RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING
Best result: 3rd
The quality of team that Bobby Rahal has put together makes you realize what we'd have been missing had he not done so. OK, that initially reads dumb, but there were question marks over Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's full-time participation until quite late in the off-season – question marks that Bobby himself raised in order to underpromise and overdeliver. Once testing got underway, however, it became clear that RLLR was ready to snap at the heels of the big teams, a position that its driver Takuma Sato traditionally relishes.
And we've seen the results. There should have been a podium finish at Long Beach, but Hunter-Reay's failed passing attempt ended that; there was a podium at Sao Paulo. And at Indy… ah well. Given the run he had on Franchitti starting that final lap, Sato had to go for the gap because who knows whether there'd have been a similar opportunity further around the lap. Plus, that maneuver had worked on Dixon one lap earlier. But I still think that rather than go down to the white line/transition area he could have kept clear and leaned on Franchitti's car a little…. Easy to say while sitting at 0mph in front of a keyboard, huh?
Whatever, despite some overambitious maneuvers, Sato has become one of those drivers who you always expect to see qualifying in the top dozen and racing toward the top six. And that's an endorsement of the team's quality as much as the driver's.
BRYAN HERTA AUTOSPORT
Best result: 7th
Really – seventh is the team's best result so far. That takes a little believing considering how prominent Alex Tagliani was in qualifying at Indy (11th), Detroit (3rd) and Texas (pole!). And bear in mind it's only since Indy that the team has had a decent engine.
Once Honda replaced the lackluster Lotus units, immediately both BHA and Tag were ready to go. The fact that, despite having had very restricted test time with the DW12 due to the restrictions on mileage imposed by Lotus, BHA hit the ground running once they had a reliable and strong horsepower supply proves the combo's innate quality. At Belle Isle, the car failed to get going due to an electrical malfunction – it's just never easy for Tag….or Bryan, for that matter – but once the No. 98 was moving, Tag drove it like he stole it. Had the race run its full distance, a top-five from the back of the pack was on the cards.
There's nothing tentative about Tagliani in 2012, and Herta and team co-owner Steve Newey are going to benefit from that just as soon as the their luck turns around.
ED CARPENTER RACING
Best result: 8th
Ed Carpenter's decision to become a team owner is paying off, because considering the results he's achieved, he's got a great sponsor and has gained a lot of publicity. Carpenter's eighth place in Milwaukee was totally legitimate and deserved, and had the Indy 500 not ended in the manner it did, his charge to third (until a spin) despite a non-adjustable front wing would have been one of the stand-out memories of Memorial Day. There's no doubt he can turn in some inspired performances.
But those will not come on the road and street courses that form the bulk of the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule these days, and nor – given the modified aero packages that put the driving back into oval racing – are they likely to come on many of the ovals. Carpenter will probably want to race the Indy 500 until he's in his mid-40s, but if he also wants to prove to the world the quality of the team he's put together, it's time for him to hand over at least the road/street racing side of the deal to either an experienced but fast veteran or a young rising star.
Of course, having said all that, Ed will now go and win Iowa…
A.J. FOYT RACING
Best finish: 7th
I keep waiting for this team to explode into life, and maybe over the next couple of months it's going to happen in Toronto, Edmonton, Mid-Ohio and in particular Sonoma where Mike Conway always shines. So far, though, A.J. Foyt Racing has flattered to deceive, with an excellent fourth place on the grid at Barber Motorsports Park being the exception rather than the rule.
Don Halliday is not only a great engineer, he's also someone who builds up a driver's confidence and gets the big picture. He and Larry Foyt will cosset Conway in a manner that A.J. probably wouldn't. The Briton likes his cars to handle flat and stiff, and sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't, as we saw in his Andretti Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold days. As I said with Jakes, one good result could uncork the potential and then, with the combination of talents in this team and a Honda engine, there could be strong results ahead. But they need to come soon, for the sake of everyone's confidence in each other.