Sebastien Bourdais, hero of the Dragon Racing team in 2012, drove like the Bourdais we all loved to watch back in his Champ Car days, when he and Newman/Haas Racing strode to four consecutive championships, 2004-'07. From giant to giant-killer is a role switch that came remarkably easy to him, and his commitment in the cockpit was unwavering. However, by missing four races – more than 25 percent of the IndyCar schedule, he wasn't eligible for our top 10. So instead we asked him for an objective driver's view on how he'd modify our rankings. There were some crucial changes…starting at the very top! - David Malsher
It's so hard to bring it back down to the driver alone. Justin Wilson is usually easy to put in there because he's always capable of outperforming his racecar! But with the others it's hard because you can't judge how good the car is. If you see drivers directly compared in the same team and one of them is a driver whose abilities you already know, you can judge the teammates. But between teams, it's definitely a tough one, even this year when everyone started again with the Dallara DW12.
It's super-difficult to put the drivers in a specific order but, that said, Ryan Hunter-Reay did everything he had to and didn't make any major mistakes. That's why he won the championship, that's why he should be your No. 1 for this season. The fact that Will Power has lost the championship three seasons in a row is just crazy.
Things happen, I recognize that, but you can't just let it slip away – particularly this time when all he had to do was shadow Hunter-Reay in that final race. He just had to stick in there, collect a few points, and put it in the truck in one piece.
Scott Dixon did an excellent job this year and he was again faster than Dario Franchitti, but you look at the number of engine failures he's had, and you have to think, “Wow, poor guy!” It's tough to put Scott ahead of the two other guys and that is the nature of these top 10 lists, but in my opinion, given less terrible luck, he'd probably have been the champion.
Dario won the Indy 500 after a very slow start to the season and he came back to life in the second half, and Simon Pagenaud proved a lot with his consistency, his speed and by being smart.
He was able to carry a single-car entry on his rookie shoulders, which I think is quite cool but not a big surprise to me because I know him quite well. He was very happy with his engineering staff, had a great relationship with them, and had a well-structured test program preseason, getting as much as testing as the top teams.
So it was pretty clear Simon was going to be strong, and the only question mark was about how he would adapt to the ovals. Obviously, he dealt with them pretty well and, like you said in your story, he didn't make any mistakes. That, in my opinion, is the greatest trademark of Simon. He's a very solid driver. But like you, I don't think I could put him further up because Dario won the 500.
Helio was fighting for the championship until the last couple of races so I think it's right to have him where you put him [6th]. There are always consistent performers in IndyCar that generally you can rely on to be right in there, winning one or two races, and he's usually one of those. He's been doing that for 12 years, actually, and that in itself is a very hard thing to achieve, that motivation.
I have to agree with you about Alex Tagliani. He has done a tremendous job in terms of how to turn a season around after the team's early-season engine problems. And he's been one of the few drivers to be in the Firestone Fast Six in all but two races, which is unbelievable to me. So for me, Alex has been the biggest surprise of the season, extremely consistent in terms of pace: he and Todd Malloy proved they were capable of achieving all that with virtually no testing. Very impressive.
If you'd done this classification at midseason, you'd have to put James Hinchcliffe really high up….but then he had a very disappointing end to the season for reasons that I don't know. He was super solid at first – but then, of course, back then it was the Chevy Show, so maybe that helped. Then it leveled out between Chevrolet and Honda and it became much tougher in the middle of the season – and then I think Chevrolet got the upper hand again a bit.
But if you don't know all the circumstances for each driver, it's so difficult to rate them. If you look at Justin Wilson's season, there have been a few ups – very high ups – but there have been a lot of downs, and it's all related to who you're working with and who you're racing for and sometimes just being fortunate or unfortunate.