SARAH FISHER HARTMAN RACING
Best finish: 11th
Here is a team that, like Schmidt Hamilton Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, appears to defy the theory that a one-car outfit will struggle to make progress, especially while in the early developmental stages of a new chassis. But here's an even bigger twist: Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's driver is an IndyCar rookie and driving for a team that only this year become a full-time entrant.
Of course, Josef Newgarden isn't just any rookie: he's the Indy Lights champion, and he's got a confidence about him that can be explained by his history in junior formulas. As his qualifying performances have proven this year, he's quick: Second fastest of the Honda runners at Long Beach, who knows what he might have achieved that day had he not been gently nudged toward the wall on lap 1, turn 1 by Franchitti. I'd suspect a third-place finish went begging right there.
But that sort of sums up Newgarden's season. Lots of promise but not many results. He's had more than his fair share of mechanical issues and bad luck and the occasional moments of wildness that afflicts most rookies. But importantly, Newgarden and the SFHR team have proven they belong at this level. A result that proves this should be coming soon…
Best result: 13th
Of course, the Lotus engine is a burden rather than a help at the moment, but there are better days ahead: that's what Keith Wiggins, HVM Racing team owner is telling people and, given that he's never one to blow his own trumpet even when his team wins, it's only fair to believe him.
But this team really got dipped in it this year. Lotus went from having more contracts than it could handle at the time, to having just one car's data from which to gain feedback, as BHA, DRR and Dragon Racing abandoned what they felt was a lost cause. Wiggins has stuck through it because a) he's convinced that being the primary team for a manufacturer is ultimately the way to go if he can persuade Lotus to stay; and b) a European engine builder group has been brought in to help Judd get back up to speed, and the fruits of their input should be seen soon.
In the meantime, the team and Simona de Silvestro should all receive resilience awards but also stay sharp in order to pounce on the first opportunity to shine.
Best result: 9th
Odd, isn't it, that despite Dragon switching to Chevrolet power at Indy, the team's best result of the year came with a Lotus engine, when Sebastien Bourdais defied conventional braking zones and occasionally the laws of physics to slither his way into the top 10 at Barber Motorsports Park. If ever there was proof that the guy's still got the magic that earned him four Champ Car titles, that was it, right there. Afterward, neither team owner Jay Penske nor Bourdais himself could quite believe what they'd achieved.
Since switching to Chevy power, the performance has obviously picked up although the team has downsized to just one car, shared between Bourdais and his teammate, U.S. open-wheel returnee Katherine Legge. From being all at sea in the opening four rounds, she has looked composed and reasonably competent as she relearns oval racing. However, the bulk of the strong results will likely come from Bourdais once he gets to race on street and road courses in the second half of the season.