malsher sizes up the standout performers of this year's IZOD IndyCar Series.
This isn't all about results; if it were, then I could have taken the coward's route of arranging this top 10 as per the championship standings. Nor is it about what I perceive to be the driver's level of raw talent: if that were the case, there would be some major reshuffling and I'd also feel able to consider a part-timer like Graham Rahal for inclusion.
No, this is simply about drivers' 2010 performances as a whole, over 17 rounds of the IZOD IndyCar Series, taking into consideration what the drivers did with the equipment they were given. Despite that caveat – or perhaps, because of it – I expect many will disagree.
10 – Marco Andretti
Best finish: 3rd (x2)
Best start: 3rd
Championship position: 8th
As readers of his blogs here on RACER.com will know, Marco isn't about to give himself or his team any prizes for 2010. However, he can take heart from some of his improved performances on road courses, and he remains astoundingly brave on the ovals. He still occasionally loses the plot (Sonoma) and his oval race setups sometimes flatter to deceive, in that they work for one stint but then fade (Kansas and Iowa, for examples). But over the course of the season, the Venom Energy driver was Andretti Autosport's top qualifier seven times – more than any of his teammates.
BEST: Opening laps at St. Pete, where in damp conditions in the early laps, he went from sixth into the lead.
WORST: His slide from the lead back to 15th at Iowa.
9 – Alex Tagliani
FAZZT Race Team
Best finish: 4th
Best start: 2nd
Championship position: 13th
Lots of drivers will tell you a one-car team is a struggle and that they like to have their viewpoints corroborated or countered by a teammate, but Alex has proven he's fine either way. The responsibility of carrying the whole Bower & Wilkins-sponsored team's hopes – a start-up team, remember – didn't faze him at all, and being surrounded by people he hugely respects brought him as close to serenity as he's ever likely to get. If FAZZT's best race performances and best fortunes had come on the same weekends as their best qualifying performances, there would have been a fistful of podiums for Tag this year, and he'd have been well inside the top 10 in the championship standings rather than 13th, which given the strength of the IZOD IndyCar Series field, is amazing.
BEST: Out-qualifying a Ganassi car to qualify fifth for the Indy 500, or qualifying fourth at Sonoma, a circuit Alex had never raced or even tested on.
WORST: Overambitious passing attempt at Long Beach that ended his race.
8 – Tony Kanaan
Best finish: 1st
Best start: 2nd
Championship position: 6th
In some ways, this was a better season for Tony than 2009 – he at least got a win and, in Ryan Hunter-Reay, he found a teammate with whom to share ideas and setups. Both said many times that they were as one when it came to setting up the car. That being so, Hunter-Reay's arrival also highlighted that Kanaan needs to up his game in qualifying. Sometimes – as at Edmonton, Mid-Ohio and Kentucky – it would be a major mistake that left him near the back and it made you wonder if he was putting himself under too much pressure rather than letting it all flow. Other times Tony was simply outperformed, and for a man who stuck his car on the front row at St. Petersburg, that seemed strange. Whenever he missed the setup on an oval, however, the 7-Eleven car's charges from nowhere into contention often became the focal point of a race. It's safe to say Kanaan's fighting instincts remain intact.
BEST: It's tempting to say his Iowa win from 15th on the grid, but his similar charge to third behind the dominant Ganassi cars at Kansas was no less impressive.
WORST: Crashing on his out-lap in qualifying at Edmonton.
7 – Ryan Briscoe
Best finish: 1st
Best start: 1st (x3)
Championship position: 5th
It was a tough year for Ryan, one in which his confidence took more than a few knocks. Failing to make the Firestone Fast Six at five of the nine road and street courses on the calendar wouldn't have been so bad had teammate Power not been usually taking pole. Then there were race day errors, too – major ones in the case of Sao Paulo and Indianapolis. Ryan is as brave as they get on ovals, as his fights with Dario Franchitti at Motegi and Homestead proved, and his victory at Texas was well deserved. But for a driver considered one of the fastest in the series on any type of course, there were too many days when he struggled to match Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, let alone Power. Personally, I have a (hardly original) theory that mistakes led to Ryan losing confidence in certain circumstances, and bringing home a safe points haul became his priority. Whatever the reason, he will expect more of himself next year.
BEST: Pole and victory at Texas.
WORST: Crashing while leading in Brazil.